Album Reviews

Issue 1999-005

Reviews in this issue:

Ezra - Big Smiley Sun
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Cyclops
Catalogue #:CYCL 058
Year of Release:1999

Tracklist:Under the Bed (5.36), Nobody Loves Us (5.46), Big Smiley Sun (8.04), Waiting For The Day (5.53), Blinding Line (5.03), The Six Degrees of Separation (2.13), Alone (7.09), The Seventh Conjecture (3.36), Ming Thing (11.15).

Ezra was formed in the summer of 1990 in West Glamorgan, Wales. The main band consists of Andy Edwards (vocals & guitar), Gareth Jones (vocals and bass) and Darren Jospeh (drums). Ezra's music sounds more like guitar rock than prog rock; more towards the style of bands like Therapy and Soundgarden. Very powerful and energetic though. Nevertheless, the music of Ezra has also been compared to Rush, Saga and It Bites by their label.

As on their first CD, Rob Reed (Cyan) guests as keyboard player on his album. This extra touch gives the music a more progressive feeling, even though the keyboards play a supporting role most of the time, not counting the amazing Hammond solo on The Seventh Conjecture.
Also, the arrangements of some of the songs are very interesting, like the sudden switch to reggea and the use of Aboriginal horn on Waiting for the Day, the sequence in Alone where the music suddenly changes to a bit of circus clowns music with evil chattering and the Chinese sounds in Ming Thing.
The bass and drums are powerful, the vocals are good and there are lots of great long guitar solo's, some with a slight Gilmour influence.

Besides 7 vocal tracks the album also contains two instrumentals; the quiet bass solo The Six Degrees of Separation (which serves as an introduction to the powerful Alone) and the absolutely stunning The Seventh Conjecture.
The album ends with the 11+ epic Ming Thing, which goes from a quiet acoustic beginning to a roaring guitar solo and returns to acoustic guitar and gentle sounds of the sea hitting the shore.

The 12-page booklet contains lots of handwritten pieces of lyrics, credits and other scribblings and little drawings. The middle pages have 48 little pictures of the band.

The album contains some very good tracks (Under the Bed, Big Smiley Sun, Alone, The Seventh Conjecture, Ming Thing) and some less interesting ones (the dragging Blinding Line, the silly bar scene at the end of Alone).
My main critisism about this CD has to do with the bad mixing on some tracks. In some tracks the guitar or vocals are so far in the background that they can hardly be heard. With better mixing and some more keyboards the sound would really improve.
If your taste is a bit broader than just 'pure prog rock' (if ever there was such a thing) this might be an album to check out.

Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.

Ed Sander

Motoi Sakuraba - Force of Light

Country of Origin:Japan
Record Label:Musea
Catalogue #:FGBG 4266.AR
Year of Release:1998
Info:Musea Homepage

Tracklist:Persistance of Hope (8:00), Force: to Arms! (5:12), A Light to Lead The Way (5:48), Strive against the Dark (1:39), Bulzome Rising (4:41), Traveler's Respite (5:51), Tides of History (5:27), Force on the Move (4:32), Sancity (5:18), The Lever to Move the World (5:24).

Force of Light is the third solo album of former Dij` vu keyboard player Motoi Sakuraba (a review of Dij` vu is also available on these pages). It is intended as a soundtrack for a computer game and therefore completely instrumental and bombastic. Well, nowadays computers are pretty advanced, and so is this soundtrack. In fact, if it wasn't explicitely mentioned on the CD, one probably wouln't notice. On the other hand, the whole CD is mechanical and at times maniacal (i.e. too many notes in a bar and really bombastic), as is the case with a lot of Japanese prog- music.
No doubt that Motoi is a gifted composer techically, but the music often lacks emotion. This is illustrated nicely by the sleeve notes, in which Motoi talks about his music, mainly in technical terms. As an example I will quote him on the first track, Persistence of Hope: "(?) The middle, almost classical section which starts with a diminished scale is out together with a 5/8+5/8,(1/8+10/16+3/8)+ (1/8+10/16+3/8)(1/8+7/16+5/8)x2,(1/8+10/16+6/8) structure but when you listen to it, it really doesn't come across that complex (?)". In other words, one is listening to a very technically advanced album, but one can't hear it?
At times, he does touch on something more than technique, but that is over as soon as it begins, for instance the wailing guitar in the fifth track, Bulzome Rising is very nice, but only last for a couple of seconds. Tides of History (track 7) is the highlight of the album to me. Here, he finally finds some calm with a flute that carries the melody (a bit like the organ part of Nights in White Satin).

In conclusion: the album made me nervous, but I know people who like this kind of music. Therefore, I recommend it to anybody who likes Ars Nova and Dij` vu, for example. Technically, it is briliant. Musically, it is bombastic yet bare. What he needs to learn is that more is not neccesarily better. Focus more on melody and less on technique.

Distributed by Musea Records

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

Remco Schoenmakers

Michael Sobygge - Melodic Meltdown
Country of Origin:Denmark
Record Label:MSP-Music
Catalogue #:BMCD 972
Year of Release:1997

Tracklist: Prelude (1:29), Madness (3:39), Babylon (5:00), Daydreaming(5:00), Rainbows (As Time Slips By) (4:17), With Love (3:14), Andante (2:38), Stonehenge(5:13), The Road Home, pt. 1 (3:04), The Two Friends (3:09), The Road Home, pt.2 (3:11), Zenta (Goodbye to a Friend) (2:28).

A nice home production, no more, no less. Undoubtly, his friends and mom are proud of him, but this home-baked CD will not appeal to the general prog audience. Basically, it is 12 guitar pieces, some almost classical, some heavily distorted. Guitar, bass and drums. No vocals, no keyboards.
A cool touch: the inevitable rain at the start of a ballad (in this case the Rainbow track) was recorded live (like I said, no synths used?)!
The net result is that you get the impression that you are listening to scetches, the pieces are not finished yet. In a sense, this album is the opposite of the Force of Light album (see elsewhere on this review): emotional melody lines, especially in the "classical" parts (Zenta, for his dog that died, is a very emotial piece), but no technical back-up to complete the circle.

The booklet is nicely done, and according to the pictures he and his friends seem a sympathetic lot. If you're into guitar playing and like to listen to others to get some ideas, maybe give it a try.

Distributed by MSP-Music

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

Remco Schoenmakers

Michael Sobygge - No Words Needed
Country of Origin:Denmark
Record Label:MSP Music
Catalogue #:BMCD 981
Year of Release:1998

Tracklist:Awakening (4.43), Point of No Return (4.12), Illusions (4.05), Spanish Interlude (3.55), Song of Passion (7.33), Hey Joe (1.13), Blessed Among Silent Sons (2.57), Crossroads (2.19), I Don't Know Why? (4.50), The Witch and The Warlock (5.35), Cadenza (2.46).

This Suite in 11 Parts is a typical guitarist solo album. In 44 minutes and 11 tracks Michael takes the listener through a wide range of styles ranging from Spanish acoustics to heavy metal to blues. Michael plays guitars, bass and piano (the latter especially on the nice intro to Song of Passion) while Joe Clancy accompanies him on drums (he even get's his own solo in Hey Joe). Influences - or should I say similarities ? - seem to be as diverse as Metallica to Steve Howe.

Although the album certainly has its moments and Michael is a good guitarist, as a whole this is not really my cup of tea. The music is fine and there's indeed a very diverse range of styles, but besides the guitar and occassional piano there's not much happening. Sometimes it feels to much like the stereotype 'heavy metal guitar player showing-off' album. If some of the music would be incorporated in a full-band album it would probably work much better.

The four page booklet features a weird cover drawing of a mutant holding an apple, some credits and three pictures of the two musicians.

Conclusion: out 5.5 of 10. Only interesting if you're really into instrumental guitarist solo albums.

Ed Sander

Die A Tribe - Albatross

Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Contribed Records
Catalogue #:None
Year of Release:1997

Tracklist:The Sound Scary (1:38), Choke (4:11), Ostrish (4:08), Foreshadow (5:27), Neurotic Heart (5:24), Huck Friend (4:54), Tribal Spirit (6:52), We don't see (6:46), Thicker (4:51), Gravity (3:26), Mighty Simba (5:57), Fear (5:11), Love's Majestic Promise (4:29).

Ehhh, well, is this prog, or underground or what? I don't know.

It isn't bad, it is very American, but it's not prog as we know it. It is funky and groovy. But all the tracks have more or less the same the feel. Same guitar sound, same vocals. Music to play in the car on a sunny day when you have a long drive. The female vocalist has quality, no doubt, but her voice isn't very powerful.
Neurotic Heart is the best song on the album, with nice vocal lines and some variations and breaks. If they had just used some different guitar sounds, things would have improved a lot already. I mean, they obviously have plenty of good musical ideas, but not the instruments to work them out. Buy a keyboard!

The cover is cool.

Distributed by Contribed Music

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

Remco Schoenmakers

Point of Ares - The Sorrows of Young Apollo
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Arula
Catalogue #:AR-99012
Year of Release:1999

Tracklist:The Sorrow of Young Apollo (3.05), Hypatia (8.00), Dionysus (5.25), Pygmalion (6.10), Apollo in Picardy (3.38), Leucothoe (9.07), Miranda (4.49), Cassandra (5.54), Cyparissus (5.42), Asphodel (3.40).

Point of Ares was formed in June 1993 and after playing classic rock covers for a while they decided to start writing own material in September 1995. In 1997 they released their first album, Enemy Glory, which is now followed by their second effort, The Sorrows of Young Apollo.

On this record the original 3 piece band has been reduced to the duo Karen and Bill Michalson. This intellectual bunch now work their Dionysian/Apollonian believes into a concept album full of dark atmospheres.

Karen must be one of the worst female vocalists I've heard in years. Listening to her singing - actually it is more 'mumbling' and 'speaking' most of the time - is sheer torture. The rest of the music isn't much better either. Endlessly repeated themes, weak guitar solos, bad timings, bad flowing lyrics, cheesy drum computers and a horrible production. Actually, I cannot find a single good thing about this album ! It's got 'amateurs' written all over it.

If you dare to listen to it, there's a couple of soundclips on their homepage.

Conclusion: 3 out of 10, avoid like the plague !

Ed Sander

Jeremy- Salt The Planet

Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Moonchild Records
Catalogue #:MC30427
Year of Release:1999
A synth album again. We have reviewed a couple of them, and most didn't appeal to us. This one may be different. Jeremy is an American and in his sleeve notes he thanks everybody, from Julio Iglesias to David Gilmour to IQ to the Holy Ghost.

The first track Jungle (5:50) is based on an almost Floyd-like chord sequence. I was pleasently surprised when I heard this song, a combination between Floyd and Vangelis. The same is true for the next song Waterfall (5:17), in which the rhythmic section is formed by reversed cymbals and reversed bass, so that you get an "underwater" sound. When the third track Whirlwind (4:50) started, I got a bit annoyed: the same type of chords, rhythmics and DX-7 synth melody on top of it all.
Heartbeat (5:47) (you've guessed right) : Floyd-like chords, New Age beat + DX-7 synth melody on top. Salt the Planet (11:07) starts a bit more daring, with a sharper synth sound, some sound effects by turning knobs on an analogue synth (or the digital equivalent). The middle section features a different melody, more treatening. Later on, the same chords and synth as Camel's Spirit of the Water are used, in a different arrangement, though, building to a climax with a snare drum under it.
Earthquake (7.37) opens with disturbing sounds, moving into a darker theme, with a heavy beat. Again, the top melody is played by what sounds like a DX-7. This gets annoying after a while. Maybe he realized that as well, since later the top is played by electric guitar. But the song is interesting, not your average New Age. Lightyears (11:07) starts very Vangelis-like, complete with the typical whoosh-sounds from left to right ear. Only after 9 minutes, something changes and an electrical guitar sets in, to end the album.

Some tracks are good, some parts of tracks are excellent, but the general impression is that Jeremy relies on only a couple of tricks (which he masters well, I must admit), making the album too much of the same. Too bad, since I really thought I was going to like it after the first track! But if the same good things happen over and over, it spoils the fun.

Distributed by Moonchild

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Remco Schoenmakers

Neil Sadler - Theory of Forms

Country of Origin:USA/UK
Record Label:Bleeding Arts
Catalogue #:BA10012
Year of Release:1999

Neil Sadler is probably not well known to most progressive rock fans. Although very progressive in nature, his music lies somewhere between classical and jazz. As a classical percussionist and keyboard player, he has worked with members of the the London Philharmonic, European chamber orchestras, and made appearances at various European jazz festivals.

Neil, born in England, moved to LA to work with numerous American artists on this, his debut instrumental album. Along with Sadler on keyboards and percussion, the band features Mike Keneally (guitar) who has worked with both Steve Vai and Frank Zappa, Bryan Beller (bass), along with a slew of Frank Zappa horn alumni - Walt Fowler (trumpet, flugelhorn), Albert Wing (tenor sax), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Kurt McGettrick (tenor sax), plus Steve Fowler (alto sax) and Joel Woods (bass). The level of musicianship appearing on this album is second to none, easily out-doing most progressive bands. However, musicianship alone does not make the perfect album.

The CD bursts into life with "Jazz Bastards", a very lively track, which immediately establishes the ground for what is to come with unusual melodic scales, and complex patterns. Perhaps surprisingly, the drumming almost entirely straight 4/4, albeit decorated with odd beats here and there within a conventional rock-style drum framework. After a few minutes, psychotic trumpet and sax solos burst in over a more conventional jazz rhythm, making a blatant right-angle change in direction, followed by some extremely expressive and experimental lead guitar work (not surprisingly, reminiscent of some of Steve Vai's work). Throughout the song, various atonal motifs keep reappearing, which go some way to helping maintain a sense of continuity through the mayhem of changes.

Track 2, "DNA for beginners", starts with some rather ominous orchestral string parts, percussion and gongs, which would probably work very well as film music. This kind of style is probably much more familiar to progressive rock fans, with its mysterious textures and atmospheric feel. Before long, a very Fripp-like lead guitar comes in with some very unusual synthy percussion. The overall sound is a lot like much of Zappa's work with synth percussion and strings. Later on in the track, a more Eastern feel emerges, with tablas and splashes (perhaps a faint Trilok Girtu influence?) and far-Eastern guitar scales. At over nine minutes of mostly soloing, with very little overall structure or development, it's hard not to make accusations of muso-pretentiousness, but some hard concentration on what's going on really does pay off, if you have the stamina!

The next track, "Suehiro", is virtually a pop song by comparison, at four and a half minutes, with a definite upbeat feel. No rest from the atonal scales however. Suehiro is mostly a guitar/sax workout, again mostly over surprisingly straight 4/4 drum pattern. The song is mostly led by brass harmonies and unison parts, along the same lines as some of the material from Andy Sheppard's electric band.

The twelve and a half minute title track, "Theory of forms" comes next, opening with more jazzy unison melodies. Definitely no traces of prog here, but nonetheless very progressive to the open mind. Some lovely tension-building atmospheres with sound effects follow, taking the pace down a notch, with the distant feel of something bigger approaching. Then, after several minutes of interesting layered sounds, aggressive piano-like percussion patterns come in, not unlike some Earthworks patterns, but with more power and aggression. What begins as a nice track, building up with direction, then moves on into minutes of seemingly endless improvised soloing, in different forms. Great for Zappa fans, but perhaps a little too much for more mainstream prog fans.

"Sid Sings" comes next, opening with a muted trumpet, piano and synth strings. After a relaxed start, and a brief exploration into piano/percussion unison lines, the pace chances with an upbeat jazz rhythm and walking basslines from Joel Woods. Plenty of interesting ideas packed into under six minutes in this song ensures little excuse for distraction!!! Probably one of the more accessible tracks on the album.

Next up is "RunRim", featuring very synthetic but effective synth strings and some more quiet Fripp-like guitar. Many of the tracks on the album throb along over an undercurrent of unusual percussion, and this one is no exception, with some beautifully indescribeable sounds. A fairly dark, moody track, with jazz tendencies.

The last track, "wFb" could be an Andy Sheppard track, very sax-led, with more brass harmonies and unison parts. The drums on this track are extremely mechanical, almost to the point of sounding like a very dull drum machine. However, they do keep the momentum going, with various layers of melodies weaving about on top.

All in all, a superly technical and experimental album, with some very interesting ideas, particularly in the percussion department. However, where there are conventional "drum" parts, they tend to be very standard, and not particularly innovative, which is surprising considering the high level of percussive experimentation elsewhere on the album. Lots of jazzy sax playing, and impressive soloing, though perhaps a little too much for many prog fans. The lead guitar work of Mike Keneally ensures that the overall sound doesn't stray too far into the jazz world, with some very extreme and unusual sounds and solos. Fans of Frank Zappa, Earthworks, or Andy Sheppard will probably love it, but I think it would only appeal to the more open-minded or jazz-friendly prog fans.

Overall: 7/10

Neil Durant

Album Reviews