Bent Knee - Shiny Eyed Babies
Shiny Eyed Babies (1:19), Way Too Long (4:59), Dry (6:07), In God We Trust (5:20), I'm Still Here (5:08), Dead Horse (5:17), Battle Creek (5:42), Untitled (2:00), Sunshine (5:19), Democratic Chorale (1:42), Skin (5:58), Being Human (6:28), Toothsmile (7:23)
You may discover that you are enchanted by its colourful and emotive musical palette; you may find that you are seized by its primeval pull and you may even feel moved by the band's wry observations on the human condition. I know I was!
This often adventurously exciting and impressive album has many skins to shed. The sheer scope and wide breadth of the music creates a unique listening experience in which a full compass of emotions is revealed in 13 intense compositions.
The music ranges from the beautifully fragile title track, to the ugly, angry and raucous desperation of In God We Trust. There are even parts underlying tracks such as Battle Creek and the unusual yet memorable arrangements of Dead Horse, which suggest the band have a sensibility towards swinging pop.
A number of pieces, including the album's triple peaks of Dry, Sunshine and Being Human are both lyrically and dynamically flavoured by a somewhat sinister ambience. As a consequence, these pieces have a propensity to leave the listener with a disturbing bittersweet after taste. These widely differing ingredients on offer create an album that is always totally fascinating, even beguiling, but on occasions can be a difficult and disturbing experience.
The musicianship on display is exemplary. The band originally came together when the players met at the Berklee School of Music. The five members are assisted by guest players who provide a multi-coloured outer garment to skilfully embellish the band's already colourful blend of instruments.
The album is dominated by the extraordinary vocal prowess of Courtney Swain. Her unusual intonation, power, subtlety and wide range are all impressively spiked by her heart-felt delivery of a variety of insightful and pithy lyrics. The result is totally captivating and quite wonderful. The instrumental passages and vocal parts of the album are symbiotic. Individually, they are satisfyingly effective, but when joined together they create something that is powerfully mesmerising and is hard to ignore.
It is difficult to ascribe points of reference to this band's music. In essence, it contains the unpredictable spirit and willingness to experiment that has characterised the work of artists such as King Crimson over the years. The truly remarkable and extraordinary vocals of Swain bear no comparison with other singers. Although singers as diverse as, Bjork, Kate Bush and Dagmar Krause were all brought to mind on occasions during the course of the album. Throughout the release there is also an emotional intensity on display that is the hall mark and characteristic of artists such as, St Vincent and Gazelle Twin, as illustrated by her superbly dark and uncompromising Unflesh album.
In the final analysis, Shiny Eyed Babies is an album that has many outstanding facets. Any attempt to breakdown these components for further scrutiny does not do justice to the album's thrilling compositions and edgy and unique sound. It is an album teeming with powerful crescendos and sprinkled with gentle caresses; these in turn crash and lap upon unsuspecting listeners who have been captured by the music's exceptionally tight embrace.
Shiny Eyed Babies is refreshingly different and defies description or definition. In the end, all I can add is that it is simply brilliant. It even comes with a guarantee!
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10
Tom Caufield - Things I Heard While in the Womb
Waif Among the Reeds (23:54), Rubies on Fallen Leaves (3:47), Palace of Broken Mirrors (11:11)
Things I Heard While in the Womb is an entirely instrumental album and Caufield plays all the instruments on it. Leading, in the main, with his nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, he adds in gentle hand percussion, electric piano, organ and synthesiser.
The epic first track, Waif Among the Reeds, slowly ebbs and flows over its long running time as it evolves in its stately, shuffling way. His finger picking guitar brings to mind the most obvious candidates such as Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips, Mike Oldfield and John Williams' work with Sky. There is also something of Rick Wright in the gentle keyboards used on the track. It moves along organically, and is never dull.
The short middle piece has a delightful melody, but it is the last song, Palace of Broken Mirrors, that is the top track here. There is a blues-like bass underpinning, alongside cello and electric piano with the acoustic playing bringing to mind the imaginative playing of John Martyn. The arrangement is subtle and the mix of instrumentation is very engaging. It develops, without you being aware, into something tender but nonetheless powerful.
So, a gentle album with a calming aesthetic. It is always engaging and never drifts anywhere near background or wallpaper music. Organic, accessible and evocative of a quiet, beautifully laid-out garden found in a corner of a bustling metropolis. A delightful triumph of minimalism.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10
Tom Caufield - Moog & Nylon
Distant Early Warning (4:11), Chaosophy (7:15), Homeless On A Holiday (4:41), In Fine Style (7:02), Memento Mori (4:57), Indigo Resignation (4:00), Pungent Aspic Perfume (3:35)
As with his previous album, Things I Heard While in the Womb, this is a collection of slow to mid paced instrumentals, and again Caufield plays all the instruments. The melodies evolve in a subdued, minimalist way without becoming ambient muzak. The tunes here are a relaxing tonic to the onward bluster of the modern world.
The opener, Distant Early Warning (no relation to the Rush track of the same name), has dark pulses of Moog over which a reverb laden acoustic picking of a soundtrack melody. It reminds me of some of Mark Knopfler's film work. The second track, Chaosophy, opens like Vangelis' title theme to Blade Runner. It moves on well with hand percussion providing its impetus rather than the more obvious choice of using a sequencer. There is an emotional carol-like melody to Homeless On A Holiday. The closer, Pungent Aspic Perfume, has a touch of Tangerine Dream about it.
In the main, this is a very repeat listenable collection of tunes. It is only let down by the rather bland, to my ears, slow funk groove of In Fine Style. It has a Moog refrain that becomes repetitive and is not really redeemed by the jazzy improvisations of Caufield's guitar. Unfortunately, it feels like filler. Overall, though, a great experiment.
Martin Burns: 7 out of 10
Giöbia - Magnifier
This World Was Being Watched Closely (6:21), The Pond (6:06), The Stain (4:24), Lentamente la luce svanirà (5:54), Devil's Howl (3:13), Sun Spectre (15:01), The Magnifier (4:35)
However, while Porcupine Tree's music varies hugely between tracks, there's no such let up here. The Pond is quite similar, fuzzy acid rock guitars swelling around a pounding beat and breathy voice that also brings to mind bands such as Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles. It sounds much more psychedelic and improvisational than the first track, and doesn't have the changes that make the opener so interesting.
The Stain slows it down but it's still acid rock with treated vocals, although there is a hint of melody in there that at times wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Klaatu album. Fortunately, there's a change of pace involved, as that 70s sounding psych gives way to some electronic noodling that really elevates the piece from the homogeneity.
The remainder of the tracks follow a similar pattern or swirling psychedelia that are excellent for the genre, but at times offer so much more promise and potential.
The only exception is Sun Spectre, which runs at 15 minutes, and which could have been an epic. Again, it evokes occasional glimpses of PT, and while there's plenty going on, and some momentary brilliance, it again feels like a missed opportunity to experiment and break the pattern.
When Giöbia change things around and try to be inventive, they excel. The straight-ahead psych/acid rock pieces with little variation do little to distinguish them from other bands in the genre.
This is a band that, should they decide to take some risks and switch things around more, could potentially have a huge future. It's the variety that took Porcupine Tree to the next level, and there are enough hints here that Giöbia is capable of scaling similar heights.
Of course, they may want to simply stay in this genre, which is their decision and is their right. But, with a bit of a plan, they don't need to be pigeonholed or limited. Their next steps will be interesting.
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10
Kiama - Signs Of IV
Cold Black Heart (4:36), Tears (4:55), Muzzled (7:06), Slime (8:32), I Will Make It Up To You (5:49), To The Edge (6:36), Beautiful World (7:57), Slip Away (8:24), Free (5:23)
The album is made with the general idea of extracting the progressive elements from classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Queen and use them to make a contemporary prog album with melodious songs. Although all musicians individually are among the best they never lower themselves to any form of ego tripping and it all sounds as a band. The voice of Thompson, despite that it seems his voice range has been pushed to the limit, like on the opening track Cold Black Heart, is suited perfectly to the songs.
The album kicks off with a thundering rock song with heavy guitar riffs and some nice organ sounds slightly reminiscent of Led Zeppelin.
The second track, Tears, is more mellow and reminded me of Sound Of Contact. It contains some jazzy elements and has a brilliant solo by Machin on guitar towards the end that sadly enough is ended in a very abrupt manner.
Definitely worth mentioning are the backing vocals, which sound great, especially on the tracks Muzzled and To The Edge. They stand in the spotlight and lift the level of these tracks even higher!
One of my favourite tracks is Slime, a track that reminded me a lot of Frost. Reed excels on his keyboards and Machin produces some fine riffs and excellent soloing on his guitar. It's also the longest track on the album. Probably the most progressive track is Beautiful World where we even hear sounds reminding us of Genesis. Again with magnificent soloing on guitar, impressive organ sounds and even a drum solo by Andy Edwards!
Slip Away is a very powerful track that could easily have been the theme tune of a new James Bond movie and it has about the same impact on me as Skyfall by Adele.
I wasn't very familiar with the abilities of guitarist Machin but he really impressed me on this album. From acoustic to a more heavy style, he masters it all! This is a great debut album by this foursome and a must have for everyone who likes the above-mentioned bands.
Peter Swanson: 9 out of 10
Lion Shepherd - Hiraeth
Fly On (4:55), Lights Out (5:14), Brave New World (3:39), Music Box Ballerina (4:59), I'm Open (4:39), Past in Mirror (4:44), Wander (3:58), Infidel Act of Love (5:10), Smell of War (4:16), Strongest Breed (4:35)
Fast forward a few months to March 2016. I have lived with this album for just over six weeks, and had it on in my car and on my iPod whilst I've been commuting to work, and fair to say there is no bad track on it.
The four piece of Kamil Haidar (vocals and lyrics), Mateusz Owczarek (electric guitars, acoustic guitars, our), Wojciech Rucinski (electric bass and fretless bass) and Slawek Berny (drums/percussion), are masters of their craft, mastering that art of being rock without being too heavy and interspersing the songs with subtle shades. Lion Shepherd's secret weapon is the diverse musical skill of Owczarek.
Blending traditional western guitar riffs with a more Arabian style and adding hints of folk and world music to the mix, Lion Shepherd are more interesting than their contemporaries.
On songs like Music Box Ballerina with it's fantastic riffs, and acoustic/electric interplay, there is so much depth throughout this album. The single, Lights Out, showcases all their skills in one amazing five-minute track.
Having had this album take up squatters' rights in my headspace, it is so easy to see why they worked so well as a support band for Riverside: both bands have an innate sense of passion, intelligence and skill to blend diverse musical ideas into one melting pot.
It's clear from tracks like I'm Open, with its powerful vocals and sparse arrangements, that Lion Shepherd wear their hearts on their sleeves, and their passion in their music. The epic power of Infidel Act of Love, with its sublime harmonies and big build to the climax, is one of the songs on the album.
The complexity of styles and mix of Eastern and Western sounds gives some tracks a hint of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir, but it's not as if Lion Shepherd are mere Zep clones, instead it's more like they're both heading in the same direction but using different maps.
This is an assured, powerful and fascinating album that rewards each listen, and, more importantly, the power and passion on record translates even better on stage, as if these songs were always designed to be performed live in front of an appreciative audience.
James R Turner: 8 out of 10
Julien Martinoia - The Insight
Leave You Now (7:34), Never Go Back Home (6:18), No Destination (6:48), The Road (6:14), My Victory (6:08), It Can't Be Enough (4:35), Earthquake (5:56), Warm Wind (6:33), I'm Fading (6:49), Already The End (5:02)
The other albums, Different Vision (2005), and A World I Created (2009), are quite a while ago, so it's high time he let us know that he's still alive and kicking. In the long period of time between his second album and his third, he has been working on new material in a style that differs from the symphonic metal of A World I Created. This new album can be described as a rock album with songs containing progressive elements in a melodic style.
The piano has an important role on this album and, in general, is always clearly present in JM's music. Combined with the various guitar sounds from heavy to more mellow and sometimes other keyboard sounds, it leads to enough musical variety.
He also sings with lots of passion and emotion in his voice and I think that a singer should always sing like that. Unfortunately JM's voice doesn't convince me so much and after a few songs it even starts to irritate me. I hear too much sobbing in his voice when he's singing. Maybe it's because he's a Frenchman singing in English and the Mediterranean languages sound more elegant and theatrical than the Anglo-Saxon. I would be curious if his voice would sound better to my ears if he sung in French. After all, bands such as Lazuli and Nemo have proven that you can be very successful singing in your own language.
The lyrics of the 10 songs are about choices, about how it can be difficult to realise that things in our life are sometimes bad or noxious for oneself or others, and how it's necessary to make sacrifices to go on living.
JM has successfully succeeded in making an album in a different style from its predecessors that sounds convincing enough in the musical department, but it's not on the same level vocally. One of the better tracks is Earthquake, but not many other tracks stick in the memory. Prog moves in many directions, so I'm sure JM's music will appeal more to others.
Peter Swanson: 6.5 out of 10
So Far as I Know - Hidden Poetry
Glowing (2:41), tripHOPE (7:13), Amala (5:28), Dark Waters (6:28), Be With me Now (6:34), Fading souls harbor pt 1 (5:03), Fading souls harbor pt II (6:31), Flying the whales (9:09), Atlantis (7:24)
The four members, Sergei Guselnikov (guitars/electronics), Dmitriy Ilyasov (guitars), Viktor Korkin (bass) and Dmitriy Shelomentsev (drums), manage to make their work sound almost symphonic in its approach.
With heavily textured and layered pieces of power and depth they remind in places of Explosions in the Sky or The Fierce and the Dead as well as some of the instrumental density of Porcupine Tree.
Taking a mix of contemporary rock sounds and big riffs, then mixing them with multi-layered sounds, the twin guitars riff and bounce off each other as they build on the mighty nine-minute epic, Flying the Whales, which, with its mood changes, key changes, heavy chunky riffs, big bass and drum sounds and mix of metal, prog and rock neatly encapsulates their sound in one slice of instrumental perfection.
With shades of Rob Duggan on some of the more atmospheric tracks, like Glowing, or Amala, this album sounds like a dark soundtrack for a movie that hasn't been made yet, and it's very easy to listen to this on the headphones and lose yourself as you get immersed in the music.
This is another amazing record from a Russian band, and shows that some of the most interesting and exciting post prog music is coming from far off shores. If you like your instrumental music to be dense, complex, interesting and epic, then come on in, we've been waiting for you.
James R Turner: 7 out of 10
UCAN2 - Air
Air (3:57), We Are (3:11), City Pressure (3:23), Hope (3:01), Blinker (2:46), Journey (6:47)
The EP passes by quickly, and so the sample of songs and sounds is arguably too small to safely allow characterisation. But, surely, the band draws primarily from rock and secondarily from jazz. The music is somewhat eclectic and certainly guitar-centric (there is no dedicated keyboard player); most of the tunes are upbeat and mid-tempo.
The opener, Air, is frankly an unimpressive starter. The sequenced background sounds dated and fluffy, and the tune rides too close to the pop border. We Are is better. The raucous guitar and strong drumming make this jazz-rock fusion piece stand out. City Pressure features more-distorted guitar but, like the title track, it's dragged down by repetitive and tinny background samples.
Hope is perhaps the best-composed tune. It's mostly mellow but features some rousing guitar leads. This is a memorable and catchy tune. Blinker conjures up 1980s pop in both songwriting and tone; and a blend of The Knack's My Sharona with a somewhat zany squealing sound is just not a pleasant pairing. Thankfully, the next tune, Journey is a comeback. Myriad tempo changes, funky bass lines, and sharp guitar duelling create a winning finale.
For now, while UCAN2 finds its footing in the recording studio, the band may be at its best when playing live. The music on display here would certainly lend itself to extensive jamming, and, based on this EP, the band members have the musical chops to do that well. As for the band's recorded music, this would benefit from greater focus on core musicianship and non-synthetic instrumentation. Indeed, the songs on the EP that follow that more-organic model show that the band has promise.
Joel Atlas: 6 out of 10
Doug Woods and Colin Powell - The Haunting of Sally Caster
The Haunting Of Sally Caster (4:29), Rats In The Attic (5:12), The Storyteller (3:34), The Nightmare (3:34), The Black Bridge (3:42), The Haunted Carousel (5:52), Up To No Good (5:17), The Carnival Of Forgotten Darkness (4:52), Sally At The Gates (4:19), The Lament Requiem Musical Box (3:19), The Mechanical Girl (4:18), Sally Set Her Free (3:40)
Without spoiling the story, it certainly helps to read it prior to listening to the album. If not, a further listen does reveal much more than listening without the background information.
There is clearly an homage to Rick Wakeman in some of the playing, however, it's definitely far from being a blatant copy. Indeed, other artists spring to mind, such as some of the music on Anthony Phillips' underrated 1984 album.
It's melodic, enchanting and engaging throughout, and just about diverse enough to not be dull. Each piece is varied, there are plenty of changes and tempos to keep those interested in the lighter side of instrumental prog more than happy.
The Nightmare eloquently creates a musical image of the title. It's a well-crafted piece of keyboard-driven music.
While the keyboards certainly seem to dominate, that doesn't mean the guitar doesn't play a major role. It's tasteful and appropriate, and there's never any unnecessary soloing on display.
Often, it's quite easy to know what track is playing without referencing the listing. The Haunted Carousel sounds exactly as you'd imagine. It's moody, dark and not a million miles away from some of Tony Banks' instrumental work. It meanders from eerie and creepy to a more rock-oriented piece, and then back again.
Certainly lofty comparisons, but it's an impressive and extremely professional album that flows effortlessly, telling its story as it goes.
This is certainly a deeper album than most soundtracks - often when music is created for a movie, the tracks are painfully short. Here, the story is the music, and it has a chance to tell its tale. Notes replace the words or, if you're reading the storyline, augment them. Together, they may be greater than the sum of their parts, but the music is definitely more than capable of standing up for itself.
It's ambitious, but triumphantly haunting and extremely worth at least a couple of listens, once alone, and then again with the tale to give it an additional, and welcome, dimension.
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10