Jerzy Antczak - Ego, Georgius
Naive (5:58), Bloody George (3:03), Escape From... (1:10), Heaven (4:04), Nebayilhaye (5:38), Don't Need You (6:38), Bottom Of My Soul (0:38), The Gods Of Our Planet (9:40), Mermaids' Song (7:09), Big Deal (1:52), Humid Tube (2:56), Waltz (7:10)
Ego, Georgius is clearly a very personal project with Antczak responsible for the words, music, guitar, keyboards, sequencers and vocals. He describes the album as "The expression of my escapism" and certainly the uncompromising and sometimes experimental sounds created here would not sit too comfortably in a democratic band environment. That said he is joined by several members of the Krakow music scene including Rafal Paszcz (drums), Krzysztof Wyrwa (bass), Karolina Leszko (backing vocals), Anna Batko (vocals) and Waldemar Nowak (guitar). The album was co-produced by Antczak and Ryszard Kramarski.
The songs range from the opening tone poem Naive with its percussive effects and minimalist arrangements to the full-on rock of Bloody George and Don't Need You. Although each track is quite distinctive, they merge seamlessly without a break into one continuous whole.
Other tracks like Heaven and Nebayilhaye build slowly with ambient keyboards and driving rhythms overlaid by Antczak's edgy guitar soloing. The near 10 minute The Gods Of Our Planet on the other hand with its bouncing synth line brings a touch of electronica to the table.
Another departure is Mermaids' Song which manages to combine middle-eastern mysticism with traditional folk conveying a world music ambiance before the Floydian Big Deal and the powerful Humid Tube sets the scene for the aptly titled Waltz which features an extended lead guitar solo.
If it was Antczak's intention to create a work that reflects his very heart and soul then he has certainly been successful. For me however, whilst impressively constructed and executed, it is perhaps a little too personal. The music is for the most part dark and solitary in tone matched by the melancholic vocals which reminded me of the Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey. File under atmospheric art rock.
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10
Astrolabio - L'Isolamento Dei Numeri Pari
E'Stato Detto Tutto (4:46), 31 Aprile (5:04), Brie-Collage (8:14), Aurora (1:01), Fotografic (5:29), Sono io o Sono Te? (Parquet) (5:31), Corso di Eurostima (1:04), Servito (4:26), Non Ricordo (10:29), Un Minuto di Silenzio per il Sistema Bancario Internazionale (Bancomat) (1:06), Pugni Chiusi (3:48)
Anyway, if you're into Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI) like me then this album does not disappoint in any department. There are clear indications of influences from RPI's heydays of the 70's like PFM, Le Orme and Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, but, in places, they also remind me of Jethro Tull. However, there is a somewhat more modern approach to their work with many of the songs having guitar dominated riffs that remind you of a plethora of other bands, and not necessarily prog bands either! As one may have guessed from the track listing, all of the songs are sung in Italian.
One thing that strikes me about this album, which, by the way, I love, is the organic sound of the band, i.e., it has a refreshing 'raw' delivery that is not overly produced like some other bands. I think this is emphasised by the many guitar riffs that punch, drive and dominate much of the music. For example in Aprile the guitar sound for the riffs has a great earthy energy that resonates and makes for an enjoyable toe-taping listen. By the way, the opening song, E'Stato Detto Tutto reminds me of the theme music to Mission Impossible!
One of the highlights of this album is the superb Brie-Collage which is replete with rhythmic patterns, quirky changes in tempo, synth solos and great vocals. Thoroughly enjoyed this one! Then there is the splendid Fotografic which contains all sorts of influences ranging from Floyd type moments to echoes of Neil Young's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. It also features some solid synth and flute work. The album also contains more acoustic moments, particularly Aurora and Corso di Eurostima, which can only be criticised for the fact that they are too short.
The Longesttrack, Non ricordo, demonstrates the bands musical prowess at delivering driving riffs but also showing a bit of their jazz-fusion side. Great guitar work here over solid drum rhythms and some more good flute work. Once again I was reminded of Neil Young in parts.
Overall this a fine piece of RPI that hits many of the right buttons. These guys are very good musicians who clearly have a panache for driving guitar riffs that forms the bedrock to many of their songs. This is one album I will listen to again and look forward to their next offering.
Alan Weston: 8 out of 10
The Blue Ship - The Executioner's Lover
CD 1: Half Life (3:59), Love Everlasting (6:17), The Breathing World (4:54), Out of the Stars and into the Sand (8:48), The Parting of the Ways (7;40), The Horror (7;40), Something to Hide from each Other (5:30), Blood and Guts (5:30), Aging Madonna (4:50), They Know Not What They Do (4:50), An Impossible Task (7:00)
CD 2: The Executioner's Lover (i. What Boiling Arms of Whales and Babes, ii. The Victim, iii. The Winds That Drug the Farm, iv. The Moon Stops Speaking) (19:12)
CD 2: The Executioner's Lover (i. What Boiling Arms of Whales and Babes, ii. The Victim, iii. The Winds That Drug the Farm, iv. The Moon Stops Speaking) (19:12)
The Blue Ship, a Glasgow collective that is the front for multi-instrumental songwriter Paul Napier, treads its own musical path. It is different and defiantly unique, away from what is thought to be traditional prog. This album has a baroque pop sensibility, not a million miles away from that of Neil Hannon, and an immense orchestral presence that reminds me of the first two ELO albums, when they focused more on musical movements than pop songs, and were all the stronger for it.
The title is reminiscent of Victorian Gothic, or a Hammer Horror film, and the songs on here are all stories, fleshed out by the musical collective that includes things as diverse as accordions, trumpets and sax, and the chamber orchestra section. All is held together by the wonderful songwriting of Paul Napier and his powerful vocals, which are very much to the fore.
In fact the whole orchestral power runs throughout this album like a stick of rock, where the solos are more likely to be violin and cello or viola, than guitar and bass. It melds the sensibilities of the traditional rock band with the chamber orchestra sound, with great success on songs like The Parting of the Ways.
Napier's vocals soar throughout the album with its mix of musical, music hall, Jacques Brel and The Threepenny Opera, giving us occasional hints of the Russell Mael or Alex Davies from Elliott Minor.
The orchestration that accompanies this album, sounds like a soundtrack for a theatrical musical story that hasn't yet been performed, and features some fantastic touches such as the epic build in the centre of The Horror, and the epic madness and the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink vibe that permeates The Parting of the Ways. We also have the fantastic bar room blues of Aging Madonna, which has elements of Nick Cave in there fighting with dramatic orchestrations, and sounds so out of time with contemporary sounds, that it's almost timeless.
Flipping the disc you come to the title track, a four-part concerto that takes up the entirety of disc two. It is as different from disc one as can be. Taking the full hints of the chamber orchestral sound that is spread throughout disc one, it unashamedly discards any of the rock elements, and is a full-on chamber orchestral delight (not what I was expecting from the title). Again it is musically superb and with some of the dramatic orchestration, bringing to mind elements of the epic music that Murray Gold composes for Doctor Who.
I very much doubt that you will currently hear an album as different and amazingly brilliant as this. I recommend that you take a voyage aboard the musical journey that The Blue Ship will take you on. You will not regret it.
James R Turner: 10 out of 10
Cecilia::Eyes - Disappearance
Bellflowers (8:22), Lord Howe Rise (7:41), Loreta (6:30), Swallow the Key (6:17), Default Descent (9:35), Isolated Shower (9:21), Reign (6:38)
They bill themselves as instrumental/shoegazing band, but I'm not sure the shoegazing tag fits them very well to be honest, as certainly if anyone says shoegazing to me I think of miserable bands from Manchester will floppy fringes from the 90s trying to hard to be Joy Division, and whilst there's a darkness to this music, it has more in common with American instrumentalists like Explosions in the Sky or post rock bands like Earth or Black Mountain.
This five piece band, Christophe Thys (guitars), Gauthier Vilain (guitars,samples) Michael Colart (guitars,bass), Paschal Thys (bass) and Xavier Waerunburgh (drums), are adept at creating ambient, atmospheric guitar driven musical collages, where it's not just the music, but the space between the music that is just as important. In other words these aren't tunes you can bop along to in the car on the way to work, and with some truly haunting guitar passages and dark moments, like in Loreta, this isn't easy listening ambient chill out music either!
Rather like Boards of Cananda do with their electronica, Cecilia:Eyes allow the tracks to build slowly until the music goes from an atmospheric background to a growling, rumbling wall of sound, a monster that takes over the room that you are in and pulls you into its world, very much a dark soundtrack for a film no-one has dared to make yet, the echoing effects and building guitars that suddenly appear from out of the ether are a work of art. Nothing is rushed, nothing is thrown into the mix because they can, anything that is played, is played because it forms a part of the soundscape.
The slow build to the musical climax in Default Descent for instance is a case in point when the drums and guitars kick in at around 5:56 to build to a superb musical coda full of power, full of inticate sounds and full of driving beauty.
Many bands in the late sixties/early seventies tried to create classical music mixing an orchestra and a rock band and hoping for the best, I would argue here that musicians like Cecilia::Eyes are creating contemporary classical music, using guitars and soundscapes to create musical movements and pieces that ebb and flow into each other, rather than writing an album full of songs.
This is immersive, intense and music that you need to listen to in full to experience its majesty and power. You can't just dip in and out of this record. It demands attention, and rewards you richly when you lose yourself in the power of these sonic travellers.
James R Turner: 8 out of 10
Episcopio Vistarama - Episcopio Vistarama
Svarovski Lunar Crystals (7:30), Longitudinale (6:43), D.L.T.F.E.Y.D. (3:30), Ubi Maior Minor Cessat (7:44), Gipron-B (Strawberry Big Forever) (18:58)
The CD bursts out of the starting gate with a fast-paced rock piece, Svarovski Lunar Crystals, containing bits of classic rock, jamband-type music and prog rock. There's a driving sound, a free-flowing guitar solo redolent of moe. and plenty of vintage keyboards. The lyrics, which throughout are in English, are sung with a wry, tongue-in-cheek effect and are simply bizarre ("Crystals I'm hoping to reach somehow with a mole-groundhog helping my hands..."). Despite this the song, overall, is a winner.
The first half of Longitudinale is sharp - it's quite progressive with a soothing flute and some crafty time changes - but disintegrates somewhat into 1980s-ish pop. D.L.T.F.E.Y.D. is, unfortunately, a sparse, eerie, and decidedly boring, throwaway. I cannot imagine what the band was thinking here. Quick redemption is gained on Ubi Maior Minor Cessat, which features bold, operatic vocals and, in real Gentle Giant style, variously twists and turns with highs and lows along its playful, progressive journey. The keyboards stand out, but all players hit their peak on this song.
The finale and longest piece, Gipron-B, again shows shades of Gentle Giant, as well as a flavour of Queen. An unexplained two-minute interlude of silence makes listening to the tune difficult, but the music on each side of the break, particularly the slightly zany, tightly performed first part, is worthwhile. The second part is less complex and, near the end, becomes repetitive, but the jazzy guitar segment is notably smooth and pleasant.
With this debut, Episcopio Vistarama has done themselves proud. No doubt, the audience for genre-mixing music of this sort is limited, but, for now, this bold band seems content to build its own style. The CD can be (cautiously) recommended for open-minded listeners, particularly those with a taste for the more free-form aspects of Italian prog.
Joel Atlas: 7 out of 10
M-Opus - 1975 Triptych
Travelling Man (7:50), Different Skies (i. Snowflake, ii. Throne of Polaris, iii. The Tempest, iv. Super Sonic Shock, v. Ancient Light, vi. S.A.D., vii. Every Day the Orbit, viii. Magnetic North, ix. Every Day the Orbit (Reprise), x. Flood, xi. Endless Echo) (33:30), Wasps (9:31)
The sound on this album is influenced by the classic acts of that era. M-Opus' core members, Jonathan Casey (keyboards, vocals, bass, guitar) and Colin Sullivan (guitars, vocals), were in The David Cross Band (ex-King Crimson) and King Crimson can certainly be heard here. The duo has however, made these templates and influences their own, adding in electronics and string orchestra, along with guest drummers Mark Grist and Aran O'Malley.
M-Opus set out their stall with the strong opener Travelling Man. There is fine interplay between the keyboards, guitars and drums, as it evolves and then returns to its origins. The organ sound on this is terrific, and Casey's voice has the pleasing timbre of Red-era John Wetton. This starts the album tremendously well.
The eleven-part epic Different Skies weds shorter sections together to form a very satisfying whole. Moving from a vocoder opening on the delightful Snowflake, through sections that give a passing nod to Pink Floyd, Van der Graff Generator, Genesis and King Crimson. Some of it is surprisingly heavy (Super Sonic Shock), whilst other parts see lovely middle-eastern tonalities leading into the string passages, then on to organ-led sections with ominous piano chords over the top. Towards its conclusion, Sullivan produces a Mike Oldfield style guitar solo, that adds even more sparkle.
It is not however, without a couple of issues. There is one clumsy transition between two of the parts, and then in part vi: S.A.D., I find the vocal melody strangely at odds with the music. But these are minor issues. Different Skies has consistently interesting and clear melodic lines that build and twist, atmospherically. It moves with a sense of purpose and never outstays its lengthy welcome.
The closing track, Wasps, is an electronic-infused, almost ambient ballad. It feels like a mix of the quieter side of Fripp and Eno with the muted, electronic experiments from Anathema's Distant Satellites album. When it seems about to start to drift, a haunting guitar soundscape arrives to keep it interesting. It is a gentle end to a great set.
This then is a very good debut. Anyone hankering after a modern take on 1975s prog, but without it being a clone or rehash of that era should pick up this recording. Anyone who wants epic prog-rock should also get this album. The cover image is great too.
I look forward to M-Opus' next release, which they say will be based on the prog of 1978. I personally can't wait.
Martin Burns: 8.5 out of 10
Snovi - Ciklus
Kava Kava (2:51), Emanacija (5:42), Ishtar (8:24), Dan San (4:49), Proton (3:44), Sapat (4:57), Sento de Autuno (5:17), Trauma (5:58), Pust (6:16)
While Snovi are the same three musicians, they've collaborated with a large number of guest musicians on this album. The first album offered an already eclectic mix of instrumental prog and electronic music, but this album takes their music to an entirely new level. This is the weirdest instrumental prog I've heard in quite a while.
While there are nine tracks, the album is actually divided into four larger cycles (hence the title). These take the listener on a magical journey across many cultures and countries. The numerous guest performances on various acoustic instruments (flute, violin, kaval, djembe, gong, mridanga, karatals and whatnot) add a certain authenticity to the music, as some of the guest performers are true virtuosos.
The space rock guitars, electronics and symphonic undertones are still there, but most of the time the band tries to blend in with the world music elements, taking more of a supportive approach. At these moments, the music works best. Other strengths occur when they craft a groovy, drum 'n bass tune like Trauma, which perfectly demonstrates the improvements in the electronic department. Elsewhere, the band are perfectly happy to just shoot themselves into outer space, with some heavenly guitar solos and fluid fretless bass playing.
Compositionally this is a lot stronger than the debut, but the expansive nature of this album ultimately results in a somewhat mixed affair. At its best you're listening to some extremely beautiful music. At its worst you're listening to boring jungle sounds or random-sounding vocal samples. Sometimes the band is on fire, whilst at other times one might wonder why they left that awkwardly-timed lick in a song. That said, it takes a lot of courage and talent to pull off such an ambitious project, and Snovi have definitely succeeded in creating something truly unorthodox with Ciklus. Actually the band deserves more credit than that, considering the amount of genres on display here. It's admirable that it turned out the way it did.
If you think you've heard it all, listen to this album. Even from a progressive rock standpoint, this is very adventurous music. While stylistically it is very different from the better known psychedelic (rock) acts, fans of Gong, Shpongle, Ozric Tentacles, Hidria Spacefolk and the likes should find something to enjoy here. If you're looking for real songs, they're not to be found here. For psychonauts only.
Karel Witte: 6.5 out of 10