Reviews in this issue:
Ozric Tentacles - Spirals in Hyperspace
Tracklist: Chewier (5:26), Spirals in Hyperspace (9:51), Slinky (8:39), Toka Tola (7:46), Plasmoid (5:17), Oakum (9:03), Akasha (7:27), Psychic Chasm (8:44), Zoemetra (7:23)
One of the remarkable things about this Ozric Tentacles release is that - even though a full band is present in the pictures of the booklet - this is actually more of a solo release by band leader Ed Wynne, with recent and older band members as session musicians on some of the tracks. As such only Chewier, Oakum and Zoemetra could be considered real band tracks. Old time band member Merv Pepler (currently in Eat Static) makes a re-appearance with drum programming & sampling on Psychic Chasm, one of the album's highlights, while Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudi (both of System 7) appear on Akasha. Finally, Ed's wife Brandi plays glide bass and weird noises on two tracks. The three remaining tracks are performed by Ed Wynne on his own.
This will probably make you wonder if this new album sounds very different from the 'old' stuff. Well, yes and no. 'No' because any of the tracks could easily have been present on any other Ozrics album. This goes to show how much of the band's sound actually originates with Mr. Wynne himself. At the same time however the album as a whole sounds more electronic and synthetic than previous releases. The real 'band feeling' is not present mostly because 6 out of 9 songs do not feature real drums and only Oakum features real bass playing. I do have to admit that my real favourites on the album are those tracks that feature as many real band members as possible. Tracks like Oakum, Chewier and Zoemetra prove what real drums and bass can do for the Ozrics music. Also, I'm not all that impressed with Brandi's synth effects on Plasmoid, which seem less well timed than Seaweed's work on previous albums and sort of spoil the song for me (which is a shame since it contains some great funky guitar work and an interesting speed-up halfway through the tracks).
The more electronic nature of this album give some tracks a more Techno- or even New Age-like feel, although the ever present guitar solo's (or even frenzies) by Ed put the music straight back in the rock genre.
A couple of words about the individual tracks. Chewier is a powerful album opener, while the title track and Slinky (not a new candy bar!) are less interesting. The latter two do have their interesting moments, but they take a bit too long before something really exciting happens. By the way, most of the songs on the album tend to go in a different direction halfway or two thirds through the track. This is a good thing and keeps some of the long tracks (which most of them are) from becoming boring.
The strength in Toka Tola is in the rhythm breaks and funky riffs, as well as the groove-driven second half. As mentioned, Plasmoid is a bit too jumpy and I really dislike the synth noises on this one; without those it would have been a quite enjoyable song. The splendid Oakum was previously released as a fan club single and in a live version on Live at the Pongmaster's Ball and is the track with the most band-like feel, going from ambient to powerful back to peaceful with some great bass lines.
Akasha, with Hillage and Giraudi, is a more dreamy song with the remarkable use of guitar echo, as we've come to know from e.g. Pink Floyd's Run Like Hell. Psychic Chasm, featuring Eat Static's and ex-Ozric Merv is exactly what you would expect from a collaboration between him and Ed; the best of the Ozrics meeting the best of Static. The song is very danceable (for die-hard prog-heads: dancing is the concept of rhythmically moving your body parts to the sound of the music) and features some splendid rhythms. The first half is more trancy while the second half is more powerful and features a great Jungle-rhythm.
Zoemetra is one of those typical good old-fashioned atmospheric tracks with lots of eastern melodies on flute, played by John.
Even though the album as a whole might not be one of the Ozrics best, it certainly isn't their worst either and there is a whole lot of interesting stuff happening in the 70 minutes of music it spans. As a matter of fact, you might even consider this album a nice change from the regular Ozric stuff, where it's hard to tell one instrumental from another anyway. Come to think of it, the last big band change resulted in one of the band's best albums (Become the Other), so I'm curious what the future and a new line-up will bring. For the meantime, even with it's minor shortcomings, this is another recommended Ozric release, especially for those who have already gotten used to the bands indescribable mixture of psychedelica, electronica and ambient eastern melodies.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Peter Gabriel - Growing Up On Tour
A Family Portrait
A Film By Anna Gabriel
Tracklist: Growing Up On Tour (38.53)
Bonus Material: Newport Film Festival performance (11.10), My Head Sounds Like That (6.17), The Barry Williams Show (4.49), The Making Of... The Barry Williams Show (6.04), Photo Shoot (3.01)
As my sister was going along as his back-up singer and his wife, Meabh,
and my new baby brother Isaac, were also travelling with him,
I decided to pick up my camera and go along.
This is the Growing Up Tour 2002."
- Anna Gabriel
Growing Up On Tour - A Family Portrait is an intimate documentary about (family) life on the road. It shows Peter Gabriel and band both on- and off- and backstage, on the road and on their days off. The whole thing is complemented by interview snippets with the entire band as well as some (all too brief) archive footage of Gabriel's entire solo career.
As Peter Gabriel was surrounded by a large chunk of his family, as well as by long-time friends, a lot of the jokes and anecdotes are rather trivial and the documentary has a bit of an in-crowd feel - At times it is more like you are watching someone's family movies than a tour documentary. Well, actually, that is exactly what it is supposed to be, a family movie.
It is an insightful documentary which shows that above all Peter Gabriel is a family man and not all that much a rock-star (well, he never really classified as a rock-star, now did he?).
There are many great moments in this film: the nerves before the first show, Peter Gabriel going on very seriously about the band's in-between-show petanque competition, or the band watching their younger selves on a re-run of their 1988 appearance at Saturday Night Life, while travelling to the next show by private jet (no, I'm not making this up).
It is definitely worthwhile watching.
The DVD also boasts some interesting extras:
My Head Sounds Like That is a short film by Anna Gabriel, to the music of, you guessed it, My Head Sounds Like That. Rather than a promo video clip it is more an abstract film with the music as the basis, consisting of close-ups of objects around a living room and CG shots of blood vessels and brain activity.
The second video clip that can be found on this DVD is the controversial video for The Barry Williams Show, directed by one Sean Penn. Like the lyrics of that song, the video focuses on the American obsession with 'talk' shows and it starts as a Jerry Springer spoof, but then turns into a very bloody affair full of biblical references. For some strange reason this video was banned by MTV and a string of other TV stations...
There is also an interesting making of... of that shoot, once again directed by Anna Gabriel.
The most interesting extra feature is Peter Gabriel's performance at The Newport International Film Festival Fund Raiser. Anna's film debuted at the NIFF 2003 and dad Peter gave an acoustic solo performance at the premiere, as a fund raiser for charity. Accompanied by a grand piano (and a rhythm box at times) Peter Gabriel played beautiful renditions of Washing Of The Water, Solsbury Hill, Mercy Street, In Your Eyes and Father, Son.
This DVD is available through the official Peter Gabriel website and was also sold at the merchandise stand during the last part of the Still Growing Up Tour at a surprisingly cheap price of only € 15.
However, cheap as it may seem, this DVD is actually no more than the missing bonus-disc to the Growing Up Live DVD, as everything that is on this DVD should have been bonus material on that rather bare DVD.
Nonetheless a nice item and well worth tracking down.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ray Wilson - The Next Best Thing
Tracklist: These Are The Changes (3:36), Inside (4:02), How High (3:33), The Fool In Me (3:23), Adolescent Breakdown (2:54), Sometimes (3:27), Alone (4:14), Magic Train (3:32), The Actor (4:39), Ever The Reason (4:09), Pumpkinhead (4:06), The Next Best Thing (3:57)
Ray Wilson's debut album Change was one of my favourite albums from 2003. If nothing else Wilson proved with Change that he is a lot more than 'that bloke who caused the end of Genesis', in fact, after seeing him perform a tremendous live show last year I realised that the demise of Genesis was anything but his fault. Being the excellent songwriter and performer that he is, with a beautiful raw voice, he could have been a saviour to that band had he not been restrained so much by Messrs Banks and Rutherford.
A year after the release of Change comes the follow-up album The Next Best Thing. The title reminds me of an awful movie starring Madonna, and the album has one more thing in common with that movie: it fails to live up to its expectations.
Change was a largely acoustic and rather mellow affair, with The Next Best Thing Wilson proves that he can aptly handle an electric guitar as well. As if he needs to prove that he can write number one hits, his worldwide breakthrough hit with Stiltskin Inside is re-recorded for this album. I do wonder to what point he did that. The new version is virtually similar to the original, with the main difference being that the original is better. It is a bit of a let-down so early on the album, especially when you consider that the opener These Are The Changes is in fact a very good and original tune. The song hardly has lyrics (other than "These are the changes the day brings us") but instead features clips from news broadcasts, highlighting keypoints of (American) history: the attacks of 9-11, the Vietnam war, the JFK assassination, the division of Berlin. All this is done without really taking a political stance, though when looking closer at what is exactly being said in the news clips, and listening to Wilson repeating "these are the changes the day brings us", one can only come to one conclusion: in the past 60 years the world has changed f*ck all!
After Inside the album continues with a couple of rather bland tracks. How High is graced with a great guitar solo, but that solo can't save the song, as it has a rather repetitive and 'shouty' melody. The Fool In Me is an even stranger track, a bouncy song with a really strange and unexpected trumpet solo. For the largest part the song sounds more like a typical Status Quo song though, nothing overly fancy.
Adolescent Breakdown is a step back into the right direction and this is a song of the quality that Wilson showed on Change. It is also a more ballad-style track, which in my opinion suits him better than some of the rock songs that can be found on this album. Both lyrically and musically this song reminds me a lot of the American band Eels - it has the same type of cynicism and self-mockery in the lyrics and Wilson's voice sounds not unlike that of E's. A good track and it is a pity that it is so short (coincidentally just like most of the Eels songs).
The comes the almost obligatory ballad Sometimes, but at this point on the album it is a welcome breather. It is a piano/vocal composition only and it reminds me a bit of the track Beach on Change, which happens to be one of my favourite tracks on that album.
Then with Alone the music shifts 180 degrees into a tropical rumba ballad, which as a closest reference sounds a bit like Chris Isaak's Wicked Game
Magic Train is another rather 'American' sounding track, which doesn't do it for me.
The Actor is the longest track on the album and even though it's only four and a half minutes long, it feels like 'the epic'. It starts as a very mellow ballad, with only an electric piano and acoustic guitar. However, after two verses the drums kick in and a completely different track starts, which sounds like the missing recording from Genesis' Lamb Lies Down sessions. Wilson's vocals sound eerily like that of a mid-seventies Peter Gabriel and also the lyrics and the way he's singing them are a lot like Gabriel's.
Not entirely coincidental then that the lyrics of this song deal with his dismissal from Genesis and the effect this had on his life. After the chaotic Genesis part it goes back to the ballad of the beginning, It's allright, I just need to believe, I'm not afraid anymore, I will feel my way back, lay your hands on me...
A stunning song!
The high quality is maintained with Ever The Reason which starts as a solid pop-rock song, yet midway turns into something that could actually have appeared on an album by Porcupine Tree, with a great roaring
guitar solo and interesting synth effects.
Pumpkinhead continues in similar vein, a bit of a cross between modern, alternative rock with a heavy metal chorus and an unexpected analogue synth solo.
Just like the previous album, The Next Best Thing ends with an instrumental, and a rather weird one it is. Again we have the trumpet back, and it gives the title track a bit of a spaghetti western feel. Not bad though.
With the new album Ray Wilson has showed a heavier side of himself and with mixed success. As with Change there isn't really a bad track on the album, but on the whole the album is less cohesive and feels too much like a collection of different styles and atmosphere. The second half of the album is a lot better than the first, notwithstanding the great first track These Are The Changes, which is also the unexpected choice for first single off the album.
I spoke to the people of Inside Out music a couple of weeks ago and they felt that this album suits the label a lot better than the previous one. I can see what they mean, and they are right in a way. Change was probably way to 'soft' for them and The Next Best Thing has a much harder edge to it, and even contains some tracks which you could consider 'prog'. But that doesn't mean it's a better album though. It is a good follow-up, but it doesn't quite reach the splendour of its predecessor.
Like with BJ, Change was also one of my favourite albums of 2003. It showed that there are still marvellous singer-songwriters in the world that have also been blessed with a beautiful voice. As a matter of fact I would easily rate Wilson among my top 5 favourite singers. Change was filled with excellent melodic pop songs which really touched the heart and even though it seemed to be attended mostly by people who came to see the support act (Clive Nolan and Nick Barrett) Wilson's gig in De Boerderij in Zoetermeer during the Change Tour was outstanding as well !
And now we're one year further and after the intimacy of his Live Acoustic album and melodic approach with Change we are treated with a different side of Ray Wilson. The rough and rocking side. This doesn't mean that the album only contains heavy tunes, on the contrary. There are some beautiful ballads and melodic tracks, but on average there's a rougher and edgier approach to the music. Sometimes this results in a production featuring lots of distortion, like in the unnecessary and noisy remake of Inside (which certainly isn't an improvement on the Stiltskin original and Wilson's own acoustic rendition). By the way, what is it with Scotsmen and recycling of old stuff anyway ? Other songs suffering from a noisy arrangement which don't leave much space for subtle orchestration are the second half of How High, Magic Train and Pumpkinhead.
Some of the tracks are also suffering from bad endings. Some songs just fade out while there's still something interesting developing, like the trumpet solo in The Fool in Me, while other songs just end very abruptly while you were still enjoying the track. As such, some of the compositions might have been better if they were one or two minutes longer. Take for instance Adolescent Breakdown, which is so short that it never really develops and remains the only song which doesn't really stick in my mind or leaves any impression whatsoever.
I have to admit that I really preferred Change above the rougher approach that some songs have on this new album. Still, the album contains some beautiful gems. Take for instance the dreamy, atmospheric Chris Isaak-like Alone, The Actor with it's emotional opening and ending sandwiching the frustration of the middle section or the touching Ever The Reason with fine backing vocals by Amanda Lyon. Sometimes is a nice piano-vocal breather after the mostly heavy first half of the album.
Other interesting experiments are the sample filled These Are The Changes, the instrumental album closer and the handclaps and mandolin (I think) in How High, the latter reminding me of Porcupine Tree's Trains. Although I dislike the way some of the songs are arranged, they do feature some interesting choices of instruments, like the mentioned mandolin, accordion (in The Next Big Thing), harmonica (in Magic Train), (synthesised) harpsichord in The Actor and trumpet in The Fool in Me and the title track.
All in all, not as good as the amazing Changes album, but still more than enough great material to really give this album a try.
Bart Jan van der Vorst : 7+ out of 10
Ed Sander : 7.5 out of 10
Areknamés - Areknamés
Produced, recorded, mixed, composed and written by Michele Epifani, this eponymous album is the first from new Italian prog band Areknamés. Epifani plays all the keyboards (organ, electric piano, synth, mellotron, harpsichord), guitars, recorder and sings. Piero Ranalli on bass and Mino Vitelli on drums and various ethnic percussions (djembé, arabian tabla & spring drum) complete the line up. What we have here is quite a particular piece. Like a lot (to many?) of contemporary bands, Areknamés are inspired by bands of the 70's, but not by the usually impossible to circumvent Genesis, ELP or King Crimson. Rather they draw from the Canterbury scene and Van Der Graff Generator, a peculiar but exquisite blend.
Immediately from the beginning of A Day Among Four Walls we recognize the very particular sound of Dave Stewart's organ. Then Michele Epifani starts singing and the comparison to Peter Hammil is obvious. A quick look at the two first names from the thanks section will confirm : Van Der Graff Generator and Egg. But beware, Areknamés doesn't use his inspirations as a crutch but rather as a springboard for a very pleasant result. 1 minute 50 into the song, the distorted guitar kicks in, followed by the bass and we know we are in for a lot of surprises. Just in this one song, changes are numerous, even though the general mood is on the dark and heavy side. It seems Epifani and friends won't stay for very long in the same spot. So instrumental passages alternate with sung parts at a quick pace, a twelve minutes well spent.
Epifani has, by this time, raised our expectations pretty high. We won't be deceived. Wasted Time starts smoothly then burst chaotically, with a touch of heavy King Crimson followed by a great guitar riff in the line of (old) Black Sabbath supported by haunting organ pads. With the added processed voice of Epifani, we are not far from Porcupine Tree. The whole pattern is repeated and leads into an instrumental carried out by a synth melody, concluding the piece. The next track, Down, goes even farther in terms of dramatic changes. Melodic parts give way to hatched phrasings - not far from Voïvod (then again, a mutual inspiration from Van Der Graff Generator) -, a reprise from a Pink Floyd riff, some distorted bass work reminding me of Jack Bruce's collaboration with Frank Zappa (on Apostrophe') or, closer to home, of Fabio Zuffanti work in La maschera di cera, and a furious 6/8 instrumental featuring the first real solo of the album, delivered by Epifani on keyboard à la Dave Stewart. Season Of Death also starts very smoothly, with electric piano and mellow singing. The ghost of Hammill is joined by Syd Barret's own. The psychedelic influences are stronger here. The song also makes an important use of voice samples (sounding like Adolph Hitler's speech bits) and heavily processed slide guitar.
Riding on this acquired momentum, the band continues with Boredom, the more "up-tempo" song of the album. The intrusion of acoustic guitar and recorder (also played by Epifani) adds yet another texture to this already very rich production. The album closes on Grain Of Sand Lost In The Sea, another slow paced start with eerie sustained guitar that quickly evolves in an aggressive instrumental not far from early Genesis at their very heavier, but not for long, as we are now accustomed. A short harpsichord interlude leads into a softer sung section before resuming on a heavier mode. An instrumental crescendo, supported by a mellotron pad, fades into a bruitist segment ending on a short burst of laugh.
Overall this album is well balanced and very consistent : six long pieces sharing a common structural approach, great musicians more inclined to create moods than showing virtuosity, and, to top it all, the incredible voice of Michele Epifani. If you are into Peter Hammill or Dave Stewart, this one is for you. Same thing if you enjoy the dark or heavy style but can go without the ultra speed factor. The biggest surprise from Italy so far this year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
CPR - Volume 1
CD1 : Ajalon / What Kind of Love (6:22), Glass Hammer / Farewell to Shadowlands (7:30), America Gomorrah / Two Sisters (7:14), Proto-Kaw / Leaven (8:28), Dave Beegle / Kara Kum (9:09), Dwight Mitchell / The Race (4:09), Navigator / Traveling Through the Earth (7:55), Vertical Alignment / Once in a Dream (7:29), Everlasting Arms / Rapture (7:34)
CD2 : Revelation Project / Glory (5:48), Salem Hill / The Judgement (11:11), Akacia / Postmodernity (8:44), Neal Morse / I Am Willing (6:36), Ten Point Ten / The River (5:49), Eric Parker / Hold Me Again (5:27), Theophonic Cloud / Dry Bones (8:08), Divine In Sight / Viper's Brood (6:31), Shadowstar / Documents (6:33)
Compilation discs come in two kinds. Both are supposed to give an overview. But you never know which kind to expect. The first kind is compiled to cash in ('The very best of …', 'The previously unreleased of …'). Here, you get a number of songs that only belong to the best in the mind of a record company salesman with little idea of the genre, or songs that the band wisely decided not to release in first instance. The result is a mix of a few songs you already knew and a majority of songs you never wanted to know. In short, a superfluous release.
The second kind of compilation, however, is the kind of disc you yourself would make to play in your car or Discman or, even better, to give to a friend as an overview of the music you love. You aim at a high overall quality and consistency, to showcase the true highlights of the genre. The result indicates which treasures are to be discovered if you go to the original bands and albums.
CPR Volume 1 belongs to the second type of compilation. It's overall quality is high and consistent, while showcasing a variety of styles and influences. Even after multiple spins, there are only a few songs that fail to hold your attention. I recommend it if you want to get broad spectrum of prog bands only recently emerging from the U.S. (or if you want two discs of 60 minutes of great music for only 15 euro…).
'CPR' stands for Christian Progressive Rock. The CD holds 18 songs between 4 and 11 minutes, with a handful of delightful debuts as well as well-known progressive rock bands. Some ten years ago, Yes and Kansas fan Bill Hammell started a Yahoo group, called 'CPROG', where Christian fans and musicians discuss and advance progressive rock. One of the results is the collaboration between them to exhibit their largely 'underground' rock genre on a nicely packaged compilation CD plus companion website. Some clearly share the Gospel, others recount other biblical stories and images that fit a progressive rock treatment surprisingly very well. So, kudos to producers Randy George (Ajalon and Neal Morse) and Gene Crout (America Gamorrah) for completing this introduction to lots of new music. Judging by the fact that some of the most recent Christian progressive rock acts in the U.S. are not even on this CD (say, Orphan Project), one can safely speak of a small wave of prog coming from the States. CPR Vol. 2 is already in the works.
What about the music itself? The CD does indeed offer an overview and unexpected discoveries. It runs the gamut of styles and flavours developed by the dinosaurs of the seventies, but spiced with some American guitar rock and AOR. It features female singers, instrumental songs, acoustic bits and metal influences. Certainly the first couple of times I played the CD I was wowed by the power and flow of most songs. CD 1 opens by way of half a dozen captivating up-tempo prog songs, meaning lots of dynamic rhythm and melody. Ajalon kick off with an excellent mix of rhythmically weird and multi-vocal AOR and Rick Wakeman (who actually contributes here) in a song inspired by the madness of the school shooting at Columbine Highschool. Also excellent is Glass Hammer, who hardly need introduction as they have been on the scene for a while. They continue with a Yes-sy musical adventure, based lyrically on Christian writer C.S. Lewis' work. America Gomorrah make their debut with a song starting in a quieter, acoustic pace, only to integrate the energetic rock of the preceding songs later on. The musical reference is guitar-oriented rock, maybe some Jethro Tull, the biblical reference is Martha and Mary.
No introduction is needed for Proto-Kaw, at least for those who know that this is Kerry Livgren's resurrection (no pun intended) of the band that would later become Kansas. You can expect the typical ingredients that go with this band, from the flute and drum to the almost Deep Purple-like explosions. One of the beautiful musical journeys from the album reviewed elsewhere on DPRP. The next contribution by Dave Beegle deserves more than the word 'song'. It is a fully instrumental and courageous mini-epic (if that's a word), played by three guitarists and three percussionists. Acoustic guitars, assorted drums, and samples of voices from the Middle East (?) make for a rare surprise. The solos and background rhythms are sweeping and gripping. The musical escapades of Al di Meola and Jean-Luc Ponty come to mind. The same surprising I experienced with Dwight Mitchell's track -- also an instrumental contribution that never tires. Here the emphasis is on piano and electric guitar. To be honest, after a few bigger names with a full band, I wasn't expecting much from those two relatively unknown instrumental pieces, but boy, was I wrong. Both Dave Beegle and Dwight Mitchell show great promise -- the melodies really slick -- and I hope to run in to their albums one day. So far, the music on this compilation has been well recorded and produced. The compositions are of a generally high quality with lots of things going on musically and lyrically. But as someone once said: The good don't last... Navigator is next in line with a very slow song. While it isn't exactly bad, it turns out to be a breakpoint on the first disc. I can't find a better description than 'Genesis meets Van Morrison', while it fails to preserve the vigour that makes the disc so far surprising and convincing. I'm sorry to say Vertical Alignment doesn't get the CD back on track either. They try to present a heavier sound, perhaps in the Steve Hackett sense, but it just doesn't come across, especially the chorus. As I don't want to criticize a debut, let's say the arrangement of ideas and the recording of performance have potential.
The last song teeters on the brink of concluding Disc 1 in this disappointing way, but fortunately Everlasting Arms get their act together along the road. This part of their concept album about creation sets out quietly with just piano and harmonizing vocals but broadens like a river when the drums, keys and guitar join in. Flowing into a sparkling and tasteful finale, they provide a worthy close to the first disc. The only complaint I have here is that the lyrics do not seem to fit the music very naturally (the singer/songwriter didn't write them himself), but maybe that's just because I expect them to rhyme once in a while. All in all, the first six great tracks have enough redeeming qualities to make the first CD worthwhile.
Disc 2 begins with Revelation Project, a delicious revelation indeed (pun intended this time). This song is very much up-tempo and performed with oomph, like Cairo. Although the liner notes credit a singer, it is a keyboard-oriented instrumental, catchy like most of the first disc. The moods and pace of this second disc alternates more quickly and drastically, however, as Salem Hill continue with a musical voyage that I can best compare to Dutch band Salmon. It sounds a bit thin at first, and you are not immediately hooked by the composition, but later it grows on you. Akacia, with the third song, also sounds a bit thin, so I hope their production will develop as they record their debut. Their song is a social commentary against a musical backdrop that wavers between Steve Hackett, Barclay James Harvest and Yes.
Shifting to another gear again, Disc 2 includes I Am Willing by Neal Morse. There's nothing about this song that hasn't already been said, except maybe how remarkably well it stands out here between the other contributions -- just great performance, great song, great production. Let me add that the choice is also remarkable to include a song that is possibly one of Testimony's less proggy and more worshippy. But it works. Anyway, it is quite a good choice to tag on Ten Point Ten here, because they travel similar paths as Spock's Beard (Darkness/Kindnessera). Wild instrumental, delicate acoustic and rhythmically complex passages alternate before you can say 'Hammond'. Appealing guitar work too. So far, I haven't said much about singers on this album, but that's not because there's nothing to praise. Let me just single out Ten Point Ten's Bill Hubauer for attention, then, with his almost Gary Brooker-like voice. One of the best finds on this disc for me. In Eric Parker, early Genesis (Trespass) meets AOR in a terrific song about the prodigal son, produced powerfully by Glass Hammer's Fred Schendel. Where did this guy come from?! The song has a memorable chorus and riveting interludes. To this point, Disc 2 continues to be interesting and his contribution fits in very well. With regard to its place in the genre of prog, however, the (intended?) contrast could not have been greater as with the following performance, by a band called Theophonic Cloud. To me, this is the most exciting debut on the disc. Lyrically, it is about the weird vision of the prophet Ezekiel, of a valley of skeletons being clad with muscles and flesh again, receiving the breath of life, to form an army for the Lord. How on earth this vision ended up on a progressive rock album is a marvel to me, but it works out great. How to describe it? A metal Porcupine Tree? A psychedelic Under the Sun? Anyway, great female singer, pounding drums, haunting guitar, infectious riffs, somewhat epic. This exotic surprise proves a hard act to follow, for I could not appreciate Divine In Sight's attempt at progressive metal. All the traditional ingredients are there -- raw staccato guitar riffs, high pitched and menacing vocal act, wild drums -- so if you're in to that you may enjoy it. Also somewhat traditional in design is the disc's final track, offered by Shadowstar. It's up-tempo Genesis-like intro raises some expectations, but the middle and end section are very slow and don't bring the end of the disc back to it's average level. Again, I hate to criticize a debut, for I couldn't do it, but after multiple spins it didn't hold my attention and the second disc sort of dies away.
All in all, this leaves us with two discs containing more than half of its kilobytes worth of noteworthy music. Knowing that there is more where this came from - a budding network of bands with their own, Christian stake in progressive rock music -- it is only a matter of time for new acts to surface or mature and to end up on CPR Volume 2. Given the overall quality and consistency of the overview Volume 1 offers, that's something to look forward to.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hedgefund Giants - Half A Story Told [EP]
Tracklist: The Overture of Sgt. Wyatt (5:37), Coming Home (3:53), Something More (7:20), April (15:29)
Hedgefund Giants, no idea what the name means but it is the chosen moniker for a the latest band to feature keyboard player Andy Forrest who previously played with early '90s progressive act Summer Indoors and the reputedly more harder rocking Moscow Riley. Although both of these previous bands released albums, they never seemed to be that widely available (indeed the only place I ever saw Songs In The Key of H by Summer Indoors was in a small shop in Prague!) or to capture the imagination of the buying public. The Giants (well Hedgefund sounds like some dodgy pension trust!) formed in 2001 and have been working on material for the debut album, Coming Home, since then. Unspecified unforeseen circumstances and various line-up changes have delayed the release of the album which should finally be released at the end of the summer. As a stop gap, four completed tracks have been made available on the promo CD/EP Half A Story Told. Although not currently commercially available, the EP serves as a taster for what to expect from Coming Home.
Judging from the song titles, lyrics and artwork, it looks as if the album will be a concept affair, although it would be unfair to comment further on this until the full album is released. Nevertheless, first track on the EP, The Overture of Sgt. Wyatt is obviously an introductory, er, overture and features, as such a piece should, an amalgamation of various musical fragments. This piece works very well as an independent track, going through a variety of styles and moods in its five and a half minutes and even featuring a rather interesting snippet that merges some cod-Arabic music with reggae!. First song and title track Coming Home is a quite standard pop-rock song that has a decent hook line and is roughly comparable to some of the more commercial songs produced by Hogarth-era Marillion. At first I was not all that impressed with the vocals of Si Brooks, who also plays bass and drums on the EP, although after repeated listenings one does tend to get used to them and they cease to be a major distraction. Something More displays the more proggy side to the band, with the main focus on keyboards although guitarist John Kirby, the third and final current member of The Giants chips in some power chords and a brief solo. Once again a strong refrain characterises the song but again the rather thin vocals, particular at the higher register, let the song down a bit.
Final track April is the seemingly obligatory long-form number that characterises many prog releases these days. Although it has its moments, I didn't feel the piece hung together very well, it was lacking an internal consistency that pulled all the elements of the song together. Possibly taking it out of context of the rest of the album has done it a disservice, but there was no real flow. The vocals also finally got to me, it is not that Brooks is a bad singer, just that his voice seems more suited to slower, quieter songs; he doesn't seem to have the force or volume to compete with more than one instrument playing simultaneously. There were also a couple of places were the drums were mixed far too upfront for my personal preferences.
It would be unfair to provide a rating for this EP which is essentially an excerpt of a larger piece, that will have to wait for a review of the completed album. However, the group do have their moments and, even if the music could not be considered to rank in the upper echelons of current progressive bands, anyone who liked Songs In The Key Of H would find something of interest in The Hedgefund Giants.