Black Tar Water (3:29), Leak Water (4:41), Counselor (5:50), Eve (9:12), Interlude (0:49), The Things You Love (6:12), Nakami (5:19), Commercial (3:44), Hands Up (5:40), Good Girl (6:43)
First time I heard Bent Knee I was not so impressed but there was something that caught me. After reading they were nominated to the best Vanguard band in the Progressive Music Awards I decided to review their last album Say So. Great decision. Fist song Black Tar Water can help you understand why. From the softness to emotion in less than four minutes and perfectly connected to the many shades of Leak Water.
Second listening: the thing is getting better and I´m realizing that this is not a normal progressive album neither the typical progressive band. I can apply the usual cliches to compare them to another current prog scene heroes. And I´m falling in love with the vocals. Really captivating. You will remember these words while listening to Counselor and the longest song Eve, two clear samples of how different styles are mixed under Courtney Swain's "acrobatic" voice.
Third overall listening: Say So is really an album full of nuances to discover. You can listen prog, pop, avant garde in most of the songs. One thing is for sure, you won´t care about trying to determine the style you´re listening to because it´s almost impossible. Try to concentrate on the calm moments before the great endings in songs like The Things You Love and the beautiful Nakami.
Fourth listen: the more I listen to this record the more I like it. The feelings while listening to it now are totally different from the three previous times. I guess everyone´s feelings are quite different from day to day but I'm beginning to suspect that this music fits feelings in different ways. I know this statement may be a bit pretentious but that´s what I felt I´m pretty sure more than one will agree. As their record label says "It's a thrilling aural roller-coaster ride with arrangements designed to make listeners throw their arms up in wild abandon as they engage with them". You can travel from the noisy Commercial to the poppy Hands Up and find yourself wanting more of either.
Fifth listening: Say So is truly a masterpiece. Nothing much to say.
Of course I have listened to it many more times and all I can say is more of the same so I recommend you to give them a chance if you haven´t yet. And don´t forget to take a listen to their previous album Shiny Eyed Babies; a great predecessor with heavier parts and intense tunes. Take a look at the great review Owen Davies did for DPRP, scoring 9 out of 10.
They didn´t win the Vanguard prize but to me they are one of the best of 2016 and I´m sure Say So will be nominated to album of the year by more than one. It´s great to see different things in progressive music and this one is different and it´s good.
Starlit Sands (8:20), Black Confetti (6:12), Roots (6:49), The Lights (3:24), November Sky (6:00), Black Chapter Red (8:16), Kissing Dynamite (4:04), Deep Down (6:13), End of Life (6:41)
Cromwell is another one of those bands that I have never heard of, but have been around for a long time. The band started in 1993 and their only other release up to this date is their debut album, Burning Banners released back in 1997. Two of the founding members are still present, with Eric Trauzettel (drums) and Wolfgang Täffner (keyboard) being joined by Holger Weckbach (vocals) and Frank Nowack (guitars/bass). The music of Cromwell is progressive rock, best compared with bands such as Enchant, Saga and Pallas. I also hear some very distinct IQ influences and many other ideas from several classic neo-prog bands.
The sound of Cromwell is very solid progressive rock, leaning towards a heavy rock sound. It is heavy, but certainly not metal. The keyboard gets a prominent place in the overall sound, and I really like that aspect of the Cromwell sound. There is a nice keyboard layer as a foundation, like Clive Nolan provides, and then some nice IQ-like melodies. For the guitar, the same thing can be said, with nice solid layers of chords and many melodies.
Each song on Black Chapter Red has it's own influences coming from a variety of classic neo-progressive bands. I hear some Marillion, IQ, BJH, Arena and Galahad. It is hard to give Cromwell an identity of their own, but maybe the combination of influences is indeed what Cromwell is all about.
The whole of the album sounds very cohesive, with all the influence nicely blended into a solid sound. However it is a bit safe-sounding; well within comfortable boundaries. People looking for daring new stuff, might not be appealed by this album, but if you like comfortable sounding albums then Cromwell is a good choice. For me this album was a nice surprise. Black Chapter Red is a nice addition if you like any of the bands mentioned above.
Black Book (5:31), Sea of Sorrow (5:55), The Worrying Kind (8:44), Staying For a While (3:18), Sometime (5:13), Call Me Rage (3:48), Tender Lies (7:01)
If you took some of the rockier Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with Jim Morrison's The Doors, you might get an inkling as to how this band, Get Your Gun, sounds vocal-wise. Very much a band based on heavy guitar riffs (no keyboards here), we have a smattering of melancholic rock throughout, with Andreas Westmark providing a powerful, gloomy vocal delivery.
I'm not completely convinced I would consider this as a progressive rock album, but at the same time it isn't a pop record. It's certainly raucous in many parts, sometimes sandwiched between mellower moments. I guess this band will be very loud live? Maybe 'neo punk noise' is one way of describing this album.
The songs tend to be homogeneous and therein lies the problem; they tend to sound the same. It's okay to have a musical style, but sometimes the listener wants a bit more variety in a song's texture and arrangement. For me, it was hard to listen to this album more than three times. Maybe it's not my cup of tea, and I can see the metal heads enjoying this one.
So if you like thumping drums, and heavy guitar riffs with the odd quieter moments, then this one will be right up your street. The one track that stood out for me was the last track Tender Lies. Not a bad song at all. Slow and gloomy with an atmospheric backdrop. When I first listened to this I was expecting the great wall of sound to emerge yet again, but it didn't. So they caught me out there!
Kindred Spirit (6:21), Life is a Circus (4:59), Wolves at the Gate (6:56), Lets Be Happy (3:48), It's Not Too Late (6:38), Horse With No Name (5:21), Drunken Landlady (2:15), Feed the Fire (5:18), Beautiful Day (3:42), Let The Music Set You Free (5:23), Children of the Stars (7:41), The Phoenix (7:02)
Elaine Samuels and Kindred Spirit describe themselves, accurately, as a prog (folk) rock band. It is prog rock with folk tinges, similar to mid-period Mostly Autumn or Solstice, but without Andy Glass' brand of guitar fireworks. This is a five-piece band led by Elaine Samuels, who writes all the original songs and who also sings and plays the guitar, both electric and acoustic.
The prog rock on Phoenix Rising is very much song-based, and those songs are eminently melodic. So much so, that after two plays I found myself humming them on odd occasions, wondering where on earth I had heard these tunes before. They have both a timeless, and a modern edge to them.
The album opens with Kindred Spirit which has a flowing, slightly jingle-jangle melody that brought to mind REM, at least until the flute and the violin duet started. Elaine Samuels has a strong, earthy voice that is more Anne-Marie Helder (of Panic Room), than Sandy Denny's more crystalline folk voice.
The album continues by mixing-up the pop-prog joyfulness of Life is a Circus, which has a non-grumpy Van Morrison style feel to it. There is a lovely flute line from Catherine Dimmock on Let's Be Happy, which for once does not bring to mind Ian Anderson. There is irrepressible pop in the shape of Beautiful Day, but be warned you will sing along, whether you want to or not.
The band are also not afraid to plug-in, and on Feed the Fire you get a raucous prog-rock, classic-rock, grit-in-the-oyster song. Propelled along by the drums of Les Binks (previously with Judas Priest), this offers a terrific electric guitar solo. The electrics come out to play again on Let The Music Set You Free, where Mike Hislop's bass-playing stars.
However, the best thing about Phoenix Rising is the violin playing of Gavin Jones. All of the material is great, but on occasion, his contribution to the Kindred Spirit sound pushes it into the stratosphere. This is especially evident on Wolves at the Gate; a blindingly good song with a drum pattern by David Rowe that reinforces its sense of menace. Jones' violin pins your ears back, and he is joined by an equally good guitar solo by Phil Martin. This interplay of violin and other instrumental colours serves Elaine Samuels' songwriting brilliantly. This can be heard on Children of the Stars, where sax replaces the flute over a wonderful bass line. Terrific stuff.
There is loads of good stuff going on throughout Phoenix Rising. My only caveats would be the folk jig (or is it reel?) of Drunken Landlady, which is just not my cup of instrumental tea, and the cover of America's Horse With No Name. It is a fine cover-song, but feels a little weak, or out of place, against Elaine Samuels' own songs. I would have preferred another original or a cover of something more left-field.
So if you are hankering after a prog (folk) rock album, with strongly melodic songs and terrific violin, then look no further than Elaine Samuels and Kindred Spirit's Phoenix Rising.
Deliverance (6:01), Fall Out (6:50), Force Feed (3:33), The Search (10:42)
Semistereo is a Dutch band that has been around for almost a decade. They released a few shorter albums, before releasing a self-titled, full-length debut album in 2012. Re-Ignite is a sort of a four-song teaser for their next full-length album.
Compared to their self-titled debut the biggest change is probably the vocalist with Paul Glandorf (ex A Day's Work) having joined in. Semistereo plays progressive rock with a heavy edge, but they have not forgotten about the melodic part of music. From the first tones of this EP, the pounding bass is introduced as a significant element of the band's sound. Together with the heavy guitar, Deliverance is a very powerful song, best described as Rush-meets-Jadis.
On Fall Out those influences continue. Semistereo have of few tricks up their sleeve. Some turn out right, and some turn out not-so-right. On some occasions, especially on Fall Out, they try to have multiple vocal-lines, and those parts are not very effective. The closing song, The Search, has the most to offer of this foursome. Compared to the rest, this song sounds the most developed. Where other songs sound like they are still in the process of being written and developed, The Search is completely finished. I cannot find anything wrong on this song.
Re-Ignite is a short offering, that is a good introduction to Semistereo. It is not their debut album, but it has a debut feel to it. I hear stuff I like, but I also hear stuff that really needs some work. For their new full-length album, they need to rework their songs and then they could have something good coming. Just listen to The Search; I hope their new album has more of this type of song.
Aloft (7:20), Alfa Berlina (6:40), Room 1210 (6:48), Forever Falling (5:40), Shikata Ga Nai (2:29), (Oh No, I Must Have Said) Yes (7:44), Brought to Book (7:57), Almost the Words (7:54), Go (4:35)
Martin Burns' Review
This new studio CD follows on from 2012's ALT, an album of instrumentals. Do Not Disturb is the fourth studio release by the current three-piece line up of Van Der Graaf Generator (VDGG). Though these three members, Peter Hammill (vocals, guitar, piano), Hugh Banton (organ, bass) and Guy Evans (drums, percussion) have been more or less ever present since the band's inception.
Here VDGG return to longer form songs, in contrast to the shorter ones found on the previous song based releases Trisector and A Grounding in Numbers. The music on Do Not Disturb is more organic and expansive. Some songs have many twists and turns which reflects the recording method the band used. They went into the studio for a week of intensive recording just for the music tracks. Then Peter Hammill added the lyrics and the vocal melodies later. Hammill is, arguably, the UKs finest lyric writer. So you have to take them into account in any VDGG review and here he is on, as ever, excellent form.
Given the intensity of the recording process the album wrong foots you immediately with a gentle strummed electric guitar and a quiet vocal from Hammill. The ballad grows in pace and dynamism when Hugh Banton's keyboards and Guy Evans' drums come into play. Hammill's angular guitar playing and a lyric about trying to escape one's circumstances make for a satisfying and intriguing opening.
Then comes one of the album's four masterpieces. Alfa Berlina is a song of nostalgia for youthful adventures in the titular vehicle. It uses atmospheric overlaid vocals and distorted taped noises reminiscent of one of Hammill's solo songs, the brilliant A Motorbike in Afika. The organ on this is fabulous as the melody rises above the noise and then subsumes again into electronics in the verses. It has an earworm of a melody within the chorus. Marvellous.
Another masterpiece follows with powerful melancholy of Room 1210. A song of isolation, its protagonist wants to be alone whilst not wanting to be at the same time. From its piano opening onwards it is an inventive and twisty song that refuses to settle, matching its protagonist's mood swings. Its emotional power draws you in and refuses to let go.
After the previous two tracks the next could have come across as a bit weak. But VDGG being VDGG they decide to bring the noise. Forever Falling is up-tempo and punky prog with Hammill, Banton and Evans rediscovering their inner Rikki Nadir (see Nadir's Big Chance for reference). Electric guitar takes the lead underpinned by Evans' powerful drumming (I have always thought he is underrated as a prog drummer). It is a song about a broken relationship in which neither party can quite seem to make it end.
There is then a Morricone-like instrumental. Shikata Ga Nai is atmospheric and slightly discordant. It acts like a vinyl side break, allowing the listener to decompress, before the emotional mauling begins again.
The stuttering rhythm and shards of guitar introduce (Oh No, I Must Have Said) Yes. This is the most challenging, and I think least successful song on Do Not Disturb. It switches between a heavily intense opening and a cool jazz section that features random jamming until the heavy opening section is revisited. It makes for a much less engaging listen but you can't fault the musicianship. Being followed by the other two masterpieces on the album does not help it.
With its brushed snare and piano, Brought to Book, starts off gently and builds through many tempo changes to a complex musical work. It explores the protagonist's own failings and his recognition the impending retribution he faces. It is fabulous, and there are not many songs that feature the word 'inglenook'!
Then to cap it all you get Almost the Words. This has fantastic keyboards, with an electric piano section that comes across like sequenced synthesizers. This is topped by beautiful organ and electric guitar. The precision of the music is in contrast to a lyric that points out the imprecision of language and the betrayals that such imprecision makes possible. Brilliant.
The album ends on a quiet note with Go, a song about the end of things. The music is all thrumming keys and washes of sound and it lets the listener return to exit VDGG's sound world gently.
Here you have nine tracks; four of which are absolute blinders. Three others are very fine but slightly overshadowed by the four masterpieces, and one that I found hard to like. So Van Der Graaf Generator, forty-seven years after their first release are, with Do Not Disturb, have produced a vital and essential listen.
Peter Funke's Review
Excitement. Suspence. Anxiousness. Those are the moods you are frequently shifting between while awaiting a new opus from one of the very old, genre-defining bands. Actually is does not depend on the genre itself. Van Der Graaf Generator in their trio formation are going to release a new album in 2016, that's it. Wheeee! Additional announcements like "This is our most technical album so far" are not really helpful to keep oneself calm!
So in a mixture of respect and memories you are pushing the play-button and listen. Do Not Disturb lasts a little under an hour and the album title is a good advice for listening to VDGG anyway. And with each round your grin is getting broader. Strike. Touché. What we get here is first class progressive rock music in the typical VDGG style.
Name your favorite elements of VDGG tracks and they are here. The first piece of good news: everybody who is familiar with them would recognize the album in a blind test. The sound, the voice, the tricky rhythms, the sometimes skewed harmonies together with beautiful melody lines - Do Not Disturb is the essence of Van Der Graaf Generator.
The second good message: there are nine great tracks on the album and actually no weak moments.
The opener Aloft brings you right back to the golden era of VDGG in the 70s. This could be as well a track from the albums Still Life, World Record or Godbluff. A fascinating development of the track, from the quiet intro with the almost Hawaiian guitar chords to the rocking middle section with those slight dissonant harmonies and further to the very cool last minute. Greatest songwriting.
Alfa Berliner shows a so relaxed groove you could fly away and some of Peter Hammill's lovely high vocals. Of course this is not a ballad that just flows away six minutes without surprises. A sudden out of nowhere "sound and space excursion" reminds you who is playing here and the lovely soft organ brings us back to the track.
Do you remember Cat's Eye, Yellow Fever? I got that in mind at once listening to Forever Falling. An uptempo (for VDGG) track which is quite close to a poppy rocksong - as close as the three guys would allow.
Next example of best work is (Oh Not I Must Have Said) Yes. Starting with a harsh but catchy theme you suddenly hear best cool blues riffs. This part grooves like a live blues impro jam and ends of course back in the main theme.
Surely this will be great live stuff.
Nobody knows if this is VDGG's last output, as some people suggested. But if it is, they are retiring with a Big Bang!
They are playing VDGG, but they are not copying themselves for the tenth time. On this album VDGG plays with some quotes of the past (e.g. Brought To Book at 2:08), but that is fun for insiders. As old as they may sound, the compositions are very modern. In the end you will understand what they meant with the most technical album - in an only positive way.
And we are reminded, why VDGG are named as one of the pioneers of progressive rock music. Yes, they still can.
All in all Peter Hammill, Guy Evans and Hugh Banton produced a piece of progressive gold. Do Not Disturb will offer you a lot to hear in each listening session. For newbies this is the perfect album to explore the music of VDGG, fans will get goose bumps anyway.