Reviews in this issue:
- Sense - Going Home
- Touchstone - Discordant Dreams
- Aquaplan - Old Waves New Seas
- Man - Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day
- Man - Rhinos, Winos + Lunatics
- John Curtis - Short Songs About Affordable Food
- Rotor - 3
- Steve Liberty – The Moment
Sense - Going Home
Tracklist: The Sweater (9:22), Stone In The Sky (5:35), Going Home (11:04), Aftermath (10:12), Stranger Coming Home (10:32)
Don’t let the rather dreadful cover put you off! Hidden inside is a gem of a disc – one of the best modern examples of the Classic 70’s progressive rock style, and certainly one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve come across for ages.
Ok, this is not exactly groundbreaking stuff; it will surely remind you, at various times, of the Prog giants like Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, UK and several others, but they so effortlessly capture the magic, the essence of Prog Rock, and imbue it with such a positive spirit and joie de vivre that the results are enchanting and easy to like.
Hailing from Quebec, Canada, Sense was formed in 2001 and has previously released two studio albums, (click the Out Of Range link to read the DPRP review), and one live disc. Not having heard the band’s work, it is now my mission to acquire their other albums as soon as I can manage it.
The album comprises of just five tracks which, aside from Stone In The Sky, are all at around the ten minute mark; this seems to me to be the ideal length for a fully satisfying Progressive rock composition, allowing plenty of room for thematic development, changes of mood, instrumental virtuosity and all the other prog staples, without descending into aimless noodling or empty padding.
Right from the start, Sense impress with their infectiously enthusiastic approach; the sound is vivacious and spirited, reminding me of the feel Yes achieved on their Yes Album and Drama discs – the material being lean and incisive, with not an ounce of musical flab.
The Sweater is a great opener, with convoluted riffs in the mode of Gentle Giant encasing delicious harmony vocal melodies, thrusting along on dynamic bass lines, with majestic and magnificent keyboards giving a Going For The One air. The vocals remind me of Starcastle or Trever Horn in his brief stint in Yes. They are very pleasant and easy on the ear. When the guitar breaks out for a solo, a jazz fusion slant becomes apparent. There is more than a hint of Allan Holdsworth here.
The second track is the shortest on the album, but it’s a little belter. Capturing the mellow acoustic tones of early Genesis, and featuring gorgeous Mellotron from guest Andrew Marshall of Willowglass, its winsome fragility is quite, quite beautiful.
My favourite track is the closer Stranger Coming Home which has a lovely vocal melody, very haunting and atmospheric, but all the tracks have an abundance of riches to offer. Going Home squeezes in metallic riffs, passages of exquisite delicacy, intricate guitar parts and folkish tunes a la Horslips or Tull, and Aftermath goes in a darker direction with some superb throbbing, jazzy Chapman stick work, raucous organ and several expertly judged build-ups and releases of tension.
I was quite unprepared for how much I would like this CD. I keep on playing and playing it. I will be sad to have to put it aside to concentrate on my next disc for review. As said before, no especially new musical ground is broken here, but this is assuredly a great example of progressive rock in the classic sense of the word, and should have a very wide appeal amongst DPRP readers.
Unfortunately, this CD reached me too late for it to feature in my "best of year" entries in the DPRP poll, as it would definitely have found a high placing in my list. Going Home comes very highly recommended!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Touchstone - Discordant Dreams
Tracklist: Intro (1:35), Discordant Dreams (5:56), Curious Angel (4:45), See The Light (7:01), Being Hannah (5:11), Shadow (6:47), Winter Coast (0:22), Ocean Down (2:23), Blacktide (5:49), Dignity (5:43), The Beggar’s Song (11:04), ? (6:52)
Since the release of their Mad Hatters EP things have moved on apace for this band from the South of England; there’s been some line up changes (most notably with the addition of new female vocalist Kim Seviour), they’ve been getting very positive feedback for their live performances, and have just picked up the award for best newcomer at the annual Classic Rock Society awards. Touchstone have now capped an eventful year with the release of their debut full length album, Discordant Dreams.
In common with a number of other emerging British bands, such as Tinyfish, Darwin’s Radio, Breathing Space and The Reasoning, Touchstone are less a fully fledged progressive rock band than a band playing classic rock with progressive touches – you get the feeling that in their music collections Queen and Deep Purple get as much playing time as Genesis and Marillion. Of their contemporaries, it’s The Reasoning who are probably the closest in style, a comparison helped by the fact that Touchstone utilise a male and female vocalist (Rob Cottingham and Kim Seviour), and whilst the harmonies aren’t quite as outstanding as on Awakenings, they certainly add an extra dimension to the band’s sound. Another band you could compare Touchstone to would be Jadis, both in the sound of their records and in the performances, with guitarist Adam Hodgson’s overall tone and solo work comparable to Gary Chandler’s, whilst Cottingham’s voice is not entirely dissimilar to Chandlers.
The production, by the band and Ben Humphreys, is bright and crisp; it perhaps lacks a little warmth, and the drums have a tendency to be overly dominant, but these are ultimately minor criticisms. As on their EP, Touchstone have been able to call on the services of John Mitchell, who mixed the album and contributes a very Rothery-esque solo to the track Dignity.
Touchstone kick the album off strongly, after a short intro, with the powerful title track. The song builds steadily, with Seviour and Cottingham’s voices working together well, before hitting the chorus which is defined by a soaring guitar motif from Hodgson. Hodgson’s guitar work throughout is subtle yet effective, and his solo exhibits (strangely enough) a bit of a John Mitchell feel. There’s a nagging feeling that the performance is perhaps a little too polite and restrained, but I’m sure that feeling would be erased in the live arena.
The first half of the album continues in a similar vein, although its to the bands credit that they have enough strong melodies and hooks to ensure things never get too samey. Curious Angel has a slightly grittier, rockier feel in the chorus, whilst See The Light has something of an eighties pop rock feel (good eighties pop rock, mind!). Being Hannah sees the band squeeze some more emotion out of the material, and Cottingham and Seviour’s voices play off each other very well in the chorus. Shades of Clive Nolan’s distinctive playing style hang over Cottingham’s keyboard work here. Shadow is a lighter but no less enjoyable track which sees Kim Seviour take her first solo lead vocal on the album – hopefully the band will give her voice more prominence on future albums, as its impressively strong and controlled.
The second half of the album sees Touchstone mixing things up a little more. Ocean Down is a short ballad which is a little sappy perhaps, but reasonable enough. There’s some keyboard work similar to that that ends Marillion’s Seasons End (the track), and I was a little disappointed the band didn’t let this section develop further. Black Tide is a more downbeat, melancholy-tinged track, with Hodgson really excelling on this one – not only is the riffing of a good standard, but the lengthy guitar solo he reels off is probably his best on the album – technical enough for guitar aficionados to enjoy, yet there’s plenty of room for the notes to breathe. Dignity starts off with a rather world-weary feel, yet ultimately has a mellow, positive vibe as reflected in the lyrics. Bassist Paul Moorghen’s dextrous, jazz-like playing on this song deserves a mention; it’s a pity that the song is perhaps derailed by the guitar solo’s (from Hodgson and Mitchell) which clog up the second half.
In grand prog tradition the band conclude the album proper with the eleven minute epic The Beggar’s Song. Truthfully, I prefer the band’s more concise material and found this song one of the weaker ones on the album. Lyrically detailing an oft-told but still pertinent tale of riches to rags on the streets of London, There’s some nice sections (I swear there’s a Tears For Fears influence going on there somewhere…), but whether it all hangs together and justifies the running time is perhaps a moot point.. The montage of ‘scary’ voices which makes up the ‘hidden’ track at the end of the album isn’t really necessary.
Overall, the band have made good on the promise shown on their EP and proved they have both the musicians and the songs to go as far as they can within what is obviously quite a limited genre. Whilst the album is a little overlong and there are times when the structure of the songs could have been tightened, my overall impression of the album is a pretty positive one. I only hope the band manage to transcend the fate of Strangefish, another band who became a big favourite with the CRS but meant little to anyone outside the confines of the society and instead follow the route taken by the likes of Karnataka and latterly The Reasoning on to wider recognition.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Aquaplan – Old Waves New Seas
Tracklist: New Seas [Part 1] (0:58), Lucky Me (5:43), Choose (4:44), Joy And Brightness (4:50), Ordinary Life (4:16), Infrequency (8:16), Escape (8:50), New Sea [Part 2] (1:35)
If after reading Aquaplan described on their website as a “progressively pop-heavy jazzfolk machine” it would be understandable if you decided to give them a wide berth. You would however be doing the band and yourself a disservice. True they do produce a smooth ear friendlily sound that leans towards jazz at times. The folk tag is a tad misleading and possibly derives from the presence of a female vocalist who sounds not unlike Sally Oldfield amongst others. Their prog credentials are certainly intact by virtue of the excellent musicianship, thoughtful song writing and intelligent arrangements. Formed in Oulu, Finland in 1999 this is the bands second only full length CD to date following Paperimeri from four years ago. That particular release flew under the DPRP radar but thankfully Old Waves New Seas provides a second opportunity to bring this excellent band to your attention. The album title is a good one but surely ‘Old Seas New Waves’ would have made more sense? No matter, the glossy digipack foldout sleeve is a sheer delight putting the CD packaging of many better known artists to shame.
The man responsible for the music is guitarist and backing vocalist Ari Sutinen, with singer Maarit Saarenkunnas providing the lyrics. These are performed in English with hardly a trace of an accent. The rest of the band comprises Juha Anttila (keyboards), Pasi Korhonen (acoustic guitar), Ville Veijalainen (bass) and Marko Oikarinen (drums and backing vocals). It would be difficult to single out any of the songs for individual praise as there are no real standout tracks. That shouldn’t be taken as a criticism however as nothing really disappoints either. Lucky Me is very typical of what the album has to offer. A funky fusion intro with razor sharp playing from everyone is driven by Oikarinen’s crisp drumming. The song relaxes into a sunny groove with Maarit’s breezy vocal skipping over a tuneful acoustic guitar led backing. The sparkling electric guitar and keys work has a melodic neo-prog style friendliness about it. The mellow Choose features restrained but masterful bass and acoustic guitar solos from Veijalainen and Korhonen respectively.
Sutinen shines during Joy And Brightness with his ringing guitar sound cutting through joined by Anttila’s flowing jazz flavoured piano embellishments. The mid tempo Ordinary Life is probably the albums most accessible song with its modern mainstream prog sound. It put me in mind of Magenta and also Solstice who I was listening to extensively during the run up to Christmas. Following a deceptively simple intro Infrequency takes off during the mid section with some fine instrumental work. Veijalainen’s fretless bass contribution is outstanding as is Sutinen’s ridiculously fast guitar runs. Maarit’s closing line sums it up perfectly, “I celebrate the complexity”. The other lengthy track Escape sounds very similar to its predecessor with the instrumental work this time being just a little too laidback in my view. The two songs that bookend the album New Seas [Part 1] with its Enya style wordless voices and [Part 2] with its chiming guitars are both distinctive if insufficiently developed. This brings me to my only real complaint. In addition to the opening and closing songs several tracks including Choose and Escape are cut short rather than reaching a satisfying conclusion. Something for the band to work on for their next release I feel.
So good is the playing here that had my final rating been based on musicianship alone then at least 9 out of 10 would have been deserved. As it is the final score is still very respectable and a reflection of the fresh and inventive approach that Aquaplan bring to their music. Special mention should also go to the crystalline production which apart from the aforementioned abrupt endings is excellent. Less than 40 minutes playing time may seem a tad meagre by current CD (and prog in particular) trends, but excess is certainly one thing the band cannot be accused of.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Man - Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day
Tracklist: C'mon (11:05), Keep On Crinting (8:18), Bananas (9:28) Life On The Road (7:18) Bonus Tracks: Bananas [Early Instrumental Version] (7:05), Rockfield Jam (3:14)
The Esoteric Recordings re-release of the Man United Artist catalogue continues in fine form with the excellent reissue of what is often considered to be Man's defining moment, their tribute to ononism, Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day. Wanting to keep their audience on their toes as to who was actually in the band, this album features yet another change of personnel, the 15th change in five years! With Martin Ace having departed to form The Flying Aces with his wife, Clive John back after a brief sabbatical and Deke Leonard fired for being an "irredeemable nihilist", it only left Micky Jones and Terry Williams out of the previous line-up. However, it was not that the group had to advertise for replacements as keyboardist Phil Ryan and bassist Will Youatt had arguably joined the band prior to the resignation of Ace and the dismissal of Leonard. Both Ryan and Youatt were from Swansea band The Neutrons which had also featured Clive John for a while and Ryan had previously been in Eyes of Blue with future Man band member John Weathers. Leonard had himself narrowly avoided joining Help Yourself, another group whose members flitted in and out of the Man ranks. Mmmm, I wonder if there is a word in Welsh for incestuousness?!
The original album was relatively short, clocking in at just over 36 minutes spread over four tracks. But what tracks! With two bona fide classics that still feature in the Man set to this day and two others that are hardly filler material, it is no surprise the album is held in such high regard. Opener C'mon is a lot lighter than most live presentations of this track. Ryan's keyboards add a more airy feel and without Leonard's more brutal guitar approach, the twin guitars of Jones and John have more space, indeed the track almost sounds quite frivolous in places! The other classic is, of course, Bananas, the Man signature tune that may not just be about the yellow fruit! Again, it is interesting to hear the studio version with its free flowing keyboard runs and acoustic guitars.
Keep On Crinting is described as a "classic chunk of ethereal nonsense" by none other than Deke Leonard, who, despite having been ousted from the group at this point, has magnanimously let bygones be bygones and once again provided entertaining sleeve notes. An instrumental number which sounds in places a bit like Hatfield And The North (it's the organ sound) and other times like a throwback to the psychedelic era of fuzzed guitars in a sort of Hawkwind type of way... sort of. Nice tune though! Final original track is Life On The Road, a simpler blues-based tune about the life of a peripatetic musician. Marred somewhat by the weak vocal performance (by Will Youatt), the track is redeemed by some nice interlocking guitar performances, ending with the trademark guitar siren.
As ever, the release includes a couple of bonus tracks, both recorded before the line-up changes that took place prior to the recording of the main album. The early instrumental version of Bananas gives the listener a glimpse of a work in progress and also lets one hear how the sound of the group subtly changed once the line-up changes had taken place. Taken at a slightly faster pace, this version sounds more like the jamming Man band and the live versions that I have become accustomed to over the years. Final track is a brief jam recorded live in the studio. Dominated by keyboards and with a very mellow vibe it is quite uncharacteristic, but a nice addition to the album.
What really makes this album a worthy purchase is the care and attention gone into the repackaging. Not only is there an informative and interesting booklet, but also included are reproductions of original album inserts the Man map of Wales and the Man family jungle (a prototype Pete Fame-type family tree, but jungle is more apt!). A classic album, and deservedly considered by the cognisee as one of the best of the bunch. If you have not heard anything by Man before then this is a good place to start, go on, be good to yourself, you know you want to!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Man - Rhinos, Winos + Lunatics
CD 1: Taking The Easy Way Out Again (4:22), The Thunder And Lightning Kid (5:17), California Silks And Satins (4:40), Four Day Louise (6:04), Intro (0:44), Kerosene (6:29), Scotch Corner (9:04), Exit (1:22), Taking The Easy Way Out Again [Single Version] (3:19)
CD 2: American Mother (14:22), 7171 551 (12:26), A Hard Way To Live (3:41), Romain (19:05), Bananas (19:40)
1974, another year, another Man album and, inevitably, a change in line-up for the Welsh band that refused to lie down. Stalwarts Micky Jones and Terry Williams remained and, somewhat surprisingly, Deke Leonard was invited back into the fold after having been ignominiously sacked before the bands previous album Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day. Obviously he had been redeemed for his irredeemable nihilism! Or perhaps it was just because the Man band fancied recruiting two members of Iceberg, Leonard's solo band. Those two members were Malcolm Morley and Ken Whaley, both of whom had previously been in Help Yourself signed, like Man, to United Artists. For the first time the management suggested that Man work with an outside producer and roped in Roy Thomas Baker, fresh from recording the second album by an up and coming band named Queen. Although the band initially resisted, they soon found that their level of playing reached a new peak under the gifted ears of Mr Baker.
Written, recorded and mixed in under three weeks, the quality of the album defies the seemingly effortless ease with which the group could come up with new and exciting material. The reinstatement of Leonard provided a foil for Jones to play off resulting in some great multi-layered guitars all over the album. Taking The Easy Way Out Again is the sprightly opener with a naggingly insistent guitar riff while The Thunder And Lightning Kid has a degree more funkiness to it with keyboardist Morley taking over on vocals and even contributing some guitar. California Silks And Satins is more laid back and the only track not composed by the whole band, having been brought to the recordings sessions by Leonard and Morley from the Help Yourself days. On Four Day Louise the band really gel with the twin guitar and underpinning keyboards making it a popular live number.
Side two of the original vinyl version of the album started with the brief instrumental Intro which segued straight into the lovely Kerosene where Ray Thomas Baker's influence is more instantly heard. Rich harmonies and an almost sleazy guitar takes the band into a totally new area far removed from what had gone before. However, it was not all change as Scotch Corner is a more traditional Man number, extended instrumental sections with the feel of unrestricted jamming, all with a smooth sheen taking the edge off the rougher edges. The album is rounded off with another short instrumental appropriately called Exit and, as a bonus, the single mix of Taking The Easy Way Out Again.
However, the real bonus comes with a previously unreleased live recording taped during the band's first American tour at the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles in March 1974. And as an extra bonus the recording features saxophone maestro Jim Horn who had happened to turn up to the gig accompanied by his sax and offered to join the group on stage. A true musical genius, his contributions are outstanding, particularly considering the first time he heard the songs was on stage that evening! Of course, the band had to step up to the mark to avoid being overshadowed by their illustrious guest, and boy they did just that. There are plenty of live man recordings available so what does this one have to offer over all the rest? Well three genuine Man classics, two of which are a shade under twenty minutes each, an openness in the playing, a shade more experimentation and some awe inspiring sax playing. Should be enough for anyone!
Once again Esoteric have excelled in this reissue, they understand exactly what the fan wants from a quality reissue. The fact that there is some excellent music as well is rather a bonus!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
John Curtis - Short Songs About Affordable Food
Tracklist: Make Mine With A Side Of Fries (1:03), Gort's Tender Spring (2:40), How Haiku Works (0:55), Lurk (1:08), Pop Rocks And String Cheese (1:56), Waltz (0:39), The Sunlamp's Anvil (2:14), Questions For The Real World (3:38), Brasil (0:29), The Otter Pop Song (0:53), But I'm Not Lita Ford (0:44), Theme From Dogwood/Love Theme From Dogwood (0:32), Bowling Alley (1:26), Among Many Unpleasant Considerations, Carlo Has A Sudden And Disturbing Realization (0:32), Daydream (1:24), Bert Mocks Me (1:39), Gluten-Free Vegan (0:23), Kirchenramen (1:07), I'm Thinking Of Writing For Pictures (0:29), Pizza (0:53), Dig Myself A Hole (2:49), 58 Weird Little Notes For Margaret (0:38), Do The Carpet (1:42), Big Red (0:12), Coffee And Peaches (1:47), Rosko's Rules (2:57), Rain Barrel (0:51), Wass Wass Happy Happy (1:56), Bongo Party (1:10), I Am Newton (2:08), Another Failed Ecological Anthem Of The '70s (0:31), I'll Know Better (2:55), The End Of Summer (0:31), Seven Quick Ones (2:24), Do You Know? (1:20), Welcome To My House (0:45), The Role Of The Bagel (1:27), My Omelette (1:11), I Hate Haiku Haiku (0:30), The Concave Roommate (3:30), Stinky Lizard (2:12), The Burrito Guy (1:48), While I Was Watching You (0:35)
Does humour belong in music? The sadly missed Frank Zappa asked that question some years ago. John Curtis is proving on his debut album that it is possible to make quite an interesting album containing lots of humour.
John Curtis is an American from Portland, Oregon who releases his first album Short Songs About Affordable Food after making music for a lot of years. He actually started to play in, as he calls it: ‘progressive bands from high school until well beyond the time that any significant number of people in the world really wanted to hear that sort of thing’. After that John went to Portland State University where he studied composition and after playing in club bands for some years he decided to quit music and get a regular job to pay the rent. He never stopped composing music and the ‘songs’ he had written over the years have now been assembled on his debut album.
And there are 43(!!) songs on this album with a the average length being about 1:30 minutes. The album also contains a multitude of different styles - these two things make it very difficult for me to review this album.
John plays keyboards, guitars and drums on the album, is also responsible for the lead vocals on many of the songs and wrote most of the lyrics. There are some guests on the album. Mel Kubik and Gavin Bondy provide alto saxophone and trumpet respectively on the smooth nightclub jazz song Do You Know. James Long plays a guitar solo on the excellent Questions For The Real World - a song which has a Kevin Gilbert/Toy Matinee feel to it. Brock Purviance also adds two totally different guitar solos. One on the eighties prog rock track that is Rosko’s Rules and one on the Zappa influenced Stinky Lizard. On the earlier mentioned Questions For The Real World, Daydream (a pop song with an eighties sound) and Dig Myself A Hole (with again a strong eighties pop influence) Steve Hale takes care of the lead vocal duties, with his pleasant and enjoyable voice.
As I mentioned before, there are a lot of styles to be heard on the album. There are some songs that have a Zappa influence like Pop Rock And String Cheese, Gluten-Free Vegan and Stinky Lizard. There are some 80s rock songs, some songs with an Echolyn/Kevin Gilbert influence. In these songs Curtis shows that he has a real knack for vocal harmonies especially on the excellent album opener Make Mine With A Side Of Fries and Big Red (just twelve seconds!). There are a couple of piano pieces (John is also working on some classical pieces for piano and a piece for a string quartet), a big number of jazz influenced songs and two accordion pieces. There is even an Americana song (I’ll Know Better). So what about the progressive content, I hear you ask? Well, there are some. The five part Kitchenramen is the most progressive rock song on the album. The fifth part is called is called Total Broth Retain (get it??). Also The Sunlamp’s Anvil has a progressive rock feel. And finally some of the Echolyn/Kevin Gilbert influenced songs have some prog influences. A name that also popped up during listening was the name of American band Ween, although I must say that the songs on this album are less strange than some of the songs of Ween.
So with a lot of different things on this album, John Curtis has really tried to get a nice flow going through the entire album, but I’m afraid that all the different styles of music give the album a fragmented feel. Another problem lies in the fact that the moment you started to really like a song… it’s over. But that works two ways I guess, as I was glad that Do The Carpet and Bongo Song both stayed well under two minutes.
The lyrics are a great strength of the album, which are very funny sometimes and as mentioned earlier, John is responsible for most of these lyrics. However Kai Esbensen, Christopher Goetz and Barry Scott also supply some excellent, funny lyrics. Listen for example to Goetz’ lyrics to Role Of The Bagel where he wonders if a bagel is a role with a hole or a hole with a role. Or Ebsensen's lyric about the Pizza; ‘When someone eats a pizza, history repizza’. Scotts lyric about Haiku is no more than two sentences ‘I hate Haiku. Perhaps in Japan they’re nice, in English they suck’.
Short Songs About Affordable Food is a funny little album and a little strange and fragmented. If you’re into pure progressive rock than this album is not for you, but if your interests are broader and you like some humour in your music than you should check out John Curtis. I had a lot of fun listening to the album, but now I am curious to hear how he sounds when he makes longer songs.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rotor - 3
Tracklist: Auf's Maul (2:55), V-Ger (3:57), Rotor (5:30), Hart Am Wind (3:25), Umkehrschub (5:17), Drehsturm (3:36), Klar Schiff (2:17), Nordend (3:21), Kaltstart (3:54), Transporter (7:05)
Nothing better than going beyond a prejudice. I admit that I was prejudiced when I decided to review this; see label name, see psych tags, see band photos etc... Well things aren't at all ugly here. Third album by this German trio, this time totally instrumental and I could never imagine a suitable voice for them anyway, so most probably better this way. If I had to summarize in a few words what we have here I'd say: Tool meets King Crimson in a neutral arena called stoner rock. The referee is probably old Kyuss.
The stoner approach has mainly to do with the production which is a bit rough sometimes, as if trying to make the product sound unclean, but also with the approach to songwriting which often resembles bands of the kind. I was rather surprised not to find Tool in their list of influences since that's exactly what the aggression in a lot of tracks reminded me of. Even the guitars at times have that space Tool sound. Auf's Maul is a good example and also a good album opener. Things get more intriguing as we move on to V-Ger: the sound of the guitars sounds incredibly much like Crimson of the late 70's - mid 80's! Distorted guitar melodies and math-rock like compositions really take the listener by surprise. Things evolve even more with the next track. Yes, it's interesting how they blend strange KC inspired riffs and tempos with more in-your-face stuff. Reminds me in a way of how Voivod where doing it in the early 90's. Talking about Crimson influences, they manifest themselves even more in Klar Schiff which could be a "free" cover of 21
If we accept we have a stoner band here, then it doesn't make much sense that the purer stoner tracks are the weakest ones. Of course I might be brainwashed, but that's another story. Examples include Kaltstart featuring rock 'n' roll guitars and a very heavy background, in an otherwise very Tool-like composition, the Black Sabbath-like cumbersome ambiance in Drehsturm (not to say Soundgarden-like) and the tiring Hart Am Wind.
But wait, there is more! Two tracks much more melodic than the rest proving that these guys can also display some sort of emotion. Both tracks are characterised by less aggression, more imagination and could receive the tag psychedelic... Umkehrschub gives us an incredibly fast middle part when it's pretty unexpected, while Transporter is the best album track. What does this witty track bring to my mind? Psychotic Waltz of the Mosquito times mixed with a Soundgarden middle part - no particular reason but there is something in the style changes, the tunes, the psychedelia...
My impression is that this band can do even better. If they invest in their more creative side and put their stoner influences a bit to the side, they might lose some fans that know them through their label but they will certainly gain new ones that appreciate imagination and would sit down and listen without prejudice. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Steve Liberty – The Moment
Tracklist: Cosmos (3:46), Let There Be (10:10), So This Is Your Playground (4:08), Seize The Day (3:40), Word Of Creation (5:02), Autumn (7:15), Coming Soon? (15:30), Costmos Demix (2:05)
Steve Liberty is a guitar teacher and working musician from Essex. The Moment is his first solo album (he’s played on two albums by his full-band project, Time Will Tell), and to say it’s ambitious is almost an understatement. In the booklet, Liberty explains that this is - “a concept album about some moments that have occurred in my life, and how they have shaped my view of ‘things’.” However, because he meticulously divides most of the eight tracks on the album into four, six, or even eight titled parts (I haven’t given the many subtitles in the track listing above), and because he explains in the CD booklet what each composition is about, we can see that this is more than an album about personal “moments”. For example, Let There Be turns out to be exactly what that title would suggest: a six-part suite about the creation of the universe by God. So, no, this isn’t really just an autobiographical album, and part of one’s opinion about it will depend on how one feels about the grandiosity of the project and the faith that informs its themes.
But I’m going to concentrate on the music and leave the concept largely aside. Liberty played everything on the album (all the guitars, basses, and keyboards – even mandolin!) and programmed the drums, so this really is a solo album. What surprises me a bit is that, though Liberty is a guitar player (and teacher) foremost, it’s keyboards that predominate on most of the tracks, and that’s a bit of a shame. It’s a bit of a shame because the guitar playing, when it’s in the foreground, is pretty darned good (electric, acoustic, or classical, the latter especially gorgeous on Seize The Day); but the keyboards are used most of the time for washes of sound meant to make the songs grand – but, unfortunately, the effect is more often of grandiloquence instead. I suppose that effect is hard to avoid when one’s subject is so huge, but it does make parts of the album tough going.
Then there’s the singing. Some of the tracks are purely instrumental, and a few feature spoken (rather, intoned) lyrics; on others, however, Liberty sings with layered vocals that remind me more than anything else of the twinned voices on such early Pink Floyd songs as Astronomy Domine. And, again, both these vocal styles, the spoken and the sung, contribute to the grandiosity of the songs. Now, I don’t want to be at all unfair to Liberty, since he clearly takes this music (and its themes) very seriously and thus likely intends the songs to sound exactly as they do. I’ll merely suggest that, from the outside, the compositions perhaps can’t bear the weight they try to carry – that maybe Liberty is reaching for something beyond his grasp.
One thing I really do like about this album, and it’s odd to be saying this, I realize, about a self-produced independent album, is the production. (I’ll leave the sound of the programmed drums, which I think unfortunate, out of this praise.) The album has real depth, and even those too-frequent keyboard washes sound great (whether or not they help or hurt the songs they appear in). I’d almost say that the CD is pleasantly murky – “murky” isn’t the word, but all the instruments nestle into a very pleasing mix that somehow sounds exactly right for the kind of music Liberty is creating, only the acoustic guitars really twinkling above that mix when they appear.
Overall, then, I can’t say that I think this album is a true success. I’ll use an overworked cliché, however, because it’s exactly right here: The Moment is obviously a labour of love for Steve Liberty – love both of God and of music – and he’s done his darnedest to encapsulate both those loves in a fifty-minute album. And despite my specific criticisms, it’s an album I’ve found myself truly enjoying listening to, though I’ve found that my enjoyment is greater when I’m not paying careful attention to it. That’s why I praised the sound of the album, because it’s that more than anything else that’s particularly pleasing. I kind of hope that, on his next album, Mr. Liberty aims a little lower; his results then might be more commensurate both with his intentions and his talents.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10