Ampledeed - BYOB
Triple Cancer Moon (6:45), My Plane (3:29), You're A Libra... And She's A Bitch (5:42), Garden Gnomes (4:24), Monolithium (7:10), I Will Not Wait (3:34), On My Mind The Gap For Kids In The Hall Of Fame By Fame (1:18), Steve Lied (2:49), The Space Between Your Face (5:10), The Greatest Gatsby (9:46), Muffin Man (6:59)
While the band's musical heart definitely lies in the progressive mold, they have successfully managed to incorporate a number of different styles amongst the grooves (yes, I know it is a CD but it sounds way better than amongst the digital pits!). Principal amongst these are the jazz fusion aspects of Monolithium, the Beatles-esque beginnings to Muffin Man, the excellent heavy prog stylings of The Greatest Gatsby, and Taylor's solo piano piece On My Mind The Gap For Kids In The Hall Of Fame By Fame, which has a touch of the Hatfield And The North about it.
Lyrically the band are just as diverse, with the freeloading Steve getting his come-uppance on Steve Lied, and the cautionary tale of You're A Libra... And She's A Bitch. It is obvious that a great deal of time and effort has gone into the vocal arrangements, and the inclusion of the two female vocalists adds a lot to the enjoyment of the album. This is particularly true on the excellent opening number Triple Cancer Moon, which features all five vocalists, and I Will Not Wait, which just features Allie Taylor on a more avant garde piece, played in multiple different time signatures, all at the same time. The more quirky My Plane features a number of interesting guitar runs, both up-front and in the background, while The Space Between Your Face probably packs in too many ideas for a five-minute piece to comfortably contain.
Overall, BYOB is quite a compelling album and one that tends to reveal more with every listen. Not an entirely comfortable, easy listening experience, as there is a lot that challenges, and some very complex interactions between the various instruments. There is a certain affinity with the Crimson style of composition, although resulting in a totally different sound, but one that I am sure fans of the Crimson Kings will be drawn to.
Despite being rather a bit too disparate for frequent airings on the stereo, thanks to the inclusion of a handful of killer tracks and an overall sense of fun and enjoyment, BYOB will happily find a home in my collection and is certainly well worth checking out for fans of the rather more off-beat aspects of progressive rock.
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10
Ed Bernard - Polydactyl
Symfoprogru (3:18), Derealization (8:14), Entitled (4:00), Eyes Everywhere (7:32), Running (6:12), Withywindle (3:35), 1000 Hates (5:58),The Quiet Race (5:54), Bring it home (3:10)
As the album moves forward, Derealization is the longest track and is a great mixture of modern prog metal and classic symphonic elements. Eyes Everywhere and Running, with its effective vocal harmonies, run together to play like a entertaining long-form Yes song. One of the truly enjoyable things about Polydactyl is the amount of musical variety that is displayed on the album. One example of this is the instrumental track, Withywindle. Driven by string and wind instruments, it is a fantastic piece of music, and harkens back to classics by Steve Hackett or Mike Oldfield. The mixing of string instruments, hard rock and even fusion elements throughout the album is very effective. The Quiet Race, with its majestic guitar driven chorus, is one of the strongest tracks and Bring it Home is a perfect, folk-driven closer. I have probably called out more references to others in this review than I normally do, but as mentioned, Polydactyl certainly displays its influences broadly. In the album notes, even Stevie Wonder is called out and that admiration can be heard in the song Entitled. Yes-meets-Stevie Wonder is an interesting combo to consider, and this song gives some indication of what that may sound like. Though there is a lot of influence at play on this album, Ed certainly mixes things up in an interesting fashion.
That said, I don't want to take away from Ed's talents by making the album sound like a complete exercise in mimicry. That is not the case and Ed is a very gifted musician. He plays the majority of instruments, short-of the drums and it's tough to find fault with any of the performances. The vocal work doesn't always match the instrumentation, but that is not to say the vocals are poor. It is more a testament to the strength of the music and production. In fact, Polydactyl is actually better than much of the recent material released by the artists and bands it emulates. No doubt that this is a debut album worth checking out.
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10
Elegant Simplicity - All Life Is One
Master of Shadows (10:22), Falling to the Ground (7:32), All Life is One (9:08), Love is Transferred (6:14), Tin Rattler (7:45)
There is a definite neo prog vibe displayed throughout each track and the instrumentation resembles bands like Camel, Genesis and Barclay James Harvest. Steven in no way attempts to reinvent the wheel here and the album plays like a homage to the great 70s prog sound, all the way down to the keyboard sounds used. Though the album is definitely rock in nature, there is often a jazz fusion or jam band groove to the music. There is an improvised quality to much of the proceedings, but that may not be the case considering the one-man band nature of Elegant Simplicity.
Falling to the Ground and Love is Transferred are the two tracks that feature vocals, and are more concise in terms of structure. The rest of the album is made up of extended instrumentals. The actual musical performances throughout are impressive, but one key challenge that I have with All Life is One is the general sameness of much of the material. Even the vocal tracks somewhat meld in, without a lot to distinguish them from the tone of the rest of the album. A predominantly instrumental album can be exciting, but variety is an essential element. It's not that the material on this album isn't entertaining to a certain extent, but from my perspective, it all runs together to really resonate in a substantial way.
The bottom-line is that Steven and the musicians has he assembled on this album are very talented. There are individual performances that are strong and the inclusion of flute, violin and sax really adds some flavor. Also, from a songwriting standpoint, there are some engaging melodies to be found and there is a lot to admire about the album. This is a good album that could have been great, had there been a bit more diversity in the arrangements and overall style.
Patrick McAfee: 6.5 out of 10
Liserstille - Empirical Ghost
Capsules (7:00), Gold Future (5:29), Hymn to the Past (1:12), Wallmark (3:53), This Wonderful You (6:30), Zenith (12:08), Hymn to the Sorrow Squad (1:48), Harlequin's Tale (6:57), Precognition (6:43), Hymn to the Echo (1:23)
Empirical Ghost has been in my car stereo for quite some time in the past weeks, and it made each trip through the Dutch countryside a very intense one indeed. The dynamics and overall sound is well mixed, and the ambient parts really come out very well. The band has really grown on this album, and it goes without saying that the different members are responsible for that, just as much as Randall Dunn, who mixed the album. After his work with the American power ambient-band Sun O))), Randall has delivered again, by creating a wonderful soundscape for this band to expand their sound.
From the opener Capsules, to closer Hymn to the Echo, this album has a lot to offer, but the stand-out tracks for me are Capsules, Zenith and Precognition. Each are full of power and epic proportions.
Since this album was released, the band has also released a live album called Midnight Wave. The tracklist of this live effort obviously contains a lot of songs from this album, accompanied by tracks from their other discs, which are well worth checking out. Liserstille is a great band and probably the best in Denmark to my ears. It is a band to keep in mind when you are looking for some powerful and atmospheric sounds.
Arno Agterberg: 8 out of 10
Messenger - Threnodies
Calyx (6:36), Oracles Of War (8:34), Balearic Blue (6:34), Celestial Spheres (6:09), Nocturne (5:22), Pareidolia (7:47), Crown Of Ashes (5:15)
Described by the band as dwelling tonally in the earthly realm of folk music and in the celestial void of progressive psychedelia, the album reflects this, but with added rock and blues. Elements of the Echoes era of Pink Floyd are spread through the album, as are the influences of newer bands such as Radiohead or Mastodon.
I found myself thoroughly enjoying the sound of the album, finding the solos in particular to be very effective. While I wouldn't describe them as ever being mentioned in any top 50 lists or anything like that, the execution of the solos is perfect, and fits in brilliantly where they are placed, with the fuzz effect on them being worked in very well.
As described, the album is very routed in the sound of 70/80s prog rock and psychedelia, but with an amount of stoner rock and straight-up prog rock added into the mix. Celestial Spheres for example has a sound very much like a cross between Pink Floyd (The Wall) and blues. With this formula, the band is carving a path through the mundane sound of music these days, creating wonderful textures and atmospheres. They combine the best from all their influences, but with none of the downsides.
If this band is not performing high up on festival bills, or indeed headlining in the next decade, I would be very surprised. If you're a fan of any of the bands mentioned here, go and listen to Messenger. You will not be disappointed.
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10
Moonlight Sky Trio - Changing Parameters
Seven Gringos (5:28), Labyrinth (5:38), Intermission Outside (0:46), People (7:12), Intermission Inside (1:04), Microcosm (5:20), Fish Life (2:58), Of A Different Beat (3:39), Big Whale (7:52), In The Centre (4:44), Bonust track: Of A Different Beat (3:41)
The principal voice of the trio is the virtuoso performance of composer and guitarist Miha Petric. He fully utilises both acoustic and classical guitars, to produce a series of compositions that contain great variety, and incorporate a dreamscape of moods.
Petric's inspiring contribution continually stirred my emotions, and is a major factor in making the album so enjoyable. His fluid style and emotive playing is totally captivating, and made me realise that I had not enjoyed the acoustic guitar as much in an album, since becoming bewitched by Steve Elliovson's stunning performance in his Dawn Dance collaborative album with Colin Walcott.
Electric guitars are used sparingly, and when they are, the album becomes drenched in fast-moving torrents of swirling distortion. Much of Petric's approach reminded me of Al Di Meola, and a number of the compositions in Changing Parameters contain a sweet mixture of acoustic and electric Latino flavours that can be compared to Di Meola's satisfying Elegant Gypsy album.
The brilliant Microcosm for example, is totally convincing in its attempt to channel the spirit of Elegant Gypsy and impress. It is a superbly-crafted fusion masterclass, which oozes with heartfelt emotion, containing dashing lines and dazzling flourishes.
Nevertheless, over the course of the album the Moonlight Sky Trio demonstrate that they have their own voice and style. Although they primarily use jazz rock motifs, their approach also fuses a variety of styles. Some tracks, such as Of A Different Beat, incorporate folk-based melodies and have a traditional feel. Other tunes such as Big Whale, owe more to blues rock, than to jazz. This combination of styles helps to make the album so appealing.
It is difficult to pick out a specific standout track, as all have likeable aspects, but the impressive bass work in Labyryinth gives that piece an extra gloss. However, it was the beautiful melody of People that remained embedded in the memory, long after it had finished.
This is an album that will appeal to anybody who enjoys carefully constructed fusion music, played with warmth and with a great deal of skill. I enjoyed it immensely!
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10
None Other - Than the Common Plague [CD/book]
The Beast is Yet to Come (2:11), Lie to Me (1:30), Bearer (4:45), Seven months (4:46), Torpor Serving (4:51), I Replicator (5:40), 'n Hand Vol Here (7:57), Nausea (5:20), Dread in the Water (4:11), Rieux (4:32), No Decorum (6:56)
After releasing his first two concept albums under his own name (Just Another Story and Wounds), the Greek, classically-trained multi-instrumentalist Spyros Charmanis released this third album, Than the Common Plague, under the moniker None Other.
I have to say I had never heard of this do-it-yourself recording artist before, but I was blown away by the musicianship and song writing skills on show here. Playing most of the instruments Spyros has found a great way to express himself in a varied and skilful way. The album reminds me of the music by Steven Wilson. "Miserable" songs and themes, but beautifully-crafted and played. The music reaches out to the listener/reader to grip one's attention and sympathy, without being afraid of limiting itself to one genre throughout the album. I guess this is what being progressive is all about. Different sounds and tempos, make every song a very interesting and rewarding listen.
The story tells of disease, treatment and the inherent isolation towards light at the end of the tunnel. Vaguely referencing a personal experience, this is a well-balanced and note-worthy album. Spyros takes on jazz, rock, metal and traditional arrangements to craft an album without weak songs but with a couple of tracks being absolute highlights.
Bearer , I Replicator and Nausea are strong, and although there are no real lengthy songs on this album, the tracks 'n Hand Vol Here, Seven Months, Rieux and No Decorum are pretty epic with big choruses and cellos making the music sound big and dramatic but never over the top.
So in the end I do have to say this is an album very much to be enjoyed and listened to again and again. That is exactly what I have been doing, and I do recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good concept album to sink one's progressive teeth in to.
Arno Agterberg: 8 out of 10
Pontus - IV
Ten (10:00), Misirlou (2:31), El Pancho's Last Journey (5:42), Red Silver (4:25), Felix (8:28)
On the Pontus Bandcamp page there are descriptions, almost short-stories, that relate to each of the songs, and so making the music a soundtrack to these writings. On an entirely instrumental album, this is an intriguing idea.
This EP is a 30-minute monster of instrumental progressive rock. There is an easy and obvious virtuosity in the musicianship on display here, without ever resorting to showboating.
Kicking-off with the ten-minute epic Ten, Pontus set their stall out early. It is full of thumping metallic chords, but leaves ample room for the cello to shine through. It moves from the heavy, to the gentle, and back again, via an almost psychedelic interlude, where drummer Tripp Dudley's tabla playing rises in the mix. Through its excellent arrangement, the melody is given space to stretch and evolve.
After setting down a lengthy prog path with the opener, Pontus take a sharp turn to the left with a version of the Egyptian tune Misirlou. It has a melody that will be familiar from Dick Dale's 1962 surf-rock version, famously used over the opening credits of the film Pulp Fiction. Though it starts in a hard rocking carbon copy mode, it soon goes into weird surf-prog territory as the cello comes in like a phantom wave-rider. This short burst of energetic, old-school rock segues into Bryan Percivall's walking bass line on El Pancho's Last Journey, where Eric Allen's dark, flowing cello adds to the drama, before Pontus H.W. Gunve's electric guitar catches fire.
An overlaid twin guitar attack pushes the melody of Red Silver on, before abruptly stopping for a cello break. This all works wonderfully well. The EP ends with the striving, circular melody of Felix, that builds in tempo and intensity as it races to its fabulous climax. Then half-an-hour has flown by in a whirl of well-articulated grooves, power chords, solos and all kinds of sonic goodness. There is a dexterity and a verve throughout IV, helped by the superb production and mix, that brings a joie de vivre to these recordings that are full of detail and texture.
If you need a touchstone for Pontus' IV, then there are hints of Dream Theater, King Crimson and Rush in these instrumentals, but Pontus still manage to sidestep the expectations such comparisons create, with their own adventurous spirit.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10
The Rube Goldberg Machine - Fragile Times
Background Noise (6:07), Little Funerals (4:16), Fragile Times (4:42), In Symmetry (6:23), Man Of Glass (4:19), The Captain's Blackjack (3:37), Times Square (3:28), Afraid Of My Own Shadow (6:46)
Let me start by saying that I feel this band plays it a bit too safe. The playing is generally restrained, the vocals sometimes take the pedestrian deadpan of say Signify era Porcupine Tree, and lyrically they're not being particularly clever nor do they evoke interesting imagery. It's not often that one of their songs takes a dramatic turn. There's just a general feeling that the edge has been polished off most of these songs.
Now that I have got that off my chest, there is certainly plenty of enjoyable and capably-performed music here, if you're not looking to be dazzled with innovation or virtuosity. The title song is very fun and upbeat with a sense of itself (irony), stylistically borrowing heavily from other modern progressive acts like Riverside and Porcupine Tree (and dare I say compositionally a little from Steely Dan). In Symmetry (see the youtube video) is probably my favorite track, it being one of the more musically-daring tracks, and having a lot in common with the Lightbulb Sun era Porcupine Tree, that I've grown to enjoy so much.
There is a common theme here. They owe most of their 'sound' to other bands, in particular the aforementioned Porcupine Tree. I wouldn't go as far as to say they're a clone, but the similarities are undeniable. Although still in that dark prog genre, songs like Afraid of My Own Shadow appear to better demonstrate what the band might sound like if they let their hair down, and let us in more.
Clearly falling short of the mark would be the instrumental Times Square, which relies too heavily on a few minor stylistic changes and syncopation, while ignoring its absence of a pleasing melodic thread. Little Funerals has a pleasant vibe. It just isn't clever or particularly interesting, and nothing in the performance stands out. It's moments like these that sneak into some of the other tracks to leave me feeling underwhelmed.
As a reviewer there's always an underlying concern that personal preference can cloud an honest, objective review. I don't feel particularly concerned with that here, as the weaknesses seem rather obvious and easily articulated. On our grading scale: "A mediocre album, which is interesting in parts but not consistent throughout" seems fitting. Since it's being streamed for free on their Bandcamp page, I suggest giving it a listen and decide for yourself.
Kevin Heckeler: 5 out of 10
Spooky Tooth - Nomad Poets Live in Germany 2004 [CD/DVD]
Waitin' For The Wind (5:03), Sunshine Help Me (3:48), That Was Only Yesterday (3:34), The Wrong Time (5:28), Feelin' Bad (3:50), Wildfire (4:48), Better By You, Better Than Me (6:32), Tobacco Road (5:41), Hangman, Hang My Shell On A Tree (7:25), Evil Woman (10:19)
Part of the reunited band are the original members Gary Wright and Mike Harrison (both: keyboards and vocals) as well as Mike Kellie (drums), who can also be seen on the cover. Their fellow guest musicians Joey Albrecht (guitars and background vocals) and Michael Becker (bass and background vocals) complete this line-up. The setlists of the gigs include many highlights of Spooky Tooth's main period of 1968 until their break up in 1974. Harrison calls out: "You all know this one" over the drumbeat that introduces the concert and the band classic Waitin' For the Wind. The focus is on the band's trademark; the sometimes rotational, sometimes harmonious vocals of the two lead singers. It still works great, the band sounds as good as ever.
Waitin' For The Wind is followed by the next highlight, Sunshine Help Me, the song that, according to Gary Wright, started everything. It is carried by the typical organ sound, with the singers perfectly complementing each other.
The break of 28 years did not seem to leave any bad marks. On the contrary, as for about an hour we get to hear driving 60s rock. The musicians know their instruments and their songs very well, and the atmosphere seems to have been very good. The quality of the sound also plays a big part. The whole live album is mixed and produced very well.
After some time, Better By You, Better Than Me is grooving along, being famous for having been covered by Judas Priest. The short, calm moment after the verses and the building-up of the chorus are still awesome. The keyboard solo consists of some interesting sounds, and the centre of it is the cool vocals by Mike Harrison. This is definitely one of the high points of the whole concert.
As a closing song, the band plays Evil Woman, that begins very calmly and builds up very slowly. After the first-class intro, the song grooves along calmly but steady, stamped by outstanding vocals, a great guitar solo at the end, and an absolutely cool bass line.
If one puts in the DVD, this is also the first song one gets to hear, as it runs whilst the menu shows videos from the band's career and the concert movie. One can choose between the complete gig, single songs, and bonus material.
The concert has the same song order and length as the CD and also the same song introductions. So it also begins with Waitin' For The Wind from the Hamburg concert. The first thing that comes to mind is the (typical German) city festival atmosphere. It is early evening, it is still light, but nobody seems to be bothered. The mainly middle-aged-to-old audience is in a good mood and moves along to the songs in front of the stage (and the Bierstände).
What has been heard on CD can be witnessed here. The band is very joyful. Mike Kellie and his two comrades-in-arms stay in the back and leave the main stage to the two singers, who are omnipresent, especially Gary Wright who can be seen laughing and jumping around with his keytar. Mike Harrison on the other hand, sits on his keyboard most of the time, singing from there. On other songs, Harrison stands alone at the front, while Wright sits behind his own keyboard in the other corner of the stage. On Feelin' Bad both of them sit and play. It seems as if the stage is a little small for all the players and instruments.
Also, the camera work seems a little amateurish and shaking. But the music saves everything, and after these first impressions we wait for the concert to continue with Sunshine Help Me. It does, but the whole scenery changes, as it is taken from the gig in Worpswede one night earlier.
The atmosphere here is completely different. The band is playing inside a club, so the stage seems smaller, it is dark, and the audience is much calmer. But at the same time everything seems more personal, and the camera work also seems much more natural. One can decide for yourself which ambience you prefer for Spooky Tooth. Still, it would have been nicer to see one complete concert without the fade ins and outs and the resulting breaks. Also it seems sometimes that the sound is being laid over the video, which gives an unnatural feeling.
As for the bonus material, there are live videos of the songs Love Is Alive and Are You Weepin' by Gary Wright, played in San Diego in 1976, as well as band interviews and a slide show.
The videos from 1976 are in stark contrast to the ones from 2004. There are fans running into a big stadium in the heat of the summer. The audience is much younger and wears less. So whilst locations and fans change with the times, Gary's voice and his behaviour and the fun he has on stage are the same.
The interviews are very detailed and cover most of the band's history until 2014. The same things can be read in the booklet. After the acknowledgments, there is a nice farewell to Greg Ridley, former bassist of the band (also of Humble Pie), who died shortly before the reunion tour.
In the last statement of the band's biography, Harrison points out the parallels between his and Gary Wright's voices, that work together so well. On this evidence, they still work together very well.
Philipp Röttgers: 7 out of 10