Antethic - Ghost Shirt Society
Ilium (5:04), Modulor (7:06), Metamachine (7:08), Fragments (4:33), Cascadia (7:36), Tsunami Museum (5:27), Sentinel (7:38), The Moon Must Fall (5:25)
Three years in the making by Alexander Lyvov (drums, samples, keys), Yuri Efremov (guitar, loops) and Konstantin Borisov (bass, keys) Ghost Shirt Society is quite a statement. It puts Antethic right up there with the well-known and not-so-well-known bands in the genre, such as Mogwai, Sigur Rós, Three Trapped Tigers and Tides From Nebula, whilst bringing something original to the table.
It is Antethic's use of electronics and keyboards that gives them an edge over most work-a-day post-rock styles. This approach is most evident on the magnificent Metamachine, where sequenced keyboards meld with a propulsive bassline and vibrant interlaced guitars in a melodically-detailed way. On Tsunami Museum Antethic have Tangerine Dream synth pulses and electronic percussive loops taking the music beyond the usual post-rock envelope.
Then on Sentinel, Antethic use layered guitars to almost replicate that kind of synth sequencing, as it builds to a great climax. More layered keyboards grow to a terrific build-and-release moment in Cascadia. It is an instrumental track that would not be out of place on any recent Anathema album.
Throughout Ghost Shirt Society Antethic mix the tempos and the dynamics well, especially on the atmospheric Modulor. Here the keyboard washes are dragged along by a weird, math-rock drum pattern. It descends to a whispery section half-way through, before building back up to a crashing, speaker cone-bothering conclusion. Along with this, is the almost prog-metal crescendo to the choppy guitars of the excellent closer, The Moon Must Fall.
A couple of tracks stay closer to the more obvious post-rock template (Ilium and Fragments) and so suffer in comparison to the more adventurous tracks here. If you have not been convinced by the post-rock genre, there are at least six tracks here that may change your mind.
This is not background music in any sense. This is a superbly recorded and mixed collection. Its detailing is gloriously precise, so that none of the complex, carefully-constructed layering is lost to the ear. Antethic's Ghost Shirt Society demands the listener's close attention, and that attention is more than fully repaid.
Martin Burns: 8.5 out of 10
Disperse - Foreword
Stay (4:43), Surrender (5:21), Bubbles (3:53), Tomorrow (3:55), Tether (3:41), Sleeping Ivy (6:51), Does It Matter How Far? (9:18), Foreword (1:31), Neon (3:32), Gabriel (4:46), Kites (4:38)
During the first few spins, most listeners have been annoyed by the album, because the overall sound comes in as a happy, modern pop album, without much depth. And indeed, this has many sounds attributed to modern, radio-friendly music, with various styles and samples used as they are in modern, industry-standard songs. But the more you listen to this album (and believe me, you will) the more you will understand what's going on. You will then find yourself surprised about the genius of this ultimate gem of art.
These guys toss such different styles around, you wouldn't expect it all to fit together, but magically it works very well. It surely helped that the tracks are free from any sort of song structures. As if it weren't odd enough to have some sort of poppy music without verse/chorus/bridge structures, repetition has been avoided too. Any given vocal line for example, has to be strong enough to stand for itself the very one time it appears. That limitation is easy in one aspect, but on the other hand it needs so many more great melodies to be created than for the usual song composition. But that seeems to be no problem for these Polish guys, they just fill an album with one great melody line, lick, groove, arpeggio, or whatever, after another. Foreward is nothing but an endless firework of brilliant ideas.
Another brilliancy of the album is in what styles they merge together. Where Rafal Biernacki brings in some very well-designed synth sounds and arpeggios, he overlays them with brilliant melodies and wonderful vocal harmonies, which I have never heard before. Jakub Zytecki simply adds the depth of a down-tuned 7-string guitar, plus either a pop or a metal lick, sometimes a djenty one, or a run of power chords or an insane shred run that comes just out of nowhere. Mike Malyan avoids any rhythmic stereotype and offers fireworks of delicate drum work all through the album, in a style again never heard before and in compounds of notes which are indeterminable by normal people. And so does Bartosz Wilk on a beautiful bass. All four play at greatest musicianship!
It is to wish that Disperse has found a stable line-up in these four guys and that they have found their style on this album of sheer beauty, happiness, depth and a complexity that won't let you grow tired of it for many months. This is an album of such uniqueness that it lifts the band into such heights where they can be called "the easy-going, happy brothers of Leprous and Agent Fresco". Only that this album has to be be rated even higher because of its harmonic, stylistic and rhythmical depth and also of its unique form of song structures, which are entirely new to the musical world.
Raimond Fischbach: 10 out of 10
Karfagen - Spektra
Phase 1: Spektra (7:11), Troy (3:33), Transaleatorica II (2:34), Terra Incognita (3:14), Celebration (3:50), Homonymous (Part 1) (2:30), Angel Tears (1:27), Phase 2: Olympia (Quadrology) (21:30), Zeus (6:13), Dionis (4:41), Poseidon (5:15), Aurora (5:21), Homonymous (Part 2) (2:35), Phase 3: Dios Pyros (2:56), Natural Charm (5:36), Eye Witness (1:38), Juggler And The Cloud (Studio Live) (4:31)
Anthony Kalugin is a very bright composer, and the way he manages to set the controls of this album somewhere in the 1980s, while firmly having the sound rooted in today, shows just how good he is at his métier. Poppy elements, that would not have been seen to be out of place in the 80s chart singles by any New Romantic band, are mixed with the epic.
Special mention also to the sublime guitar solos and parts by Max Velychko, who really co-stars next to Anthony on this record. His playing can be dark and moody. He can place playful accents on tracks or shine in emotionally-laden solo spots. When you hear Max playing the acoustic intro to Troy, his solo in the opening track or when you hear him rip through the poppy shredfest that is Zeus, you realise that he can hold his own in any field of great guitarists.
What Anthony has created is an album that dares combine an 80s pop feel and sound, with songwriting that clearly stems from the domain of progressive rock, especially Genesis after Peter Gabriel's departure, Camel and *Steve Hackett's solo material. The album feels like a musical guide to an aural landscape. And in creating that landscape, Karfagen (or should we say Anthony) guides us with seemingly no limits as to how the band expresses itself. The aforementioned Zeus goes to show that combining pop and heaviness does work. Anthony Kalugin has surrounded himself with an amazing array of guest musicians, with three guests appearing on drums and two bass players, plus basson, violin, flute, grand piano and alto sax.
Sometimes the music wouldn't seem out of place in a movie like The Never Ending Story, yet the way the tracks weave their own path through the album's three different phases, is just one of its assets. The Olympia quadrology that opens up the second phase is one of the standout parts on the album.
This is an album that easily nests itself in your ears and heart. It may not be groundshaking in its sound, but it makes for very pleasant listening. Just let yourself be surprised by this album of many colours.
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10
Paidarion Finlandia Project - Two Worlds Encounter
Colin and Wendy (5:31), Billy Would Climb (4:26), Fragile Bridge (5:00), Jungle Fever (5:36), Yellow (5:31), Ode to Billie Jo (6:12), Cloudberry Sky (1:36), Grand Canyon of My Dreams (5:08), Horsemen to Symphinity (8:28), Why Oh Why (2:57), Hahmo (6:21)
But hey, what's in a name, it's the music that is important, right? Fortunately, the music is straight out of the top drawer, and it just goes to show that prog is genuinely an international genre.
So, who are the guests? Keyboardist Robert Webb is infamous for the marvellous Garden Shed album by England. Unfortunately, largely ignored when it was released in 1977 as punk prevaled and prog was deemed the antithesis of cool, this album has since become a widely regarded classic. It has gathered many high profile admirers, which has seen Webb's profile substantially increase, seeing him invited to work with, amongst others, The Samurai Of Prog.
Vocalist Jenny Darren was the first and possibly only female vocalist to support AC/DC on tour and has been compared with Janis Joplin. Although her voice is as powerful as Joplin's, personally I think Darren has the better voice. A singer since the age of 12, she released four rock-based albums in the late 70s/early 80s before heading into musical theatre and exploring the jazz world.
Bogáti-Bokor Ákos is the guitarist from the Hungarian band Yesterdays whose debut self-titled album is worthy of attention. Vocalist Kev Moore is another singer who has been around for many years, first coming to prominence on the Christie number 1 single Yellow River, and more recently getting a bit rockier by touring with more metal-focused groups. Finally, there is Otso Pakarinen, a Finnish keyboard player who releases music under the name Ozone Player; his musical history on the OP website is very diverse and quite amusing!
This album opens with the rather plaintive Colin and Wendy, featuring an excellent vocal delivery by Darren, some fine piano and guitar work by Webb and Ákos respectively, and Pakarinen utilising a variety of keyboards, including some Mellotron samples. The whole arrangement is rather sumptuous and displays the amazing talents of all the contributors.
Two songs are co-written by Darren and Webb and are, I think, both from Darren's early career, as they are published by Dick James Music, the label to which Darren was signed to. Unusually, both tracks feature Webb on acoustic guitar, with the ballad Billy Would Climb being a relatively straight forward number, but one that is lifted by the arrangement and the great vocals. Grand Canyon Of Dreams is obviously a favourite of the the pair, as it has previously appeared on Darren's eponymous solo album in 1980 and Webb's Liquorice Allsorts retrospective collection released in 2014. More expansive in scope, Pakarinen's orchestral synths are a fairly poor substitute for the real orchestra that such a grandiose track really warrants. Nevertheless, the quality of the song shines through, and Ákos' fine concluding solo is an added attraction.
Fragile Bridge is the first of two songs written by Pörsti, and contains an instrumental section with a classic prog guitar and synths interplay and a neat rhythm section performance from the Paidarion musicians. The opening vocal section sounds rather awkward in places, presumably arising out of the need to translate and partially rewrite the lyrics, something that results in a lack of flow in some parts. This can't be said of the cover of Neil Larsen's instrumental, Jungle Fever, which trips along rather joyously.
I suppose it was inevitable that the collective should cover a song by England and Yellow is the chosen number. Familiar to anyone who has heard the marvellous Garden Shed album, this rendition won't disappoint. It features all the subtleties of the original with the added delight of Darren's vocals. A really good version and a definite highlight. Another high point is the cover of Bobbie Gentry's Ode To Billie Joe, giving it a much more proggier groove. This song justifies Darren's comparison with Joplin, and the vocals, along with its novel arrangement and superlative performance, make it an exceptionally fine interpretation. Taking things down a notch is a lovely solo acoustic guitar piece from Ákos called Cloudberry Sky.
So far, it has been all female vocals. So what of Kev Moore? Well his debut appearance comes on Horsemen To Symphinity, a track originally recorded by the Australian band Windchase and released on their sole album Symphinity (although the band had released two earlier albums under the name Sebastian Hardie, the second of which was actually called Windchase, confusing eh?!). All three of those albums are worth investigating, but if you have trouble locating copies, then this version of Horsemen To Symphinity is representative of their style and is probably the standout track on the Symphinity album. Another great prog song and another great version. Considering the variety of source material utilised, it is amazing how uniform a sound the group has achieved here.
Although Moore largely sings with metal bands these days, he has not lost his pop sensibilities, putting in a decent performance on Why Oh Why. It is an odd jollity of a song in the context of the album, although it does not sound out of place.
The closing number is the second Pörsti composition, but this time a completely new set of lyrics have been written by Moore. Again, Strandberg adds some great bass lines, particularly under the end section where the bass rhythm is at least twice the tempo that the guitar is playing at. Very nice.
This album can't be compared with the previous Paidarion releases: the range of the different musicians and a track listing consisting largely of cover versions does not make such comparisons warranted. However, I suppose there is nothing wrong with trading on the name, particularly as the 'guests' are not necessarily household names, even if you live in a prog household!
It has to be said that the album is a triumph, and, for me, Jenny Darren is a complete revelation. The quality should never have been in doubt considering the artwork is by Ed Unitsky, who tends to have his work wrapped around only the finest releases. As much as Roger Dean is synonymous with early seventies prog, and Hipgnosis with later seventies prog and art rock, Unitsky's more realistic imagery is becoming a hallmark of the the current decade and the inner, three-panel spread of Two Worlds Encounter is an exceptional piece of work (so good that I will almost forgive him for including a bloody unicorn!) Although not out-and-out prog throughout, this album is a real pleasure to listen to.
Mark Hughes: 9 out of 10
PBII - Rocket, The Dream Of Wubbo Ockels
Rocket Part 1 (5:22), Gravity (4:45), On My Own Again (5:39), Mother (4:41), Life In The Clouds (5:26), Rocket Part 2 (4:57), Trapped (3:52), Pure Distraction (4:02), Nothing Is Real (5:38), Happy Energy (4:45), Blue Marble (7:32), Rocket Part 3 (5:26).
This was a struggle he maintained until his death from cancer in May 2014. Wubbo made an impassioned speech from his hospital bed the day before his death, which affected the PBII band members deeply (view it here). So inspired and moved by his words, they composed this album to both honour his vision and to continue the work he had begun upon returning to Earth. I feel they have made a very worthy album, that tells us of our need to help save the Earth by careful use of its resources and by recycling and living wisely.
Musically there is a very pronounced later 1980s Rabin-era Yes influence here, partly in the vocals and also in the guitar work of Ronald Bautigam. It is very strong musically and has some great, impassioned lyrics throughout its 12 songs. A crucial facet is the use of a lyrical and musical refrain that appears throughout the album to great effect. That refrain states that: "We're astronauts of spaceship earth, our goal is to survive". The melody is constantly being referred back to and it is a good hook and link.
This is an album that grows in stature with every fresh listen and there is a real quality to proceedings, with excellent clear vocals, a modern sounding production, some great solos and some very strong material. It seems that Wubbo Ockels has really inspired PBII into making a significant album, and whilst some might view the sentiments as being a tad hippyish, I feel that this is an important message that we should hear, especially with President Trump throwing his toys out of the pram over climate change recently.
The album also features solo artist Nad Sylvan (also from Steve Hackett's touring band) on vocals on the track Trapped, where his voice adds great tone. It's a shame he is only on one song, but the other vocals are equally as fine.
PBII have done real justice to the important life and message of Wubbo Ockels. This is a great tribute to the man who went to space and came back a very changed man (and also to his wife who contributes a foreward to the album's booklet). This is a very classy album and fans of 80s Yes will find much to enjoy, with great songs and music running through it's veins.
John Wenlock-Smith: 7.5 out of 10
Saris - Ghosts Of Yesterday
Masquerade (5:12), Shadows Of War (6:13), Ghosts Of Yesterday (4:38), Autumn Sky (6:11), Twilight (11:14), Mysterious Place (5:11), Evermore (4:34), Change My Yesterday (6:55), Crying In The Rain (4:11), Grace Of Time (6:58), Lost In The City (6:05).
What sets Saris apart is the use of two very different vocal approaches, namely a strong, assured male vocal, ably backed with a good female singer. Together they harmonise and personalise these songs to great effect, something that is aided by the fact that they have very clear voices which make the songs come alive. The band are all very accomplished musicians and deliver some great peformances. Special mention must go to main man Derk Akkerman, whose guitar and keyboard work is very fine throughout, as is the great sounding bass of Lutz Guther and the fine drumming of Jess Backmann. Taken together these guys create a fabulous sounding album, that has a great production and very strong dynamic.
The album is comprised of 11 tracks that speak of the unresolved, deep-seated issues that people live with on a daily basis. The dragon serves as an effigy of memories from the past that linger as a mental load like The Ghosts Of Yesterday (hence the albums' title). It is a bold and different concept to work from, and it gives the songs a cohesive thread to follow.
The opener Masquerade is a case in point. This is a great opener, showcasing the skills of Akkerman who sets the scene with some great keyboard soundscapes, sounding rather like Dream Theater at times. It's not prog metal though.
Also worthy of note are the very impressive and different vocal arrangements on Shadows Of War, where the voice of Henrik Wager is tracked by that of Anja Guther to great effect. This is also the case on Autumn Sky.
The longest piece on here is Twilight. It's nothing to do with those vampire movies from a few years back, rather this is a track that takes its time to develop, opening with a very tasty guitar line before more orchestral type keyboards are introduced. The steady, rumbling bass lays down a solid foundation for the song to spring from over its running time of eleven minutes. This is a track that improves with every fresh listen.
I had discounted Mysterious Place as being more run-of-the-mill, but further listenings reveal it to be a good and solid track with some great musical ideas being expressed throughout; On Evermore Anja Gunther gets her chance to shine, with her expressive yet emotive vocals. This is a lighter piece and very welcome, and with a decent piano solo at the three minute mark.
In fact the more I hear this, the more I like it. Some albums creep up on you and then unfold their treasures unexpectedly. This is a good album, and most progressive rock fans will find much to enjoy here.
John Wenlock-Smith: 8 out of 10
Jonathan Segel - Superfluity
CD 1: Equilibrium Part 1 (3:16), Mouse (4:14), Cat & Mouse (3:28), Imply it, Deny It (3:49), The Seventh Wave (2:23), Rain Down (3:03), Sleep For A Hundred Years (6:46), Silent Notes (4:22), Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Fingers (13:08), Phenomenon and On (23:57)
CD 2: The Luxury of Living (3:25), Strawberry Sun (5:24), Superfluity (8:07), The Luxury of Dying (1:07), No Backup Plan (4:25), The Dying Stars (16:25), Equilibrium Part 2 (2:10)
CD 2: The Luxury of Living (3:25), Strawberry Sun (5:24), Superfluity (8:07), The Luxury of Dying (1:07), No Backup Plan (4:25), The Dying Stars (16:25), Equilibrium Part 2 (2:10)
Superfluity, a double album of (according to the press release) "songs and music about the significance and insignificance of love, life and, well, everything" is largely completely solo, with the major exception being the drumming, which is split between Matthias Olsson, probably best known to our readers as a member of Änglagård, CvB band mate Chris Pedersen, and Andreas Axelsson from the experimental improvisation group Eye Make The Horizon. There is also vocal support from Kelly Atkins and Sanna Olsson.
Make no bones about it, at approaching 110 minutes in length, the complete double album is not an easy listen taken in one sitting. This is partly because of the somewhat diverse nature of the material and partly because Segel is never likely to be awarded any 'best vocalist' accolades. There are, however, some very interesting musical passages throughout the album, the instrumental pair of The Luxury of Living and The Luxury of Dying being prime examples (both with trombone contributions from Stian Grimstad).
For me, the most interesting pieces are the more abstract and somewhat musique concrete instrumentals of Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Finger, Phenomenon and On (which has, probably inadvertently, been omitted from the rear sleeve track listing) and The Dying Stars. Based on running time, these make up half of this release. These pieces have a quiet, organic feel to them and do sound like a complete band jamming and improvising. It is easy to forget that the pieces are performed by just Segel and a drummer and therefore are actually, on some level, constructed pieces. It is not surprising that Segel has found musical affinities with the Øresund Space Collective.
Given how different these tracks are from the vocal pieces, one can't help but wonder if it would had have been better to have sequenced the album differently, with one CD of songs, and the second CD of the instrumentals (or indeed have made them into two separate releases). The enjoyment of the instrumentals is that they allowed one to become immersed in the music, to become absorbed by the meandering and unpredictable nature of the pieces. I was reminded to an extent of The Beatles' Revolution 9. Even though that track consists of voices and tape loops, and Segel's work features neither, there are certain similarities. One has to add that these compositions are progressive in the true meaning of the word, so don't expect dexterous solos or elaborately recurring themes!
Overall I am torn by this release: half of it I could certainly live without and half holds a lot of promise of future discovery. This is something that will not be played with any degree of regularity, but when listened to, becomes a source of revelation, interest and enjoyment.
Mark Hughes: 5 out of 10