Reviews in this issue:
- Renaissance – Tour 2011 ~ Live In Concert (Duo Review)
- 3rdegree – The Long Division (Duo Review)
- The Pineapple Thief - All The Wars
- Motorpsycho And Ståle Storløkken -
The Death Defying Unicorn (A Fanciful And Far Out Tale)
- District 97 - Trouble With Machines
- RWA - ©RWA 2010-2011
- Dissonati – Reductio Ad Absurdum
- Kayak - See See The Sun
- Kayak - Kayak
- Slychosis - Fractured Eye
Renaissance – Tour 2011 ~ Live In Concert
CD 1: Act 1 - Turn Of The Cards: Running Hard (9:47), I Think Of You (3:12), Things I Don't Understand (10:01), Black Flame (6:55), Cold Is Being (3:50), Mother Russia (10:27)
CD 2: Act 2 - Scheherazade And Other Stories: Scheherazade And Other Stories: Trip To The Fair (11:24), Vultures Fly High (3:29), Ocean Gypsy (7:35), Song Of Scheherazade (24:33), The Mystic And The Muse (8:33)
DVD: Running Hard, I Think Of You, Things I Don't Understand, Black Flame, Cold Is Being, Mother Russia, Trip To The Fair, Vultures Fly High, Ocean Gypsy, Song Of Scheherazade, The Mystic And The Muse, Extra Bits
Geoff Feakes' Review
Back in the early 70's Renaissance were fairly unique, even by prog genre standards. Whilst female fronted prog bands like Mostly Autumn, Magenta and Karnataka are now common place, it's worth recalling that back then they were a rarity. Renaissance led the way in that respect with the crystalline purity of Annie Haslam's versatile vocal range perfectly suited to the band's ambitious symphonic leanings, providing a template for today's bands. Annie wasn't the first of course; there had for example been an earlier incarnation of Renaissance with Jane Relf on lead vocals. Guitarist Michael Dunford had been part of that particular line-up but together with Annie Haslam, Jon Camp (bass), John Tout (keyboards) and Terence Sullivan (drums) he would go on to form the definitive version of the band responsible for albums like Ashes Are Burning (1973), Turn Of The Cards (1974) and Scheherazade And Other Stories (1975). In hindsight these can be seen as minor classics of their time and the highpoints of the band's career.
It's the latter two albums of the trio that form the basis of this beautifully packaged collection, recorded live at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA USA on the 23rd September 2011. With Michael and Annie being the only two remaining members, the rest of the line-up for this recording comprises Rave Tesar (keyboards), David J. Keyes (bass, vocals), Jason Hart (keyboards, vocals) and Frank Pagano (drums, percussion, vocals). In addition to writing the majority of the material, Michael as before provides the acoustic guitar and backing vocals whilst Annie of course takes care of lead vocals. Anyone familiar with the original studio recordings will appreciate that the choice of material is impeccable. The decision to perform both Turn Of The Cards and Scheherazade And Other Stories in their entirety is a wise one, allowing less familiar and infrequently performed gems like I Think Of You and Black Flame to stand alongside staples like Mother Russia as they were originally conceived.
In two acts, the concert is conveniently spread across two CD's with each song remaining faithful to the original studio recording. Combining melodic rock, classical, folk, even occasional jazz, Renaissance like their prog contemporaries were noted for their meticulous sound which here is effortlessly transposed to the stage. It's a joy to here Annie performing these vintage songs of nearly 40 years and even though there is the occasional waver in her voice during Trip To The Fair she's still able to reach the ridiculously high notes with apparent ease as the very wonderful Things I Don't Understand testifies. Throughout she receives solid vocal support from the rest of the band updating the engaging harmonies of the originals.
Along with Annie's voice, the key melodic thrust of Renaissance was always John Tout's fluid, classical piano style which Rave Tesar does a superb job of recreating here with his rhapsodic solo during Ocean Gypsy being a fine example. And whilst I occasionally missed the grandiose orchestral flourishes of the originals, he and fellow keyboardist Jason Hart do an admirable job of injecting scale and drama into epics like Mother Russia and the monumental 9 movement Song Of Scheherazade. It's also interesting to be reminded that the band were never shy of borrowing liberally from the classics as the stately Cold Is Being bears witness. Fans of old will also welcome bassist David Keyes' familiar, clicking Rickenbacker sound with a neat solo during Vultures Fly High adeptly supported by the rhythmic precision of drummer Frank Pagano. The spacious sound throughout also allows Dunford's acoustic embellishments to shine through.
The DVD setlist is identical to that of the combined CD's although the additional visual aspect does of course have its advantages. True, production values are modest with no camera trickery or extravagant light show but the sight of six class performers weaving their magic in front of an appreciative American audience more than compensates. And as you would hope from most any DVD these days the camera angles are varied, the images are sharp and the sound recording crystal clear. To cap it all off is Annie's warm hearted banter with the rest of the band and the audience revealing her unpretentious North of England roots. That's not quite all because the DVD concludes with ‘Extra Bits' a short interview from Annie and Michael explaining the premise behind the tour and recording.
Whilst I find it exceedingly difficult to find fault with this set, on reflection the only minor gripe I have (and let's be honest it wouldn't be a review without at least one gripe) is that the chosen repertoire automatically excludes classics like Ashes Are Burning and Can You Understand, the latter being probably my favourite Renaissance song. And surprise, surprise there is no encore of Northern Lights. What you do get instead is the more recent and theatrical The Mystic And The Muse which successfully updates (without too many changes) the Renaissance sound for the 21st century. That sound may a little too refined and disciplined for some but for me and many others it's a glorious evocation of symphonic, progressive rock at its absolute best.
Basil Francis' Review
When you think about it, it's pretty amazing how many superb prog bands from the 70s have survived in some form or other and are still touring today. At the tender age of 21, this is all very good news for me, as I can hope to enjoy the same live music as many of the more mature fans did back in the day. Needless to say, one of those bands is Renaissance, a band whose majesty cannot be denied.
Speaking to Annie Haslam however, I learned that the band haven't been able to tour much outside the US for a few decades. This single DVD, double CD set is to remind the rest of the world that Renaissance is still alive and very much kicking. Furthermore, this set acts as a platform for the new members of the band to show their worth in this esteemed group. Around the recognisable core of Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford, this new Renaissance features Rave Tesar and Jason Hart on keyboards, David Keyes on bass and Frank Pagano on drums.
If you couldn't already tell from the front cover, this live set features two albums played in their entirety, those being Turn Of The Cards and Scheherazade And Other Stories, from '74 and '75 respectively. This is a blessing and a curse: a blessing because these two albums contain some of Renaissance's best loved music, including the epic 24-minute Song Of Scheherazade, and a curse because there almost zero surprises in this set, and relatively little excitement.
In my interview, Annie told me how the band has never had so much technology before. I wasn't sure what she meant until I watched the DVD, and saw how the two keyboardists could create a wealth of sounds between them. I've watched videos of Renaissance in the 80s playing excerpts of Scheherazade, and, to be frank, it's pretty grim without an orchestra. Now Rave Tesar and Jason Hart can accurately mimic a whole orchestra, an incredible feat! With the camera often flicking between them, I can't tell who's playing what, but I suspect that it's Rave sticking to the piano while Jason plays the more symphonic sounds.
Even more incredible is Annie's voice. In our interview, she told me how her voice seemed stronger than ever, and watching this video, the proof is in the pudding. Annie continues to soar over the arrangements, hitting the high notes in Things I Don't Understand with aplomb. With her voice being very much the trademark of the band, it is a sheer miracle that she's managed to keep it intact.
All this, along with the band's technical skill and flare for perfection means that the band can play each song note for note like the original. Every drum fill, every backing vocal, every piano solo is performed faithful, identical even, to the studio version.
While this is, in itself, astonishing, it is also slightly hampering, as we don't see the band letting their hair down at any point. The two CDs are hardly worth listening to, as you may as well just listen to the studio versions anyway. If anything, Dave's bass is quite pronounced in the audio version, a great facet if you're into the bass guitar.
The DVD is quite simple to work out. There are just three buttons, labelled Turn Of The Cards, Scheherazade and Extra Bits. The concert is shown in its entirety, with awkward pauses between songs and minor technical problems included for authenticity, with the so-called Extra Bits bunged on the end. Among other things, Michael Dunford explains that the snappy The Vultures Fly High from the Scheherazade album is supposed to be the band's response to nasty music critics. I begin to wonder if this is incentive for me to write a good review, lest I be lampooned otherwise in a Renaissance set.
I only have a few quibbles about the DVD. The first is that the video quality is not as sharp as one would desire. Secondly, the Extra Bits that pop up just when you were about to turn the DVD player off are a little disorganised. We begin with Annie and Michael, who at first are evidently talking about the band and the tour and the new album, without much of a plan what to say. Information is thrown at the viewer in a random fashion. Eventually, the cameraman chimes in with a few questions of his own, some mirroring mine. This is evidently not the best planned interview, so I'm grateful that mine went better.
Annie and Michael sign off with a slightly rushed 'See you later', as they have to go for sound checks, which makes me wonder why they couldn't have done the interview at some other time. Once again, I'm about to hit the power button when, in true peeping tom style, we are invited to see two minutes of behind the scenes. Sadly, these are probably the most useless, and strangely creepy behind the scenes I have ever seen. Really all we get to see is the band shuffling about backstage, with Annie doing stretches. At one point, David Keyes looks dead at the camera in the most spooky way for about 10 seconds, with the camera giving him redeye. Spooky!
Really though, these are minor quibbles. The only proper fault I can find is with the venue, where the relatively small audience all look very relaxed in their comfy seats. Whenever the camera pans to them, I shudder, as I expect to see a more alive audience. Sitting down for a Renaissance gig just seems wrong. As I said though, this was never the most exciting gig. Not until the end anyway.
One of the best reasons to buy this set is to hear the new song from their 2010 EP titled The Mystic And The Muse. At eight and a half minutes, this track will be new for most Renaissance fans, and was certainly new for me. Surprisingly enough, I found this to be a great addition to the set. The quality of the songwriting to me shows that Annie's confidence in the new band and the new album is not unfounded. This live set is a testament to the legacy of Renaissance, and a sure sign that the band are far from being over.
3rdegree – The Long Division
Tracklist: You're Fooling Yourselves (6:52), Exit Strategy (5:45), The Soci-Economic Petri Dish (6:52), Incoherent Ramblings (7:45), The Ones To Follow (3:15), A Work Of Art (2:51), Televised (6:53), The Millions Of Last Moments (2:07), Memetic Pandemic (7:27), A Nihilist's Love Song (3:39)
Brian Watson's Review
I remember buying 3rdegree's 2008 album Narrow-Caster based on the DPRP review. As I often did. Ron Faulkner wrote it and he gave the album a resounding 9 out of 10. Now there were a few reviewers whose work I got to know and respect, Ron being one of them, and I generally found that if they liked something then I'd like it too. That record was unreservedly recommended by Ron and as if that wasn't enough for me he drew comparisons with the work of echolyn and Izz. Who by that time had become firm favourites of mine. Indeed, flush with divorce money I'd flown out to the States just to see echolyn. This was the first time I had come across 3rdegree, however but thanks to Ron I wasn't disappointed. And as if to reinforce Ron's prescient review, Brett Kull mixes the opening track You're Fooling Yourselves.
"We're all prostitutes hawking out our souls
Greed is the word we follow - Hallelujah"
No flash in the pan, this is 3rdegree's fourth studio album. A power trio for 1993's The World In Which We Live they became a quartet for Human Interest Story in 1996, adding George Dobbs on vocals. It wasn't until 2008 that the aforementioned Narrow-Caster was released, however. They've also released a couple of DVDs/Blurays and had a version of That Time Of The Night on the 2010 Marillion tribute Ritual For A Season's End. As well as recording Going For The One for the 2012 Yes tribute Tales From The Edge.
This new one was penned in the shadow of the 2008 economic collapse that hit the United States and speaks to a populace seemingly disenfranchised by America's mainstream political parties. In the spirit of the political disconnect that inspired the record I'm not going to follow any reviewing convention but will dart around as songs come up. I have listened to, and continue to listen to this record a lot and keep thinking of bits and bobs to add. A review as a work in progress, if you will.
It's powerful stuff, and the intelligent and heartfelt lyrics go a long way in elevating this record from the progressive rock norm. It helps that in George Dobbs they have a vocalist of extraordinary range and power, who can add more groove, rhythm and meaning with a single vocal inflection, or pause than many others can muster in an entire song. And when he lets rip it's truly a joy to behold. A voice for all occasions, as the song demands. He can rock with the best of them, can get understated as the mood dictates and, well, he sounds so goddamned funky sometimes. Just listen to opening track You're Fooling Yourselves and I defy you not to get your funk on. You will tap the steering wheel and maybe miss a gear. And funk is not a word you see in many prog reviews. But I've used it twice. Goodness. In fact George may just well become your newest favourite prog singer. Having four guys who can sing makes for some tremendous harmonies too, just check out Incoherent Ramblings, for example, and prepare to be impressed. Gentle Giant and Kansas fans will maybe let out a little squeal of delight.
They are a quintet on this record. Founder Robert James Pashman plays bass, keyboards and does backing vocals. Fellow New Jersey resident Dobbs we've heard about already but he also plays keys. Guitarist (and backing vocalist) Pat Kliesch is based in Los Angeles and collaborates with the other two guys online. Guitarist and backing vocalist Eric Pseja has worked with the band since their 2007 The Reunion Concerts DVD/Bluray whilst drummer Aaron Nobel was added to the line-up just in time for their triumphant 2009 Progday performance (also captured on DVD/Bluray). Oh, and there's some fantastic sax playing and flute (check out A Work Of Art) by Bill Fox and Rob Durham respectively.
There are no ‘epics' on offer, in fact Incoherent Ramblings clocks in at a shade under eight minutes and is the longest song on offer but that's a good thing. It's a great song and my personal favourite. Vocally think Gabriel and Francis Dunnery. In fact FD era It Bites is a good starting point musically.
The Ones To Follow has an h era Marillion thing going on in terms of the vibe, whereas A Work Of Art owes more to VdGG and Discipline, vocally and musically especially given the wonderful bluesy saxophone.
Televised is a longer track, starting out with layered piano and keyboard in the instrumental first part of the suite, The Green Room, before the second part, Showtime, comes on like The Manic Street Preachers with Gentle Giant keyboard parts and Steve Rothery guitar fills. There's some lovely It Bites (Dunnery) whimsy, circa Big Lad In The Windmill, too.
The songs, and their placement are perfectly conceived, and wonderfully produced. The acoustic The Millions Of Last Moments is a tad over two minutes but I doubt you'll hear a better instrumental tune all year. No song outstays its welcome. Memetic Pandemic sees yet another facet of Dobbs' voice, Gabriel-esque in its fragility yet with a Phil Collins sense of the Vaudevillian too; indeed the Genesis analogy is apt as there are some wonderful Tony Banks keyboard moments on offer. It's an epic in eight minutes, in point of fact, and the whole thing put me in mind of And Then There Were Three era Genesis. But, dare I say it, better.
The Soci-Economic Petri Dish adds bluesy guitar riffs to the funktastic groove on offer elsewhere and some classic synth sounds. This, be in no doubt, is one tight band.
Female background vocals on last track A Nihilist's Love Song are courtesy of Cara Brewer and Veronica Puleo and then the album's gone. Fear not, though, because you will no doubt do as I have done on a great many occasions and start at the beginning again.
American prog is in incredibly rude health at the moment. Izz, MoeTar and echolyn have released seminal albums this year and with this record, 3rdegree have cemented their position at the cutting edge of American symphonic progressive rock music. My top five has four American bands in it. Tremendous stuff. I'll never tire of this record. Promise me one thing, though. If you care about progressive rock music. As I know you do. If you care about the bands that make the music you and I love. As I am certain you do. After listening to this, or any other album on a band's website and deciding that you like it, or love it, then please go and buy it from the band themselves or a recognised retailer. On the high street (unlikely I know) or on the interweb. That is all. I am spent.
Ron Faulkner's Review
Four years after 3RDegree burst triumphantly back on to the scene with the resplendent Narrow-Caster, they have now presented the world with The Long Division. Whilst Narrow-Caster contained songs that were gestated over the previous 12 years, both before and during a break-up period, The Long Division represents the combined efforts of the current line-up.
Try to imagine a grown-up 10cc, with the pop and quirky elements dialled down a good few notches, and with a hybrid of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Roger Taylor (of Queen fame) on vocals, and you're part-way to imagining the sound of this band. Sprinkle in some funk and soul, and a little late night smoky blues bar, and you're getting even closer.
I'm always reluctant to heap too much praise on a band's lead singer, as it can be construed to belittle the contributions of the other performers, but in the case of George Dobbs, this band has found a real gem. I've mentioned some references above, but these only go part way to conveying the versatility and sheer power of his performances on this album.
Whilst I'm prepared to heap praise on Mr Dobbs, it has to be said the rest of the band more than hold their own in the vocal department. The backing vocals and harmonies are something special throughout the album.
I'm not going to give a detailed track by track analysis, but instead I'll try to focus on a few highlights to give a flavour of what this band are about.
Lyrically, most of the tracks are an attack on the way American political parties (and the American ones are by no means alone in this) divide the population and ramp up the fear factor for their own selfish ends. The lyrics are intelligently written and quite thought-provoking – in fact at times it's like an Aaron Sorkin script set to music!
The opening track, You're Fooling Yourselves, with its soaring guitar and vocal gymnastics, sets the tone and intent for the album.
The beautiful intro to Televised is like IZZ meeting Magenta and finding they get on really well, whilst the guitar work on The Soci-Economic Petri Dish starts out as The Beatles before straying confidently into Steely Dan territory.
I hesitate to name any track as my favourite, as it will change with each listen, but the gentle, pastoral A Work Of Art has got to come close. With saxophone and flute interweaved throughout, this track is reminiscent of the feel of Chris Squire's Fish Out Of Water.
The single instrumental track, Millions Of Last Moments, manages to be both melancholy and optimistic at the same time, and is like early Genesis transported to the modern age.
With the final track, A Nihilist's Love Song, what could have been in less accomplished hands a pleasant but routine closing track has been turned into a storming send-off; I defy anyone with at least one single musical atom in their body not to sing along with the chorus.
Overall, we have an album that consists of thoughtfully constructed songs, with intelligent lyrics, plenty of melodic hooks, and accomplished musicianship with enough Prog elements to satisfy the die-hards, and there's not a weak track to be found. When I approached this album I was worried that the bar had been set too high with Narrow-Caster, and the band couldn't possibly hope to surpass it.
I'm happy to say I was totally, utterly wrong.
The Pineapple Thief - All The Wars
Tracklist: Burning Pieces (4:13), Warm Seas (3:57), Last Man Standing (5:10), All The Wars (3:46), Build A World (3:57), Give It Back (7:01), Someone Pull Me Out (4:00), One More Step Away (3:09), Reaching Out (9:53)
After eight albums (nine if you include the limited 12 Stories Down release), four EPs, one compilation, a digital live album, three remasters, a 7" single and numerous appearances on compilation albums we arrive at All The Wars, the latest release from Bruce Soord and his band of Merry Men, aka The Pineapple Thief. Over the past 13 years, the Thief, if I may be so presumptuous, have gradually been ascending the prog rock ladder, from humble beginnings as, essentially, a one-man band, to the fully fledged gigging unit that now prevails. Always interesting and always worthy of attention, the band have achieved a status such that each new release is hotly anticipated. Such is the case with their 2012 offering, All The Wars.
My impression was one that the band had decided to play it decidedly heavy, with lots of guitars, monstrous riffs, and unrelenting sonic assaults. However, repeated exposure has revealed, a greater degree of subtlety and a surprising breadth that was not immediately so apparent when I first played the album. Three songs are immediate standouts. The title track itself, somewhat ironically the least rambunctious of the album, with guitars of the acoustic variety, piano and string backing, is a fantastically melodic number with a great lyric. Secondly Someone Pull Me Out, the most unique number of the bunch, and also, coincidentally, another 'low key' track on the album with lots of harmonies and a quietly haunting beginning and ending. Finally, Reaching Out, the album closer, the pièce de résistance, the prog epic. A wonderfully scripted piece of music that throws everything together swirls it around with a big baton and sits back and gloats in its self-evident glory. Building from a gentle start (does it show I like my Pineapples on the softer side?) through an orchestrated section, with real 22-piece orchestra, that brings to mind pieces assembled by The Beatles, before finally the electric guitars gain prominence to bring the track, and the album, to a close.
But what of the riffs and guitar cascades I hear you cry? Well the remaining tracks (or at least five of them) have them in abundance. The opening of Burning Pieces will lull you into a false sense of security with a gentle series of chords, some tapping on the hi-hat and a minimal amount of guitar feedback when the dual guitars come through. And continue to make their presence known thenceforth. For best effect this song should be played loud! Warm Seas may sound like a Mediterranean enough title, holidays on the beaches, picnics in the sand, kind of thing, but don't be fooled, even though the lyrics are pleasantly lovey-dovey enough, the music has a much more aggressive bent.
Last Man Standing may not initially have so much power and forcefulness and is probably the most 'traditional Thief' sounding tracks, one that gets under the skin and leaves a lasting impression, rather like a musical ring worm. The repeated riff of Build A World is in great contrast to the slower tempo of the song and the half spoken/half sung vocal delivery by Soord. The feedback laden solo adds yet another contrast with a swooping great 'string' part wrapping everything up, containing things in a cocoon or crotchets and minims. Give It Back is another riff monster that drives along merrily and cleverly subverts the asummed demand of the title to a statement of intent. Layers upon layers with twists, turns, stops, starts, chants, cacophony, crescendos and an abrupt ending that is as unexpected as it is expected. Shortest track on the album, at a little over three minutes, is One More Step Away and is a ballad that obviously bypassed my initial assessment of the album. Not exactly a three-minute pop song (good thing? Bad thing?) but a lovely little number all the same.
So more of what The Pineapple Thief have become known for? Well in some ways yes, but in many more ways, no. There is no denying that the band have carved niche for themselves and have developed a sound that is recognisably their own. But unlike a lot of bands, each album has its own unique ambience and style within their own little PT universe. Even if differences between albums are more representative of a slow and gradual evolution than any cataclysmic change, the changes are all welcome, neither better nor worse, just different, which makes for a good and interesting release.
As a postscript, the album is also being released as a limited edition double CD digibook. The bonus album contains acoustic renditions of six tracks from All The Wars (Burning Pieces, Build A World and Give It Back are excluded), a new recording of Light Up Your Eyes (originally released on 10/12 Stories Down and the otherwise unreleased Every Last Moment. As these tracks were not included with our review copies of the album I'm very much looking forward to hearing them!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
And probably an additional mark for the bonus CD!
Motorpsycho And Ståle Storløkken -
The Death Defying Unicorn (A Fanciful And Far Out Tale)
CD 1: Out Of The Woods... (2:40), The Hollow Lands (7:46), Through The Veil (16:01), Doldrums (3:06), Into The Gyre (10:22), Flotsam (1:33)
CD 2: Oh, Proteus-A Prayer (7:35) Sculls In Limbo (2:21), La Lethe (7:53); Oh Proteus-A Lament (1:04), Sharks (7:56) Mutiny! (8:33) ...Into The Mystic (7:04)
I can't let this review go by without some exposition and explanation so bear with me. The Death Defying Unicorn is a project three years in the making. Originally initiated on the Norwegian Jazz Forum, jazz keys man, Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent, Elephant 9, Humcrush, Terje Rypdal) was asked directly about the possibility of him and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra collaborating with Motorpsycho to perform a concert together in 2010 at the Molde International Jazz Festival. The result was a reportedly electrifying 100 minute show:
"Taking music that Motorpsycho bassist/lead singer Bent Sæther self-deprecatingly dismissed as having lain around without ever being fully developed, along with some jazz solo-ready vamps, Storløkken shaped it into a stunning suite for eight horn players from the larger Trondheim Jazz Orchestra collective, the eight string players of Trondheimsolistene, and guest violinist Ola Kvernberg," (John Kelman – All About Jazz)
Efforts to recreate this concert in the studio never happened, but all parties welcomed the idea of studio collaboration and so began the quest for new material on which to work. The culmination of these efforts is what we hear on The Death Defying Unicorn.
Over 20 years, Motorpsycho have defied categorisation, spinning wildly out on their own limb to create hybrid blends of pop, punk, psychedelia, metal, jazz and rock that share their roots with Can, Sun Ra, MC5, Sonic Youth, Kraftwerk, Deep Purple and Neil Young, to name but a few. TDDU sublimates all of these into a unique and involving chiaroscuro of styles and techniques demonstrating the genuinely progressive character of their work. Inspired by Owen Chase's, The Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex, a true story that in turn inspired Melville to write Moby Dick, TDDU draws equally upon Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea and the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian to round out its nautical credentials. It's an 83 minute Rock Opera, that surpasses both Tommy and The Wall in the boldness of its conceit and, like the aforementioned, it's stunning.
I don't know whether to talk about the story or the music because they are so interwoven and inseparable that one makes little sense without the other. Essentially, we're told an epic tale that begins with a thief (our narrator) who is caught and given two choices: hang for his crime, or work as cabin-boy on a ship leaving to explore uncharted territory known as The Hollow Land. Bookended by Out Of The Woods… and …Into The Mystic, the journey and its effects are described with a wonderfully poetic libretto, penned by Bent Saether, that sees our hero victim to the sea, the crew's tale of a curse upon the ship, a sinking, 50 days adrift, mutiny and death. The voyage is cinematic in scope, Homeric in proportion and the music, equally monumental.
From the outset, it is evident that this is something extraordinary we are listening to. Out Of The Woods slides in on a guttering, trilling clarinet to introduce the stabbing, pulsating woodwind of Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Trondheimsolistene (an 8-piece string ensemble) conjure sonic winds over Motorpsycho's freewheeling, churning, riff engine. This is as nothing compared to the electrifying arrangement of the whole 22-piece ensemble in The Hollow Lands that emerges from the relative calm of its opening verses resplendent with mellotron flutes. The tension builds slowly and steadily and it overwhelms us – surrender is our only choice. A musical metaphor then for the narrative and it is in this constant meshing of sense and perspective that TDDU consistently and magnificently succeeds. Through The Veil is amazing. Fresh and exciting with a baffling marriage of dissonance and harmony set to a hypnotic rhythm, it fills the room with immense shifting patterns that adhere to a gloriously simple riff at its core. It's not only the huge waves of sound assailing our senses that make an impact either, we are constantly addressed by earworming embellishments and sneaky micro-elements in rhythmic structure that surprise and fascinate in equal measure. Doldrums is an all-out classical composition that plays with textures and timbres in a quiet, wavering face-off between strings and brass before we hurtle Into The Gyrewhich mixes the pop-pysch of The Flaming Lips with the barraging irregularities of King Crimson to represent the gathering storm that will crush the ship and her crew.
The musical development of the story from the beginning of Disk 2, the section of the album when the crew are adrift at sea for 50 days in lifeboats, to the point of Mutiny, is simply masterful. The orchestral heaving and rolling of Oh, Protues – A Prayer dissolves into the mere scraping and distant, echoing effects of Sculls in Limbo, stretching time for a seeming eternity before the withering and oppressive weight of to Lethe drives us into figurative oblivion. Yet, there is such subtle power in the arrangement of the brasses and the scoriating tenor sax solo that retches at its centre that we are anything but absent, forgetful or asleep. Saether delivers the lyrics to Sharks in a barely audible croak as the officers draw lots to decide which of the crew will give up his life as food. Mutiny ensues and Kenneth Kapstad lets loose on his kit with thunderous abandon, Saether's bass rolls its shoulders with visceral, gut-punching power and Hans Magnus Ryan's guitar stabs the air with fire. Guest keyboardist, Kåre Chr. Vestrheim, whales in with climactic mellotrons to create a bludegeoning, supersonic and hostile maelstrom of sound in a sensational solo section. Speaking of solos, Ola Kvernberg delivers a stunning violin at the start of ...Into The Mystic to match the bold and sophisticated styling of Storløkken's virtuoso keys at its end, which preface a roof-shaking, barnstorming finale.
Sigh. Words are clumsy tools in the hands of a cretin like me, no amount of description will ever convey the richness, the power, the magical thrill and excitement, or the mindfuck of this album. So, in conclusion, I'm going to keep it simple...
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
District 97 - Trouble With Machines
Tracklist: Back And Forth (8:43), Open Your Eyes (4:25), The Actual Color (5:48), The Perfect Young Man (10:01), Who Cares? (4:54), Read Your Mind (7:31), The Thief (13:43)
Can District 97's Trouble With Machines match their debut Hybrid Child? Well, the only answer to that is a big emphatic YES. As a band they really have caught the ears of the prog fraternity and for all the right reasons. As an album Trouble With Machines can only be described as infectious and an essential listen. I guarantee you will repeatedly press that play button and you will not be disappointed.
Not only is the music presented here, technically complex and powerful but Leslie Hunt's vocals have an audacious and beautiful elegance, stunning presentations that are unique; highly inventive, being without restriction that matches and complements the whole affair, and in all honesty this is what makes this band so important in today's musical tapestry.
As Back And Forth kicks in with its jaw dropping phrasings and time changes, you quickly realise that the band have developed and matured their sound. Complexity is definitely the order of the day and boy the band does not fail to deliver. There is deliverance of stunning guitar passages, fascinating syncopated drum work, melodic yet intriguing keyboard interactions, which creates music that undulates as it drives itself forth under its own potential energy.
The approach throughout the whole album is diverse but no less interesting as each track hits the ether, bouncing around in a euphoric state of being. As a band they make it sound all too easy, which is the marvel of the presentations. Open Your Eyes again is time perfect relying heavily on the backline whilst being punctuated by Jim Tashjian stunning guitar work as he delves into his world of creativity. The band have definitely been influenced by Liquid Tension Experiment something that is very noticeable in places on The Actual Color as Leslie offers her jazz toned vocal inflections almost like say Frank Zappa on Dangerous Kitchen, which if memory serves me right was known as sprechstimme excursions, although slightly more melodic, that really accents the musical presentation. Another highlight during this song is Rob Clearfield's keyboard dalliances that are to die for, sometimes unsuspecting and at others times driving.
The Perfect Young Man has a more, what one would call, mainstream approach on initial listening, although in this musical dimension nothing is as it appears, scratching under the surface it is a tour de force. Although Leslie Hunt's vocals are woven throughout the piece; it is very interesting to note that such is the bands prowess, they have managed to procure John Wetton to contribute vocals that work in tandem with Leslie's, something that adds another layer of depth to this stunning song. The next two songs up are Who Cares? and Read Your Mind that arrive in at just over twelve minutes. Of the two Who Cares? is filled with some really interesting guitar patterns that swagger and sway with confidence whilst Read Your Mind opens with that defining cello tone from Katinka Kleijn that sets the stage creating a very atmospheric piece, that drives in so many directions as their chosen instruments display their character, sonics that intrigue and mesmerize, never allowing the listener to second guess what way the piece will go, a trait that the band have perfected.
The longest track and album closer The Thief sadly brings the whole listening experience to a rather fitting conclusion. In essences the band have chosen to close the album with the same power as to which they opened it with, layered, complex and clever interactions that just keeping coming wave after wave. One really couldn't ask for much more.
From what I can gather, there is a limited version of this release that features a live DVD and boy how I wished I'd gained a copy of that as it can only be mesmerizing to watch such talented musicians working.
The future for this band is very bright indeed, they certainly have a long a prosperous career ahead of them; based on this being the so called difficult second album, I don't believe that they are ever going to struggle. Dangerous, exciting, challenging, adventurous, rewarding, defining and essential are just a few very apt words that should be associated with this band, make no mistake of that. If you are not already on board with this band, then all I can say is that you need to be. There cannot be many better ways to spend fifty five minute plus listening to music.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
RWA – ©RWA 2010-2011
Tracklist: Overload [Pt. 1 + 2 + 3] (14:52), K2 (11:50), Fall (6:32), Leader (11:32), Orcha (7:33), Eleven (6:49)
This 6 track collection of recent work by multi-instrumentalist Ronald Wahle features mainly lengthy pieces and follows previous DPRP reviewed works including 2003's RWA album Driven and a couple of releases with American Chris Brown as Ghost Circus, a collaboration which Wahle left in 2010. ©RWA 2010-2011 concentrates on Wahle's instrumental work in a prog vein developed, as the title suggests, since leaving Ghost Circus and is written, played, engineered and produced by the man himself with guests Johan Ouweneel providing funky slap bass on Fall and guitar from Kurt Singer on Orcha.
The first thing to note is the quality of the recording that Wahle has managed to produce. I have recently reviewed a couple of "one man band" albums such as last year's release from The Nerve Institute, Architects Of Flesh-Density, and this is another that makes plain the standard of results that can now be achieved by musicians on their own without the need to rent professional studio time.
Wahle writes well and puts his ideas together with panache to produce lengthy works that hold the interest. The set up is standard guitar/bass/drums/keys with guitar taking much of the lead work. Keys are raised above the role of simply background and padding out the sound and contribute greatly to the whole. In fact K2 is predominantly an electronic track which opens on a layered synth sounscape with drums and electronic rhythms before the guitar eventually emerges, the lengthy track progressing to bring a mix of Jean Michel Jarre and Marillion to mind.
The whole is well played and produced, dynamic stuff that is well put together with special mention for the guitar and drums. The pace doesn't flag and it moves smoothly through its various stylistic transitions to good effect, a great showcase for Wahle's obvious talent. The three parter Overload features sweeping washes of keys before Wahle's guitar enters with stabbing, probing lines and a metal edge. The guitar takes on a more expansive hue and alternates with tasteful keyboard passages as the track flows naturally on through its different sections, self-referencing to good effect. There are some ‘80s prog influences but the sound is sharp and modern and this is a fine and entertaining track.
Fall is a much funkier beast, Ouweneel's bass bringing in new textures and complementing Wahle's guitar nicely. Keys take more of a back seat here and it is all about the undulating rhythms. As the shortest track on the album, although still over 6 minutes, it marks a nice change of pace and style after the epics that precede it, the end section having some Camel influence about it. Leader is a good mix of distorted guitar ‘70s rock and cleaner textures with good melodies and keyboard led passages, sometimes slipping into a gentle classic prog feel again reminiscent of Camel. Possibly a more straight ahead track than some that have gone before but no less interesting for that.
The keys are more orchestral on Orcha, the twin guitars of Wahle and Kurt Singer working well together spiralling around some ‘80s style synths with an Andy Latimer feel here and there and a bluesier mid-section that moves into more frenetic part before finishing strongly. Eleven starts as another heavy track to close things off with frenzied metallic guitar but there is still a place for uplifting keys solos and more laid back sections.
Direct and energetic, all of the pieces are well constructed with impressive drums that keep up the pace with precision. The playing is top notch with great production and overall the six pieces try to capture different facets of Wahle's work, some of the tracks are rocky with others more keyboard based but it is the tasteful guitar histrionics that catch the attention. This album is a fine achievement and very enjoyable, underlining the skill of Wahle and acting as a impressive shop window for what he is able to achieve in his freelance role as writer and performer for hire.
Wahle is involved in a number of different projects but this collection of widescreen instrumentals is expertly delivered and suitably underlines his impressive talents and skills.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Dissonati - Reductio Ad Absurdum
Tracklist: Can You Hear Me (10:11), Middle Man (6:41), Age Of Foeces (4:09), Mind Warp (4:31), Senescence (6:59), Driver (5:25), The Sleeper (13:39)
Dissonati are a Seattle based progressive rock band or so their website proudly states Dissonati were formed by John Hagelbarger (keyboards, saxes and woodwinds + lead vocal on "Ago Of Foeces"), a Portland musician when he hooked up with John Reagan (drums) and Ron Rutherford (guitars, guitarr synth, bass, lead & background vocals, occasional keys and everything on "Mind Warp"), to play interesting and complex progressive music and Reductio Ad Absurdum (Latin for Reduction To The Absurd) is their debut self-financed release and if you are enthralled by complex time signatures, lengthy workouts and obscure lyrics then this disc will be right up your street.
Coming over with a large King Crimson influence, one can sense the influence that Robert Fripp's atonal styling's have had on Ron Rutherford's playing as he incorporates a raft of Fripp's techniques into his own, yet still retains his own identity. Rutherford skips, and dances over all the tracks on this CD adding differing shades and tonal moods to every piece, in this he is very ably supported by John Hagelbarger's keyboards and on some tracks his Sax and woodwinds as well all underpinned by John Reagan's thunderous drums and percussion. The sound is both sparse in sections and then dense in others and it is this blend and balance of shades and contrasts that gives Reductio Ad Absurdum its strength.
This is a band with some seriously heavy artillery and extreme musical chops yet never does this music stray into being excessive rather the extended workouts have both sense and purpose and actually enhance each song. The album both opens and closes with an epic piece, Can You Hear Me and The Sleeper respectively, sandwiched in between are five shorter but no less interesting cuts.
In their music I can see the influences of King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and VDGG amongst others but Dissonati have melded these influences into their own melting pot and created something that is distinctly their own. OK Ron Rutherford's voice may take a bit if getting used to and Age Of Foeces is just weird but overall the effect is of a band who are not afraid to strike out and make challenging music for themselves and us to enjoy.
Aside from the two epic tracks that bookend the album, Senescence stands out because of its sheer beauty, with an opening that evokes Yes' Tempus Fugit and with some sweeping sectional changes this is a majestic piece by any standards.
Ages of Foeces is John Hagelbarger's sole vocal and is almost medieval sounding in parts with Harpsichord and a repeated piano motif juxtaposed against Ron Rutherford's riffling guitar, weird, mad but certainly enjoyable all the same.
This album is not an immediate one and will require effort by the listener but it is certainly well worth the investment of time made, it is also a good sounding album and the cover is certainly striking too, Ron Rutherford is superbly talented and John Hagelbarger plays some fabulous keys throughout, and alongside this, John Reagan's drums are on the nail every time.
I would not hesitate to recommend this to fans of King Crimson, Henry Cow or VDGG and it will be interesting to see where Dissonati head off to next – certainly a band to watch out for... Very highly recommended indeed.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Kayak - See See The Sun
Tracklist: Reason For It All (6:29), Lyrics (3:42), Mouldy Wood (5:16), Lovely Luna (8:19), Hope For A Life (6:49), Ballet Of The Cripple (4:39), Forever Is A Lonely Thought (5:26), Mammoth (2:57), See See The Sun (4:13) Bonus Track:
Still Try To Write A Book (2:01)
Kayak - Kayak
Tracklist: Alibi (3:39), Wintertime (2:51), Mountain Too Rough (3:57), They Get To Know Me (9:18), Serenades (3:33), Woe And Alas (3:01), Mirielle (2:13), Trust In The Machine (6:06), His Master's Noise (1:45) Bonus Tracks: We Are Not Amused (3:01), Give It A Name (2:45)
In the annals of Dutch progressive rock, very few bands have had such a lengthy career as Kayak. With a history stretching back to 1972 in Hilversum, the band have lasted right through to present day, albeit with an eighteen-year hiatus somewhere in the middle. With a catalogue already including such Dutch progressive acts as Supersister, Brainbox and Earth & Fire, Esoteric have now chosen the first two albums by this legendary band to reissue, with their third album Royal Bed Bouncer to be reissued in November.
Now before I continue, I must say that I am generally quite fond of the Dutch take on progressive rock, with a few exceptions. Within this small country, there are many different styles to enjoy, from the yodelling of Thijs van Leer on Hocus Pocus to the epic neo-prog of Mangrove's Daydreamer's Nightmare. Sadly however, I feel that, with such good competition, Kayak fall somewhat short.
With Supersister, I got the feeling that the band never needed to try when creating complex and whimsical tracks, such as A Girl Named You or Psychopath. With Kayak, I get just the opposite. This is a band trying too hard. Many of the aspects on these two albums sound awkward and forced, and the band simply aren't as creative as many of their peers.
See See The Sun has a few decent tracks. The opener Reason For It All is very much in the Yes vein of progressive rock, with high pitched harmonising vocals and an extended suspense-building instrumental. This is followed by the band's first single Lyrics, which uses clever word interplay on top of shifting meters to make it stand out. Max Werner has a peculiar accent (even for a Dutchman), and his fast-paced singing makes the lyrics nearly incomprehensible, adding more to the strange appeal of this song. In my opinion, this is the best realised, and most original track between the two records.
On Mouldy Wood, the band seem to be imitating Gentle Giant, with awkward jerky riffs scattered throughout the song. The saving grace of this track is its guitar solo, breaking up the song into a more digestible whole. At over eight minutes, Lovely Luna can be seen as Kayak's attempt at a proper epic composition. However, the first half of the track truly drags, and the heavy second half is hardly worth the wait, and seems a little inelegant. The remainder of the tracks on this album are quite forgettable, but at 24 minutes, there is a lot of mediocrity to wade through. The band have clearly tried to blend prog and pop, but the outcome is not so palatable.
Unfortunately, the band's self-titled second album is even worse. With a bizarre Monty Python-esque cover, there is very little to enjoy within. Fortunately, this album is 12 minutes shorter than its predecessor. The one standout track is the longest, The Get To Know Me, with a memorable verse section, and a decent outro too. Still, this is nothing to shout about.
The rest of the tracks are quite poppy, with elements of prog thrown in from time to time. The exceptions to this rule are the instrumental Mirielle and the extended track Trust In The Machine, which is padded out by a forgettable instrumental. His Master's Noise does end the album quite soothingly however, with some beautiful harmonising vocals.
If you're a hardcore Kayak fan however, you probably don't give a toss what I think about this band, and you'll want to know whether this reissue is worth your hard earned money. Unfortunately, I don't have access to the original CD releases, so it's difficult for me to compare and contrast. From what I can tell, the artwork all seems to be in place. The most peculiar thing about these reissues is that the liner notes really double up on themselves a lot by telling the whole story of the band each time (not unlike the current Camel reissues). The only subtle difference is that each booklet has a separate section about its respective album. The bonus tracks are no different to the bonus tracks on the last reissues, albeit in a different order. I can't imagine there is anything on this reissue enticing enough to make you consider upgrading from your existing version.
I regret saying this on a Dutch progressive rock website, but I'm seriously not impressed by this band. It's as if the spirit of progressive rock had already gone stale by 1973! There is little on these two albums that could be called original, and I can't see myself coming back for more. Recommended only for hardcore Kayak fans, who probably already own these albums anyway.
See See The Sun: 5 out of 10
Kayak: 3 out of 10
Slychosis – Fractured Eye
Tracklist: The Sphinxter (7:22), Elements (5:45), The Mariner (4:43), Elegy For Christy (4:27), The Memory (6:21), Dreamscapes 2012 (4:26), Samuel 2012 (6:34), Glass ½ Full 2012 (4:06)
Slychosis hail from Jackson, Mississippi, USA, and are based around founders Gregg Johns (guitar, keyboards, bass, backing vocals) and Tony White (lead vocals, guitar), with drums and percussion from Shannon Goree, and Bones Joshua Theriot (great name!) who contributes the guitar solo on Dreamscapes.
Fractured Eye is their fourth album, and it had been hanging around at DPRP towers for a while. Every now and then Head Office send out appeals to us minions to pick one that has been gathering dust. For some reason I quite liked the name "Slychosis" and even though I knew less than nothing about the band I took it up, brave little soldier that I am.
The fist thing I notice is the high quality of the digipak and the artwork, by one Vladimir Moldavsky, so I was intrigued as to what the music might be like. Now, if any of you have read any of my witterings on here with any regularity then you will know that my taste is for the more eclectic, and, dare I say it, "progressive" end of the musical spectrum, and it has to be said that Fractured Eye is a far more conservative beast than my usual spiky fare.
Perhaps the most difficult part of songwriting to get right is the lyric, and this applies to any kind of music, be it prog or anything else. Coming up with lyrics that are not banal, trite, pretentious or just plain daft is no easy task, and is probably why a lot of prog bands sensibly dispense with lyrics entirely. Credit to Slychosis for trying, but claiming as they do cosmic inspiration from the Great Sphinx and then coming up with lines like "Body alignment, greeting to the East; Negative answers allow me to feast" falls somewhat short of what might be expected. Mind you, if Jon Anderson had sung that no-one would have batted an eyelid.
Elsewhere pseuds corner is only occasionally visited, and the lyrics are better, indeed The Mariner is quite a good tale. Thematically the passing of and recording of time is ever-present, something I believe would not be unfamiliar to Rush fans.
That earlier quoted couplet comes from opening track The Sphinxter which I have to say is probably the worst song title I've seen for some time; what were they thinking of? Continuing the Jon Anderson references, Tony White's voice occasionally comes across like a lower-register version of the ex-Yes legend with a Geddy Lee tinge.
Back in my youth I was very into early 70s Uriah Heep, and even at my then tender age I used to cringe at some of David Byron's 11th grade poetry. However, his misdemeanours with the pen were forgiven purely because of the sheer power of his cohort's music, something Slychosis fall somewhat short of. Their music is what you might call FM friendly prog, and listening to this it could have been recorded anytime in the last 30 years. I know some folk revel in this loud keyboard dominated regressive sound, but it ain't for me. Yes, it's melodic, the tunes have good if obvious structure, but as far as I'm concerned progressive music should be about pushing boundaries, stretching the imagination, and this just doesn't do it. The reliance on nice but unmemorable melodies throughout is a shame, particularly when the first part of the opening track indicates something a bit more challenging and darkly symphonic, before changing tack midway through into the rather safe territory of AOR-friendly rock.
By far the most evocative if not the most dramatic piece of music on here is Elegy For Christy, a melancholic and atmospheric instrumental paen to loss, dedicated in the liner notes to the memory of a close friend. Replete with a Gilmour-like plaintive guitar part, the thing that makes this stand out is subtlety, a quality sometimes lacking elsewhere.
The last three songs on the album are re-recorded versions of older songs, and Samuel uses a meandering narration similar in feel to Porcupine Tree's most forgettable moment Voyage 34, but as far as I can tell without the excuse of psychotropic drugs. There's a nice organ solo.
As the band themselves say "No-one knows what day it is, and no-one seems to care". There are definitely worse examples of backward looking cod-mystical "prog" out there I'm sure, and I might be a tad harsh, and if you like your music risk-free and sounding like it could have been recorded in 1985, 2005, or even 2012 then this is for you, otherwise…
Conclusion: 5 out of 10