Reviews in this issue:
- Thinking Plague – Decline And Fall
- Absolace - Fractals
- Asylum Found – Asylum Found
- Index – Ao Vivo [DVD]
- Neal Morse – Testimony 2 ~ Live In Los Angeles
- Difícil Equilibrio – Present Live In Tiana 2008 [DVD]
- Royal Hunt – Show Me How To Live
- Vespero – Subkraut – U-Boats Willkommen Hier
- Lawrence Ball – Method Music
- Nektar - Man In The Moon | Evolution
- Rick Miller - In The Shadows
- We Could Build An Empire – We Could Build An Empire
Thinking Plague – Decline And Fall
Tracklist: Malthusian Dances (6:39), I Cannot Fly (8:34), Sleeper Cell Anthem (6:10), A Virtuous Man (11:45), The Gyre (4:42), Climbing The Mountain (8:38)
An album from doyens of the USA avant-prog scene Thinking Plague is a rare and much anticipated event amongst cognoscenti, for Decline And Fall is their first release since 2003’s A History Of Madness, and is only their sixth album since forming in 1984.
A frightening and vertiginous thing it is too, and about the only thing that links this to what I term “trad prog” is the fact that it is a concept album on mans’ dysfunctional relationship with Mother Earth, raping her for her resources and ending with humanity’s deserved demise. The scary cover, depicting a city under a firestorm, and the post-apocalyptic scenes of the booklet give every indication of the cheerless nature of the theme, and there sure ain’t no wizards or pixies on this reeling switchback ride to Hell, that’s for sure. Lines like “Bears and toads and fish floating dead, as blackbirds in their thousands rain down from the sky” from the first song, the buzzing and lurching Malthusian Dances serve only too well to indicate that there ain’t no peace’n’love to be found here.
Known for their intellectual stance, Thinking Plague has kept up the synapse stretching both lyrically and of course, in the music. Band leader and sole surviving original member Mike Johnson’s guitar makes several discordant arrhythmic chord stabs as he guides his troops through a minefield of complexity that on mini-epic A Virtuous Man will have you reaching for the repeat button because there is no way you can absorb it all in one sitting. This one song shows more imagination than a lot of bands can manage in entire careers, and is a stunning piece of complexity, a musical equivalent of quantum theory in its ability to stretch out to places that are barely comprehensible. If you thought Gentle Giant sometimes approached head-scratching land, then prepare to be amazed. I love it by the way, although that might be hard to tell!
To think that all the music and lyrics on this album are credited to Mike Johnson is a lot to take in as how one man could come up with all this is, frankly, scary. I would not advise taking him on at chess, you wouldn’t stand a chance.
In Sleeper Cell Anthem we learn that we are all in fact the sowers and eventual reapers of our own inevitable downfall (thanks Mike) and it contains the great double couplet “Lame ducks, eye tucks, Starbucks, we are so fucked” as Mike lays down Pythagorean Frippian guitar slabs above Kimara Sajn’s intricate rhythms and Dave Willey’s pounding bass. Throughout the album Elaine di Falco’s matter-of-fact and unemotively plain vocals provide the perfect foil for the bleakly austere lyrics. Perhaps “unemotive” is the wrong word for she certainly conveys the bleak atmosphere, but there is certainly no shrieking here as you might imagine would be the case given the subject matter. Mark Harris’ saxes and clarinet contribute weaving melodic counterpoints, and Kimara also contributes keyboards to fill in any gaps.
Returning to A Virtuous Man, we have a tale of one man’s idealism being crushed under the weight of human fallibility. It’s probably the most “up” thing on the record by the way. I still cannot get over how there is so much going on here, the song structure appears to make no sense at all while simultaneously remaining righteous and focussed. Taking in modern classicism, free jazz, avant-garde, rock music, film score and chamber music, the noises that fly out of this musical kitchen blender sounds like nothing since, well, probably the last Thinking Plague album. Although this song is nearly twelve minutes long it flies by and before you know it you’ll want to hear it again. Lord knows how they play this live, and it just goes to show that Thinking Plague are as highly accomplished a bunch of musicians as you are likely to come across in what is risibly termed “popular” music.
After that you might need a rest, but The Gyre continues the sonic whirlpool with more Frippian devices from Mike’s guitar, the clarinet and piano flitting about like plastic bags borne on the wind, appropriate given the subject matter reminding us that all the synthetic detritus that floats around the oceans of the world is our mess, baby.
The album ends with a tale of the Earth recovering from our pillage, nature reclaiming its rightful place. Almost redemption, but the song ends suddenly, as probably will our part in the world if Mike’s dystopian nightmare comes to fruition.
Bloody hell that was hard work! I’ve spun this disc a number of times and it does not get any easier I can tell you. This album is a true triumph of composition and arrangement, but brilliant though it is it is not an album that I can see myself playing repeatedly. Definitely a record for those “Why are we here?” moments, but highly recommended nonetheless.
It’s the end of the world as we know it, but I feel... a bit dizzy.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Absolace - Fractals
Tracklist: Sirens (6:20), The Rise (8:40), I Am, So I Will (4:54), Chroma Mera (9:00), Wade 2.0 (5:19), Shape And Form (5:44),The Fall (7:54),Dichotomy (5:29), A/O (7:15), Closure (2:20)
The world is a huge place. A place where, in the course of history through thousands of years, nations and people developed their own identity and culture. Accompanied by their own style of music. Today’s ways of communication see the world getting smaller by the day and therefore blending music all over the place simultaneously. From my point of view this is a fantastic evolution which makes the world one giant source of potential great music.
I got introduced to Absolace, a band consisting of different nationalities and based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, back in November 2010. It was then when I heard Andy Read playing the track Wade from the band’s first album Resolve[d] in his radio show. And I noted “Great!”. This usually means I want to know and hear more about it. And this consequently ended up in reviewing this 2012 succeeding album Fractals. Could they hold or even improve the quality of their first offspring, the DPRP recommended Resolve[d]?
So, to start with, it’s a funny thing that Fractals has the song Wade 2.0 on it. A smart thing to do too, taking this song from their first album, enhancing it to an even higher level, and name it 2.0. The album starts of nicely with two rather quiet tracks Sirens and The Rise which has a nice recital-like singing style and an interesting guitar solo in it. Followed by a trinity of really great songs: I Am, So I Will together with Chroma Mera, both pre-released available on Youtube, and the already mentioned Wade 2.0. Listening to these three powerful compositions, you can decide for yourself whether or not this connects to your likings. For me it definitely is.
The most striking track however is the superb jazzy Alpha | Omega (A/O). Close to the new course that Opeth recently entered but certainly no copy. Maybe even better, with the distinct voice of Nadim Jamal perfectly fitting to the song’s atmosphere. This changes into a prog interlude and again transforms or emerges into a jazz luxury, bass driven this time. And back again; ultimately ending with a simple riff. An intelligent composition and very well played. Things don’t happen for a reason.
The band has written all the songs together. Drummer Greg Cargopoulos co-produced the album and with his thriving drumming he keeps reminding us those facts. He is entitled to do so as he has earned kudos by his terrific contributions to this new album. An album that still shows the influences of Porcupine Tree and the likes. But with their very own Absolace imprint all over it. I urge to clearly state the final musical direction as being Absolace. Period. And I must say it is even better than the previous disc. Definitely a step further upwards with all songs being of very high quality. Same path, same genre but more enriched, more prog, more mature, more extravaganzas. The artwork underlines this bright step forward by reflecting an airy approach against its rather sinister predecessor.
With this album I think Absolace should be considered as a main act. A band that I can suggest to nourish your headphones with. Try it, feel it. And I personally would like to feel and experience it in a live setting some day in the not to far future. A great album, renewing yet still very Absolace. And again DPRP recommended.
As a final remark, I am pretty sure that a track or three of this album can be admired at one of the forthcoming DPRP Radio Prog Rock & Metal shows.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Asylum Found – Asylum Found
Tracklist: Prelude (1:05), Pyromaniac (3:57), Brother (5:24), Walk Alone Part 1 (3:28), Nil By Mouth (3:48), Silver (2:04), All Jokes Aside (4:05), Walk Alone Part 2 (2:34), Indifferent Like You (2:55), Time Falls Away (4:44), War Of God (4:16)
We don't get to hear too many Australian bands for DPRP so there's a certain justice in the fact that when a new one comes along they turn out to be pretty good. Prog fans who enjoy the "art-rock" – to coin an old-fashioned phrase – of bands such as Barclay James Harvest would almost certainly enjoy this debut offering from these young Australians.
There's not too much biographical information available on these lads, save that they want to break free from the repetition of today's popular music by offering something different. I can't really comment as to whether they've succeeded or not as I don't follow modern commercial radio. I can, however, comment on the music that they have produced, which is melodic, sensitive and absorbing. Don't be fooled by the list of influences on their MySpace page; their music is quite individual and doesn't mimic their sources of inspiration. Like I said at the beginning though, think art-rock and not symphonic-prog and you'll be on the right road.
For me, the most prominent and pleasing of the aural textures of this music is Bugi Weaver's acoustic guitar playing, which comes across beautifully in the crystal clear recording. Weaver also plays electric guitar – there's a good solo on Brother for instance - but it's the acoustic texture that wins out overall. The tempo of the compositions is slow to middling, not really breaking out into a fast rock tempo; there's more of the acoustic guitar singer-songwriter element feeding into the soundscape rather than a pure rock band. Weaver's vocal is strong and prominent: the other players and instruments defer to his lead; their addition to the arrangements is decorative rather than forthright showcase. Amongst these contributions, the highlight for me is Cameron Brown's keyboards: piano, mellotron and strings add colour and depth to the music. However, the sense remains that this is very much Weaver's band, Weaver's music.
Nil By Mouth is one of the more complex songs on the album; its rhythmic structure and arrangemental complexity being above the norm., and the electric guitar dominates the acoustic. So as the listener doesn't get too anxious, Weaver fits in a simple, but effective, acoustic guitar instrumental, Silver, straight after! Rooting the album firmly in this sonic texture works well; it brings a pleasing consistency to the listening experience. Indifferent Like You is another that breaks the acoustic dominance and, like its predecessor, it is followed by a quiet, whimsical introduction to the start of Time Falls Away, which also contains some rocky passages. It's a well-paced album, well constructed, greatly aided by the clear production.
Asylum Found is the sort of album I struggle to rate on DPRP; it's a strong art-rock album, but I know many readers don't find that "progressive" enough, so a general recommendation is perhaps open to criticism. However, I can only go with what I feel is right and, having heard this many times over a couple of months, it deserves the recommendation: just steer clear if art-rock is not your thing.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Index – Ao Vivo
Tracklist: Volcano, Index – I/Portoes De Gaza, Maximus, Eduardo, Guernica Em Nova York, Coracoes Do Mundo, Quaterna Requiem, Index II, Caverna, Instantes Extras: Discography, Photo Album, Making of, Fogos De Santelmo
Jones Junior (acoustic & electric guitar, flute), Otaviano Kury (Hammond organ, piano, synthesizers), Ronaldo Schenato (bass), Leonardo Reis (drums, percussion). Guest musicians: Kléber Vogel (from Quaterna Réquiem) violin and Rafael Gubert (from Akashic) vocals.
As live DVD’s go Index’s Ao Vivo scores highly, pretty much releasing a must see product, confirming that more bands should take this route. Not only does it feature some rather exquisite musical interactions but the picture and sound quality is second to none. You can choose between the stereo or the recommended superlative 5.1 soundstage; it would appear that the production people knew exactly what they wanted to achieve and hit the mark perfectly adding their multi camera approach that never becomes boring, muted or lost, perfectly picking the exact moments to be in the right locations, offering resplendent refinement in the visual arena. The music played is based on symphonic prog and hints of jazz rock fusion which were recorded live in São Carlos Theatre, Caxias do Sul / RS. This is a performance that caught the band performing some of their best work, predominantly from their 2005 release Identidade.
One thing that shouldn’t be forgotten is that South America has presented the world with some rather excellent bands, something which does get overlooked at times. Index should not be one of those bands. This is music that calls points of reference from such bands as Camel, Focus and The Lens. Interestingly Ronaldo Schenato does manage to nicely capture that Chris Squire sound with his inventive bass lines which are most notable on Index II and Instantes.
As you watch the band perform on the barren stage, the musical notation just fills the whole room with its enigmatic and powerful statement. It doesn’t stop there though as this isn’t a totally an instrumental affair, Rafael Gubert steps up to the plate adding some rather dynamic and fitting vocal additions to the whole proceedings. There are so many standout moments here, but for me Quaterna Réquiem is the real highlight especially as the movement builds, that at times sonically reminded me of Kansas especially with the inclusion of Kléber Vogel violin work, a piece that really steps everything up a gear. For me as the band finds their stride, they just seem to become one with the music, which is what this is all about, finding the balance of interaction that is melodic, atmospheric, convoluted and at times disjointed, but more importantly, it is absolutely entertaining. Time changes are akimbo as are the styles presented throughout the different pieces, one minute keyboard led, the next bass, approaches that have been well thought-out.
Cutely the band have added some MP3 tracks onto the disk to allow the listener to delve into their creative world more, something that will reward as you do so. In all actuality this really is about letting the music do the talking. One can sit and pontificate about this release, but in all honesty the best approach is to purchase a copy and understand what I am talking about. I can promise you, you will not be disappointed.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Neal Morse – Testimony 2 ~ Live In Los Angeles
Disc 1 Lifeline (14:03), Leviathan (6:53), The Separated Man (i) I'm In A Cage (ii) I Am The Man (iii) The Man's Gone [Reprise] (iv) Something Within Me Remembers (19:25), Sola Scriptura (18:40)
Disc 2 Seeds Of Gold (26:51), Testimony I [Part 5] (i) Overture No. 3 (ii) Rejoice (iii) Oh Lord My God iv) God's Theme (9:46), Reunion (i) No Separation (ii) Grand Finale (iii) Make Us One (11:00)
Disc 3 Part Six: Mercy Street (6:13) Overture No. 4 (5:40) Time Changer (6:06) Jayda (7:32), Part Seven: Night Time Collectors (4:26) Time Has Come Today (4:39) Jesus' Blood (5:25) The Truth Will Set You Free (7:36), Part Eight: Chance Of A Lifetime (6:54) Jesus Bring Me Home (4:44) Road Dog Blues (2:15) It's For You (6:13) Crossing Over/Mercy Street Reprise (12:07)
Neal Morse is certainly a busy and prolific man, this being his fourth release of 2011 along with two live Transatlantic albums and the Testimony 2 album itself. This is also Mr Morse’s third live album (the others being 'Question Mark Live' and So Many Roads) and whilst Question Mark Live covered the ? album and the Road So Far covered the Sola Scriptura and Lifeline albums this one is firmly focused on the Testimony 2 release. So much so that side 3 is devoted entirely to that album being performed live by the same musicians who recorded the studio album. This means alongside regular cohorts Mike Portnoy and Randy George the musicians are already familiar with the music, which I feel leads to a greater cohesiveness than displayed on earlier live releases, good as they were. The album was recorded at the Whittier Theatre in Los Angeles.
Disc One contains just four tracks kicking off on a very strident manner with the lengthy Lifeline which in itself is a musical tour de force before the somewhat disappointing Leviathan which is not in the same league as the other pieces being played. This is swiftly followed by another lengthy piece – A Separated Man from the “One” album before proceeding into a medley of Sola Scriptura pieces.
I have to confess that these pieces reminded me of vintage Kansas at times especially when the violin is featured heavily, at other times the band sound like a variant of ELP certainly the band sound on excellent form with some very tasty guitar work being underpinned by some classic Hammond swells. Neal Morse certainly knows how to build a song and the instrumental passages in these pieces are a delight for anyone but lyrics, well this is where opinion differs. Neal is a committed Christian and uses his music as a vehicle to “share” his faith, now some find this difficult to take especially if they don’t share his particular worldview whereas personally it’s not a problem especially when the music is a good as it is, sometimes however subtlety is not one of his strongest points!
Disc 2 contains just three tracks the first of which, Seeds Of Gold featured on the deluxe edition of Testimony 2 and included the majestic guitar of Steve Morse, and whilst Steve isn’t on this version this is still very impressive indeed with some wonderful instrumental passages and a frantic conclusion. This is swiftly followed by Testimony 1 Part 5 which acts as a precursor to Disc 3’s performance of Testimony 2 again featuring strong performances from all concerned. The third track however some listeners may find bewildering as it covers Reunion from the One album. What some might find hard is the latter segment of this song where Neal encourages us all “To Worship” to be frank this doesn’t come across well and the audience seem both bewildered and possibly uncomfortably quiet on this segment, maybe it was better at the time but it could grate with some.
Disc 3 is the entire Testimony 2 album and very good it is too, especially the opening Mercy Street and Overture No 4 – together these two pieces represent all that is great about Neal Morse’s music. Stirring melodies some great solo playing, admirably supported by the whole band. At times Overture No 4 reminded me of ELP with its fanfare type swagger.
Track 4 Jayda tells the story, (in words both spoken and sung), of his daughter Jayda heart problems in this song one can feel the anguish of parents for the problems their beloved daughter was having, if nothing else you can tell from this song that Neal is a very grateful man indeed, Jayda was in the audience too, so all turned out alright.
Again through this performance Neal is literally praising his God for his intervention in his life and some might find tracks like Jesus' Blood and Jesus Bring Me Home difficult, but the piece is best listened to in one sitting and in context and when you do this you realise why Neal sings so passionately about his beliefs.
The album closes with Crossing Over and revisit of Mercy Street including a snippet of Bridge To Forever from Transatlantic.
This is a lengthy release, just over 3 hours in all (and with 5 hours of DVD) that overall is a very worthwhile release, whatever your view on Neal Morse there is certainly some fine stirring and progressive music on display here that will reward any listener, the audio quality is excellent throughout with good separation of instruments.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Difícil Equilibrio – Present Live In Tiana 2008
Tracklist: Flood Parte II (6:09), Flood Parte II Coda (1:53), A.S.Prisma (3:06), Ella Hiel (3:39), Mudan Las Palabras (4:18), Brightness Falls (4:17), Anhelo (3:46), Malva Bruma (4:30), Generación Extraviada Parte I (4:01), Generación Extraviada Parte II (2:01), Dream Of Wires (3:52), Antiempatía (5:10), Progression (3:53), Un Final (0:56), Trayecto IV (3:14), Esperar Al Olvido (9:28), Easy Money (8:45) + Bonus Gallery (7:06)
The Tiana Festival was, for 10 years (1999-2008, if memory serves well), the most important yearly prog event to grace Spain (or Catalunya, for that matter). Even if Tiana is a relatively small town, and it was mostly an independently organized festival (by the brave/foolish Dudu Liñan), it nevertheless attracted some big names; the list is impressive: Fish, Pallas, Quidam, Galahad, After Crying, Anekdoten, Riverside, P.F.M… to name a few.
The festival obviously featured some “national” pride, represented by the likes of Dr.No, Atila and last but not least, Difícil Equilibrio (formerly Clan), which has to be one of the most important and respected Spanish progressive names to surface after the main 70’s wave of bands, with a couple of brilliant albums [Trayecto (2000) and Simétricanarquía (2003)] and an interesting K.C. covers EP [The Great Red Lament In Aspic (1998)] on their discography.
This DVD is a showcase of the powerful sound this trio (Alberto Díaz on guitar and vocals, Enric Gisbert on bass and Lluis Rodrigues on drums, augmented for the occasion by additional guitarist Joan Santanach) from Badalona can display on stage. The main influence here is King Crimson, with special attention to the most angular incarnations of the band, so the spirit of Red (1974), Discipline (1981) or THRAK (1995) imbues the music with thick bass lines, intricate guitar interplay and precise drumming. Besides this most obvious of inspirations, D.E. also proudly wear some The Police and jazz fusion influences on their sleeves, mainly represented by Díaz’s guitar tone, somewhere between Robert Fripp and Andy Summers.
Twin headed monster Flood Parte II/Flood Parte II Coda opens fire with its atmospherically tribal personality, before concluding its nearly 8 minutes with an energetic coda. A.S. Prisma has Andy Summers written all over it, though the nice bass line is pure 70’s John Wetton; this trend follows with Ella Hiel, a dynamic start-stop stomper which could perfectly be a B-side from Starless & Bible Black (1974). With Mudan Las Palabras is 80’s/90’s K.C. that springs to mind, so it’s Thrak and Vroom this time.
The first of the three covers on the set is Brightness Falls, a David Sylvian piece which should have been kept as an instrumental, given that Alberto Díaz’s vocals are poor at most. Yes, D.E. are one more of those progressive bands who are brilliant instrumentally but don’t pay too much attention to vocals; fortunately, vocals in this band are kept to a minimum, but they feel out of place every time they appear.
Anhelo features a gentler, slightly melodic side of D.E., with a more 70’s fusion style, and serves as a breather amidst what otherwise is a constant flow of intense music. Malva Bruma brings back the Police dynamics, before Generación Extraviada Parte I utters the spirit of Robert Fripp and, why not, Adrian Belew; then Generación Extraviada Parte II does the same with Tony Levin and his mighty basslines.
The duff vocals reappear on I Dream Of Wires, the second cover on the set, this time to “tribute” Gary Numan, though it doesn’t really add anything to the original (well, there’s some interesting percussion…) and it doesn’t feel much more than “novelty” fare. On the other hand, Antiempatía is pure Discipline, and Progression should be renamed as (the unofficial) Lark’s Tongues In Aspic Part V.
Un Final brings the main set to a chaotic conclusion, before the quartet reappears to perform Trayecto IV, this time powered by some very Les Claypool-esque playing by Enric Gisbert, before embarking on the complex trip that is Esperar Al Olvido, the longest, most demanding and possibly most rewarding piece on the set, featuring some seriously difficult and powerful drumming by Lluis Rodrígues.
As a wrapper, the third cover of the night, an Easy Money re-imagination that stays reasonably true to the original version, save for an “insignificant” detail: yes, you guessed, the vocals! To finish, the tip: a bonus 7 minute “archaeological” gallery featuring nice pictures of tickets and posters of past gigs and incarnations of the band.
So here you are, nice and simple visuals and crystal clear sound for a DVD which is not only a satisfying document of a cult band playing live, but also a fitting tribute to a now legendary festival which is, and always will be, much missed…
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Royal Hunt – Show Me How To Live
Tracklist: One More Day (6:16), Another Man Down (5:28), An Empty Shell (4:35), Hard Rain’s Coming (5:15), Half Past Loneliness (5:51), Show Me How To Live (10:06), Angel’s Gone (5:23)
Royal Hunt has been a tidy fit in the progressive metal/symphonic prog realm for some time. Since their first album in 1992 Royal Hunt has consistently released a new album roughly every two years. This latest delivery, Show Me How To Live, carries the genre torch adroitly by building on the energy of their previous album, X (2010), and ramping it up a bit with added orchestration, intensive keyboards (Andre Andersen,) and a new enthusiasm.
Front man D.C. Cooper, original and returning singer, has replaced Mark Boals (vocals since 2007) for this album and henceforth. Cooper’s return certainly has been a bonus for this stage of the band’s continuity. This said along with the point that there wasn’t anything wrong with Mark’s voice for this type of music.
Show Me How To Live is full of all the excesses we have come to expect from the genre with a booming expansive sound full of excellent musicianship. The driving guitars (Jonas Larsen,) bass (Andreas Passmark,) and soaring string sounds interlaced with synth and effects make for an entertaining piece of loud music. The added female vocals (Michelle Raitzin) also provide depth as well as character to the storyline. The drums (Allan Sorensen) are punchy and aggressive – including timpani to fill out the orchestrated effect quite thoroughly. All this plays into a symphony of high action and motion.
If you have no familiarity here, this is fast paced and melodic prog with plenty of catchy melodies and hook lines that stick in your head and you find yourself humming later. With a medieval bent nothing here is particularly edgy or heavy, but the action is aplenty and light hearted in nature, never taking itself too seriously despite the thick choral splashes filling the space in the backing vocals (Alexandra Popova and Maria McTurk.)
The bands that fall into this category are legion. Some that come to mind are Symphony X, Pagan’s Mind, and Consortium Project.
The production caters to the thick layers and expansive sound and left me in a good mood. The recording has good clarity and fills out nicely.
Overall impression is generally positive as another addition to a thoroughly packed genre pulls off an entertaining album without bringing anything particularly new to the table, but when you are on a roll doing what you do best, why not?
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Vespero – Subkraut – U-Boats Willkommen Hier
Tracklist: The Strangest Thing In The Ocean (11:31), Anpeilen! (9:51), Underwater (13:12), Target Selection (8:58), Angriff,ran,versenken! (11:05), ALARM... The Art Of Positive Thinking (12:26)
Inspired in equal measure by classic synth-led Krautrock, space rock, Russian futurism and sci-fi fantasy, this is the fourth album from Southern Russian space rockers Vespero on RAIG, although they have self-released many now out-of-print CD-Rs prior to their association with Moscow’s finest art rock label.
The packaging includes a submarine map of an area off the Antarctic coast, and the underwater concept is replicated in the cover art and the track titles. Loosely related to the tale of a mysterious expedition to then uncharted Southern Ocean waters by German subs in the 1940s, Subkraut does away with any need for further explanation as the album is entirely instrumental.
A line up of numerous synths and electronica, multiple percussion, bass, guitars, saxes and cello groove in various combinations to produce a compelling modernistic take on the pioneering works of Klaus Schulze and Kraftwerk, especially on the opening two numbers. Unless you have no sense of rhythm whatsoever Anpeilen! (loosely translated as “take a bearing”) will have you bopping like an agitated Cthulhu. The highlight of the album, Anpeilen! treats us to Hawkwind-like saxes and space noises floating just above the repetitive and addictive sequencer rhythm track like an alien spaceship looking for somewhere to land, before a crazed wah-guitar surge takes it somewhere else entirely. It is often the case that space rock can be rather formulaic, but this band of merry heads has managed to trawl the net for ancient sounds and then fashion them into something slightly different.
The theme set on the opening two numbers is continued once the trip is fully underway on Underwater which has a more conventional space rock template and fans of the genre will love it I’m sure, heavily reverbed wah guitars soaring off into the black deep. On Target Selection a sequencer riff is slowly submerged under a rising layer of dark ambient noise wave in the finest tradition of early Schulze. Definitely one for the headphones I’d say. Angriff,ran,versenken! (Attack, run, sinking) is as frantic as it should be, fast-paced sequencer lines leading the way to driving riffs as it ploughs through the water headlong and in distress. ALARM… ends the album in a fashion that by now has become somewhat familiar and a bit one-paced, but it is rescued by the slowed middle section.
My only criticism of this album is that some of the tracks may be a bit over-long, and some judicious editing would not have gone amiss. I’m sure the long format works far better in a live setting, but I did find my attention wandering at times. Having said that, Subkraut is probably more accessible than their previous more avant inclined releases, and is a fine addition for any fan of synth driven Krautrock and space rock in general.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Lawrence Ball – Method Music
Disc 1: Imaginary Sitters – Meher Baba Piece (5:01), Sitter 09 (5:02), Sitter 10 (5:02), Victoria (5:02), Sitter 11 (5:01), Sitter 12 (5:02), Sitter 13 (5:02), Sitter 14 (5:02), Sitter 15 (5:01), Sitter 17 (5:05), Sitter 16 (5:01)
Disc 2: Imaginary Galaxies - Galaxy 01 [For The Late Syd Barrett] (20:09), Galaxy 02 [For The Late Hugh Hopper] (20:07), Galaxy 03 [For The Late György Ligeti] (20:11)
To try and explain the concept behind Lawrence Ball’s Method Music in plain language is not the easiest of tasks so instead I’ll let his record label Navona do the honours:
“Lawrence and programmer Dave Snowdon collaborated with Pete Townshend on the Lifehouse Method web site, based on Townshend's Lifehouse concept. Users were invited to "sit" and enter information about themselves, which would be analyzed by the software and transformed into a unique piece of music. The website launched in 2007 and resulted in over ten thousand portraits before going into temporary stasis in 2008.
The result of Lawrence's research work into the Lifehouse Method was the creation of this collection, combining Townshend's concept with his own Harmonic Maths language. Here, the "sitters" are imagined by Lawrence and are used as a means to further explore computer-based composition techniques.”
Clear as day? No? Never mind, you don’t have to be either a composer or a mathematician (two of Ball’s qualifications) to appreciate the music spanning this two disc set which, as it says on the tin, has its origins in Pete Townshend’s abortive sci-fi opera Lifehouse.
Following the success of The Who’s rock opera Tommy in 1969, Townshend had plans for an even more ambitious undertaking before certain pressures (not least from the rest of the band and producer Kit Lambert) resulted in the abandonment of Lifehouse and the surviving songs being reworked for 1971’s Who’s Next album.
Appropriately, the famous backing track from Baba O'Riley which opens The Who’s album finds a new home here in the shape of Meher Baba Piece which introduces Lawrence’s work. From this base it develops into a rhythmic excursion with keyboard harmonics and occasionally what sounds like a strummed stringed instrument although I could be wrong. Ball gives no indication of the instrumentation deployed on the album although to these ears each track differs only marginally from the proceeding one in terms of style and content. In the style of Terry Riley there is minimal melodic development and could be broadly described as electronica with a persistent rhythmic drive reminiscent of Philip Glass. I also detected shades of Depeche Mode at their most avant-garde although overall it’s too laidback to be classed as electronic dance music. Sitter 12 however does have a sense of urgency and for me is the best disc 1 has to offer if only for the reason that it reminded me of Ian Curtis era Joy Division. Sitter 17 also has a certain grander that borders on Mike Oldfield, particularly his Hergest Ridge period.
Disc 2 subtitled ‘Imaginary Galaxies’ is an interesting proposition consisting of three extended tone poems, each dedicated to a prominent and occasionally experimental musician that has died within the past 6 years (Syd Barrett, Hugh Hopper and György Ligeti respectively). Syd gets the best treatment with Galaxy 01 being for me the albums most satisfying piece possibly because the sustained, orchestral sound-washes hark back to Phaedra era Tangerine Dream containing a haunting quality similar to that of Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings. Galaxy 02 continues in a similar ambient manner although without the symphonic grace of the proceeding track. For my money its overlong with only an eight note reoccurring motif in the midsection to retain the listeners interest. As well as a return (in part) to Mike Oldfield territory, the concluding Galaxy 03 has a compelling beauty and like all three pieces here its success is due in no small part to the complete absence of monotonous synthetic rhythm tracks.
Within the liner notes of the elegant digipack that houses the two discs the term ‘Harmonic Mathematics’ consistently rears its head. The cynic in me wonders if this is a reference to the clinical resolve to keep every track to an almost identical length (5 minutes on disc 1, 20 minutes on disc 2). This, and the anonymous track titles I found a tad pretentious which likewise has a tendency to flow over into the music that Lawrence Ball produces (with assistance from Pete Townsend and Bob Lord). That said it certainly has its moments particularly Galaxy 01 which deserves to be experienced on headphones at least once in the lifetime of every discerning music fan.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Nektar - Man In The Moon | Evolution
CD 1 ~ Man In The Moon (1980) Too Young To Die (4:22), Angel (3:33), Telephone (3:45), Far Away (3:22), Torraine (5:29), Can't Stop You Now (4:23), We (4:43), You're Alone (4:10), Man In The Moon (6:46) Bonus Track: Straight Jacket (3:49)
CD 2 ~ Evolution (2004) Camouflage To White (7:06), Old Mother Earth (7:43), Child Of Mine (6:46), Phazed By The Storm (9:24), Always (7:04), Dancin' Into The Void (8:21), The Debate (9:33), After The Fall (5:38) Always EP (2005): Always [Single Edit] (3:43), Child Of Mine [Single Edit] (4:54), Telephone [Live In Studio] (4:02), Angel [Live In Studio] (4:37)
'By 1976, Nektar had run their course.'
This is the sentence that essayist Dave Thompson chooses to begin the liner notes to Cleopatra's double-disc reissue of Nektar's albums, Man In The Moon (1980) and Evolution (2004). This isn't the first impression that I'd want to give to people who had just bought my album, but clearly Mr. Thompson is a bold man, choosing to face facts rather than soften the blow.
Things don't get better. After saying that something in Nektar's music had 'gone awry', he then proceeds to have a proper rant at the music industry in the second paragraph, with such accusatory sentences as 'Profits they have not even earned, and certainly don't deserve.' Soon after, however, he seems to get the frustration out of his system, and begins to tell the story of Nektar after their glory days.
However, he takes his time doing so. Starting as far back as 1976, he decides to ramble through four years of history before finally getting to the first album in this collection, filling up the best of three pages as he does so. To give him credit, he includes some of band leader Roye Albrighton's opinions, making for an informative read. Furthermore, he finishes on a positive note, and even a lame Nektar-based pun, perhaps in an effort to contradict his opening sentence.
So with these 'full liner notes' - as Cleopatra advertises them - out the way, what are these albums like? To use a term coined by fellow reviewer Roger Trenwith, Man In The Moon is pretty AORful on the whole. By 1980, like so many other prog bands, it seems Nektar had chosen to eschew their progressive side, and become more accessible. I can't say that I blame them, because at this time, prog was about as popular as a butcher at a vegetarian-only party, and it would be another two years before bands like IQ and Marillion started to pick up the pieces. As a result, this album is closer to contemporary Journey and Uriah Heep than it is to their original sound. Heck, even the album cover looks like a cross between Escape and Firefly from these respective artists. Rather than pretending that this is a dandy album, Dave Thompson chooses to point out that the album 'quickly ran into criticism from older fans for what was perceived as a far more commercial sheen'. You really aren't selling this to us, you know?
While most of the album doesn't deserve more than a listen, there are two gems that made me sit up. The first is Torraine, which, between the bouts of squeaky singing, has a dazzling breakneck instrumental section, showing that the spirit of prog hasn't been completely lost. The title track is also surprisingly good. At just under seven minutes, this powerful tune alternates between quiet and loud sections, with great rocky riffs throughout. Not utter brilliance by any stretch of the imagination, but at least the album isn't a total let down.
Twenty-four years later, and we arrive at Evolution, the second release by the reformed Nektar group. You can tell this album will be proggier, as every track - except for the symphonic ballad After The Fall - is longer than any of the songs on Man In The Moon. With length being the name of the game, I was quite surprised to find that this album wasn't all that bad. For a reformed 70s band, Nektar are able to create quite a good racket. The intro to Camouflage To White - and indeed the album - shows that the band still have some of the instrumental prowess they had back in the day. There's also a fair amount of variation in the tracks, ranging from the rocky Camouflage To White, to the relaxing Child Of Mine, to the epic The Debate.
While this album is miles ahead of its counterpart in this reissue, it's not without its own shortcomings. For one thing, this certainly isn't a patch on A Tab In The Ocean. Good heavens, no. Moreover, the tracks do tend to drag on occasion, and in particular, the repeated choruses at the end of Camouflage To White and Phazed By The Storm go on a bit long and is a bit filler. Nevertheless, this is a far better comeback album than many that I've heard.
Also appended to the second CD is an EP from 2005, with a couple of single edits, and some live studio versions of two of the tracks off Man In The Moon. It seems to be a coincidence that the live tracks are off that particular album, but who knows? In any case, there's nothing particularly interesting here.
Now I may be too used to the high quality of Esoteric's wonderful reissues, but I have to say that Cleopatra's repackaging of these two albums is rather shoddy. The music itself sounds fine, as if remastered from the original master tapes, but that should be a given in this day and age. The problems begin with the art reproduction, which consists solely of the two tiny pictures on the front cover. I do admire the artwork for both of these albums, so to see them shrunk further than 5" × 5" is rather disappointing. Cleopatra describe the digipak as 'stylish', and if by 'stylish' they mean 'rather flimsy and littered with camp band photographs' then they've got it spot on. Even worse than all this however, the track list on the back of the sleeve claims that there are two bonus tracks on Disc 1, when there is in fact only one. Improper tracklisting is surely one of the most heinous crimes a reissuing label can commit without actually tampering with the music. Designer Ximena Mutis could learn a few things from Phil Smee at Waldo's Design and Dream Emporium. No, seriously.
To conclude, this is a rather lame reissue of two nonconsecutive albums, one mainly drivel, the other not so bad. Quite why this reissue is necessary is beyond me, as one of the albums is only eight years old, and surely shouldn't be eligible for a reissue yet. The very fact that the albums are so different in quality makes this reissue rather unbalanced: if Close To The Edge were reissued with Tormato, I know which disc I'd listen to more. Speaking of Tormato, I remember finding the liner notes particularly worthwhile, as writer Tim Jones must have put all his effort into making this rotten fruit seem worthwhile, without overtly lying about the quality of the album. The essay for this reissue has done quite the opposite, making the first album seem unimpressive right from the start, without even bothering to sell it to the audience. This is a very cheaply made reissue, so unless you're desperate to fill the gap in your collection, I'd hold off if I were you.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10
Rick Miller - In The Shadows
Tracklist: A Promise Worth Making (6:02), The River Lethe (4:02), Heaven In Your Eyes (4:13), Ombres (4:28), Life In The Shadows (5:40), The Twilight Beckons Me (5:17), The Fall Off Uqbar (4:40), Angel Eyes Pt 1 (3:31), The Young Man And The Mirror (5:30), The Last Night (2:34), The Breeze, The Ocean, The Rain (4:38)
For me Rick Miller is not a new name, this is the third album from his hands that I will be reviewing. In the Eighties Rick made a new age instrumental album and from the end of the nineties until now he has released a new album every one or two years. The first of these I heard was Falling Through Rainbows, which was a nice enough album but overall not much variety in sound. The second album I reviewed, Dreamtigers, appealed to me more and I thought he was improving himself, but I found out it was a re-release from 2004. Just like on all his previous albums Rick Miller does all the writing and plays all the instruments on In The Shadows - apart from Sara Young on flute, Will on drums and Matteus Swoboda on cello.
As for the style of music I can copy my own notes from the Falling Through Rainbows review. Rick Miller's voice sounds like Justin Hayward and Arjan Lucassen and the music has parts from Pink Floyd and Moody Blues. In The Shadows is also a bit of a mellow album and sadly also on this album the songs are not very distinctive, the same sound throughout the whole album. The moment I started listening to A Promise Worth Making I had to check if I put in the right album. Nice music, nothing wrong but hardly anything spectacular happening. Life In The Shadows is the first song I really felt the level was going up, more soul and a very good David Gilmour like solo, however this was merely a short break because on the next songs the standard Rick Miller sound continues.
The Breeze, The Ocean, The Rain is a bonus track and there is also a song called Angel Eyes Pt 1. Since there is no Pt 2 on this album I assume it will be on his new album, but I hope he finds a method to spice up his style of music for the next one.
I cannot say Rick Miller made a bad album, nice music, great atmosphere and good production, but just like Falling Through Rainbows this album kind of passes by without you noticing the songs changing. I also can say In The Shadows does not reach the level of it's predecessor. And keeping in mind I liked the 2004 album, Dreamtigers, I can only conclude that Rick Miller is losing his mojo. It feels like he is repeating himself and his music is slowly and gradually becoming less interesting. I can honestly say that a Rick Miller album is a good addition to any progressive rock collection but you should get Dreamtigers, not his latest works. I hope he gets his musical spirit back and makes the next album really worth it.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
We Could Build An Empire – We Could Build An Empire
Tracklist: Finest Work (5:28), Ice (4:14), Dogs (5:56), Easy (4:33), The Power (5:21), Fall Free (5:04), Vyss (2:45), Back To Start (5:49)
We Could Build An Empire are a confident sounding trio from Sweden, comprising Marcus Pehrsson (lead vocals, bass, keyboards), Pontus Wallin (guitars, vocals, keyboards), and Michael Ohlsson (drums). This, their self-titled debut album, has been sitting in my “to do” pile for some time, not because it is not good, but because I’m finding it difficult to pin down. It is not really prog, nor is it post-rock; in fact there is no irony in this band’s up to date but straightforward rock sound, tempered by the slight dissonance of Pontus’ guitar stylings.
Opener Finest Work with its post-modern lyrics and hints at angularity put me in mind of a more a more rock-orientated Wire, while following number Ice kicks off with a guitar figure from Big Country territory, opening out into U2-like vistas. The production is big and wide open, and feels like it is coming from the sound stage of a large festival. Their sound is an amalgam of many classic guitar rock styles from the 1980s onwards, with a special nod to the Seattle grunge scene.
The song writing flags a bit after the first two numbers although there are some nice ideas, particularly the atmospheric section of Dogs, made by the addition of female backing vocals. The rolling drum beat that leads The Power is a nice touch but the song itself never really takes off. Things pick up with Fall Free, a song that goes through some good changes and is probably as close to prog as we get, the vocal arrangement in the chorus being particularly catchy, and the bass line has a distinct Pixies feel to it.
Vyss is a simple but effective Scandinavian alt-folk song that presages Back To Start which returns us to the festival stage and is a showcase for Pontus’ textural guitar sound.
A pleasant enough album that has enough in it to suggest that the band could come up with something special in the future, but an album that comes across as tad samey in parts. We Could Build An Empire need to find that extra something that would set them apart from dozens of similar sounding generic indie-rock bands.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10