Album Reviews

Issue 2006-052

Reviews in this issue:

Jaén Kief - Las Hadas No Vuelan Mas / I. Vagas Nubes

Jaen Kief - Las Hadas No Vuelan Mas / 1. Vagas Nubes
Country of Origin:Columbia
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4649
Year of Release:2006
Info:Jaén Kief
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Prologo (2:33), Obertura (3:43), In Promptu - De Pronto (4:54), Momento Gris - [I. Parte Uno], Momento Gris [II. Parte Dos], Momento Gris [III. Parte Tres], Momento Gris [IV. Parte Quattro], Momento Gris [V. Parte Cinque], Momento Gris [VI. Parte Sei], Momento Gris [VII. Parte Siete] (13:09), El Juego de Unas Sombras (4:40), Duerme Bien - [I. Dos Mundos], Duerme Bien [II. Dama De La Noche], Duerme Bien [III. Duerme Bien], (7:18), Brujo Negro (9:18)

With variety being the spice of life, every so often I take the plunge into totally unknown musical territory. On the basis that I've never reviewed - or for that matter, even heard - an album by a band from Columbia, Jaén Kief was the basis for my most recent foray into the unknown.

Promising 'complex and sophisticated symphonic rock', I first listened to this while cooking a meal in Denmark and it proved a perfect accompaniment to the slowly-cooking smoked salmon!

Featuring an array of eight musicians playing guitars, drums, keyboards, flute and sax, plus male and female singers, there's a good balance between vocal and instrumental sequences that manages to remain progressive and accessible in equal measures. There's a strong folk influence to the band's music - both from their own culture and the English scene - mixed with early Pink Floyd and the bluesy, folky edge of Jethro Tull. However this is not all 'living in the past', with a very modern energy to all the songs which are generally compiled in a symphonic/classical arrangements.

The centre-piece of the album is the 13-minute Momento Gris. Split into seven sections, it combines all the band's musical elements ranging from Clannad-esque folk, operatic vocals, symphonic strings and alternating male and female vocals. The singers are very listenable. Very effective is the mix of English and Columbian folk and electric guitar to be found in In Promptu and the bluesy guitar and flute that echoes Jethro Tull in the closing Brujo Negro.

The rear credits cover, that shows all the band members as babies with the instruments, suggests a healthy sense of humour. The lyrics are all in the band's native tongue which will give an added dimension to those who speak can understand.

From the copyright, it seems this was actually recorded in 2003, but it's only just been released in Europe. As I've not been able to track down a website, I can't say whether the band is still going or whether there are any other releases, but for anyone who enjoys progressive symphonic rock music with a heavy use of the flute, then this is a dip into the unknown that will bring plenty of rewards.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Korova Milk Bar – Korova Milk Bar

Korova Milk Bar – Korova Milk Bar
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:MP 3051.AR
Year of Release:2006
Info:Korova Milk Bar

Tracklist: Une Voix (5:00), Methode Coue (3:31), We Need You (3:54), Le Plus Beau Jour De Votre Vie (6:57), Deconnexion (7:18), H.A.L. 9000 (10:05), Apre Tout (5:45), Le Mec (6:16)

Musea’s talent scouts are on top form again. Having made quite an impression on me with Finnish Symphonic newcomers Khatsaturjan recently, they’ve done it again with Korova Milk Bar. This young French group are very different in style to Khatsaturjan though, as their presence on the Musea Parallele label might indicate (Parallele is the sub label for Musea’s more experimental acts).

What the two groups do share is a fresh and exciting approach to their chosen genre, with direct comparisons to established groups hard to make. As they are French, Musea habitually throws in Ange as a reference, but they’re wide of the mark in this case. I would possibly agree some kinship with Magma or other Zeuhl bands, but Korova Milk Bar doesn’t sound like Magma. Similarly, there are echoes of the R.I.O. style in general, but this is a more accessible album than that description might suggest.

Yes, the music is experimental, edgy, strange and dark, but it is also quite tuneful and is a kaleidoscopic collection of styles and influences – from blues, jazz & rock to classical and even avant electronica. It’s most striking features are powerful organ, superb electronic piano, masterful insistent bass, edgy guitar and ever surprising arrangements.

This is a concept album, which takes its title from Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, but I’m guessing the inspiration is the film rather than the book, as there are also references to other films by Stanley Kubrick (Hal 9000 from 2001 A Space Odyssey) but as the lyrics are in French, I cannot enlighten you further on this. This may be the album’s biggest drawback for all none–French speaking listeners as I am sure the lyrics and concept add plenty to an already interesting piece of work

I won’t single out any particular tracks, as most of them change mood and tone at least once, and the album is perhaps best enjoyed in one sitting.

With a pristine production, as a first album, this is a pretty impressive CD, and hopefully there will be more to come from these talented young musicians.

I’m going to stick my neck out here, and recommend this disc to anyone who likes King Crimson’s more recent work and any who enjoyed fellow Frenchmen Nil.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Mountain Mirrors - Mountain Mirrors

Mountain Mirrors - Mountain Mirrors
Country of Origin:US
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2006
Info:Mountain Mirrors
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Stay Evil (5:56), The Demon’s Eye (5:19), Karmic Dogs (5:03), Your Time Has Come (4:35), Calm Before The Storm (5:58), Alone In A Crowd (5:45), Deploribus Unum (4:32), Praying Mantis (5:25)

It's not often that I can quote verbatim from an album’s publicity material and feel that the description basically tells you pretty much all you need to know, without adding that much in the way of detail (I’m thinking of a certain French label beginning with M whose promotional blurbs are, erm, rather creative shall we say) but this is pretty much the case with Mountain Mirrors – essentially a solo project for Massachusetts native Jeffrey Sanders.

To quote:

“Imagine Opeth, Nick Drake and Pink Floyd jammimg acoustic dirges around a fire in the woods under a full moon…Mountain Mirrors is heavy acoustic music from the woods of Massachusetts”

Qualify this comment with the fact that this is the mellow, contemplative Opeth heard on Damnation rather than the much heavier sound that they are better known for, and that the Pink Floyd reference makes most sense in the context of tranquil tracks such as A Pillow Of Winds and Fearless, and this is indeed a pretty accurate description of what Sanders and his various guest musicians have come up with here on what is apparently the second album to come out under this moniker.

Opener Stay Evil sets the scene nicely; whilst essentially Sanders has the air of a troubadour about him, rather than just go for a bare-bones acoustic-and-voice affair he wisely fleshes out the sound with warm-sounding Hammond organ and a compelling bass pattern which gives the track some forward motion. Sanders’ vocals sound slightly harsh on the verses – no doubt deliberately, as it makes a nice contrast with the mellower delivery employed on the chorus.

Other highlights include the compelling Demon’s Eye, which really does bring to mind Opeth’s Damnation, not least in the way that it starts off as a very laidback song before gradually building in dramatic tension, without succumbing to the easy lure of power chords and crashing drums. Your Time Has Come has something of a pastoral feel – think of the short, mellower tracks off Jethro Tull’s Aqualung (eg. Cheap Day Return or Wond’ring Aloud) as a good comparator - whilst Alone In A Crowd evokes both early 70’s Floyd and the late 60’s Syd Barrett-era – not least because Sanders’ vocals on this track lean towards Barrett’s in style. Karmic Dogs adds a dash of psychedelia to proceedings; there’s some cello in the mix here as well which makes for an interesting combination.

Its not all good news however – I found some of the tracks, such as Calm Before The Storm and Deploribus Unum, to be rather plodding and dreary, whilst almost all the songs would have benefited from some trimming – with the majority in the 5-6 minute bracket, in many cases their simply aren’t the requisite musical ideas to sustain the songs for this length of time. It’s probably for this reason (in combination with the general style employed) that I found the album rather wearing to listen to after a while.

Ultimately however, of its type this is a solid album, probably best suited to late night listening somewhere outdoors (campfire optional!).

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Karma Pilot - A New Career

Karma Pilot - A New Career
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Mrs Vee
Catalogue #:MRSVEECD2
Year of Release:2006
Info:Karma Pilot

Tracklist: Infinite Sky (3:22), Never Seen This Before (4:08), Thirteen Numbers (6:24), Ever Decreasing Circles (3:58), The Last Place On Earth (4:48), Intermission - Take The Next Step (5:17), A New Career [part 1] (4:58), A Warning From Future History (6:40), Better Than This (3:30), Summer 1999 (10:11), A New Career [part 2] (6:15), Untitled (6:07)

Daniel Vincent, the multi-instrumentalist behind Karma Pilot, started the solo project after reaction to his previous band's album - Onion Jack's Imaginary Comeback Special - was somewhat disappointing. To date two EPs have been released under the Karma Pilot moniker, Between The Darkness And The Morning Light and Midnight Paranoia (briefly reviewed here). A New Career compiles three songs from the first EP (two of which have been subtly remixed) with previously unreleased material recorded between November 2005 and March 2006. Vincent describes the music of Karma Pilot as "bringing together diverse influences from psychedelic and progressive rock, electronica and dance and acoustic song writing". Try and think of a name for that genre of music!

Of the three tracks from the first EP, Never Seen This Before combines a tip hop beat with spacey synths, appropriate as the lyrics are a light-hearted look at alien abduction; The Last Place On Earth is in more of a rock vein; and the lengthy Summer 1999 is inspired by David Bowie's Low. The latter song is very minimalistic and is very much in the Robert Fripp / Brian Eno school or atmospheric/ambient soundscapes. The only other previously released track, Take The Next Step, was included on the compilation album Winter Collection 2005 and is very much a sister piece to Summer 1999.

Infinite Sky is a decent synth-based introduction to the album providing a welcoming beginning. It also sets the tone somewhat as most of the album is of a pretty downbeat nature. The exception is Ever Decreasing Circles with a jaunty piano leading us through an autobiographical song about losing contact with friends. Rather good if marred by a couple of dodgy moments in the vocal department. A Warning From Future History and the untitled twelfth track both remind me of Quark Strangeness And Charm-era Hawkwind, while Thirteen Numbers is a downbeat, almost dirge-like, composition with strummed guitar overlaying the main keyboards. Better Than This could be a collaboration between Beck and Moby if they had been asked to contribute to the soundtrack of a dark and sombre movie with the vocal refrain of "Live your life like it's meant to be better than this" eerily floating through the drone.

Finally, the title track which is split into two opposing parts. Part 1 starts with a synth line that resembles Circus Of Heaven by Yes. However, this doesn't last long before a recurring guitar motif and a synthesised drum beat are added. The lyric basically lists negative aspects of the daily grind and makes the singer sound like one very cheesed off individual! To counter this, Part 2 takes the opposite view and opts for listing positive aspects of life as a whole. Cleverly, the reversal in outlook is accompanied by a reversed (ie backwards) musical track!

Vincent has come up with an eclectic mixture for his first Karma Pilot album, but I do wonder where he thinks his audience lies. Certainly mainstream progressive rock fans will probably not find a lot on this album of lasting interest, but for fans of Bowie when he was out in Berlin with Eno, Fripperisms and general atmospheric music, A New Career may be worth checking out.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Free Love - Apocalypse

Free Love - Apocalypse
Country of Origin:Japan
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Records
Catalogue #:PRF 038
FGBG 4668.AR
Year of Release:2006
Info:Free Love
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Kashmir (5:47), Spiral (7:42), Kami-No Chishiki (5:47), Island (6:13), Maze of Psycho (9:34), Umi-No Koe (6:48), Shangri-la (18:57)

Well, it is likely fitting, as there is no constancy in this bizarre universe we inhabit.

After all of the praise I’ve heaped upon the Japanese progressive rock scene -all of it well deserved, in my opinion- for its daring, its musicality, its finesse, and its compositional excellence, I was bound to encounter a dud. Not every girl at the dance is gorgeous; not every batter on the team hits home runs. As much as I truly wanted to like Free Love’s Apocalypse, and as much as I listened fervently for that spark of artistry, that magical flair, that bold adventurousness which many of the band’s Japanese peers manifest, I just couldn’t find any of it. In the end, Apocalypse really isn’t very impressive.

Apocalypse is a debut recording coming after some demo work. The band consists of Hiroaki Shibata (vocals, guitars); Hiroki Matsui (organs, synths); Ai Tatuya (bass guitar, vocals); and Atsushi Motohashi (drums). Free Love is, as the promo material notes, clearly enamoured of the late 60s - early 70s British proto-metal, e.g., Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Uriah Heep. I heard very obvious echoes of Zep, a few marginal nods to Heep, but not much in the way of recalling Purple. It would be true enough to say that Apocalypse features pretty standard riff rock without many flashes of virtuosity or innovation. Sad to say, the album is boring and even irksome.

Apocalypse, unfortunately, starts out on very shaky footing and never regains anything like a gallop; instead, it continues with a limpful gait. The initial track, Kashmir, confused the hell out of me. It’s supposed to be a cover of the Zeppelin classic (I can’t be the only one to think that covering Kashmir is a mistake, despite the finished product, can I?). It hints at the Zeppelin track for the first half of the song and seems to be nothing more than atmospheric homage. But then, the track morphs into a gut-wrenching bastardization of Kashmir, complete with lazy chops, extremely loose approximations of the actual chord progression, and an English-language vocal delivery that sounds like Jane’s Addiction at karaoke night. Shitty, indeed, and I never recovered.

The remainder of the album is repetitive and uninspired. Well, not quite uninspired: there’s plenty of energy on Apocalypse, but it’s all vapid cock rock energy a la Whitesnake or Great White, two poseur Zep imitators extraordinaire. There is absolutely no genius or remarkable vision; the songs show minimal development and variation and the vocals are painful. (Please, Free Love and all other non-native-English-speaking artists: If you decide to deliver the lyrics in English, have them correctly translated. Phrases like “Maze of Psycho” just give the band a reputation for unintelligence and half-heartedness. It is even better to keep the lyrics in your own tongue rather than use ham-handed verbiage. You will not gain an English-speaking audience with butchered syntax. And I really hated the use of the Greek letter “psi” in the album title, standing for the English letter “y”. Actually, if anything, “psi” should have stood in for the “ps” consonant combination. Sorry: the disgruntlement of an amateur linguist… ) Even tracks like Kami-No Chishiki, which offers a nice, mellow interlude to add some dynamic tension into the tune, and Umi-No Koe, with its trippy, dreamscape pop groove, are still too simplistic and barren. There was some fire on Apocalypse, but where was the fuel?

THE BOTTOM LINE: Would I feel cheated had I bought this CD? Yes; it’s not absolutely awful but it’s not worth a financial investment. Would I recommend that you buy this CD? No, it’s just badly derivative, dopey riff rock. Would I recommend that you hear this CD via begging, borrowing, or stealing? No, I wouldn’t, not even if you were stranded in the “Maze of Psycho” and could only escape by hearing Apocalypse.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10


Album Reviews