Scarlet walking (7:56), Paralyzed (4:48), Remember me (10:20), Rainbow (6:08), Faded snapshots (8:20), Peal of thunder (3:16), Secret place Pt.1 (18:20)
I was once told my a musician, who had just given me his latest CD to review, that I could write anything that I wanted, "but just don't call it nice!"
"Nice" was until recently a pretty positive adjective to bless someone or something with. Recently, it has become a more guarded compliment. It connotes the absence of any distinctive or remarkable quality, the lack of any trait or originality to latch onto, other than a generally nothing-to-dislike demeanour. In today's increasingly risk-adverse, heavily branded (blanded), clone-town world, "nice" is the word you reach for when someone or something struggles to evoke another stronger feeling; positive or negative.
Cyril is a nice name for a band that plays nice music. Formed around the talents of Marek Arnold (Seven Steps To The Green Door, Toxic Smile, Flaming Row and many more), Paralyzed is their second release. It has come out three years after their successful debut concept album, Gone Through The Years, which was described as a "strong and assured" album by Geoff Feakes in his DPRP review (here).
The seven songs on offer this time around, tread across a very similar melodic progressive rock territory as the debut. The band occasionally rock-out and occasionally mellow-out, but most of the time the prog rock of Cyril is of the mid-paced carpet slipper variety that will make fans of Barclay James Harvest, Alan Parsons Project and more latterly Flying Colours fell right at home. Mixed by Arnold and mastered by Joachim Ehrig (Eroc of Grobschnitt) the sound is top quality. The lyrics have been written by and in conjunction with Guy Manning.
With an hour's playing time, there are several points where other adjectives spring to mind. The opening track, Scarlet Walking and the later Faded Snapshots are actually superbly-crafted slabs of modern, middle of the road, melodic prog. The song writing and playing is faultless. Both songs have dynamic variation, with some very clever instrumental sections. The rough-hewn vocal of Larry B (borrowed from Toxic Smile) suits the memorable melodies perfectly, as does the sax solo on Faded Snapshots. I will stick both of these tunes onto a play list and enjoy thoroughly.
At the other end of the adjectival spectrum, Rainbow is pants. Utter pants. The opening, with a well-played Spanish-style guitar, heightens expectations before we nose-dive into a hideous pop ballad with a Barry Manilow piano rhythm behind a heavily accented vocal (not LarryB) singing about rainbows. I could never recommend any album with a song this bad.
Elsewhere, it is all just nice. The melodies are nice, the playing is nice, the singing is nice. I can't really dislike it, but it doesn't take any risks or move me in any way. The tile track has a very straight melodic line, which doesn't quite sit with the more adventurous musical line. Remember Me is a nice song but with an elongated ending that stretches it out to twice as long as it needs to be. Peal of Thunder is more of a gentle breeze - albeit one with a pleasant disco-esque keyboard riff. At 18 minutes Secret Place Part1 is trying to be epic. But with an intro and an outro that both stretch on for five minutes each, it is another nice song stretched out too far.
So for Cyril I would heartily recommend that you download the songs Scarlet Walking and Faded Snapshots and would strongly advise you to avoid the musical nightmare that is Rainbow. As for the album as a whole: if you like nice music, then you will find Paralysed a very nice album.
Fall (1:55), Silent Code (7:19), Names In The Stone (4:54), Toll (3:02), Playing God (5:04), Exit Wound (5:38), Enigma (8:02), The Middle Game (7:45), Trough Of War (4:06), Sleep Under The Flag (3:14), Another Same (3:32), October (5:43)
Fall is the second part of a trilogy dealing with the subject of war. It follows Freedom To Glide's first full album release Rain (2013). The band (or actually the duo) also have released an EP and some singles in-between on a sililar theme. Their first album got some well-deserved reviews in the prog scene (including from DPRP's Andy Read), and the same will be the fact with this album. The two members Andy Nixon (guitar, bass, programming and vocals) and Pete Riley (keyboards, programming, effects and vocals) again use their anti-war ideas in the lyrics of this album. It's also remarkable how well both voices blend together. They both have a warm and pleasant singing voice. As you might have noticed there is no real drummer playing on the album, but funnily enough I didn't notice it while listening, and it didn't bother me. That's how good the drumming sounds on this album.
The album kicks off with the short title track. It's a calm start, with a restrained piano and mellow vocals. The second track, Silent Code, is about a WWII soldier returning home from captivity. This song is dedicated to Andy's grandfather and offers lots of acoustic guitar and some fine piano in the middle of the track and a nice chorus. There are no real guitar eruptions on this track but its is beautifully melodic, with the church bell in the outro reminding me of Pink Floyd's High Hopes. The mood changes on the mainly instrumental track Toll, where Nixon provides some awesome guitar work.
The whole album contains lots of excellent themes and beautiful melodies but the best track for me is Enigma. It starts with a gentle piano intro accompanied by fragile-sounding vocals, before eventually leading to a more passionate and powerful vocal part with some finger-licking performances on guitar by Nixon, that would even make David Gilmour a bit jealous.
The track Trough Of War starts off in a more lively tempo. Funnily enough it reminded me of The Beatles at times. The lyrics are about weapon dealers and from the mtrics, you can imagine that Nixon and Riley aren't very happy with them!
Freedom To Glide end the album with October, which is also one of the best tracks on the album. This song contains catchy vocals, melodic guitar work, fine keyboards and, despite the absence of a real drummer, a pounding rhythm section from start to finish.
Beautiful melodic guitar, atmosheric keyboard sounds, catchy tunes and two warm sympathetic voices lead to an album that is a pleasure to listen to. I am sure it will appeal to many readers of DPRP and could also be a contender on many proggers list of favourite albums for 2016.
The second album by Sicilian band Homonunculus Res is a release which should please listeners who enjoy music that is firmly embedded within the Canterbury style of prog. It contains many of the exciting and enticing nuances associated with that sub-genre of prog.
Much of the album will delight those who revel in the whimsy of Caravan and the kaleidoscopic complexity of National Health. It is both satisfying and exciting to hear the Canterbury sound brought so colourfully to life in the 21st century in a uniquely inventive and charming way by this skilful band.
The opening track, Operazione Simpatia makes a bold statement of intent and eloquently sets out the stylistic boundaries of this album. The thirteen pieces which follow tread a melodic and complex, yet often humorous path which brings to mind the work of bands such as, Picchio dal Pozzo and Hatfield and the North.
To add to an overall feeling of nostalgia, the final parts of Vesica Piscis are awash with swirling synths. This is not dissimilar in style to Camel's Moon Madness period, whilst the dominant theme in the mid part of the piece appears to channel aspects of Soft Machine's Vol 2's Pig composition. Later, Vescia Piscis contains some astral jamming that bears comparison to some of Steve Hillage's best work.
Come Si Diventa Ciò Che Si Era is not a Canterbury styled release that is totally locked into the past. Just like the Canterbury influenced band, yet dissimilar sounding Lapis Lazuli, Homununculus Res are not afraid to include a smattering of other contemporary influences including jazz, and psychedelia into their compositions. The result is something that has numerous points of reference to the past, but also firmly suggests and signposts Homununculus Res' own unique way in which a Canterbury flavoured style can be developed.
The album contains a volcano of musical ideas for the listener to enjoy. These erupt with a consistent freshness and frequently flow with just the right balance of ferocious complexity and relaxing accessibility. This makes the whole album a fulfilling and satisfying experience. It is a release that is best heard in one setting, as it seems that a number of themes are reprised and revisited. Many of the pieces contain elements which are stylistically similar and therefore, they satisfyingly appear to flow into one another.
In this context, the short interlude tune La felicata is particularly endearing. It provides an effective bridge between the stylistically similar Opodeldoc and Ottaedro tracks. Both are impressive and both are outstanding. Opodeloc is an instrumental that features the saxophone and is a tune that has that smile-creating, gurning Canterbury sound in abundance. The changes in tempo are particularly sublime. It is a piece that is memorable, and is able to capture a variety of emotions within its moody and flagrantly accessible ear trapping melodies.
The album consistently displays its golden-white flecked Canterbury contrails. For example, another interlude tune, the aptly named Egg Soup is reminiscent of the woodwind work found in Egg's The Civil Surface and is splendidly placed in the albums running order, to act as a perfect prequel to the National Health like, complexity of the impressive Belacqua.
Much of the band's music centres upon the glorious keyboard work of Davide Di Giovanni who is also accompanied by an assortment of guest keyboard players. The signature Canterbury keyboard sound associated with Dave Sinclair and later developed and arguably perfected by Dave Stewart is richly mined throughout the album. The opulent warmth of the keyboards acts as an attractive contrast to the more offbeat passages that are provided by the guest saxophone players.
The album is also enriched by some evocative vocal passages. These are often executed using a vocalese style that in the past has been associated with Robert Wyatt and also Richard Sinclair. There are some delightful vocal harmonies on display. These enrich the album and give it a charming human quality.
Ospedale civico is undoubtedly one of the albums highpoints. This epic piece is an example of the bands impressive compositional skills. Its long running time gives ample opportunity for the band to highlight their ability to explore a range of moods and deliver a variety of musical styles with aplomb. The shift of emphasis at just under the five minute mark is sublime. Guest singer Wyatt Moss-Wellington is featured in this piece, and provides some magnificent choruses.
Ospedale civico incorporates many significant elements that are often associated with a Canterbury sound. Themes are reprised, shaped and disguised and the recurring motif is absolutely wonderful. The free form element that flourishes at the seven minute mark is challenging and cerebral. This foray into dissonance soon gives way to a delightful flute led dance which provides a spring like mood that signpost a way forward from discord towards harmony and melody.
Overall, Come si diventa ciò che si era presents an innovative, exhilarating and uncompromising expedition into the world of Italian Canterbury styled music. I am already looking forward to their next release.
What If (4:49), Tangled (5:38), Precarious (3:36), Lioness' Sunrise (6:10), Am I Still Here (3:19) Illuminate (5:28), Turquoise (6:27), Let Me (3:48), Reawaken (5:47)
Our Oceans is the solo project of Tymon Kruidener who is well known as a guitarist in Cynic and the main man behind Exivious. Originally formed as a quintet with Kruidener and Michel Nienhuis on guitar, Robin Zielhorst on bass, Jasper Barendregt on drums and a female vocalist, the project had lost its vocalist and so Kruidener decided to perform the vocal parts on his own.
Now if you think the album is full of shred and technical prowess, you're as wrong as you can be, because Our Oceans proves that Kruidener has a lot more to offer than great guitar skills. And style-wise the album is located nowhere near metal. Indeed, Our Oceans is a set of light, dreamy songs, very well written and arranged into perfect shape.
Kruidener based his songs on backing guitar arpeggios of advanced jazz chord progressions, onto which he overlayed very unusual vocal melodies that one would only expect in a highly advanced jazz bar combo. The rhyhm section holds itself very much back and, indeed, rhythm is the least you should expect from this band. Kruidener and Nienhuis have a very good plan of always modelling their clean guitar tones to a perfect outcome, and they play their notes extremely softly and tenderly. The songs have a perfect balance of dreamy-mellow to, well, dreamy-ecstatic moments, just to create good arcs that keep the listener in a light and happy mood; one that feels like floating an inch above the ground.
As for the vocals, I think it was even good that the original vocalist went overboard, in whatever way that happened, because Kruidener does it better than I think any lady would have achieved. The range of notes he forces himself to sing, needs him to cover three different techniques, and he uses two more to serve the dynamics that his work needs. Where a woman would most likely sing this all easily, with rather one technique, it is stunning to listen to how Kruidener repeatedly does transitions from one technique into another.
One man who needs an extra mention for his wotk in this project is bassist Robin Zielhorst, who plays his fretless bass in a extremely wonderfully warm way, like I've never heard it before. He also has a perfect arrangement, in which the bass acts like a guitar and plays many wonderful melodies and licks throughout the album.
Our Ocean is a wonderful album of great musicianship that brings some light and easiness to the listener: almost as if it was meant as compensation for this lousy summer of 2016.
Kruidener has set a statement with this album. He prooves that he can produce music with way more heart and emotion than his past output has shown, and that he is capable of bringing some really wonderful emotions to the listener's heart.
Spådom (4:11), Pestrottedans (7:05), Barkus i Vinterland (6:04), Fundal (6:54), Tredje malist (4:13), Landsbysladder 3 (8:26), Goda'Gomorrah (6:25)
The weather's good. The sun is out. All of my senses have been reawakened by the excellence of Panzerpappa's latest release.
The production values on display in Pestrottedans are stunning. Each subtle nuance or slight change in timbre, is captured in a vibrant manner that enhances the listening experience to near perfect levels. I have rarely heard a release that sounds as good, and this must, to a large extent, be due to the skill of Udi Koomran who mixed and mastered the album.
Nevertheless, even if Pestrottedans had been recorded in a telephone booth, the strength of the compositions and the band's effervescent performance would have shone through, to make it a stimulating experience for anybody who enjoys instrumental music that is superbly constructed, and contains multiple layers to unpick. The packaging of the album is excellent too, and the detailed explanation and discussion of each of the tracks in the accompanying booklet is an added and welcome bonus. I wish that all bands would put this level of care into these aspects of their work.
The album is convincing in every respect. Even though Panzerpappa's overall sound is complexly woven and quite unique, it has a playful exuberance that ensures that the album is a joyous listening experience.
The seven tracks on offer are set within a climate of jazz, but each piece is as unpredictable as the local weather. In the space of a single composition, the listener can experience thunderous, squally and ferocious passages of unreserved intensity, and interludes of basking calm and rhythmic certainty. Nevertheless, Panzerpappa's music has an enviable sense of melody, and possesses an identifiable structure. It is neither too challenging, nor too complex just for the sake of it. Each passage is thoughtfully constructed, and this gives a sense of continuity that runs through the album, rendering it accessible and stimulating.
The variety on display and contrast between each of the compositions is impressive and highly engaging. These range from the Nordic café bar geniality of, Barkus I Vinterland, to the avant chaos of a late night progressive dance club, exhibited by the multi-textured tones and infectious grooves of the title track.
During the course of the album, I found myself momentarily imagining stylistic similarities to a diverse collection of musicians and bands. These fleeting notions usually occurred within a specific piece. For example, the twinkling rhythm and offset guitar parts of Spådom brought to mind Grovjobb, whilst the Latin tinged change of emphasis that is captured in Fundal's slower middle section had me briefly recalling Gil EvansSketches of Spain, or Chick Corea's work, both as a solo artist and within Return to Forever.
The guitar tones chosen on occasions, in tracks such as, Fundal and in the outstanding Goda'Gomorrah, brought to mind Robert Fripp. The album's sleeve notes suggest that the music of King Crimson is specifically referenced in Landsbysladder 3. In fact, in this piece, I think I glimpsed a lark's tongue passing by a number of times, as the band explored a procession of jewelled themes. Throughout Landsbysladder 3, and in many of the band's compositions, a succession of ear-grasping motifs are laid out, before being cloaked and stretched, to reappear in a number of different guises. This delicate intricacy is just one of many factors that make this release so appealing.
Another aspect that I particularly enjoyed was the judicious use of accordion on Barkus I Vinterland. This gave the piece a sepia-lensed atmosphere that was offset by the technicolour of the other instruments. Although not as complex as many of the other tunes on offer, the happy-faced, bubbling bossa-nova rhythms of Barkus I Vinterland ensured that it was memorable, enchanting and never less than totally captivating.
Autumn is coming, the sun is hidden, storm clouds are gathering, but the thought of hearing the whole album again, quickly wipes away any frowns. Whatever the weather, Pestrottedans' impressive qualities continue to radiate brightly. I feel confident that this album is certain to impress, if you choose to check it out.
In Exile (5:40), No Man's Land (4:20), Tear You Up (4:53), That Shore (4:36), Take Your Shot (4:34), Fend for Yourself (3:49), The Final Thing on My Mind (9:52), Where We Stood (3:46)
Kevin Heckeler's Review
I'm new to The Pineapple Thief, a band having always fallen just under my radar as one of the many neo/crossover prog options available. In preparation for this review, I enjoyed some Youtube content and had their free sampler from Amazon on repeat in the car. Even though I was underwhelmed by what I heard, I had high hopes, since Your Wilderness was getting some solid pre-sale hype and support from Kscope. "They wouldn't put in all of this effort to promote meh, would they?" I thought. Eleven albums in seventeen years is respectable productivity for any band. There must be something I'm just not hearing. So I listened.
That sound is unmistakable. Of course I'm speaking of their drummer. Gavin Harrison is probably the most recognisable drummer in progressive music right now, by name as well as through his unique and accomplished playing. Within moments of listening to the sampler, I recognised the style, fills, and cymbal work that's become a trademark after so many years appreciating his output with Porcupine Tree. On Kscope's website, lead singer and guitarist Bruce Soord proclaims: "Gavin's drumming is technically brilliant but also incredibly musical, and it inspired all of us to raise our game." Not entirely sure about the raising their game part. Gavin certainly played the hell out of it. More on that to come.
Take Your Shot is very catchy with a great guitar solo, but ends up mostly serving as an example of what is wrong with the album. Borrowing heavily from the early 2000s Porcupine Tree alt-prog formula, the song milks its few chords way too much, relies too heavily on its catchy chorus (stuck on repeat), and ends up sounding more like an average shoegaze-inspired track, than a progressive rock anthem. That wouldn't be noteworthy, if it wasn't the basic precept that many of these songs follow. Some are punctuated by (often brief) moments of progressive inspiration, but as a whole they're dressed in predominantly ordinary pop and alternative designs, embellished just enough to suggest otherwise. Superb drumming is certainly one way to put some lipstick on this piece.
The Final Thing On My Mind tries to forsake it's mold for something higher. However, instead of breaking free at 3:48, they opt to go full circle to the uninteresting, uninspired, and jangly opening bit. After riding this for what feels like an eternity (in fact it's only two minutes), they finally arrive at a reasonably well executed pop section, droning the same lyrics with the same tedious melancholy that much of the lyrics are sung throughout the album. It's really not until 8:35 that we finally arrive at anything resembling a pay-off. Spoiler alert: the pay-off is the exact same music, but played with a touch of distortion. The degree of craft behind Anathema's often expertly-executed builds, becomes evident when you hear other bands fall glaringly short.
The album is not without its better moments. In Exile is a very solid RadioheadThe Bends / OK Computer-era influenced track. Soord's playful lead guitar work infectiously infuses that 90s alternative rock quality. There's enough variety between sections, and gelling between Gavin's drumming and the band to give a sense of unity, groove, and purpose. No Man's Land has an interesting change midway, that highlights Gavin's ability to make something from nothing. The song finishes with some of their heavier and genuinely good progressive chops. Tear You Up adheres to a similar structure, with a faster section at the middle but ends on what's probably their most melodic chorus on the album.
Was it coincidence that the strongest tracks (my opinion of course) appear at the start of the album and on the Amazon sampler? Or could this be a sign that even they knew those tracks might never get heard, if they were pushed too far down the playlist?
There are a lot of bands competing for listeners. A LOT. It's becoming increasingly difficult to set oneself apart. The Pineapple Thief is a product of trying to ride the coattails of successful progressive and alternative acts, while also establishing an identity of their own. With compelling recent releases from Frost, Steven Wilson, Gazpacho, Radiohead, Iamthemorning, and Anathema, the case for The Pineapple Thief becomes problematic.
Martin Burns' Review
The West Country based The Pineapple Thief, formed in 1999, have just released Your Wilderness their 11th studio recording. The line-up for this album features the core trio of Bruce Soord (acoustic and electric guitars, vocals), Jon Sykes (bass guitars, backing vocals) and Steve Kitch (keyboards). Gone from the line-up that made their previous album, 2014's Magnolia, is drummer Dan Osbourne. He is replaced by King Crimson and Porcupine Tree alumnus Gavin Harrison, who drums throughout, as well as helping with some production.
My first half-a-dozen listens left me feeling a little non-plussed. Gone were the lush orchestrations of 2012's All the Wars, gone was the direct, compact alt-rock prog of Magnolia, and there was no sign of the punchy electronica from 2010's magnificent Someone Here is Missing. So with my expectations duly re-set, I sat down to take on board what The Pineapple Thief were up to on this new release. That is has taken me a few weeks to appreciate the grace and beauty here, is a good sign that this will be an album that will linger. So in this regard, Your Wilderness shares a kinship with Tim Bowness' two solo albums and No Man's Schoolyard Ghosts, as albums that grew on me over time.
This album opens with a subtle but insistent drum pattern which is joined by Mellotron in a time-honoured prog manner. That is the moment when you realise that the alt-rock is being pushed back, in favour of a proggier approach. Bruce Soord's mellifluous tones join early on, along with a four-piece choir. As the track goes on, the music becomes denser and heavier, until Darran Charles from Godsticks fires up his electric guitar for a stinging solo. In Exile is a delicate and powerful opener, and it really sets out The Pineapple Thief's stall for the rest of the album.
An acoustic guitar introduces No Man's Land. There is an underlying acoustic thread running throughout this set, even on the noisier tracks. Piano enters, and a gentle ballad slowly builds, until a bass chord halfway through nearly blows out your speaker cones. Then the full band kicks in with swirling synth, with Darran Charles on guitar and with Gavin Harrison assaulting his kit with both power and his characteristic subtle touches. Great stuff.
The most alt-rock song, Tear You Up, finds The Pineapple Thief communing with their inner metal gods, as Charles and Soord duel it out. Its five minutes fly past. There is then a change of atmosphere with That Shore. A deceptively quiet song that packs an emotional wallop, underlined by a disquieting synth bass. More noise follows, with cross-cutting guitars on the up-tempo prog of Take Your Shot.
The Pineapple Thief then bring in more guests for the minimalist beauty of Fend For Yourself. A single-verse song, with Soord's voice at it most tender, supported again by the choir and the strings (violin, viola and cello) of Caravan's Geoffrey Richardson. As the singer-songwriter aspect fades away, along comes Supertramp's John Helliwell with a clarinet solo of sheer exquisiteness. A song of discreet beauty.
This sets the listener up for the longest track on this single disc edition of Your Wilderness. The Final Thing On My Mind moves from the gentle to the raucous, availing itself of more of Geoffrey Richardson's phenomenal strings along the way. This track really builds up the tension, before it is released when Harrison catches fire and Soord's excellent guitar work throws more accelerant on the flames. Here Soord outshines Darran Charles' contributions on other tracks. This is followed by the drum-free finale of Where We Stood. It is grounded with the baritone acoustic guitar Soord has used throughout the album. Its plaintive sound is picked up by the piano melody, before being counterbalanced by some joyous electric guitar. A terrific closer.
Lyrically, Bruce Soord has stated that the album is about separation, estrangement and reconciliation, and with the excellent insert art you can immediately see how it would apply to families and their relationships. There is, I feel, a political under current here. As the song titles will attest, it could easily be read as a set of songs about refugees and their separations from family and homeland. This adds a further layer to these, sometimes, heart-rending songs. Songs that explore the melancholy of feeling lost in the world.
The Pineapple Thief have produced, with Your Wilderness , an album that is identifiably theirs, whilst still having sufficient innovation to keep things interesting. This is not a splashy album in a technical sense, rather it is a delicate and nuanced work. So nuanced that it might pass the casual listener by entirely. Your Wilderness repays the time and effort of listening to it properly. This is a group of musician's at the top of their game, exploring a set of strong songs that give you an emotional working-over.
Between Moon and Earth (3:23), Horizons (15:24), Land of Blue Echoes (3:57), Money Doesn't Think (5:42), Canto D'Amore (4:34), Deep Night (4:34), Beltane (7:28), Nucleus Parts 1-8 (22:46), Queen of Blue Fires (6:40)
In his review of Marco Ragni's previous release, Mother From The Sun, DPRP reviewer Patrick McAfee stated that it was one for those who like a heavy dose of Pink Floyd with their prog. This influence continues on his new release, Land of Blue Echoes (and to be honest if you are going to wear your influences on your sleeve it may as well be from one of the best). This is so much the case that Marco has recruited the vocal talents of Durga McBroom, who has provided backing vocals for Pink Floyd and David Gilmour since 1987.
Marco Ragni is a multi-instrumentalist who plays electric and acoustic guitars, bass, piano, keyboards, Greek bouzouki and vocals on this album. He also calls on the services of other guest musicians, including on drums, Jacopo Ghirardini of Stalag 17. This sidesteps criticism about the electronic drum sound on his previous album. The music on Land of Blue Echoes is a mix of psychedelia, folk, funk and a bucket-full of Floydian prog.
The album opens superbly with the Public Service Broadcasting-style Between Moon and Earth that funks-up a vocal sample and features a wonderful guitar solo from Colin Tench of Corvus Stone.
Next up is Horizons, the first, and best, of the two epic tracks on the album. Opening with Mellotron, it sounds like Pink Floyd covering PFM. It has a full panoply of styles over its quarter hour running time, moving from clavichord-driven funk, through to a section with terrific interplay between the piano and guitar, before throwing-in some jazz-rock shapes in the final third. Marco Ragni does manage to keep an overall cohesive structure to the whole, as it moves on seamlessly.
The second epic, the 22-minute Nucleus Parts 1-8 is less successful. The transitions between sections are often jarring to the ear, and this breaks the mood that was so well-crafted in the preceding section. Here, Durga McBroom's vocal talents come to the fore as she goes full on The Great Gig in the Sky, she is so good that you wonder if Marco Ragni would have been better-off just doing a cover version of that song. The influences here almost overwhelm the song, as it switches from Dark Side of the Moon, back through Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother-ish psychedelic space rock. His love for Floyd seems to outstrip the material here.
The shorter tracks are not without interest. The title track is a wonky, carnival waltz with a nice guitar solo. Money Doesn't Think takes on the Floydian funk, and features terrific slide guitar. There is a delightful medieval folk song in the shape of Canto D'Amore, which is sung in Marco Ragni's native Italian. This is his best vocal performance, as he seems more comfortable than when singing in English, which, though characterful, can be a little variable.
The closing track, Queen of Blue Fires, has a Porcupine Tree ambience to it, admittedly Porcupine Tree at their most Floydian. It has the best melody on the album, and the organ and guitar work are exemplary.
So, all in all, Marco Ragni's Land of Blue Echoes does not quite hang together, but it does have some great individual moments. And four out of the nine tracks are well worth a repeat play. I feel that the use of an outside producer would possibly give greater focus to the material, and the album overall. But if you are in the mood for expertly played, heavily Floyd-influenced prog, then Marco Ragni's album is for you.
CD 1: Sanctuary II Part One (19:16), Sanctuary II Part Two (20:03),
CD 2: Salzburg (2:48), Pen Y Fan (2:14), Les Penning Section (Single Edit) (1:28), Marimba (Single Edit) (3:45), Side Two Opening (Alternative Version) (5:36), Side Two End (Alternative Version) (4:43), Marimba (Chimpan A Remix) (5:04), Sanctuary II Part 1 (Tom Newman Mix) (19:22), Sanctuary II Part 2 (Tom Newman Mix) (21:01)
DVD: Sanctuary II Part One (19:16), Sanctuary II Part Two (20:03) (5.1 24/96 mixes), promo videos
"There ain't half been some clever bastards," ruminated Ian Dury. Such an exposition on intelligence applies to many creative people, especially musicians of say the caliber of one Mike Oldfield. I'm a fan. So in the past I've bought his records. But if you're really, really clever, you might actually be able to play like him. Robert Reed can not only play terrific keyboards (for example with his band Magenta) but can also turn his hand to any instrument, especially the guitar, and on Santuary II, his second homage to the Tubular Bells king, his six-string prowess imitates his idol with aplomb.
This time though, the ante has been upped by adding original Oldfield collaborators Les Penning, who played the pastoral recorders on Hergest Ridge, Tom Newman, who produced the original Tubular Bells, and the most excellent drummer Simon Phillips. It is definitely the inclusion of drums that makes Reed's second veneration a more enjoyable experience.
"Side 1" (20 minutes - just like an old LP) is almost like listening to a tribute band doing a "best of". There's chanting voices with a celtic spin, double harmony guitars, deep, distorted bass notes, piano arpeggios, and whimsical flute sounds. However, none of this is to be criticised, as it's a genuinely wonderful noise and takes you back to why so many of us enjoyed those early albums in the first place. It shows both love and respect in equal measure.
"Side 2" continues in a similar vein, but there's more acoustic guitar, with some lovely, tuned percussion, plus we even get treated to a little horn-pipe section, which reminded me of the British children's TV show Blue Peter (70s version, of course). The music is a little more Rob Reedy, but still makes you scan the credits for the Ommadawn maestro.
Disc 2 has some alternative takes of individual sections, notably the Side Two End (Alternative Version), which would have made it more fun, and Marimba (Single Edit ) which seems more proggy. We are also treated to Tom Newman's mix of the entire piece. Here, the compression is greater, and more instruments are singled out, the tambourine especially. It's a mix that works for the Bluetooth generation, but I prefer CD1, as when played on a good hi-fi, the subtle undertones and nuances are teased out, and this is what the album thrives on.
I do not have anything that can play the enhanced 24/96 hi fidelity versions or the 5.1 surround, but I can imagine that it would just be "brilliant x 5"!
This album should be purchased by anyone who likes good instrumental music, but if you miss the halcyon days of Mr. Oldfield's earlier works, then this is essential.
There is a quote from Brian Eno on the press release that came with Silent Earthling, the new album from Three Trapped Tigers. Eno says: "TTT is at the cutting edge of contemporary music. Watch your fingers!"
The problem with being at the cutting edge, is in wondering how quickly that edge may be blunted, or whether that edge be deemed to have moved eleswhere. It is fantastic praise, but it could also be a burden to these three musicians: Tom Rogerson (keyboards, electronics), Matt Calvert (guitar, synthesizer) and Adam Betts (drums, electronics), who comprise Three Trapped Tigers.
However, they have, in this follow up to 2011's very well received Route One or Die, coped with any perceived burden admirably well. On Silent Earthling you have a post-rock, math-rock mash-up that moves this instrumental genre forward. They use elements of symphonic prog, fusion, house music and techno, through a twin keyboard attack with some guitar and fiery, often syncopated drumming. The bass lines are from the keyboards, giving the overall sound an electronic unity. There is no drifting ambience on Silent Earthling. These nine, five-minute tracks are punchy, concise and satisfyingly complicated.
The title track throws the listener right into their sound world. Ringing, bell-like keys and forceful synth bass carry the melody, whilst a hiccupping rhythm to the chorus-like section is reinforced by the off-beat, syncopated drumming. It is powerful and primal. The relationship between the drumming and the keyboards puts me in mind of O5ric and Gavin Harrison's not-entirely-successful collaboration on their album Circles. For Three Trapped Tigers though, it really works.
Highlights include the prog-metal synths (no, I didn't think this was possible either) on Kraken, with its battering drums and layers of heavy electronica. There are harmonically interesting textures on Blimp too, whose chiming guitar tones and synth might be how The Comsat Angels would have sounded as an instrumental group.
There is a touch of Nordic Giants on Engrams' rolling power, whilst Tekkers has a blistering Tubeway Army-style melody and some terrific guitar. The most house-techno influenced track is Hemisphere, which mixes The Orb and Underworld, but soon goes off on its own idiosyncratic path, building layer on layer of melodic complexity. They also throw in some jazz-rock-fusion on Rainbow Road, where the guitar comes to the fore and where there is a bonkers percussion breakdown.
Three Trapped Tigers have produced an album of modern, cutting edge, forward looking prog. There is barely a glance in the rear view mirror as they produce synth prog that is not spacey or ambient, nor in hock to Krautrock. Rather, in its enclosed and head-banging breathlessness, it consistently sidesteps expectations and preconceptions with ease. This is not for the (contradiction in terms) prog traditionalists, but Three Trapped Tigers' Silent Earthling is definitely for those with adventurous ears.