Jon Anderson - Change We Must
State Of Independence (5:42), Shaker Loops (5:30), Hearts (5:04), Alive and Well (4:44), The Kiss (3:52), Chagalle Duet (3:31), Run On, Jon (2:46), Candle Song (3:34), A View from the Coppice (2:48), Hurry Home (6:51), Under the Sun (4:59), Change We Must (5:45), Interview with Jon Anderson (5:06), Change We Must (single version) (3:42)
Re-released at the end of last year, this reissue of Change We Must, his seventh solo album first out in 1994, has been re-mastered with bonus tracks, featuring an interview with the great man and the single version of the title track.
Coming in between the delightful Deseo, recorded with South American musician friends, and Angel's Embrace, his love letter to his wife Jane, Change We Must was his first big adventure into orchestration and, in its own way, it is something of an experimental album, reworking some familiar songs and introducing a few new compositions.
For the most part, it all works beautifully but does cross the boundary into the realm of sugary sweetness in places, but more about that later.
The first and last tracks, however, are a perfect pair of bookends, lush strings bringing a whole new dimension to the classic State of Independence, a song which already works on so many levels but given new meaning and poignancy with the orchestral treatment and using children's voices in harmony with Jon's. It is a timeless, ageless song for all seasons (and my own personal mission statement).
The album finishes with the gorgeous Change We Must, again featuring heavenly choirs of children's voices. This song was inspired by a book of the same name by Hawaiian spiritual teacher, Nana Veary, who could hear music in nature and with whom Jon went on a retreat.
In between these two bookends can be heard the wonderful Shaker Loops written by American composer John Adams with its huge looping, slightly menacing violins over which Jon sings some spectacularly esoteric lyrics alluding to messages from on high which come to earth in the form of corn circles.
Other reworked songs here comprise Hearts from 90125 which does not deviate too much from the original plus two from Jon's In The City of Angels album, the spiritual rallying cry Hurry Home, given a slightly more Celtic folky treatment, and the joyous It's on Fire, here rechristened Under The Sun which takes on a whole new lease of life with its wonderfully uplifting world music vibe and sun chant from Nadya.
All the new songs are skilfully scored starting with Alive and Well featuring American pianist Gwendolyn Mok and some lush strings.
Jon is at his most tender in The Kiss, which he wrote with Vangelis, and is joined in the Chagall Duet by French soprano Sandrine Piau, their voices intertwining before coming together. It is all rather lovely. Run On, Jon and View from the Coppice are two short instrumentals with Mok and strings and Candle Song is almost a lullaby in which he is joined on vocals by daughter Jade.
Christopher Warren-Green was responsible for directing the London Chamber Academy and in his interview at the end, Jon explains how the sounds on the album were shaped by his experiences with Nana Veary and his desire to expand his own musical palette by working with an orchestra.
It is an album which sounds as though it was made with a lot of love and tender care and Jon talks in his interview about how mankind has to change by living in a world of love and peace – something that could happen overnight. This message still has a powerful reverberation during these current troubled times.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Djam Karet - Regenerator 3017
Prince of the Inland Empire (5:35), Living in the Future Past (4:50), Desert Varnish (7:19), Wind Pillow (4:39), Lost Dreams (3:51), Empty House (6:08), On the Edge of the Moon (8:36)
Undoubtedly progressive, the album is actually pretty laid back and has a real groove to it. The guitars are crisp and clean, the bass is prominent without being intrusive and the mixture of keyboards and electric piano add masses of texture. The music of Djam Karet is, quintessentially unique, they genuinely don't sound like anyone else other than themselves. As Rolling Stone pointed out, there are reflections of other bands but no other band that I am aware of has ever produced music such as is offered up on this, and other, Karet albums. They are also impossible to date, this album could have been produced at any time in the past forty years and it wouldn't have sounded out of place. If they evoke the seventies it is because of the melody-infused richness of their playing and the clarity of the production, compression is a no-no. The band also eschew the modern habits of digital manipulation preferring to 'keep it real' and only using material that is played in real time.
This all adds up to some delightful sound textures. The performances are smooth, polished and assured, the confidence of 30 years of writing and playing together means nothing is out of bounds. Want to add some tinkly, jazz-inflected Rhodes? Sure! Some eighties style synths anyone? Go ahead! How about an extended melodic guitar solo a la Wishbone Ash? Be my guest! Okay, so they are not in the habit of rocking out and ferocious energy levels are not something one would find within these seven compositions. However, it is not needed when the music is as classy as on Regenerator 3017.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Fuchs - The Unity of Two
Prologue Part 1 (2:40), Prologue Part 2 (10:18), Are You with Me? (5:26), Under Your Thumb (4:36), Just a Moment of a Perfect Summer (5:07), How Many Times? (6:17), Doubts (2:27), Your Best Maybe (2:23), Where Do I Go? (3:49), I'm on My Knees (6:35), Back to Where We Belonged (5:57), When You Close Your Eyes (8:13)
Hans-Jürgen Fuchs has put down a fine storyline. The main singers on this album, Baggi Buchmann as Aaron and Michael Wasilewski as Ray are both great singers, each of them having a warm timbre. Michael's voice might be a bit gruffier and Baggi's somewhat more smooth. Both fit the album very well as does Mirjam Michutta who provides the female backing vocals. Album opener Prologue is made up of two parts. The first part sees both main characters as they discuss their take on life at the starting point of the story. Acoustic guitar accompanies the moment both friends set out to part their ways and as Ray's part ends, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you're listening to Genesis from way back when. Not an attempt at covering Genesis, mind you, yet the influence clearly is there, as we get Ripples like keys and vocal harmonies.
The second part again features both male vocalists and the beautiful backing by Mirjam. A song that keeps on giving me shivers as Aaron tells about the way his life unfolded after leaving his friend Ray. The second part again is very reminiscent of Genesis around the time of Gabriel leaving, with Hackett-like chords, yet never did Genesis feature such an expressive and somewhat frenzied guitar solo in the opening of a song as Andy Bartzik gets to play here and to great effect! Mainman Hansi provides the perfect background with his keys and Florian Dittrich adds some terrific drumming. The singing in this second part can only be described as beautiful as Baggi, Michael and Mirjam all are featured in a great harmony piece. Great find!
It is clear that this album is certainly not about copying Genesis. The magic of this album is that Hans-Jürgen Fuchs has succeeded in taking the feel of 70's Genesis and put that to great use and effect in songs that can only be described very much as today's and modern. The break in the song and the build up afterwards to result in a reprise of the harmony part adds to the momentum. And yes, that is only the prologue, ladies and gents.
Are You With Me? again has great vocals by Baggi as Aaron wonders if he will ever meet his friend again and Hans-Jürgen adds great keys to this song that features immense Mellotron(-like? Can't figure out whether the sound is an actual Mellotron or keys emulating the sound)textures and that could be a song (particularly in the uptempo part) that might be featured in Fish's catalogue.
Under Your Thumb again knows to take the Genesis feel, yet still, it is very much a 2014 song. The way Baggi sings Just A Moment Of A Perfect Summer with the slow and emotional start, a song all about love and where it seems that Aaron might realize what love and what his life might be, just puts the shivers up and down my spine. Clearly not a bad thing and it gets augmented by Andy Bartzik's guitar soaring over the vocals and the keys and drums to accompany all that. Very nice touch to have the song end with the words "Innocent and pure intensity" for that is what it seems to be about. Not just the words, the feel of the song as well.
Could I go on and discuss all the songs on this album? Yes, of course I could. Yet, there is a story to be discovered and enjoyed here and there is the music that makes this album that should be discovered as well. I will try and summarize what the album evokes to these ears. The Unity of Two is a brave attempt by Hans-Jürgen Fuchs with the help of great singers and musicians to put to music a story in the vein of Narziss und Goldmund.
Whilst not hiding he was inspired by Genesis and, yes, Peter Gabriel as well (just listen to Doubts, the instrumental on the album), Hans-Jürgen has succeed in writing songs that can very much hold their own and that are clearly modern day prog songs. And he has the musicians to his side that can truly deliver. There is plenty of room for the singers and musicians to shine and for the story to develop in this musical journey. Revisiting this album after a couple of weeks of not listening to it, felt like a sort of homecoming (U2 pun not intended). The way the whole album flows and with the compositions being much more than taking a song and flavouring it with some Genesis powder or some Gabriel spice, I feel this might just be one of the best 5 prog albums to come out this year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Salim Ghazi Saeedi - namoWoman
namoW (4:09), nam (4:37), amo (4:47), moW (4:43), oWo (4:33), Wom (4:23), oma (4:17), man (4:15), Woman (4:07)
namoWoman, originally released in 2012, is Salims latest album, and follows his two previous instrumental releases 2010's Iconophobia and 2011's Human Encounter.
With his exposure to Western influences being limited to bootleg tapes and CD's, Salim's style is influenced by his own culture, and elements of Western rock that snuck through the doors, as a result he is a unique performer, unfettered by Western rock traditions, and fluidly mixing his own cultural style in. Progressive fusion could be the best description for this album, or as Salim himself prefers "pictoral rock", as he likes to paint a picture with the aural soundscapes he creates. The dynamic tension across the album, which flows from track to track comes with his mix of Persian Microtonal Music and western jazz rock fusion, as he mixes in musical counterparts from his piano and then cuts across with a scything guitar. As a guitarist and writer he has been compared to Robert Fripp and Kavus Torabi, both intelligent musicians who forge their own musical paths, and I can see the similarities here.
namoWoman, with its eye-catching cover and different moods, particularly on the sinister oma, is one of those albums that makes you think somewhere a film is missing its soundtrack. Salim Ghazi Saeedi as a performer and composer is a multifaceted and deft instrumentalist, mixing in metallic riffs, with elements of surf rock, jazz fusion, Persian influences and dance beats with his rhythmic insistent percussion, whilst the string driven counterpoint to the guitar is amazing on man.
There is always so much going on in each song, that you need a few listens to pick everything up, and his is a mighty sound. Getting noticed over in the UK is hard work, trying to build a career in a non-existent music scene over in Tehran and then getting your music heard across the wider world must be even more a struggle, and yet, when the music is so absorbing, so intelligent, so alternative as this, then it makes it all worthwhile. If you like intelligent intense instrumental rock guitarists like Matt Stevens, or music that takes you where you weren't expecting to go like Knifeworld, Thumpermonkey or King Crimson, then get listening to this. Sometimes you find magic in the most unexpected places.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Iamthemorning - ~
~ (Intermission I) (2:50), Inside (4:16), Burn (4:39), Circles (3:16), ~ (Intermission II) (0:52), Weather Changing (3:03), ~ (Intermission III) (0:52), Scotland (3:55), Touching II (4:02), ~ (Intermission IV) (0:45), Monsters (4:02), Serenade (2:30), ~ (Intermission V) (1:00), Would This Be (4:17), ~ (Intermission VI) (1:49), I.B.Too (4:30), ~ (Intermission VII) (1:07), Afis (2:48)
Iamthemorning is really a duo of two phenomenal musicians, with the support of a host of talented backing musicians. The two members are really the two essential ingredients that make this music so special, the rest is the icing on the already tasty cake. First we have Marjana Semkina, who I must say is one of the most talented female vocalists I have ever heard. Her voice is magical and weaves a spell over the listener throughout the album. It is delicate when it needs to be, strong and passionate at other times, and overall full of beauty and power. The other member of the duo is Gleb Kolyadin, one of the most remarkable pianists of our day. He gives the album a classical side with his swirling piano that is a beautiful complement to Marjana's angelic vocals. He knows the art of playing in service of the music and not merely to show off. There is also a great line-up of additional musicians, including the basics of bass, guitar and drums, but also a variety of string instruments that really add to the majestic beauty as well as the classical feel that permeates the record.
These ingredients blend perfectly to create music that is stunningly beautiful. There is a definite classical influence, but also a folk and celtic side, with little neo-prog flourishes. The music isn't overly complicated or technical, but I consider this one of its greatest strengths. The compositional style allows the pure beauty to bleed through every note. The emotion and passion is complex enough to make up for any lack of complexity with the instrumentation. The melodies are hauntingly beautiful and the album makes excellent use of dynamics, mixing the soft, pretty moments with the hard-hitting passion where the addition of drums, bass and guitars gives the music added power. The album is structured like a storybook, or even a play, with the different tracks separated by various intermissions. There are no tracks over the 5 minute mark, so nothing overstays its welcome and the album moves along at a brisk and refreshing pace.
The album begins with the sounds of the sea, which evokes the beautiful album cover, before the beautiful vocal harmonies of Marjana swirl around the listener. Then, the beautiful piano comes in, played perfectly by Gleb. This is a perfect introduction to the album, showcasing the two star performers. Inside is the first proper song and is a great example of what is to come starting out softly with a haunting feeling before it suddenly increases in intensity about halfway through the song after some fantastic piano playing. This change in dynamics is typical throughout the album. One of my personal favorite tracks is Scotland that ends up having a darker sound than a lot of the other tracks with an even distorted effect on Marjana's lead vocals. Touching II is simply beautiful with an opportunity for the string instruments to have a showcase. It is a heavenly pairing with Majana's angelic voice. The final three tracks are a magnificent closer, starting with the power of I.B.Too, continuing with one of their beautiful instrumental intermissions with tinkling piano, and ending with the simple beauty of Afis where are two stars, Marjana and Gleb, play without the accompaniment of the other instruments and just emote delicate beauty.
This is a breathtaking album full of beautiful melodies, transcendent female vocals, virtuoso piano playing, and a multitude of emotion and passion. This is art at its highest form. An impressive mixture of modern rock and pop with a classical influence. It is a refreshing sound that I find highly original. I cannot think of any bands to compare Iamthemorning to. The album really sounds incredible, with all instruments clear and crisp in the mix. I am impressed and recommend this album highly to all. I am happy to add this album to my short list of life-altering albums. This is by far one of the most beautiful albums in my collection and I am so grateful to have had the great privilege to hear it.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Knifeworld - The Unravelling
I Can Teach You how to Lose a Fight (5:14), The Orphanage (1:33), Send Him Seaworthy (6:36), Don't Land on Me (8:02), The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes (4:45), Destroy the World We Love (6:05), This Empty Room Was Once Alive (3:50), I'm Hiding behind My Eyes (9:15)
Knifeworld are put in the prog genre, however listening to this album, which is a slow burner, a brilliantly intense and complicated record, that slowly reveals it's secrets to you, seductively and patiently.
Knifeworld are one of the most exciting live bands I have seen in many a year, and the full power from the mighty eight-piece line-up is unleashed here in some of the finest tracks I have heard so far this year. Yet at only 45 minutes long, The Unravelling never outstays its welcome, and on some of the shorter songs leaves you wishing they were slightly longer.
The opener I Can Teach You how to Lose a Fight bears the Knifeworld hallmarks, the vocal counterpart between Kavus Torabi, Melanie Woods, Chloe Herrington, Josh Perl and Nicki Maher, then the wind section of Herrington, Maher and Perl add their unique touch, whilst the accompaniment of Emmett Elvin, Charlie Cawood and Ben Woolacott (which combined are a musical tour de force) bring it together in an epic sound. Whilst the brief but exciting blast of The Orphanage leaves the listener wanting more.
Send him Seaworthy is a musical smorgasboard, some great lyrics, and some fantastic musical performances, Elvin and Cawood shone here, whilst the wind section add so much to every track, whilst Kavus' unique guitar work, and his vocals are on fine form throughout this record.
That is part of the joy of a Knifeworld release, with so many talented musicians pulling together and creating an impressive sonic assault.
The music on this album is so intelligent, so well made. With such great songs like last years teaser single Don't Land on Me, with great vocal harmonies and soaring sonic soundscape, Knifeworld don't put a foot wrong musically and lyrically. This takes psychedelic and art rock prog to new areas and feels like Knifeworld are pushing the musical boundaries for no other reasons than because they can and because it's what the songs want. It's also what the listeners like as well, as musical imagination and intelligence like this, makes this album such a joy to listen to. You're never sure where each track is headed, and you get something new out of it every single time you play it. Like an elaborate musical pass the parcel every layer reveals something new.
My favourite track on the album however is the frankly sinister The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown their Eyes. With dark lyrics and stabs of brass running through the track, it's an aural equivalent of an old Tales of the Unexpected, and not to be listened to before bed. Don't have nightmares! Have Knifeworld invented the "uneasy listening" genre?
Destroy the World We Love, with great guitar work, call and response vocals, and superb musicianship, showcases a band firing on all 8 cylinders.
Kavus is superb throughout, his guitar work is a joy to behold, his vocal interplay with the rest of the band is a treat. indeed the vocal harmonies throughout the album add to the mighty musical sound, and are part of the rich tapestry that make The Unravelling such an absorbing and exciting album.
The mood changes again for the atmospheric and almost wistful This Empty Room Was Once Alive, again with some sinister undertones to the music. This could have fallen from a late 60's Hammer soundtrack.
The closing 9 minutes plus of I'm Hiding Behind My Eyes wrap up a glorious album in fine style, with more of those wonderful harmonies and some enchanting musical interplay between the band.
I haven't heard an album like The Unravelling for a very long time, with inventive and intense musical style, interspersed with some beautiful harmonies and a sense of humour. This is a really special release, and will appeal to everyone out there who enjoys the darker side of prog that Van Der Graaf Generator specialised in, whilst the musicality is for those who like their tracks intricate and complex, like King Crimson or The Fierce and the Dead. With The Unravelling, Knifeworld are rising high on the foundations they have already built for themselves and have really set the musical bar high.
Album of the year? I reckon so.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Phlox - You Will Need this Soon
Oscar November (2:54), Cover Me (4:15), Pale, Blue China (4:57), Rain and What Comes After (3:43), Fate (5:13), YWNTS (25:51), The Unknown (4:38)
Overall there is a general light psychedelic vibe to the first five tracks of the album and although the opening instrumental, Oscar November is rather a poor introduction, Cover Me with its melodic bass line underpinning the acoustic guitar is more interesting, sounding quite like The House of Love, a claim that could also be made of Rain and What Comes After and Fate. Pale, Blue China opens with the female vocals of Shehnaz Nazar in a section that is very poorly recorded, sounding like it is taken from a bootleg live tape. The second half is more sonically vibrant but, on the whole the song is rather poor, unless off key singing is your thing. The acoustic The Unknown makes a pleasing end to the album with the simplicity of the track being its main strength.
Main plaudits go to the title track which takes inspiration from the early sound of Pink Floyd, particularly in the organ department. It is a very engaging piece of music that defies the supposed improvised nature; the vocals fit in too well for it to be totally spontaneous. The group do range across different tempos and dynamics giving periods of light and shade, the heavier sections coming over particularly well. Some quite 'out there' sections sees the electric guitar soaring before returning to a rather nice melody line. A collection of nice ideas along a controlled path to chaos which is well accomplished even if the recording of the crash symbol tends to grate.
On the whole, a reasonable album particularly if you are looking for a continuation of Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets and that seminal Farfisa organ sound.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
RogerRoger - Mirror Symphony
Mirror Symphony (4:10), Convertible Crush (4:10), Hold Up! (5:10)
RogerRger is founded in 2011. Two Guitars, bass, drums and keys are the set up - each of the guys is providing vocals. This looks like real bandworking.
Their website www.roger-roger.com wasn't accessible and on their several social pages you'll find only little information in French.
RogerRoger is presenting us interesting 70s orientated rock music. Not hard rock, not heavy metal and I wouldn't say it is very progressive in the common sense either.
The three tracks on this EP are well played and hand made - and each one has it's inspiring example. Mirror Symphony reminds you at first listening of Atomic Rooster, specially Tomorrow Night. The track shows an mid-tempo rocker with fine rhythmics and heavy organ playing.
Convertible Crush is a more popular rock song - and if you're not too young the "I feel Love" melody comes right in your head. But it rocks like an early Ten Years After track.
The follow up Hold Up! is quite diversified and comes with a Doors feeling out of the speakers. The final starts right half way through after 3:02 with an extended coda which is slowing down 'til the end.
The songwriting follows classic patterns and shows up with some nice ideas here and there. The production is OK, the sound is suitable for the 70s music, I believe, that was exactly what they wanted to sound.
RogerRoger are definitely the right band for a summer open air. I am looking forward to the things to come.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tusmørke - Riset Bak Speilet
Offerpresten (8:04), Gamle Aker Kirke (8:03), Black Swift (8:40), All Is Lost (7:26), Riset Bak Speilet (14:12), bonus tracks: Mener VI Alvor Nå? (4:03), Kairo (9:40), En Verden Av I Går (10:47)
The effect of these symbiotic elements is often hypnotic and never less than totally engaging. Riset Bak Speilet has significantly grown in my estimation as I have become more familiar with it's many facets. It is an excellent amalgam of prog rock and psychedelic folk. Afficinados of bands such as Grovjobb, Trillian Green, Artsruni and Aria Palea would probably enjoy its mixture of bewitching pastoral and often fiery flute led melodies. Similarly, those who appreciate bands such as the Incredible String Band, and Comus might find aspects to enjoy within the vocal arrangements and in the vibrant mother earth ambience of the release as a whole.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tusmørke's debut Underjordisk Tusmorke reviewed in DPRP volume 76 in 2013 but Riset Bak Speilet surpasses it in almost every respect. Compositionally, Riset Bak Speilet shows an increasing maturity which perfectly complements the impression of spontaneity that is a feature of much of their work. This is particularly apparent in Black Swift and All Is Lost. These tracks are built upon their rousing and repeated vocal parts which are ruminated and delivered in various recurring guises as the tunes develop. For example, Black Swift is on the face of it an unrefined tune with a wonderful hook. Some may find that the chorus and hook that appears with monotonous regularity to be somewhat over bearing. Closer examination however, reveals a multi faceted sonic experience in which the cyclical chorus is used as an anchor for some remarkably melodic and extensive exploration. Arguably, it is these aspects that makes Tusmørke's music superficially unremarkable, but ultimately so intriguing and rewarding. Similarly, All Is Lost features a truly magnificent recurring flute riff. Although often disguised by changes in texture, tempo and emphasis the recurring riff remains identifiably interconnected and woven around the vocal phrasing and frequent chorus of All Is Lost. The effect is beguiling and enthralling.
The album features both English and Norwegian vocals. The excellent accompanying CD booklet offers English translations of the Norwegian lyrics. As a result I am able to confidently declare that the album opener Offerpresten means The Sacrificial Priest. Offerpresten is an excellent piece that is resplendently adorned by its fine flute frills and expressive vocals. As the piece develops it takes on a jazz groove that is reminiscent of the English Jazz rock movement associated with bands such as Ian Carr's Nucleus or The Keith Tippett Band. In this respect guest musician Johnny Olsen on trumpet and sax does a fine job adding to the ensembles sound. Gamle Aker Kirke is a much more tranquil piece beautifully embellished by tasteful Mellotron. It has excellent harmonies and provides a medieval soundscape to savour. Suprisingly, it also features a tastefully executed spoken interlude that had me drawing comparisons to Traffic's Hole in my Shoe. The title track Riset Bak Speilet is a fourteen minute aural experience which begins unsurprisingly, with a flute melody.This is augmented by excellent vocals and swathes of keyboards, underpinned by an excellent rhythmic bassline. The piece provides many unexpected moments as it travels towards a feverishly chaotic climax in which the raw flute work of Krizla excels. Risek Bak Speilet is reflectively trance like, yet is littered with many moments of foot pounding excitement. It is a true highlight of this very satisfying release.
To say I have been impressed and throughly entertained by Tusmørke's latest release is an understatement. It has been a constant companion in recent weeks. If you like atmospheric, folk tinged prog bustling with interesting melodies, I whole heartedly recommend that you should check it out.
If you are still not convinced, then perhaps the following random facts may well help. The CD version contains three excellent bonus tracks. Mener VI Alvor Nå? was recorded in a manure cellar. Electric guitar only features on two tracks. Bassist Benedicktator and flautist Krizla are identical twins. Apart from sharing a birthdate, Benedicktator and Krizla also share vocal duties. And last but not least, the deal clincher. Did I mention? Tusmørke have been known to wear matching cloaks!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Umphrey's McGee - Similar Skin
The Linear (3:48), Cut the Cable (3:53), Hourglass (3:23), No Diablo (4:13), Similar Skin (6:05), Puppet String (6:29), Little Gift (3:14), Educated Guess (5:48), Loose Ends (5:01), Hindsight (3:24), Bridgeless (9:00)
The immediate impression one gets on initial plays of the album is that Similar Skin has a heavier edge than previous albums which, as keyboardist Cummins confirmed in a recent DPRP interview, was an intentional move in order to try and create a classic rock album. This heaviness can be heard from the opening bars of The Linear which despite maintaining an identifiable Umphrey's sound is reinforced with lots of crashing guitars. Cut the Cable is an instant favourite, the sedate opening soon being pushed aside by twin guitars blasting away and a killer vocal from Bayliss. There is an underlying joy and feel good attitude to this song, more potent a mood lifter than a truck load of prozac. The musical and vocal harmonies are a cut above, if you'll excuse the pun. There seems to be a lot greater use of backing vocals on this album and can be clearly heard on Hourglass which, as is the case throughout the album, compliments the heavier aspects with strong vocal melodies.
No Diablo sports a slower tempo and is the first real chance to clearly hear Cummins' piano over the guitars. Again a strong vocal delivery impresses. The CD arrived wrapped in celophane and bearing a warning of "Caution Contents are Awesome!" After initially gagging on the awfully clichéd Americanism, by the time the title track fires up one is sorely tempted to actually reconsider one's vocabulary and state that by Jove, this album jolly well is quite awesome! Myers, as good a drummer as you'll find anywhere, drives Similar Skin (the song) along right from the start but it is the interplay between the two guitars at the 5-minute mark that is the real treat, with both guitars having a gloriously mellow tone.
Puppet String gives bassist Stasik a chance to hit the spotlight with a repeating riff taking prominence at different points throughout the song. Proving once again that less can be more the inclusion of sections with minimal instrumentation and lots of space juxtaposes nicely with the more all out sections. Little gift is another "in your face" song which is not a millions miles away from the original solo Cinninger demo (which was made available for fans who had pre-ordered the album). Believe it or not, the chorus sounds, to me at least, a lot like Kiss which brings forth uninvited images of Bayliss in full Starchild make-up and costume that is hard to get out of one's head! The rather abrupt ending to the song would imply that originally the song was longer but it is good to see that the group does not go in for the often aberrant belief that longer is better and are content to keep things concise when necessary. Educated Guess is the oddity of the album probably because it is the song that sounds most like it is derived from a jam session and is, accordingly, somewhat looser. It also sounds like there is a manic violin player dipping in and out throughout although as there is no violin player credited on the album, and I don't believe any of the band members are adept on that particular instrument, it is most likely a clever, and realistic, keyboard patch generating the effect. No doubt the song will come into its own on stage, particularly the powerful ending, but it lacks the compactness and cohesion of the other songs.
Things get back on track with Loose Ends which serves as a bit of breathing space with its moodier atmosphere and provides the perfect set up for the album's heaviest song, Hindsight. This number doesn't sound like McGee at all, being a sort of bastard cross between something from the British New Wave of Heavy Metal in the early 80s and Seattle grunge a decade later. Figure that one out if you can. Ending on a high, the nine-minute Bridgeless brings it all together with some intricate playing and an ebb and flow between different sections of the song. It is also one of the oldest numbers having been around for the best part of a decade. There is quite a live feel to the song as if the group were playing around a number with a predefined structure but leaving space for any improvisation if the need should arise. However, unlike Educated Guess, Bridgeless maintains the qualities of a composed song; I guess having played around with the number so much on stage the band knew precisely where they wanted to go and what they wanted to say with this piece.
As with the last couple of albums, Similar Skin was released in a variety of formats and people who signed up pre-release were offered access to a whole host of downloads including demos, live material and even instrumental versions of some tracks rendered as 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System soundtracks (so-called McNES versions) that most younger people will have no idea just how authentic they are! Across the various releases are two other new songs, the vinyl only Morning Song which is more in keeping with the album material than the other new non-album track, Room to Breathe, which is a fine song but has a different style to other tracks on the Similar Skin CD.
Umphrey's have truly delivered with this album. Even if you find the idea of jam bands an anathema I would recommend you put aside all preconceptions and take a listen to this album, it's destined to become a future classic...
Conclusion: 9 out of 10