Issue 2016-025: A Not So Prog Issue
A Not So Prog edition! We receive a lot of albums that are not exactly prog but might still be interesting to our readers. Usually they're among the regular ones, but we seemed to have several waiting to be published, so here's a mini-issue full of those.
Blueminded - Seize the Day
Love Is Motion (3:27) , All in One (4:58), Life (3:01), Move On (4:01). See the Light (4:46), Love Can (4:00), Have It All (3:41), Lead Me (3:45), Dead Man Walkin (4:37), Call on Me (4:29), Turn It In (3:42), Seize the Day (4:52)
The band does call out artists and bands like Peter Gabriel, Genesis and Muse as influences, and to a certain extent you can hear that in the finished product. That said, this album reminded me more of some of the power pop music of the 80's and early 90's. When I hear modern-day albums of this style and quality, it makes me wonder just how commercially successful a band like Blueminded would have been 20 or so years ago. I don't want to present the idea that there is anything musically stagnant about Seize the Day, but it does display a style that is more closely aligned with the music charts of the past. From my own personal perspective of the current top 40, the band's nod to the past is certainly not a negative factor.
Led by founder, guitarist and vocalist, Jorgen Koenen, there is an upbeat quality to the music of Blueminded that is very entertaining. Highlight tracks like Love is Motion, Move On, See the Light, Have it all, Call on me and the title track, showcase just how confident and good this band is. In my opinion, Turn it in would have been a hit, if released back in the day. The songwriting as a whole is consistently strong, and ultimately there isn't a bad track to be found. The album may not be the most complex you will hear, but it is nonetheless a well-crafted and professionally performed work. But beware: the choruses present some definite earworms that you will be regularly humming. Seize the Day is a smart, enjoyable debut and very much worth a listen.
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10
Ian Danter - Second Time Around
If My Truth is a Lie (4:53), Mr Poison (3:41), Chinese Whispers (3:40), Love Fatigue(2:56), Second Time Around (4:53), We Believed (4:01), It All Comes Back to Rock (4:23), Simple as That (4:25), I Didn't Get Where I am Today (3:43), I love You More (3:34), Better Off Out of It (Than Worse Off Dead) (4:02)
It's clear he is a gifted musician, with the ability to write well-constructed songs. However, the style of music on display here is not progressive rock, even in its broadest sense (no pushing the envelope) and the majority of the songs are built round a plethora of heavy metal guitar rifts that form his take on melodic (80s) hard rock.
In the accompanying booklet he admits to 'rearranging' a Kiss riff that he uses on the track Mr Poison. I was never (nor will be) a Kiss fan. Kiss in some progressive websites do refer to them as crossover prog but that is a very loose description to me. It's hard rock, but Danter's vocals, albeit not bad, are probably the weakest aspect of the album. Now if he had had access to David Coverdale!
When I heard the title track, Second Time Around, his vocals (and the song to some extent), reminded me of Glenn Tilbrook from the UK band Squeeze. Nothing wrong in that, and a compliment in many ways to Danter, but Squeeze are hardly considered progressive. Taking the prog hat off, this is a very good pop-based song. The piano-led I Love You More is another very good pop ballad (in fact you could imagine Neal Morse singing this).
The last song, Better Off Out Of It is probably the hardest song to stomach and probably, as the title suggests, it would have been better leaving it off the album! Probably the weakest melody here, and a little irritating.
The album doesn't really do anything for me in the progressive sense, and I found it tiresome, even after the first four or five songs. Others may like this but, to put it simply, I'm not a big fan of 80s style hard rock with metal power chords and riffs, and in all honesty, am very unlikely to play it again.
Alan Weston: 6 out of 10
Lunden Reign - American Stranger
Love in Free Fall (3:13), The Savage Line (3:31), 28IF (Without, Which Not) (3:49), Hush & Whispers (3:49), American Stranger (4:05), Hear Me (3:11), Mary (4:55), The Light (3:35), When Love Lies (3:12), It's About Time (4:15)
Theirs is a brash, rocking L.A.–forged album, looking to capture both the mainstream rock market and the world of progressive rock. That is a tricky path to traverse. Infectious pop-rock within three-and-a-half minute songs, and progressive rock, by definition are more distant cousins, than siblings.
Certainly the chugging riffage of the opener Love In Free Fall indicates a sound clearly influenced by the likes of Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and Aerosmith. Slickly produced, with a production that shines like an album mastered by Bruce Fairbairn, this has a top-drawer delivery reminiscent of Fairbairn's commercial polish. Indeed a big credit goes to Luis Maldonado and Geoff Pearlman for a standout job bringing a lush, listenable experience to Lunden Reign's writing.
Primarily, the writing and concept for the album comes from Nikki Lunden who connects the listener to her musical ideas through her impressive vocal talents. Reminiscent of the gypsy-style Stevie Nicks and the rocking folkiness of Sheryl Crow, Lunden brings a palette of emotions to her songs. Heartfelt, angry and passionate, there is drama and intensity in her style by the bucketload.
American Stranger is an album of familiar hooks and easy-to-grab melodic rock. The Savage Line is a nailed-on hit single that is made for chart success. Hints of the heartland in John Cougar Mellencamp and Crowe, complete with rich, multi-layered vocals is much more straight-up than anything which might indicate a progressive rock link.
This is the format of the album through the first five songs up to the title track. The listening experience is a pattern of short, punchy numbers that follow a standard verse, chorus template.
The sixth track, Hear Me, is harder and faster than most. More of a fist-pumping, big beat noise, it mixes some middle eastern tones with an almost punky chorus. It deserves to be played loud and stands out as one of strongest moments on the album.
The eastern vibe replays nicely in the Aerosmith-influenced The Light, that once again points to an ability to craft a rich sound within a rock framework. The only trouble: it feels like it has been done before. Probably 20 or so years earlier.
By the time track ten comes round and the album plays out to It's About Time, you can clearly see the design of Lunden Reign, and it isn't really progressive at all. Although the album has a loose concept running through it, it is not perhaps a rock opera as described, the album feels like a solid collection of enjoyable rock songs which evoke a style and sound that is out of its time. All that aside, it's the kind of radio-friendly American rock and roll you can't help but enjoy. Easy to get into and full of energy, it's ideal for a top-down driving experience.
For rock fans that grew up with this kind of music, it's a tasty debut with much to offer. It has sneaked into the progressive rock genre and this site by some clever marketing and a lot of reliance of the concept idea. Whatever you decide to call it, this is an enjoyable debut with lots of promise.
Eric Perry: 7 out of 10
Mortanius - Savage Garden
Savage Garden (12:34), Ashen Arms and Open Wings (6:36), My requiem (13:32), For the Longest Time (3:22)
This four-track demo consists of three original tracks and a cover of Billy Joel's For the Longest Time. The Undead theme is heard throughout the three original tracks. The opening title track, Savage Garden is written about the vampire Lestat, the protagonist of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles books. He describes the world as being a "Savage Garden"; a world filled with beauty, but also with cruelty and death. The other two songs deal with apocalyptic imagery and the undead.
The title track clocks in at almost 13 minutes and is filled with "bells" and dark riffs and imagery. Personally I got a little bit tired of hearing the bells almost the entire song. But the atmosphere the band creates is pretty clear, and throughout this EP they stay consistent with the bells and other keyboards. But where a band like Ghost(A.D.) knows how to use these effects in a good and varied way, Mortanius overdo it, making it annoying at times where they would have sounded a lot more credible without these bells and chimes.
The vocals from Lucas Flocco fit to what Mortanius try to create, and although it is not my personal taste of vocals, I do feel it adds to the overall sound. On the track Ashes Arms and Open Wings, the band delivers to bring a very nice song full of the aforementioned gloom. Sadly they then carry on with more chimes and grotesque imagery on the final original track, the aptly titled My Requiem.
The last number is a cover of Billy Joel's For the Longest Time and is exactly what you might expect. A fun and metal-driven version of the "doo-wop" love song originally recorded by Joel in his 80s heyday.
The band is made up of Lucas Flocco (vocals and guitar), Jesse Shaw (bass) and Victor S. Cordone (drums). This is the band's second EP and they area already recording their next, to be released later this year. Please cut down on the chimes guys. Less is more.
Arno Agterberg: 6 out of 10
Intelligent Music Project III - Touching the Divine
Opening (Cool Inside) (6:24), Escape (4:32), Sky (4:02), Stay Up (4:08), A Smile Away (5:17), We Can (4:05), Simply Feels Good (4:27), Dream (4:26), Coming Soon (3:57), Life (3:57), Fate (4:16), Roots (3:26), My World (3:17), Mind Projection (6:46)
On investigation, I learnt that Intelligent Music is a Bulgarian production company, established and owned by composer and musical producer Milen Vrabevski. The website states that Intelligent Music albums consist of an all-star session line-up, and are issued under the trade mark Intelligent Music Project.
I looked through the small print on the project's website, (more in hope than in anticipation) to see if the company made any claims that listening to their products might increase my IQ, or help me to review albums more incisively and succinctly. I could not find any specific claims to raise my hopes, or to please DPRP'S review editor (Shame! - ed), but read with interest that listening to this album could be life-changing and help me to be a successful individual.
Touching the Divine is attractively packaged and the sleeve notes are informative. The album has wonderful production values and each instrument has a clear and precise voice.
The principal players on the album are Simon Phillips (drums and percussion), Nathan East (bass) and Tim Pierce (guitars). Vocals are provided by John Payne (ex-Asia) and Toto's Joseph Williams.
This assembled cast might look great on paper, but much like the most expensively assembled English Premier League football teams during the 15/16 season, this star-studded cast was not able to deliver a consistent, medal-winning performance. From the moment the album began to spin, it was apparent that the illustrious reputation of the performers was not necessarily a guarantee for success. The album lacks an elusive spark and has neither the spirit of adventure, energy, nor the consistency to entwine listeners.
Despite having some alluring instrumental passages, I found the plodding structure of many of the tunes to be too repetitive to sustain my interest. The whole experience was too derivative. The majority of the songs are built predictably and uninspiringly around a chorus and verse. With little to inspire and fuel the imagination. Ffar too much of the album is dominated by bland, middle of the road, AOR radio-friendly choruses, and is plagued by vocal and instrumental passages which rarely excited, or explored a less well trodden path.
The hackneyed song writing was not strong enough, for the album to be anything other than a disappointment. It has some complex arrangements, but these are lost within the tired nature of the release. Overall, the album consists of a series of drab tunes, overlaid with chugging chords and a keyboard soundscape. These are sung predictably, and embellished by mechanically efficient guitar solos.
If you are undecided whether to check out this album then perhaps the words of Milen Vrabevski might help. "The idea we want to share with the audience through this album is simple – we must find the Divine within ourselves in order to become the successful individual we want to be".
Sadly, Touching the Divine did not satisfy on any level. It failed to ignite my spirit or excite my mind. Much of what is on offer was far too unconvincing and uninspiring to withstand frequent plays, let alone be a catalyst for some form of personal enlightenment.
Nevertheless, listeners who like prog to include many of the facets of adult orientated rock, may well find something to appreciate in Touching the Divine. It's slick production, time honoured arrangements, and clichéd vocal harmonies are all part of a smooth, crease-free package that no doubt will find its own market and many admirers.
A long time ago, I heard Thick As A Brick for the first time. It shaped my life!
Owen Davies: 5 out of 10
Zeptelar - El Color de las Cosas
De la esquina a la plaza (4:50), Futuros recuerdos (4:45), 5 de 3 (5:21), El color de las cosas (4:37), Estrellazos (5:03), Sangre (8:19), Piletismos (2:01), La pileta de pájaros gigantes (5:24), Destapes (4:04), Persecusiones (4:51), Espejismos (6:23)
Zeptelar are from Chile and El color de las cosas, released in 2013, is their only album to date. It is an album that will hold great appeal to aficionados of jazz tinged fusion who enjoy complex ensemble playing more than individual virtuoso performances. It would also appeal to listeners who prefer an occasional hint of dissonance to keep things interesting.
This album contains so many elements that I find enchanting. Firstly it is infused with a tantalising, twisting and teasing Canterbury vibe. Secondly, it treads a path that links fusion with some wonderful timeless melodies. Thirdly, wordless vocals ensure that there are no glib or trite lyrics. Fourthly, the album has an appealing, easily identifiable sound, and is deceptively accessible in the first two pieces.
On one level, it is the sort of album that will have granny scat-singing in the back of the car, reminiscing over lost years spent in pungent, dimly-lit, sleazy jazz clubs. On the other hand, you may catch a glimpse of granny tapping her dentures in frustration, when the second half of the album cuts loose, as unpredictable paths are hinted-at and followed.
Zeptelar's approach is to seduce the listener with easy hooks and highly accessible melodies. Nevertheless, they skilfully manage to maintain interest with challenging and contrasting vocal and instrumental passages, which surprise and delight. Because of the band's reliance on this approach, and also as a result of the consistent use of a vocalese style, a number of the tracks may superficially sound similar.
However shine a penetrating light through and beyond the readily-accessible layers, and a plethora of hidden joys are illuminated, to excite and delight. With a discerning ear, numerous shadowed areas can be heard. These twinkle gently; filtered, camouflaged and disguised by the band's penchant for melody. Once identified and revealed, these facets combine to create a different ambience and a thoroughly rewarding listening experience.
Unchartered detours and off piste moments abound in the gift wrapped, and gilt edged progressive tones of the magnificent Persecusiones. As its mysteries unravelled, I felt compelled to grasp the edge of my seat in excitement. When the piece ended, I was left gasping in open-mouthed fascination.
The music is built around the vocals of Valentina Maradones. She provides many inspired passages that are buoyantly full of emotion and improvisation. Her soaring contribution is expertly underpinned by a range of solid bass motifs, and tastefully embellished by some glorious keyboard parts. The whole album is glued at the seams by the skilful contribution of drummer Felipe Morros.
Fluttering, fruity, flute flurries are to the fore in the outstanding 5 de 3. The frequent use of the flute gives the album an elegant, earthy feel. Saxophone and guitar also make positive contributions throughout the release. The execution of the well-crafted guitar solo in the impressive and lengthy Sangre is particularly thrilling.
There are a number of occasions when the saxophone cuts loose in a frenzy of calculated, wild fury. Destapes features some ferocious blowing, and the lilting, flowing solo which emerges in Espejismos deftly suggests a nod to Wayne Shorter and Weather Report.
If the vocals were stripped away from all of the tracks, and the more accessible parts of the band's compositions were ignored, there is more than a hint of Weather Report lurking within many of the ensemble arrangements and individual instrumental passages.
The varied talents of the ensemble's players provides the album with a delightful and richly coloured backdrop on which Maradones is able to add her vibrant soundscape of sweetly-scented vocalese sounds.
The main point of reference to use when describing the band's overall sound is probably Turning Point, although Zeptelar's music is generally more up-tempo and superficially accessible. Like Turning Point, the bass has a prominent role in both the mix and the arrangements. Like Turning Point the wordless vocals give the band a signature sound.
I have long admired Pepi Lemer's work with Turning Point, but Maradones' guile, range and subtle use of vocal effects is every bit as impressive as Lemer's contribution. Although, I do feel that Norma Winstone's inspired vocalese performance in her 1972 debut album Edge Of Time probably has the edge over Maradones in terms of power, variation and range.
There is also a hint of the Northettes lurking behind some of the more ethereal vocal arrangements. The overall spirit of the Canterbury sub-genre can also be detected in the adventurous shifts of direction and changes of tempo which occur in many of the tunes.
Destapes includes a middle section that has a superb change of mood, exuding pastoral elegance amidst the track's exciting, discordant mayhem. La pileta de pájaros gigantes even appears to deliberately channel Nucleus' Song For The Bearded Lady, or Soft Machine's Hazard Profile during its prominently-recurring riff.
El color de las cosas is not an album that contains an impenetrable phalanx of seemingly disconnected and conflicting sounds. On the contrary, it's easy on the ear. It gently serenades the heart, and when dissonance takes place, it seductively caresses the mind. El color de las cosas will probably not appeal to the majority of prog rock fans. But as an album which bridges and fuses a number of styles including jazz and rock in an idiosyncratic and totally progressive manner, it succeeds brilliantly.
I have been joyously smitten and I want to enthusiastically proclaim and explain my love!
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10