Reviews in this issue:
The Anagram Principle - Odd Martian/Equation (As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Dreaming Fox)
When I first saw the full title of this album, Odd Martian/Equation (As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Dreaming Fox), I was immediately drawn due to my like of foxes. This mixed with the potential of extraterrestrial involvement, then my interest was in overdrive. With The Anagram Principle hailing from the USA and consisting of two veteran musicians who have been involved with Progressive Rock since the seventies this must be a guaranteed certainty to be something special.
This hope was further increased when the physical disc arrived, the front cover featured alien spaceships straight out of The Day The Earth Stood Still. The back and inside of the packaging was adorned with wonderful photos of Arctic Foxes. Oh boy, everything felt so right.
After numerous listens, The Anagram Principle have left me feeling like I had just found out Santa was not real, the Easter Bunny was just a ploy to sell chocolate Easter eggs and Fish leaving Marillion was not just a bad dream. Yep, can you remember when all your childhood dreams began to be eroded? The disappointment was so physical you could not find words to describe the feeling. Well this is how The Anagram Principle have left me with this release. To be teased with such hope and left so disappointed, well you've managed to do that.
The musicians responsible for this release, Tedd Arnold and Bob Neft appear to be two very pleasant gentlemen. They have been moderately successful within the music industry, and both have a thorough love of music. Where Bob, Tedd and myself have issue, is when Odd Martian is described in the press release as “an intellectual exploration of today's social climate and spiritual awakening told through the eyes of a dreaming fox.” Maybe I'm a bit thick, and the album is too intellectual for me to appreciate? Maybe the social climate in the UK and USA are so far apart that this release is not relevant outside the USA? I'm really not sure.
To address the reason you're hopefully still reading, which is the music on offer, I do find it a struggle to describe what we have here. It's a trippy ride which never seems to get anywhere. The electronic rhythms used add nothing to the sound of the album, it sounds very dated and lacking a spark of emotion. Maybe this is what was intended?
The first track Equation begins with a soundscape similar to current King Crimson but with a more electronic feel. When the vocals come in they are heavily digitised which takes away the human feel, at first I thought this was intentional, an attempt to give an other worldly feel, an attempt to differentiate between the Aliens and the Fox. But the vocals continue in the same vein throughout.
I just wanted the tempo to change, but felt the tracks just blended into one another, and there where no high points on which to focus. With Life In Danger we are presented with an electro pop track reminiscent of OMD or Ultravox, but again the song never gets out of first gear.
I am not going to continue to analyse any more tracks, so to reduce the negativity. I really do hope some listeners may see something within this release which has evidently passed me bye. When an album has a press release like Odd Martian did, I expect a pay off, some conclusion to what I have been listening to, but it just didn't happen.
There may still be hope, even after such a disappointment, I still like foxes, still ponder what would happen if we were to have extraterrestrial visitors, and still look forward to welcoming Santa this December. I wish all the best to The Anagram Principle, and promise that should their next release appear for review, I will leave it for one of my fellow reviewers who I hope gets more out of the music presented.
De Lorians - De Lorians
It's short, it's unpredictable, it's ugly, it's brash, it is beautiful, it is discordant and it is melodious.
Although young Tokyo based band De Lorians self-titled instrumental debut has a unique blend of musical flavours, it manages to achieve what for many is an essential characteristic, somehow and quite remarkably, it is able to sound familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Consequently, much of the album is difficult to categorise, but listening to it is a gratifying experience.
It is a refreshing album. It serves up a satisfying plate of musical delights, which includes flavours that prog aficionados will savour. It satisfyingly includes the identifiable and vigorous mixing of some of the stylistic hallmarks of Frank Zappa's excursions into jazz rock and fusion. This is stirred and blended with healthy amounts of the sound, swagger, swing and artistic daring associated with Canterbury bands such as Soft Machine, Egg, Hatfield & the North and National Health.
This unusual mix creates an album that is never clichéd or hackneyed, but in its most successful moments (and there are many) is often intoxicating. Even when the tunes sprint or meander into less satisfying territories, a sculpted soundscape occurs that is always interesting. On occasions, what is on offer is innovative, creative and downright odd. Sometimes it is even, enjoyably disconcerting.
On many occasions, the zippy keyboard and organ contribution of Hyozo Shiratori create a Canterbury vibe. However, guitar player Soya Nogami is particularly impressive. He frequently manages to emulate a number of the tones and yelping, yowling distortion for which Phil Miller was renowned. This gives many of the tunes a delightful fretted feel that is reminiscent of Hatfield & The North and National Health.
The influence of Zappa's Hot Rats and Waka Jawaka period of composition breaks into the music with swashbuckling regularity. Some of the transitions within tunes such as Himalia brought to mind the way that Zappa was seamlessly able to switch between styles.
In this regard, the saxophone is often a key ingredient. It thrusts and cuts its way into the band's sound and often begins, or concludes stirring instrumental passages of challenging complexity. The saxophone frequently combines with the evocative burbling of the organ. Therefore, inevitable comparisons with Soft Machine are easy to make. This likeness is particularly noticeable in Roccotsu and during some of the free flowing sections, which occur in brief sections of tunes, like the outstanding Toumai.
The band skilfully explores complex rhythmic territories. Numerous nose twitching, arm throwing, head jerking interludes occur during the release. These exuberant odd tempo passages rarely occur, at the cost of the delivery of a number of tuneful melodies.
However, there were times when I found the particularly shrill reedy style of saxophonist and bandleader Takefumi Ishida a little off putting. Its piercing earlobe, twitching tone is particularly apparent in Mata Mata , but this is more than compensated for by the classic organ work, reminiscent of Mike Ratledge, that underscores much of the piece.
Magso is a quirky tune that explores a plethora of different moods. In its earliest stages, it has the feel of something that could sit comfortably alongside Soft Machine Six and Seven. As the tune develops, there is a wonderful guitar break, which illustrates that improvisation is a key factor in the execution of the bands art. Any apparent tension between, what is composed and what might be improvised, is overcome with aplomb.
The concluding stages of Magso, signpost the Japanese roots of the band. The piece includes a delightful keyboard led, tap-toe, light-footed interlude, which could have come straight from a Japanese produced arcade game of the 80s. A Ship of Mental Health is a wonderful piece. It is reminiscent of aspects of Egg, Hatfield and National Health. This step back in time is altogether quite unnerving, but equally, is also seductively captivating.
One of the most memorable tunes is probably Roccotsu. In its earliest stages it sets a twilight mood. It's an engaging tune which lightly smoulders and radiates with a candle lit melody. Himalia is also equally memorable and to begin proceedings contains a twisted marching section that is sure to impress off piste ramblers who might be lost in urban alleyways.
However, the longer running time of Toumai gives the band an opportunity to bring together many of the ingredients that make up the bands engaging sound. This undoubtedly ensures that Toumai is the stand out tune. There is much for supporters of Canterbury fashioned instrumental music to sit back and admire during this 'National Health' styled tune. The complex and evocative ending which is, full of vibrating fuzz bass, tuneful guitar and sax embellishments is quite magnificent. Overall, it is a very engrossing and impressive composition.
I have thoroughly enjoyed De Lorians debut album. I am confident that it will satisfy any readers who have any affinity with the music of any of the bands and artists that have been mentioned in this review
Khadavra - Hypnagogia
From Gothenburg, Sweden, hail Khadavra. New to me (and apparently DPRP.net is new to them as well), but this is in fact their second album after 2014's A True Image Of The Infinite Mind.
A digital-only release for now, but maybe CD and even an LP will follow.
Some titles suggest a slightly psychedelic attitude and that would be correct. As some of the track durations might suggest, the band takes time to build a song, and while parts may sound like a band jamming, the songs do have structures.
The music is drenched in Hammond and other older keyboard sounds, psychedelic melodies on guitar, but alternated.
Interesting to hear waves of early 1970s prog mix with post-rock playing on top, sections of more modern prog, and cleverly constructing longer songs. When you know that this is a very young band, it's an interesting bag of influences they carry with them.
Down The Rabbithole has an English title but is sung in Swedish. I've never had any problems with vocals in languages other than English or instrumental music and although I am starting to understand more of the Swedish language, it still gives a mystic feel to the song.
Tryptophan, the only other track with vocals, is in English. The combination of melodies and vocals are in modern prog/ post-rock style, almost an ode to Sigur Rós but a bit more rocking, especially in the middle section.
Most songs have a focus on the melodies, but Mordängel gets heavier in an old Black Sabbath way, although the rock never goes metal.
The production has been well taken care of, with all instruments getting the attention they deserve while none is demanding a starring role. The near half-hour Kollektiv is proof of that, as it's a marvellous trip through several moods and influences. Based around a recurring theme that is played in different ways and on different instruments, even the bass taking the lead. Several different ways are used to link these structures, making the trip a long and varied one. A solo on a sitar, that's a first for me!
What a bright future these guys have ahead of them. An excellent album with a great production, carefully crafted compositions with room for improvisations that are tastefully and skilfully filled in many different ways.
For some reason I am reminded of some rather obscure bands as well: Akasha, Mary Newsletter. But to mention some names you might recognise, if you like Sigur Rós, Agusa, Siena Root, you really need to listen to this album! One of the big surprises for me this year!
Transnadeznost - Monomyth
Prog from Russia is almost always something to look forward to. We hardly know anything about the cultural life in that vast country, let alone what prog scene is there. And of what we may know, nobody can be sure if that knowledge is genuine or heavily influenced by the powers that be. So when a album arrives from a new Russian band, an open mind and some healthy curiosity are required.
Yet when the music on offer doesn't meet any expectation at all an open mind nor curiosity can save it. And that is unfortunately the case with the debut album by St. Petersburg based Transnadeznost entitled Monomyth. The first impression is good, packed as it is in a nice digipack with a sci-fi drawing fronting the cover, modern lettering on the back and just enough information to satisfy one's first curiosity. The song titles intrigue (Chewbacca!) which strengthens the expectations.
The band has been active for a couple of years and consisted since its onset of Alexander Yershow on guitar, Alesya Izlesa on guitar and glockenspiel, Nikolay Vladimirovich on bass and David Aaronson on drums and percussion. In Huldra the vocals are sung by Egor Svysokihgor while Aleksey Gorshkov adds some trumpet on two tracks.
The seven moderate to long tracks are all instrumental except for Huldra. That could have been a welcome diversion from the somewhat monotone mood of the songs but it is unfortunately a further step back. The vocals are not interesting at all because Svysokihgors voice is not expressive, not forceful, nor characterful. And as he has to sing long notes with primarily sounds instead of words evolving into some sort of screaming, the vocals start to annoy quickly. Think of Eloy's Frank Bornemann having a drunken but exhausted ball with Thijs van Leer and you'll have an idea of how these vocals sound.
The songs are slow and musically rather simple with few breaks. Too much uninteresting and repetitive bass playing and little creativity in the guitar playing. The guitars sound the same throughout the whole album which is really a missed opportunity to add some variety in the sound. The trumpet addition in Star Child and Day/Night works well though, giving both songs some extra spice they really need. Yet so little happens during the 12-minute playing time of the later song that it almost goes by unnoticed. This song is at best a jam and feels like just an exercise, not a well elaborated piece of music. That can never have been the intention.
The music sometimes refers to Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd in their psychedelic periods, sometimes to Eloy and the likes. But those bands did it many years before this band and did it with much more originality and creativity than Transnadeznost manages.
So although I had an open mind and was very curious of what this band would come up with, I didn't succeed in liking this album at all. It is their debut so there is ample time to grow and to develop. Hopefully better next time.
Nik Turner - The Final Frontier
Hawkwind legend Nik Turner is back with another space rock album. This new album from the 78-year old composer, singer, flautist, and saxophonist remains fresh-sounding despite its clear connections to Hawkwind. Full disclaimer: I'm no expert on Hawkwind or space rock in general. I've listened to very little in the sub-genre, but not because I don't like it. Some of what I've heard I have liked, but I attribute my lack of knowledge of Turner's career and space rock more broadly to my youth and a relative lack of time in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully that will at least give me fresh ears for this review.
A new album from an aging legend could easily sound stale, but to this reviewer the music is quite intriguing. It's layered with synths, drums, and saxophone, and Turner's voice adds a deep soothing tone to everything. He clearly knows his limits as a singer, and he stays within it and avoids any straining. The saxophone parts sort of remind me of King Crimson, and the overall sound is reminiscent of very early Pink Floyd on the first track. Those comparisons say more about my own knowledge of music from the early period of progressive rock and psychedelic music, though.
Interstellar Aliens is a particularly strong track. The vocal line meshes very well with the swirling nature of the instruments. Very spacey, as you might imagine. The only problem is the vocals sort of sink in behind the instruments, so it can be a little hard to understand the lyrics at points. The electric violin on this track is quite nice.
The music itself could be described as a wall of sound, but the individual parts remain distinct enough to pick them out on repeated listens. This helps the album stay interesting over time. Turner's flute and saxophone pop up all over, sometimes in unexpected places. This helps keep things moving and shifting.
The names of the songs are a humorous nod to Turner's long career. He's been called the Thunder Rider, and he used to dress up in ancient Egyptian-inspired costume during live shows. The bass-line on Thunder Rider, as well as the saxophone and other various instruments that mirror the bass-line, is very memorable. While repetitive, it works really well with the jazzy mildly-improv saxophone solo.
A mild critique of the album might apply more broadly to space rock - the massive wall of sound and swirling instruments starts to sound the same after a while. It is good that the album is under fifty minutes, because it would drag on if it were any longer. As it is, The Final Frontier provides a good dose of what it offers.
Those of you space rock aficionados out there may not find anything new in The Final Frontier. Not being well-versed in the scene, I can't really say one way or the other. To my ears, this is a pretty strong album. Its roots run very deep in the music world, pulling obviously from Hawkwind's past, but also from other psychedelic progressive acts and certainly from the jazz world. If you enjoy any of those types of music, you will like Nik Turner's latest album. It is great to see the old guard from the progressive rock world still creating new music and experimenting long after most folks in other careers would have retired. If only we all retain our zeal to create at that age.
Ed Wynne - Shimmer Into Nature
Ozric Tentacles, you either love them or hate them. If you are in the latter camp, shame on you. For what it's worth, my wife is indifferent. She has seen them many times live, and managed to fall asleep standing in the front row during a particularly decimal-defying version of The Throbbe. Sad, divorce-worthy, but true.
Of course they only defined and crowned a genre, stretched the minds of all listeners without serious hearing deficits, and transcended all superlatives during their 20-odd albums. I still remember the exact moment I first heard them, the opening moments of their most commercially successful album Jurassic Shift. It was genuine frisson. All the aspects of great music were there: imagination, sonic depth, weirdness, intense musicianship, massive blasts of sound here, blissful atmospherics there. Someone called Peter Kirch put it well: "This is what I'd always wanted to hear! This is what the old psychedelic bands were trying to get to!" Best of all, it wasn't Oasis or Blur and it distinguished me from the sheeple in my peer-group. And they kept on releasing albums for another 20 years, all with different flavours, but still tasting like the world's most fabulous musical ice cream. I even named my cat after them. Some say "it all sounds the same". Numpties.
The personnel changed with almost every iteration, but the core, the epicentre, was and is the great Ed Wynne. And so it was with a mix of disappointment ("oh my God, the Ozrics are dead!") and delight that I e-purchased Ed's first solo effort when it emerged from the ether earlier this year. To be honest, the artwork says it all - organic pastoral arborescence interspersed with characteristic blistering guitar that Steve Vai would admire and, in fact, Satriani has praised. But it's far from a guitar-based instrumental affair. Just like all Ozric-ey delectations there are spiralling synths, multi-layered tonal cascades, and unexpected twists as we circumnavigate a kind of spacey musical planet packed with mysterious and probably smokeable plantlife (not recommended).
Glass Staircase gets straight to work with a twisty base and lovely arpeggiating. This is great stuff for the running enthusiast, maintaining a steady rhythm to propel you up the hill. A key change at about 6 minutes then dreamy guitar-a-spherics and all is well with the world.
Travel Dust pops you in the middle of a jungle somewhere in Ed's mind, getting particularly freaky at 5.50 as the dub-section starts to mess with your sense of orientation.
More akin to recent Ozric releases, especially Yum-Yum Tree, is Oddplonk. At times the base section and keys diverge to keep your attention, otherwise one could easily succumb to the equivalent of a skilled masseuse directly rubbing musky oils into your brain. Lush.
Shim was pre-released as a teaser a few weeks before. Similar in structure to the preceding tracks, but none-the-worse for it. Maybe at this stage though a break from the format would have been welcome. Back in the heady OT days there may have been a drumless blissout track stuck right here, and with a running time of about 43 minutes, it certainly wouldn't have overstretched the release.
Wherble is the longest track at just over 10 minutes, and is the best on the album. Initial curious impressions of an old man tapping away on a pipe organ (panpipes) give way to some mad time signatures, stratospheric guitar, and syncopated keys-drums that could not be reproduced without the utmost sobriety. At 4:21, Ed gets the xylophone out and gives it a good old whang. More blissout guitar and spirals, then Ibiza-style strobey synth before space-guitar takes over once again. If people did ever dance to this stuff, they would need a serious chiropractor next day.
Yes most of the album is sequenced and without a real human playing the drums, but I can testify the live experience with Ed's son and the other musicians he has collected manage to recreate the noises to great effect.
I was lucky enough to meet the great man as he was the support on the recent Gong tour. Slightly star-struck, I asked if there would ever be more Ozrics. "In the pipeline" he replied, to which I uttered an internal hallelujah.