What to Do (4:02), Little Stripper Girl (2:53), Stay Tonight (3:40), The Two of Us (4:03), Ring Thing (2:42), A Never Ending Storm (4:08), Lawless Local Heroes (3:45), I'm So Glad (5:28), The Starry Night (5:39), Down (3:20), The Next Time (4:37), We Are Done (4:35)
In the follow-up to the renowned Dutch prog bands Egdon Heath and Seven Day Hunt, I first became aware of the vocal capacities of Han Uil (singer with Seven Day Hunt and previously with Dutch prog rockers Antares), a man with a distinct and warm voice who matched the sound of these bands just fine. That feat was something that certainly didn't go unnoticed to both guitarist Aldo Adema, and Han himself. So after Seven Day Hunt apparently became caught in the ever-changing sands of time, the two worked together on a couple of albums.
After having mastered two Silhouette albums, Han started working on this very album, already his third solo album. Earlier music may have ventured more explicitly in the fields of the progressive, here the very Americana-like cover photograph hints at different territory. The album's songs are much more in a storytelling vein and do combine several influences. The info sheet sort of occassionaly drops names of Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa, Jethro Tull, Neil Young, Jack White and Bob Dylan. That in itself might lead to thinking that the info sheet reeks a bit of sheer arrogance. Or does it? The answer may be simpler than it seems. Though the references might be confused for arrogance, in fact, the thing they really try to do is to point out what direction Han's music takes on this album.
In that respect, the information is spot on. Here's a dedicated singer and songwriter who undoubtedly plays the guitar with a lot of emotion and who has now made an album that puts him somewhere in-between all the names mentioned. The music still holds its prog roots, yet just as easily slips into Mark Knopfler, Roxy Music or Eric Clapton territory. In fact, the prog roots are only there as contrasting elements in very sophisticated singer/songwriter music. The reference of both Clapton and Knopfler seems very adequate and Han has penned an album that gives him room to tastefully share his guitar playing with those listening.
There is great drumming by Sander Zoer of Delain fame, Erik Laan (Silhouette) provides Hammond and piano, and Esther Ladiges (Illumion and Ayreon) is the female voice on the album. Han has Eric Healing play saxophone on the first track and his long-time friend Aldo Adema provides bass, guitar and keys. Han not only sings and plays the guitar, buit also adds harmonica and keys. All of the guests are no slouches, and together with Han they have created a very tasteful album that really needs to be listened to.
I have now given this album several spins and its gentle caress, in both the instrumental sections and in the vocal parts, make this album worthwhile. It has lyrics and vocal lines that easily lean towards Knopfler and Jethro Tull, with humour abound. When it gets later on in the evening and the mood is set for sounds that can be both soothing and rocking in places, this is one fine album to go to.
I Came Before the Water (pt. I) (1:41), Too Many Years (5:09), Clear Clearer (4:35), Sleeping Pills (3:43), Libretto Horror (2:13), Lighthouse (6:13), Harmony (5:19), Matches (4:18), Belighted (3:28), Chalk and Coal (4:56), I Came Before the Water (pt. II) (2:56), Post Scriptum (2:43)
Mark Hughes' Review
Lighthouse, the third studio album from the Russian chamber prog duo iamthemorning, sees the band honing their art and delivering what can only be said to be a spectacular album. A glorious string ensemble weaves its way around melodies, an interesting mixture of wind (flute and clarinet), brass (trumpet) and woodwind (bombard) adds tonal emphasis, and the wonderful Perezvony choir take Sleeping Pills, possibly the most gorgeous song ever written about suicide, to a whole other level. Add to the mix Porcupine Tree's rhythm section of Gavin Harrison and Colin Edwin, guitarist Vlad Avy and the inclusion of a duet with Riverside's Mariusz Duda on the album's title track and you have the ingredients of something special. And that is even before the stellar talents of Gleb Kolyadin and Mariana Semkina are even considered.
Semkina is simply a phenomenal vocalist, whether singing a capella, backed by a full band or, as is largely the case, accompanying the piano. Her backing vocal arrangements are also a joy to behold. Kolyadin is the latest in a long line of Russian classical pianists that are able to wring every emotion from their instrument. Make no mistake, Kolyadin is not only a fine pianist but also an excellent composer. That he has chosen to ply his trade in the rock arena, should not belittle his evident skills. The instrumental Harmony for example, is a phenomenally impressive piece of music, that if scored for an orchestra rather than a rock band would find a welcome home on Classic FM.
There is a tremendous depth and variety to the album, helped by the backing instruments employed across songs. Hats off to Duda for being bold enough to duet with Semkina, who could make anyone question their vocal abilities. But he pulls it off with aplomb, and his solo vocal lines provide a vibrant contrast to the higher register of Semkina. However, it is when the two share lines that the magic really works, the blend of the two is simply perfect.
Despite the subject matter of the whole album being about mental illness(some of the lyrics make rather uncomfortable reading), there is an overall positivity to proceedings. Having said that, the music does encapsulate the ups and downs that many sufferers have to endure, simply in order to survive. Although the album really needs to be listened to in its entirety in correct sequence, each song stands up in isolation and it would be a hard task to identify any stand-out songs, simply because each piece stands-out in its own right; there is genuinely not a weak song on the album.
I can confidently say that Lighthouse is an album that I will be listening to until the day I die.
Andy Read's Review
We can all recognise the obvious ingredients that differentiate a good album from a bad one. Can the singer sing, can the musicians play, can the composers compose, and has someone without a hearing aid been left in charge of the production?
However it is much more difficult to identify what exactly transforms a good album into a great one. I have firmly concluded that the devil is in the detail. The tiniest components can make the difference between an artist's compositions either collecting dust, or winning repeat invitations back to your hi-fi.
More on that topic later. First a bit of context.
I have Prog Archives to thank for an early introduction to this wonderful duo out of St Petersburg. There is a great feature on that website which allows you to search for the most highly-rated albums by a particular year, country or genre.
Every three months or so, I tend to look for the most popular albums across-the-board for that year. My curiosity was thus aroused by the appearance in 2012 of a Russian act that I had never seen mentioned anywhere else, getting an unusually high number of high ratings, with what looked to be a debut album, intriguingly entitled ~.
A visit to iamthemorning's Bandcamp page quickly confirmed that the detectives of the progressive underground from prog Archives were really onto something: a beguiling mix of classical music and progressive folk rock with a singer who had a distinct hint of Kate Bush and Julianne Regan (All About Eve). DPRP quickly caught on to this duo, with a 10 out of 10 stamp of approval in its review here
In 2014 a second album came out, with Belighted getting another positive DPRP review, (here) as did the stop-gap live album From the House of Arts released six months ago (review here). The duo also undertook their debut European tour in support of label-mates Gazpacho.
I have followed the progress of pianist Gleb Kolyadin and singer Marjana Semkina with keen interest ever since that first Prog Archives encounter, and strongly tip iamthemorning for a very bright future. Thus my expectations were high for this, their third studio album, once again released by the successful kscope label.
I only have the label's promo CD, which sadly lacks the booklet and the all-important lyrics. "Important" because a key ingredient of the Lighthouse package is the lyrical story that tells of a personal progression of mental illness. Matching the storyline to the music should be an important part of any analysis. A shame, but for the time-being my assessment of Lighthouse will have to be based on the musical content.
Obviously with the musical talents involved, a sparkling production, and a lovely cover illustration from watercolour artist Constantine Nagishkin, this is always going to be a good album. And there is also much delight in the detail, offering the potential for this to be a great album.
The highlights are many. The work of the Porcupine Tree rhythm section of Gavin Harrison (drums) and Colin Edwin (bass) is perfectly judged. I'd say that the bass work is actually one of the aspects I most enjoyed, especially the lovely three-note bass riff on Too Many Years, where Colin has to fill the gaps left by the non-existent guitar.
Everything on this album will also enhance the musical reputations of Gleb, whose input and variety behind his grand piano is perfectly judged, and Marjana whose voice is simply stunning throughout. Both should be inundated with guest appearance and collaboration offers once this album gets the audience it deserves.
In terms of the actual songs, the music on this disc is rich and eclectic but with that immediately-recognisable iamthemorning trademark sound. Compared to Belighted the sound relies more heavily on classical music. The guitar appears just twice and the verse/chorus structure is largely avoided. There is still a clear influence from the progressive Canterbury style, English folk, and a sprinkling of jazz and electronica. I would select five of the tracks as having all the hallmarks of a great or classic album.
Too Many Years is a cleverly-composed slice of groove-laden progressive folk rock, that slides effortlessly through several transitional themes. Chalk and Coal is the most progressive track, with its dark-jazz vibe leading towards the avant-garde, amidst and slightly off-kilter vocal and the bonus of a wonderful trumpet solo followed by a rare six-string appearance.
Libretto Horror offers a very different charm, for its very clever play on classical-meets-musical and Marjana's joyfully-bouncy vocal. Equally, listening to her voice over the harp on Belighted is a genuinely moving experience. The great melodic hook and another nice progression of the music, also strengthens the merit of Matches.
The shining beacon on this album however is the title track, which beams in all directions from the halfway point. Again it is a song that evolves smoothly between different phases, but the cherry on the top is a duet which evolves with Riverside's Mariusz Duda. Not many singers could hold their own in Marjana's company but Mariusz more than leaves his mark on this track. Listen to it with speakers well-parted, to appreciate each vocal coming at you from different corners of the room. Sensational!
But the devil in the Lighthouse, is in some of the detail elsewhere.
The album begins with a false start. To (almost) bookend the album with the I Came Before the Water theme, makes perfect sense musically, and I guess for the storyline too. However the way the opening section is arranged, to suddenly fade out, makes it a false start. This is hightened by the gentle opening to the second track, which sounds more like a real start to the album proper. A more extensive working of the opening theme, which then evolves into the second track, would have worked much better.
Clear Clearer and Sleeping Pills are both incomplete compositions, neither being given the time nor space to develop from a good, basic opening theme. The latter seems more of an interlude, than a fully-finished song. Both come at the start of the album, which again makes it a more sluggish opening than it should have been.
The flow of the album is further hindered by placing the rather twee opening to the piano-led Harmony straight after bringing the listener to an early climax with the outstanding title track. The contrast is abrupt. Placing Matches after Lighthouse would have worked much better.
The album ending is also odd. I Came Before The Water (pt II) brings the story and (I thought) the album to a very fitting ending, but then arrives a classical instrumental, Post Scriptum. A nice enough piece that would have fitted perfectly on the band's debut, but a piece which is musically at odds with everything else on this album. As the title suggests, it has just been casually stapled onto the end.
Other tracks, sadly some of the best ones, are badly let down by unimaginative faded endings. I expect more invention than that from this duo. The worst case is on the otherwise excellent Chalk and Coal, where a much-needed reprise of the original vocal passage would surely have been a better way to close the track. There is also a tendency to close every song with an instrumental section, having left the vocals well behind. Leaving the listener with Marjana's voice is surely worth trying now and again?
The album was self-produced by the duo. Maybe there is a need next time to bring in a critical viewpoint, someone who may iron out a few of these negative aspects?
So sadly Lighthouse is a very good album, but not as enthusiastically recommended as Belighted, which has better songs and a more coherent appeal to it. It will still feature among my favourite albums of 2016, and the arrival of my own copy with a lyric sheet may open-up new aspects. But there will always be a frustration, in that what could have been a great album, has been let down by a lack of attention to some of the details.
Paalasmaa (Paala's Land) (6:05), Athene ja Zephyr (Athene and Zephyr) (7:55), Hetken haave (Impromptu) (2:57), Tapiirikuningas (Tapir King) (5:17), Kahvit Kuopiossa (Coffee in Kuopio) (4:49), Tulta päin (Into the Fire) (6:17), Kultasiipi (Goldwing) (7:07), Kaustisen yömarssi (Night March in Kaustinen) (5:41), Taivaanvahdit (Skywatchers) (7:43), Kultasiipi (reprise) (2:28)
Juha Kujanpää is a Finnish composer and keyboardist, and although Kultasiipi (Goldwing) is credited to him on the cover, it really is a work of his very talented ensemble. They produce prog-folk melodies and play them in a symphonic prog way.
This is the Juha Kujanpää Ensemble's second release. I have not heard the first but on the strength of this I am going to investigate it. The ensemble has an unusual line-up featuring three violinists, Kukka Lehto, Tommi Asplund and Alina Järvelä. They sometimes play in consort as a string section, and at others they bounce the folk-inflected melodies between them, before sharing the melodic lines with Juha Kujanpää's keyboards and Timo Kämäräinen's inventive guitar playing. Underpinning the whirling melodies are the bass and drums of Tero Tuovinen and Jussi Miettola. This gives the music all sorts of colours and tonalities that are expressed in the very strong and interesting arrangements.
The songs all have time to develop. The album opens with the glowing strings of Paalasmaa (Paala's Land) and its uplifting melody soon tells you that you are in for a treat with this CD. There are many highlights here from the upbeat and joyous Athene ja Zephyr (Athene and Zephyr), to the 'hey Steve Hackett match this!' cultured guitar fireworks of Taivaanvahdit (Skywatchers). There is a light touch at times with the William D.Drake meets the musical Cabaret of Kahvit Kuopiossa (Coffee in Kuopio). This has even more colour, with guest sax, flute and clarinet from Henri Haapakoski and Antti Sarpila. It's terrific fun.
The Ensemble really reaches the heights with Tulta päin (Into the Fire) and the title track. They have dancing melodies spread across the keys and guitars. Imagine Hackett-era instrumental Genesis on folk-rock steroids.
So, Juha Kujanpää and his ensemble have produced album with almost no weak moments. Their engaging folk-like melodies are used to produce superb symphonic, instrumental prog. It is full of colour and detail that you can listen to over and over again, whilst still hearing something new. If you are missing Mike Oldfield's rural muse, circa Hergest Ridge, then grab a copy of this inspired music.
Cloudburst (6:00), The Lamb, the Badger & the Bee (6:40), Technology Killed the Kids II (6:09), Synaesthesia demo's: Life's What You Make of It (7:25), Good Riddance (3:35), When the Clock Strikes Twelve (5:42)
Out with the old, in with the new. That must have been the thought behind the making of this mini-album, where the once young Synaesthesia change their name to Kyros. The moment of choice being quite obvious: the band recently left the Giant Electric Pea company where they had started, and they found out that more bands were using the name Synaesthesia (which however also goes for Kyros) and also they have become more and more a writing and playing entity, less of a means to promote Adam Warne's music. It has become a full-blown band, where all members play an essential part.
It's not that Synaesthesia was not about that. But it seems only right to start anew. And so the voyage of the British youngsters continues in the realms of prog. They haven't lost their musical identity and their flair for making interesting, keyboard-oriented progressive rock, yet this mini-album just feels as if the instruments have more and more found their feet together.
The guitar is there to undertake its own journey, alongside the keyboards, and the drums and bass are driving the music onward and onward and onward. Perhaps it's the excitement caused by one of the new songs, the The Lamb, the Badger & the Bee. Not only has it a title that would sit fine with Big Big Train, the ending of the song is also quite like that band would have it. Its Frost-like start and the whole of the song as such whets the appetite for a full album (currently entitled Vox Humana) as soon as the boys are able. This release will also help finance that album, which the band aims to record and release independently.
This release features two other new tracks from the upcoming album (Cloudburst and Technology Killed the Kids II) in their current formats/mixes along with three demos from the debut album, including one demo of a song from those sessions that never made it to the first record.
In that respect this mini album says goodbye to that young and upcoming band. Fortunately there is Kyros to help us stay in the moment. A very nice start and if this is the music they will be developing further, the future looks bright for Kyros.
CD 1: The Ride to Valhalla (19:35), Juggle the Juice (3:48), Digestive Raga (30:02), The MAN from Wales (13:23), Bon Voyage (6:11)
CD 2: Raga for Jerry G (20:10), 20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door (45:13)
There are many varied textures to be experienced over the course of the two discs which make up Øresund Space Collective's Different Creatures. This combination creates an album that is satisfying and rarely disappoints. The overall quality of the performance and the compositions across the two discs, should also help to broaden the band's overall appeal amongst prog fans.
The first track on disc 2 is particularly engaging and was undoubtedly the composition that I found most appealing across the album. Raga for Jerry G contains a mouth-watering amalgam of western and Indian music that held me captivated during its 20-minute duration. In this piece there is plenty of scope for languid solos to develop, and for beautifully-crafted transitions to occur.
KG's contribution on sitar provides a suitably-flowing, cloaked ambience that nurtures, coaxes and nourishes the other instrumentalists to flourish. The result is richly organic, and is so appealing that it is easy to forget mundane matters, and not be fully immersed in its dawn-swept atmosphere. I have probably not enjoyed a lengthy piece of music as much, since hearing Agusa's superb Två release.
The second piece on disc 2, 20 Steps Towards The Invisible Door lasts a mere 45 minutes and as you can imagine, gives more than enough scope for the band to crawl, jog, sprint and stretch-out. Mesmerising, recurrent themes drift in and out, creating a back-drop that has all of the ingredients which characterise the band's work and the genre in which they ply their art.
This is not the sort of music that I routinely listen to, and despite the judicious use of a darkened room and pungent incense, I often suffered from listener-fatigue before a number of these pieces ended. I must admit that 20 Steps proved to be at least two strides too far.
Overall, its jam-based structure appeared to lack direction and did not contain enough distinct and varied sections to keep me fully interested over the course of 45 minutes. My misgivings were to some extent alleviated and compensated by the obvious vitality that was inherent in the band's performance. With the copious aid of additional amounts of incense, I was able to fully concentrate upon the music. In the end, the violin flourishes of the concluding five minutes won me over and I found 20 Steps an enjoyable and mysteriously-moving journey.
The compositions on disc 1 are relatively more accessible than 20 Steps. The longest composition checks in at 30 minutes, and the shortest piece is a mere six minutes in length.
Ride to Valhalla is furnished by a beautiful, violin-rich introduction which quickly fades. This is replaced by a rhythmic space groove that dominates and threatens to hypnotise all who stray inadvertently into its recurring path, over the course of the next 16 minutes.
Juggle the Juice is a bubbling, gurgling, electronic interlude which serves as a space port for weary intergalactic travellers about to partake in the aural juices that make up the next piece, the fortuitously titled Digestive Raga.
Digestive Raga is almost as impressive as the Raga which opens disc 2. Once again, the piece's main voice is the sitar, and once again the use of this instrument provides the stimulus to create a relaxing and beautiful canvas for the imagination to take flight. Many aural landscapes are visited, many worlds are encountered, many moods felt and many soundscapes explored during the composition's evocative and heartfelt clasp. It is a piece that I have returned to on numerous occasions and have grown to regard.
The remaining tracks of disc 1 are unfortunately pale in comparison to the alluring pulls exhibited by the qualities of Digestive Raga. Sadly, The Man from Utopia was not able to release me from the shackles of reality, despite possessing a time-warped combination of riffing guitars and psychedelic organ fills. Similarly, despite its apt title and rocket-edged, pulsating tones, I also remained grounded during Bon Voyage.
Different Creatures is impeccably played and presented throughout. There is no doubt that an aficionado of the genre or of the band will love it. Overall, it is an album that is worth checking out. I certainly appreciated what I heard and thoroughly enjoyed the meditative atmosphere of the two ragas.
El Valle de la Luna (1:45), Resplandores (1:47), Montañas del Este (1:45), Senderos en la Noche (3:25), Marcha Hacia el Abismo (2:47), Luces en el Bosque (2:40), Viento en La Llanura (4:07), Son de la Luna (2:04), Tierra Celta (1:52), Reflejos en el Agua (3:26), Montañas del Oeste (1:17), Estelas (2:51), Lago de los Sueños (3:52), Marcha Hacia Poniente (3:10), Acantilados (3:55)
Bajo el Reino de la Luna is the one and only album to date by Spanish multi-instrumentalist Borja Ruiz. It is a felicitous attempt to make English folk music in the style of early Mike Oldfield, namely the Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn albums. Like his inspiring hero, Ruiz plays no less than 25 instruments on it, from guitars, organ and synthesisers, up to violins, harp, Glockenspiel, diverse flutes and various percussions. He only called for help to get a trumpet, bagpipes and female vocals included.
It was clearly his intention to continue the style of Oldfield's legendary first three albums, and he has mostly succeeded. At the centre of his work are the typical folk melodies, harmonies and grooves, which he reproduces very wonderfully, but he also weaves Oldfield's bluesy and classical elements to the mix perfectly. Only the complex time signatures, Oldfield tended to have, are left out.
Also, instead of creating one epic opus, Ruiz has written 15 short tracks that reflect his natural observations, such as leaves being blown by the wind or traces of water. And he really does it very well. All of the tunes are just of the same beauty, as a vision of the objects would be. All the tracks are arranged in a way that creates a good arc over all aspects of Oldfield's early work.
However it's the 15 short tracks that prohibit the whole album from being as epic as the originals would be. It's the problem of each song having to have a beginning and an end, its own little arc, that gets in the way to have one narrative path through the entire album. Therefore, if one sits down to just listen to the album, one will find it a bit repetitive. But if you're in need of some cleverly done music to entertain you while working on something, the album is just the perfect folk piece.
CD 1: Bookend (0:46), Revisted Song (4:00), Before We Bow Down (4:43), Cast Adrift (3:16), Juniper (5:46), Interlude One (1:40), Little Machines (4:11), Milo (5:11), It Grows in Me Garden (2:43), Interlude Two (1:15), Someone Else's Words (3:52), Hedonic Treadmill (4:04), Ace Train (1:42), Revisted Song Revisted (2:31), Morning Sun (13:04)
CD 2: New Streets (2015 mix) (4:16), Share My Blues (2015 mix) (4:33), Nothing Left to Prove (2015 mix) (4:53), Apple Pie (2:40), Cartoon Friends (3:56), Bastard Stretch (3:49), Double (5:18), Dressed up in Rags (4:41), Quartet (3:28), To Them Only (4:35), Here at the Western World (3:49), Perc Tune (There's No Him) (4:40), Melted Cheese (2:59), Revisted Song Revisted (Again) (2;52), Morning Sun (basic track) (4:44)
This is a bit of an unusual one really. Allow me to explain. Sanguine Hum last year released the excellent Now We Have Light set, that started the epic tale of cats and energy in a bizarre concept as yet incomplete. However, rather than release part two of that project, the band has decided to next offer this "lost" classic that actually pre-dates all the available Sanguine Hum recordings by several years, having only appeared as an iTunes download some years back.
These recordings go back to the early days before they decided on the band name Sanguine Hum and were going under the Joff Winks Band moniker but failed to find a label willing to release this album at that time. Hence the download-only option.
What we have here is an extended remaster of that original Songs for Days album and a further disc of never-heard-before songs and instrumentals, along with a cover of a classic Steely Dan song, plus the first attempt at There's No Hum and some newly-recorded material as well. All-in-all it is a veritable feast of unreleased and reworked music.
Now we've all heard about various "lost" albums, and sometimes when they finally emerge they are worth it. Others you quickly understand why they were never released, as they do the artist's reputation no favours whatsoever. Well in this instance rest-assured that these recordings offer a positive outcome and are well worthy of release, showing as they do a band with tremendous promise, even if it was not fully apparent back then.
It gives a great insight into the versatility of this group and of their wide range of influences and their oft time-different view of life. It is, above all a very song-driven release and one in which you can see the development of their sound across these recordings. It also shows how their confidence has grown and their almost complete lack of fear at crossing genres and boundaries, yet still able to work a good melody and atmospherics into their music.
I warn you that this is best taken in small chunks, otherwise your head might explode. Some of this is seriously weird and so is best consumed in small bites.
Overall Sanguine Hum have once again proved that they are a great band who are truly progressive in both their attitude and approach and deliver some fine music yet again. There is much fine music on here, both vocally and also in the instrumental, almost ambient pieces, that bind the whole release together.
Highlights for me are Milo, with it's fusion-ish sound and The Divine Juniper with its elegant melody and also the solo piano version of Bookends. Throughout the discs the sound is exemplary, clear and distinct, and the band sounds on fine form, each musician excelling at what they bring to the sound of these pieces.
This is a real treasure trove of delights and is an album that will repay all the investment that you make in hearing it. Simply sublime. So grab it whilst you can, and now we have got this out of the way, I hope the band will hurry up and release the next part of their Now We Have Light trilogy.
Delta (5:22), Halite (4:33), Bes (5:58), Geber (5:25), Nur (4:17), Tigris (5:15), Siqlum (6:50), Amreeka (6:03), Shah Mat (11:43)
Stearica is an Italian trio based in Torino. The members are Francesco Carlucci on guitars, bass, and synths, Davide Compagnoni on drums, and Luca Paiard provides bass. Their second release, Fertile, contains some of the most energetic and frenetic post-rock that I have heard in a long while.
The players all perform impressively and the combination of their collective parts creates a sound that blazes with methodical precision, in loops of continuous rhythms and explosive fills. Each player's contribution is significant in the band's successful quest to create a single, identifiable musical identity, in which both dissonance and harmony have significant parts to play.
The band's signature sound includes an upfront mix of buoyant and bulging bass parts, generous amounts of guitar grumbling, detailed drums to drill out the rhythm, and kinetic keys to provide a kaleidoscope of densely-coloured soundscapes. All of these elements combine seamlessly to create an industrial-grade phalanx of riffs which take it in turn to detonate and assault and delight the senses.
It is an album that reaches for the open throttle and grabs you by the seat of your pants as soon as it begins. First on the grid and in poll position, the pace is enticing and engaging. It burns energetically and ignites a multitude of senses. This exciting and somewhat menacing race track energy does not abate until the album's final two tracks.
Fertile is probably best heard as one continuous piece of music, as the tracks appear to effortlessly segue into one another. Although each piece has distinctive moments, the first seven tracks are all linked by their collective energy and identifiable band sound. The bass is particularly prominent and plays a pivotal role in providing a primeval appeal to the music.
It is an album that requires a number of plays before the compositions are able to embed, and more subtle nuances can be appreciated. At first glance the band's crushing and dense soup of sounds creates a sustained bludgeoning of the senses, which makes it difficult to discover any heavily disguised variations.
All of this can be a little overbearing for an unsuspecting listener, or for those who might prefer a pastoral, rather than an industrial, listening experience. Tightly-packed and with little space for the music to breathe, the resulting walled sound is the antithesis of bands who express themselves through what is spaciously-hinted at, and by the notes that are not played.
In this respect, the change of direction which occurs in Amreeka was particularly welcome. In this piece Stearica delicately show the subtlety, sensitivity and awareness of space and melody that is often missing in the opening seven pieces. It is a track which floats freely in the fertile currents of the band's decisive wind of change. Consequently, it is a totally satisfying juxtaposition of what has gone before.
This approach is continued in the final track, Shah Mat, which is also the longest piece on the album. Shah Mat begins in a tranquil manner and floats lightly before descending into a slate-grey passage of methodical frenzy. The spacious introductory section, and its beautiful reprise in the middle section and conclusion, provide a rewarding contrast. It signposts how the band's sound might evolve in the future, if they decide to meld softer and harder elements together into their overall sound.
In the final analysis, Fertile is a highly rewarding album. It sounds broodingly dark and is heavily populated with an attractive ugliness, that is difficult to ignore. Fertile is an album that would probably have great appeal for those readers who enjoy largely instrumental post-rock.
Every Wednesday Night (She Had a Dream) (3:33), The Influencing Machine (12:22), What Costly Uncles (3:03), Keep Your Teeth to Yourself (3:01), Love: the Invisible Clock (5:27), The Past Is Particles (4:48), I See Simple Lines (5:27), The Mother Generator (9:55)
Manitoba, that is where music must be in the water, in the milk or perhaps in the air, because it's here that the origins of The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and the Crash Test Dummies all lay. It is also here where Tom Cochrane comes from, and the greatest grunger avant la lettre, Neil Young. And now there is this band that names itself after an old instrument, most likely one of the predecessors of today's synthesiser, the teleharmonium. Yes, keyboards are part of the music they produce, but this band is not only about keyboards.
The band features Jonathan Kroeker on both guitar and vocals, Justin Kroeker on bass, Mandy Kroeker on acoustic guitar as well as on flute and vocals: siblings all three. The other pair of siblings in the band are James Neufeld who plays the drums and Will Neufeld who sees to the organ, piano and synthesisers, as well as the vocals. They are accompanied by Adam Pauls who plays the lead guitar.
Their music sounds as if it was first played in the middle of the illustrious 70s, even though it incorporates today's indie and pop sounds, just as much as jazz, old school progressive rock and folk. The album's vibe, is really addictive. It' sounds as "live" as studio albums can possibly come, and the jam feel that the album spreads, very much adds to the experience of listening to it. It is self-produced, and they have done a great job in giving this album such a great feel.
It's an album that breathes the joy of recording it, and it endears just as much in its folky aspects, as it does in the its progressive aspects. It is quite likely that people who have a soft spot for Midlake, Fleet Foxes even The Triffids may be impressed by this album. Also those with a soft spot for Pink Floyd, Pavlov's Dog and Moody Blues will be taking their seats.
Yes, there will be those who might say that the production could be far more polished, yet it is the rawness and spontaneity that really, really turns me onto this album. Apart from that, the band have melodies and vocal lines that stay with you, of which I See Simple Lines is a perfectly good example. Also the members all know their way around their instruments, which helps in a big way too.
This is a debut album that demands attention by all those who like music played with drive, authenticity and feel. The title track gives a fair impression of what this band has in store. More please!