Reviews in this issue:
Formed in 1987, Magus is the musical vehicle for Vermont born Andrew Robinson and the recordings under this moniker are the fruits of his collaboration with drummer/recording engineer Bryce Chicoine. The first release for Magus was a cassette EP, The River And The Sea, followed by another EP in 1991, The Sleeping Gypsy, which was eventually released on CD in 1993.
The first album for Magus was released in 1995. This self-titled debut featured new music as well as reworking of material from the previous EP's. For the second album, Traveller (1995), Robinson and Chicoine teamed up with keyboardist Debbie Moore though she only remained in the band till 1998.
While searching for a replacement, Robinson laid down the tracks for the mini-album Highway 375, and in June 1999 Rue Yamachi joined Magus as the keyboard player. This was meant to herald a new era for the band, as for the first time Robinson would work in a group framework with the workload distributed between members. As a sign of the end of this musical chapter for Magus, a retrospective CD, Echoes From The Edge Of The Millenium 1987-1999 was released.
However, this does not seem to have worked out as Magus returned in 2001 with The Green Earth, and with just Andrew Robinson at the helm of the band. The music had changed drastically, but it seems that Magus is to remain Andrew Robinson!
Magus - Traveller
For the album Traveller, multi-instrumentalist and composer Andrew Robinson teamed up with Debbie Moore (keyboards, backing vocals) and Bryce Chicoine (drums). Together with various guest musicians the trio have presented an album that deals with the lighter side of progressive rock music. There are no overblown solos with drastic shifts in time signatures and chord changes and the music verges on a style not too dissimilar to Alan Parsons Project (APP) and Camel, as well as Porcupine Tree to a certain extent.
You Know The Way opens up the album and immediately APP and Camel spring to mind. Straight forward and accessible, the track, which in itself is subdivided into five sections, manages to condense a number of ear friendly hooks into a relatively short time span. The short guitar instrumental Blue Sky, Deep Lake then leads into one of the album highlights, Traveller. Here Magus seem to shift their musical direction as the Porcupine Tree influence seems to creep in together with touches of Hawkwind. The hypnotic rhythm conveys a sense of expectancy as sound effects flit from speaker to speaker. For some reason this tendency towards a space rock sound seems to fit in more than the more commercial sounding tracks such as the opener You Know The Way.
The short Khyber Pass has the group shifting to a more acoustic sound as various Middle eastern sounds are drawn in to augment the overall texture of the track, much like Camel's Rajaz. This then merges into the atmospheric Nostradamus which retains the overall placid nature of the album. In The Unknown is the only track not to be composed solely by Andrew Robinson as it is co-written with Debbie Moore. Once again the APP influences seem to surface, almost neo-progressive at times. Of the commercial tracks on the album, this track is probably the strongest.
With Until the Sun Burns Out, featuring a story line that would have fit snugly on any Rush album, one sees a return to those space rock influences that surfaced briefly on the title track of this album. At times the track verges on the ambient whilst at others it even verges into the hard rock territory with hints of a divergence of styles ranging from Anthony Philips to Paranoise. The use of samples and vocodered vocals create a sense of futuristic music and the track could fit in on one of these sci-fi movies or computer game introductions. Truly a dramatic piece of music that receives an uplifting feel with the subsequent 108 Steps To Babaji that is an instrumental similar in style to Blue Sky, Deep Lake.
The album comes to a close with the epic Rif that is in itself subdivided into seven parts. One could say that this track brings together all of the musical ideas that have surfaced on the album. Unlike many lengthy instrumentals, this track has the beauty of being non repetitive and each particular idea is only dwelled on for a short while. Furthermore this track allows one to appreciate the guitar work of Robinson, that is sublime and direct without any frills, a trait that many a guitarist should strive to achieve.
Overall the album features a number of interesting ideas that however convey a sense of lack of musical direction. Instead of concentrating on a particular style, Andrew Robinson has created an album that features a myriad of diverse styles that somehow leave the album with a sense of uncohesiveness. When looked at individually, many of these tracks do stand out as gems, but possibly the album's biggest flaw is the lack of linkage between various styles.
The CD is available from Sky Pines Music, 180 Mountain Home Park, Brattleboro, Vermont USA, 05301. (Email: email@example.com) or from the band website
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Magus - Highway 375
The third release by Magus comes in the form of a mini album which has all instruments and compositions performed by Andrew Robinson. Highway 375 is one of the most notorious highways in the USA along which numerous UFO sightings have taken place, hence the alien depicted on the front cover of the album as well as the numerous sci-fi references allured to on album tracks.
Contrary to the previous album, Traveller, this album is not as commercially accessible and does not feature any vocals. Instead what one gets is a progressive rock stepped in the electronic genre. Thus the majority of instruments are relegated to the background with the brunt of the music supported by the synthesizers.
The album opens with Highway 375 which has an eerie atmospheric backdrop, very sci-fi sounding accompanied by pleasant guitar work, very Porcupine Tree-like in nature. At times there are hints of the German electronic influence from bands such as Kraftwerk, but the music has a bit more warmth to it than this musical genre.
Hearing this Mini-CD, one can only imagine that this is the direction that Andrew Robinson is aspiring to move towards musically. At least this album, unlike Traveller, shows a definite path and is thus more cohesive when looked at as a whole. On the other hand the album will be slightly disappointing to those who like the Alan Parsons Project similarities on Traveller, while it should please those who like the electronic side of progressive rock.
The following two tracks are Robinson's tribute to the sci-fi epic book Dune, by Frank Herebert. The tracks seem
to be devoted to the main character Paul Atreides. Part 1 is a series of keyboard drones and deals with the
arid desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. The cold swirling effects convey to perfection the image of a
desolate barren planet. This track then merges into Part 2: Messiah which features a mixture of ethnic
rhythm with a distant guitar, almost Ash-Ra Tempel-like in nature. In fact the more I hear this album, the
more convinced I become that this musical direction suits Robinson's style of playing.
The album comes to a conclusion with a reworked version of the first track, Highway 375 revisited and admittedly this version is better than the original. The electronic sounds are fresher and much more accessible. With this mini album Magus or Andrew Robinson has come up trumps. The album shows a definite direction that allows his music to be fully expressed and though relatively short, manages to provide a fresh and pleasant listen.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Magus - Echoes From The Edge Of The Millennium 1987-1999
This compilation album draws on music that was recorded in the thirteen year existence of Magus (1987-1999) and also marks the existence of Magus as being just a vehicle for Andrew Robinson's music. In fact in the liner notes he adds that future Magus releases would be done as a collective band project rather than as solo material with guest musicians. Interestingly enough, many reviewers of Magus' work have always likened the work to that of Porcupine Tree. The link between the two band is strengthened further on this album via the artwork on the album which is by Russian artist Alexander Tsalikhin. Originally the image was designed for Porcupine Tree, but deeming their work as having become too commercial he let Magus use it instead!
The earliest track on the recording dates from 1987 and is called Waterfall. The track features a continuous ethnic-like rhythm, a feature that Robinson often incorporates into his music with prominence given to the bass run that forms the backbone of the track. The remainder of the track has some delicate guitar chords that blend in perfectly with the musical setting. Also included on the album is a 1988 recording, The Infinite (And The River Joins The Sea...Part 3) which is in a New Age style based mainly on a series of atmospheric musical layers with a delicate piano section. Next up is an unreleased direct to stereo cassette home demo, Incubus, from 1991 and is a synthesised instrumental very much in an Alan Parsons Project style. One has to admit that APP seems to have had quite an impact on Andrew Robinson's musical formation.
There are two tracks that were recorded in 1992, Until The Sun Burns Out (Part 1) and She's The Lady. Until The Sun Burns Out would eventually end up on Magus' 1997 album Traveller, and features a steady space-rock riff together with an overall ambience that makes the track one of the album highlights. This original version of She's The Lady is a sharp contrast to Until The Sun Burns as it features just an acoustic guitar and vocals. Though Robinson rarely sings on his tracks, he possesses a fine voice which blends in snugly with the acoustic setting.
Sandman is the first track, chronologically speaking, that shows Robinson fusing the electronic/atmospheric layerings together with an APP approach. This version is a remix of the original and it is indeed one of the better tracks on the album. The Earth's Sharp Edge on the other hand has a curious mixture of Gilmour-like guitar work coupled with a very eighties sounding keyboard sound while the remix version of Traveller is a much colder version than the original. It seems as if the main guitar work has been gated out of the track leaving the cold icy keyboard sound to come to the forefront. Many times when one hears of a remix, there is little changed, however Robinson manages to create a whole new work when he remixes his music.
Spanish Waters is a musical adaptation by Robinson of the poem by the same name by John Masefield (1878-1967) that has a similar structure to Traveller. Whereas in Traveller the chords were played out on a keyboard, this time they are played on an acoustic guitar with vocals added in. Unfortunately the track suffers from a monotony that is very uncharacteristic of the Magus work. The same riff is kept for the whole of the track with nothing or little happening in between.
The lengthy Rif is considered one of the main pieces of work from the Magus repertoire and originally appeared on the Traveller album. Only the final four sections, out of an original seven, are presented on this album though this does not detract from the fact that this track is a progressive rock classic.
Both Messiah (Arrakis-Dunbe-Desert Planet, Part 2) and Highway 375 (revisited) featured on the Highway 375 mini album while The Last Flight Of Saint-Ex is the last new track to appear on this album. Once again we have an instrumental that combines some delicate guitar work with an atmospheric backdrop. In fact Robinson always manages to subtly introduce that characteristic sci-fi sound into his music.
The album should serve as a worthy introduction to the music of Magus, and furthermore should also prove interesting to those who already own the Magus albums as many of the tracks appear in a remixed format to the original.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Magus - The Green Earth
Following the release of Echoes From The Edge Of The Millennium, Andrew Robinson had announced the end of Magus as a solo vehicle and the formation of a trio under the moniker of Magus. However, such a feat seems to have not worked out and once again Magus are reduced to the solo work of Andrew Robinson together with the help of various guest musicians.
As one can guess from both the track listing as well as the album title, most of what is written has an ecological theme to it. the album start off with Rainforest and from the opening track it seems that though there is no fixed band, the advent of a new millennium has seen Andrew Robinson shift change his musical niche. There seems to be less emphasis on a keyboard sound while the acoustic guitar is given more prominence. On Rainforest, one gets all the sounds that one would expect in a track of such a name, atmospheric effects, tribal rhythms as well as the use of wind instruments. The tempo is more upbeat with almost a funk touch to the music. At times the music almost approaches the Gabrielesque especially the sounds on tracks such as The Family And The Fishing Net.
The Green Earth utilises more of the same sounds and effects as Rainforest, though it is devoid of any vocals while North Atlantic Song shifts the musical scenario, and consequently also the background noises. This time instead of the sounds of the forest, we get the sound of seagulls. It is remarkable how much Magus' music has changed from the previous albums. Gone are the electronic, almost space-rock sounds and with them the sci-fi themes have also disappeared. This time with a naturalist theme, the music have shifted acoustically and consequently become mellower.
Illuminati starts off with a seventies feel to it with its deep funky bass and drums machine rhythm to then break off into a neo-progressive burst of keyboard and guitar. However this is short lived and the track includes a continuous repetition of the same backing riff. I Am The Sun sees Robinson adopting a folk-rock stance, almost Al Stewart-like in nature while the instrumental Sea Without A Shore has Britain stamped all over it. In certain parts it reminds me of a Roger Hodgson introduction though without the vocals.
Stranded retains that folk feeling with the introduction of a violin that duets with Robinson's melancholic vocals while Shepherd still sees the utilisation of the acoustic guitar with keyboards mimicking the sound of pan pipes.
The album comes to a close with The Man Who Killed The River, a track which in itself is divided into two parts. The first part is a totally atmospheric piece of music with utilisation of angelic voices to create the mood. The second part is the first track on the album that shows off the Magus of old. Finally the Alan Parsons Project influences begin to shone through with the keyboards acquiring a certain amount of power. Even the guitars, though on few occasions, have a certain amount of distortion.
Once again I must admit to my surprise in the shift in musical ground from Magus with the advent of the millennium. If all I had heard from Magus was this one album, I would have has a very different opinion of the band. Never in my wildest dream would I have thought that Andrew Robinson would have composed tracks verging on the kraut-rock! Having said that, this musical style is played out with grace by Robinson (Magus), though i feel that even though the album might win over an amount of new fans, it is surely gong to alienate the old Magus fans.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.