Album Reviews

Issue 2007-056

Reviews in this issue:

Porcupine Tree - Nil Recurring

Porcupine Tree - Nil Recurring
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Transmission
Catalogue #:Transmission 5.1
Year of Release:2007
Info:Porcupine Tree
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Nil Recurring (6:08), Normal (7:07), Cheating The Polygraph (7:06), What Happens Now? (8:23)

Ed Sander's Review

When Fear Of A Blank Planet was released, it was already quite obvious that there was more to come. Not only had there been mention of an instrumental track with Robert Fripp on guitar, but also the fifth song that was played during the live try-outs of the album was replaced by Way Out Of Here. So Mr. Wilson had at least two more songs up his sleeve. Unlike with Deadwing the songs did not appear on any CD or DVD edition of the album (so far) and before long Steve Wilson mentioned that there were plans for a follow up DVD that featured some material that did not fit in with the concept or would result in an album with a playing time of more than an hour, something he was trying to avoid.

Well, now the waiting is over and we can enjoy four new songs on this limited edition 29 minute EP, released on the band's own Transmission Recordings label. Although 'limited edition' comes with a twist here. The EP was so popular and sold out so quickly that there has already been a second pressing and a permanent retail version is scheduled for 2008. The songs will also be available in the band's download store and are also included on the new limited edition DVDA and double LP. And rightfully so because these songs deserve a wide availability. Two tracks (1 and 3) were recorded during the Fear Of A Blank Planet sessions, the other two were recorded last summer.

The album opens with the instrumental title track, a full band writing collaboration. Like the other tracks on this EP it is quite a heavy affair, so don't expect a return to the days of Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun on this EP. Personally I am not a big fan of prog metal but with Porcupine Tree it always works for me; the mood switches and the powerful riffs without the for metal characteristic annoying constant presence of double bass drums and guitar solos that focus on the number of notes per second work perfectly. This instrumental is a good example and has the same style as e.g. Mother And Child Divided, Wedding Nails or Orchidia. Special guest on this track is Robert Fripp, who overlays the band's basis with some of his trademark dissonant guitar solos. Often emulated by Steve Wilson on various Porcupine Tree songs I have grown accustomed to this style, but it will never be 100% my cup of tea. On Nil Recurring it gives the songs a nice experimental edge. The song also features a break with prominent bass, ambient sounds by Barbieri and tasteful drum patterns by Harrison. All in all a worthy addition to the band's collection of instrumentals.

The next two tracks have clear links to the concept of Fear Of A Blank Planet. Normal is quite remarkable in the way that it's a reworked version of Sentimental. As a matter of fact, in contrast with Sentimental, it actually features the word 'sentimental' in the lyrics. Don't expect the same song though, basically only the chorus is copied. While Sentimental is an emotional ballad this energetic rendition is a lot more adventurous with an acoustic riff intro and a heavy middle section before moving into a closing section with acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. Wonderful !

As mentioned, Cheating The Polygraph, a track written by Wilson and Harrison, was one of the songs that was originally part of the album when the band played it live during their Arriving Somewhere 2006 tour. It eventually got replaced by Way Out Of Here and stylistically is a similar kind of song (moody verses and a powerful chorus with drawn out vocals) with a slightly 'patchy' feel. Although it was my least favourite track of the 'original tracklist' I'm glad that it is finally officially available in a better version than the audience recordings that have been traded on the Internet. The song comes with a trademark 'Wah-Wah-Wilson' guitar solo and a spooky break with bass and ambient sounds by Barbieri.

What Happens Now? is a bit of a mini epic, starting of with Indian rhythms, dark moody synths and lyrics about the nonsense of materialism and threat of terrorism. The track slowly builds in tension and after 3 minutes the full band kicks in, as one would expect of a band composition. The last 5 minutes of the track are instrumental, including and electric violin solo by Ben Coleman (unfortunately a bit low in the mix) and a return of the rhythm of Anesthetize (Part 2). The song continues to build with soaring guitars and smart bass lines to a heavy climax with a howling guitar.

All in all this EP makes an essential addition to any Porcupine Tree fan's collection. It is not merely a collection of 'left-overs' or 'outtakes'; these songs stand up in quality and can easily match the material on the band's last album. For reasons of style and concept and in order to keep the length of that album below one hour, Steve Wilson has decided not to include them. Consider this to be to Fear Of A Blank Planet what Recordings was to the Stupid Dream - Lightbulb Sun era of the band. The EP is nicely packet in a fold-open digipack which contains the lyrics and some nice Lasse Hoile photographs that are clearly part of the concept of the last album.

There's only one bit of criticism I'd like to add to the positive review above. I'm a great admirer of Steve Wilson, who seems to have a never ending stream of creativity. In the more recent Porcupine Tree work I do however get that 'Aha Erlebnis' every now and then - musical deja-vu and the feeling that you've heard it before. On Sentimental there's the reference to Trains and I'm still not sure if this was intentional or not. On the Nil Recurring track there's a section that sounds an awful lot like the heavy section of Strip The Soul. Normal has the obvious use of the chorus of Sentimental and What Happens Now ? has a section with the same chunky guitar riff as the second section of Anesthetize. As such the EP's title could not have been less appropriate. Is this intentional cross-referencing or a lack of creativity on the part of Steve Wilson? Let's hope not.

Tom De Val's Review

As Ed has done such a sterling job on the introduction and background of this EP, it leaves me to just get on with describing the music.

Proceedings open up with the instrumental title track, which is certainly a track which wouldn’t really fit in neatly onto Fear Of A Blank Planet. Although it does nod towards the heaviness of latter-day (post In Absentia) Porcupine Tree, its really got more in common with some of the work of collaborator Robert Fripp, whose trademark sound is all over this, from the wiry guitar motif that kicks the track onwards. In fact, this is, in parts reminiscent of the material on the 1990 Fripp/David Sylvian collaboration The First Day (and, on the more ambient, reflective mid-section, Sylvian’s earlier Gone To Earth). The contrast between these melodic, ambient sections and the more intensive, heavy parts of the song are effective and help keep the listener engaged throughout the song’s length.

In contrast, much of Normal could fit easily onto FOABP, and indeed shares the chorus (both lyrically and, quite closely, musically) of (the FOABP track) Sentimental. Whether it’s a forerunner of that song or simply an alternative version, I’d have to say I probably prefer the structure and production of this song, with its acoustic-led, mellow tone (somewhat reminiscent of Trains) contrasting neatly with the hopelessness imbued in the lyrics. Richard Barbieri’s nicely understated symphonic keyboard washes add texture and colour rather than overly dominating proceedings, and the ‘call and response’ vocal work is well utilised. The song is a bit overlong, and the heavy, distorted riffing which comes in briefly around the five minute mark is rather jarring, but otherwise this is a fine track.

Cheating The Polygraph is a more experimental affair, although it opens in relatively conventional fashion, with strident power chords, a marching drum beat and Wilson’s fragile vocals suggesting this will be a relatively relaxed, mid-tempo affair; the chorus, however, brings in juddering riffs and Wilson at his more ‘out-there’ vocally, bringing to mind the aggressive In Absentia song Strip The Soul. That’s just the start of it though, as the song soon veers into more avant-garde fusion territory, all sparse electric piano and slightly frenzied yet tasteful soloing. Add in some atmospheric sound-scapes and plenty more crunchy riffs and you have an interesting concoction that holds together much better than you might think.

What Happens Now has a suitably atmospheric opening – a hypnotic Gavin Harrison drum pattern reminiscent of the one that heralds in the mid-section of Arriving Somewhere, gentle, spare keyboard melodies and Wilson’s barely-there vocals herald in a song which gradually builds, adding layers of sinewy guitar and hints of electronica, before settling into a chilled out, almost danceable groove. After a ‘reprise’ of the repetitive, heavy guitar riff which crops up on Anaesthetize, a dextrous bass line that sounds like a speeded up version of the one that drives Don’t Hate Me ushers in some spacey, psychedelic guitar work from Wilson which closes out the track.

I’ve seen some internet forums gushing over this EP to the extent that people have said they prefer it to Fear Of A Blank Planet itself. Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but Nil Recurring is certainly far from a bunch of inferior outtakes. Whilst the songs taken together don’t have the flow of FOABP (and in some cases would disrupt it if placed within the original running order), each of the tracks stands alone as a strong piece in its own right. Sonically, as you might expect, its spot on, and you get the feeling that Wilson has taken a few more chances here than he would on a more conventional, commercially released album, and has done so without making the results sound self-indulgent and unpalatable. Fans of FOABP (and indeed any latter-day Porcupine Tree) can invest with confidence, and it will be interesting to see how any of these songs come across live, should they make it onto the set-list of the forthcoming tour.


ED SANDER : 9- out of 10
TOM DE VAL : 8 out of 10

Saga - 10,000 Days

Saga - 10,000 Days
Country of Origin:Canada
Record Label:InsideOut
Catalogue #:SPV 79642
Year of Release:2007
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Lifeline (5:37), Book Of Lies (5:44), Sideways (4:53), Can’t You See Me Now (6:12), Corkentellis (7:12), More Than I Deserve (5:22), Sound Advice (5:17), 10,000 Days (4:31), It Never Ends (6:10)

Canadian band Saga really doesn’t need any introduction, they’ve been part of the progressive rock scene for nearly thirty years, releasing their debut album in 1978. All their early albums, up to 1983’s Heads Or Tales, were excellent albums filled with modern, sometimes heavy but always catchy progressive rock. I still have fond memories of a concert in the early eighties in Sittard. What a great concert that was! I treasured the tape I had from that show until my girlfriend accidentally recorded something else on it (she’s an ex girlfriend now ;--)). From 1985’s Behaviour things started to go downhill a bit. At first trying a more "commercial" sound and then suffering from line up changes. It resulted in a couple of albums of mixed quality (to put it nicely). From 1999 they released some good albums again. Especially House Of Cards and it’s follow up Marathon. Also last year’s Trust was a fine album.

And now there is studio album number 18. The title, 10,000 Days, refers to the number of days of Saga’s existence. 10,000 Days is going to be a special album in the Saga history regardless of the quality of the music. Singer Michael Sadler announced his departure from the band in July of this year as after nearly thirty years in the band he found it time to shift his focus to other important things in his life and therefore 10,000 Days will be his last album with the band. Although Saga loses an excellent singer I think there is more than enough quality left in this band to have a bright future. 10,000 Days is the living proof of that. The band is in great form on the album.

The first five tracks are all great, great songs and among the best tracks they’ve ever done. I’ve been humming Saga choruses and guitar and keyboard lines for days now. Album opener Lifeline is textbook Saga and the song opens with Jim Gilmour's keyboards before a fantastic riff by guitarist Ian Crichton takes centre stage. The song has a catchy chorus and wonderful guitar and keyboard solos. The same applies for the next song Book Of Lies but that song is even better. It has a chorus to die for - it is one of the choruses that I can’t get out of my head. After the verses of the song we hear those very familiar guitar/keys melodies. After the second chorus there’s a little Gentle Giantish piece before the build up to a BIG guitar solo. Another highlight of the song is Brian Doerner's drumming in the build up to the guitar solo. As the song ends someone is saying “Wow” and I can imagine why. Sideways starts with a guitar/piano melody that again reminds me again of Gentle Giant. It’s more of a straightforward rock song than the previous two. During the break the opening melody returns again with added drums and again the chorus got stuck in my head.

Can’t You See Me Now has Ian Crichton's trademark staccato riffs and big drumming by Brian Doerner and again this song has a great chorus, but the fun really starts during the break. It’s a spectacular almost full on jazz rock piece of instrumental excellence. Again Ian Crichton's guitar playing the same melody as Jim Gilmour's keyboards. It sounds complex but great. Dream Theater would be proud of this.

The real surprise of the album however is the lengthy instrumental Corkentellis. I Googled Corkentellis to find out what it means, but was not successful. Maybe somebody can tell me? Again a spectacular song (there is no other word) that has everything that makes Saga such a good band (minus the vocals). A great main theme, guitar solos and keyboard solos (Jim Gilmour sounds like a real Patrick Moraz here). But there is also room for a short solo by bass player Jim Crichton and a drum solo by Brian Doerner. The song ends with a guitar/keyboards melody before returning to the main theme. Again this song has a jazz rock feel. The song left me speechless. I do not know what the band plans are after Michael Sadler's departure but, if they can’t find a new vocalist, an album of instrumentals of Corkentellis quality would be just fine.

After these five excellent songs the first ballad follows in the form of More Than I Deserve. Now I’ve never been a big fan of Saga ballads as they are often too syrupy to my taste, and it is the same with this song as well. It has a nice guitar solo but that’s not enough to lift this song from mediocrity. With Sound Advice the quality is back to its high level. The title track is the second ballad. It’s a not a bad song but that’s really it. It has some terrible French horn keyboard sounds from Jim Gilmour. The song is a little better than More Than I Deserve, but not much and the lyrics are about Michael Sadler days as member of Saga;

”So many faces.
Now that we’ve seen 10,000 days.
So many places.
As I try to remember all of their names.
One thing’s for certain. I’d do it all again.
With no regrets”.

The album closes on a high with the aptly named ‘It Never Ends’. It’s a good song with a big chorus. In the lyrics Michael Sadler seems to give the fans some encouraging words with:

“Looks to me like you could use a friend
Because everything must change. It never ends
When it does you won’t know where or when
Everything will change. It never ends”.

The song features some high quality solos by Jim Gilmour and Ian Crichton before returning to the final chorus. During the lengthy fade out we can all wave goodbye to Michael Sadler.

This is a marvellous album. I would have happily given this album a 10 out of 10 if it wasn’t for the two weaker tracks. In my opinion 10,000 Days is up there with the best albums from the Saga catalogue. And that is quite an achievement after a thirty year career. It is certainly something for all remaining Saga members and Michael Sadler to be proud of. Saga not only has a great history but 10,000 Days proves that they still have a bright future as well.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Radiohead - In Rainbows

Radiohead - In Rainbows
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:none
Year of Release:2007

Tracklist: 15 Step (3:57), Bodysnatchers (4:02), Nude (4:15), Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (5:18), All I Need (3:48), Faust Arp (2:09), Reckoner (4:50), House Of Cards (5:28), Jigsaw Falling Into Place (4:08), Videotape (4:39)

This is the first download release we have reviewed on DPRP. In an unusual way of delivering an album, Radiohead have made their album In Rainbows initially only available for download, and a special edition box set featuring 8 bonus tracks and the album on double vinyl will be released in December. A regular CD release will not see the light of day until January 2008.

The download and disc box editions are released without the backing of a record label, and in the case of the download version, uniquely, also without a set charge: people can download for free if they want as the 'price' field in the order form is left empty. ("it is up to you" the instructions say). It is a revolutionary idea, which did not go down well with everybody, least of all the established record labels. And they do a have point somewhere, a band like Radiohead can afford to give away music for free, and they will earn enough money from their fan base who leave some sort of donation for the download, or buy the disc box version.

Marketing strategies, or rather, NON-marketing strategies aside, how about the actual music? I must say that after the first few spins the music is remarkably un-distinct. After a 4-year hiatus one would expect a bit more excitement from the band, but, for a band renowned for its radical changes in style from album to album, the music on In Rainbows sounds very much like a continuation of their previous album Hail To The Thief. Upon repeated listenings however, the beauty of the compositions is revealed and in my opinion this is the most accessible Radiohead album since their 1997 masterpiece OK Computer.

Album opener 15 Step continues the mix of electronic beats, odd time signatures and the monotonous 'singing' of Thom Yorke, and sounds like a direct continuation of their previous three albums. Bodysnatchers harks back to the earlier work of the band, and the melody reminds me a bit of Queen's Now I'm Here. Nude is a song which also sounds like the Radiohead of old, and for a reason, as the song was originally written in 1997. It was intended for inclusion on Kid A, but left off that album and the two subsequent albums. In the meantime it was performed live several times and has become a fan favourite since. It is a beautiful little ballad with strumming guitar, some washes of Mellotron and Yorke's trademark whining voice.

Weird Fishes is more upbeat again, with trademark weird lyrics from Yorke. The song reminds a bit of the work of U2 from the mid-nineties. All I Need is another balled, with a very prominent heavy bass line. The end section recalls the work of Eno, but also echoes the likes of Danish band Saybia. Faust Arp is a small ditty with Yorke singing nervously over an arrangement of acoustic guitar and strings. The song has some distinct Beatles influences.

Reckoner is another old track which was performed regularly during the last tour, however, the final album version bears little resemblance to the live version. It features a weird time signature dominated by a tambourine, and has Yorke singing entirely in his falsetto voice. Of all the tracks on the album, this is probably the least accessible composition. The following song, House of Cards, is probably the opposite, as it is a very accessible track, and the only one with a distinct vocal melody. The guitar and synth arrangement of the song strongly resembles the U2 track The Wanderer, off their Zooropa album. Again, another song with a strong Eno influence, and probably the best of the album.

Jigsaw Falling Into Place also premiered during the last tour, and is again rather standard Radiohead fare. Yorke monotonously reciting the lyrics, frantic drumming in an odd rhythm, and the whole band gradually building up to a climax, which never really comes.

Videotape is a rather disturbing album closer. It starts with piano chords which resemble the soundtrack of a sad movie, before first Yorke and slowly the rest of the band comes in. The drumming consists of short drum samples, which create a very disturbing rhythm, and the sad movie soundtrack turns into horror as the song progresses.

In conclusion, It is easy to write the album off as a selection of out-takes from Hail To The Thief. The recording quality of some of the songs doesn't seem to surpass demo level, especially where the vocals are concerned. However, this being Radiohead, it is likely intentional. The band is renowned for its innovation, but it seems other bands that originally started in their wake, like Coldplay and Muse, have caught up with them, making Radiohead trend followers instead of trend setters. But that is not to say this is a bad album, on the contrary, as I said at the start of my review, it is their best in 10 years! And for the price it is hard to beat, right?

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Ra - Wake

Ra - Wake
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:GFT Cyclops
Catalogue #:CYCL 162
Year of Release:2007

Tracklist: What Thought Did (3:08), The Head Honcho (2:56), Head On (2:31), Enough Monkeys (2:53), Kaugummimäßiges Musik (4:25), Janus (3:58), Wake (4:12), What Thought Did Next (3:46), Wheels Keep Turning (6:23), Last Farewells (5:49), Spike (3:04), The Knee Of An Idol (4:38), What Thought Did After That (4:34), At Last (4:19)

Like several Cyclops acts, I was introduced to the work of bassist Rob Andrews via one of the labels excellent sampler collections. In this instance it was Sampler #5, which he opened with a guitar driven variation of a track that appeared on The Host album. There was always a cooperative approach to Andrews’ music and appropriately he has elected to release the latest album under the band pseudonym Ra. He is joined once again by long-time collaborator David Groves who in addition to featuring prominently on lead guitar is responsible for writing a fair proportion of the material. Completing the line-up is Steve Hillman on keyboards, Dai Rees on drums, and guest Phil Morgan who plays violin on one track. With no vocalist credited there are no prizes for guessing that this is an all-instrumental affair.

Although Groves has previously provided the keyboards, having dedicated keys man Hillman onboard gives the lead instruments a more even balance, added depth and greater variety in the music’s colourings and textures. Along with Rees, Andrews supplies solid rhythm support with only the occasional and brief lead flurry. There is a 90’s neo-prog feel to the recording that also leans heavily towards the more instrumental biased classic bands like Camel and Focus as well as the (early) Steve Hackett, Tony Banks and Rick Wakeman solo albums. The latter certainly comes to mind on the opening What Thought Did, which features a sparkling melody very reminiscent of a theme from Journey To The Centre Of Earth. Although this same theme will appear later on in different guises here it is played on solo guitar underpinned by Hammond. The Head Honcho written by associate Mike Beck is a lively, no-nonsense piece again with guitar and organ both strongly featured.

Both Head On and Enough Monkeys continue in the same vein, i.e. bright mid-tempo tracks with melodies that linger in the memory long after the last note has faded. The curiously titled Kaugummimäßiges Musik brings ELP to the table mainly through Hillman’s playing, which also adds some expansive mellotron samples and even a touch of Tomas Bodin style synth work. Janus continues in a similar mood where Hillman and Groves compliment each other perfectly with some very lyrical exchanges. The reflective Wake is possibly my favourite track thanks to intoxicating piano, (sampled) flute, organ and guitar that evokes the Thijs Van Leer and Jan Ackerman partnership at their most sublime. It’s back to the “Journey” theme with What Thought Did Next with synth taking lead honours joined by some fine organ and guitar soloing and played at a sprightlier pace. At a decadent six and half minutes, the Hillman penned Wheels Keep Turning is the albums longest track and unsurprisingly manages to cram in several mood and tempo changes including stylish violin soloing from Morgan who combines nicely with synth to add a touch of Kansas majesty to the proceedings.

Groves’ Last Farewells is a gorgeous electric and acoustic guitar lament that not for the last time brings Andy Latimer to mind. Ironically (or intentionally) the thoughtful keys playing displays more than a hint of Peter Bardens. This piece would have sat very comfortably on The Snow Goose album. The appropriately titled Spike has a busy jazz feel where Andrews takes a rare excursion into the sonic foreground with some very nimble bass work. The pacey The Knee Of An Idol includes some very flashy guitar and synth exchanges ala Yes and along the way evokes the pomp and splendour of Kansas. For one final outing What Thought Did After That reprises the opening melody rearranged and extended to allow Hillman and Groves to flex their musical muscles for the penultimate time. At Last allows Groves to display his ‘guitar hero in waiting’ talents with a weeping guitar ballad that is as melodic a display as you’re likely to hear all year.

For my money this is Andrews’ strongest outing to date, not least for the excellent compositional and instrumental input of his collaborators. It works on most every level including the absence of vocals which are not in the slightest bit missed. Possibly the only drawback for some will be the lack of crunching guitar riffs which seem to have become a staple ingredient of the majority of prog release of late. As such the smooth sound may seem a tad lightweight to some ears, even old fashioned. However, if any of the above names I’ve mentioned have stirred your interest and you hanker for guitar and keys that cry and sing rather than scream and shout then this is for you.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10


Dean McGinnes – The Journey Of Life

Dean McGinnes – The Journey Of Life
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2007
Info:Dean McGinnes
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Going Nowhere (4:57), New Start (3:05), Mountains of Echo (3:57), Hypnotized (2:24), The Journey Man Ryan Carroll (1:23), Get Up And Go (3:16), 2ism (4:09), The End Is Near (4:40), The Journey Of Life [Part 1] (1:56), The Journey Of Life [Part 2] (4:47); [Bonus Track] Alone (2:16)

I’m starting to think that it’s just me – I’m just too old. Not jaded (well, maybe that too), but I have heard a lot of music. So when a 23-year-old guitarist calls his first album (and two of the songs on it) The Journey Of Life, I start thinking, well, pal, I’ve gone a lot further on that journey than you have – what have you got to tell me about it? And when the album consists of guitar instrumentals, he’d better have a lot to say. So I’ll admit that problem at the outset: maybe I’m expecting too much.

I can say that this is a very pleasant album; I might even use the dreaded word “nice”. Each of the eleven tracks (with one exception that I’ll talk about in a minute) is quite well constructed; the playing is good throughout; McGinnes has a sense of melody, for sure, and, bless him, he hasn’t thought it necessary to cram an hour and a quarter of music onto his first disc just because it’d fit; and he thoughtfully provides notes in the CD booklet telling the listener a little something about each tune. (He even explains why it’s an instrumental album: “If you were expecting vocals, sorry but I cant [sic] sing!!”) We thus know that, for example, The Journey Of Life was composed in honour of his late grandfather (though it might have been better had McGinnes not told us that it is a “very deep and spiritual song”) and that The Journey Man Ryan Carroll was written for and dedicated to his guitar tutor. Although the explanations don’t do much for our appreciation of the music, we can see at least that McGinnes is thinking about what he’s expressing in each song, and that’s probably why each one can stand as an entity on its own; he’s not concerned solely with showing off.

Though show off he does – I mean, it is an instrumental guitar album! And the results are in no way embarrassing, because he really can play. He has a number of different styles and sounds; I find myself thinking most often of David Gilmour (in some of the slower pieces) and Brian Robertson, as much in tone as in style, in some of the faster ones. And there’s more than a touch of Yngwie (inevitably, in such a project) – notably, and unfortunately, in the song I mentioned earlier that’s dedicated to his guitar teacher, The Journey Man Ryan Carroll. “Into his mad arpeggios,” McGinnes says in his notes, and “mad arpeggios” are indeed what we get in this thankfully brief track, which sounds like a practice exercise more than an actual song. Elsewhere there’s an attempt at a fast rock-and-roll number (Get Up And Go) that’s pleasant enough, though the recording does no favours to the drums, which sound like shoeboxes, and several “atmospheric” pieces, such as Mountains Of Echo and the two title tracks. And bonus track (how on earth can the first release of an independently produced CD have a “bonus track”?) Alone is a lovely coda to the album, quiet, a bit jazzy, and, well, nice.

There are many, many, many instrumental guitar albums out there, and this is another one – a nice one. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about it, because McGinnes is a young guitarist with a lot of talent, and I wish him all the best; I just can’t say that this album will likely be of great interest to people familiar with the genre. His future albums may well be.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Rashomon – The Ruined Map (Film Music Volume 1)

Rashomon – The Ruined Map (Film Music Volume 1)
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Mirrors
Catalogue #:MRCD701
Year of Release:2007
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Onibaba (4:59), Blast Of Silence (3:42), A Quiet Week In The House (3:10), The Mascot (2:16), Branded To Kill (5:30), Lancelot Du Lac (6:14), Confessions Of An Opium Eater (6:06), Ruined Map (7:26)

Rashomon is a new project from Matt Thompson, founder member of British avant-garde progsters Guapo. As if the name of the project (a classic Japanese film from famed director Akira Kurosawa) wasn’t clue enough, the title is a giveaway – this is music inspired by a number of (predominantly cult, art-house) films. Thompson makes the point in the promo material that the music isn’t specifically designed to act as alternative soundtracks to the films, but rather “as companion pieces to the psychic states invoked by the more bizarre outer reaches of experimental narrative cinema”. Not an easy ride then, and Thompson indicates as much by describing the music as “at the nexus of avant prog, Balkan folk, trad metal, modern composition, drone and psych rock”. So if you’re after easy, leave-your-brain-at-home listening - this isn’t it.

Perhaps inevitably, as a fan of Guapo’s last couple of albums, it’s the material that most closely evokes that band’s musical style that I most warmed to here. In fact, for ‘material’ read one track - opener Onibaba; following an intro of galloping hooves, a familiar Guapo-esque marching rhythm rolls in, coloured by symphonic keyboard flourishes, and interspersed with hypnotic drones and suitably spooky organ sounds. This track could actually work well as an alternative soundtrack to another Japanese film, The Ring.

The rest of the album explores less familiar territory. The more successful pieces included The Mascot, with its eastern European folk feel, complete with gypsy-esque violin; the minimalistic, unsettling electronic soundscapes of Confessions Of An Opium Eater and the accordion-fuelled Lancelot Du Lac, where the background noises of crashing waves, seagull song and ship’s foghorns blasting away in the distance gradually become the main ‘instruments’.

On the flipside there’s a fair amount here which just fits into the ‘bizarre’ category without necessarily having much musical or artistic merit (in my eyes); Branded To Kill juxtaposes a succession of beeps, squeals and crashing drums with some third rate heavy metal guitar riffing. A Quiet Week In The House keeps introducing some pleasant melodies courtesy of classical guitar and Wurlitzer, yet keeps being interrupted by bursts of loud atonal noise. The most difficult track to listen to is Blast Of Silence, where bursts of feedback and random noises compete with what sounds like a guitar being played by someone with oversized hands and a loose grip on how to play the instrument; the result is not a pleasant listening experience – although I doubt its meant to be.

Ultimately this is hardly aimed at a mass audience – only 500 copies will be pressed – yet even avant-garde fans may find parts of this difficult to absorb. There are some interesting ideas here, but ultimately you’d be advised to approach with caution, especially if of a fragile disposition.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10


Album Reviews