Reviews in this issue:
- K² – Black Garden
- Zip Tang - Feed Our Heads
- Pocketful – Late Night Call [EP]
- Mindmovie – Happiness And Tears
- Yeti Rain – III
- Paintbox – The Night
- Tracker – How I Became An Alien
- Cue - Five Steps To Happiness
- Spirit Of The Matter - Zuble Land
K² – Black Garden
Tracklist: Black Garden (6:25), Passage To The Deep (11:37), Widows Watch (6:38), Encounter Of Absence (7:12), Storm At Sunset (11:06), Summer’s Fall (2:13), Path Of The Warrior (10:44)
Put K² into a computer search engine and the results will include reference to a drug related substance as well as the famous mountain in South Asia. When the band of the same name was launched some ten years ago I think is safe to assume that founders Ken Jaquess and Doug Sanborn had the latter in mind as an appropriate symbol for their grand designs. The 2005 debut album Book Of The Dead was based on ancient Egyptian text whilst this latest release takes Oceania as its subject matter. For those who skipped geography Oceania is the large expansive of ocean situated between Australia and America whose islands were populated by the Polynesians over 2000 years ago. Mindful that DPRP editor Mr Mulvey is not a man who’s easily impressed his glowing review of Book Of The Dead provided sufficient incentive to attract me to this successor.
Since the last album the line-up has changed somewhat, specifically in the guitar and vocal department. The aforementioned Jaquess (bass, keyboards) and Sanborn (drums, percussion) are joined by a returning Ryo Okumoto (piano, Moog, Hammond, synths) together with Karl Johnson (guitar) and Josh Gleason (vocals). The resulting sound is surprisingly un-American, seemingly influenced by European prog in general and Genesis/Yes in particular. This is enforced by Gleason’s strident vocal delivery, which like his predecessor Shaun Guerin brings Peter Gabriel readily to mind. Despite the dark imagery of the artwork and song titles like Widows Watch and Path Of The Warrior the music is thankfully free of prog-metal clichés. Given Okumoto’s involvement Spock’s Beard is another obvious comparator and I would also add Pallas, IQ and Fish era Marillion to the list.
The title song Black Garden begins with what sounds like the bustle of a market place endorsed by the strident Middle Eastern tone of the music that follows. There’s a dark intensity here thanks to Gleason’s stark delivery and the gothic mellotron backdrop, conjuring up memories of Led Zeppelin circa Kashmir. Passage To The Deep (the longest track) is more atypically of the proggy style that follows with its flowery guitar and keyboard textures and in particular Johnson’s showcase solo at the midway point. An incessant bolero riff lays the path for a monumental string keyboard section where Okumoto takes the opportunity to indulge in some showy synth noodling. Throughout, Jaquess and Sanborn’s upfront rhythm work is both essential and stylish. Widows Watch takes a more direct approach where Gleason’s ballad style crooning is supported by piano and mellotron followed by another lengthy (albeit restrained) synth solo to play out.
By the time the album reaches its centrepiece song Encounter Of Absence a discernable pattern is emerging. The intro technique featuring an emotive vocal against a backdrop wash of symphonic keyboards is repeated in both Summer’s Fall and the concluding Path Of The Warrior. Here however the main thrust of the song is provided by a potent combination of rhythmic Hammond and bass that harks back to very early Genesis.
Storm At Sunset on the other hand is probably my favourite track, wearing as it does its epic aspirations plainly on its sleeve. Beginning with a sprightly and memorable song section it dissolves into an ambient string, piano and choral interlude (evoking Vangelis and Yes circa Topographic Oceans) before resolving with an uplifting finale that draws upon voice, guitar, Hammond and mellotron.
The aforementioned Path Of The Warrior is also built around a lively and joyful vocal section although here it’s a splendid instrumental hook that grabs the attention. After taking in an excellent guitar solo (Johnson’s best on the album) it builds through several key and tempo changes to the dramatic payoff, bringing the song and the album to a rousing and satisfying conclusion.
Musically Black Garden is prog of the old school (right down to the artwork’s Deanesque typography) and there is little wrong with that. With its elaborate arrangements, the overall tone is dramatic, moody, sometimes menacing and sometimes theatrical but always entertaining. Whilst I highlighted the music’s European leanings earlier on, the band’s tightly knit performance has a brash and assured confidence that’s unquestionably a stylistic trademark of American musicians of this calibre.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Zip Tang - Feed Our Heads
Tracklist: I'm On My Own (4:43), Fine Reds (7:28), Enough About You (7:50), I Found A Dream (4:49), Girl Behind The Glass (2:14), Lost Without You (3:30), I'll Put It Right (3:19), QJAI (5:55), Central Park (3:20), Spooky Jam (5:34)
Year Three in the musical history of Chicago's Zip Tang was marked by the release of album #3, Feed Our Heads. The quartet has remained unchanged over that period, which for those of you unfamiliar with the group is Fred Faller (drums, percussion), Perry Merritt (guitars, vocals), Marcus Padgett (keyboards, woodwind, vocals) and Rick Wolfe (bass, mandolin, vocals). Although the title of the album might be familiar to some as being adapted from White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane (or am I just an old hippy?!), the music is far removed from that delivered by that most Californian of bands. The good news is that Zip Tang have managed to maintain their original, fresh and downright entertaining approach to modern progressive music throughout their latest album that does full justice to their already impressive catalogue.
It is not an easy task providing comparisons to other groups as the list would be somewhat long and entirely inaccurate! One section may sound a bit like something that Frank Zappa may have come up with, then pops up a vocal arrangement vaguely reminiscent of Gentle Giant, followed by a guitar solo that takes one into the area of a more metallic act. The joy is that all these elements only hint at the style of other groups, not direct descendents of them and they are interspersed throughout the individual tracks providing a unique sound all of their own. As with previous albums, Luminiferous Ether and Pank, the listener is treated to numerous surprises along the way; beyond conventional the songs twists and turns providing unpredictable shifts that increase the excitement and fuel anticipation of what comes next.
The album, which once again is beautifully recorded, is magnificently diverse: with the two 'extremes' being the wonderfully creepy Central Park and the opening electronic fired groove of I'm On My Own. This latter song starts with a synthesised throb, followed by an almost tribal chant, an insistent drum beat, cracking guitar riffs and some angry sounding vocals. Just as the song starts to get going there is a change in time signature and a more laid-back groove predominates. A 'prog rap' takes over (not as bad as it sounds, I promise!) to close the song. In complete contrast, Central Park has a lovely mellow vocal line beautifully sung in two-part harmony backed by a simple repeating synthesiser part. The group maintain their progressive credentials on Fine Reds. Excellently arranged and performed with added trumpet of Dave Jelinek, the song epitomises to me what Zip Tang are all about, although despite this one can't say that it is representative of their sound, only one aspect of their style. The other long track on the album, Enough About You follows immediately, opening with a rather languid, some may say sleazy, sax break from Padgett. Particular mention must be made of Wolfe's bass playing on this track, steady and prominent rather than flash and frenzied, it holds the piece together allowing Merritt to apply six-string soloing to great effect. Also interesting is the way the bass line is echoed by the other instruments in the ensemble, nice going!
I Found A Dream provides a slower contrast and allows Wolfe to bring his mandolin out to play. The woodwind adds variety and the acoustic guitar solo is perfectly timed. I can't help thinking of Heart and the mandolin piece on the Dreamboat Annie album as the song comes to an instrumental end. The brief Girl Behind The Glass is more jaunty and, despite its voyeuristic lyric, rather amusing. A more serious note is provided by Lost Without You which is another personal highlight of the album and shows that the band can be as original and entertaining on the slower, simpler songs as they are on their more adventurous numbers. Jelenik returns to provide more trumpet stabs on I'll Put It Right adding a more jazz element to proceedings, particularly in the chorus. Not too sure about the vocal manipulations though, they don't sound too disingenuous with the song but I am not convinced they are totally to my liking. The four-part harmony interlude bears resemblance to Phish and the ending of the piece is pure excitement. Ojai opens with a highly tuned drum rhythm and, like the preceding song, has Merritt exploring his pedal board with the result that he finds a lovely guitar tone for the initial solo. Certainly the most guitar intensive piece on the album. The instrumental closing piece, Spooky Jam, sums everything up and features some great atmospheric backing vocals by Ea Philippa on the intro section. The band then delve right back into classic prog territory to deliver the concluding musical summary statement.
Zip Tang continue to provide high quality musical entertainment of intelligent modern progressive rock that spans the gamut of the genre. A must if you have either (or both!) of the previous albums and if you have not heard the band before then as good a place to start as any, as all three albums are of a consistency that only a handful of bands are able to maintain, particularly amongst those that release an album a year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Pocketful – Late Night Call
Tracklist: I Don’t (4:09), Late Night Call (4:40), Professional (4:58), Sorry (3:12), Extract (3:52), Words (5:54)
With Late Night Call Pocketful release their fifth EP and this time around the album is just under 27 minutes long and consists of 6 tracks. The band personnel for this release are Johan Engström [guitars], Joakim Gralén [words on Words] Jerker Rellmark [vocals, trumpet, keyboards, samples & additional guitars] and special guest Therése Oresten [vocals on Late Night Call and Professional].
Pocketful music is best typecast as Shoegaze - normally melodramatic in its nature, whilst this dreamy rock brings your mind to ease and gives you a great feeling. The band describe the album as their “heaviest” work to date, however classifying "heavy" here means a more distorted sound in the guitars and keys, but most of all heavy in perception. Listening to the complete song lyrics and music, it is certainly darker. Again it is a very mellow going CD and during my listening session I did wonder if this music still fell within the progressive veins. Then what is progressive music really?
The electronic sound sure has become more prominent than before. Sorry, track four on the album, is a good example. Almost a regular pop song, with an up tempo pace with added sample sounds and noises added. Pocketful really made an effort here in creating a catchy tune. It sticks with you from the first time you here the song and just gets better every time you listen again. Elsewhere the addition of the trumpet in Professional is fantastic, as is the addition of female vocals of Therése Oresten which make the track a lot stronger. The layered guitars in Extract make you wander off immediately to other places, so relaxing it is.
I have said in the previous reviews that Pocketful's way of production and music reminds a lot of No Man or Blackfield. They are not the same of course, but I still feel and sense a lot of similarity - catchy relaxing songs.
I feel Pocketful have released yet another strong EP with Late Night Call and it is about time they were discovered by a broader audience and thus receive the attention they deserve. Late Night Call is another step in the right direction. I cannot wait to hear a full album, It only takes four more songs to complete one?
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mindmovie – Happiness And Tears
CD 1: Spread Your Wings (3:29), Time Traveller (7:44), Caravan Tribe (4:41), Made Of Tears (7:29), Ship Wreck (6:02), Daydreaming (4:10), The Cage (6:18), See You Again (4:45), Value System (5:27), Into The Shades Of A New Dawn (4:40), Forever With Me (5:03), Victor (4:53), Let It Rain (5:16), When We Dream (9:57)
CD 2: Our Human Innocence (8:27), A Million Miles Away (5:56), Candy Shop (6:31), Spaceflight To Pandora (5:45), Going Home (3:20), The Fight (6:03), On The Wind (5:13), I’m Free (5:08), Bushman (4:51), Another Me and You (6:31), Utilities Dance (4:51), Straight From The Heart (5:10), Back To Planet Earth (10:00)
German prog band Flaming Bess guitarist Achim Wierschem takes his solo career into the sophomore phase with Happiness And Tears, the second release under his Mindmovie moniker. Like the debut Mindmovie release An Ocean Of Dreams, Happiness And Tears is mostly electronica-flavoured recalling A Momentary Lapse Of Reason-era Pink Floyd. The music was mainly composed and played by Wierschem, with the assistance of guest composers, musicians, lyricists and vocalists on some of the tracks.
A few of the tracks are credited with “composition and all instruments by Achim Wierschem and (collaborator)”. On these tracks it regrettably does not specify as to what instrument the collaborator plays or what aspect of the music they composed. So I will not touch upon these tracks but rather on a sampling of those tracks in which the credits are more specific.
Straight From The Heart is a simple guitar ballad featuring some mid tempo programming evoking Enigma and some courageous keyboards from Wierschem.
Candy Shop, one of a few dance-oriented pieces on the CD (and a style I think Wierschem should focus more on) sees him throw into the mix DJ scratch style bits, plodding bits of bass and soulful piano.
Bushman goes into edgier territory with heavy guitar and an up tempo rock groove. Additional guitar and other stringed instruments, including, ostensibly, some wiggly sitar elements, come courtesy of Byron Fry.
More heavy territory is visited with The Fight, an industrial thrashy piece showcasing vocals and lyrics from Michael Jon Hartman.
Into The Shades Of A New Dawn spotlights icy bass synth and sandpaper guitar from Wierschem along with some bleak piano from Peter Figge.
A Million Miles Away is macabre and guerrilla-like, deploying thick oozing bass, choral guitar leads and acoustic guitar from Wierschem.
The world beat flavor of Let It Rain comes via vocals and lyrics from Artie Q, guitars from Wierschem, and bassline and Dumbek ingredients courtesy of the dutiful Audiotechnica.
The Cage is another dark piece, with vocals and lyrics again by Mr. Hartman and overall commonalities signaling Nine Inch Nails and Amused To Death-era Roger Waters.
The sitar, this time in the capable hands of Andres Rexach, gets in on the action on Ship Wreck, another dance style tune highlighting some jumpy drum programming from Wierschem.
Like on An Ocean Of Dreams, I found many of the tracks on the overall recording to be repetitive with specific regard to the guitar solo elements. The tunes hold their own, though, as stand alone tracks. I would however prefer to see Wierschem continue to put out full-length recordings and not singles, and to this end I would suggest that he leave guitar solos (played either by him or a guest) out of the mix here and there with future tracks, keeping them to the occasional minimum. I just don’t think it’s necessary to lay down a guitar solo in a song just for the sake of doing it, when the song could survive without one.
Another area of opportunity I see for future Mindmovie releases is, with no disrespect to the fine vocalists who sing on Happiness And Tears, to bring in a full time female vocalist like Geoffrey Downes has done with Anne-Marie Helder on his latest New Dance Orchestra release. This combined with an increased focus on the dance style pieces could give Mindmovie some well-deserved greater, if not mass, appeal. Of course, these recommendations are based on my personal taste.
The CD booklet is brilliantly designed with nature and sunset motifs. Cover artwork and design comes from Jef De Corte, with additional photos by Mark Orr, De Corte and Markus Wierschem.
This recording will most likely appeal to fans of electronica and instrumental based rock. If you’re seeking something more lyrical and organic, best seek elsewhere.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Yeti Rain – III
Tracklist: Planets (10:30), Dragonfly Algebra (12:01), The Meeting (6:49), Fires Of Heaven (6:56), The Sky Sickened (11:11), The Sixth Bowl Of Wrath (5:48)
And then there were three - avant-noise project Yeti Rain expands from a duo to a trio with the release of III. III is their, you guessed it, third release since their 2006 debut and aptly titled, as noted by the promo sheet that came with my review copy of the CD. For III, the line up of the trio is William Kopecky (Par Lindh Project, Parallel Mind, Michael Angelo Bartio, Kopecky, Far Corner, Haiku Funeral, Snarling Adjective Convention) on voice on one track, poetry lyrics on two tracks, and bass; Roger Ebner (Snarling Adjective Convention) on wind synth and sax, and incoming drummer man Craig Walkner (Far Corner, Snarling Adjective Convention, Two Loons For Tea) on acoustic and electronic percussion. Chanya Mochadaporn provides Thai translation and voice of Kopecky’s poetry lyrics on one track.
The style of music the band “plays”, but which rather comes off as improvised, is dark, aggressive, avant-garde and heavy. On The Sky Sickened, featuring poetry lyrics and voice from Kopecky, sections of his growling bass along with lunatic screams of sax from Ebner alternate with the poetry voice passages of Kopecky in which the almost-whisper resembles Mike Van Portfleet of Lycia. Experimental touches in the song evoke early Pink Floyd.
On The Meeting, the only other track on the six-track CD that features voice and a Kopecky poem, sighing, layered wind synth from Ebner, fortified by minimal electronic percussion from Walkner and exhales of bass from Kopecky, soon take on an Asian flavour and appropriately give way to the emotionless, raspy voice of Mochadaporn as she offers her Thai reading of Kopecky’s poem.
On Dragonfly Algebra, the lone track on the CD recorded live on a radio broadcast, low sheens of bass from Kopecky and dark intrusive wind synth from Ebner create a macabre blackness. Kopecky’s bass plunges and groans, Ebner’s sax barks like a pit bull from hell, and Walkner’s drumming kicks with a ferocious tempest, rolling like flows of volcanic lava while Ebner’s sax shrieks like a banshee. The intensity of Dragonfly Algebra picks up with digitally thick bass from Kopecky, along with some scorching wiggles of sax from Ebner evoking Mel Collins. Unassuming bass from Kopecky taunts the listener like notes from a serial killer crossing state lines, with Walkner’s electronic percussion trailing like a disturbed afterthought.
The tracks on III wield a weapon of a vigilante avant-garde, and this notwithstanding the tracks are often formulaic in their soft/hard/soft approach. Whilst some more consistently heavier tracks would be preferred by this writer, I understand that the band may have introduced the lighter elements to create mood or “lighting”, so fuck it, it’s rock and roll and it’s all good. Of course, if you’re seeking Justin Bieber music, you won’t find it here.
The CD artwork by Frank Korb features a depiction of alien-like figures in a motif not unlike Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The CD design comes courtesy of Dimitar Dimitrov, Kopecky’s partner in Haiku Funeral.
One area of improvement I see for the next Yeti Rain release is to take the music in more of a "played" and less improvised direction with more beats and grooves. Printing the texts of Kopecky’s poems in the CD booklet would be cool, to.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Paintbox – The Night
Tracklist: The Night (3:17), Two Beats (3:05), Dream On (5:21), Mindreader (3:20), Clowns (4:35), Ambient One (4:11), Traces (4:06), Underground (3:10), Broken Arrow (3:13), Tiny Stars (3:02), Dream (3:56)
At the start of 2009 I had the pleasure of reviewing the debut album Bright Gold And Red by the relatively new act Paintbox and remarked that hopefully it was just the start of a fruitful partnership. Two years on and the trio of Linnea Olsson (vocals, cello, bass), Gicken Johansson (guitars, bass, keyboards) and Magnus Helgesson (drums, percussion) are still very active with this the release of their second album. The song writing team of Linnea and Gicken first worked together as members of Isildurs Bane although I’m uncertain if that particular band are still together as they’ve been pretty quiet of late.
Although the sombre artwork is in stark contrast with that of its predecessor, musically The Night picks up from where the last album left off with the accent once again on strong melodies, imaginative hooks and Linnea’s infectious vocal tones. Her heavenly voice has a crystalline purity that’s totally captivating as evidenced in the title song The Night. Despite the title it provides a suitably sunny and uplifting opening with a lively cello riff (yes I did say cello riff!) and Linnea’s vocals displaying a spring in their step. As the name suggests, Two Beats is a song of two halves moving from reflective tranquillity to edgy intensity and back again whilst the sweet Dream On sees Linnea’s voice oozing out of the speakers like liquid honey as well as showcasing Gicken’s fluid guitar playing.
The trio of tunes that follow, making up the albums mid section, are for me probably the strongest. Mindreader sees cello once more playing the dominant rhythm providing a solid backbone for the memorable and haunting melody. Clowns on the other hand sounds like a curious combination of the Judy Collins ballad Send In The Clowns and David Sylvian & Ryuichi Sakamoto’s poignant Forbidden Colours but it’s a perfect marriage. Linnea takes a break (vocally that is) for the aptly titled instrumental Ambient One which is absolutely mesmerising and could have easily been lifted from Vangelis’ soundtrack to Blade Runner.
There is an almost fragile desperation in the vocal for Traces matched by the spiky lead guitar which echoes the resonance of Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell. With its upfront bass line Underground is very energetic, almost poppy in its execution with a tuneful chorus and breathless vocal that brings The Cure instantly to mind. Broken Arrow sees Linnea once again bringing unorthodox instrumentation into the otherwise sparse mix. This time it’s the ukulele which combines with electric guitar for a compelling hook augmented by gorgeous backing voices.
The penultimate Tiny Stars is not perhaps as strong when compared with the songs elsewhere, resting its laurels on repetitive bass pattern, but the album concludes on a poetic note thanks to the transparent beauty of Dream. Unusually the verse here is more memorable than the chorus with acoustic guitar and cello gently building to a restrained but effective peak.
This is without doubt another flawless offering from the Paintbox trio. It may not be prog (in the conventional sense) but throughout they never put a foot wrong, impressing in all departments. Song writing, arrangements, performance and production are all skilfully handled. Some albums take awhile and a few plays to grow on the listener but The Night is an instant and much welcome delight.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Tracker – How I Became An Alien
Tracklist: Tight Fit (8:27), Recommended Fool (4:19), Blower (7:59), The Hypnotized (5:42), Impregnated Eye (6:33), Windowshopping(6:43), Deregulate (6:43), Blender (8:28), Below Radar (4:48)
Max Mühlbacher (vocals, fuzzbox & guitar); Martin Fuchs (bass & Kaoscillator) and Daniel Walter (drums, samples & Iphone) are Tracker, originating from the Austrian Tyrol and make a mix of stoner, postrock, space rock, experimental rock, noise rock and alternative indie music.
The material on How I Became An Alien has previously been released as a six track vinyl-album, however to complete the CD three new additional tracks have been added totalling nine tracks. The additional CD tracks are Deregulate, Below Radar and Blender. I read different information as to which track is the final track on the CD - so it could be either Blender or Below Radar, but as my CD player tells me it is Below Radar I will go with that order.
The use of the fuzzbox and the Kaoscillator makes the music very intense and is very much in common with the Noise and Stoner rock bands. Right from the first notes, this album is enjoyable and a high level of AOR is present. Not AOR as in the rock genre AOR but as a level of enjoy ability to a wider audience. Tight Fit the first track is however very intense and emotional, but catchy at the same time, and this continues with the following tracks. The first time my Whoa factor steps in is with Impregnated Eye, but even this song has a catchy tune along the way reminding me of Stone Temple Pilots and Stone Roses.
The style of music here is normally not intended for a wider audience as it is to noisy all together, and sure at certain points this is the case on How I Became An Alien, but to me this is not disturbing and I enjoyed it very much. The drones from the bass are absolutely smashing. The heavy guitar sound in the opening of Windowshopping is really awesome. And as we go on it almost becomes a dance tune. OK you are able to dance to the rhythm of this song - although I doubt many people would do that. Again the catchiness is back. Tracker sure make fantastic use of all those sample bits you can use these days to bring some familiarity to otherwise noisy songs.
To draw a complete picture of this album, if you like either of the bands I mentioned before you can probably get something out of this album by Tracker. Still it needs a specific audience, and I believe this audience can be found more in the corner of the indie or alternative admirers than among progheads - I am pretty sure of this actually.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Cue - Five Steps To Happiness
CD 1 Merry In The Cemetery (13:14), Dancing In The Graveyard (2:43), Bedtime Stories (5:41), A Day In The Life Of A Flower Collector (4:49), Tall Shadows In The Wall (7:38), Terrible Night (0:36), Doubt (8:10), Hitching A Ride (4:42), Borkulo Blues (1:50), Bad-Luck Girl From Borkulo (1:58), Borkulo Blues Reprise (2:33), Ophelia's Song (5:09), Tim Sees Ophelia Escape (0:38), She Escapes (2:51), First Contact I (1:47), First Contact II (4:14)
CD 2 Million Tiny Hammers (1:47), Night At The Graveyard (1:26), Confetti (4:59), Do You Want To Go To Borkulo (2:29), Walk In The Park (7:22), Five Steps To Happiness (2:49), The Gate Opens (3:16), They Felt Different Now (2:44), Never The Same Again (4:46), Out And Over (7:30), Borkulo Song (12:15)
Cue formed in 2008 in The Hague in The Netherlands releasing a debut eponymous album which was mainly instrumental except for the final track, a 15-minute piece backing the narration of a horror story. In August of last year they released their second album, an ambitious double CD concept about a quest to reach a mysterious land by undertaking various tasks. Seem familiar? The band was formed by three students at the Pop Academy of Rotterdam: drummer Senne Bergsma, guitarist Chris Henny and keyboard player Ronald Rote with bassist Ron Sedee joining soon after. The narrative piece on the debut album was voiced by Saskia Bultman, who also reprises her role on this album as well as adding the female vocals. However, it has recently been announced that both Bergsma and Sedee have left the band.
There are quite a few positives and a number of negatives associated with this album. On the down side, regular readers will know of my dislike of narratives and Five Steps To Happiness has narration in abundance. In mitigation Bultman has a wonderfully clear and seductive speaking voice, so much so that it is hard to believe she is not a native English speaker, but it is hard to know whom the story, written by Bultman, is aimed at as it is rather simplistic and hence childlike and really not all that good. Despite her sonorous speaking voice, Bultman's singing is of such that after a while it tends to grate not because she can't sing but because of the pitch. Male vocals are performed by Henny, whose intonation and singing voice are not the best, but acceptable. On the credit side, the musical performances are very good and the album has one of the best drum sounds I have heard in a long time. The style of music ranges from melodic pop to outright prog of which the instrumental Dancing In The Graveyard is a fine example. The variety in music is quite broad ranging from piano based numbers such as Bedtime Stories and Million Tiny Hammers to the heavier and more dissonant Confetti. The melodic elements are strong throughout and when the band employ harmonies and counterpointed vocals, things can get very interesting, although they are not used that frequently.
Ultimately I found it very difficult to listen to the whole album all the way through as my interest was not held by the story. Maybe with repeated playings it would have become more ingrained into my consciousness but ultimately it is just not my cup of tea.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Spirit Of The Matter - Zuble Land
Tracklist: Space Cheap Trick (3:16), Turn Me On Dead Man (3:01), Gonokokh (2:49), Krell Music (5:02), Take Me To Your Leader (3:43), Ou Piknip (1:31), Purple Moonlight (3:14), Plastic People Never Die (2:45), Zuble Land (5:55), Ublaie Stoned (2:09), Many Happy Returns (4:48)
Spirit Of The Matter was formed in 2007 by Ian Marek (guitar, violin and theremin), El Jibi (keyboards and electronic instruments) and Remi (drums). France does not have a knack of throwing quirky and interesting bands into the field, (leftfield at that); neither Spirit Of The Matter nor their album Zuble Land escapes that statement.
On the initial listen of this album the band quotes, “Music is reversible but time is not”, (from Turn Me On Dead Man), a lyrical quote which sent a shiver down my spine making me have a flashback, calling to mind Face The Music by ELO who used back masking, (a trick Jeff Lynne utilised several times throughout ELO’s recording life), during the opening album track Fire On High. I won’t go into the furore that Eldorado caused in some circles too. Ah the heady old days of vinyl.
This album gyrates in the improvisational and experimental world, Krautrock, with the likes of Can springing to mind, being slightly Zappa-esque in its approach whilst also touching on Gong’ ethos, being a thirty eight minute plus psychedelic trip, journeying through the mind, a cosmic journey viewing the different colours and textures, with their musical interludes driving and steering the notes to and fro, guiding you to their final destination. Take some time to view and digest the simplistic artwork, which is rather intriguing as it will give you a feel for where the album goes, confirming the previous statement. I would strongly suggest that to get the best out of this album you turn the lights right down and put your headphones on which will allow you to score the maximum power and affect this trio has created, allowing you to build your own images, building your own stories. The band has excelled in recording this stuff live, then taking some time with the overdubs, giving balance to the whole proceedings which could quite conceivably be a soundtrack.
The music played can sound naïve at times, almost innocent, swirling trippy; space passages that really bond offering character, with the French dialog really bring something to the table. This is an album that is full of detail which needs to be captured as a unit to be fully appreciated, although you can dip in and out at will, but it does lose some of its autonomy in doing so. There is just something about the quirkiness that just draws you the listener in, having you trying to anticipate the next move, but leaving you wanting more.
The band offer an air of mystery, not being ones to give anything away about themselves, which again offers more quirkiness to the whole situation. From what I can gather Zuble Land is their first official major label release. To hear their other albums fly along to their MySpace page where you can listen to all their recordings in their entirety, Reload, Moka Club, Le Miroir A Trios Faces, Mammouth and even Zuble Land which were all recorded live between 2007 and 2010. Enjoy the trip as it is at times rather rewarding.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10