Reviews in this issue:
- Djam Karet – The Heavy Soul Sessions
- Mike Henderson - White Arrow Project
- Ukab Maerd - The Waiting Room
- Sanguine Hum - Diving Bell
- Eloy - The Legacy Box
- Renaissance – Renaissance
- Renaissance – Illusion
- Random Touch – Reverberating Apparatus
- Coma – Excess
- Matsutake - Singin’ Skin
Djam Karet – The Heavy Soul Sessions
Tracklist: Hungry Ghost (8:32), The Red Threaded Sex Beast (12:41), Consider Figure Three (9:44), The Packing House (12:54), Dedicated To K.C. (9:41), The Gypsy And The Hegemon (10:54)
Once described as “America’s greatest undiscovered band”, Djam Karet are now in their 27th year and I wonder if they ever tire of this epithet. I discovered them via these learned pages, long before I became a reviewer, on the strength of Mark Hughes’ excellent recommendation for Recollection Harvest in 2005. Subsequently, I’ve dipped my toes in and out of their 17 album career at various points, absorbing Burning The Hard City (1991), The Devouring (1997), New Dark Age (2001), and the excellent A Night For Baku (2003) along the way. Mark and I share very high opinions of their last two releases and The Heavy Soul Sessions is, in large part, a rethinking and reworking of some of the songs from these last two albums. Essentially, after a hiatus following Recollection Harvest, the band wanted to record for posterity how some of their newer studio material had been developed in a live setting. To this end, the album was recorded entirely live by “heads and hands”, in-studio, without overdubs or computer manipulation of any kind. Similarly, in order to create “a more lively and dynamic sound”, no compression or limiting was used.
In order to accomplish this, the band had to recruit a fifth member in the form of Mike Murray to handle guitars (and ebow) as Gayle Ellet, who is usually on axe duty, had to move over to keys for the purposes of this enterprise. He masterfully switches between analog and digital synths as well as organ and mellotron on all pieces. The remaining three players are the same line-up as Recollection Harvest, with Mike Henderson on guitars and ebow, the prodigious Aaron Kenyon on 5-string bass and the sure-footed talents of Chuck Olsen Jr. on drums. The collective output remains just as New Age Voice magazine put it: “Djam Karet is no ordinary band. [They] gobble up myriad influences...including New Age, fusion, hard rock, electronic music, world, blues, even surf music...and metamorphose them into fascinating musical hybrids.” Purveying instrumental jams that fuse this blend of styles to rival anything ever released by such paeans of our genre as King Crimson, ELP, and early Floyd, they bring their singular and innovative alloy of propulsive jazz, psychedelia, and Herculean heavy rock to The Heavy Soul Sessions.
I often find myself using food analogies in reviews and this one is no different. There’s a notion in Indian cuisine called rasas. There’s no definitive counterpart in English to this word, but literally, it means “that which is being tasted or enjoyed” and the number of distinct tastes satisfied in one sitting determines the quality of a meal. According to this hypothesis, an aesthetic experience, such as music, can fulfil a similar function. The emotional and visceral palate of The Heavy Soul Sessions celebrates this sort of complexity with a host of musical flavours to savour and enjoy. From space-rock and ambient, electronic music creating dreamy, rhapsodic passages to introspective and eerie sections that conjure mystery and wonder, tracks like Consider Figure Three and Dedicated To K.C. play with our imaginations in spectacular, elegant and refined ways. This latter is in fact a cover of a Richard Pinhas piece from his album L‘Ethique (originally, this track appeared on a Cuneiform Records sampler compilation, Unsettled Scores in 2002). I mention this purely as matter of report because I’ve not heard it, but this is one of many highlights throughout the album. The guitar work is especially good, but it’s the marriage of hard and dangerous with free-floating and ecstatic in the overall composition that really stands out.
The constant interplay of light and shade and the intricate balance of textural detail in the arrangements is a hallmark of Djam Karet’s style that we get to hear again and again on this album. Repetition is one of the fundamental building blocks of their work as we hear the same musical idea reiterated in ever evolving ways. It’s never really the same, each iteration contains the memory of the former, it’s the same only different, and in this way, Djam Karet build cohesive and mappable instrumentals that function in a similar way to ‘songs’. I think it’s this that makes them a very accessible instrumental outfit, even if you don’t normally like instrumental music much, and the rewards for sharply focussed ear goggles are rich. Be warned however, this is not a joyride, there’s nothing easy about Djam Karet and they start this album out with an exciting brace of tracks before whose portals should be a cautionary ‘Caveat Actor’
The opener, Hungry Ghost, grooves hard and clusters around Kenyon’s monumental bass motifs. There’s an extended section halfway through this one for which the word monumental was conceived. The bass is huge and deep, distorted, loud and growling. It’s aggressive and nasty and scary and it’s great. The Red Threaded Sexy Beast is actually two songs melded together. The deceptively titled Sexy Beast is a modern siren-song cleverly incorporated into the stabbing melodrama of The Red Thread (both from A Night For Baku). The penetrating, stalking rhythms of the latter create a menacing counterpoint to the exotic sonic sadism and excoriation of the former. This is not a cut and paste job, the two tracks have been considerably re-modelled to fashion a new monster; a gothically chilling, serial-killer of a track It’s also a pretty extreme 12 minutes that made my cat so skittish he decided attacking the speakers might be the best way to make it stop. Cats may be foolish creatures, but I have to question my own credulity when I begin to write that there is something perversely enjoyable about this slightly terrifying piece of music.
Naturally, the urge to contrast and compare was irresistible and I listened through my Djam Karet CDs again, which was fun and entertaining. However, I insist that I judge this album on its own merits. Suffice it to say that The Heavy Soul Sessions is an entirely different, though recognisable album from any of its originals. The sound is big and crisp. There’s depth and space and desirable warmth to the engineering and mastering. It’s Djam Karet as I’ve not heard them before and I recommend this album as much to the curious newcomer, unsure as to where to start with such a prolific outfit, as I do the long-standing fan. The Heavy Soul Sessions sees Djam Karet in accomplished, mature and secure form but still pushing the envelope to extremes with confidence and assurance.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mike Henderson - White Arrow Project
Tracklist: Never Be The Same (3:15), Rage (4:35), Lasso (5:14), Stone Wall (4:17), Emergence (4:37), Starting Over (4:41), Can't Wait Anymore (4:14), Equinox (5:32), Goddess (4:29), Continuum (6:26), Read My Mind (4:59), Summertime (4:33)
Mike Henderson, one of the guitarists with the instrumental tour de force Djam Karet, takes a side trip down more acoustic avenues with his White Arrow Project solo album. The origins of the album date back several years and focuses on the guitarist's diverse musical interests outside of the compositional style of Karet. Sketches of the compositions were sent out to the musicians chosen to collaborate on the project who were invited to add their own flavouring to each piece. Fellow Karet guitarist Gayle Ellett then assembled the pieces into their final format. The collaborators were chosen from amongst friends in Henderson's immediate Californian musical environment and include Jack Housen (vocals, bouzouki and guitar on Read My Mind), Caroline Dourley (vocals), Chuck Oken Jr. (drums) and Dion Sorrell (electric cello and bass on Emergence). Henderson himself adds the rest, an impressive list of electric and acoustic guitars, bass, synthesisers, hand and electronic percussion, mandolin and effects.
Acoustic guitar forms the basis of each song on the album, but the complete pieces are far more than an acoustic singer/songwriter type vibe as the careful construction adds lots of interesting textures that significantly contribute to the atmosphere of the album. The two vocalists wrote the lyrics to the pieces they sing on, with Housen featured on six tracks and Dourley on three, with the remaining three tracks being instrumentals. Dourley's tracks are slightly the more adventurous, vocal wise, with Lasso containing multiple layers of vocals set against an intriguing backdrop of electronica and a steady acoustic guitar strumming. Can't Wait Anymore has a definite Dead Can Dance / This Mortal Coil feel to it while Goddess take a more straight forward approach that displays the vocalists fine voice to best advantage. Housen's voice is very Californian mellow, very smooth with soul-like qualities in abundance.
Opener Never Be The Same not only sets the tone of the album but also has Henderson adding suspended electric guitar notes over the backing. Oddly, the song seems to disappear and, to my mind, is not properly concluded. Rage has a more prominent electric guitar line in typical Henderson style and synthesiser contributions that are direct descendants from 80s synth bands and yet are not at all out of place. A very good song, indeed, with decent chorus and kept the right side of being over-produced. This track, along with Read My Mind, are the only two songs not composed by Henderson, both emanating from the pen of Housen. Rage is the much stronger of the two, Read My Mind being a bit more indulgent with the more sparse arrangement not being as engaging as other numbers. Similarly, Stone Wall lacks impetus and is perhaps a little too laid back although it does feature some nice acoustic bass. Better is Starting Over, with a fuller backing and distinct chorus while closer Summertime features a fully formed electric guitar solo; rather unique amongst the vocal songs. There is a lovely ambiguity to the lyrical vocalisation as I can't work out if the repeated "I'm gonna get you" phrase is a somewhat menacing exhortation of revenge or a determined promise to make the subject of the line an established love interest!
The three instrumentals are, not surprisingly, very accomplished pieces. Emergence has some clever string additions which are presumably courtesy of the electric cello, although I never realised a cello could achieve such a high register, perhaps that is due to the 'electric' bit! Equinox also lies somewhat in Dead Can Dance territory having a quiet ancient quality brought into the modern era. The contrasting synth doodles are a nice touch. Finally, Continuum also features the electric cello, but in a more recognisable key. Again the piece is engaging, interesting and up there with the level of material produced by Henderson's main group.
Although very different in style to the instrumental electric prog excursions of Djam Karet, the assembled cast of talented individuals contributing to the White Arrow Project have come up with an album with a mellow vibe suitable for quieter situations when relaxation is the key component. Whether it will satisfy Djam Karet fans or the wider prog audience remains to be seen although, somehow, I have my doubts. This is not for any reasons of quality, just because of the nature of the music, fine though it generally is.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Ukab Maerd - The Waiting Room
Tracklist: The Cave (23:35), White Light, No Heat (11:28), God's Elastic Acre (18:16), Sati & The Trainman (11:14)
The Waiting Room is the debut album by an electronic music duo featuring Chuck Oken Jr (analogue, digital and modular keyboards, electronic percussion, effects, loops, processing and reconstruction) and Gayle Ellett (analogue and digital keyboards, electric guitar, effects) who are more widely known as two of the founding members of Djam Karet. The basis of the album is two studio performances by the duo in Southern California where the part composed / part improvised music was recorded. To the first three tracks, French electronic music pioneer Richard Pinhas added some computer-processed guitar loops before Oken completed the final results by adding some tonal highlights.
As you may have guessed from the above description, the music is not at all similar to that produced by the duos main band, but draws on a wide variety of electronic and ambient music. Comparisons, to various degrees, can be drawn with early Tangerine Dream, and the various combinations, collaborations and individual electronical whimsy of Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, David Sylvian and Holger Czukey. Lead track The Cave reverberates like ripples spreading out in concentric circles on a pond slowly giving way to the altered electric guitar without barely breaking the surface. White Light, No Heat starts with sounds akin to a demented flock of birds before dipping very much into Tangerine Dream territory while God's Elastic Acre has a Grandfather clock being put under some heavy stress. Although largely ambient in nature, Sati & The Trainman is based on a more adventurous and dynamic sequencer line that adds a bit more energy to the proceedings.
As with most music of this ilk, it is not something for everyday listening but of a quiet evening in a peaceful environment it can add a dash of mystery and relaxation to proceedings. If you are a fan of electronic, ambient sounds then you will no doubt find a lot to delight in this album. However, if you are more into songs and a full band sound then no doubt the latest album by Djam Karet will be more to your liking.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Sanguine Hum - Diving Bell
Tracklist: No More Than We Deserve (5:08), The Ladder (3:56), Dark Ages (4:42), Coast Of Nebraska (6:15), The Trial (6:06), Nothing Between Us (6:10), Diving Bell (5:46), There's No Hum (4:50)
Last year DPRP reviewed a record 548 albums from the prog genre. There’s a lot of music out there...
Choosing the right band name isn’t the only factor in improving your chances of getting noticed, but it certainly helps. To be honest, neither Antique Seeking Nuns or the Joff Winks Band are names likely to generate much hope in a passing progressive rock fan. Add to that record titles such as Double Egg With Chips and Beans and Careful, It’s Tepid and I’m thinking more Butlins holiday camp than DPRP.
Now, Sanguine Hum? Same line-up as the other two but this time with a name capable of creating some musical anticipation in the prog community. So is this to be third time lucky for this quintet based in the English university city of Oxford? That’s a distinct possibility. This is good.
Now I’ve heard nothing from the ASN and only two songs (albeit two very good ones) from TJWB. However as Sanguine Hum they impressed many as openers at last year’s Winters End Festival in my hometown of Stroud. I have thus kept my eyes and ears pealed for the promised new album.
Apparently they were originally more focussed on Canterbury styled songs. On Diving Bell Matt Baber (keyboards), drummer Paul Mallyon, Joff Winks (guitar, vocals) and bassist Brad Waissman are approaching a more modern, more rocking and more adventurous musical horizon. Dare I say, it is quite commercial in places with some hauntingly catchy melodies. But thanks to complex song-writing, ever-changing stylings and excellent musicianship, this can most definitely be filed under 'progressive rock'.
Every song is awash with effortlessly shifting time signatures, some retro synth meanderings, and some lovely guitar work that combines intricate details with virtuoso binges. Part Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson; part Radiohead and Muse.
The album opens with its most rocking and modern song. No More Than We Deserve has guitars to the fore with some delicate synth highlights. Throughout this album Joff’s vocals are smoothly top class with a subtle variety in delivery to suit the song. Here he reminds me a little of the guy from Karnivool in his lighter moments.
The Ladder and Dark Ages have a more prog sound. A dreamy acoustic intro is mixed with some Rhodes and a swirling electronic embellishment textures, delicate guitar picking, odd meters. Both remind me of the material on the excellent Man On Fire concept album Habitat.
Coast Of Nebraska is an instrumental that adds further variety with a rush of fusion – there’s quite a bit of fusion on this record. As a track it doesn’t really wander far enough from its starting point to have staying power.
The Trial is tricky. As with all of the songs it has a bright, upbeat mood which lightens the complexity of the compositions. Just try counting those time signatures. The opening is very effective in combining melody and flow. The second half of the track is more instrumental allowing a gentle exploration of the band’s fusion influences.
Nothing Between Us is a wispy 60s pastoral prog fieldscape. Acoustic guitar, tinkling keyboards and echoed vocals best taken with a sniff of psychedelia. The song is a balladic pause that’s just a little too formulaic and twee for my tastes.
Back to the main pattern for Nothing Between Us and the title track. A sparkling guitar arpeggio riff ties together a mixture of Canterbury and NeoProg stylings, before a somewhat disappointing claustrophobic ending. There’s No Hum ensures that Diving Bell ends as it started – on a catchy high.
This album was released via the band’s website at the end of 2010 as a download only. However a proper CD should be available by the time you read this.
Diving Bell is a beautiful and engaging album that rewards and demands repeat listens. Kaleidoscopic would be a good adjective. Sanguine Hum is a name to remember.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Eloy - The Legacy Box
DVD 1 - Mighty Echoes The Story Of Eloy: Introduction, The Beginning And First Steps Forward (1969 - 1975), Years Of Success (1976 - 1979), New Paths And Old Values (1980 - 1984), From Project To Band (1985 to present)
DVD 2 - Video Collection: The Sun-Song, The Midnight Fight, Decay Of Logos, Illuminations, Silhouette, Shadow And Light, Fools, Heartbeat, On The Verge Of Darkening Lights, Voyager Of The Future Race, Rainbow, Poseidons Creation, Generation Of Innocence, The Tides Return Forever, Age Of Insanity Bonus Clips: I Work It Out, The Midnight Fight/The Victory Of Mental Force, Shadow And Light, Fools
Menno Von Brucken Fock's Review
One reason to write a belated review is that there's an interview coming up with Frank Bornemann. The second reason and for the record, I would have rated the last Eloy album Visonary at least with a 7.5 and the third reason is that I think that it's a shame that so far we have not reviewed this retrospective document about one of the most legendary bands in German progressive rock. Up till now there wasn't any video material available from Eloy and this double DVD is the first time we can see Eloy as a band, some of the clips being live recordings!
The first DVD covers the whole Eloy story from 1969 until 2010. Beautiful music, all covers (including UK ones by Rodney Matthews) are highlighted (back and front) and the story is illustrated by the relevant fragments from interviews with (former) band members Frank Bornemann, Klaus-Peter Matziol, Jürgen Rosenthal, Fritz Randow, Hannes Arkona, Hannes Folberth and Michael Gerlach. Furthermore a word with Volker Kuinke, founder of the Eloy fanclub, Gert Gliniorz (EMI) and Georgi Nedeltschev, producer of several great Eloy albums. It's interesting to learn how the band got its first record deal and how EMI stuck with Bornemann when the second line up (Bornemann, Matziol, Rosenthal, Schmidtchen) ceased to exist.
Then the success story of the revived band with Bornemann, Matziol, Arkona, Folberth and Randow (back in the band). Unfortunately there was another break up in 1984 and all members of the band parted ways amicably. Bornemann went on to be a producer in the studio he already owned, the Horus Studio in Hannover. After a few years Bornemann meets Gerlach and provided with all the new technology available, they start to work on new music. Gerlach advises Bornemann to release Ra as an Eloy album. After the follow up to Ra, the album Destination, Bornemann decides to revisit some of the best material recorded by Eloy and he manages to bring in the help of several past members such as Matziol, Randow, Arkona and Folberth, along with several top notch session musician and vocalists.
The spirit is right again and after Chronicles II, Matziol joins Gerlach and Bornemann to release Tides Return Forever. A tour follows and even a follow up in released in 1998: Ocean 2, The Answer. Another tour in Germany only but then it seems Eloy is over. Constant letters, mails and requests by fans keep on coming to Frank Bornemann so after 10 years he decides to try to revive the band once more for a homage to all those loyal fans. The result of all these efforts is the album Visionary, released in 2009. Together with Bodo Schopff on drums (also behind the kit on the last tours), Matziol "Matze" on the bass and Gerlach on keyboards, but with Folberth playing some of the solos, it's another fine album.
Bornemann promises all fans it will not take him another ten years before they will hear from Eloy again. The DVD contains a photo gallery and some snippets.
On DVD 2 there fifteen clips from 1977 until 1994 including a new one from Visionary dating from 2010. Only three clips from the line up with Schmidtchen and Rosenthal, but seemingly live are several clips from 1983 with the line up featuring Arkona, Folberth and Randow. Two more from the Ra album and then some live work from the 1994 tour. As bonus clips there's an oldie from the first line up: I Work It Out, followed by a clip from the Dawn period. Lastly in a sort of cafe, we can see live performances of Shadow And Light And Fools (1983).
Considering there is so little video material by Eloy and only one live album this is surely a treat for the fans and a fine document for all interested in progressive music from the seventies and eighties, especially when you are keen on bands from Germany.
John O'Boyle's Review
Who reads? For a bonus of 10 points, where does the name Eloy originate? Well thanks to the H.G Wells’ Time Machine, Eloy were the future humanist race which is where the band also got their name from.
German legends Eloy have some 18 studio albums, one which was a soundtrack, Wild Geese, one live album, six compilations and now this double DVD set The Legacy Box all recorded over a forty year period and sadly only one album reviewed by DPRP, 2009’s Visonary.
Since their inception by Frank Bornemann, the only consistent band member, the band has endured several major splits, but through all those years and events he still continues today to carry the flag. Interestingly too, with each change the bands dynamics seemed too alter, allowing them to develop and grow in confidence. Even after all these years, Eloy hasn’t been the most prolific band, but they have produced some quality albums through their career. There has been some what of a mystery about the band, never being one to really put themselves out there; does the introduction of this set add any merit to that? The answer to that really is both yes and no. This for me really is a package for the hardcore fan, although the video footage and live material is of interest. The question is would I return to this set? The answer to that is probably not. That is not to say that what has been presented here is not worthy of your attention, but more based more on the quality of what has been presented.
To coin a phrase, this really is a game of two halves, Disc 1 in my eyes would appeal to hardcore fans; nearly two hours of documentary subtitled in English which can be slightly wearing at times, details the bands history in depth. The perspective is offered from various band members, which does give a more balanced and truer representation of their history.
Disc 2 for me is where the real interest lies, Michael Narfen and Steffen Kreye have undertook the painstaking process of putting this all together. Unfortunately there isn’t much film footage available from the early years, which comes as no real surprise, but to be honest there isn’t much modern footage presented here either, as it wasn’t until the 80’s when video really took off. In saying that, the stock of video footage used in this era isn’t too clever either, although it was probably seen as cutting edge in its time, ah the age of technological progression. Sometimes affording to transfer analogue to digital media doesn’t always work, and I’m not too sure that tweaking the videos would have brought anything to the table. The clip collection offers the viewer a historical journey through their musical career, a progression, where you can quite clearly hear the maturing of the band, with videos being lifted from several sources, T.V programs, seemingly live footage without a crowd, live footage which for me is the most interesting aspect on offer here, as dynamically the band sound up for it, which is then all brought to a close with a very sharp modern digital video of the band recording Age Of Insanity in the studio. The tracks that intrigued me the most were Silhouette, Voyager Of The Future Race, Poseidon’s Creation, Generation Of Innocence and The Tides Return Forever.
The bonus clips tagged onto the package don’t really offer anything new. The official but strange video of Wok it Out, an arty The Midnight Fight / The Victory Of Mental Force and the last two presentations, Shadow And Light and Fools which has been shot in a live setting in a room full of people sat at tables looking somewhat disinterested with the whole affair. The quality of the last two tracks is very good, which had the rest of the footage of the DVD been of this quality, the whole experience may be worth taking again.
As an Eloy fan and having not seen much footage of them, this package has left me slightly cold. For me personally this really is a package for hardcore fans only.
Renaissance – Renaissance
Renaissance – Illusion
Tracklist: Love Goes On (2:51), Golden Thread (8:15), Love Is All (3:40), Mr. Pine (7:00), Face Of Yesterday (6:06), Past Orbits Of Dust (14:39) Bonus Tracks: Prayer For Light (5:28), Walking Away (4:19), All The Fallen Angels (5:28)
Many (including myself) first took notice of Renaissance with the release of their classic 1973 album Ashes Are Burning. Featuring the velvet voice of Annie Haslam and the melodic piano flights of John Tout, this along with subsequent releases had as similar appeal as bands like Genesis, BJH and The Enid. It also provided a pointer for later female fronted acts like Magenta and Mostly Autumn. The origins of Renaissance however date back to 1968 and a completely different line-up when vocalist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty were seeking a more challenging musical outlet following the demise of legendary British blues-rock band The Yardbirds that same year.
Setting out as an acoustic duo, Relf and McCarty decided to broaden their scope by enlisting additional musicians before settling on a line-up that included John Hawken (piano, harpsichord), Louis Cennamo (bass) and Keith’s sister Jane Relf (vocals, percussion). Produced by another former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith, the self-titled debut appeared in December 1969 to much critical approval and nudged its way into the lower end of the UK charts. Musically it borrowed liberally from the classics (as would later Renaissance albums) as well as incorporating elements of jazz, folk, avant-garde and late 60’s psychedelic rock. Dominating throughout is a virtuoso piano performance from the classically trained Hawken. In fact his freedom is a revelation, granted more room for expression than even Keith Emerson enjoyed within The Nice and ELP.
Kings And Queens opens with a flurry of cascading piano notes with bassist Cennamo doing his best to keep up, matching Hawken note for note. When drums enter the fray it moves into a free form, semi improvised section before Hawken begins to pound out the chords of the opening song part. Up to this point the band has operated as an instrumental trio, moving from classical to jazz to rock with consummate skill. Chant like, Relf’s recognisable vocals soon establish themselves taking the track into more familiar verse-chorus territory although the songs melody doesn’t quite match the energy and skill of the performances. If only for this reason, the instrumental mid-section with its extended piano solo is most welcome.
Innocence includes some tricky instrumental interplay that foreshadows the later work of Yes and ELP as well as taking time out for a Beethoven inspired piano sonata. Accompanied by her brother’s gently strummed guitar and backing vocals, Jane makes her singing debut during Island which features the albums most memorable choral hook. A wonderfully baroque classical section sees bass and drums once more doubling the piano lines with impressive results. Along with Hawken’s stunning harpsichord playing, Jane’s voice is again to the fore in Wanderer and although she lacks the range of Annie Haslam, her voice does add a traditional folk feel, sounding very like the legendary Joan Baez.
The original album concludes with Bullet, another epic length piece. At the songs heart is an African flavoured rhythm, reminiscent of Yes’ slow burning build during Heart Of The Sunrise. Relf’s harmonica solo adds a blues vibe but again the most interesting parts are Hawken and Cennamo’s piano/bass exchanges along with the hypnotic choral section that was possibly influenced by György Ligeti’s ambient music featured in the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, released in 1968, a year before the Renaissance album.
The two bonus tracks included here are the A and B sides of a single released in January 1970, one month after the debut album. An abridged Island sounds pleasant in a trippy, psychedelic kind of way which unsurprisingly failed to set the charts alight whilst The Sea is a rather bland and mainstream offering with little to offer instrumentally.
If the recording and release of the first album was a relatively harmonious process the events surrounding the follow-up Illusion was anything but. Things began well enough when the same line-up entered the studios in May 1970 and although they recorded the majority of the tracks it would be a different line-up that completed the album. The first casualty even before sessions began was Paul Samwell-Smith when Keith Relf decided to assume production duties. Surprisingly the first band member to leave was Jim McCarty who was loath to repeat the endless touring process he had experienced with The Yardbirds. Even more of a surprise was the next departure, band leader Keith Relf who was soon followed by Louis Cennamo. John Hawken and Jane Relf elected to see the project through however, enlisting the services of Michael Dunford (guitar) Terry Crowe (vocals), Neil Korner (bass) and Terry Slade (drums).
Although perhaps less adventurous, Illusion was on a par with its predecessor, being more disciplined and tunefully stronger, sign posting later Renaissance albums and the growing maturity of Relf and McCarty as songwriters. Unsurprisingly given its title, the opening song Love Goes On is a straight forward ballad with a chorus that’s both compelling and hypnotic. Golden Thread harks back to the first album with an extended piano intro although it’s more melodic in its structure. It develops into another memorable choral chant, with lead vocals by McCarty, interspersed with intimate piano moments that put me in mind of very early Genesis.
Love Is All echoes the sentiments of the opening song with a very similar feel whilst Mr. Pine is the track recorded with the Dunford/Crowe/Korner/Slade line-up. Written by Dunford, it’s arranged in three separate sections. The short opening song is folky and engaging, the mid-section more strident with echoes of King Crimson and Hawken (uncharacteristically) playing Hammond which he swops for harpsichord when the song returns to the mellow opening.
The tranquil Face Of Yesterday shows how Jane has developed as a vocalist, sounding more confident for the most delicate song recorded by the line-up thus far with beautiful instrumental work from Hawken, Cennamo and Relf. It’s a perfect foil for the bands lengthiest piece to date, Past Orbits Of Dust which follows. The edgy atmosphere is characterized by the rhythmic electric piano of guest keyboardist Don Shin and although very well played, for my money the more refined playing of Hawken is sadly missed. It also drags on longer than necessary with much self indulgent soloing contributing to the tracks length.
The three bonus tracks included by Esoteric are not in reality Renaissance material but are worthy additions anyway. These include two songs composed by McCarty and recorded in September 1970 for the soundtrack of the film ‘Schizom’. The dreamlike Prayer For Light is reminiscent of KC’s Epitaph although taken at an even slower pace and Walking Away continues in a similar vein with some lovely classical guitar playing. The last track All The Fallen Angels is a demo assembled by Keith Relf in April 1976 for a new band Illusion which was to feature the original Renaissance line-up. His voice seems to have deserted him on this occasion although the Mellotron backdrop and Cennamo’s poignant bass compensate. Sadly Relf was the victim of a fatal heart attack the following month after he was electrocuted at home playing guitar.
Possibly due to the fractured recording of the Illusion album it was only initially released in mainland Europe, Renaissance fans in the UK had to wait until 1976. In the meantime Michael Dunford assumed leadership of the band and the departure of Jane Relf soon after opened the door for Annie Haslam to begin another chapter in the bands history. But that’s another story, for now these two excellent releases, restored to pristine condition by Esoteric, are here to enjoy.
Renaissance: 7.5 out of 10
Illusion: 7.5 out of 10
Random Touch – Reverberating Apparatus
Tracklist: Home For Twilight (9:06), Before The Beginning (4:26), Apparitions Of Revelry (2:16), Benevolent Outcomes (2:46), Fred Astaire-ing (5:18), Purloining The Memo (5:37), Approaching The Cusp (4:54), Fire Tending (3:29), Danger (3:53), Threshold (4:35), Re-Membering (5:09), Gotta Go (1:05))
When a first listen to an album elicits a list of question marks, the first question being “Why?”, then we are not off to a great start. The recent product of Random Touch does just that to me. This album, Reverberating Apparatus, in the realm of music consisting of random sound effects and repeating nonsensical rhythms could carry a warning: Those seeking melody tread not here!
If I didn’t recently review an album of similar mien, I would have been surprised that this was recorded at all. To be fair, it isn’t all nonsense; there are moments of wandering elements that piece together atmospheric mood segments intertwined with the plucking of un-tuned strings and piano chords that may or may not belong to any of the accepted western scales. The voiceover effects enhance the off kilter mood expertly and are the only portions that resemble vocals.
The most prominent sounds from Reverberating Apparatus are the active drumming and piano keys that sound like they are being played by clenched fists. At times the drums sound smooth and then sound like they are played with hammers. There is some variety within this din, but none of it is remarkable to me.
This “music” will appeal to anyone who needs sounds to make their audience feel ill at ease or off balance. Any fan of Klimperei would likely find this to be a mellow diversion from their usual fare but bizarre all the same. I’m surprised this stuff is being boxed and sold at all, but again my premise that music should follow a sort of melodic structure may be off base. I will grant that, but I will not return to this album outside of the rare purpose of perhaps casting pallor or adding to a creep vibe for Halloween. The Grateful Dead “space” segments of their live shows sounded vaguely similar to portions of this.
I doubt that even the authors of this album will be surprised with my low rating, me being a simple man. This music was intended as a journey into the quantum world of meta-physics and string theory, topics not easily understood. I wonder if Einstein would have liked this?
Conclusion: 3 out of 10
Coma – Excess
Tracklist: Excess (5:59), Transfusion (3:53), Poisonous Plants (6:21), Confusion (3:20), T.B.T.R. (8:29), Struggle (5:01), Afternoons In The Colour Of Lemon (5:45), Witnesses Of The Decline Of The Eternal Boys Land (5:10), Silence And Fire (9:23), Eckhart (10:46) Bonus Tracks: F.T.P. (2:57), F.T.M.O. (5:15)
Coma are yet another rock band hailing from the lovely country of Poland in Eastern Europe. Taking off in 1998, Coma have already exsisted for more than a decade, yet Excess is their first international release. The album has been self-released, sung in Polish before, but now made more interesting for the rest of the world by the inclusion of English vocals. In fact Excess is the third studio release for these Polish rockers.
As it is their first outing in English it is time to introduce the members of the band and their various instruments. So this who they are: Peter Raw Goose Rogucki - vocal/lyrics, Dominik Weed Chuck - guitar, Martin Cobez - guitar, Rafal Ma Touch - bass, Adam Von Marshall Marshalkowsky – drums. This quintet has made this remarkable album.
We start off in a real hard rocking fashion with the title track Excess, the guitar sound, no, the overall sound in this song reminds strongly off hard rock music made by bands as Rose Tattoo and AC/DC in the late seventies. Even the vocals of “Raw Goose”, nice nickname by the way, have a resemblance to a certain vocalist called Bon Scott. The vocals sound as if there is a frog housing in his throat permanently. This was also present in Bon Scott’s vocals in those days. Further to this there is a good rocking sound, not boring but not outstanding at the same time.
To go on with the second track Transfusion, things move on to the end of the eighties, to the start of Grunge and more specifically hints of Pearl Jam. Again the song does not sound bad, but it doesn’t not keep my attention.
Moving along the tracks, they all follow a similar path quite nicely. Hearing this album time and time again started to bore me and the complete album didn’t stick in the mind. I could not find a real weak spot nor could I find a strongest point. Perhaps, or it must be that the vocals in English do not have that same presence or distinctive Polish accent which they need really.
To me this album did not particularly sound progressive, maybe a little on the edges here and there. So concluding - as we are a progressive rock site.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Matsutake - Singin’ Skin
Tracklist: Part 1 - Red Gems Kingdom (2:18), Dangerous Wind (1:44), The Legend Of The Singin’ Skin (1:08), The Lord Of The Eggs (3:08), Secrets In The Black Water (3:22), Old Prophecy (1:25), Leaving Home (4:25), Part 2 – Creatures In The Forest (3:03), Running Through The Trees (0:47), Dark Ritual (0:47), The Spellbook (0:43), Giant Iron Bird (2:28), Singin’ Skin In The Glass Caves (4:16), Strange Features On The Singin’ Skin (2:21), Part 3 – Inside The Cocoon (1:23), The Man With The Singin’ Skin and The Empty Heart (1:39), Under The Melting Skies (1:31), Flaming Mountains (3:11), Singing Beasts (1:21), Glowing Clouds (1:37), Battle Against Reality, Running With The Wind (6:25)
Matsutake’ Singin’ Skin is an unusual album, to a very fine tuned ear it takes in 70’s prog, 90’s electronic, elements of shoegazing and Krautrock, being anarchic, experimental and avant garde in its approach, a collage of electronic art, not what you would call user friendly, which as an identity can be quite a lot to take on board in one sitting. Even breaking the album down into smaller chunks doesn’t make the digestion any easier and can lead to confusion.
This is Matsutake’s (a.k.a. Evgeniy Gorbunov from Khabarovsk, a city in the far east of Russia), second release; 2005 saw the release of Nine And Seventeen onto the unsuspecting world. At first I thought this was an album by Hideki Matsutake of Yellow Magic Orchestra/Tomita fame, alas it would appear not, (I could be wrong but I don’t believe that I am). Trying to find information on this artist is near impossible, even when you Google Evgeniy Gorbunov, the electronic world gives nothing away.
So let’s look at the music here, which is dominated by discordant passages, which are in the main short pieces, some which seem to have little semblance, experimental timbres and meters, which at times work, offering some melodic interludes and at other times just seem to be blots on the landscape. Matsutake would have you believe that this is a conceptual piece, which in the main would be hard to follow. What it does offer is pictures and moods which at times fascinated and intrigued. This is no easy ride by any stretch of the imagination.
The packaging that this comes in has been well thought out, well presented and accompanied by a rather intriguing interview. Tread carefully. You have been warned.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10