CD1: Long Year (3:51), What Goes Around (4:17), Doesn't Kill You (4:39), You And Only You (4:08), One For Sorrow (3:24), P.S. Fuck You (3:18), Popular (3:56), Bury Me (3:43), Intermission (Notes To The Editor) (2:08), Waiting To Breathe (3:02), Chip On Your Shoulder (2:58), Confessions Of A Romance Novelist (6:24)
CD2 (acoustic versions): You And Only You (4:50), Bury Me (3:46), Long Year (3:32), Popular (2:23), What Goes Around (4:15)
The Anchoress, real name Catherine Anne Davies, released an EP, a live album and a collection of cover versions under the name Catherine A.D. before adopting the guise of The Anchoress in 2013, releasing a couple of independent singles before signing to KScope. The album is somewhat significant, as it is the first major work by co-producer and co-writer of seven songs Paul Draper, the main man behind Mansun (the band from the late 90s that came dangerously close to taking the prog rock ethos mainstream).
The relaunch of this album following the success of The Anchoress in many 2016 Best Of polls, including best newcomer in the Prog magazine awards, sees Confessions of A Romance Novelist re-packaged with acoustic versions of five songs that originally appeared on The Kitchen Sessions EP. However, the bonus track, a lovely cover of the Simple Minds song Rivers Of Ice, that appeared on the first version of the album and the EP is missing from this new version.
There is no doubt that Catherine Anne Davies is a major talent. Widely lauded as the 21st century Kate Bush, there are many similarities to justify that comparison. A soaring voice, the fact that she is primarily a pianist, an independent streak that largely disregards common musical fashions, a willing to experiment sonically and, above all, some marvellously memorable tunes.
Yes there is a Mansun-like feel to some of the songs, particularly You And Only You. This is the only song labelled as 'featuring Paul Draper' despite his appearance on several other tracks (although admittedly his vocals are more prominent on this number). You And Only You also features a string section, although they can be somewhat hard to distinguish. That is not the case on the two other tracks where they make an appearance, the upbeat and catchy What Goes Around and the marvellous, sad ballad Waiting To Breathe.
Even when actual strings are not used, synths are cleverly employed to give the impression of an orchestral backing, such as on the 'solo' Bury Me which appears before the only other solo performance on the album Intermission (Notes To The Editor). This latter track is where the Bush comparisons ring truest, nothing more than a piano-line with ethereal voices, various spoken lines and some supporting but subliminal synths. It is a very interesting piece indeed.
It is quite a brave move to put a song titled P.S. Fuck You on one's first mainstream release, but the obvious passion and deep emotion behind the emotive break-up song justifies the use of the expletive, in what is undoubtedly a true tale.
Things get rather funky with Chip On Your Shoulder which is a sharp contrast, following on as it does from Waiting To Breathe. To my mind this is the only song that seems rather out of place on the album. Rivers Of Ice would have been a much better fit, and it seems a shame that this, arguably better song is now restricted to a more limited release. But as a cover version, I suppose the choice is justified. The title track closes off the album in fine form, the big number with prog over- and under-tones, that does feel like a massive statement of conclusion.
The acoustic versions on the extra disc are universally lovely. Stripped back to just Davies on piano and vocals (with Draper also appearing on You And Only You) and Gillian Wood providing accompaniment on cello (with Agata Kubiak adding violin and viola on What Goes Around), the fragile beauty of the songs is revealed. Bury Me in particular benefits from this acoustic approach. The real strings, set against a solo piano, seem to add a new depth to the synth-laden original, even though the original is a fantastic song. The acoustic versions also let the power and purity of Davies' vocals shine through. Long Year takes on a more sinister guise, with an underlying menace heightened by Wood's playing. Popular laid bare, does take on a Bush vibe that is not so obvious on the full version, while What Goes Around is probably the most similar to the album version.
As one would expect from someone with a literature doctorate, the lyrics are always interesting and never trite. Each song lyric is accompanied by a quote from a famous author, which makes things more interesting for the curious, tying in the quote with the song subject matter.
So this is a fine début album, and with the follow-up album well under progress, with Bernard Butler (presumably playing the role that Draper did on Confessions...), there is a lot to look forward to from this deserving newcomer awardee.
Star Crossed Darkness (4:48), Circles (5:14), Escape (4:26), Blue Sky (6:59), The Heist (4:06), Transition (5:03)
Once again, Norway shows its talent at producing quality music, this time in the form of Bez Taktu, a three-piece band formed when long-time friends Åsmund Djupang (guitar) and Fredrik Melby (drums) met up with Thomas Rodriguez Mørch (bass/vocals) for a jam session.
The album is an interesting one, blending a mixture of styles that effectively intertwine and mesh together, from doom metal, to psychedelic, to prog rock. It moves from slow, heavy riffs similar to Pentagram or Black Sabbath, to lighter sections consisting mainly of simple, guitar leads, purposeful bass and slow rhythmic drums.
This album has different styles, all mixed together, which, on paper, sounds like it would result in a confusing mess. However, the three friends manage to pull it off and have produced a refreshing album, full of twists and turns and a sound harking back to the old school sound of the 70s, bringing the sounds of King Crimson, Magma and Weidorje into the 21st century.
The album is a fantastic psychedelic prog rock journey, filled with clean leads, fuzzy riffs, driving drums, pulsing bass lines and a smorgasbord of odd time signatures and changes. It stays interesting and fun throughout, and is a thoroughly good listen.
There is no single favourite track, as I think the album as a whole is great. It is a good, solid album that will likely get better with time. It is not for every prog fan, but if you are a fan of some of the more "chaotic" prog, it should be right up your street. The only problem for them now is topping this with their next album!
Beyond The Event Horizon (7:31), Fifth Dimension (6:55), 145 Billion (5:58), Abandoned...Devastated (6:25), On The Top Of Light (7:13), Sails Of The Sun (7:09), St. Elmo's Fire (9:15)
The spectral, skulled image that adorns the cover of Russian band Human Factor's Homo Universum offers more than a hint of what to expect. The group's second release can best be described as a carefully constructed mixture of space rock and post rock, played with attitude. Lying beneath the trappings of its tightly spun, meticulous and methodical styling, Homo Universum is solidly underpinned by a sense of melody, and disciplined creativity. As such, the band's name and the album's title are particularly apt.
This is not an album filled with impenetrable, cascading whirlpools of keyboard sounds, gushing space effects or over-long jams. Those who enjoy the space-stranded, star-filled ebb and flow of the music of bands such as the Oresund Space Collective or the 3rd Ear Experience may well be disappointed; they might even conclude that Human Factor's music barely breaks free from the pull of its terrestrial orbit of influences.
Although Homo Universum does contain superbly executed, flowing synthesiser parts (particularly during Abandoned Devastated, Sails of the Sun and the closing piece St Elmo's Fire,) much of the music has a systematic and carefully constructed feel. For those readers who feel that genre labels are helpful, Human Factor's signature sound contains aspects of the overall style and ambience that might normally be associated with the instrumental post rock exemplified by bands such as Cartographer.
The opening piece, Beyond the Event Horizon, wafts and flows in a methodical, yet highly-melodic manner, and is overlaid with jangly guitars and atmospheric solos. The main driving force in this piece, and indeed throughout much of the album, is the full-bodied trance-like quality of the insistent groove created by bassist Alexander Meshcheryakov.
His contribution is absolutely vital in providing the engine that is necessary for the propulsion of the band's compositions. The bulging low-end is relentless. It bubbles along methodically, providing the music with a full bodied foundation.
The album can be enjoyed in a variety of situations, although I must admit that it has often been given the role of background mood music in my household. In this context, the album has provided a great deal of enjoyment. Overall, I found the style and feel of Homo Universum to be too similar, or one-paced to motivate me to fully concentrate upon it, to the exclusion of all other tasks.
Whatever I might be doing, there were however some notable exceptions that regularly made me sit up, take note and listen. A number of fine instrumental passages manage to break out and breach the deep-seated trance-like quality created by much of what is on offer. Of these, the uninhibited distorted guitar part which makes a significant contribution to Abandoned ... Devastated was perhaps the most notable, and has remained particularly impressive each time the album has been played.
On The Top of Light is also a highlight. It contains many textures and layers, which combine to create a soothing and often mesmerising effect. Enjoyably, the piece also appears to revisit some of the melodic themes that were introduced and highlighted in Beyond the Event Horizon, and this provides the album with an engaging sense of purpose, continuity and coherence.
Despite the outwardly-similar pace and structure of a number of the pieces, this is an album that does reward repeated listens. Although the album has an identifiable core sound, which is rhythmically compact and contains a tightly woven tapestry of instruments, it also has a strong sense of melody. In this respect, the keyboards and guitars often add some dash and panache to proceedings.
If a listener is willing to invest some quality listening time to this album, it is easy to become immersed in the musical universe that is created. I am sure that it will appeal to readers who might appreciate fastidiously-constructed instrumental music, tinged with an element of human emotion.
Fading (3:53), Join The Parade (4:40), Divide (4:39), Back Again (5:36)
Back to 2012 and New World Sympathy, the last EP from this progressive pop rock band out of Ontario, Canada was one of my Top 10 releases of the year. Sitting musically somewhere between Karnivool, Three and Fair to Midland and the pop-rock rush of Alien Ant Farm, it was an infectious set of songs with a political conscience that demanded repeat spins in the Read household.
After too long an intermission, the quartet finally slides back onto the world's stage with the appropriately entitled Back Again. Offering four more adept examples of complex, concise songwriting, the EP could really be the New World Sympathy Part Two.
The rhytms laid bare by Alberto Campuzano (bass) and Brendan Soares (drums) are complex and ever-changing (both add vocals too). The voice of frontman and guitarist Nathan Da Silva is superb, but the icing on the cake are the keyboard sounds, driven with video game intent by Sarah Westbrook. They're not complex, but clever and rather different.
There a real fair and fluidity to the music of Slyde. It has the high-energy craftsmanship that many Canadian bands seem able to effortlessly ply: all finely tuned and honed via 150-plus live gigs.
Following New World Sympathy, which tackled the oil industry and the injustices of mining companies, the new EP continues to explore the links between environmentalism and the wider world, with a sci-fi twist.
That is especially the case with the opener. The fast-paced Fading is the twin brother of New World Sympathy (the track). Lyrically it glances at the possibility of extra-terrestrial beings observing Earth and its civilisation, but drawing back, due to humanity's violent and destructive nature. Musically it is bright and breezy, but with as big a crossover appeal as anything that Fair To Midland ever produced.
Join The Parade is more circumspect; but only a little bit. The modern-day Rush and Coheed and Cambria influences come through on this track. The way the song evolves, and gains intensity in the second half, before almost coming to a stop with a stuttering, marching pace is similar to the excellent but sadly long-lost American band Dead Air Radio (check out 2007's Signal To Noise Ratio).
Westbrook's keyboards add some great colour throughout Divide. This is great, stomping driving music, with a hook (or rather hooks) to raise the sprits of a post-Brexit europhile. I need a road trip! Another short, clever change of pace towards the end, works a treat.
The final track shows a rather different style (which is always important). Back Again revolves around the Pale Blue Dot concept and the beauty of our world, which is often overlooked and uncherished by society. The pop sensitivity is highest here. The stompy beat is a little annoying, but as before, there are enough deviations to avoid anything souring such a wonderful piece of modern progressive rock composition. This track is also a great showcase for the emotive side of Da Silva's voice.
Should Slyde ever produce another full album, I hope they will allow a few of their songs to stretch out (progress) a little bit. They have the playing and compositional skills to carry an eight or nine minute track, without loosing their catchiness. On an EP they can get away with four tracks of four minutes or so. An album would require greater depth.
Anyway: the single Fading is out now. The full EP is to be released on 17 February 2017. The band has been active since 2009 and has three other albums. All are available with this EP from their Bandcamp page (samples link above). Go on: you know you want to!
Words (3:12), Close To You (6:35), Misleading Path (5:57), Images from a Grey World (6:34), The Decayed Reflection (A Verbal Delirium) (11:51), Fear (13:06), In Memory (11:22)
It's a miracle to me that Verbal Delirium hasn't gained more attention. The two albums they have produced previously are stunningly good, and three years ago they had a big impact at Progpower Europe, being the discovery of the year for many of the attendees. The way they blend the light, easy-going 70s styles of Peter Hamill, Caravan, and Happy the Man with the pretentiousness of Queen or, for a more contemporary reference, Phideaux, and spice this with the pompous, dramatic moments of Dream Theatre, is impressive enough. On top of that, the vocal melodies, inspired by Aphrodite's Child are shaped wonderfully with the well-known Greek folk style. All of this superbly connects the underlying eclectic compositions and arrangements.
On their third album, the band has matured further and managed to combine its eclectic mix of styles even better. The integration of them all into some great songs, has been taken to new heights. The overall album has an arc so perfectly spanned, that the one hour of listening keeps one thrilled from the first moment to the last.
In contrast to its title, the album presents a set of songs that are mostly light and happy, and in general reflect the style of the 70s, but with the addition of influences one wouldn't expect. For example, Images from a Grey World starts with a John Lord-style Hammond riff, which is lead by a violin, much in the mood of Jean Luc Ponty, only to transform into a heavy metal guitar theme with loads of double-bass drumming that could have been written by Dream Theatre or Orphaned Land. From there it soon leads into a break that reminds me of the Beach Boys, followed by a verse that sounds like Aphrodite's Child. However, the song in general remains a metal tune in total.
The Decayed Reflection (A Verbal Delirium) begins like a Neal Morseera Spock's Beard tune, but soon transcends into a funky part with a wildly slammed wah-wah guitar, backed up by a mighty Crimson-esque, string-taped Mellotron, sounding like one of those impressive 70s TV serial themes that were written by Quincy Jones. Then right after that we are thrown into a little dramatic moment that sounds like recent Spock's Beard, followed by a break that reminds me of the early neo-classical Symphony X. All that happens just before the song really begins.
Now, reading all these references, one might think the music is smashed together randomly. But that's not the case. Indeed, everything sits perfectly in its place on the sheet and it is stunning how the band manages to connect all these influences so well.
In that way the listener is led through a very wonderful musical concept, and at the second last song we experience a great crescendo over Bach's wonderful Baroque arpeggios, to an epic symphonic climax which would be perfect in being the grande finalé. But the band surprises once again, with another song as a form of an emotional after-shock. The last song on the album is a mellow electronica tune that connects the style of alternative poppers Moderat with the electronica of recent Galahad and a great Saga vibe to it all. And in that way, the album ends with the best melody Michael Sadler never wrote.
Unfortunately The Imprisoned Words of Fear came to my attention way too late to be included in my official top ten list of 2016, but now the album has a rather high position in it. It is incredible how, with such a light hand, Verbal Delirium can connect styles that never seem to fit, and deliver a uniquely-woven tapestry of sounds and emotions to initiate a cinematic experience in the listener's head. This album deserves so much more recognition than it has received so far.