Reviews in this issue:
Ben Craven - The Single Edits
The Single Edits is a rather unusual "Best Of Ben Craven" album with a slight twist in that it mostly contains edits of longer songs released by Craven on his albums Two False Idols (2005), Under Deconstruction (2007), Great And Terrible Potions (2011), Dissected (2014), and Last Chance To Hear (2016). The album is top and tailed by two unedited instrumentals from this latter album that display the musical muscle of Craven's writing and performing. The two other tracks culled from Last Chance To Hear are a rather clunky edit of The Remarkable Man which tends to disrupt the flow of the song, and William Shatner's contribution to prog rock Spirit In The Sky (part 3). This one focuses on the Shatner-intoned lyric elements and somewhat takes away the uniqueness of the original: rather than Shatner contributing to a prog epic it ends up more like a Shatner single. (Which, to be fair, is the whole point of the exercise!)
Four tracks are culled from the other DPRP-reviewed album Great And Terrible Potions. Ready To Lose loses its main synth break but works well as a shorter number. Likewise, the atmospheric instrumental Aquamarine does not lose it's charm in its edited form although the sequencing on the album sounds rather awkward to me. The edit of No Specific Harm was included as a bonus track on the original album release and is a good song in both the edited and un-edited versions. Glad the Gilmouresque solo survived the edit though! The Nobody Dies Forever edit was also featured as a bonus track which might have been a surprise to some given that on the main album it was split into two parts both of which were shorter than the edit!
The remaining three tracks have all appeared on Two False Idols, Under Deconstruction and the tour rehearsal CD Dissected. What is more, it seems that each of these albums, as well as the current album contain different versions of the songs. These songs are from Craven's early years where he was exploring a more pop-prog direction and all three display what an adept touch Craven has with creating and delivering strong melodies.
The rendition of The Great Divide on The Single Edits is probably my favourite of all the versions released and simply a superb song. Captain Caper is another mostly successful edit, although it is that drastic a cut and the ending could have done with the drum bit excising. Finally, Golden Band, another great song whose edit again works very well.
To some prog fans taking a long song and making it shorter is tantamount to heresy as editing will inevitably involve removing some of the best bits! However, this album does give a taster of Craven's work and is quite canny in that prog fans hearing these edits and knowing that proggier versions exist may be tempted to explore further and non-prog fans might be attracted by the strength of the material, particularly of the earlier songs. So potentially a win-win for Craven, although I suspect DPRP readers are more likely to want to go straight to the epic versions in the context of their original albums. Nice idea though and a brilliant CD cover!
The Fierce And The Dead - The Euphoric
The Fierce And The Dead are back with their latest album recorded this year and not long after their Field Recording live album of last year - see my review for DPRP here. That album features both Dancing Robots and Verbose, whilst this new album The Euphoric has those two songs as new studio recordings and it is good to hear how these have or haven't changed in the intervening time.
But first let's start at the very beginning with Truck. A storming opener from Matt Stevens and the boys with a heavy urgent riff to work from, this is a good piece of music with good solid bass from Kev Feazey and synth layered on top, along with the urgent drums of Stuart Marshall. This is a great opener and statement of intent from the Northamptonshire-based band, who are really starting to make big waves in the prog and instrumental rock scene. Deservedly so, for this is solid imaginative work by any standards. Great riffing at the 2:50 mark, this might be a short piece but they cram a lot in its 4:06 run time, with nary a second of waste on show. This shows just how excellent this band have become from their early days.
1991 is another short burst of noise that heads off in multiple directions often in the same song. This is a more brutal and harsher sounding TFATD. This time around, the energy is ramped up even higher and this time everyone gets the chance to shine. Kev Feazey's bass parts are rock solid and inspired, giving a great platform for Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton to launch their own sonic attacks from, but it's the urgency and the brutality of the music that wins here. This is simply fantastic stuff and a good representation of what TFATD are like in the live arena. Uncompromisingly good is the answer to that question.
The title track is next and on this the tempo initially is slower. One of the difficulties is keeping things interesting and these boys have a variety of tricks up their sonic sleeves to keep thing ticking over nicely. The use of heavy vs light, intense vs lighter and clean vs distorted guitar sounds, along with clever use of keyboards, help to fill the sound out another top notch song.
Dancing Robots again uses a degree of electronica to round out its sound this makes it almost dance-like at times, but still with their usual guitar tones and textures. Fabulous how it changes pace and intensity. A very clever sounding track with great guitar work throughout as always.
This band sound like no other I've ever heard and that alone makes them worth a listen as the pack so much innovation into a mere 38-minute album is beyond belief and makes for a great record too. The cover is excellent, and the production is top notch too.
Dug Town has a simple but effective melody with guitars turned to max and string-bending a key factor, then a jangly passage at the 2:33 mark, before the main riff is revisited with variation. Still with the melodic string bends adding extra value to the track. A bona fide classic in the making, great track seriously enjoying this atmospheric masterclass.
Then it's onto a much more concise track, Cadet Opal. At just 1:43 long it has a lot to say in a short space of time with more electronica in the mix and a pounding backbeat from Stuart Marshall. A very brief affair but very valid in the mix.
Verbose has appeared on last year's live album Field Recording. It is also the longest track on the album. It has more electronica, which is employed again subtly without overpowering the sound in any manner. This has another brutal riff running throughout, and much guitar wailing in the background. More fine bass from Kev feazley and also a short guitar lead line that carries the song along in staccato burst.
The sort 48k has a lolloping gait to it with a nice rumbling bass part running through its duration. Some great guitar work too again another short sharp blast of noise, but noise with melody as always and not discordant for the sake of it. This blasts into Part 7 with its thunderous sound and harsh attack, but again plenty of melody in there too to keep the balance.
Part 8 continues on nicely with a more subdued piano opening and guitar arpeggios ringing in the background. There's that rumbling bass line again and the inventive drums of Stuart Marshall, both holding it all together. It pushes the music forward and onwards like the inevitable tide always comes in. This is a more subdued track and makes a great final statement from The Fierce And The Dead. Another great album and one that mixes their heaviness and punk rage and energy alongside their progressive tendencies. Great guitar tones throughout and strong songs make this a clear winner and an album that deserves to be heard by many.
I really like this album a lot! I find much to enjoy herein and I hope you do too.
Robbie Gennet - Gleams
Southern Californian Robbie Gennet is a pianist, bassist, arranger and songwriter, whose latest release is Gleams. The seven track album is a very short collection of MOR pop songs that mix Elton John-ish piano pop and ELO-style orchestrations, with just a nod to Kevin Gilbert.
Only one songs stands out here and that is The Camera's On. Its lyrics are an exploration of the creeping invasiveness of Big Brother surveillance culture. In its use of bongo and conga drum is a song that is a bit different and suits Robbie Gennet’s vocal limitations better than the other songs.
And here is the problem with this albums other six tracks. No matter how well played and melodic they are, and hats off to violinist Kaitlin Wolfberg in that regard, they are all held back by his vocal limitations. There are a number of singers in the pop and prog spheres who have similar limitations but have more character or have lyrics that are less banal. I could point to The Tangent’s Andy Tillison politically and socially engaged lyrics or to Robert Wyatt’s or Randy Newman’s poignancy, both limited singers but altogether more engaging that what is found on this release.
On Gleams Robbie Gennet’s vocal tone is so love-it-or-leave-it and unfortunately it just leaves me entirely cold. But please listen to the Youtube samples and make up your own mind.
Tusmørke - Fjernsyn i farve
Tusmørke have had a productive twelve months releasing no fewer than three albums. In May 2017, the band released Hinsides, which included a twenty-three minute piece, Sainkt Sebastians Alter, about death and pestilence during the Black Death.
Their next release Bydra appeared in November 2017 and offers a contrast to the dark subject matter of Hinsides. Bydra’s music and story revolves around three animal characters created for children. The albums overall aims were commendable addressing serious issues such as, the environment and homelessness in a fun, but educational way.
Not surprisingly, Bydra mainly consisted of relatively simplistic sing-along tunes. These were log-jammed with a convivial atmosphere, laden with repetitive hooks and hummable choruses. It used a primary aged children’s choir to deliver much of the story.
Fjernsyn i farver is undoubtedly, the most satisfying of this trio of releases. The album contains no extended piece and therefore avoids some of the compositional pitfalls that marred the over lengthy and perhaps over-ambitious Sainkt Sebastians Alter.
The album travels a well-worn route that Tusmørke have successfully taken in many of their previous six albums. They have created an album that contains atmospheric, folk-tinged prog crowned by some delightful flute interjections.
The music contains a solid rhythm section often dominated by burbling fuzz-laden bass lines. The tunes frequently feature a plethora of interesting synth effects; they also often contain keyboard embellishments that are often understated.
Some tunes occasionally feature solo bass, or keyboard parts. These sympathetic elements enable melodic flute passages, or spitting, snarling flute driven riffs as in Death Czar and Tøyens hemmelighet; or likeable harmonies and recurring chant like choruses to flourish.
Often little is subtle about Tusmørke’s approach to their art. Tunes such as Kniven i kurven and 3001 snatch the senses and with a muscular embrace attempt to clasp the listener tightly, until every bit of life, or creativity has been wrung out of their verse chorus, middle eight, verse chorus structure. This creates music that is initially accessible and rewarding, but its recurring cyclical nature and structured predictability can become somewhat tedious and overbearing overtime.
The most pleasing aspect of Fjernsyn i farver is the increased role that keyboard player "The Phenomenon Marxo Solinas" has. Solinas is a pseudonym used by Tusmørke for Lars Frederik Frøislie. Frøislie is best known for his work with White Willow and Wobbler.
His work in Tusmørke’s other albums such as, Hinsides, and Riset Bak Speilet was arguably much less noticeable. In Fjernsyn I Farver , Frøislie expressive frills are often in the background , but the range and scope of his contribution helps to give the compositions of Fjernsyn i farver a more interesting and noticeable prog element than before.
The juxtaposition of sophisticated keyboard effects woven into tunes with full on rousing ale-horn choruses, ensures that the release contains even within a single tune, aspects that will appeal not only to listeners who want to hear something that has a raw primeval appeal, but also to those listeners who want something that contains occasional subtler elements.
The majority of the tunes have a recognisable Tusmørke sound and of these the excellent Kniven i kurven is probably the most memorable piece. Its chorus has a strong-arm pull that is difficult to evade, but it is the lengthy expressive flute outro and warbling synth accompaniment that sets firmly apart from the pack.
The shortest piece on the album, Borgerlig tussmørke, has a delicate air that is not typical of Tusmørke’s usual approach. It contains some of the most tuneful vocals of the album, before it inevitably progresses to a sort of Viking, ale spilling, fireside, sing-along. In the final section, it also includes wordless chants. These appear to pervade most of Tusmørke’s compositions these days. At best, this stylistic trait gives the music a raw excitement, or a stamp of folklore mystique and at worst points to a band that feels that the inclusion of such things is necessary to create a hallmark sound or style.
In its initial stages Borgerlig tussmørke appears to share some vague, superficial melodic qualities with the "scented cathedral, spire pointed down, we pray for souls in Kentish town" section of Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play. However, the most stereotypical Tullian moments of the release occur in the silver tube frenzy that is an important feature of the final two tracks.
The weakest piece on the album is probably 3001. Its mixture of early Black Sabbath and Tusmørke's approach to prog does not really gel and other bands such as, Lucifer Was have arguably attempted this sort of style much more effectively. After an impressive array of synth space sounds 3001 is for the most part drenched in droning chanting earnest vocals and a fully formed flatulent layer of fuzzed bass and swirling synths that overpower any other instrument attempting to gain prominence, or clarity.
Despite the Sabbath-like intonation of the vocals that provides the piece with a distinctive atmosphere, the tune might have benefited from the extra colours that an electric guitar could have brought to the mix. The tune does however, contain an interesting change of pace in its latter stages and the medieval flute march that emerges with some supportive bass and keyboard accompaniment is quite enchanting.
Overall, Fjernsyn i farve is an entertaining album, and many aspects of it will probably appeal to those who enjoy folk-flavoured prog with hearty sing-along choruses, and interesting middle eight sections. It will also equally charm those who enjoy music that includes a mix of both fragile and fiery flute work, foot tapping rhythms and an impressive bass sound.
Vitral - Entre as Estrelas
When an album consists, of just three compositions it is probably fair to assume that at least one and possibly all of the compositions will have a lengthy running. In the case of Vitral’s latest release Entre as Estrelas, this is certainly the case. The album contains two short compositions, which act as supportive bookends to the lengthy, yet deliciously arranged title track that has a running time of over 52 minutes.
This outstanding piece gives many opportunities for the music to develop and stretch out. It succeeds on a number of levels and the fact that it is able to do so, is a fitting testament to the skill of each member of Vitral.
The standout track of the album developed over time, and its arrangements performed and perfected over a number of years. It is therefore, not surprising, that Entre as Estrelas contains many sections where feel and the ability to stir the emotions are equally as important as any display of technical proficiency, or jaw-dropping instrumental virtuosity.
The title track contains many passages that exhibit an identifiable exuberance, as well as impressive musicianship and technical proficiency. It contains thirteen separate sub sections. Many musical themes weave in and out and recur in varying guises to give the whole composition a coherent and recognisable structure that cordially invites the listener to stay for a while.
These interlocking sections bind the piece and construct a platform for a range of musical developments to occur. The recurring motifs are often memorably tuneful. They frequently have an ability to embed themselves in your consciousness and enter your thoughts long after the album has concluded. That in itself is a considerable achievement, given Entre as Estrelas overall complexity and sub hourglass duration.
I particularly like the way in which the band are able to meld and draw upon disparate elements light and dark passages have equal prominence and the transition between the two is negotiated with skill and precision. Drummer Claudio Dantas provides a backdrop for busy up-tempo passages to develop. These energetically bulge, groove and frequently contrast with reflective interludes, often led by flautist Marcus Moura that caress the spirit and have the mood shaping ability to smooth away jagged edged emotion.
No single instrument dominates proceedings during the epic title track, but much of the music develops around the firm foundation and solid keystone provided by composer Eduardo Aguellar's impressive contribution on bass, all other instruments and array of keyboard sounds. Equally important is the contribution of guitarist. Luis Zamith. He has an expressive style that is able to enrich proceedings in a lyrical way in much the same way that Andrew Latimer is able to do so with Camel.
However, the flute parts of Moura give large segments a distinctive air and ensure that much of the title track particularly satisfying. He was originally, a member of Bacarmarte and his expressive blowing makes Entre as Estrelas one of the most satisfying flute prog album's in recent years. His contribution incorporates a wide range of flute rock styles, from rhythmic Tull-like riffing, to spacious fine trilling with baroque overtones.
There were many occasions, when his playing was set against typical South American rhythms to remind me of the style of early Flor de Loto. At other times the combination of flute, a quivering synth, crunching guitar and a boldly punchy rhythm section was redolent of Solaris. Just like Solaris, Vitral have perfected the art of using a range of flutes to emphasise the frail delicacy of some of the quieter passages.
The use of a keyboard effect to mimic a human choral effect was the only aspect of Entre as Estrelas that I did not find appealing. The final minutes of this excellent composition were particularly satisfying. In the concluding section, entitled A Conquista da Terra dos Sonhos the band manage to revisit many of the themes and ideas explored earlier and spit them out in a rousing fast-paced finale.
The other two pieces of the album are somewhat overshadowed by the heavily endowed qualities of the title track. This is a pity as both the opening and concluding compositions work well and stand alone as excellent works in their own right.
Vitral have produced one of the best symphonic prog albums that I have heard for many years. Although perhaps not as memorable as some of the well-known classic examples of that genre such as, Camel’s the Snow Goose, Entre as Estrelas is an album that contains many elements that fans of Camel and aficionados of that type of approach will no doubt appreciate.
Entre as Estrelas is a fine album and I am confident that anybody who enjoys carefully arranged music with strong melodic qualities will find many things to enthuse about in this release.