Driving Rain (1:03), Promises (5:05), Happy to see you (7:37), One day (7:23), Secret therapy (5:37), Broken (feat. Peter Jones) (9:10), Old Ghosts (4:07), Alone (feat. Peter Jones) (3:14), Rescue Me (4:55), Twenty years (6:06), Waiting (5:43), A New Tomorrow (7:39), Spies (7:23)
It is with a significant amount of disbelief that I say that Detachment was my introduction to Barock Project. One reason for my surprise is that the band has been around for several years and I am not sure how they flew under the radar for me. Regardless, I am happy to have finally discovered them, because their music contains so many of the elements that I enjoy about progressive rock. They employ a wide range of musical styles that are supported by excellent musicianship, strong vocals and the full embracing of a good melody. I also took notice that this album (their 5th studio release) is refreshingly upbeat. Though lyrically there is a fair amount of pain and heartbreak covered, somehow the music takes on a breezy, optimistic vibe.
None of the positives noted above ensures an artistically successful album, without quality songwriting. No such worries in that category, as composition is where Detachment truly sets itself apart (no pun intended). The band expertly blends pop, prog, folk, celtic, classical, jazz fusion and other styles with fantastically catchy choruses. Though some classic 70s prog elements are included, the music does not sound retro.
Right from the start, Promises, which features some Rush and ELP-like moments, still feels incredibly fresh and modern. Things really kick into gear with Happy To See You. Upon first listen, this song immediately confirmed for me that I should take serious note of Barock Project. With its memorable piano melody and a goosepimple-enducing solo from guitarist, Marco Mazzuoccolo, this is a stunningly impressive track.
The great news is that the entire album is consistently compelling. Though I prefer the longer songs, where the band flexes their musical muscles a bit (One Day, Broken, Twenty Years, A New Tomorrow and Spies), there is not a downturn of quality to be found anywhere. Shorter tracks like the excellent One Day and the infectously catchy, Rescue Me, are equally as entertaining. Peter Jones from Camel and Tiger Moth Tales, effectively guests on lead vocals for the previously mentioned Broken and the astoundingly good ballad, Alone. That said, band founder and (excellent) keyboardist, Luca Zabbini also does a fine job on lead vocals for the remainder of the album. From a performance perspective, there is nothing for me to fault. The entire band does great work.
It is with excitement that I will delve into Barock Project's entire discography. At this point though, my guess is that Detachment is their strongest musical statement to date. I undertand that is a bold statement, considering that I haven't heard their previous works, but the album is THAT good! I am cognisant of my gushing of praise throughout this review, but I will state again, the album is THAT good! As I listened to it for the first time, I had a sense that this was a game-changing release for this group of musicians. After a few more listens, I was certain of it. This is one of the strongest introductions to a band that I have heard in a very long time.
Suffice to say that if you like progressive rock that is stylishly played and melodicly accessible, yet also adventurous and strikingly produced, you absolutely can't go wrong here. As is abundantly clear at this point, I am a big fan of this album and give it an enthusiastic recommendation.
A Word, A Name (Early Days Suite Pt 1) (1:08), Rude Awakening (Early Days Suite Pt 2) (2:09), W.I.L.D. (Early Days Suite Pt 3) (5:42), First Awareness (Early Days Suite Pt 4) (2:58), Time Dilation (9:15), Intervention (15:02), The Probability Of Improbability (16:21), Bonus Track - The Cupboard Of Fear (Chewing your Tongue in Cheek mix) (12:02)
Given that Stewart Bell's last album was entitled The Antechamber Of Being (Part 1)(review here) a follow-up was inevitable, even though it's been a three-year wait. It's been even longer since Citizen Cain (for whom Bell plays keyboards and drums) last released and album, the excellent Skies Darken in 2012.
Bell describes The Antechamber Of Being as a prog rock opera "based on his own experiences as a lifelong lucid dreamer and follows the adventures of a young boy as he masters the ability to control his dreams". A trilogy in the making, a third album is already in production.
In addition to playing keyboards and drums, Bell shares vocals with four other singers on the album: Simone Rossetti (The Watch), Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon), Mhairi Bekah Comrie and Citizen Cain guitarist Phil Allen. They each assume a different role within the narrative and Allen also provides the guitars, with session musician David Watters on bass duties.
Those familiar with The Watch will be aware of the vocal similarity between Rossetti and Peter Gabriel, and when he sings the lead role as 'The Dreamer', it's not unlike a gothic version of Genesis (if you can imagine such a thing). Bell's keyboards on the other hand have a contemporary, cutting edge that's a far cry from the melodic opulence of Tony Banks.
Despite the lengthy list of titles, there is in reality only eight tracks on the album. These merge seamlessly into one continuous whole, with several reoccurring themes. And judging by the tone of the music, Bell's dreams seem more like nightmares. Even in its mellower moments, it has a dark and sinister ambiance.
Spread over five tracks, Early Days Suite sets the scene perfectly, from the brooding instrumental A Word, A Name to the appropriately titled W.I.L.D. The latter borders on metal territory with its heavy guitar riffing, although the intricate synth and organ textures keep it firmly rooted in prog (of the Van der Graaf Generator variety).
It is perhaps no coincidence however that the album's longest tracks prove to be the most fulfilling. Intervention is driven by an infectious riff that brings to mind Marillion's Heart of Lothian, whilst The Probability Of Improbability has a certain grandeur thanks to Allen's stately guitar, and the engaging voice of Mhairi Bekah Comrie.
The 'bonus track' The Cupboard Of Fear is a remix of the song Decoherence that opened The Antechamber Of Being (Part 1). It again features Arjen Lucassen on vocals, supported by Bell and Allen, the latter sounding remarkably close to the great Damian Wilson at times.
Whilst The Antechamber Of Being (Part 2) is undoubtedly a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, it does perhaps cover too much of the same ground to be completely satisfying in its own right. For part three of the trilogy, a little more light and a little less shade would be most welcome.
Internalize (10:11), La Fiesta Musical (7:53), Garden Massive Toy (12:58)
Greek instrumental band Borderline Syndrome have released their second output Synapses in 2016. Following some line-up changes, they continue where they left us with their first work Stateless from 2012 and present a collection of experimental progressive rock.
Singer Sofia Sarri left the band and Loukas Giannakitsas became bass player. The other players are Alexis Chatziioannou on guitar, Alex Stavropoulos on drums, and George Athanasiadis on keyboards and guitars. George and Loukas also provide some vocals in the band's mainly instrumental music.
In Spring 2015 the guys from Athens recorded Synpases. The album presents a mixture of many styles with a heavy progressive influence combined with math rock, post metal and even somme jazzy passages. The EP's three long tracks consist of all the mentioned influences. Different parts follow each other, the songs and the whole album is (according to the band) more structured, closer to a short film than a pop album. One can definitely agree with them, after listening to the record. Between all the heavy parts there are also some surprising calm bits. All in all their music is full of rhytmic changes, dark melodies, heavy riffs, and overall, full of drama.
It is hard to pick out a certain song or passage, this EP needs to be listened to very carefully and more than once. Otherwise the listener will not get everything the band wants to deliver. An interesting work, which needs to grow on you.
Power (5:30), Born Into Debt (2:47), The Working Man (4:13), Last Chance (5:52), Gamble The Dream (4:10), Voices (5:22), The Path Of Least Resistance (11:49), House (5:39), Down The Hatch (5:44), Revolution (5:52)
Every Monday night at 11pm for around five years I sat alone in a small radio station in the centre of a small English country town and produced The DPRP Radio show. I listen to and played an awful lot of music. Some great; some good, some not so good. Every so often I had a studio guest or a pre recorded interview featuring a particular band. One of those was the UK-based band called IT. I remember enjoying the music and the interview, being surprised that I had never heard of them before and interested to see what they would come up with next.
That was around seven years ago now. A lot of music has run under my bridge since then. Some great; some good, some not so good. DPRP Radio is on permanent hibernation and I no longer live in that small English country town (I am actually writing this from a small French rural hamlet!).
Thus I had totally forgotten about the UK-based prog rock band called IT, until one day a striking black and white photo-covered CD dropped through my post box pronouncing that "we're all in this together".
Beginning life as a psychedelic, multi-media group, IT was formed in 1994 when Nick Jackson recorded and produced the band's first full-length album The Stranger Inside the Self, followed by the album Two Worlds in early 1995. There was a seven year wait for album number three, Over & Out, after which the line-up grew and become more permanent, with the addition of Andy Rowberry on lead guitar. There was another seven year hiatus before Departure arrived in 2009 with an accompanying DVD (review here) giving an indication of the powerful onstage visuals that had by now become an integral part of the IT experience.
While a week is apparently a long time in politics, it's been another seven year gap between IT albums and almost a quarter of a century since they were formed. But in finally delivering an album of this quality, We're All In This Together is proof, if ever you needed it, that terrible stuff happens immediately, but good things take time.
If you care to add a cynical dose of irony, then, with a little bit of context, the title tells you all you need to know about the concept of this album.
"We're all in this together", was a phrase from a key speech by UK Chancellor George Osborne in 2009 indicating that his government's austerity programme would require sacrifices from everyone. His policies which followed, suggested to some that "everyone" did not apply to everyone equally!
In taking that as the standpoint, the lyrics offer a no-holds-barred surgery on the anger that has characterised many communities in pre- and post-Brexit Britain. On some concept albums you can set aside the lyrical matter and just enjoy the music. Here the political anger and the music are so intertwined and complementary, that one would fall without the other.
Within the political horizon of this album, difficult topics such as religion, war and sexuality all come under the band's critique, exploring themes of austerity, inequality and an uncertain future for younger generations (hence the cover). The lyrics are challenging, not preachy and occasionally lightened by some black humour. I like artists who have something to say. And IT have a lot to say in their hour of airplay here.
But the concept "story" is actually only half of the story here. For an album to successfully deliver a tough message, the music has to have the weight and impact to not be overwhelmed. Thankfully each of the 10 tracks here are pure, modern progressive rock heavyweights. This is impressive stuff.
All the tracks were written and produced by Nick Jackson and Andy Rowberry with three of the tracks co-written by James Hawkins (bass) and Will Chism (drums). James and Will have become established members, touring with IT since the Departure album.
Ryan McCaffrey is the fifth member of IT, adding sax, piano, organ and Fender Rhodes, amidst nine guests musicians with lap steel guitar, trumpet, organ and backing vocals. We even have an appearance from controversial left-wing politician George Galloway, adding speech to the anti-Iraq war song, Voices.
With all these ingredients gathered together, IT have taken their influences from classic and more modern progressive rock, a need for memorable hooks and melodies, a desire to create their own sound, and the concept album necessity of wrapping the lyrical themes within and around an appropriate soundscape. The result is a robustly entertaining collection of ten songs (yes songs), each of which stands on its own, and as part of the wider work.
It's an angry album but not a dark album. There is a brightness and energy to the music that is uplifting, maybe even inspiring (for change?). The arrangements are clever and layered. The melodies are memorable, very memorable. Every song offers a different groove and mix of styles, whilst the production allows space for every element to shine. Everything is of an impressively high standard.
We're All In This Together is a truly splendid slice of relevant, articulate modern progressive rock. It is by far and away the best thing that IT have ever produced. It will certainly be one of my favourite albums of 2017. Roll on 2024!
I Am So Glad To Meet You (1:37), The Old Man And The Table Saw (10:30), When The Door Opens, It Opens On Everything (12:08), Epistemology/Even Keel (5:45), .22, Or Denny Takes One For The Team (6:58), Videos Of The Dead (7:21), Whiteout (2:28), Fighting The Doughboy (13:42), After The Dive (3:38)
When I was younger, I was enthralled by the music of Jethro Tull. I remember buying Tull's Stand Up in preference to Benefit on the strength of its cover art. The idea of pop-up figures that actually stood up was much more attractive than the stage-lit window image that adorned that band's third album. With hindsight, I enjoy both albums equally; but what if Stand Up had been a stinker?
If lavish sleeve notes and informative booklets are features that persuade you to check out an album, then nothing about the outward appearance of Jack O' The Clock's latest album Repetitions of the Old City - 1 is likely to appeal. The duck grey distorted image of an urban environment that adorns the release, is drab and unattractive and is in stark contrast to the colourful and fresh inventive music that is on offer.
The fogged and mottled cover art no doubt refers in some way to the title of the album. The rest of the packaging is minimalistic, and as a consequence the gatefold booklet is somewhat disappointing. The relative unattractiveness of the packaging is a personal and minor gripe, but I think that the release would have greatly benefited if its lyrics were made available somewhere in the booklet. If cost dictated that lyrics could not be included, then a reference or link to where they might be perused would have been more than useful.
This is an album where each tune appears to have something important to say and the ability of the listener to ruminate over and interpret the lyrics is arguably an integral part of that message and of being able to fully participate in the sensory experience of the album as a whole.
The role of founding member and singer Damon Waitkus is important in bringing the music vibrantly to life. I thoroughly enjoyed his expressive performance. In tracks such as, Videos of the Dead and Fighting the Doughboy he excels and has an essential role in delivering the band's unique and idiosyncratic style.
Whilst Waitkus', enunciation and voice are very much his own, I could not help but compare his overall tone and delivery with singers who are not normally associated with prog. The vocalist that most sprang to mind over the melodic course of the album was Paul Heaton from the Beautiful South.
Waitkus' attractively fragile and wobbly-warbled voice is fully displayed in the poignantly beautiful mid section of The Old Man and the Table Saw and also during the piece's heart-felt conclusion. His contribution throughout the album offers an evocative and melodic counterpoint to the complex arrangements of the music, and must surely make him one of the most distinctive singers in prog.
The album is adorned with a plethora of curious yet appealing melodies and unusual chord sequences. In this respect, I found that the release shared similar qualities with Grizzly Bear's excellent Veckatimest album.
The instrumentation on display in Repetitions of the Old City - 1 gives the album a varied and often unique voice. Space is given for a variety of acoustic instruments to find ample room to creatively express themselves. The use of hammer dulcimer, mandolin, marimba and guzheng at various points in the album creates a multi-toned and coloured palette, from which a marvellous and often unique aural landscape is crafted.
The combination of bassoon and violin that features prominently in tracks such as The Old Man and The Table Saw is highly appealing. It supplies much of the album with a recognisable style, and additionally provides an interesting and unusual lustre that gives the album an inspired feeling, one that exudes both inventiveness and quality.
The members of Jack O' The Clock are highly accomplished players and their ability to confidently surf a number of genres in their compositions is one of the album's most enjoyable aspects. There are numerous impressive instrumental sections which manage to sit easily alongside and within what are essentially highly complex, song-based tunes.
The interplay between the various players is excellent and the individual parts that make up each composition are skilfully performed. The contribution of bassist Jason Hoopes is particularly noteworthy throughout. His beautifully toned acoustic bass provides space and substance to the ear-friendly Epistemology/Even Keel and his electric bass work in conjunction with drummer Jordan Glenn in tracks such as When the Door Opens, It Opens on Everything is equally impressive.
The album has a definite progressive folk edge that should appeal to anybody who appreciates the flavour of bands such as The Decemberists in their early career, or Songs From the Wood-era Tull. The length of many of the compositions and the imaginative creativity of the players ensures that the music never gets trapped in a particular stylistic groove. This is an album that would also appeal to anybody who enjoys music that is hard to describe and complex. It also defies usual genre norms, as the album frequently delves into areas not normally explored in music that is underpinned by an awareness and sensitivity to folk traditions. The combination of so many different styles within the album, is at its best exhilarating, and is never less than interesting.
The sleek vocal harmonies (that brought to mind the influence of a raft of west coast bands) when combined with the violin in a number of tunes, gives the album an earthy and distinctive appeal. This is in evidence during .22, Danny Takes One for The Road, where Kate Mcloughlin's supportive harmonies work particularly well. In many ways, this piece epitomises the craft and art of the band, and the surprising introduction of Darren Johnston's crafted trumpet solo takes the piece along an unexpected path, and ultimately into an even more rewarding journey through unexplored territories.
Fighting the Doughboy is especially interesting and has many moments to be appreciated. It does not conform to usual accepted song writing structures of a chorus and a verse, but still manages to maintain a sense of continuity within its diverse and challenging song structure. It is probably the album's standout piece and includes sections reminiscent of bands as diverse as Gentle Giant or Henry Cow, within its impressive mix of styles. It contains many facets for the listener to discover as it unfolds, and no doubt contains many more subtle nuances to be uncovered over time. I particularly loved the chaotic brass section that concludes the piece.
If memories of purchases dictated by the fads of fashion, or by the hormones of youth, have long faded (I wonder where my copy of Electric Ladyland went) and you are no longer stirred by such things, or by slick marketing and packaging; then you might find that the lifeless cover art of this release is in some ways quaintly refreshing. Repetitions of the Old City - 1 is an album that flies in the face of any notion that packaging should be given prominence over and above musical substance.
Whilst perusing the packaging, I found that it was a cathartic experience to recall the impressionable follies of my youth and in turn to be able to smile knowingly that an album should not be judged by its trimmings. Repetitions of the Old City - 1 is a refreshing and enjoyable album and one which I recommend without reservation.
When the music is as good as it is within this release, I quickly came to the conclusion that I would not really have been bothered if the album had been housed in a second–hand, grease-stained, well-thumbed copy of Mrs Beaton's cookbook.
It is anticipated that 1 is to be followed up later this year by the release of Repetitions of the Old City - 2. If the proposed follow up is as accomplished as 1, then prog fans are really in for a treat.
I just hope that 2 will feature a vividly coloured gatefold sleeve and a pop up skyline of San Francisco. Oh and of course a link to the lyrics. Now that really would seal the deal!
An Englishman's Home (3:07), Ergo Sum (9:00), Party Piece (4:44), Speak For Yourself (4:38), Conclusions (7:52), Flightless (12:49) *Bonus Tracks*: Alien (demo) (4:01), Couldn't Happen Here (demo) (3:36), The Name of the Rose (demo) (4:55)
Ah, the inimitable Rog Patterson, one half of the infamous Twice Bitten duo and erstwhile solo performer, is an artist whose name will be familiar to any that were fortunate enough to witness the heady days of the Marquee Club in London's Wardour Street back in the 1980s. Often to be found on stage as support to many luminaries of the era, and just as frequently found at the bar, Patterson's twelve-string guitar encapsulates that era, to me at least, as much as any lengthy prog epic.
An ardent fan of cricket, real ale and Ant Phillips Phillips' entire output as a member of Twice Bitten, Coltsfoot or solo were an absolute delight. The musical qualities, mixed with the natural humour, made every performance a memorable delight. The newsletters were also items of much merriment. That is one thing the interweb has deprived many youngsters of, the many newsletters and information sheets put out by up and coming bands in order to keep their name in the public eye, announce gigs and sell their music, and if finances allowed, T shirts and other ephemera. Trust me, a periodic email arriving in the inbox is not just not the same as a newsletter dropping through the letterbox!
But it is the music that ultimately matters and, fortunately, Bad Elephant Music has thus far re-released a CD of the second Twice Bitten album and now Flightless, the only vinyl album released by Mr. Patterson. Hopefully this will sell in sufficient quantities for the label to also transfer the two Patterson solo tapes to the digital medium, as both are worthy or re-release (Patterson's version of Ant Phillips' Bleak House is sufficient justification for such an action).
Entirely solo, with the only instruments being guitars and basses, the so-called 'Heavy Wood' sound is dominated by the 12-string and other acoustic guitars, with very occasional electric guitar passages. Although don't imagine the sound is that of a solo singer-songwriter, as the sound is remarkably full. A resonating guitar provides a constant backing, over which solo guitar, or guitars, add nuance and counterpoint to the vocal lines. Given the sparse variety in instrumentation, the album avoids sounding repetitive, with each track having its own character, a tribute to the skill of the composer and performer, particularly given the length of three of the numbers.
When I originally received my copy of this album coming up to 30 years ago, I recall being somewhat disappointed, as I had loved both of the previous cassettes, and the seemingly endless wait for the album to be completed, had built anticipation. Two of the album tracks had been previously released, albeit in different forms and recordings: Ergo Sum had first appeared on the marvellous Talking To The Weather release, whilst Party Piece was on the interesting international double album collection of new prog sounds called Double Exposure. The reappearance of this latter track was also disappointing, as I have always considered it one of Patterson's weaker tracks, and thought it would have been better to leave it as a rarity on the Double Exposure album and re-record one of the other cassette tracks.
The reason for the disappointment was certainly not down to the quality of the material, Party Piece aside, as there are some cracking tracks. The three longer tracks, Ergo Sum, Conclusions and Flightless are all excellent songs and you would be hard-pushed to find a better opener than An Englishman's Home. Ultimately I think it was down to the overall sound. Although much is now spouted at the warmth of vinyl recordings, ironically this is what seemed to be lacking from the vinyl album, compared with the previous cassette releases.
Not being an expert on studio recording, I can only speculate why this could be, but the sound definitely lacks something which is made evident on hearing the bonus tracks, (or peri-periphera as they are charmingly called) which were all recorded at home. Two of these three bonus tracks, Alien and The Name Of The Rose, have not been previously released, whilst the third Couldn't Happen Here is, I think, the same version as appeared on the Talking To The Weather tape. Although worthy extras, it would have been nice to have had The Unexpected EP compiled with the album, a release that Patterson put out er, unexpectedly, as the album was taking so long to finish.
I certainly don't want to give the impression that this album is by any means lacking in quality, as that is definitely not the case, I was delighted, and excited, when I read that the album was being released on CD and am very, very happy to have it in my collection. Some exceptional songwriting and performances make this a release that I have treasured over the years. The vinyl version being one of the relatively few actual LPs I have kept, after having to dramatically downsize my collection on moving to a smaller house. The album still stands up very well after 30 years, a case of being timeless as well as flightless!
Of all the many bands that surfaced in the 80s progressive rock resurgence and sold their own cassette releases, there are not many that I think are totally worthy of being heard by a larger audience. Indeed my own list would probably not go much further that Rog Patterson and the wonderful Liaison. As nothing seems to be known of the whereabouts of the former members of the latter group (a great shame as they had a very gifted line-up, the guitarist in particular being widely admired by other musicians of the era), I will have to hope that the two earlier Patterson cassettes (which, the good people at Bad Elephant, would easily fit on a single CD) are resurrected for release. So dear readers, buy Flightless and not only enjoy some fine Heavy Wood acoustic prog but increase the chances of making an aged reviewer very happy!