Devotion (4:33), The threshold (4:18), Once upon a tree (5:34), Stranger on an island (4:57), Endless nights (4:54), The haunted one (7:39), Neverland (4:49), Favourite doll (4:56), Thoughts in the water (5:59), Ghostly place (4:42), Different colours of tears (7:25)
A Flood of Strange Sensations is the second album I have enjoyed from this project/band out of Reims in France. They had previously released two EPs, but the first time I encountered Amphetamin was with their debut full album, At the Dawn of Twilight, which received a hearty recommendation way-back in edition 12 of our Something for the Weekend feature.
That album, was the result of the efforts of three musicians. This time, main-man Sebastian has decided to create a record by himself.
Sebastian admits to only using one guitar for this album, a Rickenbacker 360 ("I really like it," he says) and similarly one bass (a Precision bass from Fender). The synth lines come from Micro korg XL+. But while there is a standard uniformity to the sound, Sebastian manages to pull a range of tunes out of his instruments. The songs themselves run through a range of dynamics, which avoids too much repetition, as do the frequent shifts from lighter parts to darker ones (often within the same song).
The result is an assemblage of indie and post rock with an uncluttered, live-in-the-studio style. There is a separation in the colours and shades generated by the guitar and synth lines, as rarely are the two present at the same time. It is one of those albums that needs a few spins before (most of) the melodies start to come within reach. My favourite tracks are Stranger on an Island and Endless Nights, whilst The Cure groove to Favourite Doll also appeals.
Concerning the lyrics, every song is attached to one particular feeling, produced by a landmark day in one's life or a made-up story. Thus the lyrics are ambiguous.
Overall, this album is definitely different from its predecessor, which had a more open, ambient and relaxing feel to the arrangements. I must admit, that sound appealed to my tastes more. However this is another solid album from the Amphetamin camp that will be of interest to all who enjoy modern post rock with a touch of indie.
Infinite Islands Engulfed in the Silence (3:48), Someday I Will Find Out Who You Are (5:34), The Funeral of Grimaldi (4:17), She Has a Supernova (2:57), Whose Garden Was This? (2:38), Skyscraper Steeples! (3:04), Into the Grasp (Don't Disturb the Sleepers) (5:36), Daddy, You're Building the Atomic Bomb (2:18), Virgil (9:17), ... Into An Open Space (4:30), Gather the Star Beings (4:44), Perpetual Waves (5:32)
Star Being Earth Child falls into the category of light crossover prog with influences from the greats such as Genesis to Jethro Tull. The CD has a rather basic cardboard cover and basic design, and a fold-out lyric sheet that should come with a free microscope to be able to read it. As the band is from the US, it's probably in English.
Instrumentally-stronger than vocally, there's plenty to enjoy, with some nice quiet passages, and some enjoyable melodies.
The first more up-tempo track bears more than a passing resemblance to Jethro Tull's Living in the Past. Ironically, perhaps, it's followed by a sedate cover of Tom Paxton's Whose Garden Was This?
The oddly 1960s Skyscraper Steeples!, missing its 'p' on the iTunes listing, is the point at which the album seems to lose its way a little. Daddy You're Building the Atomic Bomb is, at best, throwaway.
Virgil, which follows, is the longest track on the album. The first three minutes are nothing special, but the section that follows returns to the beginning of the album in its melodic grandeur. There's a bit of dodgy harmony that can be forgiven, as it takes off again. The keyboards are the best part of the piece, and while it's not the tightest compositionally in terms of its transitions, it's definitely one of the standouts on the album for its ambition.
The final three tracks are more of the same; mellow prog with some pleasant instrumental sections, none more so than on the closer, Perpetual Waves.
It's a decent and promising effort, and the retro instrumental passages elevate the level of interest.
The Awakening (3:13), Dragon's Triangle (4:09), Nothingness and Eternity (5:23), New Horizon (3;44), Wind of the Eastern Sea (4:10), Above the Mist (3:21), Tower of the Wind (6:05), Vanishing Point (7:07), Astral Projection (4:32), Touch the Sunlight (3:44), Bonus track: Nuclear Burn 2015 (Revisited) (4:29)
Judging by the list of releases on CDBaby, guitarist Charles Brown has been active in a solo capacity for the past 15 years and has at least nine albums to his name, four of which have been reviewed by the DPRP. He has been teaching and composing for over 35 years, as well as performing with a variety of bands in and around his home city of Denver, Colorado.
Brown's influences include Ritchie Blackmore, Alex Lifeson and Pat Metheny, although that doesn't necessarily give a true reflection of the 11 instrumentals here. He often favours a big, hard-rock guitar sound with chunky power chords overlaid with insistent soloing, which to my sensitive ears can be a tad overwhelming at times. This, coupled with the slight melodies, means that there is often little to distinguish one piece from another, despite the colourful titles and occasional keyboards.
That's especially true of the first five tracks which go under the collective title Wind of The Eastern Sea Suite, culminating with the title piece. The Awakening opens proceedings in promising fashion with a solid Deep Purple-inspired riff, although the relentless riff featured in both New Horizon and Wind of the Eastern Sea clearly owes a debt to ZZ Top. Along the way, the suite also tips its hat to The Who, Yes, Rush and Marillion.
The rest of the album does at least offer a little more tonal variety. Tower of the Wind includes some welcome acoustic guitar interludes, whilst Vanishing Point begins with a beautifully played classical guitar solo, before surrendering to an onslaught of electric shredding. The breezy Astral Projection is an unexpected excursion into jazz-funk territory but it's the uplifting Touch the Sunlight that proves to be the most rewarding piece, thanks to a likeable melody and fine drumming (from Brown himself).
The "bonus track" Nuclear Burn 2015 has been resurrected from one of Brown's earlier albums and features a showy display of guitar and synth (courtesy of Matt Bassano) exchanges with a speed that Dream Theater would be proud of.
There is no doubt that Charles Brown is a class musician. The album is very well recorded and fellow musicians Bill Boerder (additional guitar) and Steve Espinosa (keyboards, bass) play there parts well. However, despite the extensive use of guitar synth, I would have liked to have a heard more of Brown's acoustic and classical guitar prowess, and some stronger hooks and melodies would have not gone amiss.
Nervous Little Dogs (3:08), The Badger (4:15), This Time Next Year (4:22), Knife Hits (4:55), Barefoot Kicker (8:15)
Hailing from New Hampshire, Dreadnaught have been making music for the past 20 years, releasing four full-length studio recordings and a number of EPs, of which Gettin' Tight With Dreadnaught is the latest. Dreadnaught is a trio consisting of Rick Habib (drums, percussion, vocals), Bob Lord (bass guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Justin Walton (guitars, keyboards, saxophone, vocals) with a guest appearance by Andy Happel on violin.
Dreadnaught make a terrific racket. There's no slow build-up or fade-in on the opening instrumental Nervous Little Dogs. Instead, you get a playful punch in the face wake up from Jon Lord-style organ, distorted bass that sounds like it's about to blow your speaker cones out, and thumping drums. Dreadnaught then cleverly side-step expectations with an acoustic guitar solo that just works wonderfully. When the violin joins in, you wonder if you are listening to a southern rock-infused Kansas.
There is a ZZ Top boogie to the beginning of The Badger but then they throw in all kinds of jazz chords and progressions over its scuzzy bass melody. The song twists and turns, and a strange humour shines through in the odd lyrics and the pleasingly-earthy Americana tone of the vocals. If this description makes the music sound rather disjointed, believe me it isn't. There is just so much going on in these eclectic, tightly arranged mini-epics that it leaves you a little bewildered at first. However you want to listen again and that leaves you yearning for more.
Dreadnaught go on to throw in an old school Southern rock vibe on the song This Time Next Year, whilst the cracking instrumental Knife Hits leaves one breathless.
The icing on the cake is Barefoot Kicker that gives a strange, funky, unorthodox kicking to the classic Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd with bass, organ and electric guitar shining, until the piano and violin join in for the coda, adding further colour to a terrific track.
I seem to have gone on at length over an EP that is just short of 25 minutes long. In my defence though, this is densely-melodic music with a focussed passion behind it. A passion that is not po-faced. They let a natural humour shine through the unconventional arrangements. Dreadnaught mix Southern rock, Americana, US folk and jazz in a progressively challenging way. If you think Umphrey's McGee and Phish need a bit more, well, balls, then check this out.
First Day (1:37), Numbers (4:22), Towerblock (6:13), Signs (6:36), Lights Out (3:52), Sunlight: a. Heartstrings (6:20), b. Closer To The Sun (7:20), c. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues (7:49), d. Nice Day For It (6:37) e. Hypoventilate (2:00) f. Last Day (3:01)
Bad times for prog fans who hate the eighties. What has begun with Karmakanic's A Perfect World and gets recently celebrated in Haken's new album Affinity, now occurs also on the long-awaited new Frost album: a strong reminiscence of the style of the eighties, the decade of the dying of prog.
But everybody is doing it in his own way, and so we have three albums that couldn't be any more different. Jem Godfrey, the keyboard enthusiast, is mainly focused on the synthie pop fraction of that decade, and introduces a lot of Trevor Horn's Fairlight-induced, adventurous, hip-hop style á la Art of Noise and Propaganda to the Frost universe. And with Nathan King, the master of arts of Level 42 on bass, a real eighties icon has been recruited.
A second main influence of Falling Satellites is a new instrument that Jem has recently experimented with: the Chapman Railboard. The Railboard is a new version of the Chapman Stick, mainly a one-piece aluminium fretboard, which has a rather glassy, tubular sound and quite a funky attitude. Together with the Railboard, slap-bass, the 80s synths and prog, a good reminiscence of first era It Bites comes to pass. But what is also new on Falling Satellites is that John Mitchell has been given room to participate with his own song writing, and thus - you get it - there are also parts on the album that have a lot in common with the current version of It Bites.
If that weren't enough, Godfrey has sprayed a lot of seventies-era Genesis influences all over this album and added a lot of up-to-date keyboard sounds, effects and samples to the mix, to make the whole thing a multi-decade experience. At some times it even appears that the 'art of digital audio damage and destruction' seems to be part of the composition, instead of being just an effect.
As to the album's theme? "It's about chance and life," Godfrey says. "The astronomically unlikely chance of being conceived to start with, and then surviving to old age. The near impossible odds of the things that happen to you in life benefiting you, rather than killing you, are gigantic and yet it happens all the time."
So it's quite logical that Falling Satellites has more emotional depth than its predecessors. But nonetheless Godfrey has managed to stuff all the tracks with numerous layers of instruments, until every possible sonic space has been filled with as many notes that fit in, even on the two ballads. The final six tracks form a 32-minute suite called "Sunlight", on which no less than Joe Satriani guests on guitar.
Even though I miss the multi-layered harmonic vocals and the advanced chord progressions of Milliontown, Falling Satellites has become my favourite album of the band. It's an album that grows with every listen and there is so much going on that you still develop new things after the twentieth time you put it on. This album was worth the wait!
Intro (4:15), The Comet Rider (8:11), To Johannes Kepler (10:54), Aquarius (8:57), Alnilam (7:45), Space Scum (6:09)
With their sophomore release, Maat Lander have made a change in style, because this is a live recording. The shift by the Moscow trio goes much in the direction of the Berlin school, capturing the moods of Tangerine Dream and Ashra Temple.
This album is centered around the compositions from the band's debut, but it comes in a very different mood. Rather than playing their album tracks note by note, they went the Edgar Froese way and wrapped some improvisations around it and thus combined them into two long tracks that run without a pause. Also, being a trio that consists of a guitarist, a drummer and one person for both bass and keyboards, the compositions had to be rearranged, because it is simply impossible to reproduce all layers of their studio output on stage (having half of the music from playback seemed to be a no-go for the guys).
So there's a lot less sonic atmosphere going on, and quite a lot of the sequencer operations became a victim of the stage set-up too. This mainly is why the sound moves some way from the Ozric's style that we know from their debut. But it also turns out that the guitar is the main character on stage, and so the structures of the improvisations are set up to principally support the guitarist. Even though there are some synth solos, these always seem to be some sort of intro or a lead-in.
Ilya Lipkin has set his guitar tone very close to that of the mid-70s Edgar Froese style, using a distortion shape from that era, plus a sharp phaser effect. But he also tries to play like Froese did, although he is too versatile to match him.
Anyway, with the reduced sonic textures, some of the psychedelic experience gets lost, and it all becomes a bit more upfront than it should if seeking to match the old originals from the 70s. That makes it a bit hard to have this as a background ambient music just like with the old originals. But the recording quality is extremely good and brought to vinyl perfectly, so it makes it really fun to lay this on the turntable and do nothing else but listen. For those who consider buying vinyl, please don't judge the quality by the 128k Bandcamp stream, that would be unfair.
Hymn of Apollo (6:30), Jane Wenham's Trial (6:28), Year of Light (7:45), From My Head To My Feet (4:06), Melita (6:41),
Simon McKechnie is a composer, arranger and musician who is based in London, UK. His new album From My Head To My Feet was released
in February 2016 and is Simon's third progressive rock release following Newton's Alchemy (2014) and Clocks and Dark Clouds (2013).
Simon has written for BBC television, classical ensembles and arrangements for Roberto Pla's Latin Jazz Orchestra. He was the
founder, leader and composer for the jazz fusion group Azul, but he has changed his musical direction to
prog in the last few years. On this album Simon plays most instruments and is lead vocalist. He has a pleasant voice that is at times
slightly reminiscent of Freddy Mercury especially on the opening track. The other musicians are Adam Riley (drums), Richard Exall
(sax, clarinet) and Imogen Small (harmony vocals).
Simon's guitar playing is very varied and melodic and you might discover some whiffs of Genesis and Gentle Giant in his music.
The title track is more or less a return to his jazz-fusion past and sounds a bit like Steely Dan. The track Jane Wenham's Trial
tells the story about Jane Wenham who was put on trial as one of the last women in Britain to be accused of witchcraft. There are some
instrumental tracks, but the songs with lyrics all tell a story. Unfortunately there are no lyrics included in the CD-booklet but they
are available as a PDF for downloading on his website. If you want to tell a story in your songs, I think you should have lyrics
with the album, so that's quite a disappointment. Although Simon has a pleasant voice, I miss some vocal eruptions, and to me
his voice after a while sounds too flat.
From My Head To My Feet is a nice progressive rock album that will appeal to music fans looking for something a little different.
Don't expect musical virtuosity on this album, just well played mellow rock music with prog, jazzy and poppy elements.
Nějak (4:26), War (5:33), Si tu Veux (4:52), 5/4 (6:36), Une Brève Historie du Temps (2:43), Winesoup Cowboys (5:31), Dunaj (4:30), Hashiru Rêve (Rêve qui court) (5:04), Paralyse (4:52), 11 (2:23), Vodka Express (5:13), Death of Illusions (6:36)
Take two bands from the current crop of Rock In Opposition artists, mix them together, and you get Rêve Général. Instigated by drummer Guigou Chenevier, this multi-national septet consists of members of France's Volapük and the Czech-based Metamorphosis. It has a chamber prog line-up of instrumentation with two violins, two cellos, two guitars and drums. Howl was recorded live over three days from the stage of Le Brise Glance, Annecy, in France. There is, however, no crowd noise and the recording is pin-sharp, allowing a warm, organic feel to infuse the music.
Though the songs are written by individual members of Rêve Général, the album works as a whole, and becomes far more than the sum of its parts. This identity, I would argue, lies in the intuitive interplay between the musicians and in the superb arrangement of the music.
The musical colours and textures provided by this line-up allows for easy transitions between intensity and lightness. This makes Howl much more listenable than the "avant-rock" tag associated with the musicians' two parent bands. You get the intensity on Dunaj, which balances fierce strings with distorting guitars and rolling drums. This must have been what Van Der Graff were aiming for on their live album Vital. In contrast to this dark intensity, you get the chamber music delicacy of pizzicato strings and a whispered vocal on Hashiru Rêve (Rêve qui court).
There is a psychedelic aspect to the opening two tracks. From the bowed and plucked strings on Nějak, with a vocal that moves from the ethereal to the demented; to the masterly slide guitar textures, floating over dark, sawing cellos and violins on the Floyd-infused War.
There is a carnival atmosphere to the dub-style electric bass on Winesoup Cowboys, and then a clever dynamic control to the rhythmic persistence of 5/4, as the violins and guitars bounce melodic lines between them. The build and release of tension in the Zeuhl-inflected Paralyse is topped by an oppressive, chanted vocal line. This all works brilliantly, with never a dull moment, as Rêve Général let the music breathe in an open, sunny atmosphere.
Only one track seems a little out of place, and that is the smoky, left-bank café chanson of Si tu Veux. A half spoken, half sung wonky waltz that has terrific snare work on it; it is good, but it seems to be the unwelcome guest at the feast that is Howl. But given the winners here, don't let one stylistic misstep put you off this album.
If you are after some reference points for Howl, then picture a string-driven Univers Zero or Godspeed You! Black Emperor with less drones and more focus. With Howl, Rêve Général have produced a cracking set of joyous chamber-prog tunes, full of texturally complex melodies, that seem to be in a class by themselves.
CD 1: Gypsy (3:52), Traveller in time (2:51), Bird of prey (4:43), Sunrise (4:07), Rain (4:19), Come away, Melinda (3:32), Return to fantasy (4:36), Look at yourself (3:23), Come back to me (4:06), The easy road (2:40), Sweet freedom (6:13), Why did you go? (3:23), July morning (8:51), Easy livin' (2:40)
CD 2: Between two worlds (5:25), Only the young (4:33), Different world (4:21), Love in silence (6:23), Blind eye (3:15), Wonderworld (4:19), Stealin' (4:43), Time of revelation (3:57), Cross that line (5:23), More fool you (3:11), Universal wheels (4:52), The golden palace (7:57), Lady in black (5:41)
Uriah Heep needs no further introduction. In more than 45 years of existence they've managed to always produce at least acceptable, mostly good, but many times great music that has crossed many borders between metal, hard rock, folk, AOR and prog. And although they don't attract as big an audience as in their heydays, they are still going strong all around the world, and that is very well deserved.
Over the years the band has produced 25 studio albums and no less than 20 live albums. Two of the latter were Acoustically Driven and Electrically Driven, both released in 2001. In preparation for these concerts, they also recorded some preparatory sessions which were once released as 'Re-masters' but quickly disappeared. By that time the band enjoyed its longest running line-up with, of course, founder Mick Box on guitars, Lee Kerslake on drums, Phil Lanzon on keys, the late Trevor Bolder on bass and Bernie Shaw on vocals. Apparently these recordings were rediscovered, and with the full consent of the band, they are now released as Totally Driven, the first release on their own Uriah Heep Records label. The title is aptly chosen, as this 2CD-set contains both electric and acoustic versions of Heep songs spanning their full career until 2001.
On the first CD the emphasis lies on their classic work from the 70s and early 80s. You may wonder what another version of those classics may offer, but to my ears these versions were mostly a pleasant surprise. For instance Gypsy, the opener of the set, gets a more guitar-driven approach, which works out very well, while the mighty intro of July Morning is played as aggressively by Box as if this is his first time.
In between you get great acoustic versions of Rain and Come Away, Melinda, both quite mellow but very tasteful. For some tracks like Easy Livin' and Return to Fantasy (the fade-out is a weak choice) these new versions don't add much to what has already been released. Yet the new versions of Bird of Prey, with a longer guitar solo, the string-intro of The Easy Road, and the nice, bluesy Where Did You Go? are quite different from what we heard before. On the latter song there is a splendid club-feeling because of the interplay between pedal-steel guitar, restrained drums and trademark Hammond-organ together with the female backing vocals.
The only let-down on the first disc is the cheesy ballad, Come Back To Me, with its sloppy melody, awkward lyrics and cowardly fade-out.
Disc two focuses more on their 80s and 90s output, a period in which I totally lost contact with the band. Most songs are pleasant surprises, with one outstanding winner. The Golden Palace can easily match their finest work from the 70s, with its appealing melody, the great string arrangement (especially during the intro), the flute solo and the overall variation in the built-up of the song. It is easily the most proggy track of the whole set.
Other real proggy song are Love in Silence, which also has a very good string arrangement, great bass playing and a very nice, short cello-interlude in the middle of the song, and Universal Wheels with great variation in the music and an overall rocky feeling. I also enjoyed the driving beat in Between Two Worlds with the typical 'Ah-ha'-Heep vocal lines. Also outstanding are the string arrangements, the flute and the guitar solo in Blind Eye and the violins and uilleann pipes in the folky version of The Lady in Black. Although most songs may be less familiar to many, disc two is by no means weaker than the first one.
Totally Driven is full of tasteful songs that have not lost any of their attractiveness in the 15 years since they were recorded. It is a nice combination of old and new, of classic and hardly-heard Heep-tracks, all nicely packaged. Yet not all is good. The fade-out at the end of the classic Look at Yourself is not their best choice, and as said, Come Back To Me is a really weak track. Furthermore it is annoying that the tracklist of the second disc doesn't appear in Windows Media Player; instead you're confronted again with the tracklist of disc one. But apart from these minor points this 2CD-set does this classic band full justice. It will be attractive for those who know them from long ago, for those who want to know what they were, and for those who want to experience what they still are.
Elemental (5:33), Lucid Dreamer (5:18), Born Again (4:25), When She Cries (5:40), Medieval Suite (4:11), Mysterious Ways (4:40), Lullaby (5:03), Love is the New Way (4:02)
New England quintet Zen Carnival have come up with a pleasant eight songs that run at just under 39 minutes. While it's certainly pop, there are occasional prog overtones, and song lengths that don't lend themselves to mainstream radio airplay.
But while the playing is extremely competent and the singing is decent enough, the music inhabits that crossover genre, which means that the songs need to be memorable, or at least have something that makes them stand out. Sadly, while well-written enough, the pieces lack that certain spark that pushes an album from good, to great.
Born Again is a prime example. It's good, and the instrumental sections are very good. But when it's over and the next track, When She Cries, comes along, it's more of the same. Pleasant, but not special.
Medieval Suite is a jazzy instrumental. Nice. Impeccably-played, but not memorable. It's a bit like Spock's Beard being played by a lounge band.
In spite of some good, spiky electric guitar at the beginning of the next track, Mysterious Ways, it still comes across as easy listening. In spite of some tangy guitar, the latter half of the track lapses into that light jazz territory, so well covered by artists such as Bob James, before the vocals come back in.
By the time Love is the New Way is abruptly over, it's all been very nice, but it's not an album that sticks in the memory or has enough special moments to make it something to return to in the future.
The playing skills are there, now it just needs some compositional focus to take it to the next level. Fortunately, it's quite possible they have the talent to achieve it.