Elephants of Scotland - Execute and Breathe
A Different Machine (6:26), The Other Room (4:39), Amber Waves (8:14), TFAY (5:09), Boxless (4:50), Endless, Pt. 1 (3:54), Endless, Pt. (7:42), Mousetrap (6:59)
A Different Machine begins the show with a great bass guitar intro and lovely swirling keys sounding like Between You and Me from Anoraknophobia which is probably where I got the Marillion connection. Three of the members sing and have similar voices, and I do like that happening, as the lead singer syndrome can make some music a little "samey". This is very much in the "band pulling together" to tell a story approach. I am also noticing a sort of British accent, epsecially when bass player Dan MacDonald takes his turn with a hybrid Steve Hogarth and on Endless, Pt. 2 (along with Pt. 1, the centre piece of the album) a little Nick Barret-ish. This alone brings a kind of more proggy XTC vibe to it all. Guitarist John whyte inbues the album with kitchen sink sounds and on Amber some great strummy acoustic. Each song has it's own stamp, but is clearly from the collective, even the initial pub rock of TFAY codas away with a great keyboard solo. Closing with Mousetrap the listener is treated to the intrumental prowress of this most talented of bands and as the Floydian sounding keyboard gentle fades away, I am left with a big grin on my face. After being faced with a little too much "prog metal" lately, this has entered my ears like an old friend albeit one that's showing off his brand new shirt. Elephants of Scotland have a great future and can't wait to see where the evolutionary process takes them.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Keith Emerson - Changing States
Shelter from the Rain (3:37), Another Frontier (6:48), Ballade (4:31), The Band Keeps Playing (5:11), Summertime (3:48), The Church (5:13), Interlude (1:34), Montagues and Capulets (2:04), Abaddon's Bolero (Orchestral Version) (8:05), The Band Keeps Playing (Aftershock Mix) (5:17)
Following the superb The Return of the Manticore boxset (1993) and ELP's disappointing In the Hot Seat (1994), Emerson's shelved recordings finally saw the light of day under the title Changing States (named after a song on the Black Moon album). The 1995 release had an alternate title Cream of Emerson Soup, a term coined by producer Gilbert who amusingly claimed that he did it all for the price of a cup of coffee! Sadly the talented Gilbert, who was also a composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist died in 1996 at just 29 years of age.
Whilst the discipline of working on film soundtracks generally resulted in Emerson's most cohesive recordings outside of ELP, his solo albums were inclined to be more patchwork affairs. Despite its undeniable strengths, Changing States is no exception. Shelter from the Rain and The Band Keeps Playing, co-written by Emerson, Gilbert and guitarist Marc Bonilla, could easily pass as AOR anthems if it wasn't for the conspicuous presence of Emerson's rich Hammond and synth textures. Gary Cirimelli's US radio-friendly vocal (a cross between Trevor Rabin and John Farnham of You're the Voice fame) dominates both songs with Bonilla's heavy riff (beginning his long and fruitful partnership with Emerson) rampaging through the former whilst the latter is closer to blue-eyed funk rock.
Of greater interest to ELP fans will be the instrumentals Another Frontier, Ballade and Montagues and Capulets which all resurfaced on the Black Moon album albeit with different arrangements and titles (Changing States, Close to Home, and Romeo and Juliet respectively). With its speeding locomotive rhythm (courtesy of drummer Mike Barsimanto) and triumphant synth theme, Another Frontier sounds very close to the Black Moon version (not to mention Emerson Lake & Powell's The Score), although guitarist Tim Peirce takes it to a completely different place at the midway point.
Rechristened Close to Home, the beautiful Ballade was a welcome addition to Emerson's solo spot during the Black Moon tour (although disappointingly omitted from the Live at the Royal Albert Hall album). Here keyboard orchestrations and Gilbert's nylon guitar provide subtle embellishments to the rhapsodic piano whilst Emerson's bombastic take on Sergei Prokiev's Montagues and Capulets will be better known to ELP fans as Romeo and Juliet, the ballet from which it originated.
Another highpoint of Changing States is The Church, based on a theme Emerson had written more than 10 years earlier for the Italian horror flick La Chiesa. Had he decided to record Tarkus Part 2 instead, then it would have still sounded something like this, a manic Hammond workout that veers from the celestial to the gothic to the downright jazzy. Interlude in contrast is a delightful solo piano piece and if it's not quite in the same class as Ballade then it certainly has its charms. Along with the Prokiev piece, George Gershwin's Summertime is the other cover here with Emerson, Barsimanto and bassist Jerry Watts combining impressively in classic jazz trio mode.
The penultimate piece will need no introduction to ELP fans but given that the London Philharmonic Orchestra's version of Abaddon's Bolero was recorded 14 years earlier as part of the Works sessions, then arguably this is little more than album filler. Uncharacteristically (for an orchestra of this stature), the brass section loses its way around the 6 minute mark, leaving Emerson's overdubbed synth to restore a sense of dignity and grandeur. As for the final track The Band Keeps Playing (Aftershock Mix), this is at the very least one version of this unremarkable song too many.
Stylistically, Changing States was very much in tune with the times; an elder statesman of progressive rock releasing an album tempered with US radio-friendly tunes. It does however contain at least two gems in the shape of Another Frontier and Ballade even though they were already familiar in the wake of the Black Moon album. It's interesting to speculate if Changing States would have had more impact had it been released first but as the Keith Emerson name doesn't carry the same commercial weight as the ELP brand, I strongly suspect the answer would be no. That said, it certainly provided a template for Black Moon (Kevin Gilbert's input is very similar to that of Mark Mancina) even though Greg Lake's wistful contributions are absent.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rudi Tchaikovsky - Yachting on the Niagara
Yachting on the Niagara (9:14), Comet by Day (16:14), The Castle's Equivalent (10:04), Xanadu D'ath (6:13), Smokescreen (13:46)
This cd is a live recording from 1975, when the band was slowly coming to an end. The sound is less than perfect but it's certainly acceptable for a vintage recording of this type. To my ears, the band exhibits elements of Caravan, Gentle Giant, and Camel. Mostly they remind me of Bundles era Soft Machine. They are progressive rock with a definite flavor of jazz/fusion, in the mix.
The album's title track kicks things off with soft, echoey piano leading into pleasant guitar and keyboard interplay, backed by insistent drumming. The vocals arrive belatedly but to me, they are a bit weak and add little to the song. The harmonies are nice but I keep hearing this as a Soft Machine instrumental track. Nice playing that ends up being let down by uninspired vocals. The extended guitar solo however, would've done Allan Holdsworth proud! Comet by Day features a guitar and synth into, very tasteful and well played. Mo Bacon's drumming propels the tightly played guitar and keyboard soloing. (Mo had a brush with fame as part of the 60's pop group The Love Affair.) At times fiery, at times reflective, the track flashes across the speakers, showing great dynamics and much promise. Joe Jacobs on keyboards and Mick Norton on guitar provide the pyrotechnics, while the rhythm section keeps them well grouded. The vocalist makes an appearance about 2/3 of the way through the track but his contribution seems pretty much an afterthought. It is the musicians' interplay that is Rudi Tchaikovsky's calling card.
The Castle's Equivalent opens with more fine playing from Jacobs and Norton but once again, it suffers from overly theatrical vocals. Like most of the tracks on this album, I would love to hear Castle in a fully realized, studio version. The band wasn't short on ideas but a little tightening up would've helped here and there. Norton's guitar shines on this track. The backing vocals give a nod to Gentle Giant, an obvious influence on the band. Xanadu d'Ath is probably the tightest and most radio friendly song thus far. The vocal is fully incorporated in the song and seems less like an afterthought. Jacobs and Norton come up big again. Norton in particular shines with some tasteful, slide guitar.
Smokescreen closes things out rather nicely. Guitar/piano intro leads to some rather heavy guitar riffing. The vocal is solid and there's a nice Caravan style keyboard solo and a lengthy yet inventive, percussion break. This is the band's closing number and they go out in style!
In summation, Rudi Tchaikovsky were a strong instrumental band who were sometimes let down by less than stellar, vocals. This recording is a nice introduction to the band, but it leaves you wondering what they might've accomplished in the studio. Overall it's an enjoyable live set.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kaukasus - 1 - Duo Review
The Ending of the Open Sky (5:35), Lift the Memory (8:54), In the Stillness of Time (5:58), Starlit Motion (5:21), Reptilian (9:10), The Witness (4:18), The Skies Give Meaning (8:06)
Andrew Halley's ReviewKaukasus is another name for The Caucasus Mountains formed between the Black and Caspian seas. It's a very wide ranging place and contains Europe's highest rock, in Mount Elbus. Now I'm telling you this as an apt analogy to expalin this "group", because all three of them have recorded and sent their individual contributions from an equally wide geographical mass and in turn have created their own peak.
The homologous threesome are Norweigen flautist Ketil Vestrum Einarsen who is best known for his work with Jaga Jazzist and various sesions including White Willow, playing all manner of woodwind, prolific album maker Rhys Marsh, originally from the UK but now based in Norway, adding the singing, guitars, Rhodes etc., and Swedish Mattias Olsson a classically trained drummmer who also adds (thanks to his eclectic collection of old keyboards) a layer of everything from Mellotron, orchestron, Moog Taurus pedals, VCS3, Optigan, and a bass marimba. Sending each other sound files for the others to add their parts with that collection of musical instruments means something quite interesting is going to happen.
I've listened about five times now and can only describe this album with a brief comparison to very little! The end part of Luminol from Steven Wilson's The Raven that Refused to Sing has some held dark mellotron chords which is immediately where my thoughts went. Maybe also Hag from his Storm Corrosion project. However, there's no jazz here, despite the abudence of aberrant flute and freeform drumming, it is new music and to that end very progressive in it's truest meaning. Balance wise we get a very "live room" and loosely mic'ed up drum kit that is pretty high in the mix, as are the vocals when they arrive. The "beds" of vintage sounding keys do exactly that, they bed or cement the wall (of sound?!) but this has to be listened to by you, because I am really clutching at straws here.
The Ending of the Open Sky lulls with echoed flutes before the "in your face" drums introduces probably the heaviest track here,starting with (I think) a 5/4 guitar and drum riff before exploding into a long drawn out chord held on some Mellotron bass (?) ogre thing with almost bedouinesq woodwind that could slaughter a camel. Lifting the Memory has a similar feel with occasional stabs of Taurus pedals and more desert campfire instrumentation but codas out with an alto flute solo that took me back to something Jimmy Hastings used to do with Caravan? Very good playing nonetheless.
By In the Stillness of Time the formula continues but with a rather odd bontempi drum machine (tis chu tis chu tis chu etc.) type sound before a suprising piano turns this into a relatively easy listen. This morphs into a tangerine dream of a track in Starlit Motion that really makes the noise of those words, a sequenced synth (probably the VCS3) bubbles along with some sublime tongued flute making this the soundtrack to a cloudless star packed sky.
Reptilian is the horror movie of the festival with over nine minutes of bat up your night shirt scary Mellotron chording and Orchestron recorded monk moaning. Later some percussion acompanied whispering means you're not going listen to this without the light on. This track's last two minutes are sans drums and voice and flow like your drained essence into The Witness, the album's "and now relax" bit. This slow song has (besides the voice) echo on everthing with the flute and plucked guitar being caressed by a beautiful pedal steel. This would only need the FX of seawash on small pebbles to improve it's encircling vibe.
It's back to personified volcanic rock for album's closer The Skies Give Meaning, a slow build up of impending doom fighting it's self with meandering flute and avalanche drumming before the last minute where the spirit not so much fades, but dissolves into thin air... Phew! I think I'll have a little lie down now!
Kaukasus' 1 is an experiment conducted in an underground bunker with big locks on the doors. It's bold, imaginative,frightening and I don't know whether I like it or not, but then I didn't like beer when I first tasted it. As previous reported, it is a very forward thinking piece and very much belongs on this website for analysis. Just noticed how dark it's getting!
Christopher Lomas' ReviewEvery October I go to work on my Halloween mix. It's not all Goblin, Opeth and Anekdoten; some of my perennial favourites are more off-kilter than outright spooky.
On paper, Kaukasus looks like a dead cert for Halloween 2014. Between them, Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (flute and and lots more woodwindy things by the sound of it) , Rhys Marsh (vocals, guitars and keys) and Mattias Olsson (drums and keys) have racked up some impressively scary sounds for Anglagard, Motorpsycho, and The Autumn Ghost, and jazzier sounds for Jaga Jazzist. The first listen confirms it - this is frequently dark and melancholic, as only the finest Scandinavian prog can be. But there's more to it than that.
I keep coming back to a scribbled note in the margin of my notebook that says 'this is richly detailed, engrossing, textured music from a dark place'. Texture that's the operative word here. It doesn't sound like most prog. Darker yes, but also fuller, richer and more vibrant. The Echoes of the Open Skies sets the tone. Straightaway you'll notice the warm, unprocessed feel, especially that extraordinary live drum sound. It takes some getting used to. The drums are so propulsive that it's hard to focus on anything else. But that's no bad thing. And it makes for a refreshing change of pace. The rhythm is such an important part of the experience of this album. It changes the dynamics of the songs in ways we wouldn't even notice if the drums were lower in the mix. Peter Gabriel did it of course. And it's his Passion soundtrack that I'm reminded of most. There's certainly a Middle Eastern flavour here and it adds another layer of detail. More texture. More richness.
If there's a criticism, it's that some of the vocal sections are a little bit languid in the opener, especially when guitar, keys and flute join in to take the music to some very interesting places. That's not to say Marsh isn't a good vocalist. He's a great vocalist. Perhaps it's just that the slightly more laidback vocals on the opener are a contrast too far with the rhythm? More criticisms? None. From here in on, I just gets more and more interesting. Track 2, Lift the Memory crashes in on a wave of drums, synth and woodwind. Marsh's warm but strident vocal soars and the track verges on the anthemic.
There are a couple of things going on in this track that really sum the album up: First, I'm not always quite sure what instruments are playing. The heady mix of mellotron with additional keyboards, flute, guitar, bass and drums is augmented by all sorts of woodwind and percussion. The more you listen, the more you start to unpick the pieces. But I like that initial sense of "Whoa, what exactly is this I'm hearing?" The musical interlude at the five minute mark is a great example. It's led by flute and something! I'm not quite sure what. But I like it.
The second thing that's really exciting about this album is that it feels like it's always reaching... always pushing. We're prog fans. We expect that. But I feels more organic. Like the music's in charge and the musicians are going where it wants, not the other way around. Take track 3, In the Stillness of Time. It starts out in light, jazzy territory but shifts effortlessly back and forth into darker places. It's a great show-piece for Rhys Marsh's vocals and and that mellotron melody at around three and half minutes is spine-tinglingly good.
I wasn't planning on a track by track review of this album, but I have to say something about Track 4, Starlit Motion. It's a breather. A bit of filler...
Thank goodness we get a chance to live with these albums a little bit before submitting our reviews. Actually this is a deceptively simple, but powerful piece of music. The whirling rhythm played out on flute and keyboard makes me feel like I'm getting dizzy at an Ian Anderson concert. Every time I listen I find myself getting more impressed with how sensual this album is. I can almost feel the slow pull of the earth as the stars spin in their orbits. Clever stuff.
Next up Reptilian takes us back into darkness. The instrumental section kicking in at a couple of minutes drips with Goblin-esque menace. The band throw it all into the mix here and the drums keep driving things on. A long outro leads seamlessly into The Witness - an elegaic piece led by piano, flute and guitar. The leap - really more of a slither - from Reptilian to The Witness works. The running order and the arrangements have been meticulously planned. There's a real ebb and flow. Plenty of respite from the heavier atmospheres that mean you can sit through the album without ever feeling too uncomfortable. (Or too scared.) The Skies Give Meaning is the big finish. And this is where things get really scary. But you know what's best about this track? No effects, no tricks. The band conjures up menace the old fashioned way. Just like the original architects of fear, King Crimson.
It's not just that encroaching sense of menace or the crunching guitars that distinguish the finale. Kaukasus have already translated the movement of stars to music; this time they conjure up the sensation of a storm brewing. Or at least that's what it feels like. And when the guitars do come in, I'm reminded - just for a second or two - of Cult of Luna's Somewhere Along the Highway. It all comes to an end with a melancholy fade to black. The first time I listened, I was on the edge of my seat - half expecting something to leap out at me in the closing seconds. I had to watch the track time fade to nothing before I knew I was safe! At the end of that first listen, I certainly felt as if the dark was closing in around me. But the more I've listened since, the more I've found the little glimmers of light. That doesn't make the music any less powerful; it makes the heavier sections hit even harder. And it makes for a very balanced, very enjoyable ride. Not necessarily your first choice album for a balmy summer evening, but haven't you noticed? The shadows are lengthening... Winter is coming!
Glass - Palindrome
No Sanctuary (5:00), Satori (2:58), Hughtopia (9:40),The Water Is Always Moving On (3:32), The Rain Song (6:23), Wake for Oswley (5:25), Arrhythmia Linger Longer (20:09), One (4:36), Avidya (3:43), Singing Bowls (2:11)
Glass cite Soft Machine as a major influence. Indeed,the courage of Glass to experiment and their ability to challenge musical norms is an attribute often associated with Soft Machine and the loosely associated Canterbury genre in general. Certainly, some keyboard parts within their latest offering sound similar in style to classic Soft Machine. The trio comprises of drummer Jerry Cook and two Brothers Greg and Jeff Sherman. The majority of the keyboards are provided by Greg. Jeff is responsible for guitar and bass and some additional keyboards.
The album begins with the majestic No Sanctuary.It is an engagingly powerful piece played on a vintage 1849 Whalley Genung pipe organ.The composition is simple in its sparse beauty. Its melodious rich tones subtly wooed and then ultimately embraced me in a comforting velvet blanket of sound. The arrangement of the piece and the instrumentation chosen ensured that it was an exquisite listening experience and an excellent opening track. Satori is a more upbeat jazz stained composition. It was memorably catchy and instantly rewarding. It is a tune that exudes quality whilst it envelops its audience with joyfully infectious keyboard and bass rhythms. The Soft Machine influence comes to the fore in Hughtopia. No doubt dedicated to the late Hugh Hopper. It contains a hypnotic driving keyboard sound that would not have been out of place in Soft Machine three. The excellent Fender Rhodes work reinforces the notion that Mick Ratledge is a major influence. The raw magnificence of the piece particularly reminded me of the work of the late 70’s jazz rock band Koda whose unreleased demo featured Isotope's Nigel Morris on drums and as the composer and later Eurythmics arranger Patrick Seymour on keyboards.The middle part of Hughtopia has a charm and energy that makes it very appealing. Nevertheless, there is ample space for the music to breathe and develop. Featuring a compellingly insistent bass rhythm and offering some appealinglow end distortion and fuzz work Hughtopia is a fitting tribute.
After the speaker shaking experience of the ending of Hughtopia, The Water Is Always Moving On is cleverly placed and is an altogether much more relaxed affair. It begins with a splendid acoustic guitar prelude that is soon replaced by ripples of mellotron. Many might find that this is near perfect music for creating illusory images of early morning riverside walks and reflections. The watery theme continues in the Rain song, which is structured into three separate but linked parts.The parts contain an evolving and repetitive recurring theme. Each of its constituents contains subtle variations of a basic melodic idea. It was at times, mesmerizingly hypnotic and it is certainly a piece which requires that the listener submits fully in order to appreciate its ambient range of moods. I personally found it to be too repetitive to become fully immersed in its succession of effects and mellotron ripples. However,in the right mood or circumstances, I could imagine it to be an enjoyable auditory experience.
Wake for Owsley contains surging pulses of organ and is flooded in Mellotron squalls. Despite including these aspects of music that I would normally enjoy I felt it lacked overall direction. Nevertheless,fine ensemble playing abounds in the piece which also includes many interesting rhythms. Wake for Owsley is also multi-layered, somewhat cinematic and abundantly saturated with various droning effects. The ingredients were all in place,but try as I might I was not able to fully appreciate the merits of the piece.
I felt similarly frustrated and challenged when listening to Arrhythmia Linger Longer. I have eclectic taste and genuinely enjoy listening to music that is challenging. However, I simply could not empathise with the piece. Despite repeated attempts of discovery I was unable to appreciate what the trio was trying to achieve. The piece begins interestingly with a range of percussive parts and spoken words. Before long, a recurring theme is introduced. This is developed further with the use of organ, mellotron and predominantly vintage synthesizer sounds. Repetitively yawn inducing, it seemed to go on and on. Minor variations in tempo and in the intensity of the keyboard sounds were not able to dispel a depressing overall feeling that I was captive to some new form of musical punishment. And the music critics had the temerity to say that the pulsating dot at the start of live performances of A Passion Play was tortuous. At the nine minute mark of this twenty minute experiment of human patience my induced trace like state was shattered by the introduction of insect sounds. Which insect you might ask? Bees to be precise. During this momentary lapse into consciousness I had the manic thought that I should place my speakers next to the recently established tree bumble bee nest in the eaves of my house. Yet another minute passed slowly, this marked the introduction of more random thoughts inspired by the music. What is for tea tonight? Bee paella perhaps! Three more minutes of pulsating bladder bursting and piston turning excitement had me uttering loudly "When it will end?!" Thankfully with two minutes to go I was able to proclaim who let the flies out as the droning of bees was replaced by the synthesized droning of flies.Eventually the assault on my will to live ended and I anxiously awaited the start of the next piece.
Anxieties were soon dispelled as the triumphal processional organ sounds of One emerged. One is an excellent melodic track. It was written no doubt to celebrate those who survived the Arrhythmia test of endurance. As Zappa once said, does humour belong in music? On the evidence of One, Glass would appear to agree with Frank and have demonstrated it very capably. Avidya is a track that I immediately warmed to. It has a menacing introduction and is furnished with gorgeous bass parts. It has quality seared and hallmarked into every moment of its slow burning beauty.Destined for a lengthy stay on my playlist, it is a great piece of Jazz rock.In particular its endearing slow vintage synthesiser solo, played as through thick sticky syrup was just splendidly opulent.
Overall, I found Palindrome a difficult and frustrating album to review. I enjoyed some of it very much and intend to revisit it on occasions. Other parts were unfortunately far less palatable. Nevertheless I am certain that some readers will find the whole release much more enjoyable than I did. I would suggest that they check Palindrome out as it has many positive attributes.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Lost Kite - Two
Broken (6:23), Organic (8:14), Forgotten Garden (2:58), Lullaby for the Sleepless (2:38), Moons (6:06), Singed Thoughts (2:06), The Girl from the Moor (11:07), Ascend (6:12)
The musicianship throughout is excellent and comprises of Stefan Carlsson - electric 6-string guitar, Spanish guitar, bass, flute, synth, vocals, and electronic drums. David is responsible for acoustic 6 and 12-string guitar, Spanish guitar, vocals and electric 12-string guitar. Having jointly written the eight pieces which make up two they have created a mostly instrumental album of very good, evocative music. This perhaps is not totally unsuprising as Stefan Carlsson played bass with the eclectic Swedish progressive band Kultivator.
The album has a mellow and pastoral feel. It is filled with cascades of exceptionally delicate acoustic guitar.The vocal parts that feature in Broken, Moons, and The Girl From the Moon brought to mind the sound and aura of early Genesis.
The first track Broken is striking and has much to offer. Its vocal parts are melodic and memorable. They are also creatively different in their presentation. The world weary, sneering quietly sung words sustain interest. The instrumental middle part of the tune is particularly delightful. The featured acoustic guitar solo is bright and full of skilful fluidity. As the pace quickens the instrumental section also contains some appealing rhythmic flute and electric guitar work. The track concludes with some tasteful bass playing. Organic has many shifts of mood and emphasis and is probably the most progressive piece on the album. It is certainly a tune that rewards the listeners careful attention. Adventurously original, but enjoyably structured, the piece is characterised by a recurring mediaeval fluted folk dance melody. The folk parts are aggressively juxtaposed and punctuated by pulsating rhythms and mellotron's that are reminiscent of King Crimson and Anglagard.
Two shorter pieces follow the lengthy and impressive Organic. Forgotten Garden is a charming instrumental acoustic track featuring flute and guitar. In contrast, Lullaby for the Sleepless features lush symphonic keyboards but is for the most part a showcase for a subdued but highly effective electric guitar solo.
Moons shows the versatility and capabilities of the duo to good effect. It is drenched with hypnotic vocals offering visions and imagery of moonlight lakes.Capably ,layered with warm instrumentation. It is a tune which has with in it the ability to provoke reflections on memories evoked by nature. Moons may offer for some listeners a near perfect musical antidote to 21st century urban life. The lengthy The Girl from the Moon is symphonic in its arrangement and instrumentation. As a consequence it is unimposing and beautifully laid back. Mellotrons, choral effects and flute help to create an idyllic pastoral feel. Stefan Carllson's fragile and emotive vocal delivery was able to show just the right balance of sincerity and mystery . Outwardly the pieces slow paced recurring theme made it one of the least imposing but nevertheless persuasive tracks of the release. In the final moments a glorious electric guitar tone is utilised. This fine ending enabled me to overcome any reservations I might have had about the tunes repetitiveness. In contrast, Ascend begins with raw electric guitar parts and is a much more upbeat affair. Its folk inspired melodies brought to mind Kollar Attila's work and compositions within Musical Witchcraft. The track works well, is satisfying and is impressively executed.
Neither exuberant or exciting, but rather, skilfully reflective and enjoyable, Two is a release that deserves to be heard. The quality of the playing and breadth of the compositions throughout the release create a rewarding and reflective listening experience.It is an album that I will certainly return to. The merits of the release made it difficult for me to fully comprehend that this was the work of a duo. Perhaps this was because the players had a connection and empathy that only a father and son can have.
Call it the X factor if you like... I would prefer to think it was just the power of love. Now where was that list of partnerships?
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
In Progress - North Atlantic Echoes
Tones from a Twisting Verse (3:14), Thunderstorms (3:50), Chasing Ghosts (5:23), Cloudburst (4:30), North Atlantic (7:13), Thorn Yard (5:52), Graveyard Snowfall (6:12)
There, I've said it. But now that I have, what are you expecting? All out action? High octane drama? Suspense?
Well, there's certainly plenty of drama here. Suspense too. And more than a little pathos. It's cinematic all right; this is involving and expansive music that really draws you in. With Kevin Moore adding additional keys and vocals on a few tracks, you probably won't be surprised to hear hints of OSI or Chromakey here and there. But, on the whole, I think we're in darker territory. I'm reminded more of Agalloch and Ulver. Just so we're clear, we're talking ethos, vibes and moods, not sound-alikes. Because In Progress have a wonderful, well-crafted sound that's all their own. Give it time – we could well be crediting them with a new sub-genre – a new wave of cinematic prog.
This isn't heavy in the traditional sense, but it's emotionally heavy music. Tones from a Twisting Verse sets the mood with elegiac synth strings, piano and voice, before a tastefully executed guitar part picks out an affecting melody.
Dillon and Rosenberg are obviously masters of their craft. Songs are built upon layers and layers of rich sound, but never seem bloated. Track 5, North Atlantic, is the album's centrepiece, and it's a perfect example. A melancholy synth line evokes the mood, before piano and a skittering rhythm takes us back out to sea. The song builds, the momentum grows... and then stops. We're left with the sound of the rain and the piano playing out a sad refrain. But that's not the end of the track. It's all building to one of the highlights of the album. Rosenberg changes mood and tempo, the synth bubbles away underneath, and an emotive guitar joins in - this is beautifully melodic music. Cinematic in fact. North Atlantic Echoes certainly sounds like a painstakingly polished album. But not so polished that you can't hear the emotion. John Dillon's vocals are lilting and laid-back. But there's a frailty to his voice that suits this album perfectly, particularly on Thorn Yard – where we really get to the emotional heart of the story. But Dillon's got an alter ego; his processed vocal changes the tenor of the sound and it's a great counterpoint to his natural singing voice.
Dillon is supported by soaring backing vocals from Lauren Edwards and Hwei Ling Ng on three tracks and it helps give the album a more balanced feel. This isn't just the story of one man and the sea after all!
Dillon's lyrics are evocative throughout. I've not heard their debut album yet, but judging by the lyrics on their Bandcamp page, it wasn't an altogether happy affair. Lyrically, North Atlantic Echo feels more mature. Less angry, more reflective, more melancholy. Just don't mistake melancholy for insipid. There are industrial undercurrents – moments where the sea boils over. I love the threatening, moogy intro to Cloudburst - it sounds like a slowed down, distorted version of the opening of Rush's The Camera Eye.
North Atlantic Echoes ebbs and flows, taking the listener on a roller-coaster ride of emotion. Dillon and Rosenberg paint their stories in vast seascapes. The ocean isn't just a recurring motif, it's part and parcel of this album. Another instrument.
Like any good film, there's lots more to explore. Plenty of uncharted undercurrents. I'll certainly be revisiting North Atlantic Echoes over the next few months. And if you enjoy contemplative, soulful music that combines a progressive sensibility with hints of electronica, industrial and even a little folk noir, you should too. Far be it from me to tell you how to listen, but North Atlantic Echoes is an immersive experience, best enjoyed with headphones on and the lights tuned down low. The popcorn's optional.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Simeon Soul Charger - Harmony Square
Overture (3:30), Babylon Grove (5:32), All's Fair in Harmony Square (6:02), Miss Donce (3:14), Spinning across the Grass (2:29), Doris (2:12), Oh What a Beastly Boy (3:19), The Piper's Prize (2:41), The Devil's Rhapsody (5:20), The Changing Wind and Reign (6:12), The Advent of Awakening (6:22), King Charles Norman's Castle (8:01), See Sharp (2:55), Rayoweith's Guillotine / A Gift from the Sky (3:43), Ashes (5:57)
SSC are a band from Akron, Texas, consisting of four members: Aaron Brooks (vocals, guitar, piano), Rick Phillips (guitar, vocals), Joe Kidd (drums, percussion, vocals), and Spider Monkey (bass, percussion, vocals). Aaron Brooks is also responsible for writing the lyrics of all tracks. So, what about the music? It's certainly not prog as most of our DPRP-readers are familiar with!
Influences on this album are quite diverse: early Queen, The Strawbs, The Darkness, The Sparks, The Mars Volta and even Jethro Tull can be found. Listening to this album gives you a feel of the 1970s. In tracks like All's Fair in Harmony Square and the longest track, King Charles Norman's Castle, you can hear a bit of Tull. Doris and the final track Ashes contain guitar sounds that show SSC also like to listen to blues. My personal favourite is The Changing Wind and Reign. It's a melancholic song, probably due to the use of violin, with demure lead vocals by Aaron Brooks and ending with a climax at the end. One of the most proggy songs on the album in my opinion. SSC have succeeded in making an album that is very entertaining. Though I prefer quality above quantity, I'm also pleased with a playing time of more than 67 minutes. I'm seeing a lot of CDs lately with playing times less than 50 minutes and I think that's a pity because there's room for more music! Furthermore, one song flows fluently into the other which is also very nice. Maybe we should call the music prog related and not real prog. But I would say that this is a job well done!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
1974 - 1974 & The Death of the Herald
The Great Galactic War (3:13), Phantoms (4:30), Herald of Life (3:15), Building an Empire (3:52), Essential Arms (4:50), A New Beginning (6:05), Vera (4:40), Admiral Tackett (5:00), The United Earthlands' Assembly (4:15), A Dark Thought (3:02), Abduction (5:23), Ultimatum (3:37), Death of the Herald (9:06)
As for the band's name, 1974 was undoubtedly a classic year for European prog (Red, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Relayer, Crime of the Century, Autobahn, The Power and the Glory, Phaedra and L'isola di niente were all released that year) but perhaps more significantly for 1974 and their obvious North American prog-rock influences it was also the year that Rush and Kansas released their self-titled debut albums. More recent comparisons bring Echolyn and Dream Theater into the equation.
As winners of the 'Best Rock Band' category in the 2013 Connecticut Music Awards one assumes the band are based in that particular part of the USA and comprise Mike Forgette (guitars), Tim Moore (drums), Gary Dionne (bass), Adam Clymer (guitars) and Angela Piccoli (keyboards) although for some curious reason Angela's name is missing from the line-up in the sleeve notes. Clymer is the only band member that's not credited with vocals which accounts for the band's varied vocal range.
The Great Galactic War gets things off to a lively start with its spacey synth effects, powerful riffs and strong vocal hook before merging seamlessly into the acoustic guitar driven Phantoms. Lead singer Forgette has a particularly engaging voice and together with co-guitarist Clymer combines power chords with classy solos. Herald Of Life features delicate harmonies whereas Building an Empire allows the band to rock-out instrumentally although for me the presence of the free-form sax solo is more of a distraction than an asset. A change of lead singers and prominent piano adds a fresh slant to Essential Arms whilst Dionne's thumping bass during A New Beginning brings Talking Heads' Psycho Killer to mind although the wah-wah funk guitar (straight out of Isaac Hayes' Theme from Shaft) doesn't work for me, I'm afraid. Angela's raunchy lead adds a rock-chic dynamic to the hard hitting Vera and similarly Admiral Tackett blends crunching chords with angelic Yes-like wordless harmonies.
The United Earthlands' Assembly is conspicuously dominated by a bluesy Floydian solo in stark contrast with the deceptively titled A Dark Thought with its sunny pop tinged melody and vocals. Gilmour-esque guitar returns for the strident Abduction whereas Ultimatum is almost punk like in its ferocity leaving the lengthy Death Of The Herald to bring up the rear. The latter sums up 1974 perfectly, combining refined vocals, hard hitting rhythms and soaring lead lines to successful effect.
If I had to level one minor criticism at 1974 then it would be that occasionally their ambitions get the better of them, cramming far more into the mix than is really necessary (the aforementioned wah-wah guitar during A New Beginning being a prime example). That aside it's hard not to like and admire the energy and adventurous spirit that's evident throughout the album. Add to that some first rate tunes and you have one highly recommended album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sabinas Rex - A Rock Opera
CD 1: Intro (3:38), Brotherhood (3:45), Evil's Faith (3:46), Hard To Be a Lady (4:24), Your Fellow Man (4:27), Masquerade (4:02), The Curse (4:24), The Charge (4:28), Beside Me (3:43), The Vigilance (2:20)
CD 2: Rex's Reign (6:43), Double Vision (4:20), The March of Misery (5:31), Brothers Just and Right (4:13), Dying Angel (5:05), Praise the King (4:22), Stories (4:27), Music of the Realm (3:37), Message (4:23), Outro (2:11)
CD 2: Rex's Reign (6:43), Double Vision (4:20), The March of Misery (5:31), Brothers Just and Right (4:13), Dying Angel (5:05), Praise the King (4:22), Stories (4:27), Music of the Realm (3:37), Message (4:23), Outro (2:11)
This two CD package is pure musical theater, with dark tones and brightness as the storyline requires. I am not familiar with any of the singers but all put in solid performances.
The story is based around a Slovakian tale of a young peasant woman who helps the king as he flees before the oncoming Tartars in the 13th century. However the story of how this Rock Opera was created, shows an equal level of determination and suspense. Five long years in the making, Vlado began his vision with demos and an initial seven-song recording in 2008 to test the concept. Financial and health challenges then added to the struggle. But with help from family and friends he was able to turn his vision into reality. A small-scale theater production and a video version are his next ambitions.
Vlado deserves great praise for achieving his vision to a very good standard and I wish him the very best in the next steps. Sabinas Rex will appeal to anyone who enjoys the rock opera approach to music with the emphasis on the "rock".
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Amazing Machine - Room of Pointing Figures
Monochrome (8:18), Capstone (5:06), Room of Pointing Figures (10:50), When You All Left (7:39)
A newer band on the scene is a three-piece from Norway called Amazing Machine. They have just released an EP, Room of Pointing Figures, in the last couple of months looking to gain a following among prog aficionados. Norway has delivered some groups of interest recently making this country a force within the prog community. In fact, Norway's musical pedigree dates as far back as the late 1800's with classical composer Edvard Grieg whose Peer Gynt was put into a rock format by the Electric Light Orchestra on their On the Third Day record. Fast forward 100 years and A-ha were constant fixtures on the MTV video cycle with their innovative film for Take on Me. More recently, Norway became known for the black metal scene. In a more digestible format, at least to this reviewer's ears, bands such as Ulver, Gazpacho, and Airbag have bestowed upon the prog listener well regarded releases. Amazing Machine comes along with a fresh approach in 2014.
So, where does Amazing Machine fall in the prog spectrum? When I was sent the digital EP files, I gave them several listens before scanning the internet to see if my ears matched up to available descriptions on the web. Alas, my ears were not disappointed. Amazing Machine can be slotted into the post-rock sub genre, one of less cluttered fields of progressive endeavor. On their Facebook page, the band describe their music as "Tool meets Porcupine Tree meets Oceansize meets Michael Jackson." That last reference point is a real head scratcher for this reviewer. Their SoundCloud description is more accurate, "Cinematic feel with a lot of dynamics and contrast spanning from frail and beautiful to intense and ugly, from textural to melodic, from optimistic to hopeless." Further, SoundCloud notes their inspiration sources to be Steven Wilson, Anathema, Oceansize, Karnivool to list a few. The Amazing Machine Trio, formed in 2008, is comprised of Bjorn Reinfjell on vocals/guitar, Torkil Rodvand thumping the bass and Hans-Marius Overland handling the drumsticks. The instrumental elements dominate though there are vocals in English. Their producer/mixer is Christer-Andre Cederberg whose credits include DPRP stalwarts Anathema and Tides of Nebula. The latter band's 2011 offering received a DPRP recommended score and in my estimation Amazing Machine is certainly on par with Tides of Nebula.
Room of Pointing Figures comes in at a reasonable running time of 31:55 spread over four tracks. I believe it is an intelligent strategy for a newer band to release an EP, focusing on quality cuts as opposed to a one hour disc with filler to navigate. We all have bloated discs like this in our respective collections. The standout track kicks off the release, Monochrome. The opening brings to mind some of the more recent dark television mini-series music. Think Broadchurch, The Fall or Forbrydelsen/The Killing. Soft guitar is the focus with drums entering at the 1:30 mark while vocals appear 4 minutes in. Monochrome features nice contrast with a light section juxtaposed to a heavier moment. I would suggest DPRP readers listen to Monochrome to see if this is music that suits their prog fancy. Track number 2, Capstone, begins with a slow pace for the better part of a minute with minimal guitar and vocal. The song speeds up then reverts to a crawl. There is a pleasant instrumental interlude at 2:28. Capstone bows out with an a capella vocal bit. Not as effective as the opening track but has merit.
The title track, Rooms of Pointing Figures, is the longest piece. It follows the pattern of a snail's pace beginning but with vocals in the lower range. The aggressive part comes deep into the song. My least favorite number from the EP, by this point the monotonous style causes me to lose interest. Amazing Machine finishes with When You All Left. Near silence eases the listener into the song with a slow build up. A mournful vocal greets the listener, later what sounds like spare keyboard notes appear, accompanied by soft drums. Just past 4 minutes, a quite brief aggressive section is felt then it reverts to the sad aura. An almost anthemic finish ushers in, reminiscent of Anathema. Solid track.
A criticism is that all tracks begin with slow plodding sections often with spare instrumental accompaniment. Then near abrasive parts that rattle your brain appear. The approach works best on Monochrome, a cut I will return to often. Guitar is the dominant lead instrument with keyboards being virtually non-existent. The vocals are an area for improvement. The softer, slower sections are more pleasing but I do like the contrast. If Amazing Machine can build on the quality of Monochrome this band had a bright future. I am looking forward to their next batch of material to see if the groug exhibits a maturation that will rope in more prog advocates. Give them a listen if the post-rock style is of interest. If you need loads of keyboards in your prog then this will most likely disappoint. I give Amazing Machine credit for treading in a less traveled area code of prog. Room of Pointing Figures can be obtained with minimal damage to your wallets as the EP can be secured from several outlets starting at USD 4.70 on the link listed above to USD 7.99 on iTunes. Amazing Machine is not for everyone's ears but I can envision part of the prog community who will find favor with the Norwegian band. Support this group if they play live in a venue close at hand.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kshettra - 1
Blachernae is Waiting for the Snow (9:43), Make Teddy Dancing (3:56), Dragonfly (6:31), Dreamwalker (9:12), Quae Sunt Caesaris Caesari (5:33), Eva Is Eating an Orange (12:55)
If you buy one CD you get a piece of art for free, buy two and you get two pieces of art for free. Is this offer too good to be true? Is this an exercise in gimmickry over quality? Or perhaps even more likely; is this just an attractively stylish way to package a CD?
Whilst I am not able to offer a considered opinion on the quality of the art work, the music has numerous positive attributes. Kshettra have created an album of enjoyably measured complexity and appealing originality. Kshettra are an instrumental trio from Moscow. The players are Boris Gas (bass), Victor Tikhonov (drums), and Nikita Gabdullin (guitars). Their debut album entitled 1 was recorded in 2011-12 and was released in 2013. It contains an enticing cocktail of progressive rock,post rock and carefully constructed jazz rock.
The majority of the compositions contain recurring musical motifs.Melodies are developed and improvised primarily by Gabdullin using a range of tones and textures. His delicate and tasteful playing is stylistically closer to jazz guitarists such as Gilgamesh's Phil Lee. Sensitively picked notes abound, embellished with tasteful variations in loudness and pitch. As a contrast there are some unexpectedly raw fuzz laden solos and occasional moments of heavier guitar riffs to appreciate.For the most part though,what is on offer is cerebral and reflective music.The ambience that is skilfully created invites the listener to turn down the lights and be taken on a journey of the imagination into the unknown and beyond.The impressive guitar parts are underpinned by the booming yet melodic bass of Gas whose excellent contribution combines subtle flair,and foot tapping gusto with consummate ease. Equally noteworthy is the busy and efficient percussive work of Trikhonov.
Six pieces make up the 48 minutes of the release. The first track Blachernae Is Waiting for the Snow begins at a fast pace in which bass effects dominate.The sound produced by the trio at the beginning of this piece is narrow, condensed and intensely dense.The tempo changes at the two minute mark as the music becomes more expansive. Some of the characteristics of math rock are called to mind within the spacious but methodical arrangement which develops. However as the piece proceeds, individual instruments become less restrained and more expressive. In particular, the guitar is given room to precisely garnish the composition. In this respect ,an idyllic soundscape is created by a series of cleverly chosen notes. Gabdullin's discerning approach to the guitar, where feel and texture rather than speed is a major consideration works superbly in the context of the trio's work. His abilty to adorn a composition effectively with skilfully understated guitar parts is an essential part of Kshettra's sound. This quality is particularly evident in the opening track and in Eva is Eating an Orange the last track of the release. Make Teddy Dancing is a slow boiling infectious jazz tinged rhythmic piece.It begins restlesly with a grooving bass melody that is dripping in quality. Make Teddy Dancing is a good example of Kshettra's jazz inspired abilities and is a track that could adorn any quality jazz rock album. Dragonfly is a delightful swinging piece that once again utilises the precise,willow like guitar style that is a trademark of Gabdullin's work. The hypnotic layering of a second guitar part adds to the tracks overall etheral quality. Dreamwalker is probably my favourite track on the album and is one of the more progressive pieces. It has a variety of intiguing styles and moods which are adeptly displayed in its nine plus minutes. For example, just when you have become accustomed to the pieces overall serene and chilled mood it unexpectedly becomes a showcase for some of the most fiery and distorted guitar parts on the album. Quae Sunt Caesaris Caesari is a fuzz bass extravaganza that is full of pounding rhythms and raw distorted guitar parts. Suprisingly, it later develops into something more akin to space rock complete with numerous psychedelic effects. The plaintively beautiful Eva is Eating an Orange is a fitting ending to this at times outstanding album. It features some sumptous guitar playing throughout it's slow moving and somewhat melancholy first ten minutes. In the final moments of the piece the tempo increases as it becomes a celebratory procession which highlights the collective prowess of all members of the ensemble.
I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing Kshettra's debut album. I would imagine that DPRP readers who enjoy meditative jazz rock with hints of restrained energy and power might find that there is much that might appeal throughout this release. I have no hesitation in recommending the music of Kshettra, you even get a piece of art thrown in for free. I look forward to Kshettras next release with eager anticipation. I wonder what the special offer might be then?
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Renaissance - Symphony of Light
Symphony of Light (12:09), Waterfall (4:44), Grandine il Vento (6:29), Porcelain (6:41), Cry to the World (5:44), Air of Drama (5:20), Blood Silver like Moonlight (5:15), The Mystic and the Muse (7:51), Tonight (4:25), Immortal Beloved (5:39), Renaissance Man (3:27)
That was roughly 1970, now it's 2014. A lot has happened, and they have an ouvre which has remained as individual as when they first started out, with many fine albums and even a top 10 single in 1978. During their journey they aquired a "classic line up" for most of the best stuff, went off the rails, disbanded, and have eventually re-found the parallel lines with this latest offering.
The stalwarts of that line up were to become singer Annie Haslam and said guitarist who indeed both perform on this new album, but it is tinged with great sadness as Michael Dunford was taken by the angels before its release. Orignally titled Grandine il Vento it has been re-released as A Symphony of Light with a new distribution deal and, more importantly, three extra songs. The album ends with a beautiful celebration (written by Annie Haslam and one of the two keyboard players, Rave Tesar), of the guitarist's life and untimely passing. I begin with the last song because I cannot imagine this recording without it as it serves not only to close precedings, but also to bring closure to what must have been a devastating loss to everyone involved on this journey and new venture.
There are therefore now eleven tracks in total, with all lyrics and feathery artwork taken care of by the vocal supremo, with music (on tracks 1 - 8) by the late Mr. Dunford (to whom the album is dedicated), and the "bonus" last three credited to members of the group. For once hirsute and flared trouser wearing fans that can still dust off the original vinyls and remember what magnificent sonatas and melodies this lot could muster, opening and Leonardo de Vinci dedication A Symphony of Light will have you opening the tank top drawer as it is everything that Renaissance should be: great vocals, poetical lyrics, long instrumental breaks with synth bass rhythms, hints of gothic horror and resolving uplifting pizzicato plucking. 12:09 of bellissimo!
Waterfall slows down the pace with Grandine il Vento restoring the piano led folk rock of yore. Percussive led Porcelain leads us to the first guest spot where Ian Anderson's flute turns Cry to the World into a lost track from the Jethro Tull Christmas Album and that's no bad thing.
Continuing the Renassiance tradition of singing bass players, David J Keyes duets on Air of Drama which continues into the next track with another bass player but this time as invitee singer in John Wetton's voice contribution giving piano and vocal song Blood Silver like Moonlight a sublime intimacy.
Original album closer The Mystic and the Muse is the most prog track here and is the one that restores this band to this genre. Turbulent drumming, courtesy of Frank pagano, and bass interplay with kitchen sink intstrumentation, church organ sounds (Jason Hart), tempo changes and mystical lyrics. Very good indeed.
Before we reach the afore mentioned tribute to their missing member, the set has Tonight and Immortal Beloved which are both on familiar terriotry for most Renassiance aficionados. There is something slightly different with Annie Haslams voice and the track Tonight starts with a couple of lines sung with the same tune as the slow middle section of Scheherazade, so a direct comparison of vocal style can be listened to. It's really difficult to put my finger on it, but on all previous recordings the voice is slight down in the mix and possibly used more as an instrument with a subtle reverb to blend it. On Symphony of Light the difference is very subtle, but apparent. I couldn't let this go as it has been a niggle!
There's no doubt that this is a fresh and enjoyable "return to form" (not a great fan of that expresion, but it works here) and should be an essential purchase for Renassiance lovers. I am missing the real orchestra of my favourite era and playing such songs as The Sisters from Novella really brings home the complexities and how incredibly well this band have played in the past. In fact Novella is probably what this album reminds me of more than any other and, if truth be known, I do prefer it. Also, I will always miss Jon Camp's bass playing which was a very dominating force on all the records he played on and magnificent live. I've realised I've not so much reviewed this album as subconsciously written an exam paper! Sorry about that, dear readers, but I realise how much it all means to me as I have grown up with this family... Cut to the chase and for gawd's sake finish it then! Thoroughly recommended - go get!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10