ISSUE 2017-074

Reviews in this issue:

Alwanzatar - Heliotropiske Reiser
Alwanzatar - Heliotropiske Reiser
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 43:17
Links:
Track List:
Dyrene Våkner (6:07), Heavy Nå (10:57), Stjernene Blekner (5:57), Rikosjett (16:40), De Som Vender Seg Fra Solen (3:36)
Norwegian electronic producer and flautist Krizla, a member of Tusmørke, has released his first solo album under the name Alwanzatar. Heliotropiske Reiser (tr. Heliotropic Travel) moves away from the psychedelic-folk of Tusmørke and employs electronics, krautrock, Berlin school synths and dance-style, programmed drum patterns to sometimes stunning effect.

The five tracks are all instrumental and of varying intensities, going from the floaty, to the banging, wave-your-glow-sticks-in-the-air variety. Krizla is not afraid of spending time establishing the repetitive, but hypnotic, rhythms and melodies, that on repeated and careful listening worm their way into your head.

Drifting flute and electronic washes build, as Dyrene Våkner (tr. The Animals Awake) moves, in stately fashion, with a folk-style melody. Things really get going with the second track, Heavy Nå (tr. Heavy Now). Using intense and thrusting synth pulses, married to dance-inflected beats, it avoids monotony by the detailed variation of the melody across different instruments. There are more swirling synths and Mellotron layers on Stjernene Blekner, and on the languid, percussion-free closer, Den Som Vender Seg Fra Solen (tr. He Who Turns From the Sun).

But the absolute blinder here is the lengthy Rikosjett (tr. Ricochet). On which Krizla recruits Wapwawet from the doom metal band Spectral Haze to add looping guitar. Remaining mid-paced throughout, Krizla spreads the minimalist melody over densely layered and building keyboards, pulsing synths and guitar. It is a superb piece of hypnotic, krautrocky electronica that would not be out of place on a Can album.

I may not return to the more floaty tracks here, but the two lengthier explorations are going to be on my playlist for some time. If you are an electronica/dance phobic this is probably not for you, but those who would enjoy the prog end of The Orb or Underworld jamming with 80s Tangerine Dream, should not hesitate to go on this bold journey.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 7 out of 10

Bent Knee - Land Animal
Bent Knee - Land Animal
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 57:02
Links:
Track List:
Terror Bird (4:09), Hole (3:22), Holy Ghost (5:33), Insides In (6:30), These Hands (5:37), Land Animal (5:14), Time Deer (4:19), Belly Side Up (4:15), The Well (5:31), Boxes (12:44)
I think I should start by saying that I find this album hard to pigeonhole in terms of genre. Maybe that's a good thing but to give you a flavour, this album is riffy, jazzy, eclectic, arty and progressive but not necessarily to my taste (although sections I do enjoy). That's a personal opinion of course and I am sure that many will really enjoy this release.

Land Animal contains ten tracks all under seven minutes in length, and there is a flow to the album, with moments of melancholy, plus lovely vocals in a similar vein to District 97.

The opener, Terror Bird demonstrates the band's intentions with their art rock side, alongside quieter moments of reflection, before ebbing towards a rousing climax. It is followed by Hole which does have a riff that leads the listener through the track.

Inside In is a track I really enjoy, with classical, thoughtful moments. It is a true composition that I would return to several times, if there were more like it on the record. These Hands closes with an uplifting crescendo, before the title track, Land Animal. During this, and in latter tracks on the album, I find a concoction of styles mashed together to make songs that I can't find any affinity or enjoyment with. The exception is the album closer, Boxes which is an interesting, quiet, reflective composition.

I actually don't mean to sound negative, as there is quality to this album. It's clever, and they are great instrumentalists but perhaps it is just 'too' clever at times; a tendency that I find boring.

This isn't an album I will return to much in the future, and I am sure many will either love it or loathe it. Thus with that said, my description will quite possibly mean that this will appeal to many. You will undoubtably have to devote a lot of time to this album to appreciate and understand it, and lots will relish that. If you are one of those that like a challenge, and have the time, then this will be a rewarding album for you.
Conclusion:
Ian Smith: 6 out of 10

Big Bad Wolf - Pond Life
Big Bad Wolf - Pond Life
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 52:44
Links:
Track List:
Canary (5:16), Flats In Dagenham (6:08), Frog (6:14), Quiet Coach (9:16), Hopkins' Choice (4:32), Grassfish (7:28), Pond Life (6:02), The Plight Of The Typewriter (7:42)
Murky-watered shallows momentarily clear, revealing mud-coloured minnows that dart and shoal. Time stalls, suspense builds; sunlit shards dance upon the pond. Everything begins to bask. A nylon net and a crusted jam jar is made ready. The young child lovingly looks into the eyes of his wizened, goose-grey grandfather and listens to the aged advice offered.

"There's a lot of pond life to enjoy and discover, if you take the time to explore it before it's time to say goodbye," he states.

More than 50 years have passed since then. It's incredible how the title of an album or a tune can release locked-away memories that you supposed were forgotten. I had not thought about my trips to the pond with my grandfather for many years. The title track of Big Bad Wolf's debut album is a catalyst for my memories, its lolling, repetitive phrasing is a constant and consistent reminder of forgotten times forged on the pond bank.

Big Bad Wolf's Pond Life is a day dreamer's delight. Its care-free atmosphere and melodic beauty makes it easy to become enveloped by its warm spell. It provides a perfect backdrop for a mind to dream of the future, or it offers a perfect spark to light up and reawaken long-lost images of the past and last goodbyes.

Big Bad Wolf is a young, London-based group. The members of the band are all highly accomplished musicians having studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Leeds College of Music. Their music has a quirky, feel-good factor and incorporates a spacious math rock ambience with elements of jazz and prog. The result is an album that is fresh in its approach, progressive in its outlook and contemporary in its sound.

One of the most interesting and unusual aspects of the band's sound is the prominent role played by the trombone. The interplay between the guitar and the trombone is one of the album's many standout features. Both instruments subtly support each other during the ensemble parts, and there are many occasions where either the guitar or the trombone takes a lead role. The expressive use of the trombone gives the album rich tonal quality. Trombonist Owen Dawson provides a variety of textures, as he ambles through tunes in an unhurried manner, or adds to the band's patchwork of sounds with some striking sprints of bubbling aggression.

Guitarist Rob Luft's varied and colourful contribution to the album is similarly expressive. His subtle embellishments in support of the trombone and the band's arrangements give the tunes an extra dimension that reward repeated listens. His clever use of sustain, distortion and a plethora of pedals and effects is always tasteful and effective. On the occasions where the guitar is used as the lead instrument, the solos that are constructed are tastefully built, upon control, tone and expression where each note is hand-picked for maximum effect.

Luft's solo part during the excellent Flats in Dagenham is particularly moving. Lush Fripp-like tones dominate and float freely. This creates a delicate sonic blanket full of lightly-spun timbres that tickle the heart and soothe the ear, as the trombone continues to burp rhythmically in the background. Luft's prominent role during the enjoyable and imaginatively titled The Plight of the Typewriter is equally impressive. On this occasion, his gnarled solo is built around an altogether more muscular and robust, but equally flowing sound.

The album has excellent production values. When the need arises, each instrument is clearly defined. However, on occasions and most noticeably in Canary, the quartet has chosen to create a distorted sound that creates a unique ambience during some of their ensemble parts. This works well and contrasts well with the cleaner sounding parts of the album.

Whilst the album is predominantly instrumental, harmonious vocal sections are used to excellent effect to create a contemplative atmosphere. There is a hint of the dreamy vocal approach that Brighton-based band Jouis utilised in their excellent Dojo album.

Vocals are used as an instrument to create an effect in many tracks, and in this respect any lyrics that are sung throughout the album do not seem to be as important as the overall sound that the vocal melodies make.

The rhythm section provides a sound foundation on which much of the music is built. Bassist Michael De Soza is credited with playing a bass V1. This is apparently a six-string electric guitar detuned to sound like a bass. There is no discernible difference in the sound produced on the album to a regular bass and indeed the bottom end tones which are at the heart of many of the tunes are boldly gruff and insistent.

If it's possible to fall in love with a tune, then my heart strings have been well and truly tweaked by the peaceful and coyly seductive allure of Quiet Coach, although my head has also been completely turned by the equally attractive Grassfish.

Everything about Quiet Coach has me smitten. It's simply a gorgeous piece of music that works superbly on so many levels, and encourages the mind to travel wherever it wants to. The vocal parts are particularly effective and add to the piece's quiet, unassuming charm.

Everything about Grassfish has me besotted. It incorporates a diverse range of styles. The repeated phrasing, that is a feature of the first part of the tune, is reminiscent of how The Decemberists incorporated the use of repetition successfully into The Perfect Crime in their Crane Wife release.

There are some masterful vocal sections in Grassfish. These are embellished with some outstanding interplay with an expansive Fripp-toned guitar sound. The unpredictable middle section of the tune is loaded with imaginative twists and turns, and unexpected effects and provides some of the best ensemble playing on the album. The acoustic ending was unforeseen, and the combined effect of all of these elements within the piece, is sure to delight anybody who enjoys progressive music.

It's hard to describe the overall appeal of Pond Life, but it is teeming with a multitude of things that can capture the imagination and steal the heart. Its rich instrumentation and vibrant tones, on occasions brings to mind Brian Wilson's arrangements in Pet Sounds, or in the case of Flats in Dagenham, Frank Zappa's intricate and expansive work in albums such as The Grand Wazoo and Waka Jawaka. The math rock undertones that lie beneath the surface of tunes such as Canary and the introduction of Frog, brings to mind what a more sophisticated version of the Foals might have sounded like.

Hopkins Choice is probably the most idiosyncratic piece on the album. It features a number of attractive riffs, impossible dance rhythms, many dynamic shifts and numerous changes of tempo. These factors combine to create a composition that is adventurous and unique in all respects.

All of the eight tracks on offer have something to commend them. Big Bad Wolf have managed to bridge the gap between improvisation and structure. Thus what is on offer seems novel and technically adept, but is never devoid of feeling.

Pond Life is an album that I unreservedly recommend. If you appreciate music that is inventive, innovative and above-all original, then Big Bad Wolf's sparkling debut may well fit the bill.

As the album ends and its subtle sounds subside, a vivid image remains.

The sun sets on an empty field, the pond stills and the minnows moan.

I whisper: "Goodbye. Thanks Grandpa!"
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 9.5 out of 10

Milky Way Gas Station - Somewhere / Anywhere
Milky Way Gas Station - Somewhere / Anywhere
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 73:37
Links:
Track List:
37 Part I (5:15), Neutral (10:01), Why? (3:20), 37 Part II (6:16), Moon Phases (11:03), Torn Grain (5:00), Second Attempt To Catch Nectar Drinking Butterflies In An Empty Arbour On Camera (5:38), Telescope Sight (26:54)
Although they have been playing together for several years now, this is the debut from Milky Way Gas Station. Well, the debut under this name. All musicians have been active for many years now. The prog scene might know bass player Jeroen Vriend and drummer Harald Veenker from Kramer (reviews on DPRP of their Mini CD and Life Cycle). Apparently, the band have worked on this album on and off for five years. Getting the honour of having guests like Lana Wolf doing backing vocals and Opeth keyboard player Jokaim Svalberg playing keyboards on most of the songs, gave the band the urge to finally finish this album and release it.

I am so glad that they did!

Opener 37 Part I is among the heaviest songs on the album, and the powerful, Hammond-loaded intro gives me goosebumps every time. It is a great overture for an album like this, knowing you can expect sudden changes, big contrasts, and melodic solos. I was reminded of one of my favourite Dutch prog bands, Egdon Heath, now and then. Some of you will also hear Porcupine Tree or Riverside influences. The intensity and tension definitely recall the music of Timothy Pure.

Although the power, melody, and speed of the songs shift regularly, they never come across as a collection of disconnected ideas. It's clear that for MWGS, the composition is the foundation of a song, and even the longer songs serve as solid units. A tendency for the minor chords and some melancholy, is something I like a lot.

Looking at the closing epic, Telescope Sight, as separate parts, this is just beautiful. Running at almost 27 minutes, I sometimes think this would benefit from splitting it into parts, by dividing it over the album or by not putting it at the end of the album. But then again, depending on the mood I am in when listening to this album, it is a welcome cooling-down. It's simply a lot, in a sense (or, in several senses).

Rob Ijpelaan's vocals recall Nick Barrett of Pendragon. The rough edges I like. He does not have a typical prog voice and that is definitely a pro for me.

Not overloaded with lyrics, there are a lot of instrumental sections, sometimes reminding me of 1990s French band Xang. The soloing is very much to my taste, both on guitar and on keyboards, and both are varied, not limited to a single style (even showing knowledge of the blues and jazz vocabulary). Besides several slow and fast solos and a lovely Gilmour-esque solo in Torn Grain, guitarist Niels Hoppe also shows he knows his metal techniques (especially in a live setting, as I was lucky enough to witness). But he does it in a musical sense, not by being flashy.

Keyboard player Jan-Peter Bast (known in Holland for playing with Thé Lau and The Scene) unfortunately is not a permanent member of the band, so I can only hope he can join in many times. I am glad I was able to witness him live during the album release party. He is an awesome player with an amazing musical sense, who adds what is expected here and something totally unexpected there.

I mentioned the Hammond giving that lovely tapestry of sound under a lot of the sections, but there's also a slow, jazzy keyboard solo in Telescope Sight, on top of a build-up early in the song, which once more proces the diversity of the music.

Stuff like this is making listening to this album and, especially, watching them live, a varied and excellent experience. Modern prog in touch with the past, beautiful but still powerful, surprising without letting technicality take over.

If you, like me, like your prog from the heart and have the songs take priority over showing off, then this is something for you too.
Conclusion:
Jerry van Kooten: 8 out of 10

Ryan Yard - The Nature Of Solitude
Ryan Yard - The Nature Of Solitude
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 45:28
Links:
Track List:
The Nature of Solitude Part 1 (18:14), The Nature of Solitude Part 2 (22:26), The Nature of Solitude Edit: Rob Reed Mix (4:48)
As a long-time fan of Mike Oldfield, I am happy to see his influence in such abundance these days. Recent examples are the Sanctuary albums by Rob Reed, and now Ryan Yard, who is a member of the Sanctuary live band, walks similiar ground with The Nature of Solitude. Consisting of two long tracks, and mastered by the man who produced the original Tubular Bells (Tom Newman), the impact of Oldfield's music is clear from the opening notes.

As much as it is interesting to hear work that is so apparantly shaped by an artist whom I admire, these albums all face the same challenge. The music is at times so similiar to Oldfield's work that it can feel dangerously close to imitation. Ultimately though, Yard's album struck me as more distinct than Reed's Sanctuary releases. That isn't to imply that any of the recordings noted above are bad. Quite the opposite actually, but the resemblance to actual Oldfield music takes some time to work through. The good news is that in each case, the investment proves rewarding.

In fact, this is a very enjoyable album, full of excellent performances and beautiful melodies. Joined by Justin Towell on guitar, multi-instrumentalist Yard strives (succesfully) to create a wholly organic album, with every note played by hand (and using Ipad technology). There is a starkness to this work that is very effective and from an Oldfield perspective, I would compare it most closely to Hergest Ridge.

After the first listen, I was so impressed that I was eager to hear The Nature of Solitude again. Though there are sections that captivate more than others, the piece is strong from beginning to end. There is an elequent simplicity to the writing, but the production and performances are often grandiose. Much like the Sanctuary releases, what makes this album creatively successful is the obvious musical passion that went into its creation. One can only applaud a musical undertaking this complex and so well executed. Whether looked-at as an homage or as an orginal work, The Nature of Solitude is superb.
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 8.5 out of 10

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Published Sunday 8 October 2017

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