Album Reviews

Issue 2013-046

Reviews in this issue:


Arena - Rapture DVD
Arena - Rapture DVD
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Metal Mind Productions
Catalogue #:MMP DVD 0203
Year of Release:2013
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: The Great Escape, Crack In The Ice, Don't Forget To Breathe, City of Lanterns, Riding The Tide, What If?, One Last Au Revoir, Burning Down, Serenity, Valley of the Kings, Crying For Help IV, The Eyes Of Lara Moon, Ghost in the Firewall, Rapture, The Ghost Walks, Bedlam Fayre, The Tinder Box, The Visitor, Solomon, Crying For Help VII, Ascension

Alison Henderson's Review

Oh, how reassuring it is to be proved wrong at times! You see, it was with some trepidation that I elected to review Rapture because as the Saturday night headline act at the Summer's End Festival in 2011, Arena were completely underwhelming. Quoting from that review, Brian Watson remarked: "Asking around my DPRP colleagues afterwards, feedback included the fact that the show felt 'flat and one-dimensional'".

Well, the recollections of that evening have been floating around for a considerable time now, but the band delivered yet again as Sunday night headliners at the at Celebr8.2 festival in Kingston-upon-Thames over the weekend of May 11-12 this year.

This DVD is the musical stable mate of Pendragon's Out Of Order Comes Chaos, the double CD of which has just been released. This Arena concert was filmed in the same venue, the Teatr Slaski in Katowice, Poland, on 10th November 2011, seven months after Pendragon trod the boards there for their DVD - and just a month after the Summer's End debacle.

Of course, the common link with Pendragon is Clive Nolan, Arena's co-founder in 1995 with Mick Pointer, Marillion's original drummer, with another significant past member John Jowitt (IQ) now back in the fold along with John Mitchell (It Bites, Frost*, Kino) and singer Paul Manzi (Oliver Wakeman Band) who joined in 2010.

Part of the trepidation stemmed from whether Manzi would fill the front man berth left vacant by Rob Sowden, who was more of a traditional prog singer. With his long dark corkscrew curls and moody persona, Manzi emits far more of a classic rock vibe as his musical track record including stints with Mick Underwood's Glory Road and Raw Glory would indicate.

However, on this DVD, fronting Arena sees him totally at ease with the often complex arrangements, injecting passion and power through his strong, pitch perfect voice that swoops and soars throughout.

This is the hallmark of Arena's sound, those huge sweeping musical brushstrokes of symphonic coloratura, courtesy of Nolan, plus the solid sensibilities of Pointer and Jowitt's solid rhythms, offset by Mitchell's ever-shifting guitar dynamics.

Showing no signs of new boy nerves, Manzi makes a dramatic entrance singing a few lines unaccompanied before they start the show with the pulsating The Great Escape from their last album, The Seventh Degree of Separation.

The set list comprising 21 songs spans the entire life of the band, going right back to Songs From The Lion's Cage, taking in Contagion, The Visitor, Pepper's Ghost and Pride as well six from The Seventh Degree....

Manzi dons a top hat and round tinted glasses for Don't Forget to Breathe, which is a slightly curious move as he ends up looking like Slash for its duration. City of Lanterns segues seamlessly into the brilliant instrumental Riding The Tide, dominated by Nolan's shimmering keyboards and some deft touches from Mitchell, who looks both relaxed and happy throughout the entire show. You get the feeling he is totally in his element here, letting his guitar and supporting vocals do the talking rather than taking his more central role with It Bites. His sublime guitar runs are never better expressed than on Serenity, with Nolan providing a lovely synthy backdrop from which to work.

Nolan then introduces Valley of the Kings as the first song he and Pointer ever wrote and which appears on Songs From The Lion's Cage. It simply proves that even back in 1995, they were thinking big, developing intricate songs with huge themes and numerous changes of tempo.

This is immediately followed by Crying For Help IV, Manzi and Nolan working beautifully together on voice and piano below Jowitt, then Mitchell and Pointer come in, the song building to a stirring climax, Mitchell's sonorous playing both melancholic and totally riveting.

Manzi strums an acoustic guitar for the start of The Eyes Of Lara Moon from Pepper's Ghost, a song which has a slightly folkie, psychedelic edge to it.

Other stand-out moments include the title track Rapture, a huge symphonic rock wall of sound with Pointer's face a picture of studied concentration and The Ghost Walks, Manzi's vocals delivered as a rhythmic spoken verse before the song opens up into a hypnotic instrumental with Mitchell and Nolan offering up some rich melodies in their close interplay.

Now sporting a red tee-shirt emblazoned with a skull motif, Manzi takes the chance during Bedlam Fayre to dash around the stage before harmonising with Mitchell who is on fire again throughout.

The audience react noisily when they hear the opening bars of the classic The Visitor which rounds off the set, Manzi commanding the stage with a confident assurance while Mitchell again weaves his guitar magic before arriving at a rousing climax.

Such is the scope of this performance that it takes three songs as encores to fully satisfy the appreciative Polish fans, Manzi engaging them in a Freddie Mercury-style singing duel at the end of Crying For Help VII which they carry on until the final number, Ascension, is unleashed.

What a total turnaround this is, compared to the first time I saw them. Whereas I walked away then, I was totally immersed throughout Rapture, engaged with all five of their individual performances, watching them work together as a tight unit and enthralled by the sheer quality and dynamics of the music. Stunning stuff.

Guillermo Palladino's Review

In 1999 I was introduced to Arena by a friend of mine, this was the first time I listened to The Visitor, the third album from these Neo Proggers from the U.K., and it was totally awesome. Arena have become one of my favourite bands since then.

The band have been through many changes in recent years, the band going on a 6 years hiatus after their last release, Pepper's Ghost in 2005, and their most stable line-up to date broke up with the departure of vocalist Rob Sowden and bassist Ian Salmon on 2010. They have been replaced by Paul Manzi from Oliver Wakeman's Band and former bassist Jon Jowitt, better known for his work with bands like IQ and Jadis, among others.

Overall, Rob Sowden's voice never convinced me at all, I've always preferred the way Paul Wrightson sang as a matter of fact, but Sowden's work as the band's frontman was very good during the past years. The whole Arena discography has been interesting and demonstrates why they are one of the most important acts in the new wave of British Neo Progressive that happened in the '90s. Anyway, in this DVD Manzi has the challenge of demonstrating his vocal abilities by singing songs performed by three other singers throughout the history of the band, in addition to the excellent job he did in their latest release, The Seventh Degree of Separation, and he has exceeded my expectations by far! I really like his rough but harmonious way of singing which is very close to the band's style.

On this DVD the band seem very engaged, looking like they are enjoying the show and very comfortable with each other, encouraging the whole audience - who are in very good spirits - and building the ambience of the show by forming a connection between the band and the crowd. Manzi demonstrates his powerful voice and passionate delivery while performing both older and more recent songs and taking on many guises throughout the show. I have to say to all our readers that this change raises the bar for the band and will make some of the sceptics change their opinion without any doubt. John Jowitt looks very comfortable in his return to the band and adds elegance in the way he plays. John Mitchell is the most charismatic member of the band, smiling most of the time and adding refreshment to what might otherwise have been a serious atmosphere on the stage. His technique remains clean and superb making his solos sound incredible. Both Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer remain in the background, solid and focused on performing the songs, occasionally interacting with the other band members. I remember Pointer playing too flat on The Seventh Degree of Separation but this has changed here whilst his mechanical way of playing the drums is still there. And finally Clive Nolan demonstrates why he is one of the more respected keyboardists in Prog Rock worldwide.

I think Metal Mind have found a perfect venue for Progressive Rock shows in Teatr Slaski IM. Stanislawa Wyspianskiego, Katowice, Poland. Other shows have been filmed there including Pendragon's Concerto Maximo and Out of Order Comes Chaos and Galahad's Resonance Live. It is a venue that offers a very good sound for the shows, the only negative thing I can say concerns the quite poor job done in mounting the scene on stage which is at odds with the mastery of the audio visual technicians.

Overall, the whole show is performed perfectly and the band is in very good shape. The setlist is varied and includes songs from all the different eras of the band with Paul Manzi doing an exceptional job as singer and frontman. My favourite songs from this DVD are Crack in the Ice, Riding the Tide, What If?, Crying for Help IV (these last two sung by Manzi amazingly well), The Visitor (a song that identifies me perfectly) and Solomon. I missed Chosen and Double Vision among others, but this setlist is very consistent and wide ranging. And Mitchell's intro to featuring Pink Floyd's Sorrow was funny!

The DVD has an 'Extras' section in which we can see an interview with Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer where they talk about Sowden's departure and the creative process behind The Seventh Degree of Separation. Additionally there is a bonus bootleg concert Live in Warsaw in 2011, a photo gallery, complete band discography and desktop images included.

Finally, I have to say that I'm surprised by this DVD and all the features included on it. There is no waste in this release and I highly recommend it. I'm sure our readers will enjoy it.


ALISON HENDERSON : 9 out of 10

The Wrong Object - After the Exhibition

The Wrong Object - After the Exhibition
Country of Origin:Belgium
Record Label:MoonJune Records
Catalogue #:MJR055
Year of Release:2013
Info:The Wrong Object
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Detox Gruel (4:14), Spanish Fly (5:20), Yantra (8:03), Frank Nuts (3:39), Jungle Cow Part 1 (5:41), Jungle Cow Part 2 (4:19), Jungle Cow Part 3 (5:24), Glass Cubes (8:29), Wrong But Not False (5:25), Flashlight Into Black Hole (3:05), Stammtisch (5:58)

Starting out as a Zappa covers band in 2002, The Wrong Object slowly but assiduously over the years gained the confidence to strike out on its own. Via albums with Elton Dean and then Annie Whitehead, they eventually released their first studio work as a band in their own right in 2008. Stories From The Shed showed that the band, led by multi-talented guitarist Michel Delville, had developed their own twist on jazz-fusion, with an expected nod or two to Uncle Frank. While that album was a fine work, After The Exhibition is a big stride forwards in both scope and ambition, and in terms of musical accomplishment. A progression, if you will!

Retaining only Michel and drummer Laurent Delchambre from the 2008 line-up, the most significant change comes with the addition of keyboard maestro Antoine Guenet. Some of you may recognise that name as being the main man behind punk-jazz-prog combo SH.TG.N, and I am told that he has also recently joined the ranks of Belgian RIO leaders Univers Zero, which should make for interesting listening.

Antoine's textures and sheer musical range help to craft the soundscapes evident on this album, which go from atmospheric ambience all the way to free-jazz experimentation, taking in Canterbury-styled ballads along the way, and most points in between.

Not that Antoine does this all on his own, oh no. The other new members include Marti Melia and Francois Lourtie who between them form a formidable reeds section. Of course, Michel's scorching guitar makes several appearances, and locked in with Laurent's solid rhythms is new bass player Pierre Mottet. Completing the picture we have Gong's Benoit Moerlen on marimba and electronic vibraphone, the sounds from which add another layer to the dense but highly enjoyable sonic template.

Making a guest appearance on vocals on the atypical but wonderful and sublime Glass Cubes is another graduate of the seemingly endless jazz, chamber-classical and alt-prog conveyor belt that is the Belgian music scene, one Susan Clynes. Following on from the third and final part of Jungle Cow, a tune that reaches dizzying heights of melancholic prog-jazz perfection, Glass Cubes offers the listener a detour, a roadside picnic if you will, feasting on a delightful concoction of jazz-balladry straight from a Canterbury delicatessen. Antoine's hypnotic piano figure transports the listener to a location entirely different from the rest of the album, but it is not at all out of place. Antoine also offers a harmonic vocal counterpoint that works just fine. His solo later in the song shows just how good an ivory-tinkler this man is, something largely hidden in his role with SH.TG.N. I would like to hear more of this from the band in future, if I may be so bold as to drop a hint?

The Canterbury vibe continues with Wrong But Not False, the kind of tune I could listen to all day. Yep, this little beaut of an album is pressing all the right buttons for me, and it is not at all difficult to press "Play" again once it has reached its end.

If ever there was an example of progressive music making that shows evidence, if any were needed, that long rambling excursions on barely developed themes are not necessarily the best way to grab a listener's attention, then this marvellous record is it. If you are a fan of music that revels in the sheer joy of its creation without appearing in the slightest bit boastful or self-aggrandising, then you need to buy this and treat yourself!

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


IOEarth - Live in the USA

IOEarth - Live in the USA
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:IOEARTHUSA1
Year of Release:2013
Info:IO Earth
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Moments (8:30), Drifting (8:03), Cinta Indah (5:03), EEEE (6:10), The Creation (7:59), Live Your Life Part 1 (4:34), Live Your Life Part 2 (8:17), Storyteller (5:04), Home (7:35), Light and Shade (6:09), Harmonix (9:32)

So, RoSfest is a very prodigious festival that has hosted many great bands, being probably THE American prog festival to play. IOEarth can now lay claim to having played that festival and to mark the occasion the band recorded the show, which is presented here as Live in the USA. The beauty of the Birmingham based band is that they are seriously offering something different to other bands out there. Childhood friends Dave Cureton and Adam Gough have created something rather special with this band, something that everyone should participate in and other bands should take note of. Do they see themselves as a progressive rock band? I would hate to pigeon hole them as such, as what they offer is rather unique. What I will say is that they have a very keen ear for an awesome melody and have the ability to take differing musical sounds, melding them into perfect musical interactions.

For anyone who is already in the know, what is presented here will come as no surprise; for those who are not, shame on you! Live in the USA is the perfect entrance to their world, which I guarantee will have you investing in their two previous albums, IOEarth and Moments, both of which have been DPRP recommended gaining 9 out of 10 ratings.

Let's start with the quality of the recording; Mick Potter has captured the sound to perfection, a vibrant and crystal clear soundstage that captures every little nuance which really highlights the contributing dexterity and proficiency of the musicians. The mixing, mastering and production work is top notch which adds further character to the songs, bringing them alive.

So let us move onto the music presented here. From the opening track Moments through to the album closer Harmonix, we are offered varying styles; world music, rock, sultry melodic tones that offer themselves to your ears. Every note played and sampled has so much grace and depth, the notation given forth by each member constructs a really strong musical foundation. The whole feel of their interaction re-enforces how perfectly these guys are paired; the album just oozes class, flowing with ideas that work on so many different levels.

The dynamics of Dave Cureton's guitar is mesmerising, an entrance of precision and power that stimulates the cerebral cortex allowing the right and left hemisphere's to be pleasured, making the listener attentive, awareness through thought, consciousness and musical language. Adam Gough's keyboards reinforce this as they work in perfect harmony layering the work and offering depth as do the rest of the contributing members. Claire Malin's vocals as ever are so fitting, her presentation really captures the emotion of the pieces allowing them to grow.

Whether you listen to the world music inflected Cinta Indah, the power ballad Home, the rocky Light and Shade or the emotive and passionate Harmonix, just to mention but a few highlights here, the word 'CLASS' springs to mind. This is music written by music lovers for people who love music. It's all about the melody, something that IO Earth's catalogue has in abundance. Live in the USA is a perfect entrance into the world of IO Earth; as you step into their world you will be taken on a journey of discovery.

One gets the feeling that IO Earth are just warming up...

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Ilydaen - Digressions

Ilydaen - Digressions
Country of Origin:Belgium
Record Label:Dunk
Catalogue #:Dunk2012
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Rewind (4:50), Grinding Calls (3:24), Timeline (7:08), Tormented Stones (6:01), Lifeline (9:31), Flavors (4:52)

Ilydaen is a new post-rock outfit, releasing their first album with Digressions, originating from the beautiful country of Belgium. The band is a trio made up of Erik Braun (bass), Anthony Leusch (drums) and Daniel Schyns (guitar).

Ilydaen was born in 2009 at a time when the three bands members wanted to have an outlet for their musicality and ideas. Influenced by such bands as Mogwai and Isis, they started playing, writing and rehearsing their own material, the first result of which was an EP as a prequel to this debut album. Digressions is post-rock as it should sound; heavy and melodic with long notes and spun out themes. The energy found in the music is of such a high level that I could hardly sit still in my chair listening to the record. I kept on going, willing to move around and crawl into the music if you will. Most of the tracks on this disc are instrumental apart from a few phrases in the track Tormented Stones.

Post-rock is one those streams within progressive rock that at times gets less attention, probably and most likely caused by the length of the songs and the fact that there are no vocals. With this stigma it becomes difficult for bands like Ilydaen to get a fair share of the pie.

Their influences tell you a lot about where to place them musically, yet I would like to point out that there is an enormous resemblance to a band whose latest album I reviewed not that long, namely My Sleeping Karma.

The music of Ilydaen is music for the soul; psychedelic sounds. Of course the post-rock genre is drenched with that type of psychic music and, as I said, the music grabbed me never to let go for the full 35+ minutes.

Speaking of debut albums, I can only say that at only 35 minutes long, where is the rest? This is way too short which is such a shame. I personally would have loved hearing more pounding drums, heavy riffs and staggering bass patterns. More; give me more!

For all you post-rock lovers out there, if you haven't already bought the album or downloaded it on Bandcamp, you need to do so now. This is a marvellous debut album, lads, The only weak point being the length as what is here is smashing. Try to improve on this and surprise me with the follow up.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


Little Atlas - Automatic Day

Little Atlas - Automatic Day
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Record Label:10T Records
Catalogue #:10T10063
Year of Release:2013
Info:Little Atlas
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Oort (8:53), Apathy (8:32), Twin of Ares (7:52), Emily True (7:03), At the End of the Day (8:42), Illusion of Control (9:58), Darvocet Eyes (8:38), We All Remember Truth (4:17), Automatic Day (5:57), Escape Velocity (3:10)

Though Little Atlas have been active for over 10 years, releasing 4 albums between 2002 and 2013, they had managed to escape my radar so far: my experience of their music being limited to the excellent Undercover compilation, released by 10T Records in 2009. The Miami-based quartet of Steve Katsikas (vocals, keyboards), Roy Strattman (guitars, vocals), Rik Bigai (bass, bass synths) and Mark Whobrey (drums, percussion, vocals) have been part of the 10T roster - which also includes other distinguished modern prog bands such as Frogg Café, Shadow Circus, 3RDegree, The Rebel Wheel and Man On Fire - since their 2007 album, the critically acclaimed Hollow. Eagerly awaited by the many followers of the current US prog scene, Automatic Day comes 5 years after Hollow's release. Although on the whole those expectations have not been disappointed, this is, indeed, an album that is not easy to review, and even less easy to rate.

While researching Little Atlas prior to writing my review, I often came across the "neo-prog" tag, which may have been applicable to the band's earlier output, but definitely not to the music showcased in their newest release. If Little Atlas in 2013 need to be compared to some other act, it is certainly not to Marillion or any of their modern-day followers, but rather to contemporary prog icons Porcupine Tree. And therein lies one of Automatic Day's main problems. While listening to the album, the influence of Steven Wilson's main gig is often so pervasive as to be uncomfortable, though thankfully relieved by Steve Katsikas' ruggedly impassioned vocal style, quite different from Wilson's smooth (and, to be perfectly honest, slightly soporific) tones. I would also be so bold as to state that Automatic Day sounds better than anything Porcupine Tree have done since Deadwing, definitely more cohesive in songwriting terms and without too many concessions to the alternative/metal fad.

A disc's opening track is often a good sign of how things are going to pan out, and in this respect Automatic Day delivers in spades. Indeed, Oort is a stunner of a song that introduces the album with a bang, neatly summing up Little Atlas' musical approach. However, by the time we reach the album's midpoint, things begin to lose steam, and not too surprisingly - seen that the first four songs on the album make up over half an hour of music, and another 40 or so are to come. In fact, the longest tracks strive for a compromise between the traditional song form and the prog epic, and on occasion feel somewhat padded. Moreover, and rather inexplicably, the three shortest songs (running between 3 and almost 6 minutes)  have been grouped at the end of the album, almost like an afterthought, so that the rest of the album inevitably feels a bit unbalanced.

Introduced by gentle, melancholy-drenched guitar arpeggios that made me think of some of Opeth's more melodic compositions (in particular of their 2003 album Damnation), Oort displays a hint of tantalizing Middle Eastern flavour in Katsikas' almost chanting vocals and haunting Moog textures, and a remarkable mastery of quiet-loud dynamics; the song's second half takes a heavier direction, beefed up by sharp guitar riffs, and as a whole there is enough variety to please the demands of the average prog fan, though the melodic line is strong and holds the song together. The following song, Apathy, slow and moody as it is brings to mind Porcupine Tree's more melodic offerings, though with a majestic, cinematic sweep enhanced by elegant electric piano and an emotional guitar solo in pure David Gilmour style. Very much in the same vein, Darvocet Eyes is a low-key, mostly acoustic ballad (think Porcupine Tree-meets-Pink Floyd) buoyed by some electric elements, while At the End of the Day's deceptively subdued first part soon turns into a dramatic, riff-laden ride with forceful vocals and some outstanding guitar work from Roy Strattman. The almost 10-minute Illusion of Control has a similar structure, again channelling Porcupine Tree with its measured intro - alternating harsh, tense riffs and an unexpectedly catchy chorus - that gradually develops into a more intense, metal-tinged section before resuming its sedate, atmospheric pace.

Together with Oort, Twin of Ares and Emily True (with lyrics by iconic American poet Emily Dickinson) form a truly compelling trio of compositions: the former providing a showcase for Katsikas' vocals, which seem to bend around the sparse, electric piano-driven musical line, interspersed by sharp riffs, at times reminiscent of King Crimson with its hypnotic, interlocking guitar lines, fleshed out by Mellotron and swirling Moog, and eerie recorded voices faintly echoing in the background; the latter powerfully cinematic, with military drumbeats punctuated by solemn organ, burbling electronics and ominous guitar culminating in a riff-driven ending after a deceptive pause of calm. The title-track ups the ante in terms of heaviness, juxtaposed with an intriguing Eastern tinge, especially evident in the chant-like cadence of Katsikas' vocals, while We All Remember Truth is a rather nondescript offering whose standard, uncharacteristically upbeat mood feels quite out of place on an album that is quite dark, intense and ambitious. On the other hand, closing track Escape Velocity, though also noticeably at odds with the rest of the album, is pleasantly catchy while keeping a tight instrumental texture - with a particularly noteworthy electric piano solo in the bridge.

Though Automatic Day is recorded, produced and performed flawlessly, some of the issues discussed in the previous paragraphs prevent me from giving it a "recommended" rating. With 10 tracks spread over 72 minutes, the album does contain some filler - mainly concentrated in the second half. On the other hand, there is a lot of truly good music in those 72 minutes, complemented by intriguing lyrics and striking artwork (the latter courtesy of 10T Records president, Steve Carroll). The band comes across as extremely tight, emphasizing team work rather than extended soloing and other attention-seeking gimmicks; the rather tiresome Seventies worship practiced by other celebrated bands is also thankfully absent. Even though the album may fall short of "recommended" status, Automatic Day will certainly be a rewarding listen  for most prog fans. In spite of my reservations, I found a lot to appreciate in the album, and hope to have the opportunity to see Little Atlas bring their music to the stage in the near future.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Savanna - Aurora [EP]

Savanna - Aurora [EP]
Country of Origin:Portugal
Record Label:Pontiaq Records
Catalogue #:PTQ001
Year of Release:2013
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Aurora (1:52), Run (4:25), Fall (1:31), Rise (5:48), Rest (3:48), Curtain of (3:42), Death (1:51)

This EP from Portuguese band Savanna reaches my desk a year after its release. Savanna are a young band from Lisbon, Portugal consisting of Miguel Vilhena, Pedro Castilho, Tiago Vilhena and Joao Seixas.

The music presented here is a sort of pop rock electronic progressive space music, I really wouldn’t know how I could categorize this. It's a highly contagious set of songs which may or may not grab you instantly. Miguel Vilhena appears to be the mastermind behind most of the songs as he is responsible for the writing of both the music and the lyrics.

The songs have a nice melodic touch, steadily humming bass lines, up tempo, riffing guitar works and lots and lots of synthesizer. Likeable, listenable music that could result in a better outcome if it were developed through and through. Not just lovers of electronic music, or progressive music for that matter, this may appeal to a wider audience if developed further. As a point of attention, there are not that many lyrics and the band already have a connection with DA Chick and Moullinex which makes a turn towards "disco" type material highly interesting and probable.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Carpet - Elysian Pleasures

Carpet - Elysian Pleasures
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:Elektrohasch
Catalogue #:ELEKTROHASCH 163
Year of Release:2013
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Elysian Pleasures (6:35), Nearly Four (3:40), Man Changing the Atoms (7:28), In Tides (5:50), Serpentine (4:44), Birds' Nest (4:20), Smoke Signals (3:13), For the Love of Bokeh (13:19)

As much as I enjoy challenging the music I listen to, I must admit, I prefer it when the music is challenging me. Progressive rock was never about listening to easy music and the second album from German band Carpet has certainly given me something to scratch my head over recently.

I have shared this album with a few of my friends via Carpet's Bandcamp page and each of their initial reactions was one of immense glee, as was my own. Clearly, Carpet are doing something right; they dare to be different. It's incredibly hard to pigeonhole these guys, but if you can imagine a spacey, laid-back, Canterburyish type sound, you'd be getting there. The band exhibit a lot of restraint throughout the record, which sets them apart from most of their contemporaries who would prefer to push their technical abilities to the limits. This is both a curse and a blessing: a curse because there aren't really any exciting moments on this album but a blessing because the album is comprised of well-composed songs rather than vehicles for the band's excesses.

If you were to listen to just one track on Elysian Pleasures, I'd highly recommend Man Changing the Atoms, perhaps the best realised song on the album. Like many prog songs that have gone before it, it features a classic song structure that I like to call the 'instrumental sandwich': two wafer-thin lyrical sections surrounding a very meaty instrumental section. The instrumental is rather jazzy, and in the magical time signature of 5/8, where each bar seems to cascade into the next. As the music lollops along, the dynamics vary enormously to reach a fantastic climax. All in all, a very rewarding experience. Other great tracks include the pastoral opener and title track, Elysian Pleasures, and the epic For the Love of Bokeh, whose second half serves as a reprise for the former track.

The artwork for this particular album is spectacular, and was in fact what inspired me to review the album in the first place. Band member Maximilian Stephan informs me that the collaged art represents the composition of the music, as a conglomeration of ideas rather than just one unified theme. Though I've not been able to receive a vinyl copy, I'd recommend getting this album LP for the fuller artwork, poster and nifty lyrics booklet that is supplied with the album, for only an extra €2. The CD edition seems rather bare in comparison, with no booklet, just the CD housed in quite an attractive digi-sleeve.

This is a profoundly interesting album with some very triumphant moments, but the recipe doesn't seem quite right. Much like Storm Corrosion last year, the band exercise a lot of tension throughout the album, but with very little payoff that sadly leaves me underwhelmed, despite the many brilliant musical moments contained within. Nevertheless, I must commend Carpet for having a very unique and artistic approach in a time when it seems like all new prog bands are derivative in some way or another. There are certainly enough good moments on this album to make it worth checking out.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Luna Rossa - Sleeping Pills and Lullabies

Luna Rossa - Sleeping Pills and Lullabies
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Firefly Music
Catalogue #:FFMCD004
Year of Release:2013
Info:Luna Rossa
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: The Dark Room (6:50), Heart On My Sleeve (5:41), Mad About You (3:40), The Book of Love (3:27), Scream at the Sky (3:23), Leaving for the Last Time (3:17), Flight or Fight (3:22), La Clef (2:42), Rise Up (5:00), Cloud (2:04), Gasp (4:25)

Luna Rossa is a recently formed duo consisting of Anne-Marie Helder and Jonathan Edwards, former members of Karnataka and current members of British alternative-rock band Panic Room (whose three releases, Visionary Position, Satellite and Skin were all recommended by DPRP). On their debut CD, Sleeping Pills and Lullabies, the pair perform in a primarily acoustic setting. They wrote all of the songs but one (The Book of Love, a song also covered by Peter Gabriel on Scratch My Back) and perform them together with a few guest artists and the Luna Rossa (string) Quartet. The main artists seem to view this new band as an outlet for playing more personal, emotional songs. Indeed, Helder and Edwards have described the music as peering into "the highs and lows of human experience."

It should be said at the outset that, even if some of these musicians' previous endeavours fell loosely into the genre of progressive rock, this CD does not fit into that category by any stretch. Folk, classical and new age come to mind more readily. Most of the songs feature Helder singing above a backdrop of acoustic guitar, acoustic piano and assorted stringed instruments. Her voice is rich and has a fairly broad, albeit contained, range - and, particularly when layered on a soft instrumental background, it can be attention grabbing. A point of reference would be, believe it or not, Enya although without the ethereal surroundings. Helder's vocals are particularly endearing on her mostly whispered solo song, Cloud, and at the avant-garde outset of Gasp. But the CD's staccato-like lyrics, however personal, tell little in the way of discernible stories (e.g., "Bare feet through the doorway / Run through the kaleidoscope / High speed before my head explodes").

Although vocal pieces dominate the CD, there is one instrumental track, Leaving for the Last Time. It's quite a nice piece, featuring Edwards' sensitive and evocative piano playing.

Nevertheless, the consistently mellow tunes, particularly when heard in sequence, can be downright soporific. I suppose that the CD is called Sleeping Pills and Lullabies for a reason.

This new group may well serve as a pleasant outlet and contrast for these two musicians. They do seem to have put considerable work into the project: the production is excellent, as are the artwork and photography. In the end, though, I cannot see this CD holding the interest of progressive-rock fans.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10


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Published 13th July 2013
Album Reviews