Reviews in this issue:
Porcupine Tree - Lightbulb Sun
Barely one year after the release of his previous album Stupid Dream, working with Fish on Raingods with Zippos and Marillion and on marillion.com and several tours with his own band, Steve Wilson and company are back with a brand new album.
Remco: I am a newbie with respect to Porcupine Tree. Although I have heard some work before, I do not
yet own a copy of any of their albums, and am therefore relatively unbiased with respect to their
previous work. So look at Ed's review for a more knowledgeble account relating their ouvre. If you
are, however, like me curious about this band that now has put itself on the brink of becoming one
of the top players in contemporary progressive rock, read on!
Intrigued as I always was by the titles of their previous releases, Lightbulb Sun didn't really have the ring of a title like Stupid Dream. However, the music is intriguing, bestly described as "intense", covering the complete spectrum of meanings that this word can have. I have reviewed bands like Pineapple Thief whose work is comparable with Porcupine Dream, or Fish' Plague of Ghosts, which I all quite enjoyed, so I already had the feeling I would enjoy this album. And I did.
Remco: The title track Lightbulb Sun, about when you're young and schoolsick, almost makes you taste the feeling of being down. This track is quite varied, with even some heavy guitar work and in this part it almost edges to Nirvana with respect to chord sequence. On the other hand, the more acoustic parts are quite subtle.
How is Your Life Today ?
Remco: How Is Your Life Today? is a Beatlesque interlude, with only some piano chords and vocals thrown through various trick-boxes. It give the impression of some of the Syd Barrett compositions, or even a track sometimes used in the German police series Derrick....
Four Chords That Made a Million
Remco: More rocky, and easier to digest is Four Chords That Made a Million, which probably doesn't consists of more than four chords and a four quarter beat....uptempo for a change!
Remco: Shesmovedon is a depri song, progressive New Wave. It is funny the way that the spaces are deleted in the title, since this exactly describes the way it is sung. Heavy on the wah-wah guitar and vocal distortions, though. The guitar solo on the end edges towards Floyd. Good track.
Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled
The track consists of two parts. The first part (nearly 2 minutes long) called Winding Shot (Summer 1981) is a nice melodic acoustic piece with Banjo and acoustic guitar in the leading role and a fine vocal section.
The second part, Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled is an dreamy instrumental with a spoken dialogue about a 'mission from distant space'. Great stuff !
Remco: This trakc opens like Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead Or Alive (the guitar part that is). The first part of the song is not too interesting, but the instrumental second part is truely beautiful. A very atmospheric piece of work, slowly building up to a climax, where all the instruments truely collaborate to achieve this.
The Rest Will Flow
Remco: The Rest Will Flow, including a string quartet, is a mini-balad, vaguely U2-ish, but nothing spectacular.
The middle piece of the song is one of those typical 'Porcupine Tree kick ass' parts with lots of heavy riffs, breaks and distorted guitar frenzies. The end returns to the mood of the opening and is more mysterious. If you liked Tinto Brass, you'll like this one too ! Marvellous, another favourite.
Remco: Hatesong is heavier, edging towards The Cure in its creeping feeling, the cropped up anger in it. A long and heavy composition with lots of deep guitar beating drags us though this hate. The title does really respresent the feeling of the music here!
Where We Would Be
Remco: Where Would We Be features one of the most dissonant guitars I have heard in ages! My goodness, this is on the verge of being out of tune... the rest is Beatlesque.
Russia On Ice
After about 7 minutes the song moves into an instrumental section that starts with a bass riff that is soon accompanied by a heavy guitar riff. After a section with some groovy wah-wah guitar all hell breaks lose with a serious bit of headbanging and Chris Maitland going berserk on the drums, while Richard Barbieri produces some more spooky noises from his synths. The track ends with a tranquile section with church bells ringing in the distance. One of the highlights of the album !
Remco: Porcupine Tree seem on their best when being able to extend and expand their compositions. Russia On Ice is a perfect example of that thesis. With over 13 minutes, the repeating theme in the bass line is used throughout the song, with almost jazzy atmospheric organ over it. As a result a very melodic track comes forward, reminding of Marillion with Hogarth. The first instrumental section, with the crying guitar solo, however, is rather Floydian. After about 8 minutes, a very rhythmic part starts, like the "Diggin' deep in the darkness" part of Fish' Plague of Ghosts, but much heavier. This is entering the realm of the likes of Soundgarden!
Feel So Low
Remco: A mildy psychedelic section leads us into the final track Feel So Low, whose guitar intro reminded me somewhat of Mothers of the Disappeared by U2. An intense and beautiful sad song about somebody you love who just doesn't contact you.
One of the great things about this album is the use of unconventional instruments like Banjo, Clavinet, Harp, Violin & Cello (on 3 tracks !) and Guimbri. Don't worry, besides this the albums also features lots of Piano, Hammond Organ and Mellotron.
Combined with even more close harmony vocals (by Steve and drummer Chris) than on the previous album and a more song oriented approach in most of the songs, this new album again shows the progress in the music of Porcupine Tree. It took me a while to get used to the direction on Stupid Dream, but after a while I really liked it a lot. The sound of the new album is at times more 'cheerfull' than on Signify and Stupid Dream, but in other songs (especially Hatesong and Russia on Ice) it's just as dark. On these two songs some of the band members participated in the writing process, while all of the other songs were composed by Wilson. The lyrics are very introvert and all printed on the sturdy paper of the 18-page booklet, which also features atmospheric photography.
Compared to earlier Porcupine Tree albums, this album does not have any instrumental tracks. Nevertheless, tracks like Hatesong, Last Chance ... and Russia on Ice feature lengthy instrumental sections.
All in all another splendid release by Porcupine Tree. More diverse in moods than the previous one and probably more accessible as well. If you liked Stupid Dream, get this one now ! If you think Porcupine Tree started going down the hill with the song oriented approach, than this one is not for you. For me personally, this one is definitely going to be one of my favourites of the year.
Remco: An album that takes a while to get used to, it needs to get the chance to stick in your mind.
But as soon as it does, you can play it as often as you like without getting tired of it. On
the other hand, the whole atmosphere on the album is quite depressed and with spring coming up, it
may not be the perfect time to sit back and enjoy this stuff.... However, if you like modern prog,
like good solid compositions and lyrics that for a change don't keep ratteling on about gnomes 'n stuff,
but deal with one of the deepest human emotions, being abandoned (since that seems to be the leading
lyrical theme of the album), get it as soon as possible!
By the way, did you notice I did not have any critisism on vocals, instrumentalists or whatever (rather unusual ;-). That's because I couldn't think of any, they all do a perfect job for the type of music they create together.
Pageant - Abysmal Masquerade
Abysmal Masquerade is a Musea Records re-release of the 1987 album by the Japanese symphonic rock band Pageant. A follow-up to their first record La Mosaique De La Reverie, this album is a collection of live tracks, alternate versions of earlier songs and some new tracks. The only other albums by Pageant appear to be Kamen No Egao (1987), a collection of EPs, and The Pay For Dreamer's Sin (1989).
Although this is a rerelease there is a lot to be said about this admittedly very good album. While publisher Musea Records compares Pageant's music to Genesis and Yes, it also evokes thoughts of early eighties Rush. Classically trained female singer Hiroko Nagai has an impressive voice, as I could have sworn that there were two vocalists included on some tracks. As she is the only one mentioned, it is best to assume that I'm mistaken. Her perfomance likely has the most appeal for those who like Kate Bush or Tori Amos, which is underlined by the (partial ?) inclusion of the Kate Bush track James and the Cold Gun in the live perfomance of track 6, Kodama.
The album starts off on a high note with the catching L'Enfer Des Poupees. The 'poppy' Manatsu No Yoru No Yume has such instant appeal that I reckon it could easily score as a hit in any music list even today. This is one of the tracks in which vocalist Nagai shows her skill with high and lower vocal lines and she even wraps it up with a very comical cat like snarl!
Vexation is a very atmospheric track, with added quality from acoustic guitar and the
flute playing by Kazuhiro Miyatake, who worked with Nagai under his artist's name Mr. Sirius.
Halfway through, this track speeds up as keyboards and drums pick up the pace and electric
guitar joins in. Another good vocal perfomance.
The first live track, Naraku No Butoukai explores several melody lines through dynamic rhythm changes and features a jazzy piano part. More subtle jazz rock defines the next track, the also live performed Kamen No Egao.
The third and last live track Kodama packs more of a wallop than the other two, though it slows somewhat for its already mentioned inclusion of James and the Cold Gun, in its original English. The increase of dynamics is maintained in the studio version of Naraku No Butoukai, which is far more powerful than its live rendition on track 4, with most notably the harsher guitars. The 'flute version' of Kamen No Egao stays far closer to the above noted live version, but the instrument featured here is probably a clarinet as oppossed to the flute on track 3, conjuring up visions of a Kenny G guest perfomance.
The last song, Kumo No Yakata, has a very relaxed first half in which Nagai again shows her skill, both vocally and on keyboard, partially supported by drums, while in the last half guitar and bass suddenly create a whole new atmosphere, that made me recall some of Pink Floyd's darker material, with Nagai shifting to rhythmic chanting as only the keyboards retain the lighter edge of the earlier part. A real knock-out and perfect for closing this album.
My first impression was that this album could perhaps be better labelled something like progressive pop rather than progressive rock. If not for my total lack of knowledge of the Japanese language, I would have been happily singing along with the lyrics of some tracks. On closer examination I would conclude that this would do injustice to these compositions. Not all of these songs are admittedly that complex by progressive standards, but Vexation, Naraku No Butoukai and Kumo No Yakata stand out in this respect. The keyboards and some of the vocal melodies give this album its easily identifiable eighties sound, while some parts on piano could be identified as neo-classical or fusion. Even though she doesn't seem to be one of the founding members of the band, Hiroko Nagai gives this ensemble its identity with her vocal perfomance and her handling of keyboards and piano.
It is a pity that two songs appear on the album in two versions. I'd rather have seen the band include two alternate titles instead. Overall a very accessible album, finely arranged and mixed, that easily conquered my early qualms concerning the language barrier. It will stand out most as my first, and belated, taste of eighties Japanese progresive music.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
JADE - Jazz Afro Design Electric
Well, it isn't as bad as the title promises. But the mixture of styles and the often very freestyle jazz makes it hard to denote this as prog-rock.
This music isn't my thing. Jazzy, heavely based on drums and bass, it just murmurs through your speakers. Nothing much going on most of the time, ideal music to play while giving a dinner party. And that's not what my style is.
Seriously, what is good and what is not. In terms of jazz, they do a boring job, not much
special going on. In terms of prog, they have some more interesting moments. Sometimes, like in
Acid Halloween it almost sounds like more modern prog (the more hypnotic variety, like
Musea themselves describe the music as free-style jazz, recalling at times bands like Magma. Hmmmm, free-style jazz, OK, some parts, but Magma was more structured in that respect. The more melodic pieces like Tarabella At Thames are nice, reminding me of some of the other French prog/jazz bands I reviewed for DPRP (for instance Spheroe), and the more rocky tunes like Budaï are quite OK too, sounding a bit like ancient Floyd (Saucerful-era).
In general: the progrock parts are worth a 6, the rest a 4, not because I don't like jazz, but because the jazzy parts are not very original.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Tempus Fugit - The Dawn After The Storm
Tracklist:Daydream (8:30), The Dawn After The Storm (8:53), Never (6:07), Tocando Você (6:54), The Fortress (5:18), Preludio de Sevilla (2:07), The Sight (4:45), O Dom de Voar (6:38), Discover (7:52)
Good quality Brasilian keyboard dominated - Camel style - mostly instrumental progressive Rock. Solid production and good playing. But nothing really spectacular in my opinion.
The opening track Daydream is definitely Camelesque, a blend between modern and seventies Camel. Good solid playing, both on the guitar and on the keyboards. A bit of a Nolan-feeling is added due to the powerful drive the song has. The keyboards throughout the album are the original analoge synths of back-then, including mini-Moog. Excellent track.
Keyboards are dominantly present on the whole album since the keyboard player is the main composer. This can be well heard in the next track The Dawn After The Storm, with a New-Age style opening, featuring some ABBA-style main melody, like Vangalis on a bad day...not too succesfull compared to the opening track if you ask me. No, this is just too melodic for me. Fortunately the second section is more powerful with some more biting keys and guitar and a return to the good ol' desert animal.
Never features vocals, mature, and they too sound a bit like Latimer's. In this track they almost capture the atmosphere of the 70's Camel, that floating feeling you get from Camel, with the sharp electric guitar over dreamlike melodies and a very varied rhythm, but with you as a listener hardly noticing the changes....
A Steve Howe -like acoustic guitar track follows (as in: the quiet tracks of the man's solo work), even featuring some mandolin. This is followed by a more piercing electric guitar in a rhythm now well known from Rajaz.
OK, get the picture now? Just guess how the next track sounds? Preludio is a skilfully played Spanish guitar piece. Always makes me jealous to hear somebody play stuff like that while I'm still searching for the E-chord ;-). Now let's skip the rest of the songs - they can be described just like the other ones - and go to the conclusion.
Good solid melodies, heavily based on above mentioned group. So why a grade below the "DPRP Recommended" tag? Because I heard it all before, and because the album is too quiet. No real climax or something of the sort. Too bad, since with one or two uptempo tracks and a bit more variation in style I would have definitely added the extra half to gain that wanted tag. However, die-hard Camel fans for sure should try to obtain this album, they will get a lot of pleasure from it. The more heavy proggers will fall asleep.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Siren Circus - Solid Poems On A Ghost Of A Subject
There's still a lot for me to learn. Not very long ago I was taught about RIO - Rock In
Opposition. I didn't know about the definition, and because of my review of Belgian / American
band Present's latest album No. 6, in which I said the music they played was new to me,
I received several e-mail messages from people telling me more about Present and RIO. I realized
that the most popular forms of progressive rock, which are covered here on DPRP well I think,
have more related musical styles than I thought, and that people visiting DPRP are also
interesting in reading about it, while the DPRP team has not paid any attention to it at all. We
have to broaden our horizon!
Carbon 7 is a Belgian record label that is very good at broadening one's horizon. After my review of Present's No. 6, I am going to tell you about a band called Hardscore in a later issue, but now it's Siren Circus.
New Music is what this music is called, apparently. My theoretical knowledge about this is non-existent, so please let me know if I am wrong here, but the main characteristic of this kind of music is the freedom of composition. No obvious time signatures, weird and complex melody lines or hardly any at all. It's a form of art rather than something you could describe as good or bad music. Siren Circus comprises of two British sisters, Cathryn and Lucie Robson. The booklet states the songs are "composed, interpreted and performed" by them alone, with only two others guesting on vocals. Before I heard the album, I understood the album was very vocal-oriented, more like poems. The title helped. Reading the lyrics, too. The music is mainly piano, synthesizers, and several sorts of percussion. All in service of the lyrics and the songs on the whole.
The vocals are very diverse. The sisters are almost reciting the lyrics, or poems, using their
trained voices to produce weird melody line, ranging from sweet children's voices, to angry
women's cries, covering screams not unlike Kate Bush, and even higher...
Some of the compositions sound like they're part of a cabaret performance. The lyrics, however, are not humouristic but very melancholic instead. Most of the songs sound very melancholic, by the way. Some are sweeter but with lyrics to give you shivers, and others almost menacingly thundering. Weird, definitely weird. The songs are all small pieces of art, not something you put on just to have some music on. You have to give this the same kind of attention as when looking at a painting, for example.
At times, I have to think of Peter Hammill. I guess he was one of the first to put his wonderful
poems to music while they seem so unsuitable for doing so.
And by saying this, I have at last found a reference and recommendation as well: if you like Hammill, try this! As you have probably noticed, I find it very hard to describe this music. It's definitely not for the average listener's ear. But if you're looking for something to broaden your musical horizon - start here.
For myself, I am still having some problems with New Music. I have to get used to it, hear more about it. The concluding mark is based on what I think now and probably would have been different if I knew more about it. But I am learning...
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Peter Banks - Can I Play You Something?
I'm usually quite fond of CDs with recordings from some artist's dark and mysterious past. I am not a great fan of Peter Banks, only because I don't know very much more about the man than that he was the first Yes guitarist. I did look forward to hearing this CD though, sub-titled "The Pre-Yes Years, Recordings From 1964 - 1968", and stating "featuring Mabel Greer's Toyshop and Syn and Yes". Well, you can forget about Yes - there's no recording of this band to be found on the CD, and the first real song (after two short sound samples) was recorded in 1980. But what the heck...
The songs on this compilation are, of course, old recordings, and it shows. Sound quality varies
a lot, sometimes even within songs. But you know that when you're buying a CD like this.
The collector in me cries out. The songs are not in chronological order! And worst of all, I am not convinced, no attempt is made to convince me that this CD contains the complete recording sessions of Syn marks II and III and Mabel Greer's Toyshop. Pity - a missed chance here.
This, however, does not account for the two tracks by Devil's Disciples: tracks 6 and 11, which are the only studio recordings the band ever did. Sweet pop, slightly dreaming on You Better Move On and more rhythm and blues like The Who on For Your Love. Very Sixties' pop, but for 1964 / 1965 a spark of psychedelics.
Syn with Banks (and Chris Squire on bass, by the way) lived from mid 1967 to February 1968.
Yep, the psychedelic years! Look at that title: 14 Hour Technicolour Dream! Post Sgt.
Pepper's, but again The Who influences as well. Less sweet, fortunately. Young and naive,
but nice. The attempt is made to make a hit single, resulting in a silly pop song for side A
(track 19) and a B-side on which the band could do whatever they liked. Not very distinctive
music for those days, with more The Who influences, but also some of The Animals.
Tracks 12 and 13 are more psychedelic. A bit of early Pink Floyd, only more pop and less original. Flowerman appears to be the title track of one of two "rock operas" Syn did. "What?! Where are those?!", the collector cries...
Mabel Greer's Toyshop also has Chris Squire on bass. The song you all know, of course, is Beyond And Before (tracks 7 and 8), which is on the first Yes LP. Electric Funeral (tracks 15 and 16) also contain elements we later hear in early Yes, especially the ending section of the Radio Fun Mix of this song. But it's all on the safe side, less experimental than on the first Yes albums. I guess Images Of You And Me is from the same radio session as the second Electric Funeral version. Nice wah-wah guitar (Hendrix!), but the song itself is too simple. OK, nice ending with two guitars.
Track 18 has Chris Squire on lead vocals. A very nice song indeed, and probably one of the
reasons Yes collectors should have this CD. The roots of what was to come.
The remaining titles are Banks solo or Peter Bands Band. Musically they might fit on this compilation, but regarding the idea of it, out of place. I'm usually quite fond of CDs like this, but I think it should have looked less like a collection of randomly chosen tracks from the man's past. The material is interesting at best, but a better selection of tracks would make up a lot more for the disappointing quality.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.
Aghora - Aghora
There's that area somewhere the cores of prog and metal, that more and more bands are exploring.
Aghora is one of those bands. A description of "progressive metal" is far from clear,
or simply applies to a lot of bands, so I'll try and describe the music in other words. Having
two guitarists, you can imagine this band to have a solid foundation for the songs. Heavily
distorted riffs provide the first layer to most of the songs. However, they're not as heavy,
not as metal as I would have expected from two guitarists. It's not very often that I hear the
two guitarists separately and play different parts - almost only when soloing. And Santiago
Dobles, who wrote most of the music, is good at that. He obviously is a Steve Vai fan. He can
play fast, but doesn't show off his technical abilities on an irritating level. He's still
paying attention to melodies and whether his playing fits the music, which, as I said before,
is not too heavy.
Maybe it's the kind of music or maybe it's the musicians, but after a couple of songs, some solos sound like I've heard them do in previous songs. This also applies to the distorted riffs - they're so distorted that I hardly hear any differences between the main riffs of different songs.
Drummer Sean Reinert, who co-wrote Jivatma, is the one who makes you realize the music
is in some weird time signatures at times. I didn't hear this until I paid more attention to
the drumming, instead of the music on the whole. Maybe Reinert's playing has suffered from the
otherwise very good mix and production: his drumming sounds like he's only got three drums and
two cymbals. There's very little variety. In a song like Existence, he lets you know he
can hit them hard, but then the limited drum sound becomes even more clear, which doesn't do
the song any good. It's predominating the sound in this song, and thus my opinion of it.
And something that accounts for too many hard rock and metal drummers is that there is hardly any difference between quiet and heavy pieces. Drums are hit with roughly the same force. But even a drummer like Metallica's doesn't seem to have the knowledge of how to be a gentle drummer during softer passages, like good blues and jazz drummers do. Maybe it's got something to do with the musical background - when taught how to be a metal drummer, the blues origins of the music are skipped? But now I am giving an opinion on something in general; I'll return to describing Aghora's music.
It took a couple of songs before I heard the bass properly. Sean Malone's playing is very nice, and I would have liked to hear more of that in the mix. He's playing more of a supportive role to the rest of the music, and he's almost adding more melody to the more metal-based riffs.
Danishta Rivero's words are mainly written to be sung in the quieter sections. She has a clear,
very un-metal voice. In the first couple of songs I didn't think her voice fitted the band's
sound very much. But later on I think I got used to the combination. When hearing the album
again and again, I think it's got more to do with the compositions. The lyrics lack connection
with the music, like rhythm and rhyme. It's almost like she's singing without any reference to
the music, like she's telling her own story. Well, it's not like that all the time, but I prefer
lyrics to be part of the whole song, like they do in Frames, than live a life of their
own, as in the first two songs or Mind's Reality.
Although she tries to give some mysterious feeling to the songs during some verses, her voice is too clear and sweet to do so. Aghora won't be like The Gathering or Within Temptation, although I must say there are more differences between Aghora and those bands, especially the lack of bombastic power keyboards in Aghora's sound.
The progressiveness that brings Aghora to these DPRP CD Review pages lies in the rhythmic
alternations, the strangeness, the references to Vai (guitar solos), The Gathering (metal with
clear, almost mystic singing; please note The Gathering are creating a darker atmosphere), and
songs like Kali Yuga and Jivatma. The piano in Kali Yuga gives the music a
bit of warmth other songs could have used as well, and in the heavy parts of this songs, the
piano is brilliant! It gives the sound more body and variation. I would like the band to
consider expanding the line-up with a keyboard player... The vocals are more mysterious than in
other songs, and creates a darker atmosphere. Especially the first couple of songs remain cold;
it's too technical, too thought-of. Something you see with more American bands than bands from
any other country. And ha - bass more up front! Makes me think of Myung... great job! By far the
best song on the album. Best music, best atmosphere, best performance as a real band, as a
Jivatma is like a jam session. No unnecessary or drastic time signature changes, but an instrumental progressing slowly, with percussion, then keyboards, then bass, and only then the guitar begins to speak. Slowly. Almost jazz, this. It is a bit strange though, to hear this song on an album like this. But if the band can do this, I hope to hear more of it!
All in all, still a very nice debut album. (Well, I assume it's a debut.) I really hope the second half of the CD is representative of where the band is heading, and that the music and vocal lines will become more of a unit. And if more attention is paid to the production of the drums, and Vai and other references will become mere influences, a next album might become very popular.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.