Reviews in this issue:
- It Bites - Map Of The Past (Duo Review)
- Pulseve - Magnet [EP]
- These Curious Thoughts – Building Mountains From The Ground
- Peter Matuchniak - Uncover Me
- Cucamonga – Alter Huevo
- Taylor's Universe - Kind Of Red
- Hemina - Synthetic
- Sifu Stepehen Doe - Requiem
- The Resonance Association – Heliopause
- Super Florence Jam - We Always Knew It Would Come To This [EP]
It Bites - Map Of The Past
Tracklist: Man In The Photograph (3:43), Wallflower (4:51), Map Of The Past (4:37), Clocks (5:43), Flag (4:38), The Big Machine (5:18), Cartoon Graveyard (5:03), Send No Flowers (4:15), Meadow And The Stream (6:42), The Last Escape (6:07), Exit Song (1:43)
Alison Henderson's Review
Despite the fact it feels that It Bites have been around forever – 30 years in fact, remarkably, this is only the fifth studio album they have recorded over this period. A self-styled prog pop band, they set their bar very high when they first burst onto the scene with the anthemic Calling All The Heroes and since then, their style has stayed very much within the parameters of these two genres.
Line-up changes over these three decades mean that keyboard player John Beck and drummer Bob Dalton are now the only survivors from then. In typical incestuous prog multi-tasking style, the foursome is now supplemented by John Mitchell, guitarist with Arena and bass player Lee Pomeroy, who has also played recently with both Headspace and Steve Hackett. Their first album together, Tall Ships, was released in 2008 to much acclaim.
But Map Of The Past is nothing short of brilliant. The band’s first concept album, its theme centres on an old family photograph that Mitchell found in his adoptive great grand-parents’ home in Launceston, Cornwall. The gentleman in the photograph had apparently caused much upset in the family, so the whole album reflects on how that past generation coped with emotions such as love, loss, jealousy and remorse against the backdrop of 21st century Britain.
How this translates musically is through a series of interlocking and contrasting songs, each evoking a distinct mood and emotion which relates to that time in the past 100 years ago but perfectly capturing the spirit of the present.
Between the crackling radio broadcasts which start and finish the album, there is so much to admire; but it is not just the content which captures the imagination. Much of it is down to absolutely nailed on production of Beck and Mitchell, who also penned all the magnificent songs. There is absolutely nothing wasted here. The detail put into breathing life into these songs is almost forensic in precision. Not one of the 11 songs outstays its welcome and not one note is out of place in their execution.
Take for example Man In The Photograph, a surprisingly slow opener with Beck sounding like a church organist as Mitchell provides almost a meditational sung tract before the song opens up to resemble a quasi-military slow march.
From there on, the album ebbs and flows, the songs including out and out rockers such as the excellent and extremely infectious Wallflower with full on guitar, piping organ and kick ass rhythms. Its hook-line will be in your mind long after the album finishes.
In stark contrast is the stately Clocks played in perfect waltz time with such beautiful restraint and decorum but then suddenly goes off on another tangent, conjuring up almost a circus-like atmosphere.
Mitchell’s voice is excellent throughout and at certain junctures recaptures the plaintive timbre of 80s Peter Gabriel particularly on the title track, which turns into a fluently beautiful guitar flourish as part of the overall package.
Beck is very much the architect for so much of the lush orchestration, especially at the start of Send No Flowers where a huge swathe of organ suddenly bursts into a movie-like extravaganza. This is before it pares back to just a simple guitar and piano under Mitchell’s almost music hall vocal delivery peaking on his utterance of “rock bottom” to rhyme with “forgotten”.
The other incredibly strong suit of this album is its lush melodies, best demonstrated on the highly evocative Meadow And The Stream, chock full of pastoral, lyrical imagery which somehow manages to channel both ELO and Genesis. The melody and vibe of Flags harks right back to the early days of the band. It is close to prog pop heaven with a melody to make you smile and a back rhythm from Messrs Dalton and Pomeroy to die for.
But it is The Last Escape which defines this album, comprising piano and Mitchell’s voice soaring high while laden down with the rawest yearning and sorrow which Mitchell then beautifully encapsulates into the most bittersweet guitar solo. It is a reminder that no matter what era we are born into, the emotions we all have to endure remain the same.
Having played this album incessantly over the past week, I am still marvelling at it, finding new nuances and strokes of ingenuity within it all the time. This is a band very much at the height of their powers and creativity and this album will be an odds-on favourite for the 2012 prog album of the year.
Basil Francis' Review
Ooh, swish! It's the new album by It Bites, the mid-to-late 80s crossover prog band who got back together towards the end of the last decade, releasing Tall Ships as they did so. While I can't say that I have quite as much enthusiasm as Alison on this one, Map Of The Past has indeed helped me to further understand the oxymoronic genre that is progressive pop.
First things first, this is a concept album, evidently inspired by an old sepia photograph. To quote the band themselves, 'Map of the Past is a highly personal journey that explores love, passion, jealousy, anger, remorse and loss through the eyes of a previous generation.' So quite a loose concept then, unlike 2112 or Tommy, say.
Musically, this album is a mixed bag of medium length tracks, be they arena-style rockers, ballads or symphonic numbers. There is gorgeous production, with each instrument sounding crisp and powerful. I'm also quite fond of the album's structure, with the soulful Man In The Photograph and the heavier Wallflower providing a sensational introduction to the album. Other heavy rockers include the upbeat Flag and the bolder track The Big Machine. The band cool down in the middle with the wilfully lovely Clocks, and towards the end with The Last Dance. Sorry, I mean The Last Escape. The latter track provides a meaningful close to the album.
My only issue would be with the lyrics, which are fine in general but contain a few hiccups. For one thing, I don't think 'Meadow and the Stream' is a very good chorus line. Seems a bit daft to be honest. At the very end of the album, the band sign off with 'Goodbye', coincidentally mirroring the cousin band Arena, who signed off their latest album with 'The End'. Both these are just a little bit patronising, and leave me bemused. These are just quibbles on an otherwise fine album.
Suddenly, rather than seeing prog-pop as a futile endeavour, I've come to realise that it is actually quite a fine art. Blending two such contradictory genres is a very risky affair, far more risky than being completely out there like Tangerine Dream or Van der Graaf Generator. If successful however, they may prevail in making even more people interested in prog. After all, if it hadn't been for songs like Dream Theater's Hollow Years, I may never have got into prog in the first place!
To summarise, if you are looking for an album to convince your friends that prog isn't as bad as all that, then Map Of The Past is definitely something to go for. Who knows, you may even have fun yourself! With nothing too exciting or revolutionary, this isn't album I'd go out of my way to buy, but is a good listen nonetheless. Fans of Arena or Credo should lap this up.
ALISON HENDERSON 9.5 out of 10
BASIL FRANCIS 6.5 out of 10
Pulseve - Magnet [EP]
Tracklist: Kissing Like Pirañas [Self Destruction Disguised As Love] (8:17), Night Skydiving [Desire To Men Is Gravity To Earth] (5:24), The Last Bullfight [Ultimatum Por El Matador] (8:20), Vulchaos [Chill Magma Before Use] (5:37)
The best thing about reviewing CDs from bands that you know nothing about is when something like the debut release from Pulseve lands in your CD player. Magnet is a 27 minute instrumental EP that wonderfully showcases the talents of this Italian duo. As their bio says:-
"Torino based duo (drum+bass) blends silence and rage, nightmares and daydreaming, feet digging the ground / hands air floating ... 'Magnet' belches out cannibal affairs, earthly desires and blackmailed toreros. Gravity is dancing on tightropes"
Their music is built on the intricate drum patterns of Diego Franchino around which bassist Maurizio Veglio can build pulsing networks of sound incorporating harmonics, low-end rumbles, effects, loops and dextrous playing. The result is a very entertaining listen and there are not many bass and drum (as opposed to Drum 'n' Bass which is a very different thing!) partnerships that could come up with something as exuberant and likeable as Magnet. Bright, inviting and exciting from start to finish the appeal does not flag on repeated spins and I have played it many times in the last few weeks without getting even remotely bored with it, such is the way the duo build they’re pieces focusing on dynamics and movement rather than introverted muso stagnation.
At first listen Veglio's bass is the star of the show but it soon becomes apparent that this is a true partnership. Kissing Like Pirañas is built on a stop start bass riff that reappears throughout the track with great use of harmonics but it is Franchino's hyperactive yet controlled drumming that holds the interest over the full 8 minutes and more. Nine Inch Nails appear to be an influence to start but dark elements of Tool creep in on Night Skydiving but this is no copycat act as Pulseve manage to keep hold of their own identity and individuality via the character of their playing and the quality of the writing.
More characteristic harmonics and effects lead into The Last Bullfight, the crashing moodiness and dance-like shifting rhythms conjuring up images of a matador under pressure. Franchino shows some great control and low-key jazzy fills to turn this into a real drumming tour de force. More Tool influence emerges towards the end, the bass also pulling off a melodic guitar quality. Vulchaos is heavier and more metallic but all of the pieces have room to breathe and Pulseve don't get bogged down in either ambient droning or heavy for the sake of it crashing and banging. There is melodic precision emerging from organised chaos and the players do not see the need to impress or show off their chops unless it is for the benefit of the music.
This is dark, menacing stuff that manages to have an uplifting quality. There is nothing melancholy about it; the pace is hard and fast but the subtlety they employ is a winning formula and the whole thing makes me smile from start to finish. These guys are locked together in perfect harmony/disonance but this is more than just a rhythm section that hasn't got any friends, the quality of the material and the exuberant way in which it is presented makes this release sound like a breath of fresh air. Pulseve manage to pull off a dazzling display of technique while keeping hold of what is the most important part of any recording – listening pleasure. Whether they would achieve quite the same effect over a full album we will have to wait and see but this is a particularly promising start from a duo that deserve to be heard for trying something new and successfully making it work with some style.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
These Curious Thoughts – Building Mountains From The Ground
Tracklist: I've Got God On The Phone (4:31), Uncivilised Society (3:50), Dark Star (3.32), Building Mountains From The Ground (2:51), Nothing Is Supernatural (2:51), The Illusionist (3:44), Arctic Heart Attack (4:53), Dirty Water (5:13), 10 Days After (3:40), I’m A Simple Man (3:31), I Am Not Insane (4:48), Charles Darwin (5:58), Animals (3:09), Get Along (2:21), When God Was A Boy (5:52)
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing this transatlantic duo’s third studio album, Let’s See What 2moro Brings, and remember the first time I heard it with affection. I still play it now, in fact. I was instantly hooked by the musical amalgam of Blue Oyster Cult, The Cardiacs, REM, Porcupine Tree and The Beatles; by Sean Dunlop’s vocal delivery and by Jamie Radford’s whip-smart lyrics.
In 2011 Londoner Jamie Radford (lyrics) and Sean Dunlop from Motown, a.k.a. Detroit in the U.S. of America (music and vocals) were joined by Nate Shannon on bass and Sean “Nasty” Nasery on drums. And thus we have this new album, which continues in a similar musical vein as their earlier record. It’s a few minutes short of an hour long, and is positively packed to the rafters with fantastic musicianship, and intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics. The last one was good but this is even better.
Just once in a while I come across a new band that don’t sound just like Dream Theater. Or Porcupine Tree. Musicians who choose the musical path less-trodden. There are, after all, a finite number of musical notes and how bands choose to put these together is determined by a) their ability and b) their integrity. Honestly, it can’t be too long before we receive a demo by a band called Porcupine Theater.
Eschewing the jokey antics and insightful social commentary of many of my reviews I’m going to attempt a brief track-by-track review, focussing largely on the music. As I’ve already stated the lyrics are amongst the best you’ll hear so I shall leave the discerning listener to make up their own particular mind on these. Plus, I’ve just done an interview with Sean and Jim, in which a lot of the lyrical themes are explained in far greater detail.
I’ve Got God On The Phone gets the album off to a rollickingly good start, a feel good poppy/rocky tune, a bit Talking Headsy perhaps, with a memorable chorus, great guitar fills and backing vocals by God, who asks, quite understandably ‘what the hell do you want?’ Indeed.
Uncivilised Society is a slab of alt pop/prog reminiscent of Spiraling, or Talk Talk, whilst Dark Star has the REM/BOC thing going on that I was so enamoured of on the last record. With a touch of Neil Young thrown in for good measure. The exuberant run for the finish and sublime little guitar solo towards the end is particularly pleasing.
The title song is a slower piece, more keyboard oriented than the preceding tracks before we’re off back to guitar town and Nothing Is Supernatural. Yet another great guitar solo in the style of Donald (Buck Dharma) Roeser marks out this song as one that’s sure to appeal to BOC fans, as are the multi-tracked vocal harmonies.
The Illusionist has a swinging Dave Matthews Band vibe to it, musically and vocally, as well as sounding like it wouldn’t have been out of place on Mirrors.
Arctic Heart Attack puts me in mind, very much, of the solo work of personal favourite Johnny Unicorn of Phideaux, both in terms of the vocal delivery, and the intelligent lyrics.
Dirty Water is a piano–led (think the start of Joan Crawford) slab of intelligent alt/prog slash math rock with a kick-ass chorus and odd bursts of what sounds remarkably like the riff from Culture Club’s ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?’
10 Days After has an infectious, more laid-back REM groove to it, whilst I’m A Simple Man swings along right out of the gate with those trademark Roeser-esque guitar fills, vocal delivery and harmonies that has me all of a quiver.
I Am Not Insane gets us back in Dave Matthews territory, and has some of REM’s poppier sensibilities to propel it.
Charles Darwin is the longest song on the album, at a tad under six minutes. A sampled vocal, and sound effects muse on life, the universe and everything. It’s a powerful, challenging and experimental piece, akin to something Radiohead or Mogwai might do, and musically is very percussive.
Animals muses on what an alcohol-sodden species we in the western world have become before Get Along segues in, a wonderful dollop of intelligent post-modern pop/prog, before yet another (all too short) burst of fantastic soloing.
When God Was A Boy is the last song on the album, mixing reflective piano and a sing-along chorus. Tremendous.
In 2012 These Curious Thoughts will take to the road as a live band for the first time. As they have just released a brilliant album, and what for me is one of the standouts of the year I’d heartily recommend you keep an eye out for them.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Peter Matuchniak - Uncover Me
Tracklist: Falling Ash [Lansdcape Burning p1] (5:22), Running Blind (5:05), Uncover Me (1:52), Down In New Orleans (6:28), Running Back To You (4:16), London Vibe (2:24), Lionheart Betrayed (2:18), Sandcastles (0:53), Across The Pond (4:52), Rising Sun [Landscape Burning p2] (8:07), Hippy In The Rain (3:12)
Peter Matuchniak has previously featured in a couple of reviews posted by DPRP, namely those for the Mach One reissue of a few years ago and more recently the progressive group effort by Evolve IV. However, Uncover Me is the first release to appear under his own name. Ostensibly a solo album - Matuchniak is the sole composer of all the songs and contributes guitars, keyboards, bass and vocals - the strength of the album lies in the associated musicians he has assembled to fill out the music. In particular the wonderful vocals of Natalie Azerad, although that is not to diminish the important contributions of bassist Rick Meadows and drummer Jimmy Keegan, probably more familiar to readers as the tour drummer for none other than Spock's Beard. So some prog credentials there then!
What with Evolve IV along with his latest band The Geko Project (review coming soon!) there is no doubt of Matuchniak's progressive heart, but with a solo album there is more opportunity to explore other musical avenues. Which is not to say the album does not feature some very good progressive numbers, particularly on the opening two numbers Falling Ash [Landscape Burning p1] and Running Blind. With distinct Floydian overtones (try listening to the opening of Falling Ash and not think of The Great Gig In The Sky!) and a lovely acoustic guitar solo (by Mike Eager) the album is off to a cracking start. Azerad is a great talent, effortless switching from soaring backing vocals to strong lead on Running Blind, a lovely song with some gutsy, crunchy guitar chords to beef things up. A switch to an acoustic title track containing some ace playing by flautist David Gilman, shows a different side to the composer with this song falling into more of a folky vein, but an utterly compelling one at that..
Down In New Orleans has a lovely guitar tone and features the first lead vocal by Matuchniak. However, aside from the guitar playing, I was not too enamoured by this piece, as it seemed to be to be a bit too laid back and disjointed, although it does, once more, display a different facet to the artist. Gilman switches to saxophone to provide the opening to Running Back To You, another number featuring Azerad's dulcet tones. Somewhat more quirky with some fluid guitar lines, this is a fine song. The brief instrumental London Vibe has more of a jazz influence with yet another highly proficient saxophonist, Conor Jonson, generating atmosphere. Lionheart Betrayed is a more personal song and that's all I really want to say about it!
Ted Zahn sings on the 53 seconds of Sandcastles which might seem absurdly brief but it is a perfectly formed number, says all that it needs to say and then ending - a style of writing that some progressive bands could adopt (although they may want to at least break the minute barrier!) Across The Pond has more of a late night jazz vibe to it, with Vance Gloster providing a keyboard horn section to supplement the trumpet of Henry Miller and sax of Conor Jonson. A cool number indeed with just the right amount of sleaziness incorporated. The epic ending number is Rising Sun [Landscape Burning p2] which begins with a lilting flute and acoustic guitar. The spoken vocals are a pet dislike of mine, but are forgiven in this instance due to the delightful nature of the song. Defiantly prog it incorporates some elements of the better jam bands and really provides the listener for a plethora of different elements to assimilate over repeated listenings. As a nod to the past and more of a bonus track, Hippy In The Rain closes out the album. Originally appearing on the original Janysium/Mach One cassette from the early 1980s (wish my copy hadn't gone walkabouts as I really would like to hear Iron Lung, Into The Pit and A Bit Of Nothing Really... again - anyone have a copy?!) the acoustic ditty is a somewhat throwaway number but is rather sublime in its innocence and naivety. That I could instantly sing along with it when I first played the CD after having not heard the number for approaching 25 years must say something about the memorability of the melody.
Matuchniak is on something of an upwards trajectory after many years away from the music scene. His two band projects are making a bit of a noise and on the evidence of this first solo release there are plenty more ideas competing for attention. Uncover Me provides an engaging and multi-faceted view of a musician who has been known to refer to himself as The Various Artist. There is plenty to enjoy on this album, including more than a few songs that are well having in one's musical collection. A fine effort and one that lays down a solid foundation for future musical endeavours.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Cucamonga – Alter Huevo
Tracklist: Tetascotch (8:48), El Dengue De La Laguna (3:35), Tu Guaina, (1:56), Variaciones Sobre Tu Hermana (5:59), Tillana (6:20), Cerrazón En Al Teyú Cuaré (6:02), Dominguillo (1:20), Cletalandia (5:59)
A band that names itself after the LA district where a certain Frank Zappa made early forays into recording pre-Mothers in the near mythical Studio Z is wearing its influences well and truly on its sleeve, and indeed a heavy Zappa influence is in evidence throughout this, their first album. Throw in some elements of RIO and avant prog, and add a smidgeon of the more obtuse end of Canterbury and what you have here is a highly interesting album that although it may not be doing anything particularly ground breaking still makes for a more than satisfactory listen.
Guitarist Oscar Peralta pens five of the eight tunes here, but they are not dominated by his instrument in the slightest, there being electric pianos, a Casio tone bank (?), saxophones, clarinets, marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, accordion, and sundry chatter and laughter all cropping up from time to time to make one pay full attention. Dominguillo is composed by pianist Mauricio Bernal, Tillana is a trad arr, and El Dengue De La Laguna is credited to the whole group.
The CD artwork, another fine effort from the skilled hand of Paolo Botta has a couple of pictures of toytown fly agaric mushrooms which may give the impression of psychedelia but the music here far too precise for that, while retaining a sense of adventure that leads it through all kinds of musical twists and turns, but never forgetting its jazz-rock roots. The many percussion instruments listed above give the tunes a playful and diverse rhythmic quality that prevents the music from becoming too academically dry. This sense of fun is apparent from the opening mariachi beats of Tetascotch which cleverly morph from near-comedy to full on jazz rock extrapolations in the best tradition of Uncle Frank, ending with some good syncopation between the guitar and the saxophone and sets the bar high for the rest of the album, which it manages to mostly live up to.
El Dengue De La Laguna has a distinctly Canterbury feel to it, and is anything but feverish as the title may lead you to believe, again incorporating Latin dance rhythms to great effect. The splendidly titled Variaciones Sobre Tu Hermana (Variations on your sister) is an exercise in less-is-more, each note and percussive tinkle and ripple inserted with loving precision, illuminating an underlying complexity that is handled with an easy dexterity that only a bunch of consummate musos could muster.
The intricate percussion is continued on the intro Tillana, which I believe is a rhythmic theme in Hindu dance music, here given a jazz rock reading. After the initial percussive tumult the whole band led by the piano takes up the riff to the end. Nice! Closing track Cletalandia is built around a lovely melody line at points played out by the saxes and/or clarinet, all the while underpinned by a bubbling infectious bass groove.
The sound is once again mastered by the ubiquitous Udi Koomran with his usual ear for detail, and a damn fine job he’s done too! Cucamonga are a band to watch out for and I like the clever and seamless way the written parts on this worthy debut album integrate with the looser sections, which highlights that this is an album for those of us who like our music complicated but listenable.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Taylor's Universe - Kind Of Red
Tracklist: Firestone (6:31), Jakriborg (6:34), Crackpot Men (5:49), Sunday Imagine (6:01), Salon Bleu (5:32), Terasso (1:07), Tortugas (7:33), Lost In Jakriborg (4:28)
In 2010 I reviewed Taylor’s Free Universe Two Pack awarding it 6 out of 10. As an artist Robin Taylor was an unknown quantity to these ears and in all honesty the release was rather enjoyable. I am going to admit here that over time and on reflection if I was reviewing it today I would have maybe given it a higher rating. Now there’s honesty for you! Since hearing those instrumentals Taylor’s Universe has been a band that has grown on me, finding a special place in my heart. This time out with their new creation Kind Of Red I have been more than pleasantly surprised, not that I was expecting anything else in all honesty. Their creations are sonically beautiful, dynamic, musical musings that entice you back repeatedly, exuding warmth, comfort and substance.
Throughout his recording career that has seen twenty nine albums released under various manipulations of his name, twenty of which have been reviewed by various members of the DPRP team, (Kind Of Red being number twenty one), that seem to have been met with differing responses, which may have caused confusion to some and isolated others. It isn’t for me to question this though, but I do feel that at some stage I need to spend some time working through his back catalogue.
For those in the know his previous offerings have incorporated Fusion, Free Form Jazz and Avant-garde; well with this latest offering Robin has made sure that quality and accessibility have been top of his agenda, seeing his music taking a more progressive stance infused with Jazz and some rather interesting metal tinged guitar phrasings. Don’t be worried though, those past elements can still be heard here. I guess to some degree and I use the words loosely, this album is what one would probably call a more commercial presentation.
From the opening number Firestone as a listener you are just dragged into their world, a world that is jazz inflected, mixed with a progressive approach, coherent presentations that offer balance and refinement mixing King Crimson, (Larks' Tongues In Aspic), and Jan Garbarek’s fusion approach. These aren’t the only references that can be heard on the album as when Tortugas hits the ether the unique stylisation of Van der Graff Generator springs to mind or the mighty Weather Report on Salon Bleu. The hat is also tipped to the 70’s inflected mellotron days with Crackpot Men and even the shortest piece Terasso the bands musical humour really crafts the piece, no sooner does it arrive stamping its punctuated lines in your mind, it leaves the building. Now if that isn’t reference enough to get you to sit up and participate then I don’t know what is?
On initial listening one could be forgiven for mistaking the album as being straight forward, but once you really scratch under the surface you will realise that this isn’t the case. There might be some straight forward moments with say Jakriborg but balance is found with the right mix of keyboard, guitars and wind interaction proving that this approach is still exciting and more importantly highly entertaining. In all essence though it’s the complexity that is on offer here, where you strike gold, varying approaches and styles and no repeating themes.
Jakob Mygind’s contributed sax work is second to none which is more than a match for Robin’s dexterous multi instrumental craftsmanship and let’s not forget Klaus Thrane’s adept drumming techniques or Hugh Steinmetz trumpet and flugelhorn inclusions which complete and complement the arrangements making this album what it is. On top of all that we are gifted with a very precise and excellent production job, the final ingredient to the package.
Artificial Joy may have been the only DPRP recommended album so far, something that I am going to amend as Kind Of Red is going to be his second. It may not be an immediate album as it takes time to get to know each little nuance, but once you do hit that moment of realisation, you are in for a real treat. This is an album that will produce manifestations of emotion and feeling, being a highly enjoyable interaction that I can definitely recommend to all.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hemina - Synthetic
Tracklist: This Hour Of Ours (2:11), To Conceive A Plan (11:27), The Boy Is Dead (9:06), For All Wrong Reasons (4:54), And Now To Find A Friend (11:19), With What I See (6:37), Hunting Is For Women (6:43), Even In Heaven (7:05), Conduit To The Sky (2:50), Haunting Me! (3:58), Divine (13:28)
A little over a year ago I came across a band from down-under, led by a Douglas Skene of the progressive metal band Anubis, going by the name of Hemina. The Free Dictionary tells us that the meaning of Hemina is “half a sextary or ten fluid ounces”. I wouldn’t know about that, but what I do know is that last year saw their debut with the As We Know It EP. Five tracks, three of the which now find their way onto their first full length debut album Synthetic. Hemina are: Douglas Skene guitars and vocals, Mitch Coull guitar and vocals, Jessica Martin bass and voice, Andrew Craig drums & percussion and Phill Eltachi on keyboards.
With their EP receiving excellent reviews and many proclaiming Hemina as an up-and-coming band, my expectations were rather high when I received the album. Without jumping ahead too much I can already say that I was not in the least disappointed by this CD, Synthetic is a stunning album from the first to last notes. Reviewing an album after it has been already released some time ago can often be either very pleasing or become a nuisance. In this case I can easily say that after a couple of months I still like this album very, very much. It has even grown on me more after all this time.
Synthetic contains eleven songs. The opener This Hour Of Ours is nothing but a preamble, 2 minutes of sounds as way of an introduction of what has yet to come. My parents always said you should save some of the best for last or later, well not Hemina with the first full blown track clocking-in at nearly 11 and a half minutes, and we’ve already an epic to start the show. Great guitar and keyboard - no doubts in my mind that Hemina mean business.
Synthetic’s songs flow into one other, no pauses between tracks, and the album is best listened to as a whole, so be prepared to set-aside nearly 80 minutes. If it were a boring album then this might be a struggle, but Synthetic is far from that, the album is very interesting. Masterminded by Douglas Skene, from the conception until it reaches climax, this is a superb progmetal album, really stunning. Are Hemina the Australian answer to the European and American bands in the same genre? As I hear it, Hemina are top-league, the only flaw for this band right now is they are not very well known, could be that Synthetic will change that. At any rate, it’s a giant step in the right direction and I keep listening to this album, returning to the at least every week.
The album has much to offer for Progmetal fans. Musically Hemina sound quite close to Dream Theater, Fates Warning and other great acts in the genre. The playfulness of the tracks with typical twists and turns, great guitars, steady bass, illustrative keyboards and of course a high standard of drumming making it well worth the listen. Prepare yourself, I’m a sucker for the longer songs on this album. In particular I enjoy To Conceive A Plan and Divine followed closely by The Boy Is Dead and Even In Heaven, with its nice orchestral section at the halfway point. Synthetic is a great debut album by Hemina, superb. Keep an eye out for this band we can expect a lot of good stuff.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Sifu Stepehen Doe - Requiem
Tracklist: Movements: Funeral (1:57), Ascension (2:28), Limbo (5:08), Hell (6:00), Heaven (7:51), War (4:40), Judgement (0:45), Reincarnation (6:18)
Back in 2006 we received an album from an unknown New Hampshire guitarist named Sifu Stephen Doe. As at that time, (and probably is still the case), it seemed to fall to me to take on the majority of the so called "guitar instrumental" albums we received, Playing With Time duly landed on my doorstep. When it did arrive and truth be known, the fairly homemade approach of the album didn't really set the senses ablaze. Stay with me here folks! Even as the album started to emerge from the speakers I still wasn't overly impressed, however having waded through the album there was something that said ~ listen to this again ~ which I did. What emerged from those additional listenings was, despite the fairly poor audio quality, some pretty impressive music.
So some six years on and album number three has arrived at DPRP. Once again Sifu Stephen Doe has maintained the "homemade approach" to the album sleeve/artwork. The burning question was had the audio remained the same? I'm happy to report a significant improvement here on the drum side - again admirably programmed but with far superior samples than was heard on Playing With Time.
Let's cut to the chase and tell you about the music on Requiem. Again an instrumental album, predominately focussed around the guitar playing of its composer, but unlike so many guitar instrumental albums I listen to, Sifu Stephen Doe comes from a progressive standpoint. Firstly the album is one piece of music split into eight movements, with each of these movements segueing seamlessly or by brief auditory links. The music also employs odd metering throughout, the clever use of modulating keys and on top of this the guitar parts are also used to create strong themes and melodies.
The album opens with gentle piano and sympathetic keyboard ornamentations before segueing, via a rippling piano, into Ascention. The guitars enter with gusto, countered by punctuating keyboard stabs and odd metering from the "rhythm section". The release comes from a succinct and constructed guitar solo. Following this the track busys-up briefly with an Al Di Meola feel section, before the rippling piano returns taking us into Limbo.
Limbo is a gorgeous instrumental, strong on themes, harmonies and with some ripping fretboard work from Sifu Stephen Doe. The following two tracks live up to their names, firstly with a brief atmospheric intro leading us down into the fiery and twisted depths of Hell. Full on prog/metal riffing and time shifts galore - great stuff. Heaven perhaps not surprisingly is heralded and accompanied through its journey by angelic voices and transforming into a beautifully melodic guitar ballad. Some great fret work here - again great stuff.
By the time we get to War we really are on fire - a twisting progmetal extravaganza that presses all the right buttons. Respite comes with the brief acoustic guitar ditty Judgement and the final movement is another progmetal work out. Guitars, keyboards, bass and drums battle it out for a final time.
At thirty five minutes Requiem says what it needs to say and doesn't outstay its welcome, and although billed as a continuous piece of music (which it is) the individual movements also stand up very well by themselves. My only misgivings with Requiem lie the sampled sounds - the programming of the drums works well, but it lacks the dynamic of real drummer and I have to say the snare sound did grate on me. Being a little lower in the mix might have helped. Mixing wise I would have liked the bass and keyboards a tad more forward. This said Sifu Stephen Doe is a crafted guitarist and composer - and I'm more than willing to overlook these flaws and just enjoy the music.
Requiem falls just short of the DPRP recommended tag, which I hasten to say should not be seen as a reflection on the music, but solely a reflection on the shortfalls in the audio. Even here I feel a bit mean. This is a seriously good progressive rock/metal instrumental album. As alluded to in my review of Playing With Time - with the right musicians this could/would have been an awesome album. Easier said than done though. Still, certainly well worth you checking this out...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Resonance Association – Heliopause
Tracklist: Heliopause Part One (4:42), Heliopause Part Two (9:19), Face The Eschaton (5:23), Momentum (2:49), Another Place (4:30), Memory Fade To Silver (7:04), [by the light of the moon] (1:39), Midnight Square (6:49), Methods Of Control (4:09), [passive waves] (1:40), Penultimate Dream Sequence (6:18), Single Point Of Failure (8:22), Departing (7:56), Heliopause Part Three (2:49)
Over the past decade or so, the relatively fledging space tourism industry has come into the view of the private citizen’s telescope with a big bang of sorts, with no less than seven trips by private citizens aboard Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, all of it spearheaded by space tourism outfit Space Adventures. And while UK experimentalists The Resonance Association took us on a sonic trip of sorts to epic extra terrain with the release of their previous physical full-length Clarity In Darkness, on their new album Heliopause we have briefer excursions into inner suborbital space, across fourteen tracks and seventy three and a half minutes.
Heliopause is the offspring of the mother ship Heliopause Prelude download EP release, of which the title tune served as an early peek into the space yet to be formed. To quote the CD credits: “This album was written, recorded, destroyed and resurrected by the Resonance Association: Daniel Vincent and Dominic Hemy”, the duo stalwarts in this operation since the band’s very beginning. Also credited is MJ Strange, with “additional invocation of the dark arts”. The album was mixed and mastered by Strange, and produced by Vincent.
The credits do not specifically mention who plays what instruments or sings, but this is perhaps a touch of modesty on their part. At the risk of that, I will say that Vincent and Hemy have a time line of experience tucked cozily under their belts. Vincent’s previous projects include Karma Pilot and Onion Jack, and on Hemy’s CV we have The 3rd Fire and Hemy/Rowell.
The duo’s discography stretches back to 2006 and in addition to the physical full-length offerings includes a bevy of download and/or physical EPs, limited edition releases, and a download full-length.
The music on Heliopause peeps this band straying like a Martian feline away from the drone, dark ambient, and electronic characteristics of their work into a more conventional rock-based realm, with that teaser EP’s lead-off track Above Beyond & Forever an obvious template.
In particular, the sound of the drumming on Heliopause is a bit muted, and I prefer the more crystalline sheen of the drumming on earlier tracks like Dangerous Fantasist, from Clarity In Darkness.
The title piece on Heliopause is broken into three parts across the album, and I shall deploy my critique of these chunky bits of orbital geology like an angst-fraught teenager playing Asteroids back in the day.
Heliopause Part One launches brilliantly with a dark, analog organ style element, nudged along with some slow-core drums until macabre wordless vocals glide in like an alien breeze. The fortified tune also dishes up Floydian guitar and undercurrents of baritone synth, then tracks into Heliopause Part Two.
This one has a jarring Nine Inch Nails feel with cascading drones, gritty bass, a meandering but catchy tempo and some squiggly Theremin elements.
Heliopause Part Three, which concludes the disc, features the analog organ element returning like a prodigal son walking home across a pastoral Martian landscape. Abrasive bass gives way to a heartbeat drum groove with those wordless vocals sailing back in. Then it all gets all cardiac with the code blue heave of thumping drums.
This title track tripod, another telescope into the duo’s sound, can be heard with the telescope pulled in and condensed on the sole title tune of the mother ship Heliopause Prelude EP.
Elsewhere on Heliopause, there are certainly strong tracks, like Face The Eschaton, which displays melodic guitar, hand clap programming kicking it old school, a drum and bass house beat recalling The Orb and Jah Wobble, and some processed guitar harkening back to early Meat Beat Manifesto.
Another standout is Memory Fade To Silver, with aerobic drums, vocals like the voice of an alien demon, whirring electronics, droning sandpaper ambient blackness, thunderous bass, and more Meat Beat Manifesto pointers.
I have been very enthusiastic about these guys during my time reviewing them for DPRP, and although I was critical of the Heliopause Prelude EP, assigning it a 6 out of 10, it was from a practical standpoint and my ratings of their earlier releases have come in from a 7 out of 10 (Failure Of The Grand Design) to a 10 out of 10 (Clarity In Darkness).
With Heliopause, my enthusiasm has cooled a bit, like the deposition of water vapour in sub freezing air. It’s not that Heliopause is necessarily bad, it’s just that some of the band’s previous experimentation is missing in action here, replaced by a lot of conservative rock-based grooves. The devoted experimental purveyor may have to give this more conventional outing a few rotations around for a chance of a more positive listening experience.
I myself gave Heliopause repeated listens with that “maybe it will grow on me” hope, and it hasn’t. I wouldn’t rule that out in the future, though, and this new, wide rocky plane The Resonance Association is traveling on indeed does not take away from their talent. Their destination, perhaps unintended, could end up launching the band on a trajectory to the mainstream arena.
So the duo now succeeds in being more confounding to this critic than some stuff by King Crimson, and that’s not a bad thing. Heliopause is overall thick yet flat, like a weighty slab of black onyx, and overused rock-based ingredients notwithstanding there is an even sense of level continuity and balance on this album you could play a game of billiards on, not a fraction of a bubble off plum.
The promo edition of the CD I received for review was created by Lisa Vincent and is in a glossy colourful gatefold package with a star cut out of the cover. Longtime design comrade Carl Glover handled the other editions. The proggie-on-the-street can grab a digipack copy from the Burning Shed site (link above) and selected independent portals, and the digital version can be downloaded from most of the online outlets. Want some bonus goodies? Hit up Burning Shed and you can download the exclusive digital bundle version, which includes Heliopause Sessions. 38 minutes of bonus test flight material that extends that telescope once again into the creative minds and muses of Vincent and Hemy.
So room for improvement? I have to say the guys threw me an ellipse of a meteor with this one. One thing I’d like to see them do is break out the lemon fresh Pledge and polish up the drumming element of their next release, so I can see my self in it, and just look at that shine.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Super Florence Jam - We Always Knew It Would Come To This [EP]
Tracklist: That's The End Of It (3:09), Signals (4:13), Your Word (4:05), Simmer Down (2:36), Anastasia Won't You Sleep With Me? (3:04), Irrepressible (1:24), Walkin' On The Rocks (1:22), Bloozepower (4:49), A Moment In Time (3:18)
Super FLORENCE Jam, as they style their name's typography, are an Australian quartet who have previously released an eponymous EP in 2010 and six singles in six months in 2011. These six singles, along with a three-track single from 2010 have been compiled on a second EP We Always Knew It Would Come To This, released in the latter part of last year. The band comprises Adam Krawczyk (vocals, guitar), Laurence Rosier Staines (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Mike Solo (drums) and Alex Tulett (doubleneck bass) and according to the information from the record label that came with the EP are a blues/garage/guitar/rock/progressive/psychedelic band! Er, yes, talk about covering all the bases! Unfortunately, a lot of those tags are misleading and irrelevant as the group are really just a young band with aspirations. The most annoyingly obvious aspect of the music is the fact that the vocals have been heavily treated during the producing and mixing so it is very difficult to gain an appreciation of what Krawczyk really sounds like and if the Plant-like falsetto's in Signals are natural or not.
On a more positive note, in Solo the group have an imaginative and impressive drummer whose fills are original and can be pretty exciting. Musically, the group have a good way with a melody and a quirky appeal in their indie-rock approach on tracks such as Your Word and pick of the bunch Bloozepower. The pleading Anastasia Won't You Sleep With Me? is rather difficult to get to grips with as it is all over the place rhythmically and not done any favours by the vocals while the simplistic Simmer Down, based on a vocal chant, is pretty undeveloped and really rather a waste of the brief guitar solo. Irrepressible is very much a new wave-poppy-punk number, maybe something that The Wonderstuff may have come up with in their early years and discarded as not being good enough. A Walk On The Rocks is in a similar mode but with a higher pitched vocal which doesn't make it any more acceptable. Final track A Moment In Time is a solo home recording by Krawczyk just voice and acoustic guitar, which is an okay song, not a classic but sentimental without being overly schmaltzy and does show that the singer can manage reasonably well without laying on the effects.
Overall this is rather a confused EP with attempts at a variety of different styles none of which really impinges on progressive (nor blues, garage or psychedelia either!) I think the problem is that the Super Florence Jam don't really have an idea of which direction they want to go in. The compiling of seven different singles has produced an EP of inconsistency, it is almost as if the group had used the singles to see if any had caught the attention of the listening public and used that as a marker for where they should head. Diversity is one thing but really only works once you have an established audience who are willing to go along for the ride, otherwise people just get confused. Although not wanting to discourage any musician from their efforts, there is not a lot on this EP for progressive music fans.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10