Reviews in this issue:
- Mike Keneally - Wing Beat Fantastic
- 3 Mice - Send Me A Postcard
- Asia - XXX (Duo Review)
- Michael Anthony - Words And Music, Excursions In The Art Of Rock Fandom [Book]
- Kosmoratik - Gravitation
- Affector - Harmagedon
- Sweet Fingers - Sweet Fingers
- Tangerine Dream - Tyger
Mike Keneally - Wing Beat Fantastic
Tracklist: The Ineffable Oomph Of Everything, Part One (1:00), I'm Raining Here, Inside (3:33), Wing Beat Fantastic (3:25), The Ineffable Oomph Of Everything, Part Two (0:30), You Kill Me (5:18), Friend Of A Friend (0:49), That's Why I Have No Name (4:05), Your House (3:51), Miracle Woman And Man (4:33), Inglow (4:49), Bobeau (5:55), Land (2:17)
Chances are you will not be familiar with Mike Keneally, an artist I only really came across at the recent NEARfest Apocalypse, although I do recall him contributing a track to a Gentle Giant tribute album a few years ago, which certainly gives him a certain amount of kudos from a Giant freak like me! Others might be familiar with him from his contributions to several albums by Frank Zappa, as Keneally was the man who had the unenviable job of replacing Steve Vai in Zappa's touring band not only playing guitar but also keyboards and adding vocals. He was also a prominent member of the G3 touring group along with Vai and Satriani amongst others, played on a couple of Vai solo albums, contributed to Nick D'Vigillio's solo Karma album, appeared on an unfeasibly large number of other albums and somehow also found the time to record and release somewhere in the region of 25 solo albums. Which brings us to the latest release, Wing Beat Fantastic.
Although ostensibly a Keneally solo album, it is much more special than that as eight of the twelve songs were co-written with none other than Swindon and XTC legend Andy Partridge. As such, these are the first recordings and songs by Partridge in the approximately a decade. By one of those strange coincidences, a recent edition of the UK's Prog magazine recently had a big article the gist of which was 'XTC, Prog or not?' The widely differing answers if anything, just goes to reinforce the pointlessness of labelling music as there will be as many different definitions, and exceptions to any definition as there are listeners. But pushing all of that aside, what of the album? Before delving into the collaborations, let us deal with the four tracks that do not feature the hand of Mr P. Two of them, both parts of The Ineffable Oomph Of Everything are instrumental guitar ditties that establish a quirky mood with some clever playing. Land, the closing track of the album, is pretty much indistinguishable in style from a lot of the other songs on the album. As to if that implies Keneally was the major contributor the collaborations or was simply inspired by what the two musicians came up with is a somewhat moot point, as by all accounts the co-compositions were genuine collaborations, written together round a table in mutual respect. The last of the solo compositions, That's Why I Have No Name, displays more of an individual character. A piano based song and including a famous quote from 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is a rather gentle number, with layered vocals and a lovely toned guitar middle eight and finale.
From the first chord there is no mistaking the characteristic Partridge style and it has to be said that on this album Keneally even sounds like Mr P, uncannily so at times. The quirky nature of the songs will be familiar to lovers of XTC but this is more than a simple XTC pastiche as Keneally, as one would expect from a Zappa alumni, is no stranger to the songs that display something a bit out of the ordinary. His flourishes enhance the more basic nature of the songs as on I'm Raining Here, Inside where the infectious groove and guitar solo perfectly complement the characteristic chorus. Wing Beat Fantastic is worthy of being mentioned alongside the Dukes Of Stratosphere being more in that ouevre than anything else on the album and certainly of as good a quality, if perhaps not so overtly reliant on the psychedelic influences. You Kill Me with its opening guitar arpeggios, encompasses a variety of guitar styles joyously hiding an acerbic lyric behind an upbeat demeanour while Friend Of A Friend is along the same lines as The Ineffable Oomph Of Everything, which exemplifies how in tune the two composers were when writing the album.
Miracle Woman And Man is probably the least conventional song on the album featuring several different parts melded into one which at times has an almost Godley and Creme aspect to it. Largely acoustic guitars, there is a brief synth and piano interlude that is notable for being such a contrast before an offbeat acoustic guitar part takes us back into the main song. Inglow is a more sedate, mostly instrumental number with some original percussive effects and more excellent guitar playing, not surprising that the likes of Zappa and Vai are more than happy to share a stage with the man. In some ways the somewhat languid vocals towards the end don't add much to the track, but on the same note they don't distract from it either. Bobeau is a veritable smorgasbord of trombones, guitars, keyboards, layered vocals and offbeat drums that meld together perfectly. Snippets of different melodies weave in and out, mixing with the sound of the ocean and various seagulls (screaming 'Kiss her Kiss her' perhaps ?!). A very interesting song and the one that is the least immediately melodious and memorable but with repeated listening taps at the cranium demanding entry and lodges in the place within the brain that calls to the conscious mind 'play that song again!'
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that one track has been skipped over, the three minutes and fifty-one seconds of Your House. Even if the other eleven tracks on this album were utter rubbish (and they are most certainly not!) then I'd still want to own the album purely because of this song, a gorgeous ballad of unrequited love that, ironically, I fell in love with on first hearing. A haunting melody and a achingly beautiful lyric that is certainly my odds on favourite for song of the year. Maybe the lyric just resonates with personal experience - the strength of the composition is in the fact that I, and presumably many others, could easily be convinced that it is written about them! Last words should go to Mr P himself:
"I didn't know how any of the tunes we'd agreed to write together were going to come out, but I know one thing, so musical is this man that him just sitting with a guitar across his lap or perched at a keyboard pulled things from me that I can honestly say I don't know where they came from. One such piece was 'Your House.' One morning I said 'give me a chord,' he did, and another... 'go up this time,' and he did. Suddenly the basis for a whole bittersweet tale flew out. This is tough to talk about as I'm internally fighting the anti-vanity police writing this, but Mike and I wrestled from nowhere as beautiful a song as my best XTC work. Sat in my microscopic garden shed studio, I was privileged to be part of some rare magic that day."
For a man with as fine a pedigree and back catalogue as Andy Partridge, that is saying a lot.
Are XTC prog? Is Mike Keneally prog? Should Wing Beat Fantastic be placed along side prog album? Honest answer? I couldn't give a expletive deleted - without a shadow of a doubt, it would take Gentle Giant to reform and release a new album that was better than all of their other albums combined to prevent Wing Beat Fantastic this is my album of the year!
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10
3 Mice - Send Me A Postcard
Tracklist: Hot Rod Waltz (3:33), Invitation (2:24), Forro Fuega (2:45), Tse-Tse (4:07), 20 Heart (0:55), Orkneys (4:12), Mr Hamster’s Dilemma (3:51), Celleste (4:57), Botellas De Botica (3:27), Experiment (3:36), Year Of My Solstice (5:28), Skallaloo (3:37)
3 Mice came together when Dave Willey and Elaine di Falco met multi-instrumentalist Cédric Vuille in Geneva while on tour with Thinking Plague. As is the way with modern day international collaborations, files were swapped across the ether to and from Switzerland, Dave and Elaine’s base in Colorado and Tel Aviv where mixer extraordinaire Udi Koomran twiddled knobs, and the end result is the charming but never twee Send Me A Postcard, 12 vignettes of European alt-café music. If such a thing never existed before, it does now.
Bands may decry the internet and its causal slashing of CD sales, but it has to be said that pre-net it is highly unlikely that this album and many other similar cloud collaborations of all genres would simply not have been made.
The instrumentation on this album is many and varied, including vibraphone, cuatro (a Latin-American guitar), shaker, pandero (a type of tambourine), clarinet, e-bow guitar, kalimba (thumb piano), zither, theremin, qarkabeb (Moroccan castanets), banjolele, spoons, ukulele, triangle, mailing tubes (?), flute, and jew’s harp, as well as the traditional guitar, bass and drums. Not all at once, I hasten to add! Dominating the instrumentation, but never to excess is Dave’s (and sometimes Elaine’s) accordion which gives the songs their European street scene flavour.
The album commences in an upbeat and ebullient mood, with Hot Rod Waltz dominated initially by Dave’s accordion and latterly given extra punch by Cédric’s guitar. This fast dance tune in waltz time sets the tone for the album, optimistic and full of hope. Seemingly in contrast the following tune Invitation although a slower more rueful affair still melds into the whole seamlessly. We get world music influences aplenty, from the Latino inflected Forro Fuega, to Africa on Tse-Tse, to Scottish jigs and reels on Orkneys, to the West Indian ska beats of Skallaloo.
The intriguingly titled Mr Hamster’s Dilemma, written by Elaine features the only sung lyrics on the album, which are as oblique as one would expect. Perhaps they are a reference to Dave’s other band Hamster Theater, and there may be an in-joke at work here which I’d love to get to the bottom of; or, it could just be a tall tale about an errant rodent, who knows?
Elaine’s multi-tracked dulcet tones and the theremin on Celleste lend a beautiful air to another tune from Cédric that is French to the core and an album highlight for me and utterly charming to boot.
With their avant-prog credentials it would have been remiss of Dave and Elaine not to have given us a helping of their left-field atmospherics, and this they do on Elaine’s literally titled Experiment, where Dave plays the “mailing tubes”, which if I’m not mistaken do not sound a million miles away from the didgeridoo. The trio are joined on this song by Daniel Spahni on drums, and a tougher sound is the result. Although definitely avant in nature this tune does not get too out there for to have done so would have unsettled the vibe, but it is a nice reminder of whom exactly we are listening to. Elaine also contributes the most melancholy tune on the album, Year Of My Solstice which sees a return for the theremin which added to the slow waltz of Elaine’s piano makes for a sad sound indeed. As if not wanting to leave us in a downbeat mood, closing song Skallaloo is a rousing ska-beat dance number that would not have sounded out of place on a latter era Specials AKA record. Jerry Dammers would love this tune, and if doesn’t get you jigging along you must be the whitest man or woman alive!
The scattered contributions of the musicians and the producer have come together so well on Send Me A Postcard you would be forgiven for thinking that it was all created in one place over a few days. The bewildering variety of instrumentation and the effortless and uncluttered arrangements on offer here makes for a sound and vibe that is different from anything I’ve heard Dave or Elaine play on to date.
Not “prog” but certainly progressive you will not find any doom and gloom navel gazing here, and no-one on this album will tell you that we’re all going to die. No folks, this is a rare thing in the world of adventurous music, for it is a “fun” record. You don’t have to be a prog fan to like this, just a lover of good original music. Small but ambitious, our 3 Mice have sent us twelve musical postcards from all corners of the globe that unlike the balloons released by the three mice in Elaine’s subtly designed booklet do not burst through getting too high too fast, but rather deliver their message in a way that will have you returning to read them again and again.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Asia - XXX
Tracklist: Tomorrow The World (6:47), Bury Me In Willow (6:01), No Religion (6:36), Faithful (5:37), I Know How You Feel (4:53), Face On The Bridge (5:59), Al Gatto Nero (4:36), Judas (4:43), Ghost Of A Chance (4:21)
Dave Baird's Review
It's staggering for me to think that thirty years have passed as it only seems like yesterday that I was hearing the first ever Asia tracks being broadcast on a BBC Radio One Friday Night Rock Show special with Tommy Vance and all four band members together for interview. The anticipation for that release was huge and for our younger readers you have to remember that back in those says there was no such thing as internet or album leaks; what little news to be had was gleaned from the music tabloids of the day who were not "wasting" much time, paper or ink writing about another boring Prog supergroup. However, despite what many may have expected from former members of Yes, UK, ELP and King Crimson getting together, the product was less Prog than anticipated and I listened in horror as one-after-another radio-friendly AOR tracks was presented on the radio.
That debut album had huge commercial success and rightly so as there's hardly a bad note on it; my early ambivalence diminished over time and I found myself liking it. Lurking behind that over-produced, pop-facade and between the catchy choruses was some fabulous playing with real energy and all the songs had lots of interesting diversions, chops and changes. Like many others I was hungry for more, but Alpha and indeed every album since didn't deliver the quality. A few good tracks here and there, but the fire from the original was never rekindled. Then of course were the multiple line-up changes over the course of 20 years or so, health issues to be sorted out, busy schedules and all that, but the original line-up finally got back together in 2006 and in the interim released Phoenix and Omega - both decent releases, but once again a bit patchy. I did have the pleasure to see the band last year live and they were pretty decent although the older songs were played a little slower than the originals.
Much is being made of this "30 year" anniversary. Besides the album title, the inevitable cover-art by Roger Dean takes many of the motifs from the debut album art: the dragon, water, sphere and fishes - this time six of then, not three and cunningly forming the album title; perhaps more tellingly, albeit perhaps unconsciously, we also see the pyramid from Alpha in the background. The marketing men have gone into top-gear too, with comparisons to the debut flowing freely and the band themselves talking about the "spirit" of it all. So, can they really pull it off and return to glory? To cut to he chase, no, they can't…
What we have here is a collection of nine songs, four of which are superb and do stand-up well to the earlier work. The opener, Tomorrow The World is nicely up-tempo, typically catchy AOR with a decent Wetton lyric which he sings superbly - in fact John's singing throughout is the best we've heard him for years. Howe's guitar shimmers in the verses and Geoff Downes' classic synths drip with warmth and texture. Palmer disappoints though, the drumming is one-paced and linear; other than having the precision of a computer he's hardly stretched at all, setting the pattern for most of the album. It's this linearity that for me the biggest single reason why the band haven't reproduced the quality of the first album - which did had many pace and direction changes, plus a multitude of more technical sections. Rather they've gone back to the second release, Alpha, for inspiration (although perhaps they don't realise). That being said, it's still a super track. Bury Me In Willow keeps up the high standard being a superior AOR track blessed with another great tune, good (but a little unusual) lyrics and vocal harmonies and a nice faux-classical bridge - very typical Asia there and the band are on a roll.
Alas, all good things come to an end and the next three tracks: No Religion, Faithful and I Know How You Feel just don't cut the mustard at all. They sound a lot like the Asia from the 90's, that is faceless and generic. To be fair there is a small instrumental break in Faithful where Palmer finally shows some of his chops, but otherwise three to forget as they go nowhere. Back on track though with another quality Alpha-esque track in Face On The Bridge that delivers on the tune and tempo once again, but sadly still doesn't add any progressive elements. Palmer manages to break out drum-machine mode a little in Al Gatto Nero, but it does nothing to break the tedium of the song - very catchy, very nice, but once again too generic, and the same is to be said of Judas, in a word, boring after a couple of listens.
They have saved the best for last though in Ghost Of A Chance where we finally have some change of pace. The piano and vocal intro once again bring Alpha to mind and showcase Downes and Wetton at their very best. Howe's tasteful guitar and steel playing excels as the track shifts from ballad into bombast, the album playing out with overblown, symphonic style; utter class. This is the Asia we want to hear and shows that they still can do it. Hearing this I wonder why they can't dress-up the duller tracks a bit - a few classical moments here and there, a hint of Prog, break it up a bit and it could change everything. As it stands, strip off the bad songs and you've a really, really fabulous EP that would hold it's own with the best of their work.
Despite the negatives, there is a lot to admire and it's the best Asia album since Alpha. Wetton's voice is in fine fettle and he's put some good lyrics together, not always though, he still comes up with some real cheesy, clichéd stinkers (I've lost track of the number of times he's rhymed with the words "night" and "cry"…). Geoff Downes has kept his battery of synths from the 70's and 80's and they sound so damn good, lovely and warm - many other players could learn from this. Howe's playing, as ever, is full of class, although I do wish he shred a bit from time to time - I think of the guitar acrobatics he displayed on Time Again and just wish he'd let rip for once. Palmer's the big let-down, he's tremendous drummer and doesn't really get a chance to shine at all - whether this is by choice or just the way it came-out, who knows…
45% amazing, 55% forgettable, but signs of life in the old-dog. I can't help wondering though if the Prog community keeps up with Asia more because of the band-members and their history rather than the music they're producing.
Brian Watson's Review
For this, Asia's 30th anniversary I'm trying something a bit different. The review is done in real time, in evernote on an iPhone as the album plays in iTunes. The review equivalent, if you will, of an episode of 24.
No need to pad this out with band bios, or details of who plays what instrument, this is the original Asia. Not to be confused with the other Asia. They reformed a while back and have toured extensively. As memory serves this will be the third album released by this reformed lineup.
The record begins with haunting guitar and piano before launching into *that* signature upbeat Asia sound. Tomorrow The World sees trademark vocal harmonies and lovely little Steve Howe guitar flourishes too. A nice solo closes out the song, with some distant organ.
Next up is Bury Me In Willow, a poppy sounding ballady thing that's a bit of an anti-climax, to be honest, after such a strong opener. A bit repetitive.
Third track No Religion is a straight-ahead rocker that's not blowing my pantaloons off. It's lifted by Wetton's emotive vocals. Musically it's pedestrian to say the least. I could always forgive Asia's ham-fisted lyrics because the music was so good but here they are front and centre, abandoned by the tune and, well, they don't fare well. It picks up musically toward the end and the plaintive, piano close out is quite pretty.
Faithful carries on this worrying trend. It's a bit 'Asia by Numbers' I'm afraid. It's another plodder. There's a bit where, to make the rhyme fit Wetton sings 'Faithful I'll be with you'. Like a prog Yoda. Oh dear.
I Know How You Feel is up next. Or it could be Foreigner's Cold as Ice from the staccato keyboard opening. And it's another plodding ballad, I'm afraid.
Face On The Bridge is better than what's gone before, with the exception of the opener. It's a livelier tune and Steve Howe's criminally underused guitar sound can be heard in places. He even gets a mini solo. It's a recurring theme of the record. When Steve Howe gets a decent bit to play, the song's good. When he doesn't then it isn't.
Al Gatto Nero has an Asia-like energy that's been missing from much of the album. And yes, Howe's guitar is prominent. Possibly my favourite tune so far. It's a well-crafted slab of pop-prog, that's what it is. It hints at how good this album could have been.
Judas starts off strongly too. Better, this. The classic Asia formula. Great tune, great singing, great harmonies. Traces of Howe's guitar. That's Steve Howe of Yes, as I used to tell people at school when I first discovered Asia in 1982. After prog had gone. Bleak times for music. That Asia's debut did so well speaks volumes, really. Good song, Judas. But if this was a debut by a new band I'd be suggesting they didn't give up their day job, given the amount of great music and great bands out there. Competition is a killer, I'd be saying. You don't stand a Ghost Of A Chance.
Which surprisingly is the next tune (see what I did there?) Another upbeat, rousing piece with a great SH guitar solo and choral keyboards.
And that, as they say, is that. The weaker material is bunched together near the beginning but it picks up and gets stronger. If you like classic Asia, as I do, then you'll like this. I don't, however, love it. It's not earth-shattering, it's not genre-defining. There's not been much 'progression' in the Asia sound if truth be told. It is what it is.
Michael Anthony - Words And Music,
Excursions In The Art Of Rock Fandom [Book]
Books written by music fans, especially those about prog rock, appear very infrequently. Most recently, there has been an update of Paul Stump’s excellent The Music’s All That Matters, followed by Will Romano’s lavish Mountains Come Out Of The Sky and Citizens Of Hope And Glory by Classic Rock Society director Stephen Lambe who is also co-promoter of the Summer’s End Festival.
Tackling prog rock is always tricky as everyone has an opinion about what constitutes great prog, but author and self-confessed music fanatic Michael Anthony has addressed it through his own personal journey through the musical landscape over the years. As a result, many of his observations will strike very familiar chords with all of us and we how we reacted when we first heard a particular piece of music on tape or CD or saw a band live. In many respects, it is finding our own meaning to the music that shapes our individual outlooks – and more than occasionally, causes significant damage to our bank accounts!!
Though most of Anthony’s book concentrates on his mainstream rock and heavy metal favourites such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, there is a rich and thoughtful seam of prog into which he drills to offer his own personal perspective and reflect on those who have influenced him the most. Much of this centres on Marillion of whom he has been an admirer for many years along with Twelfth Night, in particular, the band’s original and much missed singer Geoff Mann.
Writing about Twelfth Night, in a chapter called God And The Devil, Anthony compares the blatantly Satanist Black Sabbath back catalogue with the works of Mann, a devout Christian who became in a Church of England vicar just before his untimely death from cancer in 1993.
Exploring both his lyrical and vocal contribution to Twelfth Night, Anthony focuses on Mann’s personality, passion, lyrical contribution, overwhelming belief in social justice and sense of the absurd as bringing a unique quality to the band especially its acclaimed Fact And Fiction album particularly the classic Love Song still regarded as a benchmark both for the band and indeed prog music in general because of its powerful words, haunting melody and inspiring chorus line.
This segues into Anthony’s assessment of Mann’s I May Sing Grace, which he admits, after a year of trying to find his way into its meaning, the music suddenly hit him and “came on like a revelation” as it all made sense to him at last.
This is just a very small taster of a very thoughtful and well measured examination which is further supported by a sparkling testimony from Brian Devoil, Twelfth Night’s drummer on the back cover.
The author’s excursions with Marillion are equally insightful as again, he trains his literary microscope upon their music to discover how and why it affected him so much especially around the time, the vocal duties were passed on by Fish to Steve Hogarth.
Having attended an international Marillion weekend in Holland, Anthony tries to put into perspective his chequered relationship with the band and shares the emotions common to all prog fans when their favourite bands decide to make changes particularly to their line-ups, which at the time, seem difficult to fathom out.
Other close-up examinations are made of artists such as Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, all highly readable and always well-reasoned. It all ends fittingly with the inaugural High Voltage festival in London when an overlap of bands on the Sunday night meant having to choose between seeing all of Marillion on the Prog stage and missing the first part of ELP’s oh so rare appearance on the main stage. But it is a great place to end the book as it is here where the metal, classic and prog rock tributaries all join in musical confluence.
With testimonies also on the back cover from both Matthew Cohen, his fellow Welshman and main-man bassist with The Reasoning and Lucy Jordache, Marillion’s Communications Manager, Anthony was setting himself a huge task in writing this thoroughly engrossing book. But his tales will strike a familiar chord with fans of all musical rock genres.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Kosmoratik – Gravitation
Tracklist: Veronica, Go (3:03), Cosmorama (4:07), Years Ago, Miles Apart (4:39), Nothing Is Static (4:12), Don Quixote (4:16), In Spite Of All [Life Was Grand] (4:26), Unfinished Journeys (4:05), Lilac Smile (6:41), It's In My Mind (5:13)
Based in Oslo, Kosmoratik is a new band revolving around the partnership of singer-songwriter Eivind Johansen and arranger, multi-instrumentalist Odd Gunnar Frøysland. The seeds of their first album Gravitation were sown in 2010 when Johansen teamed up with fellow vocalist Lise Lotte Agedal and with the arrival of Frøysland in 2011 all the elements were in place to create one of the best debuts it’s been my pleasure to experience for some time.
Soundwise Kosmoratik are something of an enigma. Whilst sounding fresh and inventive, their music has its groundings in the late 60’s/early 70’s, an era when psychedelic rock was evolving into early progressive rock and singer-songwriters were in their apogee. The songs are mostly of the cool, mellow and thought provoking variety with acoustic guitar, a string quartet, oboe and mellotron used to mesmerising effect.
The opening song Veronica, Go is a short but haunting acoustic ballad with Johansen’s brooding, husky tones elevating it to classic singer-songwriter status. Continuing the mood, Cosmorama is a gorgeous concoction with ethereal mellotron that has a touch of The Moody Blues about it circa their 1969 On The Threshold Of A Dream album. Years Ago, Miles Apart is a more weightier affair although still delivered at a measured pace with prominent electric guitar, synth and massed voices creating a lush sound that would have not sounded out of place on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album.
Having provided backing vocals thus far, Lise’s charming voice comes into its own during Nothing Is Static sharing lead with Johansen. Rhythmic mellotron flute adds a psychedelic undercurrent sounding suitably anthemic vaguely recalling The Beatles’ Hey Jude byway of Tears For Fears’ Sowing The Seeds Of Love. In contrast, the catchy Don Quixote is cool and breezy, with electric piano adding a mellow jazz vibe whilst In Spite Of All [Life Was Grand] is lively, jangly guitar rock with mellotron strings and a bubbly synth line underpinning a memorable choral hook.
Unfinished Journeys has a wistful folk ambiance to begin with, blossoming into a poetic song with infectious ringing guitar, moving strings and piano combing to create a bittersweet mood. With the benefit of another strong chorus, this could just possibly be my favourite song on the album. The penultimate Lilac Smile is more electric guitar focused with a strong central riff and a lush arrangement that once again brings David Gilmour and crew to mind. To close, It's In My Mind is a deceptively simple male / female duet with an elegant rippling piano motiff and a melody that reminded me of Cat Stevens’ Father And Son although the soaring guitar solo adds an altogether more proggier dimension.
Gravitation is an immaculately conceived and crafted album with a maturity that belies the newness of its creation. Strong melodies, superb production and intelligent arrangements are a winning combination for any album and here they indicate a promising future for Kosmoratik should they go the distance and continue releasing music of this standard.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Affector – Harmagedon
Tracklist: Overture Pt.1: Introduction (1:49), Overture Pt.2: Prologue (5:35), Salvation (8:49), The Rapture (14:06), Cry Song (5:35), Falling Away & The Rise Of The Beast (8:02), Harmagedon (13:00), New Jerusalem (7:35), Harmagedon Acoustic (8:21), New Jerusalem Acoustic (5:14)
Basing your debut release on words taken literally straight from the Bible is both a very different and possibly somewhat brave or foolish (depending on your view) approach and certainly not the normal path taken by new bands, nor mind you is having an orchestra performing in tandem. Yet in the case of this new project formed by German guitarist Daniel Fries that is exactly what they have done and whilst an entire album around the concept of the end of the world is not new, (Aphrodite’s Child 666 for instance), this takes a much more aggressive prog-metal stance towards matters.
There is certainly some very heavy instrumental dexterity on display here as Daniel is no slouch on the guitar tearing off some great solo’s with speed and dexterity whilst still retaining a harmonious touch. With the added majestic sweep of the orchestra this certainly makes for an interesting listen. Mention must be made of Mike LePond’s (Symphony X) great sounding bass parts that add weight to proceedings. Completing the Affector rhythm section is Dutch drummer Collin Leijenaar (Neal Morse/Dilemma).
Another aspect to consider is that on this album Affector have used “guest” keyboardists to add to the sonic tapestry woven by band and orchestra and so we also find, Derek Sherinian, Jordan Rudess, Neal Morse and Alex Angento adding their skills to the mix. What this results in are some very diverse sounding tracks as each guest will bring a different slant to proceedings.
Above all it is the songs themselves that display rare power and grace amongst the instrumental firepower and Ted Leonard (Spock's Beard/Enchant) has done an outstanding job of taking some quite complex and involved lyrics and making them sound feasible and listenable – no mean feat.
Again this is an album that can be somewhat heavy going due to its subject matter but it is worth hearing and persevering with as it is an excellent heavy prog-metal CD and if you like Dream Theater and Enchant then this will be right up your street.
For me the stand out tracks are The Overture, The Rapture and Harmagedon itself, these being the longer tracks. There is a quieter track called Cry Song which changes the pace of the album, acting as an interlude between the heavier pieces, but in actuality all the tracks are worth hearing as there is a lot going on throughout.
On this edition there are two acoustic bonus tracks, basically re-workings of Harmagedon and New Jerusalem, these being shorter than the original versions and although well done they are a bit redundant as they don’t really add anything significant to the songs themselves. It does show that these songs will work in another setting though, nice to have but not essential and they do show off the orchestration to good effect.
The album artwork is certainly impressive with suitably apocalyptic images throughout which add emphasis to the music and complement the overall effect. This is certainly a class release and real effort and attention to detail have been applied to make this release sound and look good. A great solid and worthwhile release.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sweet Fingers - Sweet Fingers
Tracklist: Good Night Robots (4:21), w__d__h____ ___s _ (7:50), Cliness Matter (5:28), Beau A Jouer (4:52), Regenbogen Flöte-Tropfen (7:02), Turkey (9:57), Screamed The Queen (10:19), New Furniture (6:52)
Hailing from the historic Mexican city of Querétaro, Sweet Fingers are a quartet consisting of Mano Leen (guitar, vocals, flute, percussion), L. Marín (bass, guitar, backing vocals), Ibis Ortiz (keyboards) and Gerardo Muzquiz (drums, percussion, backing vocals). Their self-titled debut album was produced in 2010 with the support of the local arts council, and given an international release by Musea Records the following year. While they enjoy a lively concert activity in their native country, the band are still quite obscure outside of Mexico, and there is not a lot of information about them to be found on the Web.
Interestingly, a Google search for "Sweet Fingers" will turn up mostly pages dedicated to restaurants and bakeries - which probably explains the slightly disturbing artwork on the cover of the CD. When confronted with such unabashed weirdness, it is hard to know what to expect in musical terms, and the first impression may not be a completely positive one. However, any doubts will be dispelled once the CD is in the player, because Sweet Fingers - while seemingly overlooked by the numerous websites, blogs and magazines dedicated to progressive rock in all its forms - have produced a definitely intriguing debut album, deserving of attention even if not perfect.
Of the eight tracks present on the album, only opener Good Night Robots is almost completely instrumental, while the remaining others all feature vocals in some measure. The lyrics, like the song titles, are in English, though in most cases they are quite hard to make out because of Mano Leen's peculiar singing style. The album clocks in at a very reasonable 56 minutes, with a couple of tracks hovering around the 10-minute mark. Eclecticism is the name of the game here, with a lot of disparate influences cropping up in the songs, which, however, do not make the band sound as derivative as many of their contemporaries.
The opening of the aforementioned Good Night Robots, with its hauntingly repetitive guitar patterns and percussion enhanced by brief vocalizing, brings to mind fellow Mexicans Cabezas de Cera and their exciting mix of avant-garde and traditional Mexican sounds - though the track develops in a more intense manner, including Hendrixian guitar antics and crashing drums, interspersed by brief moments of calm. The cryptically-titled w__d__h____ ___s _ introduces an even stronger ethnic feel with chant-like vocals and tribal drums coupled with flute, piping synth and effects-laden guitar creating a hypnotic, ambient texture that, however, gets a bit monotonous towards the end. Things take a more conventional rock turn in Cliness Matter, dominated by an assertive drum sound but softened by organ, and featuring somewhat off-key singing; while in Beau A Jouer the plaintive vocals (sharply reminiscent of Can's Damo Suzuki) and eerily distorted guitar solo at the end contrast with the ballad-like structure of the song.
While the album's first half is definitely interesting, its second half contains the strongest material. Regenbogen Flöte-Tropfen hinges heavily on Mano Leen's flute, soothing and aggressive in turns, while vocals play the role of an additional instrument. The 10-minute Turkey, possibly the album's highlight, pushes Ibis Ortiz's Hammond organ to the forefront in impassioned flights that bring to mind echoes of Eloy and Deep Purple - though the almost Latin-tinged, laid-back ending feels like an afterthought, and disrupts the track's overall cohesion. With the slightly longer Screamed The Queen, the band veers into Krautrock territory, especially as regards the Can-like vocals and electronic effects - though some of the sparse, atmospheric guitar passages have an early Pink Floyd flavour to them; the track, however, would have benefited from some editing, because after a while it tends to drag a bit. Album closer New Furniture keeps the slow, understated feel of the previous number, though injecting a larger dose of melody in its first half, and gaining intensity towards the end, with electronics well in evidence.
Though Sweet Fingers is occasionally a bit rough around the edges - the drums, for instance, are quite high in the mix and tend to overwhelm the rest - it also contains some excellent ideas that the band will hopefully develop in future recordings. While the vocals are definitely an acquired taste, the instrumental passages can often be riveting, and the individual band members hold their own in terms of technical skill (which, thankfully, is not the main focus of the compositions). Combining vintage suggestions with modern tendencies, Sweet Fingers provide a good example of how progressive rock can develop without completely rejecting its roots. Recommended to adventurous listeners, especially those who are interested in the prog scenes of countries outside the Anglo-American sphere of influence.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Tangerine Dream - Tyger
Tracklist: Tyger (5:46), London (14:20), Alchemy Of The Heart (12:22), Smile (6:07), 21st Century Common Man Part I (4:48), 21st Century Common Man Part II (4:02) Bonus Tracks: Vigour (4:58), Tyger [7" Single Version] (4:27)
With 1987's Tyger, Esoteric Reactive have finished rounding up the Tangerine Dream albums from their era commonly known the 'Blue Years'. With the Pink Years also being completed, one wonders how long it will be before Esoteric will acquire the rights to more TD albums. A question for another time perhaps.
If you've been keeping a close eye on our reviews, you'll recall that 1985's Le Parc joined the handful of albums to be given just 1 out of 10 on our website. Fortunately, it appears that TD managed to step up their game in the two years in between, producing the revered Underwater Sunlight as they did.
However, Tyger is a very unusual TD album insofar as it was their first to feature lyrics since 1978's Cyclone. Moreover, the lyrics are around two centuries old, and written by the famous poet William Blake. According to the liner notes, all three members of the band at this time were attracted to the poet's work, those members being Edgar Froese, Paul Haslinger and Chris Franke. Froese subsequently decided to set a few of Blake's poems to music, drafting in R&B singer Jocelyn B Smith to add her vocals to the record.
The results are interesting. The title track, which opens the record, is a simple pop tune, perfect for radio. While Tyger works as a catchy R&B tune (it was stuck in my head for an entire day), as a tribute to Blake, it seems rather cheesy. I can imagine Smith's soulful crooning would have the poet rolling in his grave. The words of the poem lose their effect when sung in this manner.
The next two tracks, London and Alchemy Of The Heart are longer, stretching to over 12 minutes each, and are subsequently more progressive. London takes a while to get going, but the wait is worth it, as the track ends with a powerful guitar solo. It seems bizarre that TD would try and emulate a more conventional rock band in their conservative electronic style, but the presence of this section is more than welcome to this reviewer.
Alchemy Of The Heart is entirely instrumental with at least three or four different sections. Some may be put off by the repetitive nature of these sections, but I actually find it quite riveting in general. However, the percussion is lost halfway through the song, making the second half substantially less exciting, but still enjoyable. The ending is a little mushy, but I'd still rather listen to a melodic track than TD's earlier output.
Smile is barely worth mentioning; a very forgettable performance from both TD and Smith combined. The final track on the album, 21st Century Common Man sadly bears no resemblance to any King Crimson material other than in name. Both parts of this track are instrumental, with very 80s sounding keyboards defining the sound. Nevertheless, the track is very easy on the ear, and it is a good song to pass the time to.
Bonus tracks include the B-side instrumental Vigour, which could easily have been an extension of 21st Century Common Man, and an alternate, yet uninteresting version of Tyger. The CD booklet is very well presented as usual, and contains both sets of artwork for this album, along with band photos including Smith. Malcolm Dome presents an interesting and very readable essay, illuminating the story of this album. In particular, it appears that Smith was not a fan of Blake's poetry, with a very immature attitude towards it. This probably explains her lacklustre performance on the album, her ambivalence very present.
This is one of the more interesting TD albums I have listened to, with some very nice moments, but it is deeply stained by mediocrity. Many TD fans dislike this album for the inclusion of vocals, whereas I feel that the vocalist herself was the problem. Also, setting Blake's words to music rather detracts from the meaning of the poetry, especially when the music is very cheesy. On the other hand, parts of London and Alchemy Of The Heart are very enjoyable, and shine a good light on the melodic side of TD. This is a very accessible album for those who would like to try Tangerine Dream for the first time.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10