Reviews in this issue:
- Yugen – Labirinto D’Acqua
- Casual Silence – Lost In Life
- Roger Powell - Fossil Poets
- Samuel Jerónimo - Rima
- Dyonisos – An Incidental Collection
Yugen – Labirinto D’Acqua
Tracklist: Severe Reprimande (0:50), Catacresi (6:35), Omelette Norvegese (1:07), Corale Metallurgico (7:33), Danse Cuirassee [Periode Grecque] (1:03), Brachiologia (3:11), La Mosca Stregata (0:56), Quando La Morte Mi Colse Nel Sonno (9:23), Skellotron 003 (1:23), Le Rovine Circolari (6:53), Anastomosi (1:28), Danze Corazzate (3:49), Labirinto D’Acqua (1:21), Incubi Concentrici (4:42)
Holy Cow! Or should that be Henry Cow? The spirit of the legendary Rio originators is writ large across this fabulous debut disc by Yugen. Sporting a Japanese name, but originating in Italy, Yugen is a truly international project, also featuring contributions from the USA (The ubiquitous Dave Kerman), Switzerland (Markus Stauss) and Israel (Udi Koomran). Surprisingly, the Co-Founder of the project (with ideas/inspiration and co-production by Marcello Marinone), Francesco Zago, is the former guitarist of The Night Watch. Listening to their heavily Genesis-inspired brand of neo-progressive would hardly prepare you for the challenging, intricate, disturbing, enthralling, inspiring mix of chamber/RIO/symphonic/progressive rock which makes up Labirinto D’Acqua (The Water Maze).
To create this intricately woven wondrous musical tapestry, guitars, bass, and drums are augmented by saxes, violin, marimba, lute, mandolin, melotron, theremin, harpsichord, and woodwinds. Listening intently I can pick out, at various times, hints of Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, Henry Cow, Stormy Six (Tommasso Ledi from that band contributes mandolin and lute), and King Crimson. Modern composers such as Stravinsky and Schoenberg are also quoted as influences.
Passages of sublime Mellotron rub shoulders with jarring, free-style clattering percussion. Driving rock riffs give way to deeply spacious cosmic drifts. Folk-tunes morph into chamber music which is pushed aside by angry, dissonant beats. Brief, discordant passages are replaced with transcendent melodies. I’m only scratching the surface here!
Admittedly, the strong avant-garde thrust of the work may be off putting to many, but be assured that this genre-straddling near-masterpiece contains plenty of jaw-dropping moments of symphonic splendour to entice a wider progressive audience than might at first seem likely. Modern bands like The Underground Railroad and A Triggering Myth have also walked this dangerous borderland between the strange and spiky and the grandiosely symphonic, but for my money, none have managed to get the balance as damn near perfect as Yugen. For Italian antecedents, think the wilder moments of Museo Rosenbach, Il Balletto Di Bronzo, Osanna’s Palepoli and Stormy Six.
With each and every composition twisting and turning furiously from moments of ominous, brooding menace to thundering, tortuous riffs to crazed cacophony to orchestral majesty, it would be redundant to pick out individual tracks – the whole thing is astonishing from start to finish.
OK, you perhaps need to be quite an adventurous listener to cope with the strangest moments here, but you will be rewarded with some of the most daring, fulfilling and satisfying progressive music to surface this century so far.
I’m kicking myself for not hearing this disc on release last year, as if it had been released this year, it would have figured very highly in my top 10 at year’s end. I don’t really expect to find anything better in 2007.
Fully aware that some of you will hate this, I implore you to at least try the samples at the links above. Far from revealing all the delights of the disc, they will however give a reasonable taster of a few of the many elements at play in the music of Yugen.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Casual Silence – Lost In Life
Tracklist: Tracklist: Goliath Theme (6:47), Lost In Life (5:52), Escape (6:34), Memories (10:41), Dress Code (8:20), Masquerade (6:45), Pieces Of Loss (6:06), A Kiss Or A Bite (9:46)
In the DPRP 2005 New Year’s Eve Special I reviewed the excellent Room XVII which remained one of my firm favourites of 2006. Working under the pseudonym Medea the album was the work of Henry Meeuws keyboard player with Dutch progressive rockers Casual Silence. In addition to Meeuws’ exceptional guitar and keys work it featured a host of vocalists including fellow Casual Silencers Rob Laarhoven, Ernst le cocq d’Armandville and Eric Smits. My reasons for mentioning this is because it provides a good indicator of what Lost In Life the bands latest release has in store. Casual Silence started out in the city of Helmond in 1993 with their debut album following four years later. Meeuws joined the band in 2000 to complete the current line up which in addition to lead vocalist Laarhoven, guitarist d’Armandville and bassist Smits includes Mark van Dijk on lead guitar and Igor Koopmans drums.
This is the bands fifth CD release and as their earlier work passed me by I am unable to make any comparisons. Stylistically the sound here has all the hallmarks of Room XVII with its bombastic instrumental work and extravagant use of English vocals that borders on the operatic at times. Not entirely surprising with Henry Meeuws once again responsible for production assisted by Peer Rave. In addition to providing backing vocals d’Armandville and Smits often share lead duties. Their deeper tones are a perfect foil for Laarhoven’s distinctive high tenor delivery. Joining them on one song apiece is the versatile UK singer Damian Wilson and Sandra Peeters from the band V-Male who is a regular guest with CS. Between them they’ve produced a rich musical concoction which any attempt to describe in detail would not do it justice. Although I’ve lived with this album for several weeks now each time I play it I discover something new. This is just a flavour then of what each of the eight songs has to offer.
Goliath Theme is a song that sums up the band very nicely. The ambient sounds of breaking waves and a distant piano provide a tranquil opening before the band warm up with a tricky instrumental work out. The benefit of having two talented lead guitarists (three if you include Meeuws) is immediately apparent. Heavy riffs are offset by layers of melodic lead guitar lines underpinned by symphonic keys. Articulate bass runs and precision drumming keep things moving along at a crisp pace. The impressive vocal gymnastics from the three leads incorporates meticulous unison and counterpoint harmonies. If I had to add one small note of dissent then it would be that occasionally the backing vocals have a tendency to overdo the melodrama but that’s about it. The title song Lost In Life continues at a statelier tempo with melodic Steve Rothery inflected guitar being an obvious point of reference. Sandra Peeters provides superb support with vocals sounding remarkably similar to American symphonic rock singer Lana Lane. Some excellent piano and organ playing add to the lyrical mood.
Backed by a gutsy riff Escape incorporates several ethnic musical styles including Middle Eastern tinged keys and lead guitar. The fluid Spanish guitar is an engaging excursion which I believe is the work of van Dijk although I couldn’t swear to it as my promo copy only gives the song titles away. The backing vocals come in for more criticism I’m afraid and this time it’s the amplified whispering which I found an unnecessary distraction. The albums centrepiece Memories is one of the stronger cuts with an excellent melody although it’s let down by the uninspiring and reoccurring lyric “Believers are fools who don’t see”. Otherwise it contains clever instrumental work including high-speed guitar and keys interplay and a majestic guitar solo at the midway mark. A stately military march adds a cinematic scale befitting the songs ten minute plus length. Dress Code includes the unmistakable voice of Damian Wilson who surprisingly (for a guest) takes the lead for the most part including an effective duet with Laarhoven. It features some impressive Yes style call and response guitar and synth soling which adopts a folk like melody developing into an infectious reel.
The reflective Masquerade is the albums token ballad and it works a treat. It’s led by Meeuws’ classical piano joined by Laarhoven’s sensitive vocal and restrained three-part harmonies. The inevitable melodic guitar solo follows but it all works so beautifully that I could not fail to be impressed. Pieces Of Loss opens with the sound of running water and ambient synths before a dramatic staccato riff takes over signalling a lengthy and outstanding guitar and keys workout. The bass and drums support is especially powerful here. The piece is virtually absent of vocals relying on a variety of memorable guitar melodies to supply the hooks. Steve Howe like dynamics around the midway point give way to lyrical Andy Latimer style playing towards the end. The concluding A Kiss Or A Bite opens with a nimble piano and classical guitar duet before the almost compulsory heavy guitar riffs intrude. It meters along at a breakneck pace with striking organ work driven by a hard hitting snare sound. The mood relaxes for the lengthy song section with more impeccable harmonies but I’m not entirely sure about the theatrical backing vocals. They do not overwhelm the piece however with classy guitar and synth making their mark. The closing melody is a peach with rich Yes like harmonies set against a lush acoustic guitar and string keys backdrop.
This is another exceptional release from Meeuws and company coming very close to the highly rated Room XVII in terms of quality as well as style. The strong melodies and hooks on Lost In Life are only half a point behind those of its predecessor. It drops another half a point for the vocals which although skilfully done are overly melodramatic at times utilising some very clichéd techniques. Just occasionally it felt like I was listening to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I’m possibly nit picking here because either way it’s an excellent release by any bands standard thoroughly deserving its DPRP recommendation. Moody and atmospheric, the music has an epic quality that treads a fine line between grander and pomposity which it only occasionally oversteps. The first rate production by Peer Rave and Henry Meeuws ensures instruments and voices are rendered clear and sharp amongst the textured density. Should appeal to both prog and prog-metal fans everywhere.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Roger Powell - Fossil Poets
Tracklist: Lone Gunmen (4:14), Fallout Shelter (3:21), Delayed Reaction (3:40), Test Drive (2:58), Creme Fraiche (3:04), Too Much Rain (3:22), Underwater City (4:55), Dauphine [piano solo, for Vince] (0:57), Tribe By Fire (4:30), Miles Per Gallon (3:37), Peaceful Uprising (3:50), Serpentine (4:14), Zentegrity (3:11), Osmosis (3:51), Astrae [piano solo, for Karen] (1:08)
When I received an email from Gary Tanin, letting me know that we would shortly be receiving an album from Roger Powell, I thanked him for the advance warning and said I would look out for the album. Roger Powell's Fossil Poets duly arrived back in March and still the name hadn't clicked. Eventually I decided some investigation was necessary - aha, ROGER POWELL! Perhaps familiar to many as the keyboard maestro with Todd Rundgren's Utopia starting back in the mid 70's and remaining with the band through their halcyon period, culminating (for me) with the excellent Ra album from 1977 and remaining until the mid 80's. Powell released two solo albums in this period, his first Cosmic Furnace in 1973 and the universally acclaimed Air Pocket in 1980, (which I still have on vinyl somewhere... now if I only had a record player), and which coincidentally featured Todd Rundgren. Powell's list of credits go on:
"1978 saw Powell play on one of rock's all-time best-selling albums, Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell (with Rundgren producing, Utopia served as Meat Loaf's backing band), and toured as part of David Bowie's band - appearing on the Thin White Duke's live album, Stage, the same year."
So this little preamble finally brings us to this release and as I started to listen to the album I remembered the descriptor for the music as "retro-futuristic, groove oriented" and I have to say that fits pretty well in my book. So who are our "Fossil Poets", well alongside Roger (synths, guitars, mandolin, accordion, flute, flugelhorn, piano & organ), Greg Koch (guitars, basses & effects) and Gary Tanin (producer, arranger and additional keyboards). Collectively our "Fossil Poets" have produced an instrumental album containing fifteen concise instrumentals, which cross many borders including progressive rock, fusion, jazz, world, ambient and groove music. So if you could imagine a collective mix of Jan Hammer, Jeff Beck, Tangerine Dream, Miles Davies and Herbie Hancock, then this may give an indication as to the diversity of ideas incorporated into the music. We are dense in the keyboard layers, expanded upon by the guitars and subtle on the additional instrumentation. The drum sampling is extremely good and meshes neatly with the thick bass lines and often percussive synth parts. Much of the material has a strong groove to it, making it readily accessible, but with a rich layering of keyboard sounds and actual instruments to prick-up the ears. Production values are very high and despite the dense layering of sounds all the instruments are held nicely in balance.
This proved to be a unique listening experience... the closest thing that came to mind from my back catalogue was the interesting Art Of Noise. However the guitar work of Greg Koch added another dimension and certainly Jeff Beck circa Wired or Guitar Shop and some of Jeff's work with Jan Hammer also reared its head.
This is an album that has much to offer when it comes to variety, albeit within the parameters already listed. So selecting standout tracks depended much on the "mood" I was in at the time of each listening. Tribe By Fire appealed pretty much every time, so probably ended up as my favourite cut. Rippling piano, percussive and tribal beats melding with Koch's subtly mixed Satriani-seque guitar playing. Deft little flute flourishes and a whole host of sounds made this a sure fire winner. The gentle lilting Too Much Rain and Miles Per Gallon satisfied those more laid back moments, with their Rhodes-like piano and dreamy guitar licks. And whilst in this chilled out mode the two solo piano tracks (Dauphine & Astrae) also gelled nicely. But like I said, depending on the mood, there always seemed to be something to capture the moment.
As to whom Fossil Poets might appeal, well I'm tempted to suggest a broader spectrum than might initially seem to be the case. Those with an inkling for "sequenced" keyboard music should waste little time before checking this release out - more perhaps in the Jan Hammer mould than say Vangelis. Comparisons also to Tangerine Dream can readily be found. I must admit that I struggle with comparators when it comes to the more electronic side of music, purely as it is genre I seldom dabble in. However if all of it was of this quality I would certainly be inclined to investigate in greater depth.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Samuel Jerónimo - Rima
Tracklist: Verso 1 (9:21), Verso 2 (9:46), Verso 3 (15:03), Verso 4 (9:36)
In 2005 I reviewed Samuel Jerónimo's debut album Redra Ändra Endre De Fase , a tricky CD and one I struggled with. So initially I decided that I would not take up the gauntlet of reviewing his second album, however as it has languished for far too long in the DPRP pipeline, I felt perhaps I should once again visit the music of Mr Jerónimo.
Rima (Music as an Excess Of Transparency and Lightness, or A Loss Caused by Assimilation) is constructed of four pieces and which I believe tracks one and three, and two and four are paralleled.
Verso 1 begins with with a rapidly oscillating note that fades in and then out followed by another and another. The oscillation speeds and pitch change throughout the piece with the introduction of general ambient sounds that lay under the music.
Verso 2 sees Samuel Jerónimo move to a grandiose church pipe organ sound and a complex interweaving of arpeggios, tunes and melodies. Minimalistic in approach, the only sound used is the pipe organ.
Verso 3 is a tapestry of interwoven drones and sounds assembled into ambient soundscapes.
Verso 4 returns once again the pipe organ and another complex arrangement, albeit adopting a similar minimalistic approach, of interplayed themes.
The subtleties and intricacies of ambient and or minimalistic music are totally lost on me, therefore I have chosen to offer a brief synopsis of each piece, without comment, and without I'm afraid to say offering a numerical conclusion. Should this type of music appeal then my suggestion would be to visit Samuel Jerónimo's MySpace site (see the Samples link above) - read and judge for yourself.
Conclusion: Not rated
Dyonisos – An Incidental Collection
Tracklist: Visions (5:17), Reasons (5:12), Facing Windmills (5:47), Abstract Visions (4:47), Leaving Home (5:07), Pasture In Kahaluu (8:23), Absolute Center Of Nowhere (4:19), Permanent Disembodiment (4:12), When Silence Has Spoken (4:26), The Wave (3:11), Ohia Lehua (4:13), Voices (6:35)
Dyonisos is a one man ensemble featuring American Dan Cowan, who wrote and produced all the songs for this compilation CD called An Incidental Collection. As you may probably know Dyonisos’ music is a mix of Pink Floyd, Camel, Alan Parsons and RPWL. A review of his last, self titled, album from 2005 can be found here. If you like the bands I just mentioned then you will probably love this album. Especially the guitar solos in songs like Reasons, Pasture In Kahaluu and When Silence Has Spoken are sheer brilliance and sound very much like Gilmour and Latimer.
Unfortunately there are also a couple of boring songs on this CD, being Absolute Center Of Nowhere (a ballad-like dreamy nothingness) and Ohia Lehua, a rather dull RPWL-like ballad with lots of vocals and piano.
If you have the other Dyonisos albums then this is in fact a redundant release.
Conclusion: Not rated