Peter Baumann - Romance 76
Bicentennial Present (4:52), Romance (6:09), Phase By Phase (7:42), Meadow Of Infinity Pt.1 (3:49), The Glass Bridge (3:46), Meadow Of Infinity, Pt.2 (6:45)
While TD focused on long-form pieces of music, exploring different moods and atmospheres, Baumann's writing approach is of a more concise nature. He is shortening the pieces, giving the rhythmic aspect a much more prominent role, and bringing melody to the fore. In short: presenting his music in the shape of songs.
The first half of this album (or side A, if you will) is definitely on the catchy side of things, with Bicentennial Present, and above all Romance featuring simple melodies and uncomplicated arrangements, although Phase By Phase (perhaps the best piece here), with its ominous tolling bells, offers a glimpse of what's to come on the second half (side B).
Although divided into three separate tracks, side B is actually a 14-minute ambitious (dare I say pretentious?) composition, which we could call the Meadow Of infinity Suite. Featuring a choir, some real percussion and even the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, this is certainly closer to contemporary music than it is to Jean Michel Jarre, with its eerie, desolate feel, which might remind you of composers such as György Ligeti. On occasion it sounds momentous and grandiose, but also too clinical and a bit aimless.
On the positive side, this album feels like a time capsule, as it is highly representative of a particular way of understanding and making (electronic) music from a bygone era. But, also because of this, it feels somewhat dated and obsolete.
Héctor Gómez: 6 out of 10
Peter Baumann - Trans Harmonic Nights
This Day (5:15), White Bench and Black Beach (5:33), Chasing the Dream (4:40), Biking Up the Strand (2:29), Phaseday (5:55), Meridian Moorland (3:29), The Third Site (6:26), Dance at Dawn (3:58)
Featuring real drums, horns and even some good, old vocoder effects, you might think this, having been released in '79, wouldn't be too far from disco music, but this ain't Giorgio Moroder. Yes, it is more immediate and warm than Baumann's first album, but this is still cerebral electronic music, with hardly any danceable beats or easily hummable tunes ... well, I bet The Third Site hit hard on the dancefloor (or not).
Maybe that's the main drawback here, as this is an album that is neither experimental electronica, nor dance music, but something in-between and only defined by its composer's personality. Baumann would try a more commercial approach on subsequent releases, but apparently both Repeat Repeat (1981) and Strangers In The Night (1983) failed to cause any stir, and Baumann wouldn't work on a new relevant piece of music until this year, when Machines Of Desire saw the light of day.
So, an interesting release for fans of vintage electronic music and Tangerine Dream devotees. Progheads might be disappointed about the lack of adventurous long tracks and instrumental fireworks, but it's worth a listen-or-two nevertheless.
Héctor Gómez: 6 out of 10
Dec Burke - Book of Secrets
Reflection (6:16), Everlasting (4:08), Take (5:23), As High as the Sun (5:01), Another Hope (4:49), Intervals (4:50), Hate & Lies (5:28), The Sun Will Rise (3:59)
Dec will be familiar to many as the former lead singer with Frost and founder of Darwin Radio, as well as Audioplastik and his two previous solo albums, Destroy All Monsters (2010) and Paradigms & Storylines (2011).
His latest album is an Anglo-Swedish collaboration with Burke on vocals, guitars and synths, aided and abetted by Steve Hughes (ex. Big Big Train) on drums, Kristoffer Gildenlow (ex. Pain Of Salvation) on bass, and Carl Westholm of Carptree on keyboards.
For the most part, Burke favours a punchy, hard rock sound with elements of prog, as typified by the opening song Reflections. Following an atmospheric Floyd-ian intro, heavy riffs and metallic shredding add weight to an incessant main theme, with Dec's rousing lead vocal (prog's answer to Bryan Adams) front and centre.
Elsewhere, as in Take and the acoustic The Sun Will Rise the guitar dynamics are coloured with vintage, Mellotron-like keyboards and strings. In fact the latter tune would not sound out of place on a Neal Morse album.
There isn't one bad song on this album, with the catchy Another Hope and the ballad-like Intervals proving to be particularly memorable. The latter song also demonstrates Dec's acoustic guitar prowess, with a superb solo that ex-Yes maestro Trevor Rabin would be proud of.
At just 40 minutes, Dec's latest offering certainly doesn't outstay its welcome, with a strong sense of continuity throughout, due in part to the sound effects (rain, thunder, police siren etc.) that link each track. Benefitting from his own solid production, Lee Abraham's mixing, and Karl Groom's production, this is Dec's most accomplished work to date.
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10
Gong - Rejoice! I'm Dead!
The Thing That Should Be (3:34), Rejoice! (10:17), Kapital (3:21), Model Village (6:43), Beatrix (2:54), Visions (4:29),
It is, however, exceedingly rare to see a band's founder and leader choose their heir while still alive, leaving the band's future direction in that person's capable hands. Daevid Allen, aware that his days were numbered, and being unconventional to the end, did this with Gong, his beloved creation.
Though the multi-national cult outfit has a history of surviving without its maverick main man, as witnessed by excellent albums such as Shamal and Gazeuse!, it is also true that Gong's Allen-less incarnations often lacked the uniqueness that was so strongly dependent on his creative input.
For those interested in prog trivia, the official investiture of Allen's successor is immortalised in Canterbury Tales, the third instalment of the outstanding documentary series Romantic Warriors by DC-based film makers Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder. And who better to take the reins of Gong than prog's busiest man (other than Steven Wilson); the wunderkind of the modern English scene; the one and only Kavus Torabi?
A few months after the release of Knifeworld's stunning opus Bottled Out of Eden, the charismatic guitarist/singer/composer/lots of other things triumphantly returns to the spotlight at the helm of Gong's newest version. He stamps his distinctive musical personality all over Rejoice! I'm Dead!, yet all the while paying his respects to Gong's legacy. Surprisingly (or not, depending on your point of view), it works; and then some.
Though some might find the album's title somewhat tasteless, it encapsulates what Daevid Allen (and his partner Gilli Smyth, the inimitable Shakti Yoni, who passed away a few weeks before this album's release) would have wanted: to be celebrated rather than mourned. Therefore, those expecting Bottled Out of Eden Pt. 2 are bound to be disappointed, as Rejoice! I'm Dead! is quite definitely a Gong album, although firmly rooted in the 21st century rather than indulging in endless nostalgia.
Most of those who participated in the band's 2014 release, I See You, are still on board (besides Torabi, Dave Sturt, Fabio Golfetti and Ian East), as well as newcomer Cheb Nettles on drums. The album also benefits from the presence of former members Steve Hillage, Graham Clark and Didier Malherbe, whose contributions create a strong link between past and present.
Opener The Thing That Should Be transports us right onto Planet Knife, barging in with blaring sax and Torabi's anthemic vocals. It is complex yet catchy. Though at first the song might come across as an out-take from Bottled Out of Eden (hence my joke), the Gong imprint lurks beneath in Graham Clark's short but expressive violin solo, the joyful choruses and lush guitar textures.
The feeling is sustained in the splendid Rejoice!, a 10-minute tour-de-force that, as its title implies, celebrates life and death in its upbeat, bassoon-infused chorus. It then effortlessly slides into spacey territory in the mesmerising instrumental middle section, where the three-pronged guitar squad of Steve Hillage, Torabi and Fabio Golfetti let loose on an almost tribal drum backdrop, before the exhilarating final crescendo.
Fans of Gong's longer compositions (such as the stunning Isle of Everywhere on their seminal 1974 You! album) are in for a treat, as Rejoice! I'm Dead! offers not one, but three songs around or over the 10-minute mark. All three, albeit in slightly different ways, capture the spirit of the transition between vintage and modern Gong.
In the almost 12-minute The Unspeakable Stands Revealed, the rare vocal parts channel Knifeworld, while the lengthier instrumental sections rely on an atmospheric build-up and sterling individual performances. This song in particular is Ian East's finest hour, his sax leading the dance with heady abandon, underpinned by Dave Sturt's jazzy bass lines. While Kapital, with its relentless, almost menacing vocals, tribal drumbeats and spurts of sax, still treads in Knifeworld territory, the album's three central songs pay homage to the trippy foundation of the whole Gong project.
The soothing Model Village features Didier Malherbe on duduk, a kind of Turkish flute whose ethereal sound offers a perfect complement to Daevid's pensive vocals and the gently chiming guitars. Beatrix is a short, whimsical piece with French lyrics recited by Daevid in his unmistakably absent-minded tone.
Visions on the other hand, explores rarefied atmospheres made of surging guitars and airy vocalising, a trend also present in Through Restless Seas I Come, whose first half sounds like a homage to early Pink Floyd (definitely one of Torabi's biggest influences) before gaining intensity. The album is brought to a triumphant close by Insert Your Own Prophecy, a fitting title for much of the current socio-political climate. It is a joyous celebration of life and music, bringing together Gong's trademark Eastern vibe and Knifeworld's commandingly theatrical bent, all wrapped-up by an electrifying duet of sax and guitar.
Unless you are a hardcore Gong purist, rejecting anything that came after the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, then Rejoice! I'm Dead! will hit all the right spots. There is enough of the classic Gong sound to please fans of the good old days, though without it sounding like a glorified tribute band. Moreover, Daevid Allen's presence, however fleeting, declares that he wanted for his creature to live and prosper even after he had left this earthly plane.
As far as I am concerned, Rejoice! I'm Dead! is definitely one of the top releases of a bumper year, and proof that Gong will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. As Daevid himself stated in Canterbury Tales, Gong is dead - long live Gong!
Raffaella Berry: 9 out of 10
Hexvessel - When We Are Death
Transparent Eyeball (5:27), Earth over Us (3:26), Cosmic Truth (4:33), When I'm Dead (4:37), Mirror Boy (4:17), Drugged Up on the Universe (3:42), Teeth of the Mountain (4:01), Green Gold (3:31), Mushroom Spirit Doors (5:33), Hunter's Prayer (4:38), Last Lovers in Hell (3:44)
I know I have!
I have also experienced a similar type of frustration when I have been tempted to purchase a new album by a band whose previous release I have enjoyed, only to find that their latest offering bears little resemblance, in either style or quality, to what has gone before. In these situations, I should really follow the advice to try-before-you-buy, but my impulsive enthusiasm for prog, often gets ahead of the need for a more common-sense approach.
The most recent time I felt such despair and disappointment, was when I purchased Hexvessel's most recent album When We Are Death.
I had really enjoyed their No Holier Temple album which was released in 2012. Whilst by no means perfect, it contained just the right intoxicating mixture of psychedelic folk rock and a host of other influences, to be a satisfying experience. Two of the eleven tunes on offer had running times of over ten minutes, and the arrangements in the majority of tunes were, for the most part, varied enough to keep things fresh and interesting. The vocal performance of principal composer Mat McNerney was also a highpoint of the album, giving it a soothing, melodic lilt in-keeping with much of the album's late-night ambience.
In When We Are Death, Hexvessel has largely abandoned the style that made No Holier Temple so satisfying. Instead, the band has adopted a more tightly-spun song-based approach, which draws upon a host of influences including bands such as The Doors and early Pink Floyd.
Many of the tunes have a 60s psychedelia feel, mixed with helpings of 70s rock, but despite the quaint feeling of nostalgia that this attempts to create, what is on offer rarely strays far from the heavy footfall of a clearly defined path that has been laid bare over time by continual use. This may have not been so much of an issue, if the songs which carry the dark message of the album were either strong or memorable.
Unfortunately, they are not. Far too many of the compositions such as the fuzzed guitar tones and vibrating uvula chorus of Transparent Eyeball, and the twinkling, phone-waving anthem of Teeth of the Mountain, appear to rely more on tired rock-borne clichés rather than on presenting something that is fresh and unique.
The tired nature of much of this album's content is epitomised by When I'm Dead, which despite its well-worn, leather-encrusted melody and predictable, shroud-shaking chorus, is ashen-faced and lifeless in almost every other respect. When I'm Dead plods along relentlessly, and genuinely grates upon my bones.
Over the course of many months of ownership I have discovered little to commend this album. The tunes that I have enjoyed to some extent are Drugged up on the Universe, which sounds like a combination of Black Sabbath and early Pink Floyd, and Mushroom Spirit Doors, which wears such a predictable chorus over its careworn, spore-stained, ill-fitting coat, that it is hard not to shake at least one digit to it.
Nevertheless, despite the disappointing nature of the music, the packaging of the album is superb and the lyrics are meaningful and astute. The release is presented in a detailed book format, complete with lyrics, band photos and some glorious artwork. It sets a gold standard for packaging and presentation that will prove difficult for others to emulate. It is a thoughtful and attractive package and is evidence of the level of care, time and attention-to-detail that Hexvessel has invested into their latest work.
I am sure that When We Are Death will find many admirers, and will appeal to those who appreciate a comforting, retro sound in their prog. On the evidence of this album however, there are many other bands that are able to do this as successfully, but with a greater measure of complexity and creativity.
Owen Davies: 5 out of 10
Mike Kershaw - What Lies Beneath
Gunning for the Gods (9:30), In Floods the Light (4:20), Dice (4:42), The City Revealed (6:52), Two Eyes (4:19), Wounds (4:45), Another Disguise (5:22), The City of My Dreams (7:03)
Amongst the eight heart-felt and obviously personal tracks, there are a number of outstanding musical moments. There is Kershaw's synths, harpsichord, piano and organ that crop6up throughout the album, but especially the synth work on the opening track. Another highlight is the super pedal steel driven, pop-prog, of Two Eyes.
But what happensm is that the tracks fail to engage on anything other than an instrumental level, and even then, they sometimes drift close to the edge of being bland. The similar, often stately, pace of the material is also tricky.
However, the major problem is with Mike Kershaw's vocals. He has a gruffness to his voice that is quite welcome, but his range is limited. The vocals quickly become monotonous to the detriment of the songs. It is a shame that he did not think to bring in a vocalistm because there is good material here. Frankly, the songs on What Lies Beneath deserve better.
Martin Burns: 5 out of 10