Tuulilabyrintit (8:32), Dyngyldai (6:40), Juuret (6:03), Kipinöitä (5:02), Tulet (7:08), Hyvät Hevoset (3:51), Intia (10:58)
While a whole host of bands have stemmed from Finland in recent years, it is not often that the culture and traditions of that country are brought as much to the fore as is the case with Aalto. They are a band, on the crossroads between prog and folk that bring together various traditional influences with both experimental and psychedelic influences. They take as much from Scandinavian tradition and Tuvian throatsinging, as much as they do from Indian ragas, krautrock and folk. This makes for music that is quite different.
The band combine all sorts of instruments, from sitar and guitar, to clarinet, bass clarinet, kantele and doshpulluur(both traditional string instruments) to didgeridoo. Their music, while clearly set in folky roots from various cultures, has a clearly identifiable modern approach to it, where indie rock music might meet up with more progressive elements. Juuret fits that description the most, and songwise, this track could as well be from a band like The Low Anthem, Midlake or Fleet Foxes. Apart that is, from the female vocals and the language.
This debut full-length album has its attraction in the way that the band has found a natural way of bringing this all together and making it sound coherent and interesting at the same time. This is not prog as we know it, but perhaps that is just what is the charm of this band. At the same time Aalto certainly experiments both in the use of the various instruments and in the way these songs are written. They most certainly dare to be progressive in the way they write and play their music and, when it comes to how it is played, this band, which name loosely translates into 'Wave' and their music have certainly something going for them. Very nice.
Ikaro (8:12), Vapahtaja (7:29), Heijastumia (5:18), Kastepisaroita I (4:15), Kastepisaroita II (5:22), Sateentuoksuisia Unia (4:54), Metsätaloushöömei (6:26), Kuun Tytär (10:39)
The debut by Aalto was already something of a treat, yet their sophomore album ups the ante further, even if only for the opener and title track Ikaro. The drone of this track, together with the great vocals, really get to you. As on this band's debut album, it is the combination of a diverse group of instruments with Tuvian throatsinging that is part of the appeal. The band have further built on the psychedelic and experimental features, perhaps even mixing it more with the traditional elements.
The debut didn't come across as being hastily recorded or produced, but it seems that Aalto felt more at home while recording Ikaro. It is as if everything just falls into the right places. The production is clear, warm and open. Each song offers variety, and the way the songs build up throughout the album makes it very varied as well.
True, Finland these days has bands that have reached international fame, but in putting forward music that is both attractive, varied and played with enthusiasm and vigour, Aalto set themselves apart from those that are more internationally known. Here's to hoping they'll be making waves with a third album soon.
Yozo's Burden (4:46), No Longer Human (4:58), Domes (6:23), Gion Monastery (3:54), Elegy For Kyouko (11:45), Yosomono (8:09)
Da Zai hail from Curitiba, Brazil and they are a prog rock duo with a definite psychedelic edge. However, this is psychedelic infused prog, without the whimsy that sometimes goes along with that particular label.
Instead you have Andras Jucksch (bass, keys, drums, vocals) and Tatsuro Murakami (guitars, backing vocals) bouncing ideas, melodies and all sorts of instrumental and vocal goodness between them. Shogyoumujou appears to be a set of interconnected songs that seague almost seamlessly from one to another, so that what you hear is a long psyche-rock multi-part suite.
Meaning the impermanence of things, Shogyoumujou opens with Yozo's Burden featuring Anekdoten-style Mellotron, before mixing up the tempo and dynamics with guitars and drums. It is an opener that signals the twist and turns to come throughout each song, whilst retaining a firm grasp on melody and structure. This is followed by the woozy psychedelia of No Longer Human, with its dual vocal and dissonant electric guitar. The vocals on the album mix the molasses-textured baritone from Andras Jucksch with Tatsuro Murakami's lighter backing vocals, a combination that works particularly well throughout the album.
The pair add a touch of heaviness to Domes, that moves from atmospheric keys (think the opening section of Gong's A Sprinkling of Clouds), to morph into a dynamic and loud ballad. The longest piece, Elegy For Kyouko has it all, using Melloton passages, swirling keys, an acoustic guitar break, trumpet and electric piano on an inventive arrangement. The closing song, Yosomono (which means outsider) is where Da Zai wear their influences most clearly. Here you have early King Crimson, from where they had some elements of psychedelia in the Crimson sound. Dai Zai's use of jazzy, acoustic guitar adds an extra dimension, and it is a good way to end the album.
Da Zai's Shogyoumujou is a confident, consistent album that is influenced by early 70s psychedelic rock but puts the emphasis on the rock without going into space rock grooves or using Indian tonalities. If you are looking for some psyche-rock goodness, try here.
Galen (2:49), Nattdjurstid (5:58), Timmar Av Glas (2:13), Zepapo (3:26), Identitetskris (5:07), Inom Oss (3:31), Speglarna (6:00), Närmare (4:52), Väntar En Storm (5:41) bonus tracks: Cellskräck (5:04), Bländad Ikväll (4:13), Armé Av Lust (4:21)
Kaipa is one of the most venerable Swedish prog institutions. The band managed to yield some brilliant classics back in the golden era of the 70s, and their links to The Flower Kings, with Roine Stolt having been the lead guitarist and Jonas Reingold still present in the line-up, have given the band a new lease of popularity in the 21st century. Thanks to a rejuvenated cast of musicians and some reasonably well received releases, starting in 2002 with the comeback album Notes From The Past, they are still going strong with their latest outing being Sattyg from 2014.
But, like almost every venerable prog institution in history, Kaipa went through dark times, a rough period when identities were lost and artistic integrity jumped out the window: welcome to the 80s. Some big names (you know them) in the genre dramatically changed their sound and looks and managed to survive in the music business, still making valid musical statements. Others ... well, just couldn't keep up with the times with enough dignity. Certainly, Hans Lundin's band belonged to the latter.
It's not that Nattdjurstid (Swedish for "Time Of Nocturnal Animals") is a disaster. It has its moments here and there, but it mostly feels like a pale imitation of the bands and albums it's pretending to emulate. This album sounds like a mix-and-match of Talking Heads, 80s King Crimson, The Police and other new wave luminaires such as Ultravox. Sounds interesting doesn't it? It certainly looks good on paper (at least to me), but as a whole it doesn't work, mainly because the songs are just not good enough.
There are honourable exceptions of course. Zepapo is a catchy little funky piece, which wouldn't feel out of place on Talking Heads' Little Creatures (1983), whilst Identitetskris is an entertaining instrumental piece, much more in tune with their traditional proggy leanings. Elsewhere, Inom Oss is an energetic rocky song, and Närmare features an instrumental breakdown which is pure Synchronicity.
Performance-wise it's a competent album, with a strong rhythm section in Mats Lindberg (bass) and Pelle Andersson (drums), and the versatility of Max Âhman on guitars. However Hans Lundin's vocals (not too dissimilar from current Kaipa vocalist Patrik Lundström) are often more yelled than sung, and his keyboards definitely sound dated in more passages than desirable. The bland production doesn't do this album any favours.
So yes, in Inget Nytt Under Solen (1976) and Solo (1978) Kaipa had their own Close To The Edge or Moondmadness, but this album feels and sounds more like their particular Tormato or The Single Factor.
A Letter at a Window: Opening (6:05), American Midwest: Touch (3:27), The Slumber (5:21), A Letter at a Window: Message (7:50), A Letter at a Window: Epilogue (15:03), A Shadow and Folding I (5:29), A Shadow and Folding II (1:48), The Eight Room (8:51), A Balance in Light I (6:06), A Balance in Light II (5:35), The Allegory of Painting (3:51)
Kevin Kastning, who is most notably known for playing both a 36-string double contraguitar and a 30-string contra soprano guitar, joined forces again with Mark Wingfield. On this album, Kevin also plays classical guitar and mandoline while Mark Wingfield plays the electric guitar.
This is their fifth collaboration in album form. This time they took inspiration from paintings by Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch painter from the 17th century. Most famous perhaps for his Girl with a Pearl Earring, his work excelled in the duality of shadow and light and the balance between stillness and mystery on the other hand. They set off to get inspiration from eleven paintings in eleven rooms, hence the title. This album is the aural expression of their experiencing Vermeer's work.
The music on the album is mostly introspective and the eleven tracks are fine improvisations where light and shadow interplay all the time. Whereas Kevin provides the scenery or background so to say, it is Mark's electric guitar that paints the refined details in the whole of the aural picture. The background is never just that. Kevin's craftmanship goes way beyond a mere background as the playing is always very warm and rich.
What struck me the most about the album, is how the two have managed to complement each other so easily: the album was recorded live, just in one go. Given that the tracks are all based on improvisation, that really made an impression. There is just that moment, just you and your guitars and you make it happen. It can only be there and then. That to me is the basis of the album's appeal: two great musicians finding a creative peak together in improvisation.
The music on the album does not per se qualify as progressive rock. Yet progressive the tracks are for sure. Whether you have your mind wandering off while listening to this music and reaching a dreamlike state or just enjoy the intricate instrumental parts, this is an enjoyable album.
Should Not the Ancient (4:27), Pretext and Figures (6:48), An Open Window of the Past (5:27), Solves Into Zero (5:31), The Swirling Return to Yourself (7:32), Rendered in Forms (6:27), A Misted Gaze Within (8:46), Constellation and Distance (4:36), Surrendering Realms of a Near Presence (7:45), From a Falling Gesture (5:48), Into the Early (7:15)
Kevin Kastning only just released a solo album and an album together with renowned guitarist Mark Wingfield last year and now here is another duo release, this time with Carl Clements. Both have worked together before and quite succesfully so. Kevin may be considered a master on the guitar, not in the league of the Satriani's, Vai's, or other flashy players that are around these days, but in the league where thougtfullness go hand in hand with introspection and a sense of pastorality. Carl Clements is an accomplished reed player who plays both soprano and tenor saxophone and a variety of flutes.
Where Mark Wingfield's electric guitar provided quite the accent to Kevin's open playing before, here it is Carl who paints the picture with Kevin, again, providing the detailed and beautiful surroundings. Let's compare it to taking a ride on a bicycle through beautiful landscapes. Being all caught up in riding the bike, you might lose sight of what you're actually passing by, yet if you succeed in taking the surroundings in, only then it can really get to you. Thus, it does take some attention to fully take this album in.
Here, you can find yourself listening to the interplay between Carl and Kevin and wonder how they came up with the songs and how they recorded them. After all, the album is all about improvisation. And, even though they only are played by two people, they have managed to improvise in eleven tracks. In that, the two men have created an album that just flows from beginning to end. Dissonants come and go, but never just for being dissonant. It is an album that has Carl and Kevin complementing each other with instruments very different from each other. While jazz might be at the core of what is on the menu here, it is quite likely that this album will be liked by those into prog with an open mind for other types of music as well.
Like a Heart Attack (9:30), Nowhere Left to Go (8:33), Save Me From the Rain (7:56), My Energy (8:17), Dream Forever (9:29), Statement of Intent (7:17), Tired and Helpless (6:07), Temple of the Damned (6:57)
In 2011 this band surprised many by releasing the fine album The New Crusade with music that contained elements of bands like It Bites, Magellan and Pallas. You could say it was neo-prog with a 90s edge. Vocalist and guitarist Stuart Martin, and founder member Steve Cork are still present on this new album, but the difference is that Cork has decided to concentrate on playing bass, leaving the keyboards for a new musician.
On Rise To The Order Neil Watts is in charge of the keys and he does that very skillfully. The other change in the line-up is drummer Neil Hayman, who is a driving force with his powerful beating of the drums, in combination with the throbbing bass of Cork.
The new album has a slightly heavier approach than its predecessor, and some tracks sound a bit too straight forward. Yet even those tracks are regularly brightened up with beautiful melodic keyboard sounds and fine soloing on guitar by Martin. On this album, the earlier mentioned elements are still present but also a band like Threshold springs to mind.
The best track on the album is Dream Forever which sounds very atmospheric and melodic and mixes well with the more up-tempo parts of the track. Another fine track is Tired And Helpless that is slightly reminiscent of Anathema. The chorus of Save Me From The Rain is very catchy and is also one of the better tracks on the album.
Overall this is a fine album by this UK band that will appeal to proggers with a preference for prog with a somewhat heavier approach, but still with lots of melody, and mostly dominated by some bombastic keyboard sounds. Maybe it will be a disappointment for people who expected an album in the same style as its predecessor, but it's not unrealistic to believe that this album will attract some new fans.
Trips is the fifth full-length album from Long Distance Calling and their first since The Flood Inside from 2013, and what a corker it is too.
I really like this band but have struggled to actually "get" them, if you know what I mean. But here on Trips there is both a genuine progression from their last album, coupled with a hitherto accessibility that actually engages the listener.
How much of this is down to the addition of Petter Carlsen as vocalist is open to debate, but certainly their decision to retreat and re-group in a remote mountain hut to work on this album, seems to have yielded significant and substantive results,
Getaway opens the album with panache, starting with keyboards and a hypnotic beat which bears a passing resemblance to Queen's Radio Ga Ga, before veering off into its own distinct territory. A simple guitar part accentuates the rhythm, whilst a very 80s-sounding production makes this a superb opening.
Reconnect opens with an urgent synth riff that pummels the senses behind strong, clear vocals and great pacing, before a very heavy wall of sound is employed in advance of reverting to the original tone. Again there is a mix of 80s sounds and production, offset by a more 90s heavy metal sound. Within these two styles, and despite being "heavy", it still retains a strong melodic focus, reminding me of Stiltskin in their approach and sound.
Rewind opens with gentle piano and vocals, before at the 1:30 mark an intensity of sound is added by addition of drums and bass, leading to a very memorable chorus of: "How am I supposed to rewind?" A great use of dynamics is employed, with lots of small flourishes that add to the atmospherics of the song, alongside a melodic switch at 3:25. This is another very fine song indeed.
Trauma is based on another heavy riff, but even so there is lots of space in the sound, even with distorted guitar at play. Driven along by a powerful back beat, there is lots going on in this instrumental song, showing a lot of inventiveness to sustain its duration. Another great track in what is becoming a very satisfying listen.
Lines follows with a great bass line and chugging guitars, and another fine vocal from Petter Carlsen. There is a catchy chorus again and good use of dynamics, with a brief but tasty guitar break from Florian Füntmann. This is steely stuff; imaginative, interesting and rewarding to hear. A simple, gentle piece with plucked guitar and a powerful spoken message at the end, is a peaceful interlude in the eye of this sonic storm.
Momentum is the sort of epic instrumental that this band does so well, but with enough twists and turns to satisfy anyone. Like a desert wind it constantly changes direction and intensity, with great guitar throughout; This piece shows off the band's tight, ensemble playing to good effect, yet with an accessible melody throughout.
Plans has a heartbeat type drum, with acoustic guitar and heavily reverberated piano, alongside a plaintive vocal. It is a softer song, with effects in the background to build the atmospheric sound and to convey a melancholy and sombre mood. Yet another great vocal from Petter, highlights his great and flexible voice. This song reminds me of Gazpacho sonically, and has a good intensity with a great guitar break at the five-minute mark. This is a skilfully crafted song with an epic sound to it.
The final track, Flux is also the longest here at nearly 13 minutes in duration, and it is all the better for having the time to stretch-out and flex. Subtle keyboards and guitar open proceedings, creating an almost ambient atmosphere, before clanging guitar chords develop the song further. The bass then takes prominence, before shimmering, pulsating keyboards join the mix to build the platform for a driving keyboard run and a highly-effective rhythmic guitar, before the bass takes up the melody. It is a bold piece, sounding magnificent and epic at the same time. It concludes with a spoken word element that brings everything full circle.
So this is an album of textures. It is wonderful, hypnotic even, and utterly fabulous. There is not a wasted moment throughout its 49 minute running time.
This is a superb album and one that I urge you to hear. It is definitely one of my top ten so far this year by being intelligent and satisfying and fulfilling every promise or expectation. In short: it is simply magnificent and I applaud such heroic efforts.
The Isle of Dogs (4.11), Down to the River (3:38), The Sea (5:13), Black Beacon Sound (4:23), Green Hills of Home (5:28), Moonshine at Midnight (4:56), Translucent Engineering (16:00)
How rewarding the life of a DPRP-reviewer can be. One is provided with a list of albums for review, and then one has the opportunity to select CDs to be reviewed from that list. Of course, there is always some element of uncertainty in doing so, but on the other hand, one has the chance to discover gems from bands which deserve a wider recognition. Such is the case with the album The Isle of Dogs from Berlin-based Osta Love.
The band was formed in 2010, when two school friends, Tobias Geberth (vocals, guitars, keyboards, bass) and Leon Ackermann (drums), who had been playing music together since 2006, moved from their hometown, Heidelberg, to Berlin. Their first album Good Morning Dystopia was released in 2013 as a two-man project. Subsequently, the line-up was completed with Oliver Nickel (bass) and Marcel Sollorz (vocals and keyboards). The band toured extensively in the Berlin area, and acted as support amongst others for The Pineapple Thief. The Isle of Dogs is the band's sophomore album, and it's a really good one!
Let's have a look at the information provided on the band's website: "Osta Love unite rock with jazz, pop with baroque, catchy hooks with complex rhythms, and add just the right dose of melancholic dreamscape to form a unique sound that touches hearts and heads." Is that true, or just a marketing line?
As a matter of fact, this album stands out for its variety. The songs may sound simple upon first listening, because they don't contain long instrumental passages or aloof musicianship. The opening title track is a good example of that. It starts a bit subdued, before developing a rather complex interplay between guitar and keyboards, especially the piano in the Canterbury-style instrumental middle section (the use of the piano is a distinctive feature of Osta Love's music).
Overall, the album is song oriented, subtle and delicate. It is never excessive. Its complexity only reveals itself after repetitive spins. That means, one's not getting weary of it even after intensive listening. Far from it! I discovered new aspects, changed my favourites a couple of times, and the album grew upon me the more I listened to it.
The musicianship and the production of the album are excellent. Most of the time, the music is upbeat and joyful, reminding me, here and there of Swedish progsters Moon Safari, as there is that little dose of melancholy, inherent in some of the songs. Take The Sea, for example, one of my personal favourites. Lyrically, it tells about someone's longing and affinity for the sea. But on the other hand, one cannot be sure whether the writer didn't have the mystery, the inconceivability, the weirdness of the ocean in mind. Musically, this ambiguity comes across by the slightly portentous undertone of the keyboard intro, whilst polyphonic vocal harmonies, coupled with sparkling piano runs, evidence a melancholic and wistful feel. The vocal harmonies sometimes recall Frank Bornemann of Eloy, not just in this song, but throughout.
The vocals are a prominent feature of this album. Perfectly fitting the mood of each song, they are either upbeat, glorious and optimistic, or contemplative, fragile, and restrained. With two vocalists, there is enough opportunity to display melodious vocal harmonies.
The interplay between keyboards and guitar is also worth special consideration. Whilst the album is keyboard-oriented, keyboards do not dominate the guitar. The quality of the keyboard work is particularly evident in Moonshine at Midnight, whilst the guitar stands out in the closing track Translucent Engineering, hinting at the Pink Floyd reminiscences in Osta Love's music.
The final track, the only epic on the album, lyrically describes the hopelessness and the despair of an author with writer's block. With such a topic, don't expect a jaunty ditty. Musically, it is possibly the proggiest track on the album, changing atmosphere and musical direction a couple of times. From a delicate acoustic guitar intro to a jazzy piano section, from Gilmour-esque guitar parts with pounding bass, to majestic vocal harmonies. Great!
I do consider it as a positive not being able to come up with many bands as references. Osta Love first and foremost sound like Osta Love. Their originality is their strength. If necessary to mention, besides Pink Floyd, I distinguished some Moody Blues, a bit of Coldplay and a little 10CC. But why don't you find out by yourself?
CD 1: Doctor (5:40), Blind Eye (3:50 Lorelei (6:25), Walking the Reeperbahn (4:00), Outward Bound (4:35), Persephone (7:00), Front Page News (5:20), Runaway (3:15), Baby the Angels Are Here (4:40), Warrior (5:55), Lifeline (5:25), Silver Shoes (6:15), Cosmic Jazz (3:50)
CD 2: Diamond Jack (4:55), Master of Disguise (4:35), Say Goodbye (4:25), F.U.B.B. (9:20), Come in from the Rain (5:10), Living Proof (5:45), Blowin' Free (6:45), Flesh and Steel (7:05), Standing in the Rain (8:10), Why Don't We (10:05), Jail Bait (8:35)
Recorded and released in 1973, Live Dates by Wishbone Ash was for me one of the best played and recorded live albums of the 70s. The set list was almost faultless; drawing from the four studio albums the band had released at that point, which included the classic Argus (1972).
Fast forward some 33 years to 2006 and the release by Martin Turner (the ex-Wishbone Ash bass player, lead singer and songwriter), of New Live Dates Vol. 1, and the following year, of New Live Dates Vol. 2 . They were both recorded during Turner's 2005/2006 UK tour, although the majority of the songs were recorded in February 2006.
This reissue combines volumes 1 and 2 into a 2CD set for the first time and changes the playing order, presumably to more accurately reflect the original set list. It's superbly performed, with Turner and his band (Ray Hatfield and Keith Buck on guitar and drummer Rob Hewins) perfectly capturing the classic Ash sound of twin lead guitars, backed by a rock-solid rhythm section. Their cause is helped by a guest appearance from founding Wishbone Ash member Ted Turner, who adds slide guitar and vocals to the four-song encore.
The set list is a pretty broad selection of songs from Martin and Ted Turner's time with Ash, from the band's 1970 debut up to the 1991 studio album Strange Affair . With such a wide choice, the first four albums are thinly represented, with many of the classic songs from the era absent. Ash pretty much dropped off my radar following the release of their fifth studio album, There's the Rub (1974), and listening to this collection I'm reminded why.
As I said, it's accurately and passionately performed, but the material is mostly mainstream rock and radio-friendly blues with shades of the American west coast sound. In fact, much of it is similar to the type of material Eric Clapton was turning out during the 1980s. Doctor from Wishbone Four (1973) is clearly inspired by The Who, whilst Lorelei from New England (1976) echoes the smooth, soft rock sound of Steely Dan.
Of more of interest to prog devotees is the timeless Warrior, the lively Blowin' Free (which always had more of an edge live), the crowd pleasing encore Jail bait and the extended instrumental F.U.B.B., which is perhaps the highlight here.
If you're a lifelong Wishbone Ash fan, then this set is essential, unless you already have Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of course. Like its 1973 predecessor, the recording quality is excellent. It also demonstrates Martin Turner's dedication to the Ash cause and his legitimate right to perform the band's back catalogue (in much the same way that Steve Hackett keeps the Genesis flame burning).
If however your love affair with Ash began and ended with Argus then you may wish to look elsewhere. In which case, Turner's Life Begins 2CD/DVD live set is highly recommended featuring as it does the band's best loved album in its entirety.