Reviews in this issue:
- Andy John Bradford's Oceans 5 - Return To Mingulay
- Tim Brown - Pleasure Strike
- John Hackett, Marco Lo Muscio & Carlo Matteucci - Playing The History
- Keravel - Voltz
- Mostly Autumn - Live at the Boerderij [DVD]
- Synaesthesia - Synaesthesia
- Investinmolden - Investinmolden
- Australasia - Vertebra
- Ilvcia - In the Nature of Reason
Andy John Bradford's Oceans 5 - Return To Mingulay
When you think of Progressive Rock, a two-centuries-old sea shanty is probably not the first thing that springs to mind.
Andy John Bradford's Oceans 5 is a progressive folk rock band fronted by U.K. singer songwriter and solo artist Andy John Bradford. However, "Prog" is exactly what Andy had in mind when he approached Sweden-based guitarist Colin Tench (BunChakeze, Corvus Stone and The Minstrel's Ghost) to assist with The Mingulay Boat Song. They assembled three additional crew members purely to record a version of the song unlike any version before. They cared not if anybody actually wanted to hear such a version.
This line-up clearly had great chemistry and despite the fact that they were all busy with their own bands, they agreed to keep going. One song expanded into nine and the debut Oceans 5 album landed upon the shoreline.
The album is cohesive. The gentle, folky almost fragile vocals of Andy John Bradford perfectly complemented by some quite beautiful guitar playing from Colin Tench.
This is primarily a folk album in topic and arrangements, with it being largely left to the atmospheric keyboards to add a Floyd-ian aura and depth, along with Tench's guitar to occasionally set sail on a more bluesy, Prog Rock wind. There are a lot of details that repay repeat listens.
Additional progressive credentials are won by the track 6000 Friends which features Lorelei McBroom who has toured with Pink Floyd as well as Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones and is currently with The Australian Pink Floyd.
In a similar way to Tench's Corvus Stone project, there is a loose, almost improvisational sound to the playing and arrangements. Fun was clearly had by all, probably aided by the sea shanty sing-along nature of many of the tracks. A few songs manage to rock out as well.
Those who enjoy a folky side to their Prog will find much to enjoy here, as will anyone whose collection includes the likes of Camel, Barclay James Harvest, Fairport Convention and Supertramp. An enjoyable ride on a slightly different musical current for me.
Footnote: The Mingulay Boat Song was written by Scottish composer and peace activist Sir Hugh S. Roberton (1874–1952) based on an original tune that was part of an old Gaelic song. Due to his pacifist stance both Robertson and his world famous choir were banned by the BBC from broadcasting during the Second World War).
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Tim Brown - Pleasure Strike
So there is this girl here in my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island who spent the past two seasons between May and the autumn months running this really rad pedicab business. To sell her wares, namely pudding pops, as the peddling proprietor and pedalling proprietor of PVD Pudding Pops, "Val the PVD Pudding Pop Gal" would pedal wildly around town on sojourn after sojourn to farmers' markets, festivals, and other outdoor events.
On Saturday mornings, Val's travels on the pedal-powered Popcart usually would see her riding across the West End of Providence over to the farmers' market at Lippit Park on the East Side. Saturday mornings at Seven Stars Bakery in the West End have always been pretty busy and bustling scenes, with many young men from the nearby Atwells Avenue neighborhood walking over to Seven Stars for coffee. In the summertime, lots of customers at Seven Stars including these young, caffeine-seeking men choose to sit and drink their coffee al fresco style, utilizing the outdoor tables in front of the bakery. The very athletic Pudding Pop gal would come riding by Seven Stars on her trusted pedal-powered steed, its green and white canopy umbrella bravely on display. The inevitable hoots, flirty suggestive comments, catcalls, hollers, and a hormone-influenced atonal chorus of whistles from these insatiable young men would create much amusement for the three wheeling, freewheeling nary-a-care Pudding Pop Gal.
Much like the lustful West End purveyor of Seven Stars coffee, Tim Brown has no shame. There is no fear from the British keyboardist on his aptly titled Pleasure Strike release. Brown cut his musical teeth during his tenure with stadium rockers Stateline, a band that enjoyed some prominence in the U.K. during the late eighties before imploding in the early nineties.
All ten tunes on Pleasure Strike were composed, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Brown. The album's pretty much a one-person job, save for Drifting With Sprits which includes some augmenting guitar assistance from Christian Schmider (Diamond Garden Project).
The style of music on Pleasure Strike is mostly a lot of pretty crazy industrial, thrash-tempo BPM-heavy instrumental stuff, with Brown's trademark synth stylings in the driver's seat commanding the whole shebang. A few slo-core tunes are tossed in to the track list sequence to create some variety. Drifting With Spirits is one of those slow numbers, offering a Chicago blues shuffling waltz, with some casual yet fortified soloing from Schmider and some macabre keyboard elements from Brown, signalling Dead Can Dance as a commonality.
Influences on this album come at you from all over the place; pointers such as Delta 9, Unexist, Lightning Bolt, and of all things The Spinners keep the heritage here fresh, without taking away from Brown's cred as an innovative artist in his own right.
Brown's no-fear attitude is certainly in your face via the uptempo rockers, and that snarkiness of his sneaks into the scene on the track Liquidity like those whistling catcalls at Val and a lot of In Through The Out Door era Led Zeppelin pointers.
Brown's bravado here, I think, is also cemented in place to the point that whilst recording such a relentless, ballsy album, he unquestionably knew that this stuff wasn't by any means "commercial" material, nor did he give a fuck. Sure, every recording artist out there has an inherent responsibility unto his or her self to try and make a profit, but along with that goes artistic freedom and creative empowerment. Have a cigar? I think I'll pass.
The rather outer spacey CD cover and booklet artwork, photography and layout come to us as well courtesy of Brown, with additional artwork from Hannah Brown.
This album will appeal mainly to fans of a lot of synth-based speed-core stuff. Purveyors of Apollo 440, Hawkwind, Ministry and KMFDM will be tempted to buy this one. There's even - heavens - some more traditional progressive references, such as the likes of Marillion, The David Cross Band, Asia Featuring John Payne and Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins.
Because this album's in-your-face niche based assault makes it a tad of an aquired taste, I'm going to bring my rating half a point under "recommended".
That said, Brown has scored a touchdown with this one, and I can't think of any room for improvement with his future efforts.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
John Hackett, Marco Lo Muscio & Carlo Matteucci - Playing The History
Marco Lo Muscio - Pipe Organ, Paino and Mellotron
John Hackett - Flute
Carlo Matteucci - Bass and Guitars
Steve Hackett - Guitar (tracks 4,5,12 & 13)
David Jackson - Sax (tracks 9 & 17)
Giorgio Gabriel - Guitars (tracks 1,10,11,14 & 17)
Bona Kim - Vocals (track 11)
Let me start by saying this is not your typical progressive rock album in any way, rather it is a marriage of progressive rock pieces arranged in a classical manner with a very delicate touch and with much grace and dignity.
What John Hackett and his colleagues have sought to do here is to fuse and even confuse the genres of progressive rock and classical music. As we all know there is a large overlap between the genres although whether each has taken the other seriously is open to debate.
Many of these "pieces" will be well known and loved by potential listeners although that said they are not mere copies, rather they are a re-interpretation or a distillation (as David Jackson comments) in order to bring out the beauty and to show the skill and magnificence of each composition.
There are few vocals, no drums and it is pretty much all instrumental and very different to what you will have experienced before whilst listening to the original versions which may, in truth, have alluded to this sort of treatment but stopped short of delivering the same experience.
There are several tracks from Marco Lo Muscio's album The Book of Bilbo and Gandalf and In addition there are several new Lord of the Rings inspired compositions that round out the disc.
John Hackett declares that "this is an album borne of friendship and an incurable and inextinguishable love of Classical and Progressive music, between the two genres there exists a continuum of sound - who can say where one ends and the other begins?" Almost a 'what if?' question regarding setting this music into a classical idiom.
Many listeners will be familiar with Steve Hackett's classical guitar musings and of Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson's classical leanings but this is a brave attempt to take those leanings a stage further, slightly away from Progressive rock and into Classical territory.
The album opens with Jerusalem and whilst ELP lovers will be familiar with its pipe organ there are no thundering drums or kitchen sink bombast, just the melody we all know and possibly love that William Parry laid down all those years ago.
Likewise Catherine of Aragon moves from being a virtuoso keyboard piece to a more stately exploration of its main musical themes.
Theme One will be familiar to many and here David Jackson's sax takes this version to a different place than previously encountered, as does the rendition of I Talk To the Wind from King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King album.
What shines through on this CD is that many of our progressive greats have a canny knack for crafting enduring music and melodies that will stand up very well in their own right as pieces of instrumental music.
John Hackett's flute is a thing of lightness and grace swooping and soaring deftly over this music, lightly but always with conviction, as is certainly the case on I Talk To the Wind, and the organ work of Marco Lo Muscio is superb throughout, especially on the reinterpretation of Shadow of the Heirophant.
Overall it is a brave and novel approach to these pieces and one that lends itself to quiet listening and contemplation, it is not going to blow your speakers apart but if you appreciate the more classically inclined end of the progressive rock spectrum then this may be somewhat to your liking. Likewise if you appreciate Steve Hackett's classical guitar work then this may be right up your street.
I would recommend you check out the samples and draw your own conclusions, it will never sell by the truckload but then that was never the intention I suppose, it is rather a lovingly crafted, quietly spoken experiment with some truly gifted and talented musicians literally "Playing the History"
So, not everyone's cup of tea but I certainly enjoyed it.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Keravel - Voltz
Serge Keravel's pleasant electronic soundscape on Voltz is reminiscent of that of '70s icon Jean-Michel Jarre - yes, the influence goes back as far as that, and possibly even earlier. Lush keyboards, pretty melodies and a fine sense of rhythm. Where Keravel perhaps departs from his illustrious predecessor is in strength of composition: the tunes on Voltz are fairly short, stand-alone compositions, not the major interconnected quasi-symphonies with which Monsieur Jarre made his fame and fortune.
Does that matter, you ask? In essence, it shouldn't. In practice, however, what has happened on Voltz is that Keravel has filled this CD with tunes that, after about the length of time of an "old-style" LP, begin to sound repetitive and dull. Now, they are certainly not dull: if you listen to them stand-alone or as part of an iPod "shuffle" mixed in radio-programme style with another artist's music then they always stand out attractively. As an "album experience", however, Voltz falls short. Even without the repeat of Pulse - extended (!) - this CD comes in at over an hour. Do you then want to listen to an extended version of an earlier track? It's one of the standout tracks, for sure, but to me this largesse says that it's not the "album experience" that Keravel is wanting to expound, but rather demonstrate his skill as a composer of electronic music with an eye to capturing commissions from film producers and the like. I may be wrong - perhaps some of you can listen to this sort of music all day.
Keravel does introduce other instruments into his soundscape - acoustic guitar, organ and piano amongst them - but it is the synthesizers that dominate. Voltz is his fourth album and, according to the promotional notes, is his "most accomplished".
Because of what I've already said, the album's highlights all come early for me. The opening track, Electrical Jumper, makes for an excellent start with a good pallette of sounds and a very danceable rhythm. Pulse, the track which is given two airings, is also excelelnt, strong rhythmically and with piano and acoustic guitar textures in decoration. Of the later tracks, the standout for me was Positivity: this is rhythmically and sonically very interesting, as well as being compositionally strong.
So: much to enjoy, but not for one 75-minute sitting.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Serge Kereval CD Reviews:-
|"Serge did a very fine job and if you want to relax but don’t want to fall asleep, this kind of music would be perfect."|
(Menno Von Brucken Fock, 7/10)
Mostly Autumn - Live at the Boerderij [DVD]
Disc 1: Set 1 - Distant Train, Unquiet Tears, Drops Of The Sun, The Devil & The Orchestra, Evergreen, Ice, Questioning Eyes (46:31). Extras: Bonus Tracks - King Of The Valley, Never The Rainbow, Changing Fast (13:31), Behind The Scenes Featurette (7:14), Photo Gallery (13:12)
Disc 2: Set 2 - The Dark Before The Dawn, Deep In Borrowdale, Passengers, The Last Climb, Tennyson Mansion, Wild Eyed Skies, The Last Bright Light, Heroes Never Die, Encores: The Spirit Of Autumn Past (Part 2), And When The War Is Over, The Last Train, Tonight (90:15)
With an average of two years separating each studio album, 2013 brought nothing new from Mostly Autumn but a live release was perhaps inevitable given the band's consistent output in this field. As the title suggests, it was recorded at the Netherlands' prog friendly Zoetermeer theatre on the 15th September 2012 to promote the recently released The Ghost Moon Orchestra album. Spread across two discs, it's a weighty setlist that understandably contains a generous helping of songs from the latest album balanced with perennial favourites from the MA back catalogue. As was the case with the previous live release Still Beautiful Live 2011 (the first to feature Olivia Sparnenn as lead vocalist) the trio of albums from the latter half of the last decade Storms Over Still Water (2005), Heart Full Of Sky (2008) and Glass Shadows (2009) go unrecognised.
Supporting Olivia and comfortably filling the compact Boerderij stage is the massed ranks of MA, namely Bryan Josh (guitar, vocals), Iain Jennings (keyboards), Anne-Marie Helder (flute, keyboards, vocals), Liam Davison (guitar), Andy Smith (bass) and Gavin Griffiths (drums). Both the lighting and camera work are very good and whilst image wise it's not the last word in sharpness, it's still a visual delight with the Boerderij's familiar band/audience intimacy adding to the atmosphere. The audio quality is also pretty good although the absence of a 5.1 surround option may understandably disappoint those who have a living room full of speakers. The packaging (like so many DVDs) has a bargain basement feel with drab cover art and a case clearly intended for a single disc only.
Separate disc 1 from disc 2 however and slip it into a player and you'll be treated to a suitably atmospheric opening with searchlights sweeping the stage accompanied by Jennings' moody instrumental Distant Train. This is followed by the opening three tunes from The Ghost Moon Orchestra album, Unquiet Tears, Drops Of The Sun and The Devil & The Orchestra. As I commented in my review, these songs are closer to mainstream hard rock than prog showcasing Josh's guitar histrionics and his raw vocals that are the only real weak element here. Olivia's singing on the other hand is immaculate whilst her striking presence would be the envy of any band. She's also pretty adept at covering Heather Findlay's songs as the lyrical Evergreen (from the second album The Spirit Of Autumn Past) testifies. That said, the setlist is balanced firmly in Olivia's favour with the inclusion of the catchy Ice (from the Go Well, Diamond Heart bonus disc) and Questioning Eyes originally recorded by Breathing Space, the band she and Jennings fronted prior to taking up their current roles in MA.
The "bonus tracks" on disc 1 - King Of The Valley, Never The Rainbow and Changing Fast - were actually part of the main set but halfway through set 1 the sound recording software crashed and as a result the low-fi quality for these three songs is as recorded by the cameras themselves. Olivia is on fire during Never The Rainbow in particular so from a visual point of view their inclusion is most welcome. As for the Behind The Scenes Featurette, this is too short to be particularly enlightening although the band's sense of humour is clearly evident and if nothing else demonstrates that Josh will never make a living as a stand-up comedian! The Photo Gallery is nicely presented and with the accompaniment of the mellow The Last Climb (and the heavier Deep In Borrowdale) it's a relaxing way to spend a spare 13 minutes or so.
The set interval provides a convenient break between discs 1 and 2 with the second half of the set beginning in up-tempo fashion with The Dark Before The Dawn (from the third album The Last Bright Light) and the ponderous sub-Deep Purple Deep In Borrowdale. A welcome respite from the heavy metal mayhem comes in the shape of 2003's Passengers, the very Floyd-ian The Last Climb (where Anne-Marie shines in her solo flute spot) and the more recent Tennyson Mansion although sadly the latter gives way to an overblown solo from Mr. Josh. Also from The Ghost Moon Orchestra album is the anthemic Wild Eyed Skies leaving a couple of old favourites, The Last Bright Light and Heroes Never Die (from the 1999 debut For All We Shared) to close the main set in fine style.
The four-song encore clocks in at a generous 30 minutes beginning as the main set left off in nostalgic mode with The Spirit Of Autumn Past (Part 2) where following a little audience bonding in the shape of two bottles of beer it's Davison's opportunity to shine with his extended solo guitar intro. Anne-Marie also makes the most of the flute melody venturing out from behind her keyboards for the first time in the show. With Jennings' Chopin inspired piano motif, the slow burning And When The War Is Over would have made a suitable finale (as it did the Still Beautiful Live 2011 set) but it's the pairing of The Last Train and Tonight that provides the anthemic close to proceedings. Olivia is at her show stopping best here and in many respects demonstrates that The Ghost Moon Orchestra bonus CD was superior to the main disc.
It's ironic that on the last Mostly Autumn DVD, That Night In Leamington which was Heather Findlay's fond farewell to the band, backing singer Olivia Sparnenn is barely seen at all. Here however Olivia proves herself to be the excellent front person we always knew she was. Whilst admittedly the formulaic The Ghost Moon Orchestra is not one of my favourite MA albums, with a 2½ hour setlist there are enough quality songs to hold the interest from a band whose professionalism is such that they probably couldn't give a bad performance even if they tried.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Mostly Autumn Recommended CD & DVD Reviews:-
|For All We Shared|
|"...I am really impressed by this album."|
(Remco Schoenmakers, 8.5/10)
|The Spirit Of Autumn Past|
|"Intense, almost 70 minutes of beautiful compositions and great musicianship."|
(Remco Schoenmakers, 9/10)
|The Last Bright Light|
|"...some of the tracks are a bit over-composed, but apart from that: one of the highlights of 2001."|
(Remco Schoenmakers, 8.5/10)
|The Story So Far|
|"The singing and playing is excellent throughout and the choice of material means that all 3 studio albums are equally well represented."|
(Charlie Farrell, 8/10)
|The Story So Far [DVD]|
|"The DVD pleasantly captures the band in concert and the footage is well shot and nicely edited, along with this the sound quality is very good, and therefore there is nothing to detract from sitting back and enjoying the performance."|
(Bob Mulvey, 8/10)
|Music Inspired By The Lord|
Of The Rings (2002)
|"...the album could have been a tad more varied. This is compensated for by some stunning tracks."|
(Remco Schoenmakers, 8/10)
|"All in all, a fine album that is highly recommended to all prog and rock fans."|
(Tom De Val, 9/10)
|Heart Full Of Sky|
|"The music has depth and diversity and the delivery is assured and confident."|
(Geoff Feakes, 9/10)
|Still Beautiful Live 2011|
|"Already a fine unit to begin with, the band is on especially sharp form throughout..."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8/10)
|Other CD & DVD Reviews:-|
|The Next Chapter [DVD] (2003)||Storms Over Still Water (2005)||Glass Shadows (2008)|
|Pass The Clock (2008)||Live 2009 (2009)||Go Well, Diamond Heart (2010)|
|That Night In Leamington (2011)||The Ghost Moon Orchestra (2012)|
|Previous Mostly Autumn Live Reviews:-|
|Hellendoorn, The Netherlands|
|Eclipsed Festival, Germany|
|Progeny Festival, London, U.K.|
|Tilburg & Zaandam, The Netherlands|
|Night Of The Prog Festival|
|Amstelveen, The Netherlands(2009)|
|Cambridge Rock Festival, U.K.|
Synaesthesia - Synaesthesia
Tracklist: Time, Tension & Intervention (22:10), Sacrifice (5:26), Noumenon (3:38), Epiphany (6:51), Good Riddance (3:32), Technology Killed the Kids (3:03), Life's What You Make of It (7:29)
Bursting confidently onto the prog scene are Synaesthesia, a group of twenty-somethings led by 20 year-old Adam Warne, the youngest of them all, and still at university. I was fortunate enough to see the band play their debut gig a month ago, where they opened for (and arguably performed better than) the long-running band IQ. So impressed was I that I decided to hunt down a promo copy, as I was sure the music would sound better if not hampered by typical 'support band sound problems'. As a matter of fact, it does, but there's a twist.
The twist is that Synaesthesia's debut album was not recorded by the Synaesthesia I saw live, but rather an embryonic version, with special guests including Mike Holmes of IQ, who also produced this album. Of the five current band members, only two are credited on this album: Adam Warne himself (vocals, keyboards and drums) and Ollie Hannifan (guitar). The credits are listed rather bizarrely, listing each instrument and the members who play it, rather than the other way round. This has the rather egocentric result that Adam's name appears a total of four times in the band credits. Also mentioned is a certain Nikolas Aarland, Adam's university friend, who appears on a handful of tracks playing both guitar and bass. Nikolas wasn't able to continue with the band since he lives in Norway, but without his influence, it seems that Synaesthesia wouldn't exist at all. With all this in mind, it seems that Synaesthesia's debut is more of a solo album for Adam Warne than a group effort.
Now, how does this young progger decide to start his career? By jumping in at the deep end with a twenty-minute epic, a very ambitious move if you ask me. Normally I'd be worried, but having heard the piece a month ago, I knew that I could expect some good moments. Indeed, after the atmospheric opening section, The Big Freeze, we reach an early high point on the album - possibly my favourite bit overall - the five minute instrumental entitled An Excursion. Beginning in 7/8 - prog's favourite time signature - this is a sumptuous segment taking the listener on a rollercoaster through many different themes and moods. At times angular and complex, and at other times slow and melodic, this well-produced slab of progressive rock is anything but samey. By the end of the ride, the listener is prepared for the rest of the journey.
While lengthy instrumental excursions won't be featured for the rest of the track, Time, Tension & Intervention will feature its fair share of strong moments. As with all other neo-prog suites, it can feel a little like several different song ideas mashed together, especially as there is so much singing on this piece. It can feel at times like Warne has used up all of his instrumental potential prematurely, preferring to stick to the safety of verses and chords. That said, each section is fairly consistent, and the piece draws to a very neat conclusion in the final section. Interestingly, the band fall into a chord cycle in the nineteenth minute that is eerily similar to the Mellotron part heard in the beginning of the Gracious track Heaven although when I quizzed Warne about this, he claimed to have never heard of Gracious before. Perhaps all the good sequences have been used up; there's no such thing as originality anymore!
The rest of the album features a surprisingly strong selection of tracks for an artist who's just starting out. Excitingly, there are two more instrumentals, Noumenon and Technology Killed the Kids. The first of these sounds rather like an early demo for An Excursion featuring a lot of the same themes; nevertheless, it's fun to hear them again. Sacrifice on the other hand demonstrates Warne's impressive capabilities on the drums as well as his skill on the keyboard; it's actually quite unreal how good he is at both, considering his age. He has to let up somewhere surely?
In fact, he does; putting it bluntly, Warne ain't the best singer out there. Don't get me wrong, he sings in tune and can hold a note, but his range is rather limited and I can imagine he'd have trouble trying to hit the high notes. His lyrics aren't too brilliant either: the line in Epiphany "I want to go home right now!" does, in the circumstance, sound more like a teenager yelling at his parents during a trip to the museum. Still, the music is to be admired. At just under seven minutes, Epiphany is perhaps the only other track on this album besides the opening suite that I'd label as being especially proggy, containing angular instrumental segments as well as guitar solos between verses.
The final track on this album is titled Life's What You Make of It and is the track that was used to promote the band at the very beginning of the recent Progstravaganza compilation. Though all my colleagues seem to like it, I believe this track is deeply flawed in more ways than one. Firstly, it's ridiculous that this track is split into two segments (namely Tomorrow and Life's What You Make of It) in the tracklist. It's not unusual for a track to have a short introduction section - just look at The Pogues' Fairytale of New York - so to make that introduction have a different name is simply over the top, and gives the listener the false impression that there will be two substantial and distinct sections in the track. Secondly, the subject matter of this track is incredibly soppy indeed; Warne crooning about finding the one he loves does absolutely nothing for me, and only goes to reinforce the unwritten law that prog bands don't write love songs. Just look what happened when Greg Lake penned Still...You Turn Me On! Thirdly, there is a disappointing dearth of the complex progressive parts that made the rest of the album so worthwhile. And lastly, this rather theological nugget is simply unforgivable: "Is there really someone up there, pulling all the strings?/Is He just non-existent, maybe doing other things?" It doesn't help that it's also wholly irrelevant.
Besides the last track, this is a very promising and worthwhile album from an artist I can see going far. Their neo-prog direction is well-honed and well-polished thanks to Mike Holmes' producing efforts, and each of the instruments gets their own space on this very slick album, featuring beautiful and interesting artwork by Freyja Dean, the daughter of Roger Dean. Nevertheless, it's clear that there's room for improvement, and I'll be interested to see how Synaesthesia will develop next time when they enter the studio with a full band.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Investinmolden - Investinmolden
Investinmolden describe themselves as a progressive rock/blues band. Certainly much of what is on offer in their self-titled debut release fits reassuringly, and as expected, into that common description. The musical territory which the band strides upon has a familiar and time-honoured feel. In this respect, the music might be compared to an established pair of slippers, comforting and warm. Nevertheless, some aspects of Investinmolden can on occasions be unpredictable and even excitedly at odds with the bands' own description of themselves. The band may have a recognisable style that alludes to established blues and rock norms, but taken as a whole their debut contains pleasing handfuls of progressive attitude thrown in for good measure. Despite this, the compositions on offer are not particularly fulfilling. Listeners may find that the pieces lack the necessary sophistication to withstand repeated plays. It is also unfortunate that the bands most adventurous progressive moments do not fully compensate for the unsophisticated production values apparent in much of the recording.
The band formed in Poland in 2009 and went through numerous changes of personnel before making their first live appearance in Poznan in May 2013. The current line-up consists of Michal (Michael) Ambrozkiewicz (bass guitar), Krzysztof (Chris) Deskur (guitars), Mateusz Pawlukiewicz (drums) and Kacper (Casper) Wojaczek (keyboards, vocals). Wojaczek's playing is a highlight and I thoroughly enjoyed his piano, keyboard and synthesized parts that delightfully added some depth and texture throughout the six compositions. The contribution of Deskur is also notable, his guitar style effectively ranging from meaty power chords to more subtle lyrical flavours and fluent solos.
The album begins pleasantly enough with Lust for the Stars. This is probably one of the least progressive tracks but, nevertheless, it is a pleasant tune. It is built around a guitar and keyboard melody with vocals provided by Wojaczek. Vocally, this is one of his better performances on the album and is significantly stronger than his performance in the final track Glittering Sea. Lust for the Stars has a satisfying chorus and a good middle eight section featuring some fine abrasive and distorted guitar tones once again accompanied by organ sounds. Some might be reminded of David Sinclair's work with early Caravan. On the whole though, Lust for the Stars is probably all a bit too predictable and plodding to win too many plaudits amongst DPRP readers.
The shortest track of the album, From Hammer and Spanner (With Love), is on the face of it an up-tempo piece built upon a standard guitar riff. Despite its obvious rock roots and short running time, the punchy bass and clever synthesiser runs assist in transforming the piece into an exciting and altogether gratifying experience. I also found the vocal delivery, of Deskur's intentionally simplistic lyrics such as "A cog, A screw, A nail, A nut", surprisingly engaging. In this respect, Wojaczek managed to successfully balance just the right amount of vocal intensity and eccentricity to perfectly complement the lyrics and music.
Halfway is an instrumental piece and its place in the running order offers a noteworthy contrast to the preceding tracks. As such, I found it to be one of the more satisfying tracks. It begins with an elegant piano introduction, this pastoral tone followed by the emergence of an incongruous marching rhythm that is elaborated by both guitar and piano. The piece as a whole is characterised by the juxtaposition of abrasive guitar tones and flowing piano flourishes. This creates an unusual but effective soundscape where Wojaczek's Jazz tinged piano work excels. It is a piece that I am likely to listen to again.
The track which follows, Hourglass/Escape from Hourglass, occupies much more familiar territory. It is primarily a repetitive vocal led composition in which neither the melody nor the vocal might be considered particularly attractive. Nevertheless, at the three minute mark the tune is uplifted by an agreeable instrumental section. This section contains a beautifully constructed, yet predictable, guitar solo. The second part of the tune begins some two minutes later with repeated guitar motifs before continuing as a disappointing vocal dirge.
I was intrigued by Extra-terrestrial Rock and Roll as it contains a number of interesting idiosyncrasies. The title aptly describes the music created by the band in this piece. The concluding parts of the piece are particularly engaging. The swirling keyboards in the final section conjure up fairground images and musically, I was reminded of the final parts of Stenskoven from Terje Rydal's Waves release.
The Longest track on Investinmolden is Glittering Sea which is the final track. It has a number of attractive instrumental parts. The piece begins with a rich symphonic sequence reminiscent of Camel. This morphs into a recurring heavy guitar riff coupled with a discordant but charming organ accompaniment. The opening sequence is once again visited at the eight minute mark. Stark electric guitar notes and orchestral keyboards end proceedings in a dream-like and pastoral manner. Unfortunately, despite its entertaining progressive moments, Glittering Sea is marred by its vocals. Initially, I thought that the seemingly off-key vocals were a deliberate attempt at some sort of art rock humour as epitomised in Zappa's I Come From Nowhere. Sadly, this is probably not the case and it is more likely that the vocals are just poorly executed.
Whist I certainly enjoyed some aspects of Investinmolden's debut, I found it to be, for the most part, a limiting and frustrating listening experience. I probably would not have given it more than a cursory repeat listen if I had not been involved in reviewing it. There is no doubt that Investinmolden have the potential to develop into a well-regarded outfit. Nevertheless, their progressive rock/blues basis may deter some from persevering with their music. This would be a shame as the music of Investinmolden undoubtedly does have some appealing progressive elements. However, in this respect and on the basis of their self-titled debut I suspect that there is not enough that is innovative, fresh or unique to satisfy the majority of progressive rock enthusiasts.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Australasia - Vertebra
Vertebra is the sophomore release from Italian collective Australasia, led by multi-instrumentalist Gian Spalluto and featuring an alternating group of musicians. In 2012, Australasia released its debut album, the oddly named Sin4tr4 EP, featuring mostly instrumental and somewhat experimental metal offset by softer sections and female vocals. That initial release received some favorable comment on DPRP but was criticized as lacking adequate direction. According to the promotional literature from the band, which counts among its influences the English band Joy Division, Vertebra is comparable to "a magnificent tree nourished by a sticky sap made of vintage electronics, with branches reaching towards instrumental Post-rock, a hundred years old log held up by distorted tremolo picked riffage and tangled roots into the classic movie soundtracks". Puzzled about what to expect? Me too. To cut through the obtuse description, Vertebra provides more of the same musical melange presented on Sin4tr4: mostly synthesizer-heavy soundscapes often accompanied by dark, metal-edged guitar riffs. In fact, a few of the tracks on the earlier release re-appear here verbatim.
For the most part, the songs are similar and thus blend into each other. A foundational, electronic beat or soundscape is laid down on synthesizer and drums, on top of which is layered guitar riffs, female vocals (often taking the form of vocalizations), or both. There's arguably a soothing feel to some of the music, but over time the homogeneity of the music diminishes its attraction. And, despite the lack of real hooks or peaks, there are notable valleys: the Sade-like vocals on Aura are downright annoying, and the hard-edged, static guitar riffs on many tunes (including Vostek, Antenna, Volume and Deficit) may be hard to swallow for all but true metalheads. The best of the bunch are the opener, Aorta, and the first half of Zero, which are varied, delicate, and upbeat and show that the band has creative potential. On the whole, though, the listener is too often waiting for either a change in the action or for a dominant instrument to take charge and, as a result, the music is largely not memorable. In the future, more focus on composition and subtlety could lead this band to create some highly winning music.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Australasia CD Reviews:-
|"...I can't say that I expect an instantly great future for Australasia, but focussing on a clear musical direction first, with vocals, could hopefully prove me wrong."|
(André De Boer, 6/10)
Ilvcia - In the Nature of Reason
A range of influences are identifiable in Ilvcia's debut release. Some passages of music on In the Nature Of Reason are reminiscent of Yes and King Crimson but overall the influences of Post Rock bands such as Mogwai are never very far away. Acoustic guitar passages provide some contrast, but taken as a whole, it is the repetition of musical themes that lie at the heart of the music. Ilvcia are from Barcelona and were formed in 2010. The band consists of Santiago Arderiu (drums, percussion), Ricard Rius (bass, backing vocals), Víctor Gil (guitars), Gerard Marrugat (guitar, vocals) and Guillem Laborda (keyboards).
In the Nature Of Reason is available as a name your price download on Band camp. The album was recorded independently by the band, recording began in 2012 with mixing completed by March 2013. The quality of the recording is, for the most part reasonable, but at times individual instruments can get lost in the mix. Unfortunately, this aspect of the recording and its lo-fi production values act as a reminder that this is a home produced release.
Three of the six compositions that appear on In the Nature Of Reason form part of a musical canvas that relate to the city of Baghdad. The trilogy of Baghdad tunes are without doubt amongst the more skilfully constructed pieces of the collection. For many listeners, they would most likely be the most appealing and rewarding. The Baghdad suite begins with Baghdad I: The Gates, starting brightly with an acoustic guitar which is played in a distinctly Spanish style. This creates a warm setting before organ sounds add to its overall ethnic feel. Initially, the piece reminded me of the music of Oregon, before repeated organ patterns give it a more ambient feel. Whilst never really exciting or unpredictable in its composition or performance, The Gates was nonetheless an enjoyable and pleasant listening experience.
The second Baghdad tune is subtitled The Market. Its six minute length enables the band to expand upon the track's modest and somewhat unsophisticated melodic origins. In this context, the piece has more to offer, than is initially apparent. It is characterised by a recurring guitar pattern that has an alluring and mesmerising effect. In this respect multi-layered guitars accompanied by subtle keyboards are used to provide the soundscape and texture of the piece. Some added depth is created as the bass of Ruis becomes more prominent as the theme is explored. The track is further embellished by a layer of symphonic keyboard sounds that come to the fore after the three minute mark. A charming guitar solo brings the piece towards its climax before ending with voices and various effects.
The final Baghdad tune, The Suburbs begins with a series of repeated piano patterns. Later, the piano is joined by other keyboard effects. Electric guitars are added as the piece matures into a short, but to my ears, somewhat monotonous instrumental passage. The recurrent nature of the piece is broken by some pleasant acoustic guitar flourishes before a guitar riff emerges out of the amalgam that is in some ways reminiscent of mid-seventies King Crimson. The ethnic and slightly Arabian theme present in earlier parts of the trilogy reappear to end the piece.
The other three pieces that make up In the Nature Of Reason feature vocals that are often difficult to decipher. Unfortunately, these compositions are at times somewhat disappointing and the associated ensemble performances are for the most part unexceptional. As such, these tracks and the album as a whole fail to fully satisfy.
The opening and longest track, The Safe, begins promisingly enough with a pleasant but unremarkable instrumental introduction featuring organ type sounds. However, when the vocals emerge at 2.48, buried in an instrumental sludge, some may find their interest waning. The low production values do not help matters at all in this respect.
Universe of Fields features a heavy stoner rock riff, accompanied once more by indistinguishable vocals. Predictable keyboard lines and laboured percussion are awash, as the track heaves on. Later, an attempt at a tempo change is accompanied by a repetitive marching drum beat that largely fails in its effort to propel the composition. Undoubtedly, this is one of the weakest and most fatiguing tracks on the album.
Sir T Weaver is dominated by a 5/4 time signature with good use of syncopation. Nevertheless, the piece ultimately disappoints as the poorly executed vocals once more create a less than satisfying experience.
Overall Ilvcia, are to be commended for making their work available at minimum cost. The Baghdad suite is to be applauded and perhaps gives a better indication of the band's capabilities and potential than the other compositions. Ultimately, though, this is an album which despite its merits is marred by a number of shortcomings. I would hope that any future release by Ilvcia would address the lo-fi production so apparent in their debut. It would also be interesting to see how their compositional ideas develop.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10