Issue 2004-061

Reviews in this issue:

Steve Hackett – Live Archive 04
Steve Hackett - Live Archive 04
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Camino Records
Catalogue #: CamCD34
Year of Release:2004
Time:59:35 & 45:17
Info:Steve Hackett
Samples:Click here


CD1: Intro (1:05), Valley Of The Kings (5:37), Mechanical Bride (6:59), Circus Of Becoming (3:09), Frozen Statues (3:48), Slogans (4:02), Serpentine Song (7:13), Ace Of Wands (6:35), Hammer In The Sand (4:02), Blood On The Rooftops (5:55), Fly On A Windshield (3:04), Please Don’t Touch (3:57), Firth Of Fifth (4:03)

CD 2: If You Can’t Find Heaven (3:27), Darktown (5:33), Brand New (5:49), Air-Conditioned Nightmare (4:08), Every Day (6:30), Clocks (5:46), Spectral Mornings (5:46), Los Endos (8:13)

One of the best treats in the last few years, musically speaking I mean, was Steve Hackett’s "Live Archive" series. After the stunning fist box, Hackett has released a full gig of each tour/year for a really reasonable price with great quality, both soundwise and performance-wise. We know artists that keep (re-)releasing sometimes dodgy live-stuff from obscure places (Wakeman and Wetton come to mind), but this is not the case here. This man is in control of the product and with his team at Camino’s, he delivers value for money. If you’re lucky you might even receive the album signed by the master himself!

Exit commercial break: to the content now. These recent Live Archive CDs are full gigs, just as we like them to be. Since Hackett has been releasing a live album every year since 2002, you will find some tracks on all albums. Personally, I don’t mind at all. The setlist is evolving over the years and in fact only six songs are on all three albums. And there’s no weaker album between them. This shows how big this man’s back-catalogue has grown over the years.
To be honest, I tend to find Hackett’s live albums a lot more interesting than his studio albums. I think much of his studio-work is a bit experimental and if I’m very critical only a few songs on each album really stand out. But, when you combine these tracks on a live album, you have a stunning collection of songs.

If you already bought Nearfest and Live03, you will have Darktown, Serpentine Song, Mechanical Bride, Everyday, Firth Of Fifth and Los Endos for the 3rd time. Not the worst songs, I’d say, though personally I have ambiguous feelings about the vampirish vocals in Darktown. So, if these tracks are the backbone of the series, what’s the new flesh?

One of the surprises to me was the return of the Air-Conditioned Nightmare, one of those excellent tracks on albums that never convinced me entirely (Cured, 1981). Here, in it’s new outfit, played with the most jazzy line-up Hackett ever played with, the song shines. Blood On The Rooftops and Fly On A Windshield were true moments of shivers when I heard them live, and they are again on this album. You realize Mr Hackett is keeper of a very special heritage and he doesn’t deny his offspring. In fact, he pays tribute to it, by creating his own interpretation of these old classics.

Ace Of Wands off Voyage of the Acolyte (1975) and Clocks and Spectral Mornings off Spectral Mornings (1979) are three favourites of mine, from some Hackett’s classic early albums. Off the other two early albums Defector (1980) is presented by Hammer In The Sand and Slogans and Please Don’t Touch (1978) by the title track.
Hackett’s most recent album, To Watch The Storms, is well represented by Circus of Becoming, Frozen Statues, Brand New, Mechanical Bride and Serpentine Song. Of these, the romantic and almost fragile Serpentine Song is another shivering moment. A new highlight in Hackett’s catalogue.

The band Hackett’s playing with bring new life to old classics, without damaging their essence. I find this very daring, but it’s well done. Though Terry Gregory (Bass and vocals) and Gary O’Toole (drums) are a firing rhythm-section and Roger King is a versatile keyboard player, the true ‘extra’ in this line-up is Rob Townsend (Flutes, Saxes, etc.). He really gives a new flavour to old favourites and, by that, assures that this band is reinventing rather than revisiting old hits.

A DVD of this gig will be released soon. I hope we will be able to pay attention to that one as well on this place.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Jan-Jaap de Haan

Sérgio Benchimol -
A Drop In The Ocean, An Ocean In A Drop
Sérgio Benchimol - A Drop In The Ocean, An Ocean In A Drop
Country of Origin:Brazil
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:AA0002000
Year of Release:2004
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Terral (4:26), Janelas Do Ceu (3:37), Memorias De Viagens (6:50), Bamidbar (4:21), Toca Da Cigarra (3:17), Bossa Rio Jazz Walz (3:29), Jardim Das Delicias (8:09), Maracatu (3:42), Moria (3:52), The Hunt (4:15 ), Falling Times (4:06), Exodus (2:57), A Drop In The Ocean (4:27), A Rocha E O Mar (4:29), Unpack Bagus (2:38), Estrelas Do Amanhecer (3:03), 49 Porta (2:45), Carrossel (2:41), The Last Call (3:47)

Sérgio Benchimol deserves to make a big splash in the prog world with this delightful collection of sophisticated, melodic (mostly) instrumental Prog/Folk/World/Jazz fusion hybrids.

His name is new to me but Sérgio is a Brazilian multi-instrumentalist of considerable talents. He has previously featured on recordings by Semente and True Illusion. A Drop In The Ocean... is his first solo outing on which he features on (take a deep breath); piano, viola, guitar, bass, Mellotron, Moog, vocals; sitar; and tubular bells (yes, he is comparable to Mike Oldfield in terms of talents, and will surely appeal to his fans, but never fear, this is no sound alike clone).

Main support comes from David Ganc, whose flutes dominate many of the tracks, and who also plays alto, soprano and tenor saxes. His flute playing is absolutely marvellous. Other guests include Luciano Vaz on violincello, Carlos Prazeres on oboe, Edu Szjainbrum on percussion and Michel Benchimol on vocals (Carousel).

This lengthy, but never boring work is roughly split into two halves, with the first eight tracks having a more refined, relaxed atmosphere, something of a chamber orchestra feel, and most of the tunes heavily featuring the melodious flute of David Ganc. The moods are many and varied. The later portion of the CD introduces a rockier and/or jazzier feel (often in the same track) but still finds time for plenty of surprising twists and turns and intricate instrumental embellishments.

Much as I would love to go into great detail, at nineteen tracks and nary a clunker to be found, there is just too much to go into, so I am going to limit myself to highlighting a few of the great moments that hit me on my last listen through (there is so much here that you hear something different every time).

  • Terral is an interesting opener, immediately involving the listener in a compelling instrumental environment, constructed from acoustic guitars, restless percussion and with the melodic focus on flutes and strings (violas and cellos, I think). As with most of the tracks on the CD, the length of the track is relatively short, but there are plenty of ideas packed into each one. Whilst the music is not particularly complex, the arrangements are full and inventive.
  • Janelas Do Ceu: again, flutes and cello carry the tune, over delicate acoustic guitars. The mood is sombre and slightly disquieting. A quickening of pace and a delightful flute solo in the second half lifts the track to new heights – a touch of the Swedish prog sound here
  • Memorias De Viagens: Chiming sitars counterpoint the flutes here for a lovely world music-tinged tune, which may have some of you recalling Spanish prog legend Gualberto’s marvellous A la Vida / Al Dolor, particularly when the flamenco styled percussion kicks in.
  • Bamidbar: more cellos, flutes and violins centre stage, interweaving melodies and backed by subtle percussion. A distinct Hispanic bent to the guitar solo halfway through. Very nice.
  • Bossa Rio Jazz Walz: a touch of jazz creeps in to this tune, again staring flute in the main role, nice bass work and cool vibes.
  • Jardim Das Delicias: first song (there are four vocal tracks- the vocals are not unpleasant but don’t add much to the superb instrumentals) gentle understated vocals and dreamy sitars create a mystical atmosphere, this is a superb track
  • Maracatu: lively world influenced, a touch more tension created by flutes and percussion –another highlight, this one.
  • The Hunt: another vocal track, again rockier – a definite Pink Floyd feel to the sax/guitar duel – recalls Money from DSOTM.
  • The Last Call: a great finish to a superb album, with wailing saxes and oboe and shimmering percussion. A satisfying instrumental brew, which leaves you wanting more.

Reading this back I am acutely aware of all the great moments I am leaving out, but hopefully you will be inspired to search out this great CD and discover for yourself the wonderful wealth of music contained within. This should have a wide appeal across the board for prog fans, though this is most definitely not bombastic or intense, as prog so often is, nor is it prog metal, but that said, I think most of you would be well pleased with this disc, especially if you like lively, busy instrumental Fusion with the accent on prog over Jazz. It is a must purchase for fans of flute, as it is overflowing with delicious melodic flute (Camel, Focus, Gotic are references here).


Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Dave Sissons

Picture Of The Moon - Waxing Crescent
Picture Of the Moon - Waxing Crescent
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2004
Info:Picture Of The Moon
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: First Picture (3:11), Evil LiveSecure (5:47), Depressive Garden (7:09)

Waxing Crescent is Picture Of The Moon's first try to get some attention. It is a demo so it's intended audience is probably venues, record labels and maybe even radio stations, but because it is also up for sale we are presenting a review here. The three songs on these demo should give a general idea of the potential of this prog metal band. The band states their influences are: Dream Theater, Pagan's Mind and Iron Maiden.

First Picture has a nice bass loop driving the rhythm together with the drums. It is an instrumental only track that sounds very proggy mainly because of the keyboards, however, it also sounds very messy and therefore the band does not sound as tight as they do on the other two tracks. The sound quality of this first track also is not up to the standard of the other tracks. The composition of this track is good, but if it were performed better it would not have been the weaker of the three tracks from the album.

The driving bass is prolonged on the next track: Evil LiveSecure added to this track is one of the best features of this band: the versatile voice of Michiel Borkent. This guy has an amazing reach and from the lowest note to the highest screams they are all spot on. He also has is very own style and one I like a lot. There's a tempo change in this track that's much too forced, it is as if the band had not reached their required number of tempo changes yet. The music changes in to a kind of reggae sounding after beat, that for me could have been left out.

Depressive Garden is my favorite track of the album. It has a dark atmosphere and is over 5 minutes long which reminds me very much of a band too easily forgotten: Winter. On this track there are a number of lines where vocals are taking over after grunts, I like it a lot. Yet another functional grunt to add to my list. A list I would not expect to get this big.

This demo shows that Picture Of The Moon are still in the progress of becoming a band. The ideas that were incorporated in this mini-album are pretty good but still some work needs to be done. I hope to hear some of their progress in the future because I get the idea it could be quite a surprise. As this is only a three track demo I did not offer a rating, as it would not fit in with actual album rating system.

Conclusion: Unrated

Dries Dokter

Ashtar - Urantia
Ashtar - Urantia
Country of Origin:Brazil
Record Label:Rock Symphony
Catalogue #: RSLN079
Year of Release:2002
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: An Oiohche Dhorcha (2:03), Urantia (12:11); Arriving At Skye (1:00), Druid Dream (3:56), Amazing Grace (2:44), Children Of The Mist (8:51), The Misty Dawn (1:06), Oblivious Scars (9:34), The First Star (1:10), Nemesis (10:52), Madainn Trath (4:53)

Brazilian outfit Ashtar laboured over Urantia, their debut album, for over four years. It appears to have been originally released sometime in 2002, although DPRP only received a copy recently.

Ashtar may have physically recorded the album in Rio de Janeiro, but its blatantly clear where there hearts really lie. If the song titles don’t tip you off, then the artwork – replete with Celtic crosses, ruined castles, crystal-clear lakes surrounded by snow-cap mountains, and the famous Stonehenge – surely will. Musically and lyrically, Ashtar inhabit a land where Druids roam, and Celtic warriors scan the horizon from snow-capped mountains surrounded by mists. Of course, this all smacks a little of too much time spent watching ‘Braveheart’ (name checked in the credits!), and is a rather Disney-fied view of Britain’s ancient folklore, but the fact remains that the band obviously love the ancient Celtic folk music, and are clearly adept at fusing it with more classic rock elements. Coupled with the ability to pen some winning melodies, this makes for a generally enjoyable album.

What we essentially get here are five proper songs (four of them lengthy) and a number of shorter instrumental pieces. The latter generally err towards traditional Celtic folk music; opener An Oiohche Dhorcha sets the scene, with a tolling bell giving way to a traditionally-inspired melody flavoured not just by the usual acoustic guitars and keyboards, but by whistles and fiddles too – in fact these instruments turn up in almost every song; in addition, we even get some bagpipes on a Celtic take on the traditional American standard Amazing Grace – totally OTT, of course, but still quite enjoyable.

The main point of comparison on the shorter pieces would have to be Mostly Autumn, particularly the sound of the first two albums – check out the jig-like Druid Dream, for instance. This comparison also holds for some of the epic pieces, in particular the fine title track and Children Of The Mist; the latter starts off with a tranquil introduction, before a more explosive mid-section, featuring sounds of battle, and afterwards skilfully upping the pace and intensity of the track. Female lead vocalist Fernanda Mesquita, whilst not in the Heather Findlay league, still has a good voice, being particularly suited to the quieter, more tranquil material.

The final two epics on the album, Oblivious Scars and Nemesis, both see the band broadening their sound. Lyrically, both have darker subject matter rooted in reality, and are also far heavier than what has gone before, with sections that could have come from a thrash metal album (the closing riff on Oblivious Scars, for example, has much in common with the famous riff on Metallica’s Enter Sandman). In fact, these two tracks show the influence of Opeth, featuring as they do a mix of very heavy sections, and gentle, melancholic passages dominated by gently strummed acoustic guitars. Male vocalist (and main songwriter) Luiz Garcia even attempts some Akerfeldt-esque death growls, although these don’t really seem to fit well with the material. Oblivious Scars is probably the more successful of the two tracks, having a better flow and stronger melodies, although Nemesis has its moments, not least some excellent guitar playing by Garcia and Thiago Guimaraes – in fact, the playing of these two is excellent throughout the album, with some superb acoustic-electric interplay and very strong solo work.

Overall, with Urantia, Ashtar have produced an enjoyable album of Celtic-flavoured progressive rock, which is bound to find flavour with fans of the likes of Mostly Autumn and Karnataka. There are still some elements that need working on – song structures could be tighter, some of the rhythms err on the clunky side, and there are a number of occasions where proceedings fall on the wrong side of cheesiness – but this is certainly a strong first showing by Ashtar that suggests the band may well go on to greater things.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Tom De Val

Splinter - Devil's Jigsaw
Splinter - Devil's Jigsaw
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2004
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Devil's Advocate (10:33), Neon (Black Is White) (8:09), Guernica (5:23), Paradox (Overture) (2:53), Here & Now (3:40), The Hymn (To The Infamous Dutch Weather System) (4:14), Twist Of Fate (6:02), Reflections (9:29)

Splinter are a young five-piece band from Holland. Formed in 2001 they released their first EP, Luchtkastelen the following year. A follow-up EP Reflections appeared in 2003 to popular acclaim and the band were quickly tipped as one of the most promising young talents on the prog scene. A full album is hotly anticipated but in the meantime we have The Devil's Jigsaw, a collection of songs written around the time of the last EP and initially recorded by the group for their personal archives. However, so pleased were they with the results that they have decided to release them as a private release via their website.

Considering the nature of the recordings, all captured in one take with minimal (if any) overdubs, the results are very impressive. True, these are not top fidelity recordings dressed up with studio finesse, but they were never intended to be so. What you get is an honest recording that more than ably demonstrates the musicianship and ensemble abilities of the five band members. Credit must go to Fred Hendrix, singer/songwriter with Aquila, for the mix which is very clean and clear allowing each instrument to be heard in detail, even when acoustic instruments like piano are competing with massed ranks of electric guitars.

The music displays a degree of variety not often heard in young bands. Opener The Devil's Advocate starts with a quirky keyboard riff which is soon battered aside by some heavy guitar giving the piece a Dream Theater like quality. Things quieten down before the introduction of the vocals with a keyboard interlude that bears the hallmarks of a Spock's Beard number, although it would be fair to say that both of these comparisons are only valid to a point as Splinter do maintain their own sound. This is evident on Neon (Black Is White) with its initial staccato rhythm, crisp, neat guitar solo, layered vocal section melodiously backed by some nice piano and very grandiose finale.

Keyboards, particularly piano, dominate the album, particularly on tracks like Here & Now and the rather lovely The Hymn (To The Infamous Dutch Weather System), candidate for song title of the year! That is not to say the other musicians are redundant. Guitarist Didier Kerckhoff has plenty of opportunity to shine with his electric guitar on tracks like the aforementioned The Devil's Advocate and Guernica and the group play very well as a unit throughout the album. The final two tracks, Twist Of Fate and Reflections are re-recorded versions of songs from the second EP both worthy of inclusion as both tracks are very impressive, particularly Reflections which twists and turns, features a variety of different and engaging solos and makes full use of Menno Broer's keyboard rig.

If these are the compositions that Splinter were originally prepared to consign to the studio vault, then they must consider that they are capable of something rather special for their first official full length album, tracks for which are currently being composed. They have the potential to live up to the expectations placed on them based on the material released thus far and I eagerly await a properly recorded suite of songs. The Devil's Jigsaw may just be a collection of quickly recorded reference demos but they are well worth hearing and could easily be the best 10 Euros you spend this year.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Mark Hughes

Secret Machines - Now Here Is Nowhere
Secret Machines - Now Here Is Nowhere
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Reprise Records
Catalogue #:CDW 48544
Year of Release:2004
Info:Secret Machines
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: First Wave Intact (9:00), Sad And Lonely (4:40), The Leaves Are Gone (4:05), Nowhere Again (4:16), The Road Leads Where It's Led (4:42), Pharaoh's Daughter (5:45), You Are Chains (5:49), Light's On (3:30), Now Here Is Nowhere (8:53)

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. First, this is a review of the band’s full-length debut album, and I refuse to dwell on its (too-often alleged) inferiority to the EP that the band released two years ago. I haven’t even heard the EP -- fortunately, I think, because I can thus guiltlessly concentrate on their real debut album. Second, as has also been thoroughly established, the band shows its influences – mostly sonic rather than lyrical, I think – proudly. Sure, the drum sound on almost every track will make any fan of good seventies rock break into a grin: ah, John Bonham. And no, you can’t get through more than a couple of songs without thinking “Hmm – that reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd’s “(fill in the blank)”. Other influences (or perhaps reminiscences) intrude as you listen, but there’s no, or very little, quotation or allusion here.

Even more successfully than Jet, another of this year’s highly touted new bands known largely for the sweep of its indebtedness, Secret Machines absorb their influences and create something delightfully, if never breathtakingly, new. So I’m not going to go influence-hunting here, amusing though that activity is.

If you’re so inclined, have a look at the blurb on Secret Machines’ own website, where we’re told that the band is “the latest link in the loose-knit chain that connects Pink Floyd, Neu, Can, Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, La Dusseldorf, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, The Band, My Bloody Valentine & Spiritualized.” Okay, fine, although I myself can’t hear a trace of Neil Young or The Band, and My Bloody Valentine seems a stretch, too. Instead, I’d like to focus on what the actual band we’re talking about really sounds like – its own contribution – even if, in order to describe that sound, I’ll often resort to analogy with other bands, well-known and lesser-known ones alike.

Secret Machines is made up of three young fellows from Dallas – Josh Garza (drums) and brothers Benjamin Curtis (guitars, vocals) and Brandon Curtis (bass, keyboards, vocals). They kicked around in other bands before coming together as Secret Machines in the last years of the twentieth century; putting out that EP in 2002; and finally releasing Now Here Is Nowhere this year. And the combination of the three men is certainly fruitful and original. One of the things that strikes you on a first listening to the album is that the band just doesn’t fit any category, and I take that fact to be a wholly good thing. Hard rock? Sort of, although the wide-open spaces and typically undistorted guitars that characterize most of the songs help them evade that pigeonhole. Alternative? Yes, but only in the proper meaning of that term – not the way it’s now used as an, I think, altogether meaningless label for anything that’s not Bryan Adams. Progressive? Sure, unarguably, but on their own terms. Don’t look for much in the way of unusual time signatures here, and don’t expect instrumental virtuosity a lá Hackett or Wakeman or even Gilmour. The most impressive thing about this album is that, although not in any way (or at least any way that I can determine) a concept album, it’s very much of a piece, made coherent by the band’s unique sound.

Okay, you’re saying: so what is that sound like? I’ll grant right off the bat the unifying factor of Garza’s percussion: not only the bass-drum sound but even elements of his style, particularly his use of the hi-hat, are strongly reminiscent of John Bonham’s rock-solid yet innovative work. Another constant in all the songs is delightfully unusual in any genre of contemporary music: clearly articulated and enunciated lyrics, entirely free of the slightest rawk-singer rasp, lisp, or elision. Every word of every song is sung as though it were being spoken by a thoughtful and careful speaker. Finally, there are those spaces I mentioned. Too many bands in all genres cram every half-second with sound. Secret Machines clearly learned a lot from Led Zeppelin, and one of the lessons was the effectiveness of silence, of space between sounds (I’m thinking of songs like When the Levee Breaks, for example). In the album’s opening track, First Wave Intact, and even more clearly in the next song, Sad And Lonely, what we don’t hear only helps us pay attention to what we do hear.

And what we do hear, to begin listing some other features, is reminiscent of some very interesting other bands and musicians indeed. In that second song, Sad And Lonely, there’s a fuzz-bass break midway through that will put a smile on the face of those who’ve never forgotten how Adrian Belew got his guitar to sound like an elephant on King Crimson’s Elephant Talk: Brandon Curtis blazes through several bars of fuzzed-out melody to counterpoint the lyrics preceding that break, words addressed to the “sad and lonely” woman of the title who “feels like those around want [her] to die”: “Were you grateful for the pleasure or baby do you think this is worse?” Then, in the completely dissimilar subsequent song, The Leaves Are Gone, we’re put in mind simultaneously of Floyd’s The Final Cut and Radiohead’s No Surprises, as Curtis sings his icy lament – “Love? / We’ll see / While we’re left to grieve” – over a delicate background of arpeggiated chords and floating keyboards. (Listen to the way he half-sings, half-speaks the “And then?” that precedes “Love?” and think of Waters’ voice as he articulates, as only he can, the “t” in “cut,” in “I never had the nerve to make the final cut” – you’ll hear what I mean.)

But this is no conventional rocker-followed-by-ballad collection, this album. I defy you to keep Depeche Mode out of your head as The Leaves Are Gone segues immediately into the propulsive Nowhere Again – yes, Depeche Mode, and perhaps New Order, too – and, having mentioned New Order, I’ll add that, if Joy Division’s Ian Curtis (obviously no relation) flits through your mind as you listen to the way this band’s Curtis delivers the lyrics, I won’t be surprised. Then – wait, have they been listening to Coldplay? Do I hear traces of In My Place in the drums and piano on the gorgeous semi-ballad Pharaoh’s Daughter? No and yes are the answers, I think; this band has a solid command of many of the idioms of modern rock, but, as I said at the outset and will maintain, they’re neither quoting nor alluding to their predecessors or to their contemporaries. They’re marking out their own territory with their own considerable talents and range of expression. Again, doesn’t the timbre of those emphatic, sustained piano chords in You Are Chains, a song that itself might send your mind rewinding through Radiohead’s Treefingers, remind you of that one grand chord that ended both A Day in the Life and Sgt. Pepper’s? Sure, it might. But the song has its own life and its own point to make – in this case, a rather frighteningly oppressive lyrical one: “You are chains / When you’re chained / With a chain. . . . If you hadn’t come here when you did / I might still believe / I was never in chains.” Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles,” those chains are, the worst kind, and they’re embodied and brought to life by the dramatic but claustrophobic music and that eerily clear vocal delivery.

The album culminates in the title song, Now Here is Nowhere, which, I’ll claim, isn’t just a semi-clever pun. The song, almost nine minutes long, is both a lyrical and a musical summation of the album’s themes. “Who rests in dust? / Who moves in air?” Curtis demands. The song’s delicate beginning will put fans of the venerable Soft Machine’s (a coincidence only, I’m sure, the “Machine” in the bands’ names) Robert Wyatt – not his accent, to be sure, but his careful, idiosyncratic vocal delivery – on such tracks as his superb Sea Song or perhaps I’m A Mineralist, from Nick Mason’s odd but compelling collaborative album Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports (1981). Again, I’m making no claim for an influence, only trying to illustrate the astonishingly wide range of sounds that Secret Machines embrace on a single album, their first album to boot. And that album ends with the eerie last words of this song – “All this time / All this space / All these words” –as early-Rick Wright-sounding keyboards waft in the background: a farewell to a debut CD artfully constructed, self-aware, demonstrative of real talent and predictive of more good things to come.

“For us, it’s about being true to the art ... It’s about looking back at The Band, about looking back at Zeppelin, looking back at all those bands and saying ‘What did they do, and why did they do it?’ As opposed to saying ‘Let’s try to mimic, let’s try to redo what’s already been done.” Thus says Josh Garza, on the band's website, about Secret Machines’ own approach to their predecessors. The “what” is surely important, and I’ve noted just how that “what” manifests itself in various of the band’s sounds and songs, but the “why,” and the intelligence behind it, is far more important. Does the world need another band? Of course not. But if a band can figure out why some of their most crucial forerunners have done what they did and why it was good that they did so, that band might themselves have something new to say. And I think Secret Machines is such a band.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Gerald Wandio

Nono Belvis & Kike Sanzol ~ M.I.A. -
Qué Están Celebrando Los Hombres
Nono Belvis & Kike Sanzol ~ M.I.A. - Qué Están Celebrando Los Hombres
Country of Origin:Argentina
Record Label:Viajero Inmovil
Catalogue #:CICLO3014VIR
Year of Release:1982/2004
Info:Viajero Inmovil

Tracklist: Lazos Reales (5:47), Blanca Presencia (3:56), Al Acecho (8:07), Una Especie De Hueco (5:48), Lengua De Gato (3:54), Cucu (2:44), Qué Están Celebrando Los Hombres (6:11)

Bonus Tracks: Minimo De Quietud (6:32), Rumba Rumbe (5:43)

Qué Están Celebrando Los Hombres continues Felipe Surkan's (Viajero Inmovil Records) selfless efforts to give new airings to some of Argentina's past artists and bands. Often the music has remained unreleased, or as here where the deleted vinyl release has been remastered, had some new cover artwork and then re-issued with bonus tracks not featured on the original. Qué Están... was first released in 1982 and represents changes in the musical direction of Argentinean band M.I.A. Two of its members, Nono Belvis and Kike Sanzol, spreading their wings to explore different avenues of music.

I am unable to comment on M.I.A. as the band are not known to me, however Messrs Belvis and Sanzol offer a light mixture of acoustic jazz / fuzion mixed with some interesting Latin textures, which move on to encompass areas of avant or free improvisation, with a smattering of RIO thrown in for good measure. Writing credits are shared equally, four by Sanzol, four by Belvis, one co-write and although the album features only two musicians - Nono Belvis (acoustic guitars, electric guitars & voice) and Kike Sanzol (drums, vibrapone, various percussion instruments & voice) - the material reflects a band arrangement through the extensive use of multi-tracking. Not surprisingly the material written by Sanzol veers towards the percussive as can be found in the opener Lazos Reales, whilst the lighter acoustic material is penned by Belvis - the delightful Blanca Presencia being my second favourite piece from this CD. So far the album has a light and airy quality drifting only from the point in certain passages as with the somewhat overly long Al Acecho - great moments spoilt by a rather stretched out and meaningless improvised middle section.

What would have the been the opening track for side two of the original album, Una Especie De Hueco takes down the proceedings with some pleasant atmospheric echoing electric guitar - great stuff. Which is more than can be said for Lengua De Gato which consists of meaningless percussion, discordant noises and what sounds like a wasp being strangled. This is followed by a drum / percussion solo replete with all manner of whistles and noises. Sadly the album takes a further nose dive at this point with a free-form cacophony (aka as a row). I have endured such experiences in the past when jamming in my younger days - everyone just playing as loud and as fast as possible with no regard to whatever anyone else is playing. Eventually however everyone tires of this and normality returns, although not many commit these ramblings to an album nor do they make it the title track ;0).

This leaves only the bonus material, Minimo De Quietud, which comes as a breath of fresh air and sees harmony return once more to the album, in this splendid track with the layered acoustic guitar and vibraphone playing in perfect balance. A great track! A similar arrangement of instrumentation can be found in the final track, Rumba Rumbe.

All in all a pleasant enough album with some memorable pieces and although not consistent from start to finish, there are probably more pluses than minuses.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

Bob Mulvey