Reviews in this issue:
- Gazpacho - A Night At Loreley [DVD/CD]
- Syzygy – Realms Of Eternity
- Headspace – I Am…[EP]
- Rhys Marsh And The Autumn Ghost – The Fragile State Of Inbetween
- Rhys Marsh And The Autumn Ghost – Dulcima
- Trusties – Human Wheel
- Moongarden – A Vulgar Display Of Prog
- Sunrise Sunset Project – Sunrise Sunset
- Idle Hours – Headlong [EP]
- Dave Harrington - The Last Days Of Lucidity
Gazpacho - A Night At Loreley [DVD/CD]
DVD [112:07] Desert Flight (7:39), The Walk Part I (8:19), The Walk Part II (5:54), Tick Tock Part I (7:14), Tick Tock Part II (7:45), Tick Tock Part III (5:37), When Earth Lets Go (4:18), Dream Of Stone (16:40), Chequered Light Buildings (6:40), Upside Down (7:07), Massive Illusion (12:58), Winter Is Never (7:49), Snowman (4:07), Bravo (9:16), Credits (0:50)
CD 1 [46:46] Desert Flight (7:39), The Walk Part I (8:19), The Walk Part II (5.54), Tick Tock Part I (7:14), Tick Tock Part II (7:45), Tick Tock Part III (5:37), When Earth Lets Go (4:18)
CD 2 [64:37] Dream Of Stone (16:40), Chequered Light Buildings (6:40), Upside Down (7:07), Massive Illusion (12:58), Winter Is Never (7:49), Snowman (4:07), Bravo (9:16)
On July 10th 2009 Gazpacho headlined the fourth Night of the Prog festival at the Loreley amphitheatre in St Goarshausen, Germany. They took this opportunity to film their first ever DVD release.
This show was the last concert of their 2009 Tick Tock tour, so obviously the set list is mainly focused on their last album, with all songs from that album represented. Its predecessor Night is also played almost integrally (only Valerie's Friend is missing), while a couple of older tracks round up the set. Every Gazpacho album is represented except for their third album Firebird. While they did play Symbols at a couple of gigs during the tour, it was not played at Loreley.
Gazpacho is one of those bands that always add something extra to their live performances. Rather than simply playing note perfect recreations of the studio versions, their songs always seem to come much more alive when played, uhm, live. Therefore this makes it an interesting release for those who already own the studio albums. Especially the tracks from Night benefit from a slightly rougher edge, with heavier drums and more guitars. But also Tick Tock Part II is played in a much rockier form and has a guitar solo instead of a violin solo.
Winter Is Never and Bravo are also extended versions from their studio counterparts, with the latter having a nice Irish jig attached to the end of it, making it a great concert closer.
The whole gig is captured very well by the 9 cameras scattered around the stage and at the back of the amphitheatre. The light show comes across pretty well, although at times the footage is a tad dark. This is particularly true when one of the band members decides to move about a little, and there are no moving lights to follow him. This happens a couple of times when singer Jan Henrik Ohme decides to walk down the front of the stage to greet the fans at the front row, but also violin player Mikael Krømer spends most of the concert in the dark.
The footage has been tinkered with a little, to sort of 'art' it up here and there. In some cases this adds a nice touch, like during Desert Flight, where the footage switches between sepia and full colour during the end section, or Dream Of Stone where an altered colour balance creates a very nice atmosphere fitting of the song. During Winter Is Never the de-saturated colours make the footage look very pixilated though, as if you are watching a downloaded avi file, rather than a high def DVD.
The sound comes in three options of which two are stereo mixes (unsure what the difference is) and the third a 5.1 surround mix. Due to its textured nature, Gazpacho's music lends itself particularly well for a surround mix, so the prospect of a 5.1 surround mix was absolutely mouth watering.
And another mouth watering prospect: Night with bass! On the studio version of Night Kristian Torp's bass is awfully low in the mix, and this DVD version sets to correct that! What a performance! Speaking of great performances. This concert also turned out to be the last performance of drummer Robert Johanssen. The friendly giant left the band late last year because he moved to Italy, so this DVD serves as a final testament to his great showmanship.
It's a pity there aren't any extras on the disc. An interview would have been nice, as I know the guys can be a talkative bunch. Also, I know that at least three of the gigs during the Tick Tock Tour were professionally filmed, and it would have been nice to have a couple of bonus tracks from those gigs included. A missed opportunity.
Fortunately the two bonus CDs with the full concert compensate for that. I dare say the CDs sound even better than the DVD!
While the DVD won't hit the shops until late February, it can already be purchased via mailorder and via a select number of Internet stores (Galileo, Verglas). The first batch of the pre-orders will contain the CDs and DVDs packaged in a limited edition digipack. At this moment it is uncertain whether the retail release will also contain the CDs.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Syzygy – Realms Of Eternity
Tracklist: Darkfield (10:35), Vanitas (6:02), Dreams (10:31), Echoes Remain (5:23), Dialectic (16:35), Arranmore Isle (2:04), Overture (2:42), The Sea (5:22), The Morning Song (3:26), Variations, Part 1 (4:04), Variations, Part 2 (3:15), Reflections (1:44), Finale (5:27)
Syzygy is a four piece band from Ohio (USA), led by guitarist/lead vocalist Carl Baldassarre. Together with keyboardist Sam Giunta and Al Rolik on bass these friends were in a band called Abraxas, touring extensively during the seventies but mainly playing covers. This band disbanded in 1983. With the addition of drummer Paul Mihacevich they recorded their debut Cosmos And Chaos in 1993 under the name of Witsend. A period of writing and raising families resulted in a hiatus but they returned as Syzygy with the critically acclaimed (and DPRP recommended!) album The Allegory Of Light, that was released in 2003. After a period of almost 5 years the quartet comes back with nothing less than a masterpiece of prog, albeit their sources of inspiration sometimes are quite evident.
Due to the craftsmanship of the instrumentalists and the good vocals and harmonies there's really plenty to enjoy. Good vocals? Yes, unlike many bands who think they can or should do everything themselves there are good exceptions who are aware there are pretty darn good vocalists out there, waiting to be hired. In this case Syzygy made an excellent choice with Mark Boals (Malmsteen, Uli Jon Roth, Royal Hunt) whose vocals are featured on all epics and The Sea. All lyrics partly on the different aspects of afterlife, were written by Carl Baldassarre.
The opening Darkfield is a rather complex track with several different atmospheres. Immediately the composition showcases the individual instrumentalists to the full. The track has the unsurpassed melodies from Genesis, the complexity of UK and the keyboard layers of the early King Crimson and the superb drumming of the drummers of aforementioned bands (Bruford, Bozzio, Collins). Guest instrumentalists on this track are Virginia Crabtree (flute), Michael Debruyn (cello) and Erica Ward (violin). Vanitas recollects the best of Gentle Giant with a modern sound and a bit more rock influences. The crystal clear production makes you feel you’re listening to a new album by former Gentle Giant members featuring Eddie Jobson as a guest. The organ and the Moog refer to the ultimate period in prog history: the seventies. Although Dreams opens smoothly, again the same rocky version of Gentle Giant returns but in no way by means of copying. These guys take the very best of progressive music from the seventies and early eighties and combine it with their own ideas and foremost their incredible abilities with which they master their instruments.
In Echoes Remain the subtlety of the band is demonstrated in an almost acoustic song: acoustic guitar, some keyboards, bass, percussion. The flute (samples) remind of Jethro Tull. The longest epic is Dialectic, a diverse varied track with pieces in the vein of EL&P, but also references to Yes and some jazz influences. The long instrumental parts are characterized by some beautiful themes, tastefully arranged and leading to a climax like in Yes’ Starship Trooper. In the last part the gorgeous heavy sound of Rolik’s bass reminds of Chris Squire, Geddy Lee and Dave Meros. The melodies remind of Spock’s Beard. In the next song two acoustic guitars and some keyboards are a nice intermezzo to chill out a bit.
Like UK again is the sound of Overture, although the heavier distorted guitar sound of Baldassarre differs considerably from the style and sound of Allan Holdsworth. Completely into early Spock’s Beard are the next tracks: The Sea and The Morning Light, with obvious references to SB's The Light. Having said that, I'd wish Spock’s Beard would create something like this again! In the same vein but more references to Gentle Giant in Variations Part 1, especially the vocal parts must have been inspired by the complex harmony singing by the Shulman’s, Minnear and Green. The instrumental Variations Part 2 rocks like the heavier Gentle Giant with yet again a major role for Mihacevich. Some of the themes on the album tend to pop up in different songs now and then, as is the case in the last songs. The last track, eloquently called Finale, features the guitar solos by Baldassarre. The music is in the vein of what Spock’s Beard had to offer with Neal Morse on board and rounds off with good to sing along piece featuring Mark Boals on vocals.
In conclusion this is a great album, especially recommended for all fans of early Spock’s Beard and the heavier or rather more rocking Gentle Giant. Considering the great melodies, complex structures and incredible craftsmanship of this band, I would invite anyone with a preference for some complexity and genuine 'progressiveness' in the song structures to check out this release. An extremely nice mix of symphonic, classical, jazz, folk and rock music. I do hope we don't have to wait another 6 years for their next release!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Headspace – I Am…[EP]
Tracklist: Never Let Go (4:12), Sane Life (6:58), Symbol (6:15), Sober (8:05)
New bands are always very welcome on the prog scene even when as in this case they include some very familiar names. Headspace comprises the not inconsiderable talents of Damian Wilson (vocals), Adam Wakeman (keyboards), Lee Pomeroy (bass), Rich Brook (drums) and Pete Rinaldi (guitars). Damian needs no introduction to DPRP readers particularly through his session work and Adam is not to be confused with older brother Oliver (Adam is the one who recorded with father Rick under the banner ‘Wakeman with Wakeman’ and previously with Damian as Jeronimo Road. Lee has been a regular member of Wakeman senor’s band since time began whilst Rich and Pete have also worked live with the ex Yes man.
This debut EP is intended as a promo for the forthcoming album and although Headspace recently supported Ozzy Osbourne on tour it’s not necessarily because of any musical affinity they share with the Black Sabbath frontman. That being said opener Never Let Go has a ballsy urgency and anthemic chorus that ticks all the requisite metal-meets-prog boxes. Sane Life is more to my liking with its acoustic intro and characteristically sensitive vocals from Wilson offset by Rinaldi’s heavyweight staccato riffing. The rich Yes style backing voices presumably come courtesy of a multi-tracked Wilson which could make it difficult to replicate convincingly live but either way it’s an accomplished effort. As in the opening song Pomeroy and Brook prove to be a very powerful rhythmic partnership.
Similar to its immediate predecessor Symbol alternates full frontal riffs with tender piano interludes. Metallic but imaginative guitar work propels the song to its ultimate conclusion dominated by the compulsive vocal refrain “freedom from the devil, freedom from the hell”. The multi part Sober proves to be the bands best offering thus far although the ponderous opening section sounds a little too close to Sabbath for comfort in my opinion. Better is a heavenly acoustic guitar and synth melody with wordless harmonies that echoes both Genesis and Yes in equal measures. A driving Rush flavoured guitar assault at the midway point takes it into a different direction with Rinaldi’s power chords making way for Wakeman’s noodly synth and piano. A stately vocal coda pushes all the right proggy buttons although fades a tad too soon for my liking.
This taster from Headspace certainly bodes well for their future blending no-nonsense metal sensibilities with more creative instrumental flights. Strong song writing and production (credited to the whole band) is certainly in plentiful supply and within Damian Wilson they have the perfect frontman to give them the edge over the ever growing competition and appeal to the ever declining (in prog terms) audience.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rhys Marsh And The Autumn Ghost – The Fragile State Of Inbetween
Tracklist: Can't Stop The Dreaming (4:34), Don't Break Your Heart (4:55), When All's Done (3:12), All Lights Fade l (3:04), Lit By Night (7:37), I Watched, As You Disappeared (2:55), Liquorice Kiss (3:32), As I See You There (4:48), Undone (4:38), Spoken (8:27)
Rhys Marsh And The Autumn Ghost – Dulcima
Tracklist: In The Afterglow (5:12), The Frightened Souls (5:03), Divide In Silence (4:35), Nine Times Beautiful (8:10), The Safety Of All You Know (10:04), You'll Never Fall (4:22), Surrendered (5:57), In Dark, In Light (9:36)
An Introduction to Rhys Marsh And The Autumn Ghost
There is little information about Rhys Marsh available on the internet. Marsh was born in Britain but he is now living in Norway. He is a singer songwriter, multi instrumentalist and producer. On the two albums he released so far, he is accompanied by The Autumn Ghost. Alongside his long-standing rhythm section of Jo Fougner Skaansar (double bass) and Takashi Mori (drums) the Autumn Ghost consists of a very interesting cast of musicians from Anekdoten (Niclas Barker), Anglagard (Mattias Olsson), White Willow (Trude Eidtang), Wobbler (Lars Fredrik Froislie also from White Willow) and Jagga Jazzists (Ketil Vestrum Einarsen; also from White Willow and Wobbler). Rhys Marsh is also a member of Unit together with drummer Takashi Mori.
On his MySpace page he states that his biggest (with a lot of other) influences are Nick Drake and David Sylvian. After listening to The Fragile State Of Inbetween these influences are there, but Rhys Marsh uses these influences to create a style of his own. As the grey colours of the sleeve indicate, on the Fragile State Of Inbetween, Rhys Marsh operates in the melancholic musical spectrum. And Marsh's voice is a beautiful cross between the above mentioned Drake and Sylvian. But also Tim Bowness springs to mind.
Musically the songs on the album are largely acoustic and are arranged beautifully using guests on violin, cello, flute, pedal steel guitar, mellotron and are based on Marsh’s acoustic guitar and his excellent voice. But the above mentioned instruments, the double bass and drums are used to colour the different pieces. Sometimes Marsh keeps the arrangements sparse like on one of the many highlights of the album I Watched, As You Disappeared. It is a beautiful miniature of a song where Nicklas Barker delivers a shock surprise in the middle. Also on Undone it’s just Rhys Marsh and Nicklas Barker. Other songs have fuller arrangements like album opener Can’t Stop The Dreaming where violin, cello, flute and Mattias Olsson’s analoque electronics are used to great effect. On this song and the three pieces that follow it’s clear that Marsh's material finds their origins in the pop/singer-songwriters tradition. Especially When All’s Done (with its flute and trumpet arrangement) and Liquorice Kiss are perfect pop songs. There are two longer tracks on the album; Lit By Night and Spoken. Lit By Night has a very nice flute solo by Ketil Vestrum Einarsen and Asa Börrefros as a “Choir of drunken angels”. Spoken is also a beautiful song where Steve Honest adds some haunting pedal steel, although I must say that I have a bit difficulty with Jess Bryant's vocals on an otherwise strong closer for the album.
The songs on his debut album are very much written from a pop/rock background. But there touches of prog to be heard throughout. Not only in the two longer tracks but also during the short break in the – in my opinion- best track of the album I Watched As You Dissappear. All in all I think there is plenty to enjoy for the progressive rock fan. Especially if you like No Man, Gazpacho and No Sound.
For his second album Dulcima, Rhys Marsh wanted to make an quiet album and failed. As he states on the sleeve notes the songs took on a life of their own. He refers to Dulcima as the cityscaped counterpart to the rural stillness of the debut album The State Of Inbetween. And there is a lot of truth in that. It's a heavier and darker album than his debut, which is enhanced by the darker sleeve design and it's also a far more progressive offering. This is immediately apparant from the start as In The Afterglow has a grittier sound. Trude Eidtang delivers some beautiful vocals on this track as well as on the haunting The Frightened Souls. Nine Times Beautiful is another Marsh-Eidtang duet. This track, which has a Arabian feel, again shows that Marsh has moved away from the pop/rock background - it's a great progressive rock track and definitely more the kind of prog White Willow produces. And this really applies to this entire album, but perhaps not so strange when you consider that Trude Eidtang, Mattias Olsson, Lars Fredrik Froislie and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen all have a White Willow connection.
The longest album on the album The Safety Of All You Know again is an impressive song with some intriguing mellotron use and a heavenly chorus. The song has a jazzy middle part with acoustic guitar and double bass solos - a very impressive track. In Dark, In Light is the nine minute album closer and again features Trude Eidtang. The track opens quietly with Marsh and Eidtang singing but then quickly picks up pace before reaching the beautiful chorus. Marsh delivers a short guitar solo while Lars Fredrik Froislie plays a Hammond and Moog solo (and while he's at it also adds some celeste and autoharp to the song). The mellotron dominates the second instrumental part of the song before returning to the chorus.
Divide In Silence is one of the albums quieter songs, achingly beautiful with Marsh's voice only accompanied by 'tron' strings and Jo Fougner Skaansar's double bass. Surrendered is the other albums ballad, piano, Marsh's voice and a beautiful harp (by Timbre Cierpke) start the song, whilst later on mellotron and real strings (Anna Giddey on violin and Natalie Rozario on cello) form a beautiful pact in the middle and the coda. It leaves the listener breathless. You Never Fall was the albums first single and could easily have been on his debut album. Anekdoten (their most recent albums) springs to mind when I hear this track and again this song is beautifully arranged.
On Dulcima Rhys Marsh's songwriting is every bit as good as on his debut album, however it is darker, a bit heavier and much much more progressively arranged. The album is varied and has some seriously impressive moments. Although The Fragile State Of Inbetween is a great album Dulcima has more to offer from the progressive rock point of view. And that's what DPRP is all about.
The Fragile State Of Inbetween : 7 out of 10
Dulcima : 8.5 out of 10
Trusties – Human Wheel
Tracklist: Radiobeings (9:41), Autopilot (4:52), Free Fall (4:50), Rituals & Routines (6:00), Human Wheel (4:08), When Sense Meets its Maker (6:35), Them or Us (6:10), Djemoniee (5:17), Is This The Last Round? (1:26), You Can Only Lose (3:56), Endless Run (7:41), Reinvention Of The Wheel (8:59)
Anybody who has read more than a few of my reviews will know that I am a huge fan of Rush and have been since the mid-seventies. I’ve followed their musical evolution faithfully, and, while I admit I prefer their early-mid-period concept albums to most of their later work, I take it as an article of faith that they represent, if not all, then most of what is good, right, and pure in music. But they’re only human, and one of the features of their early albums – a feature, I’ll add, that I absolutely loved as a teenager but have come to cringe at. Nothing to do with the music – it’s the liner notes. So, for example, inside the wonderful gatefold album sleeve for my favourite of all Rush albums, Hemispheres, we read that Neil Peart played “Drums, orchestra bells, bell-tree, tympani, gong, cowbells, temple blocks, wind chimes, crotales.” OK, sure, it was fun for a fifteen-year-old to listen to the album over and over and try to hear the temple blocks – and I still don’t know what the hell “crotales” are! – but honestly, wouldn’t “percussion” have been sufficient as a description of Neil’s part in the sound?
And that tradition’s not dead, as we read in the notes to Trusties’ album that – to take only one example – Ville Veijalainen is responsible for bass, for fretless bass (but only on track 11), keyboards (on tracks 2, 5, 6, 9, and 12), wind controller (I wonder if that’s a newfangled version of crotales?) on track 6, backing vocals (but only on tracks 1, 2, 4, 7, and 11) – and that he’s part of the “angry mob” on track 12. Okay, fine, fine, fine. They want credit to go where credit’s due. But if my band ever releases a proper CD, I’ll hope that the four of us will be credited simply with “drums, bass, guitar, vocals.” (Although I’d go so far as to snitch one of my favourite adjectives from my beloved Blue Öyster Cult and allow our vocalist credit for playing another instrument now and then: “stun guitar.”)
All this might seem like a long prologue, since I’ve yet to mention Trusties’ music, but I think their wish (which is far from a major fault, I hasten to add) to give each member such specific credit is reflected in, or a reflection of, the kind of music they make, which is very, very precise – almost, I might say, fussy. DPRP has reviewed the band's two previous albums (neither of which, I'm sorry to say, I've had the opportunity to hear), and I'll refer you to the second of those reviews for a very astute discussion of this band's virtues and challenges. Bob Mulvey, in that review, refuses to categorize the group's sound or to make comparisons, and I believe that he's right to refuse. Moreover, although as I say I haven't heard the previous two albums, judging from Bob's descriptions, Human Wheel is as similar to its predecessor as We Just Want To Rule The World was to its.
What we have on this very well played, very well produced album is solid second-wave progressive rock with -- and I always hate having to make this criticism, for reasons I'll give in a moment -- rather weak vocals. This really is my only significant addition to Bob's opinions in the review of their previous album; he pointed out singer Matti Ylilauri's accent but made no mention of the quality of the singing itself, whereas I find that the vocals detract from the otherwise top-notch performances on the album. I say I always hate criticizing a vocalist, and that's because singing, to me, is a more personal musical skill than, say, guitar playing or drumming. Yes, a voice can be improved, but not to the degree that a bassist's (say) performance can be improved, with lessons or practice. But there it is: the singing is the weak link, I believe, in this band.
But the compositions are solid, featuring the dynamics progressive-rock fans love -- each song, barring the brief Is This The Last Round?, goes through any number of interesting changes. The playing, as I said, is solid throughout; I'll single out guitarist Suti for particular praise (and, okay, I ought to admit that I can do so because of those damned detailed credits that tell us just whether Suti or Oikku, the other guitarist, is playing "clean guitars" or "crunch guitars" (my favourite kind!) in this or that song.
With the one adverse criticism I've made noted, I must say that this is an enjoyable album, meticulously written, played, and produced. On an emotional level it did little or nothing for me, but music will touch various people in different ways (I've been led to believe that some people are actually moved by Celine Dion's music -- no, really, that's what I've heard!), so it may just be that Trusties and me are not a good fit. There's no denying the band's talent, though, and this is a more than respectable production.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Sunrise Sunset Project – Sunrise Sunset
Tracklist: Light In A Wasteland (7:50), Shadow On The Sun (5:33), Black City (7:56), Midday Trip (5:47), Freedom Of The Sound (4:21), Freedom Of The Light (8:25)
In these days of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, where a band’s every waking moment seems to be chronicled in excruciating detail, it is rare to find a band with as minimal an online presence as Sunrise Sunset Project. From their very sparsely populated MySpace site comes the information that they are ‘a progressive art-rock band from St Petersburg, Russia comprising Andrew Lee-Beth and Steve Kuddins’, and little else. From their surnames I’d surmise that the duo are not native to Russia, but beyond that can tell you little. Thankfully, the music largely speaks for itself; the MySpace categorisation of their sound as ‘progressive/ psychedelic/ rock’ is rather catch-all, but does capture the wide musical territory the duo explore over the 40-odd minutes of what I presume is their debut album.
Despite being wholly instrumental, the liner notes speak of a concept – ‘Sunrise Sunset is music dedicated to creation and destruction, a conflict between industrialization and nature whose hostage is the human being’. Its doubtful you’d get the concept purely from the music alone, although to be fair there is a good balance between light and shade, breezier moments balanced by more sombre ones. In addition, the concept is brought to life by the fine paintings of Lisa Donchenko which adorn the cover and the CD booklet; in fact, the album as a whole certainly scores above average in terms of packaging and presentation.
Musically, opener Light In A Wasteland gives a good idea of what you can expect; kicking off around a repeated guitar motif, this soon gives way to some soaring axe work in the vein of David Gilmour in his more bluesy moments, whilst the accompanying keyboard work wanders into both psychedelic and space-rock territory. The sound is nicely textured, although some of the keyboard leads have a dated eighties feel. The song threatens to lose its way around the mid-way mark, which is dominated by ambient noodling and distracting sound effects, but it picks itself up nicely, with a nifty jazz-style reprise of the main melody.
Elsewhere, Shadow On The Sun shows a darker, more circumspect side to the band, whilst Black City jumps all over the place, from breezy jazzy workouts to riff-heavy hard rock, finally arriving in quieter, more pastoral territory similar to that featured on Mike Oldfield’s immediate post-Tubular Bells efforts. Midday Trip is a standout, with soaring guitar work laid over a mixture of symphonic and more organic, seventies flavoured keyboard work. The final one-two of Freedom Of The Sound/Freedom Of The Light initially has an experimental-meets-new-age feel, before some impressive guitar arpeggio’s lead to a finale that has an almost orchestral feel about it.
As you can tell, this is an album that explores a variety of musical landscapes, but at no time does listening to it become a chore – it’s very easy on the ear. Not everything works, but when it does the effect is often quite impressive, and even when the whole is less than the sum of the parts, those parts are at least worth listening to. Sunrise Sunset Project may have a low profile, but the quality of this album suggests that they deserve to be heard by a wider audience.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Moongarden – A Vulgar Display Of Prog
Tracklist: Boromir (6:50), Aesthetic Surgery (10:00), MDMA (7:15), After The MDMA “From Lezooh To Miryydian” (5:00), Wordz And Badge (8:15), Demetrio And Magdalen (6:35), Enter The Modem Hero (8:00), Compression (16:30)
If there was a category in the annual DPRP poll for ‘best album title’ then this latest offering from Moongarden would certainly make the shortlist. The title is very appropriate given that the album is both earthy and proggy although not necessarily at the same time. The childlike artwork is also very apt reflecting the playful spirit the band brings to the genre. With an ever changing line-up since their inception in 1993, the personnel here remain reasonably faithful to the last album Songs From The Lighthouse with the one exception, the return of founding member David Cremoni (electric, acoustic guitars). Otherwise it’s Simone Baldini Tosi (vocals), Maurizio Di Tollo (drums, percussion), Cristiano Roversi (keyboards, 12 strings electric guitar, loops) and Mirko Tagliasacchi (bass). They are joined by a variety of guest rhythm guitarists and backing vocalists especially during the mammoth closer Compression.
By my count this is the bands sixth official release and like its predecessors diversity is the name of the game, continually striving (and succeeding) to keep the listeners on their toes. The edgy opener Boromir (inspired by Tolkien’s character from The Lord of the Rings) sets the tone with its stark processed vocals, electronic percussive effects and wailing Mellotron. Despite the presence of the melly there’s hardly any sign of prog in the traditional sense until a soaring instrumental coda cuts through that is, bringing echoes of Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic along with it. It segues into the equally perplexing Aesthetic Surgery, a piano led assault with a prominent guitar loop and plaintive vocal from Tosi who’s expressive and slightly husky delivery often brings Seal to mind. A heavy (and I do mean heavy) section features an abrasive guitar riff circled by spacey synth effects with Mellotron shimmery ominously in the background. The unrelenting tone is not really my cup of tea it has to be said bringing both Gazpacho and Porcupine Tree at their most aggressive to mind.
The band continues to tease the listener, often opening each song in a contemporary, un-prog like vein before morphing incongruously into a grandiose instrumental excursion. MDMA is a good case in point with its catchy, pop biased first half complete with 80’s style synth rhythm, contrasting with a majestic guitar break and symphonic ending. The albums best song in my opinion which could easily be described as Visage meets Steve Hackett. The lyrical Demetrio And Magdalen plays out with a similarly melodic guitar solo and Genesis inspired crescendo which follows a mellow vocal interlude with rippling 12 string guitar. And speaking of Genesis, gothic Mellotron enhances both the instrumental After The MDMA and the prog-metalish Wordz And Badge whilst a stately keys sound benefits the otherwise weighty guitar dominated Enter The Modem Hero.
Compression is the only non original track on the album being a reworked and extended version of a Mike Rutherford/Ant Phillips tune that appeared as the B side to Rutherford’s debut single Working In Line in 1980. Lyrically however it’s bang up to date with a character in the song named ‘Avatar’ as sung by guest vocalist Rivka. Not only does the synth and Mellotron break have Tony Banks written all over it but the song section that follows with its ringing guitar rhythm is reminiscent of Genesis’ Afterglow. Electronic effects straight out of Yes’ Endless Dream add a spacey atmosphere to the over prolonged mid section which eventually develops into a rap vocal courtesy of guest Zef Noise which is sure to raise a few prog eyebrows. The powerful extended outro will strike a positive chord however thanks to a strident guitar motif, spacious drumming and orchestrated wall of sound.
I can’t help feeling that Moongarden are having a joke at our expense. The bands early Genesis influences clearly shine through on any number of harmonious occasions but elsewhere the songs are almost deliberately the opposite with loops, synthetic percussion and trance like dance rhythms all employed. The lyrics for their part are often very simplistic and delight in a liberal use of the f***k word which accounts for the ‘vulgar’ reference in the title. That being said A Vulgar Display Of Prog takes the listener on an entertaining musical journey and if you have an open mind its well worth going along for the ride. Prog you can dance to? Well, almost.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Idle Hours – Headlong [EP]
Tracklist: Headlong (7:45), Cats Chorus (6:56), Machine Wave (11:31)
Headlong is the debut EP from U.K.’s Idle Hours, a band from Essex with distinct Genesis and Neo influences. Originally a multi-instrumental duo featuring Will Marriage and Mark Sippings the band went through various line-ups but failed to complete an album due to the collapse of their label. After a couple of years apart the current band has emerged comprising Marriage and Sippings (bass and vocals respectively) with Steve Anderson (drums), Pete Clouter (keys) and Lee Williams (guitars).
The title track opens in a quirky manner that isn’t entirely successful. Sippings’ vocals are definitely not going to be to everyone’s tastes; eccentric and very English, the aforementioned influences never far away. The piece develops quickly through a number of sections with some good guitar work and driving rhythm before a melodic section that brings to mind Pendragon of old.
Cats Chorus keeps the lyrical eccentricity to the fore with a tale of youth in the suburbs. The band shows much enthusiasm during this one, particularly in the chorus, and there is some fine instrumental work in the middle. A slower bridge with nice guitar solo leads into the final chorus, the result being a good track that rewards repeated listens.
Machine Wave is stately, epic and atmospheric but retains the quirkiness and lyrically tips the hat to the likes of Rush, Yes and Van der Graaf. The instrumental section is very Marillionesque, particularly in the guitar department, and there is some elegant piano and a change of tack from the vocals that makes it sound much more current. The track meanders on for a few more enjoyable minutes before petering out in a disappointingly anticlimactic manner.
Getting Rob Aubrey on board for the CD speaks volumes about this band and, needless to say, the production is excellent. The three tracks here give a good idea of what they are about; good playing without being excessively crisp or flashy. The multi-section songs sometimes sound shoe-horned together which affects the flow but the lyrics are entertaining and well presented. However, as noted, the vocals will leave some cold. This EP is available from the band’s MySpace and those with a liking for ‘80s English Neo will enjoy it but I suspect that it may seem a little quaint for the tastes of many. Nevertheless, the real test will be a full album which I would be interested to hear.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Dave Harrington - The Last Days Of Lucidity
Tracklist: The Captain Is Falling, My Friend (1:44), Serenity Interrupted (2:40), No One Sent To Tend The Engines (4:10), The Lost Moon Of Neptune (3:40), Twilight's Edge (3:55), Passage Through The Eye Of A Camel (4:04), Hidden Faces In Quiet Spaces (4:29), They Smile When They Speak To Me (3:51), Release (8:13)
I'm not sure if this album is being released under composer and sole performer Dave Harrington's own name or under the album name The Last Days Of Lucidity, so apologies to Mr Harrington if I have erred! Anyway, this is the fourth album by Harrington following on from 2003's Rule 29 (modern classical chamber music), 2006's Procession (classical/prog crossover) and 2007's The Process (classical minimalism mixed with post-rock). The descriptions are Harrington's own and he describes this latest album as: dynamic instrumental music that features complex arrangements, psychedelic atmospherics, and a dark, metallic undercurrent never far beneath the surface. Having not heard any of the previous albums I can't judge if the descriptions are apt or not, but I can concur that the music on The Last Days Of Lucidity is: a) instrumental, b) atmospheric (although the psychedelic component is mainly in the titles), c) has a darkish undercurrent and d) is relatively complex if all played simultaneously by one individual! Performed throughout on keyboards, the album actually benefits from being played with minimal distractions. This is not to suggest that it is akin to a late night, chill out album as it is far from it! It is just that the full dynamism of the music is easily missed if it is just listened to in the background. Alongside that the album does sound remarkably better when played towards the loud end of the spectrum as if the volume is set too low then I found that the keyboard sounds started to sound a bit twee.
Apparently themes that appeared on earlier albums are further explored throughout this latest recording which could be interesting given the diverse descriptions given to the back catalogue releases. However, unless one is an ardent fan then that may not be a big selling point to the casual listener. There are some very decent moments, in particular the energetic They Smile When They Speak To Me, a rather menacing title that is reflected somewhat in the music, and preceding track, Hidden Faces In Quiet Spaces (lovely title, like something by mid-era Genesis), a very strong piece of music that is eerily engaging. Elsewhere The Lost Moon Of Neptune is rather meandering and somewhat unfocused, Serenity Interrupted has a very proggy setting that aims for, and nearly achieves, the complex interplay of different instruments that groups such as Gentle Giant are famed for, and Release wraps things up nicely in the lengthiest piece of the album that manages to capture many different moods.
The Last Days Of Lucidity is a fine effort and lovers of keyboard artists will no doubt gain a lot of enjoyment from the music it contains. A different approach to progressive instrumental music that distances itself from the usual prog keyboard theatrics of the Emersons and Wakemans of this world and, although for my tastes, it is not an essential album, it is enjoyable enough in itself and shows that Harrington is a musician with ideas big enough to match his talent.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10