Jan Akkerman - Jan Akkerman
Crackers (4:25), Angel Watch (10:02), Pavane (5:33), Streetwalker (7:01), Skydancer (5:16), Floatin' (5:15), Gate to Europe (3:09), Angel Watch - Single version (6:07)
Leading the charge in this for me are those good folk at Esoteric Recordings - take a bow Mark and Vicky Powell who obviously have a deep abiding passion and love for "good" music. Which leads us nicely to this, Jan Akkerman's fifth solo album - his first after leaving Focus in 1976. It's the album often referred to as "the guitar in a bed."
Contrary to popular opinion, Akkerman has always classed himself as a rhythm guitarist rather than the solo virtuoso he has often been labelled as. Whilst that statement can be debated at length, what is clear from hearing this again after some 35 odd years is that either way you cut it, Jan is certainly very rhythmic on this album but also handles some soaring and splendid guitar breaks in the midst too. In addition, this is very much an ensemble album with excellent bass, keyboards and drums supporting the guitarist.
In the main, the music is rather jazzy and funky and the added strings give it a gloss and sheen that shimmers sweetly throughout. It is a fully instrumental album and its lengthy tracks Angel Watch and Streetwalker best display this funky element and in between is the serenity and beauty of Pavane, where Akkerman uses acoustic guitar to great effect giving the album a lovely balance.
I wouldn't say this is a wildly progressive album but obviously fans of prime day and even latter day Focus will find much to admire from the Dutch master here.
As always with the Esoteric reissues the mastering is crisp, bright, bold and clear and sounds glorious, and the booklet is a full reproduction of the original artwork alongside a concise but informative history of the album itself.
The standouts are the lengthy tracks Angel Watch, Streetwalker and Floatin', all of which are on the funkier side of things musically. If there was one criticism one could level it could be that the music is a tad discoish at times but for me that's not an issue and if you enjoy Joe Bonamassa's side project Rock Candy Funk Party then this will probably be manna from the gods for you.
All in all, a very welcome release - now how about the Akkerman Live album getting a similar treatment?
John Wenlock-Smith: 6.5 out of 10
Jack Arthurs - Treasure House
Change Your Mind (3:41), North Star (3:39), Lift Me Up (5:32), Feel Your Pain (4:17), The Sleeping Sea (3:40), Waves of Sunlight (4:49), Spirals (2:48), Hope (5:18), Treasure House (4:38), Soaring (5:09)
Only Dreams Come True was a sweet and tender collection of songs, the only components being Jack, his songs and his acoustic guitar. With Treasure House, you get very much more of the same.
From the fast, jaggedly strummed introduction of opener Change Your Mind to the closer, Soaring, this is very much a troubadour's album, comprising a collection of ten pleasant songs. Each of them draws on his life's experiences and, by and large, they are all very pretty and engagingly played. The stand out track is the slower ballad, The Sleeping Sea, but Arthurs also entertains with the short instrumental, Spirals.
In fact, the spirit of the north east coast, including the gorgeous cover depicting the iconic Northumberland Bamburgh Castle, runs like an incoming tide throughout the album.
Arthur's voice is light and airy but what this album lacks is variety to keep the listener engaged, which is what I would have expected if only to distinguish it from his first album.
But Arthur's sincerity and ability to write a gentle tune cannot be denied. Prog it is not, but this would make for a pleasant interlude between the edgier offerings the prog oeuvre is currently delivering.
Alison Reijman: 5 out of 10
The Barstool Philosophers - Crossing Over
Freeway (5:20), Fine Lines/My End of the Island (10:03), Tedious (4:54), The Space in Between (9:38), Beyond the Stars (3:31), On My Way to You (4:44), The Scent (8:43), Crossing Over (7:57), Till We Meet Again (7:17)
The band were left with no singer and an album they couldn't release. After a lot of deliberating, the members decided to continue. They came up with the idea to use different singers for each track on the album. It eventually resulted in inviting six singers who were already known to the band. Fortunately, they were all very excited to work on the album. So the search for "The Voice of Barstool" began! Peter Van Asselt (tracks 1, 6, 9), Paul Adrian Villarreal (track 2), Maikel Hergers (track 7), Erik Masselink (tracks 4, 8), Michel Legrand (track 3) and the only female vocalist Marleen ten Hove (track 5) battled it out. The band decided that Van Asselt should become the new lead vocalist of TBP.
For me, it's not the obvious choice because almost all vocalists proved to have a fine voice that might suit the band. Van Asselt and Masselink have a more bluesy, soulful voice, whereas Villarreal and Hergers sound more proggy/AOR. Legrand's voice leans more towards metal and female vocalist Ten Hove has a beautiful voice just like Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering, The Gentle Storm). It cannot have been an easy choice for the other band members Ivo Poelman (guitars), René Kroon (keys), Bas Hoebink (bass) and Jan Martin Kuipers (drums).
So the album is a mixture of different voices and not all tracks have the same quality, which sometimes has to do with the vocals that don't really blend well with the music. Tedious, in my opinion, is one of the weaker tracks. Fine Lines/My End of the Island and Beyond The Stars, the longest and shortest tracks of the album are lifted to a higher level due to the vocal performances by Villarreal and Ten Hove respectively. The newly chosen vocalist Van Asselt shows his vocal abilities on the opening track Freeway, On My Way to You and the closer, Till We Meet Again. He has a special voice, gritty but also full of soul. I think he sounds better in a quiet piece as On My Way to You than the heavy metal Freeway.
The conclusion at the end is that TBP have released a fine album that sometimes remind me of Queensryche in the heavier tracks but I really think they have their own unique sound! Great musicians that sound great together as band but no individual musicians that dominate the music like a guitarist or keyboard player. With the new singer joining the ranks of the band, the future looks bright and I feel confident this band will treat us to more good prog in the coming years.
Peter Swanson: 8 out of 10
Downes Braide Association - Suburban Ghosts
Machinery of Fate (5:12), Suburban Ghosts – Parts 1 and 2 (6:46), Suburban Ghosts – Part 3 (6:00), Vanity (4:14), Number One (4:20), Interlude (1:14), North Sea (5:15), One of the Few (4:03), Time Goes Fast (4:06), Live Twice (3:52), Dreaming of England (5:55), Finale (1:45)
In 2011, whilst working on Yes' Fly From Here album, he teamed up with Chris Braide, a singer, songwriter, producer better known for his work with Beyonce, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera amongst others. This unlikely alliance resulted in the critically acclaimed album Pictures Of You (2012). Three years on, in between Yes' busy touring schedule, Downes once again collaborated with Braide for this much anticipated follow-up Suburban Ghosts. As with the previous album, both men share credit for the writing and production.
As you expect given their combined pedigree and production credentials, the songs have an immediate radio friendly quality with a clean, if at times a tad sterile, sound (especially the synthetic rhythms). Braide has an engaging, if not distinctive voice whilst Downes' keyboards aim for restraint and melody rather than bombast. Braide is also credited with synths, piano and programming so it's not always obvious who's playing what.
The albums begins deceptively with Machinery Of Fate, which combines musically the synth-pop melodrama of the Pet Shop Boys and vocally the theatrical song style of Jacques Brel. I say deceptively because the rest of the album has a more contemporary feel with skilfully crafted songs boasting memorable hooks and intelligent lyrics. In fact, with 11 tracks in all, it's a minor achievement that there is not one bad or forgettable song on the entire album.
Given the abundance of tracks, clearly you will not find any prog-rock epics, however genre fans will appreciate songs like the expansive three-part title song Suburban Ghosts and the lyrical Dreaming Of England, which features a fine guitar solo from Dave Gregory of XTC fame, and the ever reliable Lee Pomeroy on bass.
Elsewhere, in songs like Vanity and Number One, Braide's lyrics display a pessimistic world view although musically the tunes are never ever sombre or downbeat. Downes' keyboards remain on the tasteful side of lush, especially his articulate piano playing.
The appropriately titled Finale is an instrumental version of the opening song and, as such, if you play the CD on continuous loop as I did in the car then it provides an effective intro to the aforementioned Machinery Of Fate, neatly bringing the album full circle.
If I had to make comparisons then the Downes Braide Association are perhaps reminiscent of the Steven Wilson/Aviv Geffen partnership Blackfield. That said, the fine balance between Braide's pop-rock sensibilities and Downes' sophisticated keyboard soundscapes makes for a unique and winning formula.
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10
Electric Moon - Theory of Mind
Hypnotika (16:03), Theory of Mind (19:04), The Picture (14:31), Aerosoul (14:28)
Hypnotika starts out like an aggressive Tangerine Dream piece before exploding into a lengthy, trance-like acid rock groove that gyrates and grows. There's a pinch of Krautrock, and some electronica thrown in for good measure. Hypnotic indeed.
The title track, and longest of the four 10-minute-plus pieces, also starts in a Berlin School electronic fashion, like an early Pink Floyd interlude, before building slowly and graciously and taking off into that inevitable space/stoner/psych rock groove. However, it's not quite as incessant as the previous track, much more laid back and considered - at least for the first half. The German trio then revert to type, spacey and psych. It swirls and drives, not dissimilar to some Hawkwind. The fuzz jam gets a bit chaotic toward the end; it's perhaps a few minutes too long.
The interesting and strange electronic ambience that starts The Picture is all too brief, as we're off almost immediately on another space jam. A very long one. For a description, see the previous two tracks.
The final track, Aerosoul, starts sedately, as do the others, and while it does take off in that familiar psychedelic vein, it doesn't go for the full-on approach, instead settling on a spacier groove that shimmers and spirals slowly towards a hypnotising climax.
If fuzzy, psychedelic spaced out jamming is your thing, it doesn't get much better than this. If, on the other hand, variety is what you crave, then this isn't your genre, and this album won't be that fulfilling.
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10
Karfagen - 7
Seven Gates (28:27), Now and Ever (6:36), Hopeless Dreamer (7:36), Alight Again (9:25), Seven Gates (edited version) (15:25)
The band is a project of Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Antony Kalugin, who sings and provides keyboards, programming and percussion, and a host of guest musicians.
Depending upon the point of view, this is five tracks, or four plus a bonus - strangely an edited version of the opener.
Seven Gates, the opener, starts off slowly, as you can with a 28-minute piece. When it does kick off, it's a bit of a stuttering affair in a decidedly neo-prog vein.
The track has an interesting theme, with one movement that starts out sounding oriental before transforming to an almost Parisian accordion. Then it goes back to flute and guitar. It's not aggressive rock, much more laid back.
Anyone who has the superb Swedish band Tribute's epic album New Views will find something similar here. It's a bit Steve Hackett, or perhaps even Mike Oldfield at times. The quieter keyboard moments sometimes evoke Vangelis. However, it works. While long, it's not particularly an epic because it lacks a bit of cohesion, but it's a plesant piece of prog nonetheless.
Now and Ever is quieter, with David Gilmour-like vocals at times. It's melodic, with some good guitar work. Hopeless Dreamer is as much pop as it is prog. It's a little on the more pop Pink Floyd side. Alight Again is much more sedate, and quite beautiful.
The 15-minute edited version of the first track is a bit of a strange addition, and seems to serve little purpose. That it can be edited to 15 minutes says something about the 28-minute version. It's hard to see how Supper's Ready or Nine Feet Underground could have appeared on albums in a long and short form, for example.
It's a very good album, well worked, impressive musically, and with plenty of musical influences. But, for all that, it's not quite outstanding. It's worth a listen for lovers of classy neo-prog with some pop leanings. It never gets a hard edge, but then nor did bands like Tribute or the Alan Parsons Project. On the bright side, to be mentioned in the same arena as Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons, is pretty decent. And, after a few listens, the warmth grows.
So while it's not at the upper echelons, it certainly has plenty to enjoy, and there's not a bad track on the album. well worth a listen, but not destined to become a backbone of any collection.
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10
Mad Fellaz - Mad Fellaz II
Hollow Shell (14:00), Blood Pressure I (1:29), Blood Pressure II (14:41), Me Gusta (6:54), OVO (Of Virtual Omniscence) (11:56), Moslem Sabbath (8:45), Meet the Gooroo (3:39)
The band was formed in Bassano del Grappa in Italy during 2010. Mad Fellaz use of diverse instruments in their arrangements is impressive. From the introductory percussion led moments of the opening track Hollow Shell to the final flourish of Meet The Gooroo some 60 minutes later, there is much to be admired and appreciated.
The music is skilfully composed and impeccably played. The performance of the band and the music produced is engaging throughout. Stunning keyboard passages, expressive vocal-led sections and fluid guitar solos all have an important part to play. There are many fine instrumental passages and numerous shifts in tempo to appreciate. The qualities of the instrumental parts are impressive and often extraordinary. Some might even find them thrilling.
Mad Fellaz II is generously seasoned with the complex flavours of Canterbury styled prog and at times is lightly spiced with the drive and aggression of rock. Above all else, it is an album that displays the freedom of spirit that the inclusion of jazz influences can provide. Mad Fellaz II is an album that combines the best elements of Canterbury styled prog with the warming reassuring predictability and challenging unpredictability that an infusion of jazz and rock influences can offer.
Stylistically, the album ranges from National Health-like instrumental passages to very occasional forays to a fuller quasi big band sound as beloved by bands such as Ian Carr's Nucleus. Nods to Santana, Gilgamesh and King Crimson also peep through in the band's lengthy compositions. The combination of so many contrasting styles creates music that is spaciously vibrant, always distinctive and often unique.
The addition of a vocalist on Mad Fellaz II sees the band also move towards a style that is sometimes akin to Thieves Kitchen. On some occasions singer Anna Farronato has a tone and range that is reminiscent of Amy Darby. At other times though, her vocal delivery has hint of the style of Dagmar Krause or Bent Knee's Courtney Swain. This is particularly noticeable in the wonderfully enigmatic track Blood Pressure II and in the more up tempo parts of the outstanding OVO.
The introduction of vocal parts on Mad Fellaz II gives the band a whole new dimension of sounds and Farronato's performance is impressive. Her expressive ability makes Mad Fellaz II an album that should appeal to those who enjoy the use of the voice as an instrument in its own right, or as a rich embellishment to an already varied instrumental canvas. The palate of the band has evolved and has become more varied; where keys, guitar, flute and sax provide some outstanding individual and collective ensemble moments.
The flute is not as prevalent in this album as the first, but it still bursts through on occasions with enough kick tongued energy to give parts of the album a raw fluted rock aftertaste. Its surprising entry into the impressive opening track is both exciting and effective.
Blood Pressure I sees the band channelling the Northettes. It is a delightful tranquil interlude that manages to be both ethereal and beautifully fragile. Blood Pressure I is a calming bridge that gently swathes the listener before they are unsuspectingly immersed in the tempestuous and boiling features of Blood Pressure II.
Blood Pressure II is an intense experience and has a wide range of moods within its 14 minutes. It includes frequent interludes of no-holds-barred instrumental and vocal frenzy. The overall result is enthralling, totally captivating and quite magnificent. These imaginatively blusterous elements add an altogether different, but nonetheless welcome, component to the album's overall mix of styles.
Mad Fellaz II is an album that has many peaks in its seven compositions. All of the tracks have different elements that a varied prog audience might enjoy. An overriding sense of quality and attention to detail is apparent throughout the album.
The instrumental Me Gusta is amongst my favourites. It is clothed in an outer garment of jazz influences that is immediately satisfying, but also lingers with a thoroughly rewarding aftertaste.
OVO is equally impressive. Throughout the 11-plus minutes of this piece Mad Fellaz show that they have the ability and ingenuity to surprise. It combines all of the ingredients that make the music of Mad Fellaz appealing. OVO is cleverly garnished with beautiful piano parts and peppered with the rhythmic aggression of King Crimson. This juxtaposition of styles and complex diversity found within Mad Fellaz music is just one of the features that makes this album so interesting and rewarding.
Mad Fellaz II has been a pleasure to listen to, but a challenging album to review. I hope that if you are not already familiar with this band, that you are moved to explore.
Those who appreciate instrumental complexity and sumptuous vocal melodies contained within carefully constructed compositions will find much to enjoy. I have no hesitation recommending this excellent and glorious album.
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10
Malady - Malady
Kantaa taken maa (8:41), Loittoneva varjoni (2:31), Pieniin saariin (7:56), Unessakävelijä (7:27), Aarnivalkea (10:19), Kakarlampi (2:31)
The band's sound successfully blends activity and languorousness, and the tunes are uniformly strong. The jazzy, dreamy opening to Kantaa taakan maa shows some American Southern twang before exploding into fits of edginess. A catchy guitar riff, surprising time changes, and busy drumming make the tune memorable.
The acoustic-guitar intro and overall mellowness of the next piece, Loittoneva varjoni, offer a nice interlude. Pieniin saariin, a great song bookended by ballad, variously floats around, led primarily by a distorted organ, and bursts into crunchy guitar leads. Unessakävelijä is founded by a rock beat, but the leads (guitar and bass) are pleasantly jazzy. On that tune, the on-fire drumming and rugged guitar stand out (although the final half, which adds acoustic piano, is more relaxed). Aarnivalkea, which has shades of Focus, has some eerie vocals upfront and gobs of atmosphere. Much of the tune, though, is straight-ahead rock, and, despite a Caravan-like organ solo and spicy bass, the creativity otherwise apparent on the CD is not on display here. The mellow closer, Kakarlampi_, perfectly allows the listener to space out and contemplate the fine journey just had.
The excellent sonic quality on the CD is worth noting. The clarity is consistently outstanding, as is the separation among the instruments.
In the end, this is an excellent debut. Despite the brevity of the CD, there's something for almost everyone, as rock, jazz, and psychedelia are all on offer. And those who like atmospheric and mellifluous music, albeit with an occasional bite, will likely find much to like.
Joel Atlas: 7 out of 10
Mrs. Kite - A Closer Inspection
Intro (4:21), Break of Day (6:19), An Inveterate Optimist (7:09), A Closer Inspection (11:27), Good Morning (3:39), Dancing New Gull (3:56), Off Shore (11:08)
This 48-minute-long album contains seven tracks, easy to label with a progressive rock/metal tag. Although the most rigorous listeners won't be too impressed by the quality of the recording and by the mixing of the whole album, these four guys have some technical skills.
Furthermore, we always have to remember that recording an album with the utmost professionalism is nowadays a tough achievement for new bands.
Melodic, soft and intimate parts are here entangled between metal and hard rock riffs, with long and interesting instrumental sections interspersed with vocal moments. Mrs. Kite have been able to combine atmospheres typical of prog bands from the 70s such as Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes with more recent sounds inspired by Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree.
Do you hear innovative ideas from this German quartet? Not at all. But if you're looking once more for the same soup, only prepared by different musicians, then you can certainly listen to A Closer Inspection.
The album opens with a long (and by long, I mean too long) introductory deep synth piece accompanied by an anguished keyboards sound and, after a while, by some background vocals reminding me of subliminal messages. I'm sure I won't commit suicide nor pray to Satan in the next few weeks, but I've certainly heard better openings in my short and modest life.
However, I was filled by a new and strong excitement as soon as this gloomy introduction led to an awesome melodic section, with piano and guitars overlapping a supporting rhythmic section. This is truly remarkable! Unfortunately this Intro explodes into a hard rock second half - one of the kind heard a thousand times before from hundreds of bands.
Interestingly, the description of this opening track reflects my feelings for the rest of the album. Indeed, I enjoyed all of the quiet and melodic sections, which are certainly well-composed, revealing the good potential of the band. On the other hand, I totally cannot appreciate hard rock and metal solutions which, although reflecting good musical skills, have been heard before too many times.
Also, the atmospheres built and the sounds chosen are kept pretty much the same, thus denying any remarkable variation along the record. There's only one thing you're not prepared for after the first instrumental track: vocals. I can't say vocal lines are not effective, or that they don't fit with the instrumental section. They are and they do. However, for inexplicable and probably personal reasons linked to the voice itself, I find them annoying and difficult to enjoy.
The album comes with Porcupine Tree-style cover art by Larissa Kikol, which perfectly reflects the album's atmospheres and themes. Lyrics deal with psychological introspection and personal problems experienced potentially by anyone during his or her lifetime. The style and themes are somehow close to Steven Wilson's, and there's some potential in these words composed by Florian Schuch and Philipp Verenkotte. Interesting and very expressive!
There's certainly some potential in this German band. However, lacking originality and dynamism, I personally don't think this album represents a valuable starting point for them and I'm sure they'll be able to do much better in the future. Nevertheless, you can extract very interesting fragments and I suggest this to any progressive fan who really doesn't want to miss anything.
Ale Dunzie: 5.5 out of 10
Zaedyus - Santos Vega
Intro (2:10), The Minstrel's Song (5:54), Outro (0:56), The Voice Of Progress (5:04), A Legend Will Raise (2:14), Chasing the Dreams (Acoustic Version) (4:12), Train to Alemania (live version) (7:22)
The band describe the EP (Santos Vega) as: "Santos Vega" is a concept album that tells the myth of the undefeatable minstrel from the Argentinean pampas. To bring together this masterpiece, we gathered 12 of the best musicians available in Buenos Aires. This is a carefully conceived mixture of heavy metal instruments with South American woodwinds, percussion and other typical instruments from the southern region of the world!"
The EP starts with a short medieval-sounding intro, before a fast-paced, hard-hitting progressive number kicks in. With intricate riffing from both violins and guitars, complemented by some complicated drumming and overlayed with keys, it gleefully sets the tone for the rest of the EP.
With a nice mixture of both male and female vocals, it adds a touch of power to the music, with the singers perfectly fitting in with the more folk and progressive metal orientated music. A break is thrown in halfway through, featuring keys, violins, flutes and acoustics and nicely splits the song in two, before it brings back the metal for the rest of the song.
The second full song unfortunately starts off sounding a bit confused, with slightly too many instruments playing at the same time. However this soon calms down and the intense riffs become perfectly clear again. The song breaks about half-way through and changes from progressive metal song to one that wanders through a mix of almost circus-type music, right through to modern progressive metal, before sliding rather abruptly (but perfectly) into the next track.
Altogether, there is an interesting mix of sounds, some very talented playing and some exceptional vocals. Many influences from various genres or styles can be heard and are all very well crafted and mixed together.
Vocally, the singers weave effortlessly in and out of each other, with an almost 'question and answer' style of delivery, before they join for some fantastic harmonies. Both are very talented, however, and fit the music perfectly.
Musically, I would perhaps say there are one or two small occasions where there are perhaps too many instruments at once, where it is hard to keep track of what is playing what. However, these moments tend to be relatively few and far between. Aside from this slight hiccup, though; the music is a stunning display of technicality with a brilliant mix of 'traditional folk' instruments being used alongside the guitars and drums. The flute work is particularly good, with the violins adding a lot of character to the EP as a whole.
Calum Gibson: 7 out of 10