Reviews in this issue:
Djam Karet - A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof (plus) [CD plus free downloads]
Beyond The Long Twilight: Beyond The Frontier (5:44), Long Ride To Eden (5:59), West Coast (5:56), A Sky Full Of Stars (11:03), Dust In The Sun (2:59), On The Third Day (4:00), Specter Of Twilight (3:24), Night Falls (4:43)
The Crows Of Dust Fall At Night: Beyond The Frontier (5:41), Long Ride To Eden (5:45), West Coast (5:52), A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof (10:37), Dust In The Sun (2:53), On The Third Day (3:42), Specter Of Twilight (3:18), Night Falls (4:58)
You might be wondering why Djam Karet have simultaneously released three differently titled albums (A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof, Beyond The Long Twilight, and The Crows Of Dust Fall At Night) with the same track listings but different playing times, and with only the first album being available as a physical CD. Well it gives an insight into the compositional process employed by the band on this, their 19th studio album.
Originally, Chuck Oken, Jr., the band's drummer, created a whole load of electronic pieces using a collection of analogue, modular and digital synthesisers and sent them to multi-instrumentalist Gayle Ellett. Over time, Ellett took elements from the source pieces editing them into a selection of soundscapes that formed the basis of the first seven tracks on the album.
Then, the entire band, Oken Jr., Ellett, Mike Henderson (guitars and synths) and Henry J. Osborne (bass) along with several invited guests individually and collectively composed melodies and musical structures using a wide selection of largely acoustic instruments to add on to the soundscapes. This combination is what constitutes the new album A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof.
The two free download albums separates the two elements of the tracks: Beyond The Long Twilight, focuses on the acoustic instruments by removing most of the synthesisers while The Crows Of Dust Fall At Night, removes everything apart from the original synthesisers leaving the soundscapes that underlie the music. The final track, Night Falls was composed by Henderson and for the companion albums has been remixed by Oken Jr. to so they are more in line with the concept.
Well over 30 different instruments have been utilised in the recordings, largely played by Ellett, although the guests, Todd Montgomery, Mike Murray, Micah Nelson and Shannon Michael Terry, add their specialist instrumental talents throughout.
What is remarkable is just how different each of the three collections are. Okay, depending on one's affinity for purely synthesised music, The Crows Of Dust Fall At Night may be a little too sparse but the melodies and performances on Beyond The Long Twilight are delightful and ably demonstrate the talents of the performers and the skill of Ellett in bringing it all together.
However, it is when the two layers are combined that the magic really happens. Take, for instance, West Coast, the synth soundscape ebbs and flows in a relatively ambient way while the acoustic instrumental version emphasises the instrumentation, particularly the acoustic guitar. But when the two are merged the track takes on a whole new persona; the varying balance between the layers adds tension, even a degree of menace that can't be heard or understood in the individual layers.
For the listener it is a real voyage of discovery that can be taken on many different levels and is a totally fascinating way of listening to the tracks and their deconstructions. Of course, one might just prefer not to bother with such aural trickeries, which is fine as the finished album is well worth the purchase price on its own. Excellent instrumental music that is simultaneously engaging and relaxing with surprising depth and more than enough happening in the proceedings to keep one discovering new elements for a long time.
Although A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof is a long way from the origins of the band, and I for one would like to hear the results of the four members revisiting their early methods of developing and recording an album, one can't but admire how the group has progressed over the years. Talent always shines through.
In Motion - Thriving Force
Tom "Tee" Tas promised a follow up to his Godseed by Entering Polaris project, focusing more on melodic death and thrash metal, and would in the end retain a progressive aspect. Thriving Force by In Motion is the second part of the diptych, and in keeping his word he has achieved this with ferocity. Aiding Tee are many household names in that this field of expertise, with vocalists from bands like Soilwork, Funeral, and Dagoba, and guitarist Joris Van Daele (Michael Angelo Batio) and saxophonist Gregg Rosetti (Suspyre). Will I be game enough for this music?
Immediately from departure it is evident that the production is once again top notch, with a crisp clarity, and a rich and open sound. As a result the soaring guitars and shredding solos are individually distinguishable amongst the fierce pounding drums and powerful bass. And like a jumbo-jet spiralling off into the galaxy at light-speed, Tee and his crafty team of boosters beat out heavy Slayer / Metallica riffs, thundering on and off alongside Dream Theater complexities. Meanwhile opening a valve to allow in further aggressive speed and trash-metal sections, all accomplished through instrumental perfection.
Dodging asteroids with an oppressive atmosphere provoked by typical death metal grunts. Not everybody's cup of tea and definitely not mine. However, progressive elements slowly prevail with clean vocals and refined melodic, gracious guitars leaning towards Queensrÿche and Rush. These safe spacious surroundings alternate harmoniously with risk sacraments of harsh trashy metal, screeching "vocals" and pulsating speed-metal (Iron Maiden, Periphery). Meticulously well thought out, like a chess-game, but it lacks any feel of emotion.
The album continues in this way up to Utopia, then we softly land on Lunar an acoustic interlude, setting up the unmatched epic Always In Motion. It's like a wheel of fortune of constant change, technical ingenuity, rocky paths, dark passageways and reassuring stormy progressiveness,lightly reminiscent of Symphony X, Rush and to a lesser degree Ayreon. The occasional extreme heavy segments interact with virtuous diverse metal ones, eventually slowly gliding into a pleasant Spanish intermezzo until ultimately a refreshing saxophone softly slides into the relief of Solar, ending this expert game of skill comfortably. As on Godseed, Tee has, luckily, saved the best for last.
To some this album will be a game, set and match qualification, in being adventurous, strong, confidently executed and filled with hooks and melodies. I, on the other hand, applaud the effort, which has some remarkable moments, but the burden of harsh vocals make me want to escape to another realm. If Tee decides to further up the anti in this musical direction then I'm afraid its game over for me.
Lunar Cape (Мыс Луны) - Lunar Folk Tales (Лунные народные сказки)
During the current technological era of people listening and buying their music in digital formats, recording music digitally, it enables people to access music more easily than ever before. The downside of this is that there is a large amount of over produced soulless music being listened to. The on trend style of music evidenced by a quick look at the popular music charts, this goes to show that style over substance is winning at present.
What is currently missing is the type of brave release that Lunar Cape have produced here. Lunar Folk Tales is not just about the music. What we have here is a labour of love which drags you back to the good old days of CD's and vinyl. This project needs the physicality of the release to fully understand and appreciate the love, nostalgia, fun and enjoyment that music can create, but is so easily lost in today's digital age.
Before I get fully into this review, I must state, that in my music collection I have no releases by Russian, Pakistani, or Ukrainian artists. This is not because I don't like the music, it's just that I would not normally experiment listening to artists from these countries (but I must admit liking some of the Russian and Ukrainian entries into the Eurovision Song Contest). Neither am I a fan of traditional folk music, my closest venture into this area would probably be Jethro Tull and Grace.
Now I have gotten those admissions out of the way, I can honestly say, the opportunity of reviewing music I would not normally listen to has paid dividends with Lunar Folk Tales.
Lunar Cape are a three piece band who play most of the string and woodwind instruments, but are supported by other musicians on drums and keyboards. Lunar Folk Tales is their second proper release (after their 2014 debut, Bandcamp shows a 2017 release titled Коллекция рингтонов "Лунные Народные Сказки", which translates to Collection Of Ringtones "Moon Folk Tales"...), even though Lunar Folk Tales was originally released last year in an instrumental only version.
What we are now presented with is the fully fledged completed project. This comprises three discs presented in an LP sized sleeve, and a 16 page, wonderfully illustrated booklet, containing all the lyrics in both English and Russian.
One disc consists of the all-instrumental version, and then there is one disc each containing the Russian and English vocal versions. The instrumental version differs from the vocal version by being shorter in length, most likely due to the vocals being written after the music, and so requiring some slight editing for the music and lyrics to fit comfortably.
The title of the project hides nothing. What the listener is presented with are eight folk tales backed by wonderful traditional music, but this has a modern presentation. The only thing I can liken it too is Orphaned Land (but without the progressive metal overtones). The music pulls together many different cultures and this produces a stunning eclectic mix. Each of the eight tracks provides something totally different, sometimes the flute is the lead instrument, the other times the bass guitar takes the lead, this provides each tale with its own unique identity.
All of this takes the listener on a journey which brings memories of the innocence of British childhood programmes that I remember, programmes such as the surreal Bagpus and Fingerbobs, and many others, most of which time has eroded their names from my memory. The lyrics in the first track describe best what you are being presented with, which are stories told by The Night Watcher in his own language, the language of music and dreams.
The booklet and sleeve are illustrated in a traditional folk manner using what appear to be collages to create the stunning images. These remind me of the illustrated works of Dave McKean - an artist most famous for his work illustrating many works by Neil Gaiman and who designed the cover of Dream Theater's, Metropolis Pt 2, Scenes From A Memory.
The final track of the English version, entitled What The Peacock Is Silent About, is narrated by musician extraordinary, Trey Gunn. The Russian version is in Urdu, so needless to say, this was not narrated by Trey.
I would recommend this project to anyone who is willing to experiment and challenge themselves by listening to something they might usually pass on. This project has had so much love and passion put into it, that it bypasses normal categorisation, you should listen, enjoy and relish what music can actually accomplish.
On The Raw - Climbing The Air
I know a person who runs a second hand record shop near Manchester. Whenever I purchase something from him, he invariably says with syrupy smile and a sharp accent, "It’s all about the tunes, bro, know what I mean, it is all about the tunes!"
I do not think that chap would be disappointed if he listened to On The Raw’s latest release Climbing The Air. The rock / jazz band from Catalonia have developed and refined their appealing mix of rock, jazz and prog to create a set of seven tunes that builds upon the style that was successful in their excellent debut album. However, their latest work is arguably more inventive, as it is unafraid to explore new territories, whenever the music dictates.
This results in an album that is often easy and pleasing on the ear, but also contains enough unexpected changes of mood and tempo, subtle nuances and occasional unpredictable moments to make it an interesting and stimulating experience. It also includes a particularly memorable tune that stands as tall as a fir-topped pinnacle and snow-capped peak, in a release that contains a mountain range of lofty heights.
The gutsy sax and fluid flute playing of Pep Espasa carry the majority of the melodies. His cheek puffing sax interjections in the album's opening title track are delightful, but his chirpy silver tube musings throughout the album and in this engaging tune are even more memorable.
The flowing keyboard and piano embellishments of Jordi Amelia, in the first track and elsewhere during the album also catch the ear and clasp the senses. His excellent contribution is a consistent source of satisfaction. The gorgeous piano introduction in Red Roses work particularly well.
However, his use of a variety of keyboard effects captures the imagination and gives many of the tunes an extra richness and appealing dimension. The manner in which he utilises the use of an analogue synth sound is satisfying. Similarly, the swagger and fanfare of a sprinting organ, which is a prominent feature of Blackmail, creates a captivating backdrop for the other instrumentalists to flourish.
Red Roses also includes fluttering flute petal wisps and boisterous gusts that provide a gorgeous free flowing melody. This alone will ensure that much of this tune will be a source of delight for prog flute fans. Espasa’s energetic, quick tongued playing is complemented by the gyrating pull of Jordi Prats' soaring guitar lines. These twist and pivot to reveal a harder edge to the piece. Red Roses also has a magnificent outro where all of the band members excel.
Many of the tunes contain fine examples of Prats fretwork and meaty six string accompaniments. The guitar tone that dresses the latter parts of Blackmail has an emotive pull and a piercing effect. Similarly, in its latter stages Herois is dressed in a powerful outer garment of expressive guitar and bursts of chest busting sax.
Throughout the album, all of the members of On The Raw have an important and harmonious role to play. This group togetherness and wholesome empathy to each other is apparent in many of the tunes and is arguably one of the albums most enjoyable aspects. The players are all extremely competent performers and handle their solo parts with considerable feeling, skill and aplomb. However, it is arguably that it is on the occasions when the band plays as a collective unit, that the album really succeeds. The sum of the playing and the enjoyably high quality of the tunes has a great importance and as such, has more impact than any virtuoso solo parts.
The rhythm section is powerful and equally adept at negotiating unusual changes of tempo as in Resistance, or laying down a funky groove in Moneypenny when the need arises. Resistance is an exciting white-knuckle ride of a tune. It includes a number of lengthy call and response interludes where keys, guitar, sax bass and drums all interact with verve.
Bassist Toni Sanchez and drummer Alex Ojea also bring a fine degree of sensitivity to proceedings when required. This is particularly the case in Herois, which has a melody that is so compelling that it scratches and burns itself upon the memory, in much the same way as a pond in a waterless landscape might do, or a mountaintop in a shallow peaked expanse of land might do.
In this piece, Sanchez's fretless bass tones are a delight. Their gruff expressive nature offers a perfect foil to the delightful flow of this easy to hum tune, which in its opening phase also features the flute. This excellent composition also features the expressive wordless vocals of Cristina Falcinella. It is the sort of tune, which does not sit passively, at the gates of the memory; instead, it rushes in and once established it refuses to leave.
Herois is beautiful and superbly constructed in every respect. It includes numerous impressive sections that by turns swaddle, surprise and delight. The pristine piano interlude that rises to offer a change of pace at its mid-point is excellent. The free flowing yet tightly coiled arrangement of Herois gives the tune much space to breathe. The excellent production values in evidence ensure that every instrument has a well-defined place in the mix. This facet is particularly noticeable during the outstanding and soothing pillow soft melody of the first section
I should have replied to the chap in the music shop and said, "Yeah, it’s about the tunes, pal, but it’s about the performance as well!"
I should have then lent him my copy of Climbing The Air, adding, "Check this out, bro, it is full of memorable tunes, fine solo slots and great ensemble playing; all combined in a perfect match. When these are in harmony, nothing else needs to be said, the music says it all."
Climbing The Air is excellent in many respects and the quality of performance and composition found in tunes like Herois simply speaks for itself!
Semistereo - Zabriskii
This is the fourth album by Dutch band Semistereo in ten years. I don't know their previous albums but I read they've grown with every release. I can't tell yet whether that is correct but I can tell that what we have here is an album by a mature band, which shows in the compositions, arrangements, sound, and production.
The opening track didn't make me jump up in surprise, it's a relatively straightforward song in structure. But because it's not a wall of sound, I was able to make out the many layers of their music. It's where you can hear the prog influences, in the melody and arrangements. However, Leap Into Flames did surprise me as it takes things heavier, with its intro and chorus nearing post-metal.
When I listen to this type of music it's mostly instrumental. Having vocals makes the songs more structured as rock songs, probably making the music a bit more accessible. But it also adds even more layers to the sections that are already heavy and challenging. The singing is excellent throughout. Not only in the verses and choruses where vocals are required, but even more so when the vocals are instrumental to the whole arrangement.
More influences and styles appear in Crooked Teeth Necklace, bringing more atmospheric metal. But still with outbursts in a Russian Circles-style, and a typical post-rock end section, but with added melodic layers and vocals. Then there is some room to breathe during the first part of A Tale Of Ravenous Longing, which also brings in a beautiful sadness.
South Of Sobriety Street is a great album closer because of its structure. Dreamy alt-rock with post-rock playing, growing into the climax you know is going to come. But it's the previous track Lethargic that is my favourite as it has most styles combined into one song with wonderful bridges to go from heavy to melodic and the other way around, and the heavy bits go really heavy.
The fact it took me many more spins than usual before I could write this review might say something about the diversity of styles on offer. The way they manage to combine the styles makes sure it never feels unhinged. It touches Russian Circles, but there's hints of Anathema, Katatonia, Oceansize, A Perfect Circle, and also Riverside.
Semistereo have delivered a top class album that overlaps many sub genres under the prog and metal banners. Clever, honest, and from the heart. A beautiful ride. I think it's time I started diving into their back catalog now.