Album Reviews

Issue 2014-062

Elegant Simplicity - Unforgiving Mirror

Elegant Simplicity - Unforgiving Mirror
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Format: CD/Download
Record Label: Proximity Records
Catalogue #: ESCD20131104-02
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 45:35
Info: Elegant Simplicity
Samples: Elegant Simplicity website
Track List:
Unsettles (4.13), Feels Like a Lifetime (10.06), Flurry (3.17), Un-Apology (5.14), Unforgiving Mirror (18.25), Passing Place (6.20)
Formed over 20 years ago by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Stepehn McCabe, Unforgiving Mirror is the 20th full-length album release in Elegant Simplicity's long and varied career. Featuring long term vocalist (and former Parallel or 90 Degrees member) Ken Senior and Christopher Knight on drums, Elegant Simplicity is, as it always has been, McCabe's baby.

His longevity, and the longevity of the Elegant Simplicity project lies in his songwriting ability, and his ability to evolve and keep his sound both timeless and current. I haven't heard anything by Elegant Simplicity for over a decade, and coming to this album, finds McCabe's songwriting and musical performance on fine form.

The brilliant Feels Like a Lifetime, with its beautiful vocals, its astonishing guitar solo in the centre and the whole epic sound has a Floydian feel to it, the performance throughout is superb.

Whilst other tracks like the excellently observed and, again, fantastically performed Un-Apology, all about saying sorry when we don't really mean it, or the 18 minute plus wonder that is the title track, showcase both McCabe's fantastic musical mind. The keyboard and guitar work on here is a joy to behold and his excellent choice in vocal collaborator, as Ken Senior never disappoints when it comes to the crunch. He's a fine a vocalist as anyone working out there and suits McCabe's well observed vocals perfectly.

If you've never heard any Elegant Simplicity, then you've got plenty of places to start, however I would recommend this as a good a place as any.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake - Live from Manticore Hall

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake - Live from Manticore Hall
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Manticore Records / Cherry Red
Catalogue #: MR001
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 77:58
Info: Cherry Red website
Track List:
From The Beginning (6:08), Introduction (1:04), I Talk To The Wind (5:32), Bitches Crystal (6:17), The Barbarian (6:21), Take A Pebble (5:19), Tarkus (17:07), C'est Le Vie (6:00), Pirates (13:29), Moog Solo / Lucky Man (10:35)
Like many artists who once enjoyed a successful working relationship, personal and creative differences can get in the way causing a rift that can last a lifetime (John Lennon and Paul McCartney being a prime example). Keith Emerson and Greg Lake have certainly had their differences over the years but occasionally they've been able to set aside their egos and rekindle the relationship. One such occasion was in 2010 when prior to the ELP reunion performance at the High Voltage Festival in London the pair embarked on a North American tour. Billed as "An Intimate Evening with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake" they performed ELP, King Crimson and The Nice songs to a mostly positive reception. Carl Palmer was preoccupied with his Asia and solo activities and therefore unable to take part.

Recorded during the tour (at an unspecified venue), Live from Manticore Hall unsurprisingly combines Emerson's epic productions with Lake's more introspective offerings with a King Crimson tune thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately due to the time constraints of a single CD (why not a double?) the two Nice instrumentals America and Rondo that concluded the main part of the set have been discarded (along with Keith's piano solo). What remains is a dip into ELP's successful 1970 to 1977 period although the albescence of Fanfare For The Common Man and Karn Evil 9 for example precludes this from being a 'best of'. The album title by the way refers to the mock stonewall and archway used for the stage backdrop.

Anyone that's attended one of Lake's one-man shows in recent years or has heard his Songs Of A Lifetime CD will be familiar with the presentation here. Each song is preceded by a lengthy introduction from Greg (and occasionally Keith) and although these are intended to provide an historical backstory, in truth the rambling reminisces aren't particularly enlightening. Although the stage is dominated by Emerson's familiar vintage Moog, the music for the most part has an 'unplugged' feel where Lake typically uses acoustic guitar to accompany his own songs whilst Emerson has rearranged a good deal of his parts for piano.

Proceedings get off to a fine start with Lake's From The Beginning from perhaps ELP's most underrated album Trilogy. Greg is in good voice accompanied by his own acoustic picking and Keith forgoes the noodly synth solo from the original and opts for a jazzy piano workout instead. During the Introduction Lake reveals that he and Emerson had been writing songs together just a few months earlier but 4 years on these have yet to see the light of day. Dating back to 1969, KC's I Talk To The Wind is treated with a good deal of reverence and it's quite clear from Lake's measured phrasing that he maintains a good deal of affection for these songs.

Emerson switches his electronic piano to honky-tonk mode for a rollicking version of Bitches Crystal whist his spirited Hammond rendition of The Barbarian is a welcome throwback to ELP of old. Similar to the 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert from later that same year, Keith's piano solo during Take A Pebble morphs almost indiscernibly into an abridged Tarkus and whilst the piano arrangement works for the most part, I could have easily done without the improvised Moog screeches that (almost) ruin the Aquatarkus finale.

Lake's wistful C'est Le Vie restores a semblance of order making way for probably the evening's main event and one of my personal ELP favourites, Pirates. Here there is an attempt to recapture the grandiose timbre of the original utilising backing tapes that include sampled drums and orchestral patches. The end result is a bit of a hotchpotch not helped by the uneven sound mix with Lake's voice loud and clear whilst Emerson's symphonic keys are at times disappointingly muted.

The encore is devoted to Greg's Lucky Man or at least it would have been if it wasn't for Keith's "experimental" Moog Solo introduction. The keyboardist plays on the song's war theme creating a series of gimmicky sounds vaguely similar to Rick Wakeman's solo spot on Yessongs. Otherwise the song itself is as you would expect a faithful version of probably Lake's best known tune (with the exception of a certain Christmas ditty that is).

As live albums go Live From Manticore Hall has its pluses (fine vocals, guitar and piano, inspired setlist) and its minuses (patchy sound balance, tedious talky bits, incomplete setlist) leaving this ELP fan of old to muse over what could and should have been and an almost inevitable sense of disappointment. For my final rating I did consider 6 out of 10 to be a fair score but when at the end of the show one of the pair (Emerson I think) shouts out "Prog on!" to the appreciative audience I felt compelled to add at least one extra mark.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Haken - Restoration - Duo Review

Haken - Restoration EP
Country of Origin: UK
Format: EP CD
Record Label: InsideOut
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 34:02
Info: Haken
Track List:
Darkest Light (6:44), Earthlings (7:52), Crystallised (19:22)
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
I normally steer a little clear of progressive metal if I'm honest. Yes, I love Dream Theater but some of the progressive metal spectrum is too brutal and punishing for my liking, as I've grown older I've sought something more delicate and with more light and shade to it than sheer bludgeon.

Well I must say this release has both surprised and enthralled me as it is far more interesting than I thought it would be, I'd heard a few Haken tracks before and they were fine but not enticed me into hearing a full album as such, something that on the basis of this EP I will have to reconsider I think.

Here we have a three track EP with a run time of 34 minutes issued as I presume a stopgap till their next album is finished in 2015, but this is an intelligent and worthwhile release in that it revisits and revamps three songs from their original demo (Enter the Fifth Dimension by Haken in 2007/8).

Since that time the band has both changed certain members and also evolved considerably as musicians and composers and this ep offers the opportunity to revisit those early tracks and to reimagine them into what they call "definitive versions".

Having never heard those demo tracks I cannot compare and contrast per se but I can confirm that these are all excellent pieces of music and that they have made a great 34 minutes of music here.

Opening with Darkest Light and from the off it's very interesting musically with a great interplay between the bass of Connor Green and the keyboards of Diego Tejeida also there are none of those growly death metal vocals that frankly I find utterly distasteful and distracting, so it's great to hear a proper singer in Ross Jennings whose voice is clear and distinct amongst everything that is happening here.

Opening with a keyboard riff, heavy bass and drums repeating an opening motif before the initial vocal line of "Take away my vision, shine your darkest light into my eyes", the song enters an almost electronic phase momentarily before the opening riff is repeated, yet somehow this all works well and effectively and it certainly gives a sense of balance and contrast, I feel this piece is all the better from not falling into the normal progressive metal realms of screeching vocals and lightning fast speed arpeggio's and sweep picking that a lot of bands employ.

Haken's approach is refreshing and their use of dynamics and clear vocals works in the favour, as a statement of intent and an opener this is an excellent track by any standards

Following is Earthlings which is different again, opening with keyboards creating a wide ambient soundscape and gentle acoustic guitar against which is set Ross Jennings delicate vocals, there is an almost wistful tone to this opening part of the song, it's simple but effective almost mournful but certainly not morbid this takes us to the first 4:30 before a delicate acoustic guitar break leads into "Life endless paradise beauty broken by sin" segment with some interesting vocal elements, almost chanted in parts and set against this is some eerie guitar howls the pace is heavier here but not overly so it just flexes a bit much muscle than the earlier sections before at the 7:08 returning to the gentle opening but with a few power chords adding emphasis

The final track is an epic Crystallised runs for over 19 minutes and includes cameos from Mike Portnoy (Transatlantic, Flying Colors, Winery Dogs) and Pete Rinaldi (Headspace).

Once again this piece opens with a keyboard soundscape being created and with whoops and modulations being added to great effect before an opening riff is established that will be repeated and revisited at various points throughout the songs course.

Again Ross's voice is clear and distinct and both guitar and keyboards play their part in adding emphasis and definition to this piece, in addition both seem to temper the worst excesses of each other and so whilst there is some heavy riffing and some serious guitar on here it is never merely for show or to excess and that makes a difference

At the 9:20 mark there is a multi-part vocal harmony that sounds very Tull-esque and that adds a different sound to the piece, in fact all the way through the course of these three songs Haken have not been afraid to take a different and often unusual past, subtlety rather than sheer power, a great grasp and employment of dynamics to round the songs out and enhance them.

The song itself concerns with "Escaping the past by embracing the future" which in essence is what this release is all about, taking those early demo songs, and enhancing them to embrace the future that awaits Haken. On the basis of this EP that future looks both good and also assured

As for me I will certainly be investigating earlier Haken releases as this one has impressed no end – I was expecting outright power metal histrionics and instead I find beauty subtlety and controlled power

A great little release and one that should encourage you to give a full Haken CD a through listen, I certainly shall.
Nathan Waitman's Review
Haken are one of the most promising young prog bands out there right now. They have slowly been building in popularity in the prog community and have been getting better and better with each release. They get increasingly more mature and polished with each subsequent release, culminating in what I consider one of the best releases of the past ten years, The Mountain. Now the band is back with a nice little EP as we wait for their next full-length album. This EP, appropriately titled Restoration, is actually a reworking of some of the bands early demos found on an early release titled Enter The 5th Dimension. What can be found on this release is an an interesting mixture between the band's early stages where they were just finding themselves, and the current sound of the band which is much more focused and polished. The recordings sound excellent and the band is able to show off their abilities that they have gained up to this point.

The album starts off with Darkest Light, which shows the band at their heaviest. Starting out with a fun start and stop riff, this song continues in a heavier prog metal fashion like their genre-mates Dream Theater and Symphony X. The band experiments with varied tempo and heaviness throughout the music. And, as is typical for the band, there is an excellent quirky instrumental section halfway through where keyboards and guitars play off of each other amongst tricky time signatures. These sections are what the band does best and I never get tired of hearing it. The second track, Earthlings, is much more quiet and atmospheric. It is a pleasant change from the first track. One of the things I love about this band is they never stay too long in one mood or style. They are constantly changing things up, which keeps the music entertaining and interesting. There is an otherworldly, almost spacey quality in the music. This track is definitely a grower and has become a definite highlight of this EP.

And, of course, this album ends with a near twenty minute epic called Crystallised. This is one of the bands best tracks and stands up with their other epics, Celestial Elixir and Visions. The epic format is a great way for this band to show their never-ending diversity as they travel through a variety of different styles, moods and emotions. It really is a joy to listen to- I had a huge smile on my face throughout the entire track. The beginning opens in triumphant fashion, leading into a verse with a bouncy feel alternating with a glorious, bombastic chorus. Things shift into a more classic progressive metal feel with a great instrumental section where guitars and keyboards alternate solos. At about the halfway point of the song, there is an acapella vocal counterpoint section as Gentle Giant and even Spock's Beard are famous for. It must be mentioned that Ross Jennings is an excellent vocalist and one of the highlights of this insanely talented band. This leads to a folky, medieval type section that is really a joy to listen to and further shows the diversity of this band. Not content to merely stop there, the band follows this with a section I can only describe as coming from a haunted circus. This leads into a crazy instrumental section with some funky bass playing from newcomer Connor Green among some crazy quirky time signatures and crazy playing by the whole band. This all leads into the epic finale where the chorus from the beginning is repeated to grand effect to bring everything full circle.

It is hard to do this music justice through the written word, but hopefully at the very least I was able to showcase the amazing variety that is on display throughout this short EP. This EP shows a band at the top of their game. I am left wanting more and am eager for their next album. I think it was a great idea to take some of their early demos, polish them up, and infuse them with their current sound. These three tracks, I'm sure, will become favorites in their live shows. I had the privilege of seeing this band live on the progressive nation at sea cruise, and I can assure you that they are every bit as talented live as they are on their recordings. Haken are one of the best modern-day prog bands and Restoration is the perfect treat for fans of the band who are eagerly awaiting new music. Hopefully this EP can also convert some new fans. Highly recommended!
John Wenlock-Smith: 8.5 out of 10
Nathan Waitman: 9 out of 10

Halo Blind - Occupying Forces

Halo Blind - Occupying Forces
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Nautical Records
Catalogue #: NAUTCD004
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 55:37
Info: Halo Blind
Samples: Halo Blind on Soundcloud
Track List:
Better? (4:26), Revolutionary Soul (4:21), Mirage (4:21), Saturate (5:47), Torrential (3:56), Downpour (4:06), The end of side one (1:11), Brain dog (4:33), False alarm (5:10), The puppet (3:44), Smithereens (5:09), Analogue (3:23), Coma (4:57), Control (2:33)
Some bands are obvious candidates for a bigger stage. There is a distinct vibe that you can easily put your finger on when you hear their music, you just know they are going to be massive. Hearing Radiohead perform Creep in 1992 in a small Manchester club with only forty or so people was one of those moments. Without a clue what to expect you know from a few moments in that they are destined for bigger things.

Halo Blind are such a band and Occupying Forces should be every bit as successful as something from their natural predecessors, Radiohead. Upon first listen, a rather short-sighted view of their new material may lead to an assumption that it is a direct clone and that it alludes only to the aforementioned Oxford art-rockers, a view that would eliminate the real scope and cleverness of this album. Sure, there is a tap into the days of Floydian Meddle via Ok Computer, strains of Paranoid Android and Karma Police are like threads woven into the fabric. There is clear acknowledgement from the band on this point. But they would also be at great pains to argue that this goes much further and they would be right.

Perhaps the obvious link is the fragile vocal from singer Andy Knight who manages to convey the same intensity and sometimes uncomfortable tone that Thom Yorke portrays. The impression is not a complete match to Yorke's high tenor style but a lot of Yorke's qualities are present. Knight's voice has the prettiness of Yorke's and yet there is the same alternative, slightly twisted sound and a hard-edge punch in the form of the punkish Revolutionary Soul and the dirty funk-tinged Brain Dog.

Accessible and rocking with some similarities to Muse, these two stand out as the gutsier parts of a collection of songs that hang together loosely in a concept, giving the band the closest reason for calling it progressive.

The overall theme of the content for the album moves between frustration, political apathy and a profoundly moving sadness associated with the state of the world. The latter of these is felt probably more keenly on the piano/vocal The Puppet – a tender yet uncomfortable view on our lack of intervention into the suffering around the world and delivered powerfully in the video which accompanies the song.

"Do something... about something."

In stark contrast to the subdued lament of The Puppet is the aforementioned Revolutionary Soul which takes the political anxieties and frustrations and reacts angrily in its aggressive tone, unmatched anywhere else on the album.

"Revolutionary soul
Oh God, he's coughing up blood!
We could dance, we could dance, but we don't.
And we're making it worse."

The majority of the tracks do contain a more laid back groove which underlines some very accomplished clean guitar and mellow vocals which blossom at times with an uplifting burst of intensity. Torrential is a solid example of this and reflects in other songs such as Downpour, Coma and Smithereens. The tone really fits a rainy day at the window and suits those moments of melancholia that are part of our lives. That's not to say this is a gloomy album, but without doubt at times it suits a quiet Sunday with time for reflection.

There are moments that break the flow, such as the rather smoky, brassy Jazz of End of the First Side. Short and sweet it makes a superb interlude and feels clever enough to avoid being seen as padding.

Analogue with its electronic beat and processed vocals also stands out as break in the formula with a more ambient Anathema styled connection. It trickles along at a sleepy pace, delicately tinkling like a lullaby, and ironically the line, "Wake up, you're sleeping too heavy," follows on in the disturbing Coma which has a dark lyrical ambiguity around the idea of standing up for your principles and the consequences of doing that. Without doubt, Occupying Forces is a complex sounding, progressive album with crackling moments of energy to break the casual flow. Most of the album moves between gentle moodiness and in-your-face anger with a minimal yet sonically powerful approach which can sometimes leave you breathless. It's familiarity with the influential Radiohead doesn't handicap the album any more than listening to a contemporary artist that sounds like Floyd and should not be a reason to bypass this release. Indeed the quality on offer here easily appeals and should see this band elevate towards some real commercial success.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Help Yourself - Re-affirmation

Help Yourself - Re-affirmation, An Anthology 1971-1973
Country of Origin: UK
Format: 2CD
Record Label: Cherry Red / Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC22459
Year of Release: 1917/1972/1973/2014
Time: CD 1: 77:32
CD 2: 69:16
Info: Cherry Red website
Track List:
CD 1: Running Down Deep (3:38), I Must See Jesus for Myself (4:02), Paper Leaves (3:06), Old Man (6:41), Deborah (3:25), Street Songs (5:35), Strange Affair (3:26), Brown Lady (4:46), Heaven Row (4:18), The All Electric Fur Trapper (9:32), Deanna Call and Scotty (3:50), Many Ways of Meeting (3:55), Alabama Lady (4:05), Re-affirmation (12:38), Passing Through (4:34)
CD 2: She's My Girl (3:35), American Mother (7:46), Mommy Won't Be Home for Christmas (3:24), Johnny B Goode (3:37), Candy Kane (4:15), Who Killed Paradise? (3:45), It Has to Be (12:21), Man, We're Glad to Know You (3:23), Blown Away (4:25), Virginia (3:44), I've Got Beautiful You(4:53), Eddie Waring (14:04)
If you are a fan of classic progressive rock, this is not likely to be your cup of tea. Help Yourself do not flaunt their classical influences and keyboard solos are kept to a minimum. The "Helps" were an early 1970s UK band whose music fell somewhere between Southern California style country rock and San Francisco style psychedelic, jam bands. They were United Artists label mates of Brinsley Schwartz and Man and their music bears similarities to both of those bands.

Help Yourself were blessed with a talented singer, guitarist, keyboard player, and songwriter in Malcolm Morley. The first 6 songs on this set come from the band's self-titled debut lp and they show Morley 's song writing roots. The mood is very much in the Crosby Stills Nash and Young style with Old Man recalling Neil Young's early works. The harmonies are light and Richard Treece adds some subtly effective guitar licks. I Must See Jesus for Myself is a rollicking piano driven gospel number that sets the toes to tapping, while Deborah is a sad, wistful ballad that mostly features Morley on piano. All in all, the 6 tracks are a nice beginning but they only hint at things to come.

Strange Affair, the band's second LP, saw a whirlwind of change within the band. Stalwart bass player Ken Whaley had departed and guitarist Richard Treece was moved to bass. Guitarists Ernie Graham and Jo Jo Glempser were brought on board, only to both leave during the album's recording sessions. Treece was returned to his lead guitar post and roadie Paul Burton was elevated to the bass playing position. Despite it's troubled birth, Strange Affair was a major step forward for the band. Malcolm Morley 's songwriting skills had grown tremendously since the band's tentative debut. The title track is a stomping piano driven, rocker with a lyric that could've been penned by Ray Davies. The track is infectious, good timey, and nearly perfect. Brown Lady is an acoustic driven, country ballad with tasteful guitar by Treece. Heaven Row revisits gospel territory with a rollicking piano and female backing vocals. The All Electric Fur Trapper ups the ante quite a bit. It is a 9 minute and 32 second slice of guitar nirvana. It is not a jam but rather a beautifully structured piece, featuring subtle changes and some stunning guitar work. In my opinion, comparisons to vintage Wishbone Ash would not be unfair. Deanna Call and Scotty and Many Ways Of Meeting round out the songs from Strange Affair. They are both gems and show that Morley was on a roll and dealing nothing but aces.

Many people view Beware the Shadow as being the band's strongest album. This compilation features 5 tracks from the album. Three close out disc 1, the remainder lead off disc 2. Alabama Lady is another sprightly, country rocker that is easy to sing along with. Re-affirmation picks up where The All Electric Fur Trapper left off. It is 12 minutes plus of driving guitar driven jam that foreshadowed the band's move into a territory occupied by their Welsh friends in the Man-band. This is a powerful piece of work with some intricate and exciting playing. Help Yourself were on a roll!

Unfortunately, disc 2 is a slight letdown from the glories of disc 1. It is a grab bag of semi rarities and obscure tracks, and it tends to be a bit inconsistent in style and tone. She's My Girl is another wistful, country-flavored ballad from Beware the Shadow. American Mother is one of my favorite tracks from this compilation. It is a 7 minute plus track that shows the Helps at their best. It is a gritty, guitar-driven rocker that builds into something special. Richard Treece shows himself to be a guitarist to be reckoned with and the band delivers the goods. Mommy Won't Be Home for Christmas and it's flip side Johnny B Goode are taken from a rare 45. Nice enough to have but nothing earthshaking.

The next 5 tracks come from The Return of Ken Whaley LP. The prodigal bassist had returned to the fold and the band's sound was becoming looser and the songs were becoming less endearing. Candy Kane is a decent rocker but it shows little of the enthusiasm that was found in the band's earlier work. The country influences had been wrung out of the band and they began to travel a road that was taking them closer to Man. The musicianship remained first rate but the melodies had become run of the mill. Paradise is a gritty rocker and It Had to Be brings thoughts of the Grateful Dead with its intricate guitar play. Man, We're Glad we Know You tips its cap to the Man-band in words and in style. Virginia features Vivian Morris on vocal and Man member Martin Ace on guitar, while I've Got Beautiful You features Ace on bass and lead vocals. They are from the Happy Days LP which was given away free with The Return Of Ken Whaley LP. They are ok songs but mostly feature Help Yourself as sidemen. Eddie Waring sends the album out with a bang. It is a live track from the Christmas at the Patti double 10" LP and it's 14 minutes of guitar frenzy. Man stalwart Deke Leonard, BJ Cole, Richard Treece, and Malcolm Morley take turns soloing while a rhythm section of Paul Burton and Dave Charles kicks them relentlessly onward.

Things soon fell apart for Help Yourself. Malcolm Morley and Ken Whaley joined Man and Help Yourself was no more. To me, this isn't a "best of" Help Yourself. There are tracks from Strange Affair and Beware the Shadow that are better than some of the things on disc 2. Nonetheless, this anthology does a good job of pulling the various pieces of Help Yourself together in a neat little 2CD package. When you add in the fact that the sound quality is first rate, you get an excellent value for your money. If you're not familiar with Help Yourself I suggest that you check them out. I think that you'll like them.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Bertrand Loreau - Spiral Lights

Bertrand Loreau - Spiral Lights
Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: Spheric Music
Catalogue #: 6302
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 72:37
Info: Bertrand Loreau
Track List:
Séquence Souvenir/Sequence Memory (9:25), Arc En Ciel/Rainbow (5:52), Cerfs Volants/Kites (6:58), Rue Colbert/Colbert Street (7:01), Libourne, Pt. 1 (4:50), Libourne, Pt. 2 (20:25), Libourne, Pt. 3 (13:18), Libourne, Pt. 4 (4:46)
Following the fine CD Nostalgic Steps, French keyboardist Bertrand Loreau has released another CD of electronic music. According to the promotional material, Loreau's main focus here is "the sequences that [are] the typical character of Berlin School inspired tracks"; the music will show "the influence of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, but also the typical Loreau style that adds romantic and harmonic melodies." The description is certainly fair. This is multi-layered electronic music that, like other Loreau CDs and unlike some electronic music, is far more than auditory wallpaper and deserves careful listening (preferably with headphones).

The opener, Séquence Souvenir/Sequence Memory, creates optimism about what is soon to come: it's intricate and harmonious throughout, and the rounded sounds are particularly pleasant. The next tune, Arc En Ciel/Rainbow, is less successful, though: little is layered onto the repeating sound cycle, rendering the tune monotonous. Much better is Cerfs Volants/Kites: the overarching atmosphere is broader and kaleidoscopic, and a punchy, crisp, moog-like solo near the end adds even more interest. Rue Colbert/Colbert Street, the sound of which is particularly reminiscent of Larry Fast's Synergy music, lacks much action, and the drumming, albeit electronic, doesn't blend well with the synthesized sound. The Libourne suite, consuming more than half of the CD, shines. The combination of lush backgrounds, crisp solos (evoking the keyboard work of the late Alan Gowen), and choral sounds makes the entire suite memorable.

It is impressive that, although Loreau is quite prodigious, he keeps the quality of his music consistently high. Fans of earlier Loreau CDs will find in Spiral Lights everything they like, and new listeners - particularly fans of Larry Fast - may well also be intrigued. At the very least, the CD serves as an excellent ambassador for the genre and is for that reason alone worth hearing.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Modest Midget - Crysis

Modest Midget - Crysis
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 48:39
Info: Modest Midget
Samples: Modest Midget website
Track List:
The Grand Gate Opening (1:53), A Centurion's Itchy Belly (4:34), Rocky Valleys of Dawn (3:53), Praise The Day (2:50), Now That We're Here (3:42), Periscope Down (3:52), Pretty Woman (2:25), Flight of The Cockroach (2:39), Secret Lies (6:19), Gone Is (3:49), Crisis (Awake of the Sheep) (7:10), Birth (5:27)
Crysis, the second album by Dutch band Modest Midget, is my first exposure to this most idiosyncratic of bands and is the follow-up to their 2010 debut The Great Prophecy Of A Small Man. The mainstay of the band is Lonny Ziblat (guitars, keyboards, vocals) with Willem Smid (drums), Maarten Bakker (bass) and Tristan Hupe (keyboards) being the core band that started the album, although Hupe left the group during the recording sessions. Other contributors include Emiel de Jong (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones), Dimitar Bodurov (accordion), Yael Shachar (violin and viola), Jurriaan Berger (keyboards), Eduardo Olloqui (oboe), Sanne Vos (sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders), and Anna Zeijlemaker (flutes and alto flutes). The interesting mix of instruments results in some quite unique sound textures cleverly combined and making good use of Ziblat's masters degree in classical composition.

However, the album is far from a standard album with classical, or pseudo-classical arrangements providing backing but is a very varied mixture extending from the sublime to the ridiculous (in a positive way). Things start very proggy and ethereal with sweeping synths announcing The Grand Gate Opening which leads into the marvellously named A Centurion's Itchy Belly which musically is as quirky as the title. The opening lays promise to an epic prog number when all of a sudden things take an unexpected twist. I admit that the first time I played the album I did wonder what on earth was going in as the instrumental piece sounds like a Russian folk tune on acid. However after a few spins I really came to enjoy the piece which is very amusing and, in some ways, not too far removed from something The Cardiacs would have come up with, particularly Bodurov's manic accordion solo.

The first song, Rocky Valleys of Dawn is quite a straight forward rocker with the odd twist here and there. Ziblat has a clear and confident voice and Bakker's bass takes a prominent role. Praise The Day is an acoustic ballad whose strength is in its simplicity, with acoustic guitar and piano, both played by Ziblat, being the main drivers. Smid's drums are sympathetic and understated and the introduction of a brief string backing towards the end is masterful. Hupe makes his first contribution to Now That We're Here which encapsulates two sides of the bands in one piece. The vocal section is rather grandiose and earnest the bubble of which is firmly popped by incursions of mores Cardiacs-like lunacy, which is very enjoyable!

Periscope Down has a strong melody which has some rather Beatlesesque qualities. It is also the only original composition whose music is not written by Ziblat, the credits going to bassist Bakker. A cover of Roy Orbison's Oh Pretty Woman is about as far removed from the original as one could imagine and does what any great cover should do, totally reinterpret the song into inspired lunacy. Speaking of which, Flight of The Cockroach is completely insane, Zappa style prog with lots of intricate playing and odd time signatures abound. Secret Lies is a grand piece, dramatic and modestly overwrought, having the potential to be transformed into a huge production number if budgets allowed. But even without such financial extravagance the band has provided enough for one to hear the ideas, with the choral backing vocals, the big riffs and the emotive guitar solo. Epic.

The sublime part of the album arrives in the form of Gone Is, the second of three tracks featuring the four-piece band and recorded before Hupe's departure. A beautiful love song which is all one really needs to know about it. The proggiest track of the album is, inevitably, the longest one. Crisis (Awake of the Sheep) is the song featuring the saxophones, flutes, recorders and oboe and is very, very good. Ziblat's style of composing has a broad range but on this track everything comes together to generate a fantastic piece of music that weaves in and out with each instrument providing exactly what is needed and no more. There is great depth to the piece and each hearing reveals new parts and phrases that had previously remained hidden. I can see that given the opportunity, Ziblat could go on to score major works of modern classical music, perhaps even successfully merging the rock and classical worlds. Birth somewhat ironically, provides the ending of the album and is one of the more regular numbers, again featuring the four-piece band. A positive finale with fine performances from the whole group, with particularly good guitar flourishes throughout. The perfect closing song if only for the reason that after it finishes I really wanted to play the whole album again!

Crysis is something of a breath of fresh air as it is not that often when one comes up against something that is both original and goes against the current musical climate. I can say from experience that it does take a while for the album to make sense - when I first played it I did wonder what on earth was going on and if I had picked a clunker for review. However, as I got more used to hearing how the different styles juxtaposed against each other and following a particularly epiphanous moment driving from work as A Centurion's Itchy Belly filled the interior of the car, I began to see the light. Ok, maybe a lot of people will be alarmed by the quirkier moments and find the diversity a bit too extreme but for those who enjoy an adventurous, even playful, musical ride then Modest Midget may provide a grand journey.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Newspaperflyhunting - Iceberg Soul

Newspaperflyhunting - Iceberg Soul
Country of Origin: Poland
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 52:00
Info: Newspaperflyhunting on Bandcamp
Samples: Newspaperflyhunting on Bandcamp
Track List:
My Iceberg Soul (3:54), Through the Lurking Glass (5:41), The Third Sun (9:26), Stop Flying (6:20), Lighthouse (6:33), Grassmemory (4:08), Looking through the Glass (7:58), Your Iceberg Soul (7:40)
This band with that funny name Newspaperflyhunting was formed in 2006 in Białystok, Poland. They describe their music as "a sort of prog/post/space rock, full of longing and melancholy, with rays of light scattered throughout". After their first full length album, No12listen, which was released back in 2012, this is their second album titled Iceberg Soul.

The album consists of 8 tracks. The band delivers the sense and intended use of the album to the listener via their bandcamp-site. "Over 50 minutes of dark and melancholy progressive/post/space rock. Dreamy and atmospheric. Music for autumn evenings and winter nights." The band seems to be clear about what you can expect - as you can read it lacks anything like "fun" or enjoyable music. In this sense, Newspaperflyhunting live up to that description. However, they are wrong in using the term "progressive rock" as it is something different than what most of our readers expect from that.

The opening track starts with some wind and water noises and and a simple line sounding like bells gives us the main theme. The tempo is as slow as you would expect. This tune shows the complete elements of the whole album: it is repetitive in a way you can call monotonous or meditative. No surprises and mainly build of two or three chords. And no, please don't think of Status Quo.

Through the Lurking Glass brings in the new element of changing loud and quiet passages. There are no melodies or riffs that you will keep in mind at once. If you would await something really different in the first long track The Third Sun you will be dissappointed. It is just longer. There are a few nice ideas around minute 6 to 7, a little call and response and some charming singing. At times the ladies tune in singing, the music gets of course another touch, which is sounding a lot of more comfortable.

After Stop Flying, which does not really brings anything new to your ears, you will finally find an increase of speed of the music. Though the Lighthouse is usually a massiv and solid standing building, this piece comes up with a light and speedy tune. Still of course nothing to frighten you heart. But it seems to be a shock for the band itself, as they fall back halfway through into old patterns.

Grassmemory slows down again. Starting with some cello you will hear a slow melody, and the bell-sound of track 1. Looking through the Glass is the second longest track of the album. Starting very slow, quiet and almost relaxed, it is taking over 3 and a half minute before something happens. Not too much, though, but it get's a bit louder and... there are indeed some breaks and harmony changes until the tracks moves towards, at least for this album, a surprising end.

The last track Your Iceberg Soul is again dark, moody, and slow. Repeating the theme chords and the chorus line (same as in track one) about a hundred times doesn't make it an earworm either. Sometimes this works, sometimes it does not. Here is no suspense, it is just an repeatition of insignificiant chords. In the end we get predictable sounds again, wind and storm fitting to the opening.

All in all this album will surely find some friends, but I suppose only few. I am close to say it's boring as you really have to search for interesting parts. The tracks are mainly trivial, and the sound is constant. This is no album you show your friends or you will on a party. As intended: music for (lonely) autumn evenings and winter nights.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Transatlantic - KaLIVEoscope

Transatlantic - KaLIVEoscope
Country of Origin: various
Format: 3CD
Record Label: InsideOut
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 3CD: 53:40 + 66:32 + 62:39
Info: Transatlantic
Track List:
CD 1 (Live in Tilburg): Into the Blue (27:49), My New World (18:28), Shine (7:23)
CD 2: The Whirlwind Medley (30:12), Beyond the Sun (4:50), Kaleidoscope (31:30)
CD 3: Neal & Roine Duet (4:34), We All Need Some Light (6:05), Black as the Sky (7:22), Nights in White Satin (8:09), Sylvia (4:46), Hocus Pocus (7:09), Medley: All of the Above / Stranger in Your Soul (24:34)
While the world seems to go mad, with the impacts of the ongoing climate change emerging anywhere, the threatening global pandemic spread of the ebola virus reaching the European and American coasts and new war situations arising everywhere, there is always the reassuring certainty that after a Transatlantic studio album an extensive live album will be released. So with the Kaleidoscope album released in early 2014 to high acclaim and a hugely successful tour supporting the album it was simply a matter of time for a new live set to be waiting for. And now it's here under the slightly confusing title KaLIVEoscope, containing 2 DVDs recorded during the Cologne gig of March 9 and 3 CDs recorded in the O13 venue in Tilburg, the Netherlands, on March 13 and 14 in this year. This review is of the 3CD as I didn't have the 2DVD.

The music on the discs is from both nights, albeit with the emphasis on the second night, also the closing night of their 6-week tour but one (see also the gig review of these nights). The O13 in Tilburg seems to be a favourite venue for this incredible band which is illustrated by the many humorous talks with the audience by Mr. Portnoy in-between the songs and, especially, during the encores. It may become a bit annoying to hear those same jokes over and over again but it shows so well that this band, only together for a short time because their day-to-day jobs demand most of their time, enjoy themselves hugely when playing together live as being Transatlantic. They were accompanied by Ted Leonard (Enchant, Spock's Beard) who proved remarkably easy (to learn all those epics!) how extremely well he fitted in the live band, taking on guitar, percussion and keyboard duties but also delivering some nice vocals, sometimes helping Neal Morse out (who suffered from a cold at the end of the tour, but that is hardly audible). The enthusiasm and the enormous energy these guys expand into the audience are on their own more than enough reasons to purchase this live set. But you also get an outstanding 3 (!) hours of beautiful, energetic, soulful and moving epic music, warmly welcomed by and, during the inevitable We All Need Some Light but also during All of the Above, very well sung by the audience.

For those familiar with the band they know you can expect full renditions of many epics during a Transatlantic gig. Apart from The Whirlwind, that is cut down to a 'short' version of slightly more than 30 minutes, that's exactly what you get. The Kaleidoscope album is played in full, starting off with the fantastic Into the Blue that turns out to be a ideal epic to start off a gig because of its energy, its variation giving Mike Portnoy the chance to welcome the audience, and its length. The live versions stick close to the studio versions but are a bit more energetic, a bit more raw, a bit less perfect and therefore very attractive.

Beyond the Sun is an exception; it starts as an a capella song, sung by Neal Morse in spite of a nasty cold he suffered during the last legs of the tour. At 1:30 he adds some mellotron, other keys and piano, while at 3:00 Roine Stolt comes in with some slide guitar notes, making this song far more fragile than on the studio album; very well done! And this version was only decided upon a couple of days before this recording was done!

In-between the Kaleidoscope songs are songs from all other studio albums, including My New World which they haven't played live for more than 10 years. Probably the only 'down' side is that you hear so much good and complex epics music that it is hard to distinguish which part belongs to which song. Well, that's a problem most of us can live with!

As an encore they also played some new covers. Nights in White Satin is beautifully played and sung and sounds remarkably well like the original. Quite unlike the originals are the two Focus covers that were played on the first night in Tilburg, together with Mr. Focus, Thijs van Leer himself. Both Sylvia and Hocus Pocus are powerful and well-played although Roine Stolt sounds a bit hesitant in the solo (he misses a few notes). The singing is good too, including the characteristic yodelling by Thijs Van Leer, to the utmost cheer of the audience and the band.

The listener is again the big winner with this huge live set. Transatlantic have delivered another gem in the form of this 2DVD & 3CD live package. You may have heard some of these songs in a live form already but this set adds something special to your collection because of the Kaleidoscope songs, the nice combination of All of the Above with Stranger in Your Soul, and the cover versions.

Great stuff, great band, highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

United States of America - The Columbia Recordings

The United States of America - The Columbia Recordings
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC2449
Year of Release: 1968/2014
Time: 70 minutes
Info: Esoteric Recordings website
Samples: Last FM website
Track List:
The American Metaphysical Circus, Hard Coming Love, Cloud Song, The Garden of Earthly Delights, I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You Sugar, Where Is Yesterday, Coming Down, Love Song for the Dead Che, Stranded in Time, The American Way of Love
bonus tracks: Osamu's Birthday, No Love to Give, I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar (first version), You Can Never Come Down, Perry Pier, Tailor Man, Do You Follow Me, The American Metaphysical Circus (alternate version), Mouse (The Garden of Earthly Delights), Heresy (Coming Down)
The late 1960's were an incredibly fertile and experimental time both in the UK and across the water. Originally released in 1968, this the debut (and only album) by this experimental five-piece is a testament to musical vision and experimentation. Fitting nicely into any home that has a Velvet Underground or Frank Zappa collection, this is the sound of the underground.

Led by founder member Joseph Byrd and with the gloriously deadpan vocals of Dorothy Moskowitz (who later joined Country Joe and the Fish) this is wonderful remaster collects the album, and other demos and singles, and with an illuminating essay by Sid Smith is an excellant package.

The music inside from the opening The American Metaphysical Circus, with its psychedelic tilt a whirl opening leadng into a dense and claustrophobic psychedlic work-out, with jarring sounds and colliding moods. Unique at the time, the band were avant garde experementalists working in a rock environment, without the use of a lead guitar at any point. Instead the other musicians come to the fore, whether it be Gordon Marrons distorted violin, Rand Forbes bass,or Byrds wide array of treated soundscapes and piano and organ, whilst Moskowitz detached vocals also get filtered through an array of sound.

Their compositional style is a kaledeiscope of effects and then the hard rocking Hard Coming Love veers in a totally different direction, more improvised blues rock with the howling violin like the lead guitar, giving an added dimension to the sound. Whilst the jaunty I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar is one of those songs that has great up jaunty music, with disturbing lyrics, that to the modern ear are quite misogynistic. With the organ of Byrd throughout the album adding overtones of The Doors, this is much further out that Sham Shaman Jim ever travelled. The closing suite on the album, The American Way of Love mixes moods and lyrics, and as the title suggests, this is very focused on the bands home country. With some great musical performances from the band, with more of the violin as lead instrument.

The bonus tracks include some interesting demo's of the albums material, and a couple of tracks recorded when Moskowitz ousted Byrd from the band that he had formed, with a totally different line up and a more conventional rock sensibility. However at their finest, The United States of America worked when they were channeling the avant garde and not trying to be every other rock band.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
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