Anakdota - Overloading
One More Day (7:03), Different Views (5:42), Late (4:20), Mourning (5:28), Overloading (7:08), Staying Up Late (8:24), Girl Next Door (5:01), End of the Show (5:58)
The picture in the CD booklet suggests that Anakdoka are a relatively young band. Despite their youthful appearance, their music displays the influence of a number of classic prog bands of the 70s. Some of the keyboard parts appear to draw inspiration from players as diverse as Keith Tippett, Rick Wakeman, Alan Gowan and Keith Emerson, whilst the stop/start rhythms and expressive vocals that are part of the band's signature sound, owe a great deal to Gentle Giant in terms of delivery and complexity.
Different Views is particularly reminiscent of Gentle Giant, although many other tracks throughout the release are similarly coloured by the immense stylistic shadow that is cast by the Giant's ever-present and seemingly benign influence. The rhythmic phrasing in Different Views has all the hallmarks of Gentle Giant in their heyday, and when you add to this a vocal delivery and repetition of key words that is not dissimilar to Derek Shulman, it superficially sounds as though this piece has been discovered from a long lost Gentle Giant archive recording. As if the Gentle Giant influence was not enough to satisfy aficionados of classic prog, the band seal the deal by adding a stylistic nod to UK at the piece's conclusion.
It is just as well that Different Views has enough of its own identity for any influences not to matter. Most pieces in the album contain some excellent instrumental passages, and Different Views is no exception. It is in this respect that this tune, and the album as a whole, are able to find a unique voice.
When listening to this album, it is immediately apparent that vocalist Ray Livnat has a very idiosyncratic style. Livnat is also the vocalist of Project RNL. They are another Israeli band that earnestly displays their appreciation of Gentle Giant on their multi-coloured patchwork sleeve. Livnat has a wonderful range and is able to convey emotion in an almost vaudeville manner. Unfortunately, he also has one of those voices that you either love or hate, and almost certainly will not have any ambivalence for. At times, I found his delivery too theatrical for my own tastes. Indeed, his expressive delivery and tongue-in-cheek harmonies in the opening piece One More Day, almost had me reaching for the stop button.
Fortunately, vocal duties are also shared on a number of tracks with Ayala Fossfield, and her contribution ensures that the album has lots of variety in its vocal arrangements. Her delicately-poised, frail, emotion-laden voice is featured in the impressive ballad Mourning and also in the plaintive Staying Up Late.
One of the other noticeable factors is the jewelled contribution of Erez Aviram on piano and keyboards. His dexterous touch and knack of providing much of the band's intensity and moments of melodic interest, is never far from the surface of this quirky and often enjoyable album. He is also the principal composer of much of the music. The work of bassist Guy Bernfeld is equally impressive and it is his ability to combine a seamless approach to rhythm and melody that gives much of this album an irresistible appeal.
On occasions, the mix of influences does not work successfully and the band's willingness to tick all of the right prog boxes comes across as perhaps being too intense and too earnest. However, more than a flavour of the band's own style and approach is able to be felt throughout the album, to keep things interesting.
A number of pieces have the band's own style stamped upon them, which ensures that they stand out from the crowd. Comedy and pathos sit alongside each other in the impressive Late. This composition is unusual in every respect; the way in which it pulls together a number of different styles and threads is quite remarkable. The fact that it succeeds, is a testimony to the prowess of the band and their willingness to push the boundaries for the sake of their musical vision.
In Late, Livnat's voice is excellent and he appears to be able to effortlessly channel and summon-up elements of Sparks or even Queen in his enjoyable and theatrical delivery. Livnat simply excels, to make this one of the album's standout tracks. His tongue-in-cheek falsetto in the chorus is particularly endearing. Throughout the piece, I was reminded of the range and delivery that Joe Payne was able to bring to The Enid in their last two studio albums. Altogether, Late is bursting with simmering invention and comes across as fresh in every respect; altogether it's a great piece.
The most satisfying moments during the album were by far when the stretched-out, jazz-inflected instrumental sections, often led by Aviram's deft flourishes, were given the space and freedom to flourish. For example, the beautiful piano interlude in One More Day lifts the piece from mediocrity, and when later coupled with some extravagantly expressive synth work, the whole tune is given an unexpected twist, that creates an engaging and exciting finale.
Similarly, Staying Up Late works superbly well in its quest to ripple, seduce and caress the heart. It includes a truly excellent flowing piano solo, complete with a dazzling array of jazzy chords that are thoughtfully supplemented and augmented by some wonderfully expressive bass work.
The album closes with the disappointing, yet aptly titled End of The Show. Livnat and Fossfeld somehow manage to succeed without gagging, when delivering the sweet-natured sentiments expressed in the piece. After a few plays, I found the track's twee nature and trite lyrics just plain annoying. This was despite the fact that the composition is illuminated brightly by a Canterbury-styled keyboard interlude, which attempts to raise the whole piece away from the sickly lyrical mush that is a hallmark of the band's arrangement. Nevertheless, the inventive use of the keyboard serves to signpost the band's undoubted potential.
When I first heard this album, I almost dismissed it out of hand as being unoriginal, as it seemed to rely too much upon its very obvious influences. If it was not for the fact that I had to play it frequently in order to complete this review, I doubt if I would have persevered. I am glad that I did, because Overloading has a lot to offer that is original and satisfying. If an effort is made to look beyond its sometimes clichéd references to classic prog, and its more than passing similarity to the style of Gentle Giant; then this release has much to commend it.
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10
The Black Fall - The Time Traveler
Threshold of Love and Death (14:31), Sonmi 4.5.1. (8:38), Modern Day Slave (4:48), The Time Traveler (15:29)
The songs are supposedly (and loosely) tied together by a dreamscape theme. Two tracks clock in at an engaging 14+ minutes. Threshold of Love and Death has a lot of moments you might hear on a Porcupine Tree album, artfully blending metal and electronics. The Time Traveler is the longer of the two, and has moments straight out of a Dream Theater songwriter's playbook and a couple of slower sections that could have been lifted from Opeth's newer material. Their best vocals are on display here, and there's an earnest attempt at story telling, that I didn't find as consistent in the other tracks. The Time Traveler is easily the most accomplished the band sounds on the album and features a few quality guitar solos.
Sonmi is a sleeper track. At first I didn't particularly care for it, then it started to work for me. The changes were jarring until I allowed myself to succumb to the beautiful Pink Floyd atmospherics and expertly-sludgy, distorted drone of the heavier and somewhat punky sections. Honest screamy vocals and a smattering of great melody help thrust this track to the top of my list of favourites from the album.
Even when things don't click with me, there's still redeeming qualities to the music. Modern Day Slave is a mixed-bag of heavy guitars and teenage angst that seems somewhat out of place on what I feel is an otherwise mature and sophisticated collection of songs. This isn't to the detriment of the album. Some variety and change, even on a prog album, is welcome. And they know how to bring it when they decide to turn their amps up to 11. If given the choice between this song and something else from the cutting room floor, I'd pick the other. But what's more likely the case, is that this was a spare song and they decided to include it. At worse we get to peek into the other directions the band might take in the future, or a glimpse into their musical past.
The Black Fall like to keep the listener off-balance, utilising abrupt changes in tempo, time signature and style to infuse energy into their music. Frantic guitars, busy drums and spooky vocals reinforce the mystery and power of their musical message. There's a lot I enjoy in their music. As much as it reminds me of other bands I like, they also have a unique way of blending those influences. It's more than simply 'blender prog'; there's intent to create high-modern musical art. Obscure bands of such quality are becoming the norm in prog nowadays, but they do indeed set themselves apart, and above, the genre's commotion. I hope for them success, as I'm eager to hear what they have to offer on future recordings.
Kevin Heckeler: 9 out of 10
Bugenhagen - Bu:gen’heigen
Without You By My Side (4:15), But In This Changing House (5:28), The Greatest Of Them All (6:19), On The Beach (9:09), Reckless (4:57)
The album opens strongly with Without You By My Side, with a recognisable build-up and an attractive chorus. Yet the main melody of the song has a high proportion of repetition, making it sound simpler than it deserves.
The second track, But In This Changing House, has a much more industrial feel, with its deep bass and slowly-building drums, followed by bass and organ towards the principal guitar riff. The vocals are a big disappointment though, as they are recorded with a lot of echo. The first part of the song reflects the band's inspiration from Talk Talk and Porcupine Tree, but halfway through the song evolves into a mini guitar-driven power ballad with wide keyboard chords and power riffs. Yet within half a minute, the pace slows down again and some murmurs can be heard in the background, while keys and guitar build a powerful musical wall. Probably the idea was to make this a varied song within the time frame of five minutes, but the breaks are so sudden, that it sounds like a compilation of separate parts. It's not a song, it is a pile of pieces glued together. A nice experiment, but not a successful one.
Yet the band picks things up on the right track with the fully convincing The Greatest Of Them All. This song has a fine melody, with a good pace, a melodious piano interlude over acoustic guitars. A nice break introduces the second part of the song, which has a nice floating guitar solo. Turpin's singing here is excellent; his voice reminds me of Nick Barrett or Steve Thorne, clear and very good on tone. The lyrics tell the story of the tragic death of Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna. This song alone illustrates that these guys know how to write a nice song.
The epic On The Beach is a very Floydish affair, with great, soaring guitar solos. It features a nice, almost mellow vocal melody, which flows into an extended musical introduction on keys, then towards the long guitar solo that has everything that made David Gilmour world famous. And when you think it is all over, a very nice short piano intro leads towards another great, yet short, guitar solo and some more vocal verses. It is well done. A really nice epic.
As if the band wants to demonstrate that they can play any style, the album closes with the concise, up-tempo, rather poppy and very radio-friendly Reckless. The verses and the chorus are easy-listening, reminding me of Crowded House or even David Bowie. The guitar solo at the end closes off the song and the album nicely.
This debut is promising, but not yet fully convincing. The first two tracks don't do them justice, as the repetitiveness of the first, and the big musical breaks in the second, give a false impression of their songwriting abilities. Fortunately the band recovers in the remaining three songs, of which the third track is by far the strongest.
If this album hadn't been a debut, I would have ranked it a bit lower, but the potential in Bugenhagen is so clear, that we just have to wait for their first full-length album to give a full judgement.
Theo Verstrael: 7 out of 10
Hollow Water - Rainbow's End
Day In Day Out (5:08), Mirror's Frame (7:21), Rainbow's Begin (6:58), Gathering Sunbeams For The Future (8:30), The Quantum Mechanic & The Map Collector (6:28), Rainbow's End (8:03), Trick Of The Light (6:34), Immortal Portal (5:40), Solar Beacon (6:10), The Light Dimension (6:51), Illusions & Delusions (6:45), We Changed. This World Didn't (4:58)
This already sounds like a serious undertaking, yet the two men decided they would go for all-out-prog, and present their new release as a concept album. In the realms of prog, there are many artists who do that, but to release an album also with your own comic, to boost the story and made with great care, makes it all the more special. So choosing to make the album like they did, took some persistence on the part of Huw and Alan.
Anyway, is the music on this debut album anything near to what one might expect? Well, of course this depends on what one might expect. I for one was quite surprised, in a pleasant way, to be listening to Rainbow's End. Not that I was expecting a story about the final days of the UK's finest hard rock band: the Ritchie Blackmore-led Rainbow, but I didn't either expect a sci-fi story behind the title. And, as for the writing, I never expected the album to sound as varied, modern, proggy, rich in textures and finesse as it does.
Unconsciously I may also have expected more of a DIY sounding album. Let me be short: this record has very little, if anything, in common with DIY productions.
I found myself being more than pleasantly surprised about the design of the album, about its production and about the music it contains. The two Welshmen have found a great singer for these tracks in Mark Lock, and as for the songs, there is so much variation, that there is little use in describing every song individually. This is an album that needs you to delve into it, to discover it and to be surprised.
As much as this album is about the quest for the end of the rainbow, it involves a lot of musical colouring. The bass playing by both guests is phenomenal throughout the album, and Huw delivers guitar playing which can just as easily sound like Joe Satriani in one song, or have a Steve Hackett sound in another. As for the keyboards, Alan Cookson has the playfulness of a young Tony Banks, but dares to explore more. However, this is by no means a band that follows the course that Genesis, Yes or other icons of the past, laid out long before.
If comparison really is needed, there is much likeness towards the modern sounds of bands like Frost* and Sound Of Contact. That goes to show that the duo just as easily add modern sounds and song structures to their music, as they take on influences from the past. When listening to this album it would be ideal if you could go along with George Michael*'s famous title in your mind: Listen Without Prejudice. This is an album to be enjoyed fully. There truly is, musical gold at this Rainbow's End.
Marcel Hartenberg: 8.5 out of 10
Møster! - When You Cut Into The Present
Nebula and Red Giant (9:24), Bandha (9:14), The Future Leaks Out (7:47), Journey (6:13), Soundhouse Rumble (4:19)
Between them, on When You Cut Into The Present, they have produced an album of jazz with prog tendencies, as well as aspects of krautrock, dance music, free jazz and atmospheric sound-sculpting. Møster! lull you into a false sense of security with the drone-like opening of Nebula and Red Giant, before kicking-in with avant-garde, Coltrane-like squalls of sax and guitar. Rhythmic and fierce, it builds into quite a noise, but it is nowhere near a comfortable listen.
Other tracks are slightly easier to assimilate. Bandha gets a groove going with a bassline that is a kissing-cousin to that of Zappa's Willie the Pimp, and it has some terrific guitar playing on it. Percussion drives The Future Leaks Out, like the dance act Underworld doing jazz-prog.
The whole album is full of blistering playing and atmospheric sounds that never get anywhere near being ambient. It's all too weird for that. The album can't be faulted for its ambitions. But with When You Cut Into The Present, Møster! have pushed my liking for jazz-prog and fusion past its limit. But if you think I'm being a musical wimp, please investigate this full-on music.
Martin Burns: 5 out of 10
Pocket Size - Vemood: Cleaning The Mirror, Volume 1
Vemood (8:42), Voodoo Works (5:35), Dancing With Dreams (4:37), Shaving The Face Of The Earth (5:27), Volk Und Kraut (7:08), Quiet Future (11:49), Freddies Exploration (6:50)
With only the outlines of tracks having been born in the mind of creative genius Peter Pedersen, the seven musicians had a go at developing these initial musical drawings, and the end result is presented here.
Pocket Size, in fact, is Peter Pedersen's brainchild. Peter himself plays guitar and is responsible for the compositional outlines of all the tracks. For this fourth release, he invited Fredrik Olsson on guitar, Fredrik Björling on drums, Leo Lindberg on Hammond B3, Kristian Brink on both saxophone and flute and Simon Svärd who also plays guitar. What is clear from the start is that this album does require some getting used to Swedish, as the spoken introduction to the first track, and all of the in-between banter is in that language. No matter how charming Swedish can be, it does take some extra concentration for those who don't know the language. Don't be put off by it: the music on this album, is really worth its while.
Vemood kicks off rather relaxed, with a bit of a Doors-meets-Deep Purple feel, but soon it shows its grooving heart with Kristian's saxophone playing along with the lead parts by Leo's Hammond. Soon after that, a great instrumental quest on the guitar follows, showing what Pocket Size has to offer. A soundscape that soon has the saxophone adding richness and adventure, with all the colours that it possesses. The second track is not very different in its approach, having both rocky and jazzy leanings. It is shorter than the opening track, and whilst the jazzy aspects may prove to be overtaking in the midst of this track, it still rocks.
It is the sheer joy that is heard in the performance of the tracks that makes this album so very enjoyable. As soon as Dancing With Dreams starts, and the lead is played by both saxophone and guitar alongside the great Hammond motive, you know it will get hard to lose that track from your memory banks. Even though you may not have heard the music before, this is one of those albums that will have you listening, just because of the way that it sounds, and for all the enthusiasm and virtuosity on display.
The album has some tracks that proudly wear some jazz-rock emblems on their sleeves, like Shaving The Face Of The Earth and Volk Und Kraut, yet, if you dig deeper into the tracks, you'll find there is plenty of rocking in them too.
This may not be an album for one and all, but if you dare yourself to add some jazz-rock to your prog cup of tea, this is definitely an album that needs no sugar added, as it is rich in taste, and played by fine musicians who really put their very heart into this performance. More than just nice!
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10
ptf - Percept From...
Arc Tailor (9:38), Nightscape (6:55), Fair Wind (6:51), Chromatic Rays (11:06), Firefly Effect (8:55), Purple Mist (4:47), Ephemeral Sign (10:57), Seaward Meteor (11:56)
ptf - What is Constant
Time Lapse (7:42), Suite: The Thing (that is Constant); I. Glacier Blue (11:00), II. The Versatile (7:00), III. Beyond the Ridge (6:40), IV. Cloud 9 (19:09), 雲海 - The Boundless Scenery of the Spheres (7:13)
The musicians of ptf, Keisuke Takashima (electric and acoustic violin), Takeya Kito (keyboards), Hiroyuki Ito (bass) and Yusuke Seki (drums), developed their sound from gigging, mainly around Tokyo. Their inspirations are 70s prog-rock and jazz-rock, but the music they make is not retro.
Their first album Percept From... was released in 2013, and it is a blinder. Every one of the melodies are eminently hummable, yet muscular. The recording is particularly well-mixed, allowing you to follow any instrument and see how it fits into the complex whole.
The opening track Arc Tailor shows immediately what ptf do so well. Straight-in with a rising violin figure that is shadowed by synthesiser, whilst the bass underpins the melodic line. Yusuke's drums keep things moving, consistently commenting on the semi-classical, symphonic prog tune, with his jazzy touches.
Every track on Percept From... has something at which to marvel. Nightscape's piano work moves from the percussive to the most elegant of solos. In contrast, Fair Wind romps along, and there is a classical violin and piano duet on Purple Mist.
Even among the riches here, there are two outstanding tracks. Chromatic Rays begins like a Joe Hisaishi soundtrack to a Studio Ghibli animation (for those not familiar with his work, this is high praise). As the tempo increases, the melody switches between different instruments, making use of electric piano, Hammond and the violin. The violin at times sounds other worldly in its sliding twistiness.
The other standout is Ephemeral Sign. This moves from a pizzicato opening, via drums that are by turns delicate and powerful, to an intensely melodic workout for synth and violin. Both tracks are full of colour and tonal variations.
I can't praise ptf's Percept From... too highly. Superb musicianship without any grandstanding. They use their considerable talents to serve these magnificent melodies. Percept From... is recommended to any fan of instrumental symphonic progressive rock.
ptf followed up Percept From... with 2015's What Is Constant. Whilst some things remained the same; the musicianship, the melodic sense, the sound and their sheer vitality in music making, the band has subtly changed their approach, by having a central, long, connected suite of music, which is bookended by two stand-alone tracks.
The first of these stand-alone tracks, Time Lapse, opens with a Philip Glass-like motif that soon evolves into driving drums and Hammond organ. Hiroyuki's bass playing here is a joy. The more overtly jazz-rock touches bring to mind the pianist Hiromi's work. The album closes with the other stand-alone track, 雲海 - The Boundless Scenery of the Spheres. It is a great conclusion to the album, with its synth and violin solos competing in the beauty stakes.
The centrepiece of the album is the 42 minute, four-part, Suite: The Thing (that is Constant). Here, ptf establish a theme in the opening of Glacier Blue, the terrific first part. The Constant theme is established by the piano and violin in a classical-style opening. It is then treated to all kinds of prog-jazz jiggery-pokery with seething Hammond and pliable bass. It returns to symphonic prog territory for the finale to the track. Then you get The Versatile's darker, more haunted exploration of the theme, whilst Beyond the Ridge is more breathlessly paced, and even has some excellent shredding from Keisuke's violin.
The final section, Cloud 9, has a repetitive insistence to its opening, before breaking out into more magnificent Hammond playing from Takeya. ptf are great here, flexing their musical muscles on their most expansive track. But I feel there is one small misstep. It is the inclusion of a short country hoe-down section. This is amusing on a first listen, but on repeat listens it irritates. However, this is just a slight blemish on an otherwise great track on a great album.
So, this young band from Tokyo have produced, so far, two excellent albums of symphonic prog, wearing their classical influences on sleeves that are lightly dusted with jazz-rock. Neither Percept From... nor What Is Constant will disappoint, so go and explore their wonderful sonic pallets.
(A short postscript: ptf have just released a new single called Experience Another World. Hopefully, it signals a new album to come.)
Conclusions Martin Burns:
Percept From...: 9 out of 10
What Is Constant: 8.5 out of 10