Reviews in this issue:
Tautologic - West Is North, East Is South
Occasionally experimentation with new names reveals a hidden gem. Tautologic is one such case in point, where each and every track has had me completely blown away. Formed in 1997, the group is the creation of two musicians who are the fulcrum and main songwriting team of the band, Pat Buzby (drums) and Ethan Sellers (vocals/keyboards/guitar/banjo). The group features various guest musicians who practically from a string orchestra as backing to the above-mentioned duo together with some relatively known names amongst whom there is Daniel Marc Veidlinger (Tempus Fugit), who even wrote The Verdict.
Tautology, is the needless repetition of words, an expression often used for musical styles such as minimalism, and here the group manage to fuse minimalistic and pop styles with great efficacy. Musically speaking the music can be best defined as eclectic progressive rock with a healthy dose of folk rock with the group described as a cross between early Genesis, early Fairport Convention and a healthy dose of Stackridge. Basically the group sound very very British though they hail from Chicago, very late sixties stuff.
The opener Illusion Of Progress seems to be taken from a scene of The Brodsky Quartet with an avant-garde string composition which threatens to throw the listener completely off track as it is totally unrelated to what the rest of the album has to offer. But that is the beauty of Tautologic! Hype Dark is pure psychadelia with the strings occupying their own place within the musical structure of the group This is also another aspect that causes this group to be different from most others. The string section forms an integral part of the group and is not utilized just as a filler but also as a separate musical entity capable of creating the theme as well as the instrumental solos.
Jim's Home Brew kick starts the folk influence with an ode to homebrew beer and comes complete with cello solo creating a distinctive pub feel to the whole track. Glasgow Smile keeps up the folk tinge with a delightful jig evoking the Fairport Convention influence.
The House Song introduces for the first time, female vocalist Jen Justice, and the change in vocals also brings about a change in structure and style. Though retaining an acoustic nature, the only string instrument utilized here is the violon-cello. On the other hand Lazy Sundays has a Ben Folds Five approach with the piano being the lead instrument on the track whilst the remainder of the strings are just fillers.
Back to folk-rock with Tube Socks sounding almost like a traditional arrangement in the initial section to eventually move into a more progressive rock field with some pleasant changes in rhythm and a nice viola/cello duet. More instruments enter the fray as the song progresses creating a great atmosphere, something which also occurs on You Know It though the fundamental rhythm of this last track is in the funk vein.
As I have already remarked, The Verdict is the only track on the album that is not penned by either of the two main songwriters Etan Sellers and Pat Buzby. Bassist Daniel Veidlinger (Tempus Fugit) has penned one of the highlights of the album evoking sprits of progressive days gone by with hints of King Crimson and early Genesis together with a lush string background. Maybe it was a pity that Veidlinger did not have a hand in more tracks present on the album.
Love Bus has a nice sixties touch to it reminding me of some of the psychadelic greats such as Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead together with a warm progressive feel. Psychadelia and progressive rock always held a close relationship and this track demonstrates this. Jeep is replete with time signature changes whilst the closing track A Year's Journey is a piano fade out. later accompanied by a mournful cello.
When considering that this is a debut album, the promise is great. Musically Tautologic have a lot to offer and are an extremely tight professional outfit. There could be two drawbacks that I envisage within this group. The first is that at times the vocals of Ethan Sellers do not seem to fit the mould of the album whilst on the other hand, as can be seen on their website, the group seem to have an ever-changing number of musicians which could lead to some form of instability within. As always, time will tell but as a debut album, this one wil do just fine!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Kopecky - Serpentine Kaleidoscope
Three brothers (yes, called Kopecky) from the USA, creating dark moody soundscapes. That's Kopecky in a nutshell.
The album in general is quite heavy, with prominent places for the three main instruments, guitar, bass and drums. Keyboards are used only very sparsely. The general impression is that of a hard to penetrate album. However, the compositions are all quite good, and the album needs multiple listenings before one really gets the hang of it. It is extremely hard for me to describe the album, since it is like nothing I have heard before. Sometimes, hints of Dream Theater pop up, but only like a small flash, it goes as quickly as it comes.
The first two tracks, of which especially the first, nearly 10 minute-long track,
are highly recommendable for a closer listening, are fully instrumental. On the
third track, the vocals are spoken, or should I say chanted, since the omnipresence
of the sitar gives this a very Indian atmosphere.
The Minimal-Music experiments like the intro of Scorpion (which subsequently for the first time on the album comes closer to known prog-metal artists) or These White Walls (completely whispered vocals) are absolutely not my cup of tea and hardly anything new. The very prominent role of the bass guitar here, probably also makes it an interesting album for people heavily into that instrument. However, for instance the track Scorpion, due to the lack of vocals and lead guitar or keyboards, sounds more like an exercise in drum/bass interaction than like a well balance piece of music.
The pieces Bartholomew's Kite and Lugosi: 1931 feature some
more well-known instrumental loops and come closer to prog as we know it.
The addition of keyboards makes all the difference here, and the music is much
easier digestible even though some complicated rhythms are featured. The
opening of Lugosi: 1931 reminded me a bit of a Mostly Autumn track
(the intro of Porcupine Rain to be exact). For the rest no ties whatsoever
to that band!
Wings Of Asphyxia is an excerise in psychedelic rock, almost like the middle section of A Saucerful Of Secrets (before the organ sets in).
Heaven's Black Amnesia opens gorgeously, dark melody lines, almost The Cure like. Slowly the track gains momentum and gets heavier with the guitar becoming progressively more dominant over the bass. More and more the track pounds, but suddenly dies down...only to recover again. Good track, solid composition and well performed.
Like I said, a difficult album to judge. From a point of view of accessibility, they don't score very high, but music need not be accessible to be good. I actually feel I am not qualified to give a definite grade here. Some people will rave about this album, I'm sure, others will find it completely awful. I for myself will remain somewhat skeptical. Maybe go see them as they tour the USA as the backing band of Par Lindh !
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Fayman & Fripp - A Temple In The Clouds
Robert Fripp is a household name within the progressive rock circles, known first and foremost for his King Crimson endeavors as well as his forays into the well of experimentation and ambience. His method of escaping from the power chords and gripping clutch of rock music was the creation of Frippertronics which involved recording guitar work using two tape machines, creating loops of this recorded material which kept being re-recorded with material being constantly added to it in layers.
In the mid-70's, Robert Fripp recorded two albums with Brian Eno, No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, which involved loops of Fripp's guitar work augmented with Eno's electronic architecture. A Temple In The Clouds finds Robert Fripp collaborating in a similar fashion, this time with Jeffrey Fayman known for his soundtrack work on films such as The Patriot and The Perfect Storm amongst others. Following a trip to the mythical island of Anapraxis in 1992, a series of guitar loops and effects were recorded by the duo as they absorbed the atmosphere surrounding this island. Eight years later Fayman completed his work on the project with the result being a Temple In The Clouds.
The album is divided into four parts with two lengthy suites, The Pillars Of Hercules and A Temple In The Clouds, and two shorter tracks which seem to act as breathers for the suites. Musically speaking, what one gets here is a slow growing process as the musical layers build up at a very slow almost insignificant rate. The result is a percussionless album full with dreamlike soundscapes consisting of drones and hums with the guitar loops of Robert Fripp and the synthesizers of Fayman intricately intertwined. Though there is a willing lack of rhythm and percussion, this album exudes a great amount of power
Basically this is one of those albums that could appeal to two sets of people. First there are those who could be searching for that relaxing album that they could listen to while resting whilst on the other hand this album evokes the spirits of those great early electronic ambience albums from groups such as Tangerine Dream that came before the New Age movement. On the whole this ranks with the best soundscape/ambient albums around.
Projekt offers A Temple In the Clouds through its mailorder site, and the album is available in well-stocked music stores.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Primitive Instinct - Belief
Primitve Instinct probably is a name that won't ring a bell on first notice. But the band is around since the late eighties and after a lot of personnel changes nowadays consist of Nick Sheridan (vocals, guitar and keyboards), Pic (bass and vocals) and Chris Brown (drums and backing vocals). Additional keyboards are contributed by Andy Quinnell on the tracks Ideology, All That I Need and Chosen Few. Over the years this is just their second major release, Floating Tangibility in 1994 was their first CD release, although the band released six demo's in the past as well.
The short opening track A Little Bit Of Shek already displays the style of the
music Primitive Instinct likes to make, so called Neo Progressive Rock. When
Break On Through opens the first influence that pops up in my mind is the band
Final Conflict (FC) and their spin-off Framework.
Not only the music points in this direction, riffing guitars, a strong rhythm section
and functional keyboard parts, also the vocal likeness of Nick Sheridan and Andy Lawton
(one of the lead singers of FC) is very similar.
Ideology is a more straightforward rock track, that points more in the direction of Jump, although more melodic than them. There's a good groove in this track, with a dominated and strong bassline. It wouldn't disappoint as a single.
Hope is a great ballad which takes off with high melodramatic vocals of Nick
Sheridan accompanied by acoustic guitar. It reminds me a bit of the stuff China Crisis
used to make. After the first chorus the complete band joins Nick.
It's also the first track which takes the listener into a more relaxed and atmospheric
part of this CD.
Shekharim and Praying For The Rain are full electric semi-ballad tracks with a lot of atmosphere and style changes. The latter more than the first. Those are the tracks which show the influences of FC in fullness. They reminds me a lot of the FC work on their album Stand Up, although Shekharim contains some nice keyboard influences of Marillion as well. Praying For The Rain contains a very catchy chorus, and it's the first track with a balanced and laid back guitarsolo. In the end Sherinan keeps continuing the lyrics "I'm just praying for the rain to take away the pain and help us start again" maybe a bit too long, although the interaction with the guitar solo and the backing vocals save it from getting boring.
Crashing Down is more uptempo again. Nice violin samples with acoustic guitar
and that strong and functional rhythm section open this commercial melodic track.
Just when you start thinking that it is maybe a bit too straightforward, they change
it with a dark keyboard solo by Sheridan which breaks the track and creates the contrast
with the earlier happy violin parts.
With All That I Need it's back to the FC Stand Up album references again, especially when Sherinan takes off with that Lawton-like Tutututu.
On first listening Freedom could have been a track like those you find on one of the earlier albums of Mike And The Mechanics. The start is very charactaristic for Rutherford's hobby-band. After a while the track moves more into the direction of Jump.
Chosen Few again is a very Final Conflict-like number, which to my opinion is the best example for the music of Primitive Instinct. Very laid-back atmospheric neo progressive rock. A term that won't be mentioned by the band by the way; they more prefer to call their music alternative instead of prog, due to the negative attitude that this term often evokes.
Belief is an excellent well-balanced album with a band who decided not to display their
workmanship by playing selfish solos, but who display it by playing modest and sometimes
even a bit sober. You hear that everything stands or falls with the way the songs are presented.
The way each member displays himself seems of minor importance.
This is the strength of Primitive Instinct. Each member seems to understand that creating good music doesn't mean that you are putting yourself into the spotlights by playing solo after solo. Hopefully we don't have to wait six years for a follow-up.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Edhels - 1981 The Bursting
I knew Edhels by name, before listening to this album. This band often is mentioned as one of the bands that new France progressive bands seemed to be influences by. 1981 The Bursting is an album of a band who is still very much searching for their sound. Main member Marc Ceccotti (guitars, keyboards and percussion) is responsible for this musical journey into the progressive realms. Besides mentioned as main writer for all the music, I get the feeling Ceccotti doesn't know exactly which musical direction he likes to lead his band into. He seems to be searching for a magical key to unlock the gate of the progressive shrine, in which he hopes to collect his musical mould.
The result is best shown in the opening track Russian Puzzle. This track contains the trademarks of well-known progressive and electronic bands of the seventies. It opens in a Tangerie Dream vein, and throughout the six movements the band changes back and forward from Yes to Eloy and back to Tangerine Dream again. The track is build around intermezzos between keyboards and acoustic guitars, all in a very tranquil atmosphere, in which the keyboards refer to Tangerine Dream and Rick Wakeman and the acoustic guitars are very Steve Howe-like. Unfortuantly for most of the album the drums and percussion presented are programmed, which creates a very clinical sound, and destroys a lot of the acoustic warmth of the guitars.
Sandrine represents the patent11:57 AM 1/27/01 registrated by a band like Tangerine Dream.
Tranquil keyboard sequences, with drum computer, which seems to continue monotonously.
The adventure comes from a sampled violin melody, which is contributed by Sandrine Brisson.
L'Entrange Quete is a very dark keyboard orientated track. It could have been used in a movie or sitcom, and contains certain Jan Hammer influences. Basic keyboard samples with a simple melody over it, which were used in car chasings or nightly reconnaissances in TV series just like Miami Vice. In this track the lead keyboards are played by Phillippe Peratonnere and additional keyboards are contributed Jacky Rosati. This is the only track in which both are present.
When the track Edhels takes off, it assails you that they've been creating
an alternative version of Mad Man Moon from the succesfull Genesis album A Trick Of The Tail.
The melody of the acoustic guitar is replaced by keyboards. The overall sound of this track breathes
the mid seventies atmosphere of the wellknown Genesis sound.
Malëak opens in a very classical way. No wonder it is called a symphony. Off all the tracks mentioned as being concerto's or symphonies this one suits the subtitle most. Edhels accompanies the listener through several, not mentioned, movements, in which Genesis seems to act as their main influence, although the third movement seems to be written in a more new wave style, a bit like the early instrumental OMD or Human League. In the last movement they return to the classical influences of Bach.
Recorded on a two track Revox, the sound of this album isn't that great, sometimes even very muddy. The electric guitar parts contain a lot of distortion, and sound, for example in Russian Puzzle, out of tune. Songs aren't finished, but are simply recorded on tape to preserve the result. They start and finish very abruptly. Tracks like Russian Puzzle or Malëak, build upon several movements, lack the smooth interludes between the movements. Now one ends and after a short break the next takes off. Therefore the overall judgement of this album is that off a thingummy that should only please the real fans.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.