Reviews in this issue:
- Frost* - FrostFest Live
- Half Past Four – Rabbit In The Vestibule
- Eloy – Visionary
- Airbag - Identity
- Acanthe – Someone Somewhere
- Upsilon Acrux – Radian Futura
- Shadow Circus - Whispers And Screams
- Sententia - The Center In The Sand
- The Living – Bedd Tracks [EP]
- Thunderclap Newman - Hollywood Dream
Frost* - FrostFest Live
Tracklist: Hyperventilate (8:03), Wonderland (5:02), Black Light Machine (10:37), Stroty Time (1:58), Pocket Money (4:59), Saline (6:18), Dear Dead Days (7:43), The Forget You Song (2:27)
Here’s a little interesting gem that seems to have seems to have slipped in under the radar. What we have here are seven live tracks taken from the forthcoming album, The Philadelphia Experiment, and 1 studio track thrown in for good measure. The live tracks were recorded at The Keswick Theater, Glenside, Philadelphia, 2nd May 2009 their first American appearance at ROSfest. Taking in two tracks from Milliontown, and five from Experiments In Mass Appeal, the album they were supporting.
The pedigree/talent of musicianship on offer in this band is unquestionable, and for good measure we get Nick D’Virgillo thrown into the mix too. Nick becoming a friend to the group after Frost* supported Spock's Beard in Europe in 2008. Nick replaces original drummer Andy Edwards for this show.
Often in the case of live recordings, they become a contractual obligation or filler, and can be somewhat bland and disappointing. Here we have five top class musicians at the top of their game plying their trade, enjoying themselves, which comes across very strongly throughout this recording. From Gem’s story’s to the cohesion of the bands playing, it just wants to make you be part of the total experience of what Frost* are trying to achieve. Gem’s keyboard playing is clear and clean, Dec’s vocals are faultless as is all his and John’s guitar work, whilst John Jowitt’s groove and Nick’s drumming just puts the icing on the cake.
Hyperventilate: Opens with a Vaudeville style introduction, humorously introducing each band member, setting the tone for what lay ahead for the audience, which alone must have been worth the entrance fee. The track then drives into melodic nirvana, all the instruments intertwined and taking turns to drive the instrumental. Most bands would love to be able to write one track like this in their career. The timing and rhythm of the whole piece is just perfect. You can almost feel the smiles on the band members faces as they play.
Wonderland: From the keyboard start this song offers the chance for the band to display the prowess of their vocals and harmonies, not skipping a beat, whilst still engaging in tight complex passages.
Black Light Machine: This is a song about the dangers of watching too much TV, struggling with the boundaries of reality and fiction. Its trance like rhythm and John’s lead guitar breaks are just superb, being held together by Jowitt’s pounding bass, Gems keyboards and Nicks drumming. You can hear the crowd appreciation, enjoying the interaction of the group. You can imagine hundreds of Prog fans playing air keyboard, guitar and drums to this track. The musical interludes are that strong they just draw you in hook line and sinker.
Story Time: Sets the scene for Pocket Sun the next song, explaining the concept of the how a man goes through a space time portal and becomes the richest man in the world ever, finally getting stuck there after being a nasty rascal, and what happens next. Gem would be successful as a stand-up comedian, a natural born entertainer. You’ve just got to love Prog.
Pocket Sun: Jowitt’s bass and Nicks drumming are the driving force within this song, interplayed with some fancy keyboard and guitar interludes, accentuating the image of the man caught in another time and place with no escape. This track is probably the heaviest track on the CD and has some fantastic word play too especially “I’ve fallen off my family tree. Now my great granddaddy is me”. At the end of this track, the drumming seems to stop just short, you can hear Gem having fun with Nick saying, ”Ah it’s only your first gig, it’s alright, you can try again later”.
Saline: This is a song about tears and is the slowest track on the CD. There is some beautiful keyboard playing from Gem whilst Dec pours his heart and soul into the song, while the song builds to a crescendo, leading again to Mitchells awesome lead guitar playing. This could almost be classed as a Frost* power ballad and I do use this term loosely.
Dear Dead Days: The last live song on the CD is a fitting piece as it showcases the band at their best, not missing a beat, strong vocals and tight playing. This is everything that Frost* stands for, epic playing and intelligent lyrics. You really couldn’t ask for more. The next best thing to this track is being there, Hell, this is everything that modern Prog Rock stands for.
The Forget You Song: Gems day job has been writing hit songs for the pop stars such as Blue and Shayne Ward which is nothing to be ashamed of as people have bills to pay. This song wouldn’t feel out of place on a Foo Fighters CD. It has pop sensibility, great harmonies, but has been beefed up by heavy guitars and drums, almost giving the impression that if Frost* were to have a hit single or drive for commerciality, god forbid, this would be the song they would choose.
None of the tracks on this CD wouldn’t be out of place on a Dream Theater or Spock’s Beard release, (and in some cases if you closed your eyes you could imagine either jamming this stuff, and in places struggle to differentiate between the two), and would appeal to any of those fans. I can almost imagine Neal Morse or Mike Portnoy tipping their hats in approval to this release. I would probably say that at this given point in time Frost* are the most important/best prog rock band in the UK. If this release is a sample of what is to come count me in, and I would suggest for those of you unfamiliar with this band, acquaint yourselves real quick. You are missing out on something VERY SPECIAL. Be under no illusions this is a band at the top of their game.
Did they hit their mark with this live recording? BULLSEYE.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Half Past Four – Rabbit In The Vestibule
Tracklist: Missing Sevenths (2:37), Johnny (2:54), Poisoned Tune (7:53), Southern Boogie (4:15), Twelve Little Words (5:18), Underwater (4:58), Lullaby (4:20), Strangest Dream (6:29), Biel (8:14), Dwayne (4:53), Salome (2:45), Bamboo (2:41), Rabbit (6:08)
Recent months have seen a bit of a buzz surrounding this album and I was looking forward to hearing it. The week before the review copy arrived I had been listening to a lot of Gentle Giant and was amazed with how easily Rabbit In The Vestibule slotted in beside these classics. There is a vibrancy and energy to Half Past Four that is palpable and their music is nothing if not eclectic.
The Toronto outfit have been together in one form or another for over 10 years and in 2006 scored the music to Billy Zane’s comedy horror film The Mad but this is their debut album. The performances throughout by Kyree Vibrant (vocals), Constantin Necrasov (guitar), Igor Kurtzman (keys) and Dmitry Lesov (bass) are nothing short of revelatory and the band seem to be able to effortlessly turn their hand to any style with ease. Drums for the album were performed by Art Pisanski, current drummer Ann Brody joining after recording was completed.
It seems odd that only now, well over a year since release, the band are starting to build momentum but better late than never as they are well worth the attention. Not only is this startlingly good music but the band are genuinely proud of their prog heritage and the acts that have influenced them. The wind of change has been blowing for a while now with the work of major acts like Radiohead and Muse but it is bands like Half Past Four that may be able to return prog to wider recognition and open the door for newcomers to experience a wealth of music via their stated influences. This is genuinely progressive rock music with a small ‘p’. As their mail out reads:-
“Half Past Four takes pride and pleasure in taking progressive rock a little further and planting its seeds in the harsh soil of contemporary popular culture.”
So what does it sound like? Quirky but accessible. Tricksy yet polished. Furrow-browed musicianship with cheeky humour. Art rock presentation powered by punk energy. Prepare for a roller coaster of styles and influences, free spirits playing with immense poise and precision. As there is such variety on show it seems only right to look at each track:-
Missing Sevenths kicks in with stop-start rhythms, staccato keys and guitar complementing each other with the aforementioned Gentle Giant influence. Showmanship is present from the off and Kyree Vibrant (possibly not her real name but perfectly accurate) shows herself as a great singer and focal point. The album is immediately likeable and this short, sharp high-energy track is an almost perfect introduction. A word about the lyrics which throughout the album are very enjoyable, evocative and worthy. I don’t usually spend a long time on lyrics but these are great and fit the music like a glove.
Johnny steadies things a bit with some lovely jazz and blues influences and a very nice guitar solo from Necrasov. The quirkiness is never far away with some perfectly executed twists and turns. Vibrant seems to take on a new jazz diva personality and this one-two opening salvo is weighted to perfection.
Poisoned Tune mixes a Spock’s Beard opening and the epic qualities of Renaissance with tin whistle added here and there for good measure. There is a pastoral feel to this track, good keys from Kurtzman and another fine solo from Necrasov. The band gives itself enough room to spread out and there is even a bit of Genesis here and there in the widescreen feel. A neo-style keys solo and harsher guitar tone change the direction towards the end before a return to the main themes.
Southern Boogie comes in on an unexpected reggae rhythm before a gorgeous guitar led chorus line. Vibrant is now the cool as ice siren dripping emotion. The rhythm section is locked and piano and sax add to the coolness with a confident jazz vibe. Love it.
Twelve Little Words opens like Santana, Vibrant singing with the necessary power, before moving towards other Latin territories with Tango and Buena Vista Social Club influence. The stuttering fuzz guitar in the background which is heard elsewhere on the album appears for the first time and Kurtzman supplies another killer solo.
Underwater starts in a lounge style that, as always, seems effortless and just right. A left turn mid way through brings in a slowing of the tempo and a bluesy guitar solo. Tempo changes are all over the place throughout the album and are never forced but flow beautifully.
The instrumental Lullaby starts quietly before a stadium rock beat and overdriven guitar solo alternating with keys. A slowing into another quiet section follows before a complete change of direction in the coda with spaciness and a more stomping beat.
Strangest Dream is another slow burn opening with lovely Rhodes piano and Vibrant moving into Kate Bush territory for this beautiful track.
Biel, the longest track, starts as Gothic prog epic with a four part harmony choir added to give the opening the required oomph. This achieved Vibrant takes up the tune proper in a voice not a million miles away from Magenta’s Christina Booth with beautiful support from the instrumentalists. The chorus is blinding with quick-fire rise and fall vocals and the reappearance of the fuzz guitar. Various ideas and bits and pieces are thrown into the prog soup that follows in the mid-section to great effect before moving into a part that reminds me of Blue Oyster Cult, the choir returning for the finale. This is an object lesson of how to efficiently and effectively pull off a multi themed piece.
A complete left-turn with Dwayne – tinkly piano intro and a Zappaesque story of one man and his paper plane. The music goes through many changes with superb playing, all building from the skeletal opening into a punky rocking section before ending as it began.
Salome spins us in yet another direction with an astonishing instrumental swirl of Middle Eastern/Jewish influenced dance music. Short, to the point and one of the many high points.
Bamboo takes us somewhere new with keys virtually abandoned in favour of a punk attack akin to fellow Canadian’s and Godfathers of Math-Rock NoMeansNo with another great vocal transformation from Vibrant.
Rabbit ties things up, sinister with a driving rhythm that includes eccentricities wherever it can fit them in. It really is like a surrealist film set to music. All together now “Kill The Rabbits!!”
The Math Rock tag is too easy to place on Half Past Four; their music is more wide ranging than that and positively encompasses whatever genre they feel is necessary. The twists and turns are fun and the album is one of the easiest to listen to I have heard in ages – an absolute pleasure. The self-production by the band and mixing of Jono Grant are superb.
I don’t mean to gush but this is totally brilliant and I dare anyone not to get caught up in its infectious energy. It is without doubt the nearest I’ve come to a 10 since I started reviewing for DPRP and as I don’t envisage ever giving a perfect score a 9.5 will have to do. If I’d heard it a few months ago it would certainly have been my album of the year in our recent poll – until I realised that it was actually released in 2008!
Just get it.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Eloy – Visionary
Tracklist: The Refuge (4:54), The Secret (7:45), Age Of Insanity (7:56), The Challenge [Time To Turn, Part 2](6:44), Summernight Symphony (4:22), Mystery [The Secret, Part 2](9:00), Thoughts (1:22)
Often, we discuss art (and music, for that matter) in terms of “good” and “bad”, but there’s also another crucial element which usually doesn’t get a mention: relevance. An example: The Division Bell (1994), by Pink Floyd, isn’t by any means (at least, in my humble opinion) a bad album, but it’s also an irrelevant piece of music; irrelevant for both the band in particular and rock music in general, understanding “irrelevance” as a lack of progression and innovation, as well as an absolute absence of impact on the artistic scene.
Visionary is the irrelevant (and not particularly good) new album by German legends Eloy, and their first studio release since 1998’s Ocean 2, which indeed was a much more satisfactory piece of music.
The “basics” are all present and correct: excellent production, impeccable musicianship (though Michael Gerlach’s keyboards are far from flashy or intricate), nice (if a bit too simple) artwork… You’ll find some nice guitar solos by veteran Frank Bornemann (check the catchy but insubstantial The Challenge, which is a nod to their classic Time To Turn), and very interesting bass lines by four-string master Klaus-Peter Matziol (check The Secret and opener The Refuge; also check both for some tasteful dashes of flute by Volker Kuinke).
Elsewhere, there’s the rocky tune (the repetitive Age Of Insanity), the ballad (the weak Summernight Symphony) and, you guessed, the epic (lovingly titled Mystery), which doesn’t have enough ideas to fill its unnecessary nine minutes.
Funnily enough, probably the brief acoustic closer Thoughts is the most satisfactory and natural piece on the entire album, because it doesn’t try too hard to be “something”. Certainly, the album doesn’t sound pretentious or contrived; in fact, it sounds more AOR/FM Rock than prog, but this doesn’t mean your songs have to be flat, repetitive and uninspired, with weak, tired vocals (and lyrics) and unimaginative arrangements. There’s loads of brilliant commercial music out there, showing that being accessible and simple isn’t the same as being boring and predictable.
Visionary has the personality and atmosphere of a Mike Oldfield 80’s album, à la Discovery (1984) or Islands (1987), struggling to marry a lush, expensive musical palette full of female voices and elegant orchestrations with certain pop sensibilities, but a worthy successor of classics such as Dawn (1976), The Ocean (1977) or Planets (1981), it ain’t.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Airbag - Identity
Tracklist: Prelude (5:11), No Escape (5:45), Safe Like You (7:58), Steal My Soul (8:02), Feeling Less (5:05), Colours (8:07), How I Wanna Be (7:04), Sounds That I Hear (7:26)
Airbag hails from Norway and their current line-up is: Asle Tostrup (lead vocals), Bjørn Riis (guitars & vocals), Jørgen Hagen (keyboards), Anders Hovdan (bass) and Joachim Slikker (drums). Identity is their debut after releasing two EP's. The band who have played with The Pineapple Thief, Riverside and Gazpacho have an extraordinary live show with an extensive use of backdrop films. Their music is chilling, soothing and has this phlegmatic atmosphere of 'don't make a fuss, just sit back and relax'.
Prelude is an all instrumental track, gradually building up from a ticking clock (I wonder who inspired who, thinking about Tick Tock by Gazpacho!) and then there are gentle soundscapes with a delightful bass pedal. The only difference between ambient music and this track would be the bass and the guitar, playing the slow melody. No Escape is one of the beautiful mellow tracks, with influences of A-HA and Porcupine Tree (the more gentle, psychedelic tracks). Tostrup's voice sounds to me like a mix between Steve Wilson, Morten Harket and Jan-Henrik Ohme. Safe Like You sounds very much like the psychedelic Porcupine Tree, the atmosphere could also be compared with the slower songs of Collage. Only subtlety, no distorted guitars but a major role for the keyboards. There's just a modest role for drums and bass as we also know from Camel records like Moonmadness.
Even more psychedelic is Steal My Soul which sounds a bit like Talk Talk (Spirit Of Eden), but could also have been an early Porcupine Tree song to, whilst there are moments that remind of Pink Floyd as well: slow, majestic, sometimes with echoing guitars, relaxed with some nice changes in key. The track features a melodic "Floydian" solo by Riis, accompanied by Hagen's organ and of course bass & drums, tastefully fading away until you only hear the plucking of the strings of a guitar. Quite the same atmosphere characterizes Feeling Less, beautiful but hardly original and the transition from symphonic rock to the acoustic guitar reminds again of Pink Floyd or a laid back Spock's Beard. That same acoustic guitar opens the song Colours with only Tostrup's voice. The chorus is again very much in the vein of a symphonic Porcupine Tree.
Ambient soundscapes and a piano are the overtures for Tostrup's voice in both How I Wanna Be and Sounds That I Hear. After a little while the full band joins in and we hear a combination of very chilling music and slightly more powerful pieces with more heavy guitars. Don't think of metal or hard rock, it's still very mellow, without fast solo's from guitar or keyboards. In the last track Tostrup's voice sounds like Justin Hayward's and also the guitar and the atmosphere remind of the mellow songs by the Moody Blues.
In conclusion I'd say this is a fantastic album for all those who like mellow progressive pop music as performed by the bands mentioned above. Identity is a delightful debut with the same characteristic as Gazpacho's last few albums: it's all about atmosphere and melancholy. For my taste the music sounds a bit 'too much like' and there's not enough challenge or tension, just a little too laid back.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Acanthe – Someone Somewhere
Tracklist: Someone Somewhere (7:56), Objet De Cire (5:25), Meg Merrilies (7:08), Touch The Sun (6:26), Suspension (5:24), Univers Insensé (4:48), Oiseau De Feu (7:05), The Old World Death (8:13), Riding Earth (5:00)
Like the UK label Esoteric Recordings, Musea Records have a knack of unearthing gems from the prog archives, particularly the early 1970’s. French band Acanthe are one such find who hailed from the Grenoble area in 1973 and over the ensuing four years performed live on a regular basis. Although they committed a number of songs to tape during this period amazingly they received no official release, until now that is. The bands song writer Frédéric Leoz re-discovered the tapes in 2005 and along with engineer Laurent Van die Donck restored them to pristine condition. The end results are a real revelation both musically and sonically. Along with Leoz (guitar, keyboards, vocals) the band consisted of Christian Gendry (bass), Pierre Chorier (drums), Michel Gervasoni (guitar) plus un-credited fifth member and road manager Herve Martin who was responsible for stage sound and lights. Bassist Gendry sadly passed away in the late 80’s.
The album boasts soaring instrumental flights within a tuneful song context, some performed in English, others in French. Influenced by the UK prog bands of the time Leoz initially sang in English but was encouraged to switch following the international success of fellow French proggers Ange who sang exclusively in their native language. Melodic prog with a hint of psychedelia appears to be the bands template as exemplified by the title track Someone Somewhere. An instrumental overture combines gutsy guitar work with a retro organ sound sweetened by choral and string punctuations courtesy of mellotron. Leoz’s mellow verses develop into a memorable multi-tracked chorus aided by acoustic guitar and ambient keys before closing with a strident instrumental coda dominated by gritty guitar and organ exchanges.
This instrumental-song-instrumental format is a feature of many of the bands arrangements where the guitar playing in particularly impresses. David Gilmour comes to mind during the soaring solos that highlight Objet De Cire and the excellent instrumental Touch The Sun. This latter tune has a distinctive Indian flavour thanks to the inclusion of rustic (mellotron) flutes and the authentic sounds of the tabla and sitar. The piercing tone of the electric guitar fits in surprisingly well. Elsewhere, as in the melodic extravaganza The Old World Death and the uplifting instrumental closer Riding Earth, Camel and Andy Latimer in particular appear to be the source of inspiration. The former piece also incorporates shades of a psychedelic Beatles evident in the songs phrasing. Oiseau De Feu is probably the nearest the band gets to its French roots thanks to a rich, almost romantic vocal style embellished by a melodic guitar solo that sits somewhere between Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues) and John Lees (Barclay James Harvest). The symphonic keys that underpins the solo and a bubbly synth part near the beginning also evoke mid 70’s Genesis.
The only disappointing factor about this package for me is the absence of information on the band (only Leoz gets a name check) or any kind of history behind these recordings. But that’s where the internet comes into its own I guess, particularly the bands own MySpace site. Even there however there is no insight as to why this material sat gathering dust for 30 years or more. That aside this is an impressive release that belies Acanthe’s lack of recognition or recorded output during the bands existence. Despite the musical style being understandably grounded in the mid 70’s it sounds fresh and inventive with fluid performances from all concerned and could so easily have been the recent handiwork by anyone of a number of retro prog bands I could think of. Acanthe are long overdue for recognition and this might just be the start of something, I certainly hope so.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Upsilon Acrux – Radian Futura
Tracklist: In-A-Gadda-Devito (5:07), Prelude To Forshadow'n (6:11), Landscape With Gun And Chandelier (3:29), Keeping Rice Evil (2:38), Transparent Seas [Radio Edit] (28:21), The Infinitesimal Fractions Of Ping & Pong (1:17)
Upsilon Acrux is an instrumental quintet from Los Angeles and the Press/PR describes their sound as “esoteric, mathematical, athletic, noisy and brutal”. Tom de Val reviewed 2007’s Galapagos Momentum for the DPRP and termed their sound “avant-garde edgy post-rock”
This is their 6th album, their second on Cuneiform, and if I was going to categorise it then I’d go with RIO/avant-prog in the vein of Henry Cow, Univers Zero, Magma, Faust and Guapo amongst others. But there are also very subtle hints of ELP, Yes, King Crimson and even Rush in the mix. I do mean very subtle, though.
They have garnered lots of positive reviews during their career. And some not so positive – “listening is a distinctly unpleasant experience” (Robert Crossan on the BBC website) is as close to a legitimate two-word Spinal Tap Shark Sandwich review as you can get I guess. Commenting further on Galapagos he suggests that “the overall experience is of being in a grind core horror movie that you can’t escape from whilst nursing the worst hangover of your life”.
They seem to have mellowed a tad on this record. I keep going back to it again and again and always find something different to enjoy. And this kind of material is some considerable way out of my comfort zone.
As it’s on Cuneiform you can assume that it’s not going to be an easy listen. And you’d be right. Kind of. It is angular, and jarring. Discordant, scary and desolate. To give you a better idea of what’s on offer it is termed Splatter Prog by The Wire, elsewhere Punk Prog or Brutal Prog. Yet it is also incredibly tuneful, even graceful. This is creative post-modern instrumental music played by very talented people.
Opener In-A-Gadda-Devito is a muscular workout, which gets better with each listen. Grunge guitar mingles with Steve Howe melodic excursions by way of Rush power chords and Bruford-esque percussion.
Prelude To Forshadow'n demonstrates the musicianship on display but it’s a bit showy without actually going anywhere and just kind of peters out.
Landscape With Gun and Chandelier is another standout. This would not have been out of place on Tales From Topographic Oceans, or Fragile. There’s melody and rhythm, surging keyboards and restrained mayhem.
Keeping Rice Evil again has some solid Yes-like moments but it’s Transparent Seas [Radio Edit], a 28-minute+ epic that is the centrepiece of the record.
I know instrumental works aren’t everybody’s cup of earl grey but this is a phenomenal piece of music, awesome in scope and a brutal assault on the senses. Like Steve Howe had a double cappuccino and some Night Nurse, and then jammed with Robert Fripp and Tool. In a launderette with all the driers going. And road works outside.
Guitarist Paul Lai is quoted as saying “I’m proud as shit of this album” and that he thinks Transparent Seas “is the best thing Upsilon has ever done”. I for one am not going to disagree with him. It’s got more going on its 28 minutes than some bands manage to accomplish across an entire CD.
The shorter piece that follows, The Infinitesimal Fractions Of Ping & Pong does seem somewhat out of place and for me is a bit of an anti-climax after the majesty of what came before.
There are very few places to hide when listening to this. It’s full on throughout its entire 47 minutes. It gets recommended status primarily for Transparent Seas, which I am going to be playing for some time to come, but there is much more for the adventurous to like here. They just might want to acclimatise first with some MySpace clips.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Shadow Circus - Whispers And Screams
Tracklist: Project Blue ~ [Captain Trips (5:44), The Long Road Home (4:16), Big Fire (3:13),The Seduction Of Harold Lauder (3:32), The Horsemen Ride (6:47), The Hand Of God (4:41), Coming Back Home To You (5:28)], When The Morning comes (4:35), Willoughby (10:08), Angel (7:39), ... Then In July, The Thunder Came (4:45)
The debut album from Shadow Circus was released on the ProgrockRecords label, however they wanted more freedom so, without being dissatisfied with the label, the new album is released independently. Not just a few samples but the whole album was available for pre-listening on their website and all January earned sales were donated to the earthquake victims of Haïti. Something they could not do when being signed to a label.
Their debut-album Welcome To The Freakroom lacked a bit in production but overall made a good impression to me, so the big question was if they could "step up" with this new album. John Fontana is the driving force of the band, he plays guitar and keyboards and his name is mentioned on the credits of all the songs. Also mentioned a lot, and good to see he came back after having a kidney transplantation, is vocalist David Bobbick, his way of singing is very theatrical like.
In my previous review I compared the music of Shadow Circus to that of Black Bonzo, on this album I can also hear influences from Glass Hammer. As you can see from the track list Shadow Circus is a band that creates large epic songs and for those people who are disappointed by the latest Glass Hammer, because of the switch to shorter songs, should give this new album from Shadow Circus a chance. Also many influences from the expected progressive rock bands like Marillion, Jethro Tull, Spock's Beard and Rush and on occasion some Led Zeppelin.
The album opens with Project Blue that consists of seven different parts, stretching over thirty three minutes and is based on the book The Stand from Stephen King. I am unfamiliar with the book or movie but in the future I will definitely check it out, this song has made me curious. Captain Trips starts with atmospheric keyboards with a guitar melody that reminds me of the old Marillion. A sudden transition to an up-tempo part with a powerful pounding bass, many keyboard layers and an aggressive Bobbick. The Long Road Home is a lot more peaceful. The songs are not constructed as separate songs but as a piece of the bigger composition, which can be listened to separately but for me the division in seven pieces means an easier way to scroll to a part I want to hear. Though the first two pieces are not bad at all I usually start at Big Fire and the only explanation I can give is that this part contains a frantic Bobbick which I like. I also like the first part which is very dreamy, almost hypnotizing. The Seduction Of Harold Lauder does not start hypnotizing at all, very aggressive keyboards that will be a treat for Glass Hammer fans, no resting place in this song. The Horsemen Ride reminds me of the acoustic Led Zeppelin songs especially in the way they were played by Plant and Page during their concerts in the nineties. The Hand Of God is Captain Trips revisited, same tune and same way build up. Coming Back Home To You is a ballad with a bluesy feel to it. Project Blue is a big step up for Shadow Circus and the song writing is of a higher level and the quality of sound has increased a lot.
Of course the weight of the album is on the large Project Blue but the rest of the album is also filled with quality music. When The Morning Comes is ballad the reminds me of The Wall from Pink Floyd. Acoustic guitar, piano and cello dominate this track, which from start to finish a dreamy song. Another big track is Willoughby, over ten minutes, this concept song relates to an episode of the scifi series The Twilight Zone. Again a confirmation that prog people are into science fiction. The song has a very unorthodox structure, a mellow chorus and many instrumental outbursts that go from fast to slow and heavy to mellow, a song that is all over the place.
From all the songs on this album Angel is the most accessible one - a dark atmospheric song with a slow pace, a song that I like when I am not in the mood for the larger complex stuff. ... Then In July, The Thunder Came is a dark ambient instrumental piece to conclude the album. By itself not very interesting, but considering this album is a full package deal it is a nice piece from the bigger part.
Shadow Circus made a step up from their debut album, the song writing and especially the production quality have improved a lot. They a very open band that really likes to interact with the people who are interested in their music, so it is very easy to go and listen to parts or even the whole album before you decide whether or not buy. A bit of a risk because Whispers And Screams is not an easy album to get into, so do not judge it on a short listen to a small sample, if you give this album a bit longer you might get the whole picture. Not only the big Project Blue but also the separate songs are a lot of material to sink your teeth into.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sententia - The Center In The Sand
Tracklist: What You Decide (4:44), Crippled (4:34), The Center In The Sand (3:53), Weep (6:19), Fall Behind (5:13), Nothing Less Than Ordinary (3:04), Surrender (3:48), I Don't Recall (5:29), Don't Be Afraid (4:22), Blue Skies (5:54), Will You Embrace This (4:41)
A stripped down version of Autumn. That could be the shortest ever DPRP review. But having lived with the debut album from America’s Sententia for a while, I’m not sure extra words will add an awful lot more to help anyone decide whether this is something to investigate.
Founded by singer Dede Booth in Boston in 2006 Sententia’s first full-length album, The Center In The Sand, taps into the haunting and challenging areas that surround the human mind. In the band’s own words:
“Through 11 tracks, a person journeys through the depths of complete chaos having to choose between life and death once realizing that either realm can be both pleasing and displeasing at times.”
Such is the emphasis on the lyrical, it’s a shame the booklet is even more stripped down than the music. One poorly printed and cut sheet. No lyrics. Some lovely imagery on the website suggests a whole lot more could have been done.
I like Dede’s voice. It stays in the lower registers and is rather mesmerising with its haunted honesty. Across a whole album though, I’d like to hear a few more trips to the upper registers and an increase in the power and passion. Where the music does ebb and flow, the voice becomes a little one dimensional.
It’s her phrasing and her tone, when combined with the ethereal ambiant rock and rhythms created by drummer/programmer Peter Moore, which really capture similar moods and colours as the music of Dutch band Autumn. As they are one of my favourite female-fronted acts, that is no bad thing.
The production is okay for an independent release. I feel the overall sound is very cold and rather echoey. A more layered and warmer feel would I think fit the music much better. The additional use of keyboards and an occasional other instrument would also add extra layers of depth to the sound. There’s clear potential here, but one that would surely have a better chance of being realised with a real band playing real instruments – not programming.
It’s a slow grower but an album that I will return to from time to time when I’m in a mood for something mellowly introspective but with a degree of crunch.
Pop along to the Sententia website where there are samples of every song and full-length versions of four tracks to help make your mind up.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Living – Bedd Tracks [EP]
Tracklist: Eye Of The Day (4:14), Take The Reins (4:03), Real? (3:34), Global Citizen (4:16)
The Living are a bunch of classically trained and thus skilful musicians who want to explore artistic freedom in rock music blending influences of composers like Ravel and Stravinsky with primal rhythms and rock from bands like Muse, Queen, Mahavishnu Orchestra or other artists like Björk qand Karnivool. Between this EP and present day, the line up changed. Next to Mike Bell (vocals, keyboards & drums) and Elyse Jacobson (violin), whilst on the EP there were Jason Nett (guitars & bass) with Ali Sadat (drums), Jeremy Vint (trumpet) and Alyssa Stevenson (flute). Now the line-up consist of Bell, Jacobson, Tom Geldschläger (guitars), Martin Rose (bass), Finlay Panter (drums, vocals).
The first track Eye Of The Day opens with echoing guitars, in a somewhat jazzy mood, but when Bell cranks up his voice, the violins and heavy riffs make the sound move much towards a crossover between Kansas and Mahavishnu. Difficult and ever changing rhythm patterns and an interlude featuring the violin in a folk-music kind of style make the track both intriguing and interesting. Next to some influences from Oriental music, a part is in Kansas' style combining violin and lead guitar solo's. More jazz at the beginning of Take The Reins, when smooth bass playing is combined with a shuffling rhythm, flutes and Bell singing like Sinatra of Como in the late fifties. Even some moments remind me of Matt Bianco. The choruses are more in the rock genre and there's a major role for the trumpet in the last part, followed by jazz rock music with a superb guitar solo.
A bit more experimental, combining avant-garde with rock is Real?, the almost cacophonic fragments are a strange combination of Queen oriented rock with a classical piano trying to break through the wall of bass, the 'orchestra', drums and electric guitars. The end is a piece of classical piano. The fourth and final track is Global Citizen, a bit like the first track with varying styles and rhythms but the main themes are rock music influenced by Kansas and alternated by a delightful piece of soft orchestral music and a gentle violin. Bell, with his pleasant mid to high range voice comes back and heavy guitars with a soloing violin give the track a harder rocking edge.
I'm not sure if I should call The Living a project or a band, but what I am sure of is that Bell and Jacobson have plenty of original ideas and I'm eager to hear what the full length album will sound like. Having said that, I realise the music could just as easily go in the direction of getting too experimental or freaky for my taste, but I hope the melodic, more classically oriented influences will prevail. Interesting music from Canada!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Thunderclap Newman - Hollywood Dream
Tracklist: Something In The Air (3:55), Hollywood #1 (3:20), The Reason (4:06), Open The Door, Homer (3:02), Look Around (2:59), Accidents (9:42), Wild Country (4:16), When I Think (3:06), Old Cornmill (3:58), I Don't Know (3:44), Hollywood Dream (3:06), Hollywood #2 (2:57) Bonus Tracks Something In The Air [Single Version] (3:57), Wilhemina (2:58), Accidents [Single Version] (3:48), I See It All (2:49), The Reason [Single Version] (3:50), Stormy Petrel (2:58)
Most people will only have heard of Thunderclap Newman because of their sole hit single Something In The Air, which was the number one UK single for the whole of the summer of 1969 and has been subjected to many cover versions over the years. Fans of The Who may have investigated their sole album due to the production (under his own name) and bass contributions (under the pseudonym Bijou Drains) of Pete Townshend. The band barely existed for a year but were definitely a prime example of the musical explorations of the time. In a modern era obsessed by fashion and conformity, it is somewhat hard to appreciate the concept of a group comprising a long haired hippy drummer and songwriter (John 'Speedy' Keen), a sixteen-year-old guitarist (Jimmy McCulloch) and a balding, over-weight pianist, wind and brass playing engineer who worked for the General Post Office and looked like, in the words of the liner notes, "a middle-aged palm court orchestra player" (Andy Newman). The group was brought together by Townshend who was a fan of Keen's writing having covered Keen's Armenia, City In The Sky on 1967's The Who Sell Out album.
But an album they did release, featuring 12 songs, all of two of which were written by Keen. This Esoteric release, with usual completeness, also adds the three singles culled from the album, the a-sides all being edited versions of album tracks and the b-sides being non-album tracks, again all penned by Keen. Something In The Air deservedly has earned the reputation of classic song, and indeed classic single, with its lyrical message of "We've got to get together, sooner or later, Because the revolutions here, And you know it's right" being perfect for the era and political situation at the end of the 1960s. However, the album deserves more than being remembered for one hit single. True to the time and the band line-up, the music is very varied; indeed one might say it is distinctively quirky in places, but that has never been a drawback for a lot of bands. The pinnacle of this 'quirkiness' is embodied in the nine minute and forty-two seconds of Accidents complete with kazoo solo, soprano and bass saxes and lively harmonica intrusions (by Chris Morphet, the only other musician to play on the album, and only on this track). Like quite a few of the tracks on the album there is an inherent battle between the piano and acoustic guitar basic nature of the song and the excellent electric guitar work of McCulloch, who shines throughout, particularly on The Reason which despite having an opening that is rather too similar to Something In The Air, is a great song.
Elsewhere Wild Country has Newman contributing cor anglais, Bengali flutes and oboe under some pulsating electric guitar, Look Around nods in the direction of the producer's band and The Old Cornmill once again giving McCulloch space to shine. Speaking of McCulloch, he contributed the instrumental Hollywood Dream which is a remarkably accomplished composition for one of such tender years. The other non-Keen composition is a version of Dylan's Open The Door, Homer which, despites Keen's rather weak vocals (a criticism that can be laid at the album in general) is somewhat better than Bob's original. The three b-sides are worthy additions, Wilhelmina and Stormy Petrel are more quirky numbers, both including a very well played kazoo, and are worthy of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, whilst I See It All (not sung by Keen, although it is not mentioned who the vocalist is) should have been on the main album as it is a great song.
The band embarked on a nine-month tour in support of the album but rather than resulting in greater sales drove the band apart. Keen subsequently released two solo album on Island records and produced the first Motorhead album for Chiswick Records before dying from a heart attack in 2002. McCulloch briefly joined Stone The Crows and then landed a dream job with Paul McCartney's Wings before foolishly succumbing to a heroin habit and overdosing in 1979 aged just 26 years; an incredible waste of a talent. Newman briefly joined a Bonzo Dog off-shoot band before retraining as an electrician and leaving behind his pop career for several decades, although has recently started playing gigs again under the name of The Thunderclap Newman Band. Certainly an album of its time, but one that contains a lot of joys, and not only because of that single.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10