Album Reviews

Issue 2000-007

Reviews in this issue:

Jadis - Understand
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Jadismusic
Catalogue #:JAD 004
Year of Release:2000
Info:Jadis Homepage
Tracklist: Where in the World (5:53), Is This Real? (6:54), Alive Inside (4:51), Between Here and There (2:56), Racing Sideways (4:43), Understand (6:43), Giraffe Chariot (5:09), Counting all the Seconds (7:00)

Finally Jadis seem to leave a difficult period behind. Line-up changes and the not so accessible 'Sommersault'-album, made many people fear for the band's future. With the great 'As Daylight Fades' live-album, Gary Chandler managed to fight a way back, but still it would take some time to return to the center-stage. The return of both Martin Orford (keyboards) and John Jowitt (bass), was received by the fans with great enthusiasm and nothing stood in the way of making Jadis' fourth studio-album a success.

Where in the World starts with a nice, on-going guitar-riddle, in a combination with some gentle, acoustic accents. As soon as the recognisable voice of Gary Chandler comes in, it becomes clear that Jadis have chosen a much more 'open' approach to their music. Although Where in the World has classic Jadis-elements like a great chorus, lovely counter-rhythms by Steve Christey and catchy riffs, it shows Chandler and his mates are much more straightforward or 'focused' in their musical approach, especially when compared to the rather 'full' production of the 'Sommersault' album.
This also goes for Is this Real? Starting with a deep riff, the song reminds me of some Presto-era Rush-stuff. The combination of drums, bass and acoustic/electric guitars echoes the legacy of the Canadian power-trio. As a result this song turns out as a ballad with a rough edge.

A very subtle, repeated guitar-line, with a slow bass-line under it, introduces the first part of Alive Inside. According to 'Jadis-rules' however the chorus is a bit heavier. As if the album wasn't enjoyable up till now, it really takes off here, 'cause after two minutes a terrific, fast instrumental part bursts out of your speakers, with a great bass-line and sweeping guitar-solos. One of the best pieces of the album.
It leads into another highlight of the album, the heavy, bombastic instrumental called Between Here & There. It developes along a repeated riff, building up to a level where you tend to turn up the volume once again. This (again) Rush-like approach is unprecedented on any Jadis album. According to the booklet the song originates from very early Jadis-days (IQ-cohorts Ridout and Marshall are mentioned as co-writers), but on this album it shows the progression Jadis have made.
A 'distorted' guitar-loop lays down the basis for Racing Sideways. This mid-tempo song features some awesome backing-vocals, heavy breaks and a splendid bass-solo by John Jowitt in the middle. The song ends with the guitar-loop, leading directly into the title track. Understand starts with a long, atmospheric instrumental part, bringing Yes (Soon?) to mind. The melody, however, is entirely different. Vocals are very prominent in the mix, but as always Jadis' multi-vocal treatment is a joy for the ear. Experiments with electronic drum-beats and a rougher guitar-sound give this song a modern sound, not unlike The Urbane. Britpop-elements seem to go with a more progressive character very well.

Already presented to their fans on the last tour, Giraffe Chariot is a typical Jadis-song. Especially the chorus really sticks in your mind. As with some of the other songs on the album, I think Martin Orford is under-employed in this ballad. Although I think Jadis' new sound is a step in the right direction, I could have tought of a more prominent role for piano or organ in some songs.
Counting all the Seconds already is the final song of the album, and that's the main problem I have with it: it's simply too short! However, this final song indeed is a great finale. It takes 7 minutes to slowly build from a gentle guitar-line into a bombastic guitar-solo. Along the same pattern electronic drums, evolve into acoustic drums. With the full sound of bass (& pedals) and Marillion-esque guitar-playing, Counting all the Seconds finishes off the album in a great way.

'Understand' is a classic, new Jadis album. Classic, because it brings all you could expect from Jadis: recognisable songs (Where in the World, Giraffe Chariot), great (backing-)vocals and splendid guitar-riffs. New, because Jadis have found a fresher, more straightforward sound. As a result of this, they've progressed beyond boundaries, with songs like Alive Inside, Between Here and There and Counting all the Seconds. Personally I would have preferred a bit more Orford in some songs, but I do like their new approach in general. The artwork (as always done in a great way by Geoff Chandler) is a bit darker and threatening and that's how the album sounds: with an edge. 'Understand' shows Jadis are back! If only they'd made this album a bit longer.

Conclusion: 8+ out of 10

by: Jan-Jaap de Haan.

Quidam - Live in Mexico '99
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4321.AR
Year of Release:1999
Info:Quidam Homepage
Tracklist: Przebuddzenie [Awakening] (2:47), Gleboka Rzeka [Deep River] (7:07), Chocbym... [If I ever...] (6:14), Plone / Niespelnienie [I'm Burnin' / Unfullfilled] (18:19), Jest Take Samotny Dom [There is Such a Lonesome House] (5:35), Rhayader / Rhayader Goes to Town (10:02), Sanktuarium [Sanctuary] (10:48), Angels of mine (6:10), Child in Time (9:44)

As with Abraxas and Lizard, I only got to know Quidam when they played at our own DPRS-festival in 1998. But they immediately knocked me down. Their selftitled debut-album was - although hardly available - received with critical acclaim. Quidam represented a new generation of Polish prog-artists.
Quidam's second album 'Sny Aniolow' was a bit more mellow, and - despite an English version - not as much a success as the first one. However Baja-Prog from Mexico invited the band to cross the ocean. This recording proves the Mexicans were captured as fast as I was.

This live-album starts with a tuning radio, which finally finds... the Baja-prog Radiostation, which organised the festival, where the album was recorded. After the introduction of the program (which includes an excerpt of Arena's Double Vision), gentle sounds of birds create the right scenery for Awakening, a short flute-melody from their second album, ending like a 'coockoo'. It must have been a strange sight: a concert starting with only a flute-player on stage.
With the 'Hearts of Lothian'-like introduction of Deep River the full band comes in with a joyful flute-melody by Jacek Zasada and sweeping guitars by Maciek Meller. Emila Derkowska immediately shows she has one of the greatest voices around: melodic, clear, high and powerful. With some Spanish words, she knows to capture the hearts of her audience during the interlude.
If I Ever is a beautiful ballad with very Hackett-like guitars, followed by a soft keyboard-part with a hint of 'The Company'. On top of this atmospheric basis, Emila reaches unprecedented heights. If I Ever ends with a very recognisable 'Great Gig In The Sky'-part which really makes me shiver every time I hear it.

I'm Burning is one of my favourite Quidam songs. It has everything a prog-fan can dream of, great key-melodies, prominent guitars, interesting breaks and a lovely flute-part. This 'big piece' of Quidam's first album features a great instrumental part, with heavy guitar-chords, leading into a great solo. After this solo, the initial theme is reintroduced, and after an interlude with prominent drums by Rafal Jermakow, the melody is taken over by Zbyszek Florek on keyboards, and then again by Maciek Meller on guitars. Stunningly beautiful.
After a short break it leads directly to Unfullfilled, which is audibly a different track, but indexed as one, with an 18-minute track as the result. In my opinion the only minor mistake of this perfect production. Unfullfilled has a very mellow first part, with a lovely keyboard-solo, followed by a splendid guitar solo. It ends a lot faster than it started with a great finale.
The second song of 'Sny Aniolow' on this live-album is There Is Such A Lonesome House. This song has a slightly mysterious first part and a great middle part with only flute and voice. It floats into a melody, taken over by the rest of the band, with a guitar/keyboard-duet to finish it off.

When writing about a band with a flute-player, one of the comparisons that comes to mind immediately is Camel. This doesn't bother Quidam at all, to the contrary. Over the years, the combination of Rhayader/Rhayader Goes to Town has been part of their setlist regularly. I cannot say anything else than: 'brilliant'. Just close your eyes and enjoy these 10 minutes of 'Snow Goose'. It's great that bands like Quidam keep this flame alive.
Together with I'm Burning, Sanctuary is one of Quidam's best tracks and fortunately it's present on this live-album as well. After the introduction of the main theme by Maciek Meller, Emila Derkowska creates a very intimate atmosphere, with the help of her beautiful voice and Radek Scholl on flute. The strength of this composition, however, is the contrast between these fragile parts and the bombastic elements. Highlight of the live-version of this song is, without doubt, the incorporation of Steve Hackett's 'Firth Of Fifth' guitar-solo in the song. As if it wasn't good enough on its own!

Angels of Mine is the only Quidam-song sung in English, as it is on the English version of 'Sny Aniolow'. It's a joyful song, which gives opportunity to introduce the band to the audience and to do some 'audience-participation-time' with the help of some 'traditionals' incorporated in the song. A funny way to end the set.
As an encore Quidam have chosen to do another cover, but this time a very unexpected one: Child In Time. Although Quidam's music has nothing in common with Deep Purple, they manage to create a very honest version of this song. Maybe Deep Purple-fans will hate it, but I consider it a very original approach to a legendary song. Emila's voice and Radek's flute give a new insight in the original composition. A very special closer to the set and a lovely finale of an hour of splendid music.

Live in Mexico '99 presents Quidam at their best. It's a collection of their best material, played in a great way. Together with excellent compositions of their own like I'm Burning and Sanktuarium they've incorporated some legendary songs in their set-list, which gives this live-recording something unique.
The sound-quality of this recording is excellent, just as the performances. This album is a must, not only for Camel or Genesis-fans, but for music-lovers in general.

Conclusion: 9- out of 10

by: Jan-Jaap de Haan.

Shakary - Alya
Country of Origin:Italy
Record Label:Kaliphonia
Catalogue #:SHK 30324
Year of Release:2000
Time:43:46 & 43:43
Tracklist CD1: Sunset (4:52), Lost Angels (6:06), Time Trap (5:53), Starless Nights (4:35), Seals (9:57), Alya (4:22), The First Inquisition (6:10), Pain? (1:41)
Tracklist CD2: Pain! (3:29), Sentence (6:09), The Dark Kingdom (6:09), The Last Drink (8:17), Alya (3:45), Babylon (6:16), New Angels (3:51), Open Skies (5:47)

Shankary is an ambitious project by Scandy (musical concept, bass guitar, some vocals, some keyboards), Clepsydra's Lele Hofmann (musical concept, lead guitars, some keyboards, some vocals) and Sandor Kwiatkowski (lyrics & booklet's artwork). It took 5 years to complete the album. The CD features a wide range of guest musicians on various instruments, including violins, trumpet and flyhorn. Most noteable guest musician are Clepsydra's Aluisio Maggini on vocals.

Two DPRP editors give you their opinion about this album ....

Ed's Review

Now, to be honest I never really heard Clepsydra, but I noticed they are quite popular. That made me quite curious, a curiousity that has been instantly killed by this album .....
Strange, normally I agree with my colleague Henri; we normally like and dislike the same albums. On this one we clearly disagree. And then Martijn tells me how marvellous this album is and I notice that a prominent Dutch prog radio show has called it 'the best album of 2000' (quite premature if you ask me).
So I put it on once again and give it another try. To no avail, the album just fails to impress me. Well, that's not 100% true. Some of the instrumental passages are outstanding. There's something that really spoils it for me though: the vocals. There's actually several reasons for that. First of all, I don't like Maggini's voice, but since Clepsydra is very popular I assume that's just a matter of taste. Maggini certainly isn't a bad vocalist, he's just not my kind of vocalist. Second, I don't like the way Maggini is singing; it just sounds like endless draggin' and naggin' to me. Third, Maggini has a very heavy Italian accent, which I personally find rather annoying. But most important of all, there are hardly any decent vocal melodies. It seems like the lyrics and music was written fully separate from each other (which might be partially the case, looking at how the project is set up). It sounds like Maggini recites a long poem and forcefully tries to match it with the music.

There's another couple of reasons why I'm not really impressed with Alya. First of all, I find the biblical story of the concept about fallen angels, God and the devil completely uninteresting. Unlike other concept albums it does not invite me to delve into the story. That may be personal though, since I'm a non-religious man (to say the least). The lyrics in the booklet even contain footnotes with references to the passages from the Bible (Apocalypse) where they are based upon. And by the way, the occassional spoken narratives evoke memories of Casino's album.
Besides that. the album lacks originality. It sounds like a musical monster of Frankenstein that has been put together from parts of old classics. For instance, there's some heavy borrowing from Subterranea; I detected the chords of Sleepless Incidental in the first song, and a chord progression sounding a lot like the theme from High Waters elsewhere (in Seals). The wonderful instrumental Starless Nights doesn't only seem to be influenced by Pink Floyd's Is There Anybody Out There, it even contains a very similar sequence. Add to that a very early Genesis-like sound at occassions - there's even a Waiting Room like track (something which I already found a waste of space on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway). Besides this, there's a lot of other bits and pieces that give me the feeling that I have heard it before.

It certainly isn't all bad on the CD. Like I said, there are some excellent instrumental passages, like in the opening track Sunset, the acoustic Starless Nights, the violin solos in the title track and The First Inquisition and the epilogue Open Skies. There's a lot of excellent guitar and keyboard solos on the album as well, like in the long Seals.
The booklet is well designed and contains all the lyrics plus some nice artwork. There's some very daring arrangements featuring violin, trumpet and other non-typical-prog instruments and there's an excellent use of sound effects on the album. Production is fine as well. Overall, the music reminds me of early Genesis, Darius, a bit of IQ and Salem Hill. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, it all collapses for me when Maggini starts singing. And the album is quite lyrical heavy !
Parts of the albums vocals, like in Pain? and sections of The First Inquisition sound better. Maybe that's one of the other project members singing.

What would definitely have helped is if the band would have limited themselves to a single CD. As far as I'm concerned there's too many mediocre and needless tracks on the album. Especially the second CD has some real disappointing segments.

If you like Clepsydra and are not put off by biblical concepts I would really advise you to check this album out. I really have the feeling that a lot of people will like this album. I'm just not one of them. Oh, should anybody ever comes across an instrumental version let me know immediately !

Conclusion: 7 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Martijn's Review

Unlike Ed I know Clepsydra's music for quite some time. I have always enjoyed their music, especially the very melodic guitar parts. The 'Southern European' accent displayed in their music has never bothered me at all. As a matter of fact I even like it. The only thing I think Clepsydra had against, was lack of variation (and I am talking about the time that Alya's guitarist was still with the band).
So what about this Alya project? Is it any good? Can it surpass Clepsydra? I have thought long about what to write about this. Just mentioning that I like it a lot does not cut it. Saying the albums have been in my CD player for weeks now may give a small hint. Alya is a double album that blends all the great elements of Clepsydra, but adds a lot of variation.
Take for instance Time Trap. The song starts of with a pumping IQ like theme and suddenly a great violin tune jumps into that theme. After the mellow middle part, the music takes off with some bombastic keyboards and nice guitar work.

The Last Drink is the absolute masterpiece on the more experimental disk two. Alien conversation is what starts this composition, soon followed by bombastic keyboard/guitar chords. Exceptional emotion created once again by the violin. The song flows on 'till we have a musical orgasm near the end. And I must not forget to mention the trumpet. Though it plays a relative small part on the album it kicks in at the most interesting moments. The sound is well balanced and never irritates.
All in all a very interesting album that will have a good chance of ending in my top five of 2000.

Conclusion: 9- out of 10.

Martijn Albering

Nick Magnus - Inhaling Green
Country of Origin:United Kingdom
Record Label:Centaur Discs
Catalogue #:CENCD 017
Year of Release:1999
Tracklist: Velociraptor (4:11), Free The Spirit (5:40), The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (5:58), Cantus (5:07), Conquistador (4:31), Dixon Hill (3:15), Veil Of Sighs (4:06), Theme One (3:50), Inhaling Green (I Anatomy Of The Mind (4:26), II Stripping Of The Flesh (5:29), III Weighing Of The Souls (6:19)) (16:18)

A keyboardist's solo album. You might expect freaky tunes showing off technical abilities, but that's definitely not the case here. Nick Magnus, probably best known for his work in Steve Hackett's band, has enough experience not to do that. Instead, he focused on writing and playing songs, portraying many sides of his talents. The result is a varied album of very melodic songs.

The first song, Velociraptor, has a great title. You expect velocity, and you get it. It's the best choice Magnus could have made for an opening track.
In contrast to the first song, Free The Spirit is much softer, getting you into a mellow mood, with atmospheric flute play by John Hackett, Steve's brother. John Hackett is also playing flute on Veil Of Thoughts, a track that is not unlike Free The Spirit, but a bit quiter and more romantic. It's easy to see that Magnus has succeeded in recording an album of very different sounding songs, each creating a different atmosphere.
The third track lies between the first two, musically. I mean that in rhythm and how heavy the song sounds, but all the compositions are structured like songs, ie. although instrumental, with verses and choruses, but alternated with lots of interesting changes.
Cantus shows another side of Magnus's musical talents. With the choir-voice of Clare Brigstoke and the modern rhythm boxes, this song would not be very out of place on an album by Enigma! And there's still more to come... Conquistador is like the theme for a film, or the soundtrack to a scene where people are riding horseback on a large plain, with mountains on the horizon and a blue and lilac sky...
Magnus is good at naming songs. Dixon Hill is filled with dixie rhythms, honkytonky piano, whistling and keyboard samples of a brass section.
Theme One is, again, different than the other songs. It's a very happy song with catchy melodies.

The title track is a three-piece suite. The first part is something like a funeral soundtrack. Dark orchestrated melody lines. The second part contains a computer voice (so contradicting my previous statement, it's not entirely instrumental...) telling you about the human body and mind, and their place in and connection with the universe. Mysterious soundscapes, with rhythms and voices like in Cantus, but less "danceable"... The telling of the story is quite important here, which pushed the rest of the music a bit to the background, making it less important, and I think that's a bit of a shame on an album like this, with everything else instrumental. After the voice has ended, there's a real guitar solo by Geoff Whitehorn - a good guitar solo; moving and very in place with the feel of the music. The third part does contain some of that computer voice as well, but is a nice piece of music, alternating softer verses (again, where the voice is slightly disturbing the music) with heavier and very melodic choruses.

There's a lot of different things on this album. Maybe a bit too much? Well, no matter what mood I am in, there's always a song I have to skip because I don't feel like listening to. On the other hand, there's always some songs that I do feel like listening to any time. Don't expect any keyboard wizardry, because Magnus knows how to write songs.
However, I do think it's a shame that even the instruments that are usually acoustic or only electrically amplified (drums, guitar, and bass), are electronically reproduced here. With a full band, most of this music (hey, a song like Cantus composed to be played by electronic instruments!) would sound warmer. Nonetheless, the results are of such a quality, that most of the times, this is not very obvious. I think it has something to do with the quality of the instruments Magnus can work with, compared to the cheaper synths with which other bands succeed to completely ruin a whole album of music by using a simple drum machine.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Marillion - Bonus Disc
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Racket Records
Catalogue #:Racket 12
Year of Release:2000

Tracklist: The Answering Machine (3.44), Afraid of Sunrise (4.16), The Space (7.01), The Great Escape (5.54), Afraid of Sunlight (7.17), Berlin (8.54), The Bell in the Sea (3.47), Band Interview (8.56)

Better late then never. Almost half a year after the release of the promised bonus disc arrives. A free gift from Marillion to all the people who bought their latest album. Marillion enters a new era with a new approach to their audience.

Marillion has discovered marketing. The band has started an interesting form of relationship marketing with their fans and other people who buy their music. Not only do they treat their fans with exclusive items like the marillion.chistmas Christmas CD, they also enter into e-commerce through their web site and run an information service by e-mail. According to the latest news, they even added a Marketing and Communications Manager to their team: Lucy Jordache, who was responsible for the remastered re-releases of Marillion CDs at EMI.
With this new approach Marillion recognises the changes in the modern music industry and the opportunities in Direct Marketing. Being a Direct/Database Marketeer myself I am highly intruigued by all of these exciting new activities.

At the same time it is quite obvious that Marillion hasn't quite got the grip of it yet. This becomes obvious in a couple of things like the automatic reply I got from Pete Trewavas' e-mail account at Racket when I wanted to inform him about our Transatlantic review a couple of weeks ago in late February: 'Thank you for your email to Pete. Unfortunately, Pete doesn't always have the time to reply to all the email he receives. The band are currently on holiday for Christmas and the New Millennium through January.'
Fulfillment of orders often runs far from smoothly (ordered albums arrive twice or addressed to the wrong person - 'Sebastiaan Sander' in my case). The bonus disc also arrives a day after the fair, when the band is already hard at work on the new album.
Nevertheless, I assume the band will soon come across these growing pains and have a very nice strategy in their hands to continue doing business in the new millenium.

The booklet that came with the purchase of the CD contained a reply form that could be sent back to the band. You would receive a free bonus disc with interview, live footage and more upon return of the card.
Several messages appeared on their mailing list telling the fans that the sending of the disc had to be postponed for some reason. Now, almost half a year later it finally arrived. In itself the package is a very smart move. The CD itself is basically a sampler with tracks from Marillion's other Racket Records releases plus some exclusive material and an enhanced multimedia section.
The CD comes with a leaflet that catalogues all of the currently available Marillion merchandise (Racket CDs, T-shirts, remastered albums, mugs, mouse pads and more). Adding the two together, the CD and leaflet really are a promotional package stimulating the recipients to buy more Marillion stuff. Nothing wrong with that really. After all, it's for free !

The audio section is mainly interesting for those who don't have the Racket CDs yet. It contains the acoustic versions of The Answering Machine (much better than the studio version !) and Afraid of Sunrise from the 'Unplugged at the Walls' album, The Space from 'Live in Caracas', The Great Escape from 'The Making of Brave', Afraid of Sunlight from 'Piston Broke' and Berlin from 'Zodiac'. Added to these fine tracks are a bass/vocal-only version of The Bell in the Sea and a rather superfluous band interview that is actually the audio track of the movie on the enhanced section of the disc and does not work very well without the visuals.
The track list is not 100% correct, with The Great Escape and The Space switching places.

For those who already own the Racket CDs, there's still lots of good stuff in the multimedia section of the CD. First of all, there are three Quicktime movies; a nice video of Derserve (live) (4.40), which actually combines live footage with the studio track, live footage (slightly blurred) of The Bell in the Sea (3.24) and a nearly 10 minutes long 'interview'. The latter contains snippets of the band and crew talking about their music, fans and in specific. It's rather strange because it feels like a promotional rockumentary video for and is therefore a bit out of place on a disc that's being sent to people already owning the album. Nevertheless all three movies are nice little goodies.
The second part of the enhanced section of the CD includes an extensive biography, a track by track discussion of the material on (which has already been available on the web site previously), a diary by Steve Hogarth about the development of the album and three promotional pictures.
Finally, there's information on all of the Racket CDs that are sampled on the disc, including covers and track lists.
Besides all of this there are also convenient links to the and Racket web sites.

All in all, the bonus disc is a nice little extra. For those who don't have the Racket CDs there's 40 minutes of great music sampled on this CD. For those who do, there's still some nice stuff in the multimedia section. Although it is mainly a promotional item, it is a nice addition to your album (which, by the way, has really grown on me and comes recommended as well) and another reason to buy that CD.
Since this is a free item, I'll refrain from giving it a rating.

Ed Sander

Tristan Park - Looking Homeward
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Cyclops
Catalogue #:CYCL 070
Year of Release:1999
Tracklist: Memorial Day (8:10), An American Tragedy - I (16:06), Four Freedoms (3:05), Ambition (3:20), Mistress (3:33), The Cruelest Month Of The Year (5:08), An American Tragedy - II (15:03), Looking Homeward (3:27)

The music of American five-piece Tristan Park is new to me. A classic prog line-up and a couple of above-average length to long songs didn't forecast major surprises. And yes, the intro of the first song was very promising. But I had some difficulties when the vocals came in. The singer has a good voice, but I couldn't stop wondering why he didn't join a hard rock band. His singing is restricted to a single technique - a bit agressive - which makes his voice tremble, vibrate, or "roll" a bit. This is the way he sings throughout the album, except for a few very soft pieces which his voice is simple not suited for, and this makes it sound very cold and emotionless.

Although the voice gives you the idea of heavy music, the compositions themselves are far from that. There are a couple of heavier bits, like the intro of Memorial Day, but even when the music could have used, or is supposed to have more power, like in The Cruelest Month, the voice is even more agressive but with the music being unable to keep up and therefore pushed to the background. This is probably due do with the poor mix, in which, for example, a guitar solo sounds further to the back than the drums. But it also has something to do with the compositions, which are more neo-prog than you'd notice on a first listen.
The compositons themselves? Well, although the band has written some very good passages and very melodic parts, especially the longer songs sound like they're composed of short bits stuck together, while they actually don't really fit together. Sudden breaks, alright. But it's the wrong jigsaw piece in the wrong place. And here I should mention the lyrics as well. They are very good, but in some cases, they don't seem to fit the music. The lyrics are more like poems at times, and lack a structure that makes a good poem a good song lyric.

Is it that bad? Well, no. I can pick any of the ingredients and tell you good things about each of them (like the melodic and moving guitar solos, inventive keyboard lines, powerful voice, etc.), but the mix of these ingreditents result, at least to me, in an incoherent combination that leaves me cold.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Sleepy People - Blunt Nails in a Sharp Wall
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Org Records Ltd
Catalogue #:ORG074CD
Year of Release:1999
Tracklist: Mr Marconi's Unusual Theory (3:59), Heroes and Sheroes (4:46), Strawberries (7:04), Sordid Sentimental (5:01), Invisible Wires (4:23), Nicky's Little Army (6:54), Rare Bird at the Window (8:40)

To the more conventional prog fan, Sleepy People might take a bit of getting used to. They break the usual mould of guitar/synth solos in 7/8 with a much more diverse selection of influences, but remaining true to the original ideas being what progressive rock was always meant to be. There are strange time signatures, complex song structures etc, but also there are out and out punk sections and trombones. Prepare to broaden your mind!

Many people appear on different tracks on the album. The main core of the band comprises Paul Hope on guitar, Tiny Wood on lead vocals, Rachel Theresa on flute and vocals, and Richard Green on bass. Also appearing on the album are Andy Pearce, Graeme Swaddle and Kerry Harrison all on drums, Liz Wardby and Pete Haslam on keyboards. Jonny Abbott appears on three tracks on violin and trombone.

The first track, Mr Marconi's Unusual Theory immediately sets the scene of the album with what appears to be Sleepy People's central style, not a million miles away from that of The Cardiacs. They blend definite proggy sections with what can only be described as punk, with megaphone vocals, and it works great. The prog side keeps the punk from getting too aggressive or repetitive, and the punk keeps the prog from getting too pretentious and prehistoric!! I think it was The Organ magazine who invented the term "Pronk", and it's perfect for Sleepy People. There's something about the feel of some of this music that reminds me of IQ's The Enemy Smacks. There's simply too much to say about this track. Delve deeper and you'll bump into something akin to Madness, but you'll also hear a real flute pretending to be a Mellotron impersonation of a flute....

Heroes and Sheroes comes up next; a song you could just as easily dance to as you could listen on headphones in a darkened room. Some lovely fretless bass, flute and hammond combine to give a very distinctive sound. Sleepy People manage to get the balance between repetition and change just right, so the songs are incredibly accessible, and yet they have depth to hold your interest. I can't decide whether the warbling vocals remind me more of Chris de Burgh or Fergal Sharkey, but their slightly psycho feel adds a perfect bizarre element to the music.

Strawberries is an interesting track. Starting off with some lovely synth sounds (breaking away from Sleepy People's more raw sound), combined with dischordal guitar licks, it quickly progresses through some obscure vocals (more warble!) onto bite-size snippets of 12-bar blues complete with cheesy (but good!) harmony backing vocals. Sleepy People have this rare ability to shoehorn whatever style of music they like into a song, and it will fit perfectly. Before you know it you're back into some unusual time signatures, bizarre sound effects, disturbing screams in the background, and punk! And then all of a sudden, you're surrounded by mellow lyrics about "Strawberries down the mine" accompanied by a smooth jazzy groove. Definitely the most memorable part of the album for me.

Up next is Sordid Sentimental, with its flute/bass grooves (seemingly one of Sleepy People's trademarks), strange vocal keys and haunting atmosphere. This track also features some very appropriate backing vocals from Rachel Theresa, and violin parts from Jonny Abbott.

Invisible Wires creeps in with almost operatic male..err..well sounds. I can't decide whether it's singing, speaking, crying, reciting, or what, and I'm not sure what language (if any) it is either. Either way, it kicks the track off with a very mournful atmosphere, which is quickly overtaken by Sleepy People's characteristic flute/hammond groove. Some bits of the track remind of White Mountain by Genesis with its prog-folk (frog?) flute parts. Some very proggy sections follow, along with the unexpected appearance of a trombone and finally more punk. What more could you ask of a song?!

Nicky's Little Army features that flute/bass pairing once more, this time with quite a jumpy abstract pattern, over a relentlessly urgent 2/4 drum beat. After a couple of minutes of technical workout, the song breaks into the main groove, featuring an interesting vocal part with deep backing vocals. Some lovely melodic stuff in this track.

The last track, Rare Bird at the Window has to be one of the more obscure tracks on the album, with many broken up, disjunct ideas, and psychotic vocals (they reminded me of early Fish but I'm not really sure why). The lyric, "He takes out his eyes and throws them in the whirlpool" sticks in my mind. I think skeletal dislocation specialist band 5UU's would be quite proud of this song. After a few minutes, we slide into a slick '70s funk groove, and witness some lovely group "sing-along" vocals, and a selection of 5/8 rhythms to keep you off your toes. Great stuff.

All in all a great refreshing album that a prog fan can enjoy when his/her prog CD collection starts to look a bit cobwebby. The album is packed with nice ideas, tons of energy, and keeps you engaged to the end. But only if you're sufficiently open-minded....

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Neil Durant

Témpano - Åtabal Yémal
Country of Origin:Venezuela
Record Label:Musea
Catalogue #:FGBG 4260.AR
Year of Release:1998 (re-release)
Tracklist: Cascada (6:31), Hecho de Horas (5:00), Las Olas (Virginia Woolf) (7:27), Åtabal Yémal (10:09), Anhelos (3:32), Presencias y Ausencias (9:31), KTR (3:09), Un Nuevo Encuentro (10:35), Arbol de la Vida (10:08)

Témpano were formed in 1977 in Venezuela. They worked arduously for a couple of years, until finally in 1979 they recorded an album, hailed as the first 'symphonic rock' album recorded in Venezuela. However, the 1980s saw the members of Témpano spread out and follow different paths in life, until 1998 when the band found themselves back together again. They decided to re-release their 1979 album and also add three previously unreleased themes from that period, and this became Åtabal Yémal.

Åtabal Yémal has nine tracks, the first six of which are digitally restored from an original vinyl L.P. from 1979, and the remaining three tracks recorded in 1998 using modern recording equipment. Half of the tracks are instrumental, and half feature vocals in Spanish, giving quite a mixture of sounds and styles.

The band consists of Pedro Castillo (vocals, guitars, loops, spatial and special effects), Guiglio Cesare Della Noce (electric piano, keyboards and atmospheres), Miguel Angel Echevarreneta (fretted and fretless bass, acoustic guitar and 'aluminium plate'), and Gerardo Ubieda (drums, rototoms, octobans, manual percussion and also aluminium plate). I just wish they'd included pictures in the sleeve hinting at how they used the aluminium!!!

The album bursts into life with Cascada. Within seconds you can identify the period of the recording, with the classic late 1970s sound of string synths, Hackettesque lead guitar and piercing synth melodies. There are definite hints of Camel mixed in for good measure, all adding up to a very nostalgic prog sound. I could point a finger at certain bits and say "Wot Gorilla?" or "Ace of Wands", but that would be unfair, as the music was written in the same period, and I think is justified in having a very similar sound to that of other progressive bands of the era. The track is instrumental, and features some fairly impressive jazzy drum grooves, along with some strong synth melodies.

In contrast, Hecho de Horas, up next, is a quiet vocal song with a more acoustic feel, revealing a peaceful, rural sound. I think in some ways it's easy for a prog band to play together with synths, guitar solos etc. and sound good, whereas it takes a higher level of musicianship to pull off a sparser song where every detail of the performance is exposed. The vocals, are good and clear, although being in Spanish they may not appeal so much to a non-Spanish speaking audience.

Las Olas demonstrates Témpano's ability to write a strong melody. The album is littered with strong melodies, mostly played on synth, and these melodies keep reappearing, giving the album a certain continuity, despite it being recorded across three decades. The track features some nice electric piano work from Guiglio Cesare Della Noce, along with some nicely woven layers of keyboards and guitar lines later in the track. Fans of British TV programme 'Bergerac' will recognise the jazzy ending chord!!

The title track appears next, weighing in at just over ten minutes. It is one of four ten minute tracks, which may appeal to some prog fans, but to me I can't help feeling that some of these are really five minute songs with a load of padding. Still, it continues the prog tradition, so who am I to judge...*8). Åtabal Yémal starts softly with an unusual guitar lick with odd timing. It's one of the few bits of the album with unusual timing, as most of the tracks languish in 4/4 for much of the time. Although this track has a lot of interesting and unusual bits, they're all strung together seemingly at random, and there is very little sense of continuity, progression, or theme, until the very end, where a recognisable melody does start to appear, albeit broken up.

Anhelos, written by vocalist Castillo, is very much an quiet ballad, featuring acoustic guitar and vocals, with occasional synth backing. As a quiet track from the 1979 album, the crackles from the original vinyl recording are very prominent. However the songs simple message (albeit in Spanish!) remains clear.

Presencias y Ausencias, returns us to some synth themes from earlier on the album, along with some nice string synth textures, and fretless bass. It's a quiet vocal track, with a reflective, sorrowful atmosphere, with extremely quiet breaks of incredibly soft electric piano. This song typifies one of Témpano's characteristic traits; there are some nice memorable melodic ideas, but they're spread out over the course of a ten minute song, with periods of seemingly directionless meandering stringing them tenuously together.

KTR will wake you up after the last song, with its fairly aggressive Hammond organ patterns and innovative dischordal basslines. There is a definite ELP flavour to this track, with interesting timing and intricate organ throughout. The style is completely different to the previous tracks, showing the 18 year gap between the older material and the new material. The new material definitely has a more modern feel, more variety of sounds, instrumentation and timing. KTR suddenly breaks from the intricate patterns into a very Spanish style, with castanets and Flamenco guitar. Definitely my favourite track of the album.

Un Nuevo Encuentro shows off some of Témpano's new variety of sound, with a much more sophisticated mix of instruments and carefully layered sounds than the older material. The song builds up from fairly quiet into a strong anthem, followed closely by some nice instrumental experimentation, albeit a little disconnected. The song goes on for over ten minutes, but perhaps has finished saying what it has to say after the fourth minute. A surprise accordion appearance breaks up some of the unnecessary repetition.

The last track, Arbol de la Vida definitely has a modern feel, starting with some fairly obscure vocal samples circling around in a 5/8 groove. However, the interesting intro soon passes and makes way for several minutes of directionless filler music. Only near the end of the ten minute track does this instrumental track converge back onto a common course, with a repeat of the original vocal sample loop and some 10cc style phased vocal effects.

All in all a fair album, with some nice moments, but for me the nice ideas are spread too wide apart. Témpano fall into the trap of so many prog bands of repeating the same patterns and melodies over and over again, without much attention to progression. Fans of that '70s string-synth/electric piano sound will like this album, as may the Camel and Steve Hackett fans. The production is about what you'd expect from a 1979 vinyl record remastered onto CD, although the three new tracks are nicely recorded. Throughout the album there is some lovely drum/percussion work by Gerardo Ubieda, although on some of the tracks it is sadly very low in the mix, dominated by layers of keyboards and guitar. A reasonable album, although a little laid back, with the exception of KTR.
The CD artwork is very modern, and the sleeve features some beautiful photography with each track having its own page and artwork.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10.

Neil Durant

Album Reviews