Richard Barbieri - Planets + Persona
Solar Sea (7:30), New Found Land (7:18), Night Of The Hunter (1. Summer, 2. Shake Hands With Danger, 3. Innocence Lost) (10:45), Interstellar Medium (5:39), Unholy (8:58), Shafts Of Light (6:38), Solar Storm (6:22)
His latest release is no different. It is again deeply rooted in ambient and textural aesthetics, but this time he is counterbalancing the cold nature of digital keyboards and samples (which would represent the planets/landscape half of the title), with a stronger presence of analog keys and acoustic instruments such as drums, guitars, trumpets and, last but not least, the human voice (Lisen Rylander Löve's that is, which would represent the persona/individual half). Accordingly, this duality is perfectly depicted in the frozen, desolate Icelandic panoramas featured in the album's artwork, where tiny human silhouettes appear to be lost in boundlessly vast spaces.
This feel is expertly conveyed in the seven extended pieces presented here, which range from the nearly abstract to the slightly groovy, and pretty much everything in between. The opening/closing twosome of Solar Sea and Solar Storm embody the busy, rhythmic facet of this collection, largely thanks to bass extraordinaire Percy Jones' intricate but fluid fingerwork, as well as some dense, layered, danceable patterns which might recall Björk at her most intense. On the opposite side of the spectrum, New Found Land (which features some gorgeous trumpet by Luca Calabrese) and Unholy represent the airy, textural side of the album, and are all about ethereal, abstract beauty, this time echoing Ólafur Arnalds' immersive soundtracks.
As balanced and well-rounded as this release is, the ten-minute Night Of The Hunter is probably the highlight. Fragmented in three contrasting, but seamlessly flowing sections, it manages both to convey the feel, and evoke the images of Charles Laughton's masterful 1955 thriller. From the seductive invitation that is Summer, to the disturbingly (and nicely titled) suffocating climate on Shake Hands With Danger, and onto the closing, sensuous liberation of Innocence Lost, this piece embodies all the strengths of Barbieri as a composer and performer. It also reminded me, particularly in the jazzier passages, of the amazing soundtrack that the Cinematic Orchestra composed for silent movie classic The Man With A Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929) which, needless to say, I definitely recommend to you.
So, while our dear Steven Wilson is on his way to pop stardom (?) by means of streamlining (simplifying?) his sound, his former bandmate goes the opposite way and offers a much more intriguing, haunting and adventurous proposition. Isn't that what brought us here in the first place?
Héctor Gómez: 7.5 out of 10
Birzer Bandana - Becoming One
Awash (5:26), The Dance (7:48), Three Into One (8:02), Wretched Part One (8:26), Scenes (6:26), Wretched Part Two (3:46), Incarnate (7:18)
While unusual for a group to feature someone who is solely a lyricist so prominently, it makes perfect sense for Birzer Bandana, for the lyrics are absolutely key to understanding their music. Attributing the initial idea for the lyrics to Walter Miller's classic novel Canticle for Leibowitz, Birzer's love of T. S. Eliot's imagist poetry is clear. Images of a post-apocalyptic world abound, while theological themes permeate the songs, right down to their very names. However, this is not Neal Morse's evangelicalism. Instead, Birzer's devout Christian faith leads him to ponder the mystery of such complex theological tenets as the trinity and the incarnation of Christ (without ever mentioning Jesus). Without preaching, Birzer Bandana's music and lyrics allow the listener to revel in the wonderful mystery of these concepts.
Musically, Bandana handles vocals and all instrumentation, except for Olga Kent's wonderful violin on Awash and The Dance and Mick Bennett's guitar work on Three Into One. While Bandana doesn't have the strongest voice in the world, his voice does fit the lyrics and the music quite well. Musically, he is at his best on the keyboards, piano, organ, etc. Scenes, which explores themes of conformity and isolation, features excellent synth sounds.
The album begins with a sound almost reminiscent of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Interestingly, the lyrics of Awash match the foreboding sense of doom featured in that album, since the song references the destruction caused by a nuclear weapon. As the album moves along, repetition is used effectively to create a sense of contemplation, for which Bandana's voice works well in setting the soundscape.
My only real issue with the musicianship is Bandana's decision to use drum programming in place of actual drums, which adds a bit of a techno vibe to some of the songs. There are nuances that only a real drummer can add to a song, as is evident in the subtle drums included in The Dance. For that very reason, that song is the most complete-sounding song in the whole album. The drums have a great beat, and the electronic violin from Kent is a nice touch. The lyrics are also some of the catchiest on the album.
As a contrast to the drums used on The Dance, the drum programming on Three Into One actually takes away from Mick Bennett's guitar solo, since there is no real interplay between the drums and the guitar. A drummer could have easily complimented that guitar solo, rather than distract from it. Incarnate is a great example of this point, with the subtle drums complimenting Bandana's great guitar solo. While these drums may have been programmed as well, they sound much more natural.
With excellent lyrics, great synths, and nice guitars used at points throughout, Birzer Bandana's Becoming One is an excellent addition to the progressive rock genre. It adds an intellectualism that is often missing in contemporary music, and it artfully draws upon myriad musical styles and influences from across the progressive rock and prog-pop genres. The colourful cover art, with the drawing courtesy of Lyn Phillips and colouring and graphics by Kim Varner-Fulmer, creates a nice contrast to some of the darker and contemplative lyrics.
With the album marked as "name your price" on Bandcamp, with all proceeds going to help feed and care for stray animals in Lanzarote, there really is no reason not to check out Becoming One. As good music should, Birzer Bandana ask their listeners to reflect on themes too often glossed over in the hustle and bustle of daily life. I think we all need time for that, more often than we admit.
Bryan Morey: 7.5 out of 10
Edensong - Years in the Garden of Years
Cold City (7:33), End Times in Retrospect (5:35), In the Longest of Days (5:01), The Hollowed (9:32), Down the Hours (6:07), Chronos (9:37), Generations (3:41), The Atman Apocalypse (9:28), Regenerations (8:04), Yawn of a Blink (6:18)
I used to listen to a post-grunge band called Days of the New. In fact I still listen to them (sorry to my prog friends) since I really like their sound. I recommend to take a listen, especially to their second album from 1999, called simply The Green Album, which is quite progressive. The drummer on this album was Ray Rizzo. After many years I started to find out about those band members and guess what; he was the Edensong drummer during 2006 and 2007. He had no credits on their first album, The Fruit Fallen, but played some gigs with them. This is how I discovered Edensong and began listening to that debut album, which I really enjoyed, although you can find different opinions in our duo review from 2009 (review here).
Years in the Garden of Years is the band's second studio album. They did release Echoes of Edensong in 2010, but it consisted of live versions and re-mastered previous songs. By the way, kudos to our reviewer Geoff Feakes because his review was kind of visionary, assuming that the best was yet to come for Edensong (review here).
He was right. Years in the Garden of Years is their best effort yet. In this album the band confirms what we discovered in The Fruit Fallen, a band with its own style of doing progressive rock by mixing many influences, from symphonic and metal riffs, to folklore sounds and of course violin and flute melodies à la Jethro Tull. Don´t expect too eclectic songs and many differences among them because Edensong combines perfectly these elements in this album. The theatrical thing is of course there, as it was on The Fruit Fallen, but it´s better integrated now.
I don´t like detailed reviews because I prefer the listeners to build their own opinion without influencing them, but for those who want some details about the album, I would say that it has several guest musicians including the great Adrian Belew doing a vocal cameo on the long and interesting The Atman Apocalypse. The album features ten songs but only the opening and dynamic Cold City and the closing and intense Yawn of a Blink can be seen as individual ones, since the rest of the songs belong to a conceptual opus.
I would recommend listening to Years in the Garden Of Years without any doubt. Not only to fans of classic progressive rock and those looking for the next big thing in that style, but also to those wanting to discover a great band, with a great album, producing great music and with much to say in each listen. Remember what I said at the beginning, this could be your new favourite band. Many have said that this was one of the best album of 2016. I won´t agree but I won´t disagree either. Forget about charts and enjoy Edensong. And as we said in previous reviews, I´m sure the best is yet to come for this band. Once again.
Ignacio Bernaola: 9.5 out of 10
Suburban Savages - Kore Wa!
Fade Into Obscurity (5:02), Pronk (3:58), As I Am Dying (6:00), Guzarondan (5:29), Von Two-Step (4:24), Kore Wa! (4:12), Docteur Mago (8:43)
The album Kore Wa! (Japanese for 'this is') is an eclectic mix of vintage synth sounds, organ, pastoral flute, guitars, bass and drums, that produce an off-the-wall style of psychedelic prog-pop. None of it ever quite goes in a predictable path.
The excellent Fade Into Obscurity opens the album with curious up-tempo psyche-pop. The use of two good vocalists adds to the splendid synth and flute colours, creating a kaleidoscopic whirl of sound.
Suburban Savages then mix things up straight away with Pronk. A hybrid term for when prog meets punk, and it was often applied to the music of The Cardiacs. The term applies equally well to this slice of punky, psychedelic pop. This punky attitude also spills over onto the title track, which has the added weirdness of being sung in Japanese, and has a cracking, old-school hip hop-style bass melody.
The other song on the album is the bonkers As I Am Dying, whose lyric seems to be stolen from my life as it goes: "I am wondering what the PIN code is to my card". how did they know I spend my time on this very problem? Set to a folky melody over tribal percussion, it's heavily-layered keyboards and shifts in dynamics, make this a winner.
The other tracks here are instrumentals that give the guitarist room to roam (Guzarondan and Von Two-Step). Whilst they channel Can on the closing Docteur Mago (see what they did there) emulating Can's motorik pulse and going for a proper synth workout, before stopping dead and rebuilding the same melody slowly from a church organ beginning, through a build and release post-rock workout. Great stuff.
So with Kore Wa!, Suburban Savages give us an experimental and original mix of Zappa, The Cardiacs and Happy the Man melodic psyche pop. It is the sound of a band not giving a fig for genre conventions and Suburban Savages' adventurous enthusiasm is infectious.
Martin Burns: 7.5 out of 10
Tohpati Ethnomission - Mata Hati
Janger (6:29), Tanah Emas (5:17), Pelog Rock (5:27), Mata Hati (6:36), Berburu (6:42), Rancak (4:33), Reog (6:51), Pangkur (4:32), Amarah (5:01)
Mata Hati has been my favourite go-to album for some months now and I am sure that long after I have expressed my thoughts about it, I will continue to play this sparkling release on a regular basis.
Tohpati is an Indonesian virtuoso guitarist whose work has been previously released by Moonjune Records. He is perhaps best known for his contribution to Simak Dialog and for his Tribal Dance album which was released as a Tohpati album in 2016 featuring Jimmy Haslip and Chad Wackerman. His Ethnomission band had previously produced a single album, the equally impressive Save the Planet which was released by Moonjune in 2010.
The music on offer in Tohpati's latest release is some of the finest instrumental fusion music that I have heard in many years. It contains a wonderful amalgam of western and south east Asian musical styles. It is a release that has the conviction to experiment and take attractive elements from fusion, jazz and the ethnic folk traditions of Indonesia, to create something that is fresh and highly palatable. It incorporates a similar breadth of styles that Dewa Budjana managed so successfully to realise in his impressive Zentuary release, but Tohpati's creative vision has arguably more of a fiery edge. Mata Hati should appeal to those who enjoy the explosive guitar work of bands such as Ohm.
'Balance' is probably the word that best describes much of Mata Hati. The album has a frantic and frenetic edge that appeals to the youth that lies beneath my wrinkled shell, but thankfully there is also a wide dynamic range within many of the compositions. This offers both an intense and reflective listening experience, one that is skilfully enhanced by the album's crisp production values. There is a thoughtful sense of equilibrium in the disc's running order. Over the course of the album, both bombast and subtlety are embraced and successfully balanced. When the need arises, the band is able to sensitively express and ultimately balance both quiet and louder sections within individual pieces.
One of the album's most successful facets is the way in which the players are given the opportunity and the space to express their art. The phrasing of Tohpati, bass player Endang Ramdan and flautist Diki Suwarjiki is excellent, and their impressive performance gives their respective instruments a unique voice. Virtuoso solos abound, but the individual band members also demonstrate an empathetic understanding towards each other. As a consequence, the album conveys that the performers involved are a fellowship of musicians, with a collective spirit and a shared creative purpose.
Although the music is technically complex and was no doubt a challenge to perform, there is never an impression that the rhythms, melodies and harmonies are devoid of warmth and human emotion. On the contrary, much of the album has an earthy, organic feel, where the players' ability to convey feeling and create tension, through the use of carefully chosen notes, often combined with natural pauses, allows the music to breathe, and emotions to be expressed.
Fluidly-expressive solos are plentiful and they form a principal component of many of the pieces on offer. Many techniques are used by the various soloists to help create an album that is exhilarating, holds the attention and never stumbles into mediocrity.
The contribution of Suwarjiki provides some mouth-watering flute moments, where aggression and genteel expression all have a role to play. His ability to provide floating melodies that permeate and resonate in the mind, long after the track has ended, and which perfectly contrast with some of the more aggressive aspects of the band's arrangements, is one of the album's standout features. However, his playing is not restricted to being merely a sweetener for the heavier and spectacularly muscular aspects of the music. The unique sound of his traditional bamboo flute imbues the album with an authentic ethnicity that perfectly complements Tohpati's energetic and nimble-fingered style, and fulfils what the band set out to achieve.
Tohpati's work during Mata Hati is always totally convincing. Apart from the obvious influence of Holdsworth in Berburb, at other times during this piece Tohpati plays with the style, lyricism and fury associated with Hendrix in his Rainbow Bridge period. As a contrast, Tohpati's sweet acoustic work during Rancak is equally impressive, being redolent of some of the best work of Larry Coryell. The sheer breadth and range of styles utilised by Tohpati during the album are considerable and there are occasions in tunes such as the title track and in the recurring melodic theme in Reog, where aspects of the structured and grand melodic arrangements reminded me of the work of artists such as Dewa Budjana and Pat Metheny.
Although a willingness to push the boundaries and experiment is a hallmark of this album, the structure of the compositions never leaves the listener with a feeling of unease or insecurity. The majority of the tunes follow a conventional jazz structure, of an introductory chorus followed by a series of improvisational interludes, before returning to the introductory chorus to conclude the piece. However what happens within this structure is consistently exciting and is often just simply magical. Complex and often ingenious uses of tempo are frequently used by the band to convey different moods. Reog has these elements in abundance. The stop-start rhythms and percussive interludes brought to mind some of the work of Shakti, whilst the insistent opening riff of the piece has all of the ink-jet blotching and red sunset-skied menace associated with Robert Fripp's Red-era King Crimson.
Mata Hati is an album that ticks all of the right boxes. It is sure to surprise and delight any listeners who enjoy instrumental fusion served with an ethnic flavour, featuring tuneful arrangements and magnificent musicianship.
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10