Reviews in this issue:
Gerry Gibbs Thrasher People - Our People
Our People is the twelfth album by Gerry Gibbs, and his third under the Gerry Gibbs Thrasher People moniker. After four consecutive commercial number one successes, Gibbs wanted to do something different and push the boundaries of his ensemble 'Thrasher People' by moving into a slightly different sound and access their full orchestral potential. The re-arranged formation of the group for this record now consists of three mayor multi-talented and gifted players (Gibbs, Alex Collins and Gianluca Renzi) and features special guests in the form of Mayu Saeki (flute) and Kyeshie Gibbs (vocals and percussion).
The 19 individual tracks on the album are part of two scenes (tracks 1 to 9 and 10 to 19), and are in fact one extensive cinematic, artfully crafted and precisely arranged suite. It honours the diversity of people all around us with influences to be found on our different heritages, life experiences, art forms and roots. Free of restrictions, uplifting, picturesque and vibrantly alive with humanity's representatives, Thrasher People play their passionate hearts out on an array of no less than 40 different instruments in total shared between them.
Multi-instrumentalist Gerry Gibbs maintains a firm grip with shuffles, grooves and swing while light-heartedly caressing the drums. Meanwhile, he delivers some lovely touches on percussion via marimba and glockenspiel and adds electronic soundscapes. Bass by Renzi anchors the beat and harmonises the tidal flows of the adventurous compositions, underlining them with intricate, smooth jazzy undertones. On top of this, Collins shines with flashy and playful keys, transforming the music into one wonderful composition of organic proportions, which becomes even more cheerful and bright by carefully added flashy chords.
The sparse lyrics (Oh Yeah for instance) gives a familiar feel to the music, while the vocals (mainly applied as an instrument) add deeper layers, heavenly textures and earthiness to the suite. Engaging, classical piano passages intertwine with delicate interludes of Latin, soul, funk and fusion. Flute passages by Saeki give a folky warmth, with hand-clapping adding further details and variety to the enchanting music.
Musical influences are traceable to bands like Return To Forever and artists such as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. And while trumpet and saxophone eruptions recall Flight, refined jazzy passages on occasion are reminiscent of a melancholic Henry Mancini and The Pink Panther.
Overall, the mellow and laid back character of the music, in combination with the lively, sparkling vibrancy of the compositions and execution is highly contagious. It verges on the outskirts of prog yet it's certainly worth checking out. It brings a rewarding, summery smile in a smooth, relaxing and captivating way.
Klone - Le Grand Voyage
Firstly I should declare a bias. Klone hail from my recently adopted home-city of Poitiers, the ancient university capital of mid-west France. Its two most famous personalities are probably Eleanor of Aquitaine (for those into 12th century history) and famous French chef, the late Joël Robuchon. Its contribution to the world of music has amounted to pretty much zero.
Living in the middle of nowhere, it now requires a five hour drive to get to any live gig that I want to attend. Thus being a "progressive" band right on my doorstep, Klone will always garner more than my passing interest.
With a history dating back to 1995, Klone's profile has risen slowly but surely with each release, helped by a series of support slots and festival appearances. This year they pulled a big crowd at the massive Hellfest and will head out across France as headliners through October and November. Now signed to the post-progressive K-scope label, they will clearly hope to raise their profile to a similar level in other European countries. I guess a support slot for label-mates Anathema would be the dream?
Their last full studio album, Here Comes The Sun, (review here) saw a firm drift towards a more atmospheric, melancholic, post rock-inspired sound.
However it was their 2017 release Unplugged where I felt that the band had found their perfect setting. A chance to revisit some of their favourite songs in a stripped-down, acoustic, live setting, it was one of my Top 20 albums of that year.
The principal reason was that this streamlined format removed a lot of the "noise" and clutter in the original studio versions. It allowed the songs to stand on their own two feet. Most importantly, where the vocals of Yann Ligner had previously been just another part of the band's sound, set within an acoustic setting, the subtle textures and raw emotion of his vocals were a revelation, taking each track to a different level. I caught them twice on the following acoustic tour, where the music (and his vocals) had an even greater impact.
The band has managed to retain that impact with this new collection.
The Great Oblivion is the only time that the guitars adopt a sound that can be described as "metallic". Elsewhere the guitars have a dark tone, but a light touch, overlaid to an electronic ambience. There is a repetition to the groove and rhythm on each track that warrants a nod to the "post rock" genre. Yet the prominence of the vocals and some dexterous guitar detailing, give this album a more distinct (and thus more interesting) sound. The drums and bass gently encourage, as opposed to drive, the tracks. I would use the word "intense" rather than "heavy". Klone should be filed under "atmospheric rockers", as a slightly rockier, less orchestrated version of latter-day Anathema.
Lyrically and compositionally, the inspiration for Le Grand Voyage comes from pondering the great philosophies of life and those eternal unanswered questions such as who we are, where we are going and, ultimately, what happens next. In the band's own words: "It was the uncertainty and confusion surrounding mortality, the notion that something or nothing awaits us, which felt like an unlimited creative playground for us."
The cinematic opener Yonder is easily the best track the band has ever recorded. Keystone and Hidden Passenger are of a similar quality in a less-epic manner. Again, it's in the vocals that the band has its trump card. Yann Ligner is now probably my favourite singer for this style of music.
Almost a quarter of a century in the making, it has certainly been a long voyage, but Klone have finally produced their masterpiece. Le Grand Voyage is a powerful and compulsive album from start to finish. Neuf titres de magnificence, de grandeur et de somptuosité. Un bon voyage musicale. Bravo!
Quantum Fantay - Yemaya Orisha
Is it possible to get through a review of a Quantum Fantay album without mentioning Ozric Tentacles? No. Pieter van den Broeck ("Peter Mush") and co must be tired of the comparison, although to some extent they are also dining out on the void left by the aforementioned masters of the space-rock genre. I almost wish I could listen to this album without the 30 years of Ozric listening under my belt, it would garner an extra couple of points if I were unaware that it had all been done before.
This is Quantum Fantay's 8th release, and promises much. The artwork is lovely (even the font looks strangely familiar), production is good, there is a nice multilayered construction to the tracks as per the idiom, and one or two catchy melodies that have the potential to crawl into your ear. Keyboards and synth loops dominate, along with some mystical airy flute flourishes from Charles Sla.
The guitar, when it is there, stands nicely in the mix and presents a forthright tone (Tom Tas gives a glimpse of the potential on Riddles Of The Sphinx) but there doesn't seem to be enough of it for my tastes. Some more adventure in the rhythm department wouldn't have gone amiss either, too much time is spent in the same groove.
As a trippy background album this hits the spot, but for foreground listening there is a lack of spice and none of the jaw-dropping moments that made each Ozric Tentacles release jump out at you. Perusing their YouTube channel convinces me that the live experience would be a very good night out, and it seems they are the darlings of the European space-rock scene at the moment. We do need bands like Quantum Fantay to carry the torch for this type of progressive space-rock forward, and they are near the top of their game here, but the bar has been set far too high.
The Skys - Automatic Minds
The Skys claim to be Lithuania's leading rock band and the most recognised band from Lithuania abroad. Upon searching, I could find little information of Lithuanian bands having success outside of their homeland. I did find that The Skys have received recent airplay on BBC Radio 2 in the UK, this being the airing of the track Communication from their most recent release Automatic Minds.
If the list of guest musicians appearing on the album is anything to go by, the band is certainly well respected. Guests include Snowy White and Durga McBroom, who have been part of Pink Floyd's live band, Rob Townsend from the Steve Hackett band, and India Carney who appeared in the US version of The Voice talent show. Add to this, the album being produced by Dom Morley who has produced artists such as Mark Ronson, Adele and Morrissey, along with winning the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year for Amy Winehouse's Back In Black, then you certainly have a wealth of talent involved. All of this has been achieved, it appears, without the support of a record label, as the CD copy I have for review has no mention of a label.
Automatic Minds is The Skys' sixth release, but with the first being in 1997, their output is far from prolific. As you might imagine the production of the album is of the highest quality. The Skys' sound on this album reminds me of a mixture of latter day Pink Floyd and The Alan Parsons Project, with an American progressive feel similar to Styx.
Aside from the numerous guests on the album the core of the band is a four piece consisting of Jonas Čiurlionis on guitar and vocals, Božena Buinicka on keyboards and vocals, bass player Justinas Tamaševičius and drummer Ilja Molodcov. Singing duties are shared between Božena and Jonas. On this latest release, Božena seems to take more of the singing duties than on previous albums.
Album opener, Get Rid Of This, begins with a powerful opening, reminiscent of Arena before we hear the sound of a typewriter punctuated with orchestral stabs, then Božena takes centre stage with a dramatic and passionate delivery. The rich chorus has a very AOR feel to it, then Jonas takes control with his extremely accomplished guitar playing which closes the song.
The title track, Automatic Minds, has a saxophone intro reminiscent of Gerry Rafferty, which reminds the listener what a stunning instrument it is when in talented hands. The verse then enters Talking Heads like territory. The song twists and turns through many moods including an Asian style acoustic guitar passage, before Jonas again demonstrates his talents with a solo which David Gilmour would be proud.
The Guardian Of The Water Tower is reminiscent of early Peter Gabriel, especially with Jonas vocal delivery bearing an uncanny resemblance. An up-tempo number, a dramatic instrumental section begins with great pomposity, with a feel of Pallas before another emotional guitar solo. It ends with a keyboard solo over a wonderful rhythmic backing again bringing comparisons to Pallas.
The Singing Tree has a very Celtic sound, and due to the shared vocals, at times sounds like the type of collaborative ballad Peter Gabriel was so good at writing. The song is also raised well above average by the brief but wonderful sax playing of Justin Klunk.
A driving bass line similar to Chris Squire opens Templar's Last Stand. A dramatic number at times having a King Crimson feel, it features a quirky keyboard passage and a guitar solo which allows Jonas to rock out.
Love Of Life would have been the weakest song on the album if not for Jonas' guitar intro, and the keyboard and sax middle section. These elements of musicianship and composition demonstrate what The Skys are so good at, which is writing damn good songs which keep the listener hooked.
Dry Water is a track full of drama. From the duel vocals that introduce the song, which builds in a suitably epic way with Durga McBroom's vocals over a dramatic Arabic sounding musical background.
The albums epic track, Dead End, allows Božena to demonstrate her piano skills, before being joined by Jonas adding a Mark Knopfler style guitar passage. You then get slapped in the face with a driving rhythm section driving the song along, before a mellow Gabriel like chorus. Jonas again excels himself with yet another stunning guitar solo. He truly is a guitarist who deserves a great deal of recognition.
The final track, Communication, opens with India Carney's vocal reminding me of the rich vocal harmonies of Yes during the 90125 period. This is repeated during the songs chorus. An absolute rocker of a track, it's extremely radio friendly, and if we were back in the '90s, a sure fire hit. But don't think this sounds dated, far from it, The Skys are probably producing the freshest of progressive music I have heard in a long time. Rich choruses, dramatic and intelligent songwriting, The Skys deserve to be not only Lithuania's biggest rock band, on this offering they deserve to be one of the biggest in the world.
When I first listened to Automatic Minds I was not immediately drawn to the music, but after multiple listens and the chance to properly immerse myself in the music, the full brilliance of this recording is now obvious. Should you try this album, which I highly recommend you do, be prepared to invest the time to fully digest what The Skys have delivered. An absolute stunner.
Unfolk - File Under Oblivion
CD 2: Doorways (4:16), Dance In Opposition (7:46), Dance In Opposition: Lost In Translation (7:02), Dance In Opposition: Before It's Too Late (10:40), Modern Art Blues (4:57), Doorways (Anyway Visnadi Remix) (6:02), Doorways (Instrumental Edit) (2:07), Alpha / Black Hole / Omega (7:17)
Unfolk is a musical collective whose new double album File Under Oblivion is to be their final one. The album has a loose thematic link with the first CD being about positive artistic oblivion and the second about negative internet oblivion.
The first CD is the more interesting of the two for me. It moves between instrumentals and songs. So, after a brief spoken word intro the album gets properly going with a pulsing electronic harpsichord sound and floaty keyboards. This is joined by guitar and minimal electronic percussion on Time Capsule 1983: The Shadow. It sounds like it could be from 1983 and the other similar Time Capsule pieces reference the year that features in their titles. The last two of these are ambient, atmospheric instrumentals with Time Capsule 1999: Skybus To Oblivion featuring lovely, breathy flute. The problem with all of them, for me, is that they don't have anything that makes you sit up and take notice.
I find that the songs work better as they force Unfolk to think about more precise melodies. The best songs are Every Note Of Us, which channels the sound of Peter Gabriel's second and third solo albums along with Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden and Guides To Oblivion. The latter features Tim Bowness on lead vocals and he lifts this mid-paced ballad. The instrumental coda is one of Unfolk's strongest.
The first CD here is a little variable quality wise. Good songs mixed with ho-hum instrumentals and for me it falls a bit flat. But I prefer it to the second disc where Unfolk display their dance credentials.
The second disc's dance focus is not for me, it's not a genre I listen to, so I feel underqualified to comment. There is also a lot of repetition in that you get the same song in a number of different mixes. What I will say is that there are a couple of mixes in which I found some enjoyment. Dance In Opposition: Lost In Translation has touches of Tangerine Dream style sequenced synths, and there is a Kraftwerk edge to Dance In Opposition: Before It's Too Late. The only track I like in its entirety is Modern Art Blues which is prepared to change as it goes along rather than adhering to the repetitive, unwavering dance beat.
Across both discs of Unfolk's File Under Oblivion there are a few tracks that set-up a standard for the collective. But then they don't quite reach those heights on other tracks and it ends up feeling like a series of missed opportunities.