Reviews in this issue:
- Regal Worm - Use And Ornament
- The Opium Cartel - Ardor
- Lee Abraham - Distant Days
- Moonwagon - Foyers of the Future
- Steeleye Span - Wintersmith
- Sleepers Awake - Transcension
- Citizen K - King Of Second Thoughts
- Storm Chronicles - Looking Backwards
- Inner Voices - Inner Voices
Regal Worm - Use And Ornament
Judging by that little lot you wouldn't be wrong in thinking that Use And Ornament by Regal Worm is a quintessentially quirky English progressive rock album, and jolly good fun it is too.
Regal Worm is for all intents and purposes multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Jarrod Gosling, best known as part of left-field electronica outfit I Monster, and lately as part of no-man offshoot, the very fine Henry Fool. Jarrod is helped out on this odd but lovable record by a few of his musically polyglot friends. He plays just about everything bar reeds and brass, and those along with sundry other instruments are contributed by Mick Somerset-Ward. A many-faceted musical team too numerous to mention individually chip in with guitars, more reeds, trumpet, synths, voices, violin, harps, flexitone and vibraslap (nope, me neither; sounds like a couple of toys from an Ann Summers catalogue!).
Blending a plethora of influences ranging from folk to jazz, classical, avant-pop, electronica ancient (there's a Mellotron 400 on this somewhere) and modern, Jarrod has come up with something that is quirky, infectious, and most definitely English. With the use of all manner of analogue keyboards this album cannot help but be sonically retro. The cover art, which our main man had a hand in too is also '70s reminiscent, with the kind of colour negative photographic artwork beloved of early '70s gatefold covers designed by Keef, like the first Black Sabbath album. However, in every other aspect Use And Ornament is pretty unique.
The 26 minute epic 6:17PM - The Aunt Turns Into An Ant is a surrealistic piece of whimsy, complete with lysergically-tinged narration sections that bring a smile to my face. Musically it is hard to pin down, but perhaps a mix of the Hatfields and Egg, tagging on to Genesis penning a follow up to Supper's Ready in an old-time music hall might be as close as you'll get. As I said, it couldn't be anything other than English. There's definitely a lot going on in here, and it should appeal to both the avant and traditionalist prog fan, which is a rare occurrence indeed.
To be honest this segmented epic might have worked better as separate songs, and in actual fact I do prefer the shorter songs on this highly enjoyable record. After Zinc Ferment's short introduction of faux-medieval music in the round is eventually submerged by buzzing electronics, we're off into the first bite of this apple, in search of the worm infestation.
Cherish That Rubber Rodent is a brass-led angular dance tune akin to a pre-historic Depeche Mode 45 remixed by Devo, the brass and vocal chanting in call and response from the back room of a dusty musical instrument shop. There's fairground organs, '60s TV thematics, and it's a very odd place, but in an entirely unthreatening manner.
The Mardi Gras Turned Ugly In Seconds comes charging at you like a fight spilling out of a Chinese takeaway, and beyond having elements of jazz-prog and avant-pop is a rumbustious example of the largely uncategorisable nature of this album, making the reviewers task of attempting to describe it to the unwary listener all the more difficult, so here's a video...
That wasn't at all bad, was it?
There is a healthy element of Canterbury atmosphere about some of this record, no more so than in Apple Witch, a carefree jaunt through an Alice in Wonderland fantasy orchard. "The apples in my garden are wiser than you could imagine", indeed. Morning Sentinel welcomes the dawn chorus to a Jerry Dammers-like (no, really) keyboard figure backed up by some elastic bass wrangling and then we're off into the mere 12 minute Confession From A Deep And Warm Hibernaculum, a tale of preparing for hibernation. It is a more concise and therefore less demanding run of the gamut through all kinds of odd sections than its bigger brother 6:17PM. We have some fine reed blowing, before layer upon layer of psychedelia-through-the-looking-glass take over, and a great little trip it is too, signing off with the lovely song Time And Circumstance, beautifully sung from the middle of the orchard by one of the two credited female voices, just before hibernation.
Oh, and then there's Mud...
The inner cover features the legend "Hail! The Regal Worm in this apple", Jarrod holding said fruit aloft, and the picture under the CD tray is of a scattering of rotten windfall apples, but believe me when I tell you that there is nothing at all rotten lurking in this core example of timeless psychedelic prog!
Years in the making, this album is Jarrod Gosling's labour of love and deserves your attention. There is absolutely no reason at all why any prog fan should not buy this bite of crunchy apple goodness right now. Do not be afraid of the worm.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
The Opium Cartel - Ardor
For nigh on 20 years Scandinavian proggers White Willow have enjoyed a good deal of critical success with the song writing of founder and guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo being a significant factor in that success. Holm-Lupo has another side to his song writing talents however and as a result he established The Opium Cartel in 2006 as an outlet for his more mainstream leanings. The 2009 debut album Night Blooms certainly left a favourable impression on the DPRP and following a memorable contribution to the 2012 Yes tribute album Tales From The Edge, The Opium Cartel are back with their latest CD entitled Ardor.
Anyone that's familiar with the album artwork of both White Willow and The Opium Cartel will know that the female form is a reoccurring image with the Ardor cover (by photographer Bruno Dayan) being the most sensuous yet. Opening the stylish digipak sleeve reveals a long list of contributors including four singers, two keyboardists, a drummer, a bassist, a flautist and a saxophonist. With the exception of vocalist Sylvia Erichsen, all the current members of White Willow are involved including Lars Fredrik Frøislie, Mattias Olsson, Ellen Andrea Wang and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen. A man of many talents, Holm-Lupo for his part provides guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals. The end result is an eclectic blend of art-rock that (similar to bands like the very wonderful M83) draws unashamedly on the more adventurous U.K. pop acts of the 1980s.
Kissing Moon combines rhythmic synth effects with smooth male (Rhys Marsh) and female (Venke Knutson) vocals to provide a compelling start to proceedings. Although I'm unfamiliar with the Norwegian pop scene, Venke is by all accounts a big star there and certainly her velvet tones are perfectly suited to Holm-Lupo's expansive songs.
Continuing in a similar vein (and sounding very like The Blue Nile at the start), When We Dream features singer Alexander Stenerud who gives a versatile performance from the delicate opening to the surging finale. With its rippling acoustic guitar and Mattias Olsson's subtle keyboard orchestrations, Silence Instead is a perfect vehicle for the familiar fragile vocals of Tim Bowness who has become a regular collaborator with Holm-Lupo in recent years.
The catchy and chant-like Northern Rains is one of the albums strongest offerings built around Stenerud's commanding vocal and it's not hard to see why he's regularly compared with Morten Harket of A-ha fame. With vocal support from Holm-Lupo, Venke gives a mesmerising performance during Revenant and if it wasn't for her presence this 12-string ballad could have easily been lifted from a mid-'70s Genesis album. White Wolf is another tuneful song with Stenerud once again at the microphone although this time he shares the honours with Ketil Einarsen's ethereal flute playing and White Willow keyboard player Lars Frøislie's busy drumming.
Venke and Rhys share the vocals once again for The Waiting Ground supported by symphonic keyboards and stylish synth work. Holm-Lupo's melodic electric guitar intro to Then Came the Last Days of May is very David Gilmour like, complemented by Ellen Wang's moody double bass for an otherwise tranquil showcase for Venke's lyrical vocal. At 11 minutes, the concluding Mariner, Come In is easily the albums longest track and appropriately one of its strongest.
In addition to keyboards, Stephen James Bennett is responsible for the poignant vocal which brings John Lees of Barclay James Harvest to mind. Despite the sparse instrumentation of synth, piano and drums the tone is suitably cinematic with a lengthy and impromptu sax solo from Harald Lasse bringing proceedings to an atmospheric conclusion.
Once again Jacob Holm-Lupo has produced a stunning collection of superbly crafted songs, beautifully performed (both vocally and instrumentally) brought to life by impeccable production. A cross-over album of the highest order, Ardor will surely appeal to both prog and art-rock enthusiasts alike, and indeed anyone with a receptive pair of ears.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous The Opium Cartel CD Reviews:-
|"...another beautiful album packed with very strong songs and impressive guest performances."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 8/10)
Lee Abraham - Distant Days
Lee Abraham, the erstwhile bass player of Galahad, has been quietly earning a reputation for himself following the release of his three previous solo albums, the last being the acclaimed Black and White, which came out just after he left the band in 2009.
During the ensuing five years he has not been idle, working with other musicians on their respective projects and gigging around the Southampton area where he is based. Now, Distant Days shows how he developed into a prog all-rounder, composing, arranging, playing and producing, drawing on many musical influences to make this album as diverse and engrossing as any others you will enjoy this year.
To achieve this, he has once again assembled his core band comprising Gerald Mulligan on drums, Alastair Begg on bass, Chris Harrison on guitars and Rob Arnold on piano. However, he has also gathered together some of the best of the current crop of prog practitioners, including four vocalists who bring their own special brand of expression and passion to five of the seven tracks.
Opener, Closing The Door is an out and out kickass rocker, which blazes and burns with great force and passion. Dec Burke is on excellent vocal form here. The killer riffs come thick and fast, a timely reminder of Lee's more metal-inclined influences such as Queensrÿche, interspersed with spacey synths and sonorous guitar solos from the in-demand Karl Groom, who also mastered the album.
Lee then pares back the tempo for the title track Distant Days, full of lyrical reflections on childhood. The tempo and tone of this piece owes much to The Moody Blues and, in particular, Nights In White Satin. Lee will admit to probably not being the best singer around but his restrained vocals allows the other musical components here to rise to the surface, including a very mannered, elegant guitar solo.
Perhaps the outstanding track is The Flame which, with some tweaking, would make a great radio edit/single because of its ultra-catchy and, dare I say it, commercial flowing melody and hook-line, sung with great positivity and feeling by John Young of Lifesigns/John Young Band. Even the chorus harmonies are pure Lifesigns so JY was a complete shoo-in for the role here.
After the commercial appeal of The Flame comes the album's sole instrumental, Misguided, a wonderful guitar-led work-out with flashes of Porcupine Tree and dashes of Rush leaping out thick and fast in the wonderful deep mix.
The first of the album's epics, Corridors of Power, is a mighty, moody atmospheric synth-led magnum opus where again Lee picks his guest vocalist wisely, Marc Atkinson's emotionally fractured voice perfect for a piece questioning the way in which the country is governed. Arnold's mournful piano is a highlight along with guest appearances from Robin "Cosmograf" Armstrong on acoustic guitar and Simon Nixon delivering a full-blooded, soaring guitar solo.
It's a second outing for John Young's superb voice for the up-tempo Walk Away, another excellent song packed full of melody and brilliant bursts of instrumental progginess including a wonderful change of tempo halfway through when the song takes on a different pace but without it ever losing its shape or momentum.
Bringing down the curtain is the longest track, Tomorrow Will Be Yesterday, where it is Steve Thorne on vocal duties. Thorne has one of the most beautiful, distinctive and natural of all voices, and he had a hand in writing the lyrics which are ideal for the story he tells through them. It is a stunning track, the instrumentation building around the vocals without ever swamping them. The raw emotion of this piece is powerful and frankly spell-binding as it builds in power and momentum through alternating guitars and keyboards accompanying the Thorne-pipes before a huge synth solo bursts through the mix.
Packaged in a Vitamin P designed cover, this is a stunning body of work by Abraham, which is thoughtful, classy and well-balanced from start to finish. The tracks complement each other and not one of them outstays its welcome. It also comes with a huge recommendation for a guaranteed hour's worth of pure prog enjoyment.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Lee Abraham CD Reviews:-
|View From The Bridge|
|"This is an excellent album; but you can’t know how good it is by reading about it, so you should get it."|
(Gerald Wandio, 8.5/10)
|Black & White|
|"...there's no denying the consistent excellence of the melodies...Seriously recommended to every prog enthusiast regardless of personal preferences."|
(Geoff Feakes, 9/10)
|Previous Lee Abraham Live Reviews:-|
|Winter's End Festival,|
|"I had not heard the band before but no matter, as it made for a very strong first listen; Neo with a metallic edge in the up-tempo sections but with energy, emotion and restraint where required."|
Moonwagon - Foyers of the Future
Moonwagon is a Finnish space-rock quartet consisting of Ami Hassinen (keyboards and voice), Jani Korpi (drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, and voice), Joni Tiala (electric & acoustic guitars, dulcimer, melodica, and voice) and Janne Ylikorpi (bass and acoustic piano). The band's debut, Night Dust, was released in 2011. This latest release, Foyers of the Future, is a free-flowing, well-played, and absorbing CD - a quirky mix of space rock and driving, improvisational rock - that will appeal to a wide range of music fans.
The CD opens strongly. The first tune, Elsewhere, conjures up Happy the Man. It's an upbeat and progressive piece featuring melodic keyboards, sometimes interlaced with acoustic guitar. The blend is quite nice. The guitar achieves prominence on New World Warrior, a rougher-edged piece with solid playing but without clear definition or direction. The abrupt ending doesn't help. Dawnwind, however, is a winner: the keyboard is sprightly and driving, and the song builds to a pleasing crescendo. Next up is Endless Collision, a short and relaxing interlude featuring acoustic guitar and bass. Much of the next tune, Through the Veil of Rain, is instrumental classic rock. The song has a soothing flow, mellow but still active keyboards, and catchy, soulful guitar lines. The song slowly and steadily works itself into a barely contained frenzy, with all of the musicians working overtime. It's a great piece that calls for repeated spins. Shadows Whisper Fire is also excellent. Strong bass lines propel the piece, which manages to be both spacey and directed. Intermittent and somewhat eerie vocalizations add further interest. The spunky Saturn Summer follows: mostly led by energetic guitar, the piece draws attention early on with a drawling keyboard. More soulful guitar appears on Past Moves, which is in some ways redolent of a less-slick, instrumental Moon Safari. The closer, Tranceport, is a creative low. There's too much noodling and repetition here, although the drumming sporadically adds variety.
The sound quality on the CD is a mixed bag. On some of the tracks (particularly on Shadows Whispers Fire) the drums are too high in the mix. The bass is often prominent, which is a plus given the high quality of the playing and the unusually significant role the instrument plays on much of the CD. And, although the retro sound (especially as to the keyboards) is appealing, at the same time the sound lacks the crispness of most modern recordings. Perhaps it's true that you can't have your cake and eat it too.
Worth noting is the excellent packaging of this CD. Although the photo on the insert is not special, the cover and rear collectively feature a scenic and dreamy planetary landscape that paints an image well suited to the heady music.
Thankfully, the band began recording its third CD late last year. I'll be near the front of the line to hear it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Moonwagon CD Reviews:-
|"All through the album an atmosphere is created of sheer joy making...an hours worth of music performed in a way that is sublime and absolutely stunning."|
(Gert Hulshof, 9/10)
Steeleye Span - Wintersmith
Tracklist: Overture (2:09), The Dark Morris Song (4:01), Wintersmith (4:37), You (3:24), The Good Witch (3:49), Band Of Teachers (3:46), The Wee Free Men (2:17), Hiver (3:25), Fire & Ice (5:13), The Making Of A Man (4:03), Crown Of Ice (4:05), First Dance (4:44), The Dark Morris Tune (5:30), The Summer Lady (3:54), Ancient Eyes (4:38), We Shall Wear Midnight (4:09)
Looking down the DPRP reviews index I was a little surprised to find the name Steeleye Span missing. True, they were never a prog band as such even in the heady days of the early to mid 1970s but they were there at the heart of the scene rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jethro Tull. And who can forget Maddy Prior's distinctive voice which was used to hypnotic effect on Mike Oldfield's 1978 Incantations album. Whilst Steeleye will forever be linked to the '70s British folk movement spearheaded by Fairport Convention and Pentangle, they enjoyed a crossover appeal that included several hit singles. The band has also cultivated an impressive array of musicians who in turn have cross-pollinated their talents across several genres. Bassist Tim Harries for example who was with the band from 1989 to 2001 also has strong ties with Bill Bruford's Earthworks and Iona.
Since their 1970 debut album Hark! The Village Wait, the band's output has remained pretty consistent over the last five decades with Wintersmith being their twenty-second studio release. Along with Maddy, the album credits include the familiar names of Peter Knight (violin, vocals, piano), Rick Kemp (bass, vocals) and Liam Genockey (drums, percussion). Two new members since 2011 are Julian Littman (guitar, vocals, piano) and multi-instrumentalist Peter Zorn (acoustic guitar, sax, vocals). In November 2013 Peter Knight, who originally joined the band in 1970, announced that he would be leaving Steeleye at the end of their 2013 winter tour.
Following in the footsteps of the 1994 album From The Discworld by keyboardist Dave Greenslade, Wintersmith is based on a novel by U.K. author Terry Pratchett. Published in 2006, Wintersmith is the 35th entry in the Discworld series that's been going strong for 30 years and with plot elements that include witches and ritual dances its perfect material for Steeleye. A self-confessed Span fan, Pratchett collaborated with the band in the making of the album, even adding his narration to the song The Good Witch. He also gets a writing credit on every song perhaps in recognition of the lyrical content.
The atmospheric Overture with its moody piano and violin and Maddy's ethereal vocal sets the tone for the rest of the album. With its impressively rapid guitar and violin interplay, The Dark Morris Song is perhaps the album's proggiest offering although the heavyweight title song Wintersmith is not far behind with its prominent riff and massed voices bringing Ayreon to mind. The mellow You is in more familiar folk territory thanks to the presence of Kathryn Tickell's Northumbrian Pipes meshing seamlessly with Knight's violin and Littman's affecting lead vocal.
The acoustic and breezy The Good Witch with Maddy's playful vocal could easily be a traditional tune whilst the lively Band Of Teachers recalls the Steeleye of old (it's not hard to visualise Maddy whirling around the stage to this one) despite the unfamiliar presence of sax. The Wee Free Men on the other hand has an uncharacteristically aggressive edge although there's no mistaking the ethnic quality of the lively reel that dominates the mid-section.
Hiver is a tunefully engaging song that Maddy does so well as is Kemp's Fire & Ice where he and Maddy share vocal duties underpinned by Genockey's infectious chugging rhythm. Equally catchy is the delightful The Making Of A Man which is probably my favourite track with gorgeous harmonies complemented by Knight's lilting violin. In contrast Crown Of Ice really rocks with a particularly gutsy vocal from Kemp and a brief but shredding solo from Littman.
From the heavyweight to the sublime with the aptly titled and waltz like First Dance which has an old fashioned romantic vibe before the riff laden The Dark Morris Tune returns to the powerful and rhythmic theme first heard in Overture with Knight's razor sharp violin cutting through the track like a knife. Littman once again sings lead for the engaging and carefree The Summer Lady supported by the massed vocal ranks of Steeleye which makes way for the penultimate and haunting Ancient Eyes written by former band member Bob Johnson who elsewhere on the album guests on backing vocals. This is Maddy's final performance on the album and appropriately it's her best. Contender for best song however is the poignant We Shall Wear Midnight where Knight's touching vocal is sympathetically supported by piano and sax to bring the album to a tranquil conclusion.
Many long running bands by this stage in their career have softened into an MOR or AOR-ish version of their former selves but not Steeleye Span. And whilst I can't say how this album compares with recent efforts I can say that it's an excellent piece of work effortlessly demonstrating that they are still on top of their game. With sixteen tracks in total it would be forgivable if the quality dipped somewhere along the way but Wintersmith actually improves as it progresses and you can't say that about many albums. Peter Knight's contribution in particular as both a song-writer and performer cannot be overestimated and it will be interesting to see how the band fairs in the future following his departure.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sleepers Awake - Transcension
My Bandcamp drag-netting uncovered Sleepers Awake recently. They hail from Ohio and feature Kedar Hiremath (bass), Rob Bradley (guitar), Chris Thompson (vocals, guitar) and Christopher "Ambrose" Burnsides (drums).
The Mountain, Haken's new album, was the progressive metal album to beat in 2013, at least in the sub-genre's more technical and venturesome sphere. Transcension, is, for me, a significant contribution.
Sleepers Awake's members have record collections that are likely to be filled with the works of Mastodon, Tool, Baroness, Opeth and Hammers Of Misfortune - all bands that can be mentioned in relation to their sound - but Sleepers Awake bring something fresh and unorthodox to the progressive metal underground with an impressive display of technicality and originality. Focusing on tempo changes and mutations and piling parts on one another, they create a kind of primordial landscape in sound: lava-thick and seething hotsprings; boiling mud and geysers contrasted with open glaciated plains and ancient forests in its quieter moments. These moody, layered atmospherics that consist at least a third of the musical space, are perhaps a reflection of the territory from which the band comes and they add a necessary ameliorant to the zealous vehemence of the other two-thirds.
With all questions of genre and musical tradition aside, what makes Transcension involving is its very well crafted songwriting. Sleepers Awake write moving choruses, catchy riffs and thought provoking lyrics all served in a dish of volatile gases and molten metal. They take a range of all the elements you would expect of a dynamic metal album and twist them into something dense and dark and new. It's a thick, swampy monster of an album, rife with tremendous riffs, and howling, field-holler vocals to create a kind of viscous, hyperventilating heavy rock that injects verve into a tired genre. It is, in brief, a very good record.
What I'm describing may sound unpalatable for many of you, but before you reject it completely out of hand, have a few minutes with the video of The Fulcrum which closes the album, I think it captures everything about Sleepers Awake and represents the gestalt of Transcension:-
Not bad, eh? In fact, it would not surprise me remotely if some of you, probably fans of the aforementioned artists, are hungrily salivating and hovering over the links above to explore more, and I absolutely recommend you do. Then come back to read what more I have to say.
I've had a strange relationship with Transcension. At first it thrilled me. I loved it. Couldn't take my ears off it. Wanted to touch and hold it, inebriated by its slab-heavy caress and supple, nuanced definition. Naturally, after a while, I wanted to talk and I wanted it to talk to me, get to know it better. To burrow down and explore its depths without the feverish gush of first encounters. There's a wonderful suspense in this. I'm waiting for it to open up, but I remain merely fixated on its myriad moods and I'm not sure when it will happen. Sadly, the more I listen, the less fascinating it is and its flaws become apparent. Turns out I only wanted it for its body. It tends to ramble. On and on. Canting between euphoria and violent introspection it elaborates its complex (and genius) fantasies in repetitive strands. This mania doesn't take long to become tiresome and I start seeing less and less of it until I can't even answer the phone. I delete it from my Facebook account and block it on Twitter. But it stalks me, refusing to let me go and its pull is inexorable. Lust is a potent vice...
What I will say, to return to its defence, is this. I've succumbed in recent months to modern ways of listening to music and yes, this means learning to accept the evils of MP3s in order to carry my music with me on devices. I have my tunes on shuffle and it has to be noted that when a track from this album comes on in the midst of everything else, it remains exciting. Stand out, even. No matter its shortcomings, Transcension is a fine album in small doses.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Citizen K - King Of Second Thoughts
Tracklist: King Of Second Thoughts (3:48), So This Is Life (I Didn't Know) (4:40), Something Truly Magic (3:22)
First of all, a confession. In my haste in electing to review this CD I confused the artist's name with U.K. neo-prog rockers Citizen Cain, a band I greatly admire. It proved to be a fortuitous mistake however because Citizen K (aka Swedish singer Klas Qvist) has fashioned three excellent, ear friendly tunes which although prog-lite are difficult not to like whatever your musical preferences.
Even after scouring the internet I know very little about Qvist except that he has at least three previous CDs to his credit. This EP is a taster for an up and coming double album entitled Second Thoughts which to my knowledge has yet to see the light of day. It was produced with the assistance of multi-instrumentalist and engineer Tobias Walka, Qvist's girlfriend Annika Larsen, singer Johanna Lillvik and drummer Kim Gunneriusson.
There are just three songs, each averaging just under a radio friendly four minutes in length. The title cut King Of Second Thoughts is probably the most memorable and inspired, instantly bringing The Moody Blues to mind, albeit in their more mainstream (and vaguely MOR-ish) 1980's phase. In fact Qvist's unassuming but warm lead vocal is not a million miles from that of The Moodies' John Lodge supported by imaginative harmonies and engaging instrumentation including acoustic and electric guitars, keys and piano. And it's not hard to empathise with no-nonsense lyrics like "If it wasn't for this indecision I'd be somewhere else today".
So This Is Life (I Didn't Know) is equally tuneful and continues the lyrical theme of self-doubt and growing older whilst not necessarily any wiser, e.g. "You might think a man of my age should have got it down long ago". Again it's the lush harmonies that standout, recalling '60s vocal groups like The Beach Boys and Fifth Dimension.
Qvist and his colleagues remain in sunny California for Something Truly Magic where right from the very start strummed acoustic and jangly electric guitar capture the freewheeling spirit of The Eagles' Take It Easy. Throw in those now familiar rich backing voices and a hint of harmonica and you have an authentic slice of melodic country-rock.
Whilst Qvist's songs are mellow, retro in style and mostly prog-lite (unless you include The Moodies connection), they're unashamedly catchy with a disarming quality that, as I stated earlier, is hard not to like. As a sampler, it certainly bodes well for the forthcoming album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Storm Chronicles - Looking Backwards
Looking Backwards is the debut release from the duo of multi-instrumentalist David Burr and vocalist Jody Dietz. Together they make up Storm Chronicles and they are based in the U.S.A.. The release features eight compositions created by Burr. These are structured around impressive vocals and skilful multi-layered instrumentation. Although predominantly keyboard driven and overlaid with guitars, Burr also provides bass, drums, samples and backing vocals. Storm Chronicles appropriately label themselves as a modern, adult, alternative rock project with progressive rock influences. Indeed, stylistically the music ranges from ambient soundscapes, as in the opener Still Breathing, to more diverse influences ranging from Pink Floyd to the synthesiser and guitar pop rock of the eighties associated with bands such as The Eurythmics. It is obvious that a great deal of care and dedication has gone into creating this self-produced release. Burr should be commended on the scale, scope and execution of his musical vision.
Looking Backwards Part 1 is dominated by Dietz's emotive voice, which has a pleasing and catchy feel leading to the vocals playing a positive part. The piano and guitar instrumental section in the middle of the piece displayed some progressive rock sensibilities, as did the solo guitar and keyboard outro. This track in many ways exemplifies what is on offer throughout this release of well performed and constructed tunes. Without doubt, many of the pieces are sprinkled with handfuls of progressive leanings in the form of instrumental introductions or conclusions. Much in evidence are instrumental sections and various solos contained within recognisable song structures. Whether this approach will be enough to satiate progressive rock aficionados is, however, somewhat open to debate.
On the face of it Ghost Writer appears to be one of the more progressive pieces on offer. It starts beguilingly with a soundscape of effects. The reflective and wistful mood is maintained by a very pleasant instrumental introduction before Dietz plaintive voice emerges. Ghost Writer also contains a rich symphonic keyboard section that sits well within the context of the tune. Ultimately though, the piece fails to fulfil its potential. Indeed, subsequent and repeated plays have confirmed its enjoyable but in the end unmemorable nature.
Sound effects herald the beginning of Cast in Faith. In overall feel, it bears a passing similarity to the music of Chimpan A. I appreciated its middle instrumental section, constant in its rhythmic delivery and containing rich multi-layered instrumentation. Unfortunately, the piece is chained to a predictable chorus, but I could imagine this track being relished by those who like quality adult orientated rock. Gratifyingly, and in contrast with what has preceded it, the last minutes contain many appealing moments with changes of rhythm and pace. This track has become increasingly enjoyable over time and is one that I will probably listen to again.
Looking Backward Part 2 kicks off with a lengthy instrumental section that is never less than entertaining. Synthesisers and sequencers take over as a symphonic space rock atmosphere is created. This keyboard section of the piece is hauntingly beautiful but overall, left me feeling to some extent underwhelmed. When the vocals emerge the voice of Burr is dominant and his strong vocal performance offers excellent variation. I particularly like the piano and keyboard outro which is beautifully executed.
Run is probably one of the more satisfying tunes on display. It has many ingredients that DPRP readers may enjoy. A driving bass tied with a satisfying keyboard sound and vocals that call out to be listened to. Satisfying changes in emphasis, such as in the strategically placed piano solo and keyboard section, are further positive attributes. However, despite my initial enthusiasm for the piece, the more direct rock-based sections have led me to draw comparisons to Heart or Fleetwood Mac.
Individual is the longest piece on offer. It begins with slow building keyboards and effects that create a sense of tension which manages to sustain the intriguing atmosphere created. Dietz vocals emerge and sub-metal type riffs quickly propel the tune into an uneasy labyrinth. The reprise of the soundscape effects ends the album in a moody and distinctive manner.
Certainly, there is much to commend in Looking Backwards. Although initially extremely pleasant in all aspects, repeated plays have not significantly increased enjoyment levels. The musical and technical competency of Burr is an obvious strength, but in some respects his hands on approach might be considered one of the weaker aspects of the release. Despite the warm and very competent vocals of Dietz, some might find facets of the release to be lacking the warmth and emotion that music produced by an ensemble might have achieved. Similarly, listeners might conclude that the preponderance of placing instrumental solos, following or preceding repeated vocal choruses, to be too mechanical. Familiarity with the music of Looking Backwards has not led to a discovery of a raft of hidden musical joys. Overall, some might conclude that this album is lacking in that 'Wow' factor. Nevertheless, I did take pleasure in some of what I heard and I will return to this album occasionally.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Inner Voices - Inner Voices
Inner Voices is a four-piece band hailing from Umeå, Sweden. The band was formed by classmates in 2011 and describes itself as part of the progressive metal genre, naming influences such as Dream Theater, Genesis, Opeth and Rush. Unfortunately, I'm unable to find the actual names of the band members anywhere, either in their supplied bio or on any of their several Internet pages. The line-up seems to consist of guitar, bass guitar, keyboards and drums, with at least one lead vocalist. Inner Voices, the band's eponymous debut, was released in 2012 (so apologies to the band for this tardy review).
The influence of Dream Theater and, to a lesser degree Genesis, is quite obvious on Inner Voices (although I don't hear much adopted from Opeth or Rush). To me, the band strongly evokes classic-era Uriah Heep and Deep Purple, albeit with a touch of Queensrÿche added into the mix, as well as some old-school prog-rock dramatics.
Overall, the playing is more than capable and impressive in spots. I felt the keyboard flourishes were vital accents and were used wisely. I enjoyed the opening track, and the first half of Acedia, and was disappointed that the band played little else in a folk-jazz-prog style. The band is adept at tempo and style changes and mostly avoids awkward and angular transitions. There's nothing especially novel here, if you're at all familiar with the prog-metal genre, but the compositions are intelligent, there is definitely some cleverness in the arrangements and the blend of instruments works well. Of Endings and Outsets is especially remarkable with its suite-like structure and musical shifts.
The one major drawback for Inner Voices is the singing. On some tracks, the vocals are acceptable and there's a mild echo of Peter Gabriel that's appealing. But in the main, the singer tends to deliver off-key, to the degree that Beyond Me and most of Gloomy Gospel are unlistenable. I can't really tell whether the singer has difficulty with tone or is simply unrehearsed; regardless, the vocals harm the impact of what is otherwise quite decent music. The singer is more effective using a lighter, near-whisper voice than any pushing from the diaphragm.
At this time, I'm unable to recommend Inner Voices. There's nothing here fresh for fans of the genre and the sub-par vocals detract from the band's acumen. I'd probably give this a better mark as an instrumental album but even so, it's simply well-played music that many other bands have offered in the past.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10