Reviews in this issue:
- Hekz - Tabula Rasa
- Aparecidos - Palito Bombón Helado
- Hipgnosis - Relusion
- Toyz - The Infinite Road
- Johannes Luley - Tales From Sheepfather's Grove
- Spyros Charmanis - Wound
- Backyards - Horizon
- Wallpaper Poets - The Other Side of Maybe
- A-J Charon - Humouring Gods
- Lyrian - The Tongues of Men and Angels
Hekz - Tabula Rasa
Tracklist: Poison Pen (5:18), Bring the Fire (4:10), Darkness Visible (5:41), As Rome Burns (5:18), City Of Lost Children (10:06), Vendetta (7:25), Hashashiyyin (7:05), Seize The Day (3:35), A Pound Of Flesh (5:42), Don't Turn Back (10:14)
As young bands go, Hekz have made a fine statement with their debut album Tabula Rasa. As an album it hits all the main points one would expect and then some. The contributing four musicians that make up Hekz - Matt Young (bass and vocals), Al Beveridge (electric and acoustic guitars), Tom Smith (electric guitar) and Kirk Brandham (drums) - are at the top of their game where they interact like a well-oiled machine, placing every musical notation with precision to build dark and powerful soundscapes. Their songs are at times bombastic, they exude confidence and cover all the bases from hi-octane rockers through to intricate meandering epics. As a band they have taken references from Iron Maiden and Dream Theater although on a more earthy level.
As you can imagine with the instrumentation used, Tabula Rasa is a guitar orientated album although there are some keyboard interludes and orchestrations that add depth to the proceedings. At times the album does slip into the world of being formulaic, but thankfully that doesn't happen on many occasions; the saving graces are Young's vocal prowess (a man that has a powerful set of lungs and can change his tone to suit avoiding the trap of the growl) and the quality of the song writing that is presented which has adept precision and class. When Beveridge and Smith, who are by no means slouches when it comes to working their fingers over the fret boards, hit their stride they are up there with the best of them as are Young and Brandham.
Where the band really shines through though is on the longer pieces as they have the time to really showcase their abilities as musicians. The two outstanding pieces are City of Lost Children and album closer Don't Turn Back, two tracks that come in at just over ten minutes each. This is where one finally realises how good this band really is.
City of Lost Children is a soulful but melancholic piece that allows the band time to breathe, displaying that the band has more to offer than one first thought, being a refreshing approach after the first four songs. The keyboards, guitars and, well, to be honest all the applied instrumentation really sets the stage, creating powerful dynamics, punctuating the passages, creating atmosphere that one can get fully involved in as it draws you in. Don't Turn Back works in the same manner, just stealing the show, being for me the better of the two tracks, making it the perfect album closer.
Tabula Rasa is not an immediate album, one has to work with it; I found that I had to play it several times before I got its full impact. To arrive at this point I found that I had to turn the amp up, not that the mix is low by any means; the ubiquitous John Mitchell has performed an outstanding job here as one would expect, it is just that some albums benefit from this approach and Tabula Rasa is one of those albums. Crank the amp and enjoy.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aparecidos - Palito Bombón Helado
Tracklist: Tanto Gonfio Saremo (5:49), La Cumbia Inglés (6:04), Zamba del Chaparrón (6:43), Camino A Dos Rius (4:05), Saracinesca (5:29), Amuleto (3:36), Impro (1:39), Peperina en el Semaforo (6:11)
Formed by Argentine brothers Facundo and Santiago Moreno, who have been based in Italy for a number of years, Aparecidos here present us with their second album, the delightful confection that is Palito Bombón Helado. The title literally translates as "chocolate ice cream stick" and refers to a particular yummy ice cold treat sold on the streets of Buenos Aires.
This album stirs Spanish flavoured acoustic instruments with violin, glockenspiel, drums and percussion; and with the addition of the electric guitar of Italian Mattia Tommasini the result is a sweet mix of flavours redolent of the eclectic street folk music of the brothers' homeland. The electric guitar occasionally lends proceedings an edge that takes the music beyond being a world music curio, and places it somewhere in the West.
The street corner scene atmosphere of the album is evident from the start as Tanto Gonfio Saremo emerges blinking into the sunlight through the background chatter and city noise. The whole album is up on Bandcamp, so click the Samples link above to hear what I'm struggling to express in mere words!
The first appearance of the electric guitar is on La Cumbia Inglés and Mattia contributes a nice understated and fluid solo, full of character and spikiness. It does not dominate the tune though, and the simple thematic melody is quickly re-established, the classical guitars and charango (an Andean lute-like instrument) playing counter melodies and weaving in and out of one another. Quite lovely; close your eyes while listening and I swear you'll see a small sun drenched village square, old men playing checkers, sheltering under a tree from the sun's glare reflected off the cracked adobe walls.
There is a charming innocence to this album that goes beyond the music to the lovely and no doubt intentionally child-like artwork. The playful but languid nature of the record is very occasionally nudged by the appearance of a gentle avant undertone, as if out there all is not quite as it seems. This happens on Amuleto and more so on the following Impro, perhaps not unsurprisingly in the latter given the title, and lends Palito Bombón Helado an interesting curiosity factor that will satisfy those who like their imagination stirred but not necessarily shaken. Fans of Dave Willey's 3 Mice project should lap this up.
The sound is given the usual high level of care and attention by Udi Koomran, and while not "prog" in the traditional sense this is an album that is endowed with an infectious musicality that will delight anyone who can see beyond the traditional rock band format.
Unfortunately lost in a slew of fine releases at the tail end of last year, I am glad I finally got round to sitting down with this album and I will no doubt be revisiting it throughout the year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hipgnosis - Relusion
Tracklist: Cold (19:05), Cult Of Cargo (10:07), Dr. What (6:25), The Garden (5:09), Relusion (9:01), Large Hadron Collider (22:22)
"Relusion: a fixed religious belief that is resistant to scientific evidence."
With a title like that it should come as no surprise that this, the second Hipgnosis studio album, is inspired by The God Delusion by eminent scientist, atheist and scourge of religious fundamentalists everywhere Richard Dawkins. Definite plus point from my perspective! Formed in 2004, the group released their debut, Sky Is The Limit in 2006 which was followed up a year later by a live recording which featured the entire debut album, a handful of new tracks and a cover of Pink Floyd's Careful With That Axe Eugene. Relusion hit the streets towards the end of 2011 but was pretty hard to obtain outside of Poland. Recent distribution deals have meant that the band's work is now more readily available and so, after a rather unworthy delay, DPRP are pleased to be able to offer up this review for your delectation.
The six-piece band are SeQ (drums, samplers, synthesisers), KuL (vocals), PiTu (bass, vocals), ThuG (synthesisers), Ijon (synthesisers, samplers, piano) and Prince Olo (guitars) - I take it there should be no need to point out that the names are obviously pseudonyms! It is also obvious from the musical attributes of the band members that the music is heavily keyboard based and throughout the album contribute elements of space rock, electronica, jazz (particularly the piano contributions) in addition to the standard prog template. This could potentially be a disaster of epic proportions but the skill of the band is that they have managed to blend everything together to create an original sound within the musical idiom. Vocalist Kul, whom, due to the non gender-specific name, I am obliged to mention is a female, has a light and airy voice which sometimes contributes a rather pop element to the sound. On the opener, Cold, interesting synth sounds are liberally spread across the introduction before bursting into a rather manic and upbeat section where electronic bass and percussion effects are intermingled with the traditional instruments. Through various twists and turns all of the rather disparate elements previously mentioned are combined excellently in a nineteen-minute journey, which references lots but copies none.
Cult of Cargo is slower with a greater focus on electronic music with a definite nod to Tangerine Dream in places. However, midway through the band shake things up by lobbing in a raft of guitar riffs. In the slower sections Kul has an eerily Bjork-like quality which complements the music very well. However, I did tend to find that the flow of the song was rather clunky and failed to hold my complete attention all the way through. The synth dominance continues with Dr. What with a plethora of meandering synth lines that can be traced back to the more ambient excursions by Commander Brock and his merry band of Hawkfolk. Things then take a sideways step away from the electronica and delves more into a becalmed rock sphere. Graceful piano dominate synthesiser swirls with some very nice synth passages from ThuG which strongly suggest he has been paying attention to Rick Wright. Incidentally, the piece, which is instrumental, takes its name from the Richard Dawkins quote "Isn't it enough to see that the garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" which, in a somewhat modified form, are the opening lyrics to the title track, Relusion. A very classy song that continues the directional nod to Pink Floyd with a Gilmoresque guitar solo performed by guest musician Marcin Kruczek from Nemezis. A very lovely song.
Closer Large Hadron Collider, a machine constructed to (successfully) search for the Higg's Boson, the so-called 'God particle', is the epic of the album and really not so much of a band piece as all the instruments, with the exception of a guitar solo from non-band member Kruczek, are played by SeQ. A studio assemblage it would certainly be interesting to hear how this piece could be transferred to the stage! The key ingredients are the three previously mentioned comparators, viz Tangerine Dream, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd. One could roughly divide the track into three sections dedicated to each of these groups: the first half is dominated by an ambient electronic vibe which then enters a more space rock phase until at about the 15-minute mark a Floydian synth solo dominates. The break for the electronics dosen't happen until the guitar solo raises its head after eighteen and a half minutes, but the contrast adds an extra emphasis. An intriguing and exciting piece of music that really rounds off the album well.
Hipgnosis have created something rather unique in the sphere of prog. Yes it bears its influences but don't most things these days? At 72 minutes there is a lot of absorb in a single sitting which is why it has taken me a while to appreciate the nuances of the individual pieces. However, the effort pays dividends in the end. A special mention should be given to Tomasz Setowski, the artist responsible for the cover and inner artwork, nicely reproduced in full on a fold out mini poster included with the album. Overall, a very nice release and worthy of wider attention.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Toyz - The Infinite Road
Tracklist: Departure (5:16), Face The Mirror (4:13), Tears Of Joy (5:03), Mindscape (5:21), Introsection (1:30), Intersection (4:15), Far Away (5:49), Shifting Gear (4:00), Dream On (4:29), Rock on Wood (3:48), Thermal Winds (7:07)
Bonus track: Intersecçao (Brazilian Edit) (7:29)
The Dutch band Toyz have a long history having originally formed in 1996 and releasing a mini album, Remember, a couple of years later financed through winning best new band competitions. However, despite positive reviews, the band ground to a halt around the turn of the century following inevitable musical differences. However, you can't keep a good group down and three of the band reunited in 2004 recruiting a new keyboard player in the process. A change of bass player brings us to the current line up, consisting of original members Peter van Heijningen (guitars) and Robert van Kooij (drums and percussion), with Arjan van Gog (keyboards) and Jeroen van Boldrik (bass).
For what is essentially a debut album the music throughout is very accomplished which is symbolic of the maturity of the band. Being purely instrumental, there is a lot of scope for the quartet to display their strengths without having to worry about structuring the music around a comprehendible narrative. Indeed, the album flows from track to track with hardly a pause, the demarcation between different tracks frequently being observable only from the changing of numbers on the CD player display. van Heijningen stamps his mark on the first two tracks with some florid and, at times, aggressive runs that incorporate elements of jazz rock inspiration, although adopts a more melodic approach on Tears Of Joy. The dominance of the guitarist is not all that surprising considering he wrote almost all of the material, the only exception being the brief Introsection, a solo piano piece that carries the listener into the opening of Intersection. At times van Heijningen has the air of Steve Morse's playing with Deep Purple, with a lightness and smoothness of touch that is no bad thing. Far Away is introduced by a rather strange, but thankfully brief, narration and adopts a more Celtic flavour. To mix metaphors, the track is a bit of a smorgasbord, that to my ears, doesn't gel all that well.
Shifting Gear continues somewhat of a mid album lull and although not a poor number per se, seems to lack some of the cohesiveness and passion of earlier numbers, emphasised by the rather uninspiring keyboard work from van Gog who, up to this point, had put in some sterling work. However, the lull is temporary and Dream On (no, not the Aerosmith song!) picks things up nicely, being well structured and paced. The somewhat heavier Rock On Wood ramps things up with a cheeky insertion of a fraction of Riders In The Sky adding some humour. The only bad thing to say about this track is the punningly awful title! Rather than ending on a bang and a frantic climax, Toyz opt to conclude things with a degree of class; Thermal Winds seems to me to be the epitome of all that the band have set out to achieve on The Infinite Road.
Somewhat superfluously a remix of Intersection has been included as a bonus track, although renamed Intersecçao (Brazilian Edit). The Brazilian bit is easy to understand given that the track is laden with plenty of percussion that doesn't really sit too comfortably and somewhat obscures the otherwise fine playing. In case you are confused by the fact that the 'edit' is actually longer than the original track, it is a bit of a red herring as the remix is the same length as the original track, the rest of the running time is a period of silence followed by a 90 second acoustic guitar solo which is much more in keeping with the rest of the album.
On the whole Toyz have come up with an interesting and entertaining album which holds its own against other all instrumental releases. Perhaps next time round more use could be made of van Gog who is obviously a fine player but somewhat overshadowed by van Heijningen. Who knows, they may even get round to releasing it before 2026!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Johannes Luley - Tales From Sheepfather's Grove
Back in 2008 it was my pleasure to review the excellent debut CD by California based band Moth Vellum. Sadly the band are no more after splitting in 2010 but guitarist Johannes Luley hasn't let the grass grow under his feet. On New Year's Eve he sent me a message announcing the forthcoming release of his debut solo album Tales From Sheepfather's Grove. If the ostentatious title conjures up classic 70's prog then the pastoral landscapes by cover designer Harout Demirchyan are equally evocative, recalling the work of Roger Dean.
Roger Dean brings another name immediately to mind - Yes. The connection is especially appropriate here because Luley has produced an album inspired not only by the U.K. proggers in their prime but more significantly all things Jon Anderson. The mellow, acoustic side of Yes which one usually associates with the angelic voiced Anderson along with his solo albums (especially the incomparable Olias Of Sunhillow) are the main influences here. Supporting Luley's lead vocals are singers Robin Hathaway, Kristina Sattler and Sianna Lyons, combining for a pretty convincing imitation of the ex-Yes frontman. Just as JA did on Olias..., Luley plays all the instruments himself including a wide assortment of guitars, bass, keyboards and percussion. The only exception is the harp (ironically Anderson's first instrument) which is played here by Stephanie Bennett.
The first three minutes of Stab The Sea is probably the most serene opening to an album you're ever likely to encounter. A delicate acoustic guitar and harp motif (reminiscent of Genesis' rare ambient excursion Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats) is underscored by synths hovering discreetly in the background. A solitary tribal drum (Luley avoids a conventional drum kit) and mandolin style guitar follows joined progressively by multi-layered vocal chants.
Guardians Of Time begins with a lovely guitar/vocal duet, evoking both the classical guitar style of Steve Howe and the eco-friendly acoustic song that closes the Yes opus The Ancient. Whilst tonally Luley's vocals sounds only vaguely like Anderson's, his choice of words and measured phrasing is a dead ringer. It morphs into a dreamlike acoustic guitar solo that echoes the track Chords from the aforementioned Olias Of Sunhillow.
Moments has a summery feel with rustic acoustic guitars and sparkly keys that owes a debt to several Anderson penned tunes including Time And A Word, Your Move and the Yes song that never was, Picasso.
Harp provides the lead for Give And Take supported by spacey synth effects and a searing electric guitar break that's pure Howe (circa Topographic Oceans). Like several songs here it changes direction after the midway point to play out with a barrage of massed tribal rhythms.
The beautifully hypnotic The Fleeting World takes us into Turn Of The Century territory with a dash of Nous Sommes Du Soleil thrown in for good measure. Luley's acoustic guitar playing is exquisite with just a hint of symphonic keys. No vocals this time around but easily my favourite track on the album.
The modest sound of the ukulele provides the rhythm for We Are One contrasting with the majestic Vangelis flavoured synth washes. The chant like vocal theme is lifted from the choral intro to Dance Of The Dawn from Topographic Oceans.
Clocking-in at just under ten minutes, the appropriately titled Suite: Atheos Spiritualis consists of four self-explanatory sections. Following the brief but stately orchestral Overture, the buoyant Bolero is indebted to Ravel's famous piece (sounding a tad out of place here) whilst All We Can Be is a magical, uplifting song with wonderfully ethnic choral flights and a mesmerising array of guitar sounds. In stark contrast the moody Doldrums concludes with a whispered voice over a bleak keyboard drone.
Fittingly the strummed acoustic guitars of Voya recall To The Runner which similarly closed Olias. Luley's weeping Gibson guitar manages to evoke not only Howe but also his Yes predecessor Peter Banks whilst Anderson himself I'm sure would approve of the "Love will outlast" line that brings the album to a warmly optimistic conclusion.
Certain factions of the Yes/Anderson fandom may approach this album with a degree of scepticism whilst most I hope will appreciate it as an immaculately performed homage to a classic period in prog history. Anderson himself has long promised a sequel to Olias Of Sunhillow which as I write remains unfulfilled. Personally I have my doubts, the 1976 album has a unique sound and style that not even Anderson himself has been able to replicate on subsequent releases. If you've been waiting for a 'Son of Olias' or another Jon & Vangelis album or even an Anderson/Howe collaboration, this might be as close as you're ever likely to get.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Spyros Charmanis - Wound
This is the second self-released album from Greek composer and multi-instrumentalist Spyros Charmanis, who describes it as "a generally rock/prog rock oriented concept album, following an unnamed character through a fictional story of good intentions, bad decisions, fracture, contemplation, resolution and moving on". At least he's not claiming it to be the best thing since Close To The Edge, which is a start.
Apart from a handful of fellow Greek musicians guesting on some of the tracks, Spyros plays everything here, and it is a testament to both his musical and production abilities, and to the seemingly boundless nature of modern technology that this doesn't sound a bit like the amateurish "bedroom production" it could have done.
Fairly mainstream in approach with nods to both Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree for the prog leanings and to The Beatles for the sophisticated pop-rock references, other styles are interwoven with panache, too.
Modern electronica gives the instrumental Entry Wound an urban and spacious atmosphere, static crackles in the background, modern electronic beats driving the song through a neon-lit tarmac covered street scene. You've Met Someone is a gloomy cinematic ballad of self-doubt full of minor chord piano and highly reverbed guitar that ends part one, and next up is the bluesy downer chugging guitar motif of Better Halves, a song of recrimination.
Considering that lyrics are written and sung in what for Spyros must be his second language, credit must be given for his linguistic skills, for there is nothing clunky here, as is often the case in these circumstances. Spyros' English enunciation is such that you would only know his origins from his name.
At 72 minutes the album is a tad overlong, and as interesting as the unfolding story in the lyrics is, I find my attention wandering about halfway in. As if realising this, the ending of Hinder ramps it up a bit, but unfortunately Open Wound continues the downer feel of the music on this CD, but it is redeemed by a nice guitar solo and segueing as it does into the piano led instrumental The Glacier, it is an uplifting and sophisticated ending to part two.
The navel-gazing continues into the third and final part, which features the longest song on the record, the 10 minute Exit Wound. A song that builds up to some chugging metal riffing, and some nice effects-heavy guitar, it at least lifts the listener out of what has now become a soporific state, which may well have been Spyros' intention all along, for as the song repeats over and over at the end: "Through day and night, we grow and we crawl under our eyes again". This segues straight into the last song, Say Goodnight, which goes all Great Gig In The Sky on us, soaring female choruses and all. We have now arrived at the end of the tale, and it reveals to us its unfortunate and morose conclusion. The "moving on" Spyros refers to is somewhat inevitably if not directly the death of the protagonist then the death of his angst. That's your redemption, folks; gawd, these prog musos are a cheerful bunch!
You might get away with it if you are an established name act, but a newcomer would do well to be a bit less long winded and introspective. However, you cannot fault Spyros' ambition, and, unlike a lot of others in a similar position, at least he has the musical chops and technical nous to pull it off.
Possibly a companion to another high quality home recording artist of note, the UK's very own Paul Cusick, this album shows what can be done these days with some good musical knowledge and a decent computer. While I often bemoan the preponderance of bedroom productions that should have stayed there, this is an exception, despite my misgivings above, and if only for his all round talent alone Spyros deserves more exposure and encouragement. I await future developments with interest.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Backyards - Horizon
Tracklist: So Close To (6:41), Eve (6:36), Duchess (5:20), Up & Down (6:24), Sweet Rain (5:14), Eaden (1:27), Dream On (6:49), Horizon (6:07)
The title and closing track of Backyards' Horizon album is one of eight tracks on it that have caused the word "bland" to regrettably, just, waltz into this writer's head completely unauthorized. Which is to say I was hoping for better from the man behind the Backyards curtain, Marc Devidal. Look closely, though, through his project's gossamer hues - lyrics, vocals, guitar, bass guitar and other such fixings don't get an entry on this menu. This animal's all keyboards and electronic drums; ingredients not unlike the composition, if not bidirectional in meaning, of the stuff on Flags, from Moraz and Bruford.
Devidal retains a sense of mystery, as there is not much information about him online, save for a link to Horizon on the Musea Records website.
If I tried to describe this album's music in a few paragraphs, phrases such as "electronic drumming" would be repeated over and over to the point of overkill. Suffice it to say that the electronic drumming on the album is diverse in its utilization of groove throughout the affair, and it is only via the keyboards where some blandness occasionally rears its little head. Devidal has a creative spirit both in playing chords and patterns as well as solos, and displays a fair balance of these things throughout. Horizon gives us shades of brilliance, spirituality, symphony, majesty and dryness, among others.
Commonalities on the album include Division Bell-era Pink Floyd, Tony Banks, Zee, Mark Kelly and Sky. Devidal's keyboards deploy lots of piano, organ, choral and string elements.
The instrumentation of just keyboards and drums is what enticed me to order this CD for review from our writer's pipeline, and would appeal perhaps to anyone keen on instrumental keyboard based music.
The four page CD booklet is colorfully and professionally designed, with notes in French on the inside and a quote from the Aragon poem "Les Yeux d'Elsa" (The Eyes Of Elsa) on the back.
For room for improvement with the next Backyards release, I would welcome any effort from Devidal to rock things up a little bit with some distortion and samples and such.
I find it to be a good CD to listen to when driving in my car, although structure-wise the album gets a little bumpy along the way.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Wallpaper Poets - The Other Side of Maybe
Tracklist: Prologue - Journey's End (1:39), Part 1: The Introduction - A Blueprint of Eden (2:18), The Blind God (3:45), When the City Sleeps (4:29), Part 2: A Remarkable Set of Manners - I) Morning Prayer / II) The House of Lies (6:07), III) Elegy for a Dream / IV) Tabula Rasa (4:45), V) The House of Lies (reprise) (1:14), Part 3: Life Delights in Freedom - Within Focus Out Of Reach (4:41), On the Eve of a Brand New Day (4:45), The Other Side of Maybe (6:50), Finale (1:57), Epilogue - Meet My Eyes (3:32)
Belgium's Wallpaper Poets have existed in one form or another since the early 1990s and this debut album has finally surfaced under the direction of keyboardist and musical director Gerd Willekens, combining elements of Progressive rock, Jazz, and World music.
The current formation of the band appears to include, in addition to Willekens (who also provides the drums here), Vladimir Gouskov (guitar), Bart Schram (lead vocals, also sings with M!ngames), Joris Liégeois (bass) and Ivo Tops (drums but credited on this album as a non-playing percussion consultant) but for various reasons most of The Other Side Of Maybe is performed by guests who contribute, piano, woodwind and sax, vocals and guitar. Lyrics are by Willekins and Peter Ridsdale (no, not the English football club chairman although that might make for an interesting addition for the next album!) who features occasionally on 11-string Indian violin. There appear to be plans for Wallpaper Poets to record as a unit soon but this album is essentially a Willekins solo project.
The guests are more than up to the job: Dutch jazz pianist Jack Van Poll, sax/flute virtuoso Paul Van Laere, classical guitarist Guy Cuyvers plus studio and session guitarists Chris van Nauw and Pallieter van Buggenhout. Willekins provides the drums and programmed bass.
The album is split into three parts with a prologue and epilogue. The piano and voice scene setter is pretty, Willekins deep, rich and character-filled voice possessing an interesting fragility. The first part proper, Introduction, opens with A Blueprint Of Eden, featuring percussion and some programmed drums, the jazziness from the sax and piano of van Laere and van Poll giving the piece a lilting charm. The jazzy setting continues into The Blind God with electronic rhythms working well, Willekins vocal again part spoken. Some parts appear a little shakey to me as is the case throughout the record which may have benefitted from a touch more time and attention to detail but overall the performances themselves are very good. The track blends into the third part, When The City Sleeps, coloured by Cuyvers' acoustic guitar and van Laere's sax.
The problem with this album appears to be that essentially being a one-man project with lots of guests Willekins has assembled his cast and their contributions first and then tried slightly too hard to shoe-horn it all into a satisfactory whole. He has certainly succeeded to some extent but there is a disjointedness here and there that is jarring. The second part, A Remarkable Set of Manners, is a case in point opening with the chinese folk song base of Morning Prayer where it appears from the notes that Liégeois' wife spontaneously sang along to a backing track they were listening to and the recording of this was then slotted into the finished work. The fit is not perfect and although the tune and voice are pretty it is not a seamless merging with Willekins' backing.
The House of Lies is a nice piece, Bart Schram doing a good job supported by banks of keys and the odd fleck of sax and guitar which again have the whiff of being recorded without a set direction or plan for how they would fit into the whole. Ridsdale's Indian vioin features to mesmeric effect on Elegy for a Dream/Tabula Rasa, a lilting and smoothly atmospheric piece which bursts out with electronics and rhythms into an interesting blend of old and new world feels with some jazziness in the electric piano and sax. Overall though it doesn't quite hit the spot and heads off on too random a tangent before collapsing. The part ends with a brief reprise of the more powerful The House Of Lies with apparently random spidery keys added. Strange.
The third part, Life Delights In Freedom, has a similar feel to much of what has gone before, electronic keyboard rhythms and jazzy piano with additional flute on the instrumental Within Focus Out Of Reach which is quite nice and builds well. Willekins' part spoken vocals return for On The Eve Of a Brand New Day but the shakiness and lack of focused direction detracts somewhat although this is probably my favourite track here with a nice chorus but why the effects-laden vocal section? Gouskov's guitar soloing and effects also appear to have found a home that does not necessarily suit them.
The title track, and longest on the album, opens with atmospheric tabla. The rhythms can be a bit random but the vibraphone theme is nice and Schram returns for another lead vocal however Willekins treated rapping is probably a mistake. The faux-orchestral Finale ties up the third part before the epilogue of Meet My Eyes brings the album to a close of piano and acoustic guitar. There is a sparseness to Willekins' piano here that is intriguing and compelling but he seems to feel the need elsewhere to add too much to the sound where a stripped down approach appears to be his forté.
If Wallpaper Poets are to continue with the more regular lineup detailed above then the results are sure to sound different to what is presented here and as such The Other Side Of Maybe should probably have appeared as a Willekins solo release. It is a brave attempt and certainly sounds different to much of the material I have heard recently if ever but it is lacking in that final polish and direction to make it into a truly worthy album. Willekins probably had a blast making it but as a listening experience it is a little unfocused and amateurish to make a real impression.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
A-J Charon - Humouring Gods
Music web columnist and former DPRP-reviewer A-J Charron finally took up the challenge of making an album on his own. Originally composed as a classical suite for orchestra and two guitars he re-interpreted his Humouring Gods into a rock version using only guitars, bass and timpani with the addition of occasional vocals, although without lyrics. In that way he tried to tell the dramatic story of a beautiful Greek lady who awakes in a strange body, seeks revenge, becomes insane and ends into oblivion. I sincerely doubt if he succeeded.
The overall feeling of this instrumental music is uncertainty, in many respects. It lacks direction as there is no central theme, no recurrent piece of melody. What's even worse is that there is no memorable melody to be heard, not even after several spins. It sounds as if Charron didn't know what to make of it precisely but was forced to finish the record within a too limited time span. The tracks more or less flow into each other without clear distinction and, thus, without a clear relation to the moods they were expected to bring about. The only exception is Insanity because here some atonal and chaotic music is played, referring to the apparent state of mind of the lady. The rest of the tracks float, wander, go in every direction but desperately fail to make a remarkable impression.
These are at best bits of soundscapes which may serve as a movie score although I doubt whether they will underpin any suspense at all. At best it is reminiscent of some of the music Anthony Phillips recorded during his Private Parts & Pieces V & VI period.
The guitar playing is fair yet unimpressive. The sounds vary quite a bit and there is some fine interplay between acoustic and electric guitars, especially in Revenge which makes it the stand-out track of the album. It proves that Charron has good ideas but it also shows that he fails to deliver those ideas in the form of a fully attractive album.
It's a shame to say but this album really doesn't appeal to me at all. Choosing to make instrumental music is brave as it always proves to be difficult to grab the listener's attention and to keep that attention until the end. Using a central theme or a surprising mix of instruments can do the job. A-J Charron does neither of these which makes his first album one that will soon be forgotten. With so many good examples to inspire this achievement misses the point completely. That's a shame.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Lyrian - The Tongues of Men and Angels
Disc I: Of Men...: The Hollow (8:37), Three One-Eyed Gods (26:44), Sick Roses (3:47), The Kingdom of the Enchanter (Panapanthera) (16:27)
Disc II: ...and Angels: A Warning to Angels (6:21), The Veil Between (17:28), The Shadow of Impus (3:04), Hymn 637: The Seven Tongues (21:31), The Flight of the Soul (22:24)
About forty years ago, a seminal Irish prog group by the name of Fruupp released their second album. Titled Seven Secrets, this album showed a more adventurous side of the band, with six bizarre but beautiful tracks encompassing a wealth of themes and influences.
Nevertheless, six tacks on an album titled Seven Secrets seemed plain wrong, so the band's quick fix was to quickly record a seventh track, entitled The Seventh Secret. The result was an acoustic guitar solo with Stephen Houston reading a fey poem in a rather comic accent over the top. This was by far the worst track on the record, but it was bearable because it was only 63 seconds long and was played only after the listener had heard 44 minutes of stunning music. Interestingly enough, this was by far the shortest track to be included on the recent Wondrous Stories four-disc compilation, and band manager Paul Charles told me in interview how he was not happy with the decision. Four decades on, 'medieval' band Lyrian unwittingly give a horrible prediction of what this grating track might have sounded like if it had been stretched to over two hours. Comparisons to the legendary Fruupp stop right here.
I turned on the album and was treated to a fanfare-like opening. I have to admit, while I wasn't impressed by the technical proficiency of the players, it seemed like a good place to start on a two-hour journey. As the lyrics kicked in, I smiled at the high-pitched singer, wondering if this was just a narrator's guise. The lyrics themselves seemed fine, but as the track drew on, and verse after verse cascaded, I wondered if all this build up was leading anywhere. Just at the point where it would have been great to launch into a fast-paced instrumental, more verses came. Get on with it! Eventually, the words did come to a stop, but rather than the instrumental I wanted to hear, the final three minutes were devoted to a squealy directionless guitar solo with very little going on behind it.
I began the second track Three One-Eyed Gods, the longest track on the album at 26 minutes. As I listened to the rhythmic opening section, a horrible realisation came to me; the drums were all programmed. They had been right from the start. This didn't make sense, a certain Edgar Wilde was credited as the drummer. Perhaps he programmed the drums? Perhaps his drums were computer treated? Perhaps the whole band was computer treated!? Indeed, this whole album sounds a lot like a MIDI file with a leprechaun singing on top. Needless to say, the production is terribly amateurish, and at two hours, this makes the album a complete chore.
However, it's not just the band's production that's at fault. It takes skill to write a twenty-six minute song that grips the listener all the way through, and Lyrian lose me even in their shorter tracks. The compositions are just so dry and repetitive, a real strain to get through. There is nothing new, innovative or even pleasant here. The best themes can be heard in the album's opener; afterwards it's a wasteland of plodding mediocrity. Five tracks over a quarter of an hour long is too much to take!
The band's press material only serves to distress me further. The unabridged list of the band's influences are 'early Genesis, Beethoven, King Crimson, Bach, Blake, Pink Floyd, Mendelssohn and Muse.' Early Genesis is a standard comparison for most subpar prog bands, but Crim? Floyd? Muse? What a load of tosh! Their homepage betrays some questionable grammar - "It is a double-album, dealing with man and his Gods, false and falser, and the angels which torment the world" - which seems in line with the quality of the rest of the album. However, the band adds some overconfident salt to the wound when they proclaim at the very bottom of their press release: "A full refund will be given to anyone who fails to be progressively rocked". Where's my refund, Lyrian? I especially detest their use of the word 'fails', as if it's the listener's fault that the music is of poor quality. Given that I didn't actually pay for the 'pleasure' of hearing this band, a simple reimbursement of those two hours I spent fuming next to my laptop as the weary music wore on would be great!
While I dig the medieval feel of this record, the long, boring tracks coupled with the band's cocky tone infuriate me no end. Fruupp don't deserve to be compared to this band, and I feel bad for having done so. This album is poorly produced, badly executed and tedious. While I appreciate that this is a small time band working hard, it must be said that there is very little of worth here.
Conclusion: 2 out of 10 (I'm being kind)