Reviews in this issue:
- Billy Sherwood - Oneirology
- Jack Yello - Xeric
- From.uz – Seventh Story
- Psi Corps - Tekeli-li
- Tabula Smaragdina – A Szavakon Túl
- Cary Clouser – Finger Paintings
- Relocator - Relocator
- Taurus & Pisces - Inertia
- Flash Range – On The Way [EP]
- Random Touch – A Way From The Heard
- Rosa Luxemburg – I & II
- Big Robot – Aquafit
Billy Sherwood - Oneirology
Tracklist: Oneirology (8:02), Setting Sun (8:11), Wake Up Call (10:35), The Following (6:00), The Recurring Dream (7:29), Lost Inside (6:08), The Gate (6:43), Walking With You (9:23)
For those who are unfamiliar with Billy Sherwood’s work, you may know him better as a part time Yes member, as well as producer of the Keys To Ascension albums. Furthermore, Billy has played alongside Chris Squire in the band Conspiracy and has more recently been the driving force behind two Pink Floyd Tribute albums, and as a member of the bands Circa and Yoso. As you listen there is no mistaking his Yes pedigree, or the other influences that are worn so clearly on Billy’s musical sleeve. Nevertheless, Billy makes these influences his own by crafting a lush textured sound that defies the notion of a solo album. It is as if there are many Billy Sherwoods all pulled from parallel universes coming together in this now solid framework. The Billys know how to play and sing!
For those who do know Billy, this album does not break any new ground. The layered vocals, and flanged soundscape that were present on At The Speed Of Life are still here in full force. However, this means if you’ve enjoyed his other works you will enjoy this one as well.
In his previous album, At The Speed Of Life, Sherwood told us to “face the dawn as the sun rises”. With the newest release, Oneirology, he continues to follow the horizon by telling us he is “always facing the setting sun”. This star gazing habit has not blinded Sherwood, but instead has enhanced his vision. Amidst Squire-inspired bass bombs, Gilmouresque guitarscapes, and pristine production, Billy Sherwood unearths his newest creation, Oneirology (the scientific study of dreams). In this concept album, Sherwood takes us on a journey into the dream world. This is a time honoured theme, particularly for progressive rock musicians, but in Oneirology the journey becomes personal. Each track seems to present a mystical landscape, a journey into the stories of our slumbers.
Given such a glowing review, I will warn you however that the album can be very repetitive at times. While Billy definitely has created his own sound, there is a sameness present that some will find mesmerizing and trance-inducing while others may feel there is too much similarity. Many of the songs require repeated listens to uncover the hidden nuances that hide behind this sameness. If you can leap past this and pay attention to the detail, the variation and the mind blowing guitar sculptures, the album will pull you back again and again. Highlights are Setting Sun (which earworms its way into your daily internal set list), Wake Up Call (which paints a paradoxical picture of a world in the midst of change - perhaps simultaneously speaking to a call for environmental awareness) and Walking With You (which hypnotizes on every listen). Sometimes the chemistry does not work so perfectly though. In the song The Gate, which seems to be a metaphor for being unable to move while waking up, the instrumentation and the vocalization never seem to emit the drama inherent in being stuck. For my own part this narrative never communicates what I feel when I am stuck at the gate of waking consciousness. While some of the songs differ in arrangement and capitalize on the many options obviously present within the Sherwood studio, the character of the story sometimes falls flat against the dreamy background that is present throughout.
Despite these factors I am thoroughly enamoured with this album. There is something about the smooth production and hypnotic imagery of all Sherwood-based albums that have me returning again and again. So I put it to you that while this is more of the same, and perhaps not essential to your prog collection, Oneirology is a thoroughly enjoyable and pleasurable ride. If you are looking for ground breaking progressive music, you may have reached the wrong number, but if you want a familiar friend to guide you through an unfamiliar territory Billy Sherwood is just a phone call away.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Jack Yello – Xeric
Tracklist: You've Got (7:32), Dawn Of My Time (5:32), History (7:36), Merlin [Part VI] (4:48), Who's There? (9:11), The Guide [Part VII] (4:30), Every Day (6:18), The Cold Whisperer (8:33), Time Stands Still (4:22), Faces To Faces [Part III] (7:15), Thorns Of Anger [The Bridge - Part II] (12:52)
Whilst I’m hammering out my latest review on the keyboard I usually have internet radio playing in the background. I find it a useful source for picking up on new or previously unheard bands and it’s where Jack Yello came to my attention although first impressions can be deceiving. Initially I mistook the bands song for an unknown Fish tune, so similar was lead singer Dirk Bovensiepen’s vocals and even the style of writing and arrangements pointed to the big man. I was understandably keen to discover more which conveniently presented itself in this their second album.
Hailing from the Düsseldorf region, they’ve been around for roughly 10 years now having originated from the ashes of the German bands Jagiello, Darius and Avalanche. Their 2003 debut release Thorns Of Anger drew a universal thumbs up from the prog fraternity and not least on this site where it received a DPRP recommendation. It’s taken nearly seven years for this follow-up to appear but most importantly the original line-up remains intact, namely Bovensiepen, Lutz Grosser (guitars), Dirk Hülpert (bass), Uwe Poprawa (drums) and Uwe Ziegler (keyboards).
In addition to the Fish comparisons, Bovensiepen’s melodramatic vocal style also echoes that of Nad Sylvan (Agents Of Mercy, Unifaun) complementing the bands bombastic sound which is straight out of the Arena, Shadowland and Credo school of neo-prog. There’s also the added bonus of a tuneful Threshold style metal edge thanks mainly to Grosser’s guitars which crunch as firmly as new fallen snow. These traits are ably demonstrated in the opening You've Got which balances a catchy song format with powerful instrumental breaks complete with manic synth and powerful guitar riffing. Likewise Dawn Of My Time offsets pumping power chords in a Dream Theatre prog metal vein against a seriously melodic vocal bridge.
And speaking of DT, John Petrucci comes to mind with the edgy but soaring guitar solo that enhances History, a bitter tale of love and rejection. A bubbly synth intro to Merlin [Part VI] heralds a more optimistic tone, complimented by an infectious main riff. The lengthy Who's There? takes its inspiration from 70’s hard rock with a fast and rippling guitar line that evokes Deep Purple’s Burn before easing into a galloping riff reminiscent of Led Zep’s Immigrant Song. The drum support is suitably thunderous whilst the vocal intonations are pure Fish. The same could be said about the catchy The Guide [Part VII] with its memorable vocal hook and wall-to-wall lyrics that could so easily be the work of early Marillion.
With Every Day and The Cold Whisperer that follows, the band shows that they’re not averse to varying the mood and tempo. The former opens in an atmospheric and slightly sinister fashion before opting for some stirring guitar and synth interplay ala Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman. The latter song ventures further still with acoustic guitar and symphonic keys providing a folk like grandeur which evolves into a classic reel with muscular guitar punctuations bringing the pomp of Ayreon into the equation. In contrast Time Stands Still is a straightforward chorus driven song enriched by some lively bass and acoustic guitar articulations.
The penultimate Faces To Faces [Part III] feels like a dry run for the final song with its triumphant neo prog sound bringing Marillion (once again) and IQ to mind. The uplifting tone is conveyed by free flowing keys and guitar highlighted by a melodic Martin Orford flavoured synth break. A low key but omnipresent bass and drum pattern develops gradually into a rousing conclusion. The thirteen minute Thorns Of Anger [The Bridge - Part II] is another tale of unrequited love and a perfect closer combining a memorable chorus with pastoral soundscapes, heavy riffs, fast And tricky instrumental sections, anthemic vocals and a suitably epic finale.
Recently I’ve become very wary (and a little weary) of overlong albums. This latest from Jack Yello however fulfils its near 80 minute commitment in style. The concluding piece in particular is a fine example of how to construct a mini-epic that successfully avoids the all too common pitfalls of over indulgence and stodgy arrangements. The bands choice of track titles is a little curious where the numeric addition (e.g. The Guide Part VII) sometimes gives the impression that the song is an extension of a previous creation. True there are some reoccurring titles from the last album but to my knowledge the band have never recorded ‘The Guide’ Parts I to VI. My only note of criticism (and it’s a minor one) is that they are occasionally prone to lyrical clichés (e.g. “See that woman looking into deep waters of self pity”). That aside, this is an album that both impresses and entertains in equal measures and you really can’t ask for more than that.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
From.uz – Seventh Story
Tracklist: Perfect Place (4:04), Parallels (20:01), Desert Circle (16:13), Bell of the Earth (3:16), Taken (18:09), Influence Of Time (11:50), Perfect Love (4:40)
Some rather big changes have occurred with From.uz, not only the name has slightly changed also the line up of the band has had some significant changes, with only two of the members playing on the last release Overlook still present, the rest of the crew is new. Therefore an introduction to the new From.Uz is needed. Vitaly Popeloff (guitars, vocals) and Albert Khalmurzaev (keyboards) are the two remaining band members, and they also seem to be the core of the band as they write and arrange most of the music. To complete the band we now have Surát Kasimov (bass), Ali Izmailov (percussion) and Igor Elizov (keyboards and grand piano).
Looking at the artwork presented with this disk it becomes apparent that more musicians have had a part in the making of Seventh Story, however I have found no additional credits for these musicians.
On their previous albums From.uz have withheld themselves from adding vocals to their songs, Seventh Story again sees a change as there are vocals present. Although Vitaly tries real hard to pronounce the words right and takes his best shot at English, he fails at this, sounding like Mariusz Duda from Riverside. It is clearly not his strong point.
Seventh Story again is a sort of conceptual work. A musical journey in seven chapters if you will, starting our stroll is a short story about the Perfect Place, and here we hear Vitaly Popeloff sings for the first time. The lyrics for this song are just English words put into a sort of poem, but it really doesn’t make much sense. All the lyrics can be read in the accompanying booklet. Perfect Place sounds as if you are listening to a Riverside album, Vitaly sings like Mariusz, no offense, and even makes the guitar work sound like a track Riverside could have done.
Luckily it does not take too long for the second track to start, Parallels. The band start off with a melody line played on guitar which by each renewal will be a tad bit longer. Mike Oldfield has more than once used a similar way to build up his songs. Parallels is the first of the three epic length songs. The song itself built up in a classic progressive rock way, stays instrumental until two thirds of the song. After about two minutes Albert and Igor lay down a layer of keys over which Vitaly plays his melody lines, the instrumental part has several signature changes, like Fromuz also uses on Overlook. After two thirds of the song Vitaly starts singing, here the lyrics are short so the singing is not too much, for the last chapter of the song I hear the track starting over. This is just a bit overdone to my liking. It would have been better to stop almost immediately after the vocals.
Desert Circle, the second epic length track, begins with a story told by a woman. Then the song continues with a superb guitar play by Vitaly, reminding me of work by Roine Stolt, like Roine Vitaly uses his own special way of playing, half way into the track the signature and music style change into jazz. Various other instruments can be heard like a xylophone. Further into this masterpiece of musical extravaganza Vitaly and crew treat us with some almost Flamenco guitar playing like Flaco Jiminez or Al Di Meola can play. The tour de force ends with a progressive symphonic rocking band. It now is time to have a real break.
And yes we are being served. Bell Of The Earth actually is a relaxing piece of music. Tranquillity steps in and we hear once again the xylophone, tubular bells, grand piano, woodwind etc. A well played song, absolutely beautiful in its simplicity.
The fifth track starts where the fourth ended, a beautiful melody on the grand piano, of course we are also treated to beautiful melodies and guitar playing as well as again chimes and tubular bells. Taken shows some similarities with epic Riverside. Taken tries to overtake us by surprise the music just keeps rocking and rocking.
With two keyboard players one might assume that keyboards would be the foremost important sound and instrument, yet the guitar is more present than the keyboards. All the music is guitar oriented.
Under the Influence Of Time, the sixth of seven steps, the journey is nearly done. This track especially is my personal favourite on this album, completely instrumental, and rich in variations as well as instrumentation. We are presented with an excellent progressive rock track with elements of jazz, blues, folk, in fact every stream seems to be present in this colourful song.
Which brings us to the final chapter the Perfect Love. We hear the car coming to a halt, an old fashioned dial phone, and the male lead declaring his eternal love to his beloved over the phone, followed by the same poem sung accompanied by a beautiful melody. A solid ending to a solid album.
Seventh Story is by all means a fantastic progressive album, although you can ask questions to the addition of vocals. This is not the strongest point; it actually weakens the album. Nevertheless a good album well worth listening.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Psi Corps - Tekeli-li
Tracklist: Party At Barnard’s [Is Over] (4:36), On Board The Ariel (10:01), On Board The Grampus (7:37), Tsalal (9:01), Further South (8:36), Tekeli-li (13:28)
Here we have a bit of an interesting release from Psi Corps called Tekeli-li, which is inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe book, ”The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”. This is not a book I have read although it did apparently inspire Melville’s Moby Dick and H.G Well’s War of the Worlds, which as everyone knows had a similar sort of treatment and went on to be a one of the biggest selling albums of all time. Poe’s work is no stranger to the prog world where such luminaries as Peter Hammill, Allan Parsons Project, Symphony X have also recorded Poe related works.
So who are Psi Corps? Well, they consist of Alisa Coral (synthesizers, bass, percussion, drums and theremin) and Michael Blackman (all guitars), both who record together with their other band Space Mirrors with whom Arjen Lucassen has worked with on their The Darker Side Of Art album. On hearing what they have created here, they compliment each other very well in both style and class.
Party At Barnard’s [Is Over]: This is the shortest piece on the album and is a dark piece that is synth layered with some odd drum beats and sounds like an opening cinematic theme tune setting the tone for the following events to unfold.
On Board the Ariel: The guitar work on this track is allowed to lead with the synth and rhythm taking a background roll allowing Blackman to rock out playing some really nice guitar passages. The guitar work becomes more aggressive in approach although still melodic, carving out soundscapes, depicting Pym’s battle against the ravages of the sea in his dinghy whilst Augustus has passed out drunk, a battle he finally loses, from which they are rescued just in time by The Penguin, a returning whaling ship.
On Board the Grampus: Pym and Augustus aren’t deterred after their last incident and decide to stowaway on the Grampus, another whaling vessel that is bound for the south. Due to the conditions in the hold Pym becomes increasingly comatose and delirious, which Blackman’s guitar work conveys to great effect, and is reinforced with Coral’s percussions and synth interjections throughout.
Tsalal: This to me is probably the best track on the album and the one that I have played more than any of the others, as it’s just got so much soul and vibrancy. It starts of with Coral’s synth work paving the way and then kicking in with some very tribal drum beats. Blackman’s guitar then paves the way for some of his best guitar work on the whole album including some excellent slide work. Both Coral and Blackman bounce off each other whilst jamming this track out. You can just imagine them hearing this track back as a finished product, and both of them looking at each other and just having big smiles on their faces.
Further South: Slow paced synth playing this time supported by some interesting guitar passages, space rock noodling, but still driven by Coral’s intense psychedelic playing, and is probably the strangest of all the tracks on the album, which if you are building soundscapes to written work is a not a bad thing. This is part of the book where Pym and co discover a labyrinth of passages in the hills with strange markings and disagree about whether these are products of artifice or natural forces. The guys make a break from the island by stealing a pirogue, and taking a native as prisoners. The boat drifts south as they encounter some strange occurrences, the native dies as a huge shrouded white figure appears before them. The novel then ends abruptly.
Tekeli-li: The final and longest track on the album opens with trance style synth work rhythmic drumming, making way for more of Blackman’s guitar work. Both his lead and rhythm guitar work being of a more commercial nature but still driving, more classic than space rock at the beginning. Coral’s addition of the theremin adds an atmospheric spooky tone, leaving the listener to decide who is or what does the white figure symbolise? I have my thoughts, and no doubt you’ll have yours. This is another very strong track and very fitting ending to the album.
On the balance Psi Corps have recorded a very good and well produced album that dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s. The subject matter chosen has been well represented by their musical prowess, and I will definitely be searching out other recordings by these guys, and recommend others to do so, as they have certainly sparked my curiosity. As with most of these types of albums, imagery created is so important, but it is still subjective to the end user, which Psi Corps in my eyes have hit the nail square and firmly on the head. It’s not necessary a pre requisite to read Poe’s book to enjoy what has been lovingly created here, but I do personally believe that it would increase the experience. I for one will be laying my hands on a copy as this really is classic Poe. Even the art work draws you in sparking your imagination further.
Throughout the whole recording nods and winks have been made to their influences, some of these being Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles, Ayreon and Tangerine Dream, but they have still to some degree kept is sounding original. The really is a grower of an album the more you play it the more you will enjoy it.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tabula Smaragdina – A Szavakon Túl
Tracklist: Amethyst (1:32), This Side Of Words (8:29), Winter (4:30), A Simple Game (5:00), Sundown (5:16), My Electric Cat (2:14), The Passenger (5:27) Light Of Dreams (3:35), You Could Be (6:20) Beyond Words (7:58)
Tabula Smaragdina originated in 1998 when Krivánik Dániel (keyboards) and Bogáti-Bokor Ákos (guitar) met at a philosophy campus. After a while they decided to put a full band together with the idea of playing progressive rock and so recruited Turi Tamás (bass) and Zsigó László (drums) forming the band Amethyst. After a couple of years playing covers, they then began to write their own material. In 2004 they had a busy period of live activity playing many festivals and winning a Romanian music competition. There followed a 3-year period of silence whilst Ákos focused on his work with the Hungarian band Yesterdays and the others pursued various projects. They then came together to work on the first Amethyst album. Unfortunately Turi Tamás had to leave the band for health reasons, leaving the three remaining members to complete the album under the name of Tabula Smaragdina with Ákos taking on the responsibly of singer-guitarist, bass player and co-producer.
The album opens with Amethyst, a short and highly melodic acoustic guitar piece that has the flavour and of early Gordon Giltrap.
This Side Of Words is a good solid progressive work out, with strong melodies, Hammond organ, catchy synths, piano and guitar. There lots of time changes and several different moods throughout the piece, with an overall feel of early Spock's Beard. The vocal melodies are good but unfortunately the lyrics are in Hungarian therefore losing some of their impact as a result. (This is the same with all the vocals throughout the album and to my mind is its only weakness).
Winter opens with a strong riff before leading into an unusual vocal harmony with clever multi-tracking of both male and female voices. It then moves into an instrumental section with electric piano and restrained and slightly Gilmouresque solo.
A Simple Game is a catchy song with again, interesting vocal harmonies and pleasant synth passages, which have a nice 70’s analogue sound to them.
Sundown begins with a catchy acoustic refrain blending with keyboards and vocals into a very mellow and relaxing piece superbly reflecting its title.
My Electric Cat is a clever and humorous track that starts with some cartoon samples and then leads into frenetic guitar/keyboards with several time changes with touches of Steve Howe and also Roine Stolt.
The Passenger a driving bass line and Hammond organ riff reminiscent of early Yes with a touch of Neutrons and even some Magenta, somehow it works.
Light Of Dreams a laid-back vocal driven song with slowly building guitars under pinned by orchestrated keyboards leading into a sublime sax solo.
You Could Be a guitar driven opening, with strong vocals melodies and mellotron. Nice synth solo and edgy guitars leading into a rockier final section sounding like classic Dream Theater.
Beyond Words a slowly building track with touches of the Flower Kings to begin. This then leads into a Wakeman style keyboard solo, followed by a melodic vocal segment before drawing to a close with a Squire-like bass refrain.
This is a sophisticated and refined debut album, which is well crafted and superbly produced. They have a distinctive sound, which grows on you, and which becomes more impressive with each listen. The songs are extremely well written and special attention must be paid to the vocal harmonies, which are superb, and in some places unusual! Which leads me to one important point. If I were to make one recommendation (not a criticism) to the band, it would be to sing in English. I think this would give them a wider audience, which they fully deserve.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Cary Clouser – Finger Paintings
Tracklist: Into Thy Hands (1:12), Don’t Know? (3.25), Ship Of Pride (7.13), Precious (9.05), Have You Heard? (2:48), It’s Time (5:10), Shine (5:10), Dark – 1st Impression (3:28), Darker – 2nd Impression (1:20), Precious Edit Mix: Bright Morning Sun (3:53), Life Lessons (3:00), Home Again (2:15), Unnamed Hidden Track (0:35)
Cary Clouser hails from St Anns in Ontario, Canada and is, it has to be said, insanely talented. Not only is he responsible for all the music and lyrics on this self produced promo, but he also sings, plays all the instruments, programmes the drums and to top it off he produced and engineered the thing. He probably made the tea as well. He does have a little help, in the form of guest players - some of whom you’re bound to recognise - on some of the tracks but by and large this is all him.
All this hard work seems to have paid off for him as he recently signed to Melodic Revolution Records so expect to see this released with prog-friendly label support in the not too distant future.
Cary cites his influences as Jethro Tull, Yes, Mozart, Chick Corea, Steely Dan, Beatles, Kansas, Chicago and it is to be noted he is lead vocalist and plays flute / keyboards / acoustic & electric guitar and mandolin in Oracle, winners of Canadian awards for best tribute band and best bar band. They’ve been together since 1990 and whilst primarily a mixed 70’s cover band are heavily influenced by Jethro Tull.
That classic Tull flute sound pops up here and there on this record, an original, refreshing symphonic prog album that wears its influences firmly on its sleeve, as I suppose Magenta did with Revolutions when they were just starting out. Vocally, Cary sounds not unlike one of my favourite singers, Glenn McLaughlin of Iluvatar. He’s got quite a range, and can do justice to the rocky stuff as well as the more symphonic, pastoral pieces.
Clocking in at just over a minute or so, opener Into thy Hands is a symphonic, choral opener that lets you know just what it is your going to be listening to for the next 50 minutes or so.
Don’t Know? is a rockier track, with a great guitar riff, fantastic vocals and some Tull flute, before a reasonably abrupt fade. Whilst it’s only a tad over three minutes long there’s so much going on here you feel he is showcasing his talent for prospective labels. Given his recent deal, it must have worked.
Ship Of Pride – bit longer this one, at just over 7 minutes, with some great Steve Howe guitar moments and lovely organ washes. Then we head on over to blues town, with Clouser throwing twin electric guitars round the speakers before calming down with a gentler bit of acoustic / electric interplay. Lyrically we’re in the realms of ‘wings of reason’, ‘travellers’, ‘inner flames’ and ‘the challenge of being one’. The track closes with a jazzy keyboard excursion before some more Steve Howe inspired guitar.
Precious – the album’s longest track, at over 9 minutes, begins with a child’s voice, which quickly segues into a fragile vocal with piano accompaniment. An emotionally charged song this, that may well have you reaching for the hankies, with lyrics about a father’s relationship with, and love for his child. “The moment when you looked at me, I fell in love with you”. I’m blubbing as I write this. A bit Turn Of The Century, in that it gradually builds, from simple piano and acoustic guitar before letting rip with some Drama – era Yes, a hint of a Supper's Ready riff and restrained flute in the style of Peter Gabriel. Then it’s a riff reminiscent of Machine Messiah before an Awaken harp moment and some more acoustic fretwork. Then we’re back to more Drama, and Tony Banks keyboards before we reach the upbeat “good to have you home again” lyrical ending with Francis Dunnery guitar stylings. Lovely.
Have You Heard? is another shorter, rockier track, reminiscent of Lynryd Skynryd.
It’s Time could have fit in quite nicely on Iluvatar’s A Story Two Days Wide. There’s some dreamy bass underpinning Damon Shulman’s restrained, jazzy guitar soloing.
Shine – Brett Kull of Echolyn guests on guitar, and Dylan Howe adds his drums. More Tull flute, and Kull’s wonderfully evocative, upbeat guitar playing. Another fantastic vocal performance too, as well as a languid, fat bass sound. This is a song that demands to be played at summer barbeques, or in your open-topped sports car. If you have one. If not, just wind the windows down. Now, I’ve seen Brett Kull play live both here and in the States, both with Echolyn and Dunnery’s New Progressives and he has to be, in my opinion, one of the finest guitarists in this or any other genre. No surprise, then, that this is a contender for my favourite track. Not only that, but my little girl dances like mad every time it comes on. Who said you can’t dance to prog?
Tracks 8 and 9 comprise the 1st and 2nd impressions of Dark and Darker, a haunting solo piano suite.
Precious is then reprised in a shorter edit divided up into three separate tracks, Bright Morning Sun, Life Lessons and Home Again.
The hidden, 35-second unnamed track closing the album is one that Cary states he is working on for when the album is released on Melodic Revolution.
The disc I’ve reviewed is a self-released promo, so as such my recommended rating is provisional on you all being able to go out and buy it some time soon. Clouser’s work has obviously caught the ears of some serious people in the prog world. Brett Kull I’m certain doesn’t just play on any old promo, and the MR deal is I hope sufficient pay off for all the hard gigging this past twenty years. When it’s released I would have no hesitation in recommending it. Fans of symphonic prog, particularly, are going to love it I’m sure. Until then, if you’re interested, head on over to the interweb where there are plenty of songs to listen to while you are waiting.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Relocator - Relocator
Tracklist: Red Vibes (6:13), Biosphere (8:00), Relocator (5:24), Proxima (6:16), Aavishkar (10:30), 13 Reasons (6:31), Urban Blue (6:33), The Alchemist (11:32)
Relocator was founded in 2004 the original idea was to have a "full" live band, sadly they never managed to keep a steady line-up and thus after a few years the band split up. In 2009 two of the original members Stefan Artwin (guitars, programming) and Michael Pruchnicki (bass, fretless bass) decided to blow new life into Relocator as a project and finally finish the songs they had worked on for so long. The result is a multi-national endeavour and joining them on the first Relocator album are Bartek Strycharski (electric violin), new talent Frank Tinge from the Netherlands (drums, percussion) and special guest star Derek Sherinian from the USA (all keyboards).
The band really storm right in with the first track of the album and it immediately becomes apparent that Derek Sherinian has a big influence on the music of Relocator. The complete album is instrumental, however the lack of a vocalist is of no problem whatsoever. Musically Relocator perform on the edges of heavy prog, neo-prog and every track is of outstanding nature, I have had no dull moments listening to the CD. Easy going ear candy.
The music is not far aside the works of the famous guest musician, however this does not mean that Derek Sherinian is responsible for the high quality of the album. The compositions of Artwin and Pruchnicki are of high standard and there’s a lot on this album that might be of interest to fans of music of Rush, Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment to name but a few.
As I really love instrumental music and I could go on and on with many superlatives about this music. I will not, but will try to point out what to me were the highlights of the album, each of the tracks is of a high standard. To me the tracks that stand out are Aavishkar because of its retro feel and the bombastic sound and instrumental epic should have. Also the title track with a Spock’s Beard like organ sound and The Alchemist as the last track a real instrumental epic that one.
Relocator have done a terrific job with this album which is of high standard and I am already looking forward to the successor. The band have made the complete album available to stream at their MySpace site it is worth a visit.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Taurus & Pisces - Inertia
Tracklist: Things Can Turn (8:05), Mirror Images (6:21), Borderline (5:14), Schooldays (5:41), 1975 (3:33), Same (5:34), Politics (5:25), Under My Skin (6:00), Sweet Lucidity (6:57)
A difficult one, this. The temptation is to give Taurus & Pisces’ debut-album Inertia a DPRP recommendation-level rating score, such is the immense beauty of this album’s highlights. However, there are some low moments to counterbalance this and they are perhaps too extensive to allow a general recommendation. My heart says “yes” – I love great swathes of this music very much – but, in deference to the many readers of these reviews, who rely on an objective assessment, my mind says “no”. The music does, however, deserve to be heard, so read on and, if you are interested, listen to some of the samples to see if you are similarly captivated by the highlights.
Taurus & Pisces are a Dutch duo: the Taurus is Peter Everts, a musician who played guitar in several bands in the 12-year period from 1978 before turning to business for a living; and the Pisces is Gert Bruins, who has only recently turned to composing and playing music but has since played in bands such as Life Less Serious and Dikke Bertha. The duo’s cite their major influences are the usual suspects from the seventies period – a time during which they were growing up and absorbing the wonderful music – as well as some more modern bands such as Porcupine Tree, Tool and Spock’s Beard.
Certainly, one can see the connection to those influences in the duo’s music, although the tempo is slower than those other bands’. The soundscape is uncluttered: there will not be too much going on in the arrangements at any one time and the music is not heavy. The compositional focus is on creating a mood or a melody for careful absorption, diametrically opposite to energetic riffing for dance/excitement/head-banging. The principal musical elements for creating this atmosphere, other than the vocal, are various keyboards and acoustic/electric guitars. The keyboards hold the key: the string synths in particular add wonderful texture as well as melody. They may even be using sampled mellotron instrumentation, I wasn’t certain, but it’s fair to say that the keyboard/synth textures are gorgeous. Thinking back to seventies bands, it is clear that fans of bands like Barclay James Harvest and Camel would enjoy this sort of soundscape. Of the more recent bands cited, there may be similarities to certain of their periods, but I suspect a band like The Pineapple Thief is actually a better overall match musically than those cited previously.
The album kicks off in fine fashion with one of its most attractive compositions: Things Can Turn magically and successfully offsets a melancholic background from the instruments – slow lush strings; low pace, deliberate electric guitar riffs – with a very pretty, sweet sung melody. The combination of the moods is perfect, the instrumental textures delightful: a great song! Unfortunately, one is released from that high straight away: Mirror Images gives us instrumental textures that are as attractive as the opening track’s but there is no sweetness to offset the melancholia and the song suffers as a result. Borderline is similar; in addition there is an unpleasant clash between the instrumental parts, there’s no musical meshing: the drum part in particular is misplaced. These two songs, coming together as they do after the initial high, serve to lose momentum and the listener’s confidence. Even after Schooldays puts the album back on to an even keel, one remains suspectful, awaiting further fall. This is the central reservation over Inertia as an album: it’s significant enough to suppress its rating.
Schooldays’s melodies are beautiful again and lift our spirits. Borrowing part of its piano riff from Elton John’s Song For Guy and possibly also a later melody, the parts are interwoven together expertly and some excellent string synths cement this as a strong song on a par with the opener. This time the high is sustained: the instrumental 1975 is stunning – acoustic guitar melody with beautiful flute and string synths.
The closing section of the album repeats the first, although in this instance the melancholic lows work better than Mirror Images and Borderline. Same and Politics lack sweetness but are coherent enough to be generally positive tracks. Under My Skin, however, proves that these writers’ strength is in melodic writing: they shouldn’t be afraid to let the sweetness shine through – it’s a gift that needs to be shared! The finale, Sweet Lucidity, lacks any real sparkle, but neither does it annoy, staying in the middle ground.
To conclude, there are some very high moments that arise as a result of a clear gift for melodic writing. When this is suppressed, the strength of the compositions is devolved to the instrumental textures: by and large the duo succeed, but there are times when this isn’t enough to offset for the lack of melody in this sort of slow tempo music. These reservations mean the album falls short of a recommendation-level score, which is a pity because in the highs we’d be looking at an album rated 9 out of 10.
Guys, you have a gift for melody – don’t spurn it!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Flash Range – On The Way [EP]
Tracklist: On The Way (3:52), Far From Home (4:22), Follow Me Now (4:37), Vision Of Sadness (4:34)
No doubt the familiar names of John Mitchell, John Jowitt and Andy Edwards (basically the Frost* line-up minus Jem Godfrey) will prove to be the main attraction for this mini-album. It is however essentially the brainchild of two Russian songwriter/musicians Andrey Dudkin and Alexey Dudkin who ventured all the way to Reading, England to record in November 2007 with John Mitchell at the desk. For reasons unknown (to this reviewer at least) it took a full two years for the final product to eventually see the light of day. One explanation could be that in the interim it underwent extensive post production work in Seattle and Nashville (USA) and in St. Petersburg and Moscow (Russia).
So has the time and additional effort been worthwhile? Well judging by the end results I would say a resounding yes. What we have here is four tracks of tuneful, contemporary prog with the first two being the more upbeat followed by the more laidback pairing. The title song On The Way opens with a sparkling synth fanfare courtesy of Andrey Dudkin whilst Mitchell’s pulsating guitar hook and familiar husky vocal plants it firmly in It Bites territory. It’s a gloriously uplifting pop-prog offering with rapid drum shots from Andy Edwards and a storming guitar solo to close.
Driven by a ringing guitar rhythm, Far From Home has a keener sense of urgency and a slightly heavier edge. Around the midway point the Dudkin’s contribute a synth and guitar solo apiece although I don’t think it would be unfair to say that their playing is efficient rather than exceptional. Either way it’s another fine song with a memorable chorus.
The soaring guitar and keys intro to Follow Me Now is a tad deceiving because at the songs heart is a lyrical piano and choral refrain. Mitchell provides one of his most sensitive vocals to date adding just the right note of poignancy to the atmospheric melody.
The highlight of the closing Vision Of Sadness is a suitably moody but prominent bass and drum pattern from the excellent Jowitt and Edwards partnership that’s very reminiscent of Yes’ Shoot High Aim Low. It livens up at the three minute mark with a sharp but melodic guitar break before playing out with an effectively understated solo.
On the evidence of the four tracks here Andrey and Alexey prove themselves to be more than competent songwriters. Their efforts benefit of course from the classy musicianship of the three Brits but ultimately the playing is secondary to the tunes, which is as it should be. The superb production is another bonus creating one of the crispest, cleanest and spacious sounds I’ve heard for sometime. I’m unsure if this is purely a one-off from this musical collective but one thing’s certain it left me with a taste for more.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Random Touch – A Way From The Heard
Tracklist: Morphing Jupiter (2:11), Skating The Rings (4:34), All That Happened Was (4:38), Hint Of Dawn (4:54), Footprints Of Mars (2:58), Hanging Out Windows (4:00), Inhabit The Groove (5:16), A Fairy Tooth Cake (2:59), Seeing Through (3:20), Coming Up (8:22), From Beverly Hills (1:22), Into The Crevice (4:25), Mercenary (3:46), Blue Ice (2:12)
Random Touch are a 3 piece out of Illinois, who first collaborated in the 1970s and comprises of Christopher Brown (drums), Scott Hammill (guitars) and James Day (keyboards). This is their 12th release and they are clearly incredibly talented musicians. It is not, to be sure, an easy listen. Best described as improvisational, percussion heavy random avant-garde ‘sound experiments’ in the freeform urban industrial jazz-fusion noir vein. You’re not, put it this way, going to put it on in the car for the morning commute. Unless of course you’re intending on torturing your co-workers with rusty hooks, which we here at DPRP would never advocate.
With my limited knowledge of this particular IPHRAGSEFUIJFN genre (which I think I may just have invented), my notes made when first listening to this record suggested comparisons with Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Fripp and Zappa – all at their most experimental. PR/Reviews of earlier work have cited, amongst others, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Gyorgy Ligeti (composer of Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey) and Phil Manzanera as influences.
It’s some considerable way out of my comfort zone but it does reveal layers of light and shade, dark and darkness on successive listens. It kind of draws you in, lulls you into a false sense of security, then steals one of your socks. Before gouging out your eyeballs. Some bits can best be described as the musical equivalent of the dentist scene in Marathon Man.
Drummer Christopher Brown is on vocal duties and they are, well, a bit discordant. My initial listening notes referred to drunks outside city centre pubs. They’ve affected the rating a tad, too. But then flowery vocals would not sit well with the dissonant, fractured, fractal nature of the music.
I sought out the views of my mate Jonno, who knows infinitely more about this area of prog than I do. He thought Can, Allan Holdsworth, Faust and the Grateful Dead amongst others were points of reference. And that the work would take on a whole new meaning when played live. He also mentions that solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie has previously recorded something very similar to the track By Hand By Foot. Yes, he does need to get out more, but his insight has hopefully revealed the complexity, fluidity and mentality of this work. No track by track could ever shed light on this record. The longest piece clocks in at 8:22, the rest vary between the two to five minute mark. The whole thing is over in 55 minutes, across 14 tracks.
I’m very much drawn to Jez Rowden’s review of 2007’s Alchemy CD/DVD package in which he suggested, “they’re probably lovely but a bit crackers”. Jez also reviewed their 2007 release A True Conductor Wears A Man.
So there you have it. If you like this kind of thing you’ll love this record. If not, you won’t. If you want to experiment, to widen your mind to what else there is outside mainstream prog and aren’t afraid of taking risks with your listening then there are sound clips a-plenty on the band’s website. Just remember, don’t play this at your next dinner party or your wife/husband/life partner will probably leave you. And the cat will die.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Rosa Luxemburg – I & II
CHAPITRE I : RÉVOLUTIONS: Ouverture 1871 (2:41), Rosa (2:53), Barricade (3:08), Le Frisson Des Anges (2:58), Spartakus (2:44), La Commune De Berlin (2:10), Dans Tes Yeux (3:47), J’Etais, Je Suis, Je Serai (3:39)
CHAPITRE II : AVANCER VERS DEMAIN: L’Attente Hative (4:19), L’Architecte (8:57), Nos Ames Perdus (3:27), Le Changement (9:51)
Rosa Luxemburg is a French group comprised of four family members. Two brothers, Pipo (guitars & vocals) and Minouche (guitars, keyboards & vocals), their sister Marie-Catherine (vocals) and a cousin, JB on bass and backing vocals assisted by Laurent Guillot, who drums. Rosa Luxemburg is also a figure from history from whom the band have taken their name, and the concept for the first part of this, their debut release. Chapitre I and II offer us two sides of the group’s personality distributed over twelve tracks. Chapitre I called Revolutions is eight compositions based on the life and musings of Ms. Luxemburg, a Polish militant communist and revolutionary who became a naturalised German citizen and was assassinated during the political upheavals of Berlin in 1919, following WWI. Chapitre II called Avancer Vers Demain (Advance Towards Tomorrow) is four pieces showcasing the more progressive side of their output. If you find any of this confusing, it is. “Confusing” or “Confused” are the keynote words I would ascribe to this work, which is not without merit in parts, but is bewilderingly difficult to categorise and describe.
They mention artists such as Dream Theater, U2, Genesis, Radiohead and The Beatles as influences but do not expect anything remotely connected with these bands from Rosa Luxemburg; their influences do not play out in the songs themselves, especially in Chapitre I. Revolutions has much more in common with a ‘70s rock opera like Godspell than anything else I can imagine. Shifting through emotional gears and musical styles in a cocked hat and stripy trousers, these eight tracks breeze by me and either leave me entirely cold or bristling with contempt. I’ve really tried to like what I’m hearing but I just don’t, and the reasons are manifold. Firstly, musically, Rosa Luxemburg place the listener on constantly shifting sands. We skip between a classical, symphonic introduction into jagged proto-rock on Rosa and unassuming, largely unremarkable ballads (Le Frisson Des Ange/Barricade) into strangely effete anthemic pieces like La Commune De Berlin and J’etais, Je Suis, Je Serai which have more in common with The Pet Shop Boys and The Bangles than any of their declared influences. In a way, the overt theatricality and the skittish pop sensibilities of these songs put me in mind of early 10cc but they are distinctly limp by comparison. The only redeeming moment of the octet is the melancholy Dans Tes Yeux (In Your Eyes) for a really rather lovely guitar solo reminiscent of Andy Latimer and a melodic piano refrain that would not be out of place on an Alan Parsons Project album.
My second bugbear is with the vocals throughout Revolutions. Marie-Catherine has the responsibility of singing the more declamatory and anthemic pieces but her voice just cannot carry it. She lacks the vocal weight and transitions to sublimate the melodic elements and merely comes over as spiky and brittle. At times her vocal register dips into a contralto that amounts to little more than melodic talking and at other times she stridently shrieks her defiance like an angry teenager. If you remember Poly Styrene from The X-Ray Specs you’ll have some idea of where I’m coming from. Her work is not without character, and to be generous, perhaps that’s the point, but I’m afraid her delivery seems outmoded and, within the wider context of the progressive genre, misplaced. Similarly, the overall tenor of Chapitre I, its timbre or sound palette is, to my ears, ill-conceived. The guitar set up is insipid and toothless in the heavier moments, generic and dated in others; it really does have an ‘80s feel at times. Again, Camel might be a useful reference here, in particular those efforts from the early ‘80s like Stationary Traveller, which is a superior album to this I must add, but I think it adequately helps to place the overall sound. Whether it’s intentional or not, I cannot say, but Rosa Luxemburg appear to be resurrecting a sound from a time when the Proghorse had been deemed fit for nothing but glue, and are moving their musical eyebrows in time to the beat whilst doing it.
These first eight tracks are mercifully brief and we move into Chapitre II which consists of two longer ‘epic’ pieces (L’Architecte and Le Changement) with two standard 4 minute songs (L’Attente Hative, and Nos Ames Perdus) that allow Rosa Luxemburg to demonstrate their progressive credentials more ably. Had the album consisted of solely this kind of material I would have viewed it much more favourably. The compositions are still a little clumsy (L’Attente Hative particularly) but they adventurous and interesting, especially L’Architecte which has some lovely interludes for flute and guitar solos and Marie-Catherine has the chance to show that she really can sing. Nos Ames Perdus (Our Lost Hearts) has a classic prog feel to it and, probably because of the language, reminded me of Haromonium, with its gorgeously constructed vocal harmonies over a simple acoustic backing. The album closer (Le Changement) is articulate, technically varied and driven by some wonderful piano parts.
So, I think it’s clear. This is a farrago of an album, and perhaps a band with a critical identity crisis. Overall, I & II lacks fluency, coherence, and a sense of unity. Only three of the twelve titles succeed in demonstrating a compositional intelligence that elevate them into the progressive domain, but these three are extremely worthy contenders and, if the band were to follow this instinct as opposed to any other that may motivate their work, then I can see some great promise in them. Otherwise, they are a curio and how long can they sustain the concept, in any case? What next? “Friedrich Nietzsche”? “Karl Marx”? Where does it end? Will we have bands called “Frank Zappa” or “Elvis Presley”? It’s unsustainable and daft. For now, approach with extreme caution. If they re-emerge under the same banner in the future then there may be something of genuine interest to investigate; perhaps we’ll find out Rosa Luxemburg’s recipe for Strudel?
Chapitre I - 2 out of 10 | Chapitre II – 6.5 out of 10
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Big Robot – Aquafit
Tracklist: Dyrenes Dronning (2:46), Coca Kohle (3:39), Psychic Joker (2:30), Aquafit (4:06), Dall (8:37), Gow (11:29), Doligau Zugschluss (5:24), Birds (2:20), Wild Mix (9:49), Back To The Beast (9:56)
What we have here with Big Robot’s Aquafit is something of interest for those that have an interest in early Kraut rock, or for those of us that like to take a chance and try something a bit different. Big Robot essentially comprises of Per Sjoberg, Ole Christensen and Joakim Langeland and on this recording also featuring Conrad Schnitzler. There maybe some Tangerine Dream fans amongst us who might recognise this name as he was part of the band from 69-70, and if I am not mistaken played on the Electronic Meditation album, (contributing cello, violin and typewriter). Conrad has had a varied and prolific career, and was also the founder member of the short lived Kluster who are a massive influence on this band. Schnitzler has also contributed music for death metal band Mayhem’s debut album.
So what’s the best way to describe this recording, well, Big Robot put a statement on their MySpace page which made the following statement:
“The only error possible to commit is living and operating under the misconception that such a thing as the possibility of committing an error exists in the first place. We are guided by NO restricting theories, NO harmonic boundaries, NO compulsive reliance on melodies (in fact, we shun them almost totally) nor any concept of meeting up to the taste or preferences of a market or even an audience. This music was produced for the sake of itself. There is no concept but the CON-cept.”
Never a truer word was spoken, as this basically sums up what this band are all about. The music can only be described as avant-garde soundscapes sculpting industrial ambient waveforms, or as the band prefers to label it “Cosmic Industrial”. Which if you break it down into its basic structure, it is akin to musical anarchy. The rule is there are no rules. On initial play Faust, early Tangerine Dream, Kluster, Neu, The Residents and Klaus Schultze sprang to mind, and on further plays this was reinforced.
The question being, “Is it any good”? Well yes and no depending on what side of the fence you are on, and it truly is one side or the other as this genre doesn’t really facilitate anyone sitting on the fence. The soundscapes are clear and well produced as one would expect as clarity is really important, allowing you to hear every little nuance. The opening track Dyrenes Dronning has an ambient industrial feel. Coca Kohle is a synth – reggae song and is the most accessible track on the album and to be honest is out of place in the bigger picture being offered here. Psychic Joker is a Schnitzler influenced track without any song structure. Aquafit is reminiscent of The Residents especially on the vocals, which get stranger as the song progresses. The rest of the album twists and turns conjuring waveforms experimentally in different directions with no real structure leaving the listener to try and work out what is going on. You could sit for hours with many different people, discussing the merits of what is trying to be achieved here and you would come up with many differing answers.
Is this an album you would press play again? Probably not. Is this an album you can take in easily? Definitely not. Is this an album for the faint hearted? Absolutely not.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10