Issue 2017-036

The Brackish - Liquid of Choice

The Brackish - Liquid of Choice
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 49:28
Track List:
Liquid of Choice (5:32), Loggins Breakdown (11:09), Something Negative on the Dancefloor (5:22), The Fly Who Spied (5:22), Fun Factory (3:56), Physical Jerks (5:31), Cactus Gulch and the Hellish Walk Home (12:36)
The Brackish are an instrumental four-piece band from Bristol. Liquid of Choice is their second release, a follow up to 2014's Big Guys. They have a traditional classic rock line-up of two guitars (Luke Cawthra and Neil Smith), bass (Jabob Myles Tyghe) and drums (Mike Jones). They use their musical skills to produce a mix of psychedelia, krautrock and alternative-rock and punk enveloped in a post-rock feel.

The twin guitars have idiosyncratic voices as they weave and comment around some singular melodic ideas. They have a great sense of dynamics and tempo changes, as they make a limited pallet of sounds seem endlessly inventive. The Brackish make music that is by turns delicate and fierce, whilst avoiding any ambient whisperings.

The fast-slow-fast title track grabs one's attention with its slightly discordant opening melody, and it side-steps expectations by slowing down for the duelling guitar solos. The Loggins Breakdown has a quirky Beefheartian rhythm to it. The instruments drop in and out of the melodic pulse, as the dynamics and tempos change. It builds to quite a manic crescendo.

There are a couple of tracks where The Brackish get their collective funk on (Something Negative on the Dancefloor and The Fly Who Spied), the second of which does very little for my funk-averse ears. This is a minor blip though, as the wonderfully winding chug of Fun Factory, and the powerful guitar squall of Physical Jerks bring the rock back. The longest track closes the album, and it does have passages that ramble on bit, but it still manages to hold one's interest.

So, with Liquid of Choice, The Brackish have produced an instrumental album of some power and imagination, that reminds me of Frank Zappa's way of producing quirky, non-jazz-but-jazzy music. But this is Zappa mixed with Can and a dash of The Cardiacs. The Brackish's Liquid of Choice makes for an intriguing listen.
Martin Burns: 7 out of 10

Curved Air - The Curved Air Rarities Series Volume 2: Curved Space & Infinity

Curved Air - The Curved Air Rarities Series Volume 2: Curved Space & Infinity
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 79:26, 79:20
Track List:
CD1: Curved Space: Towards Tomorrow (5:18), Sea Of Tranquillity (7:22), Baghdad Café / Return To Calvary / Towards Infinity (14:32), Sol Y Sombra (8:12), Harp Riff (3:14), Free Tibet (9:51), Blue Yonder Blues (7:23), Playin' Away (9:22), Rose (14:10)
CD2: Infinity: Elevation (15:15), Labyrinth (13:33), Expansions (12:30), Aphelion (7:03), Megalith (14:18), Celestial Dance (16:39)
You can probably think of any number of bands and artists that have an identifiable style that has been moulded, and in some cases perfected, over the course of a number of years. I have often wondered if an expectation to be identified with a certain sound can stifle creativity and lead to an unwillingness to experiment.

Thankfully, on the evidence presented by Volume 2 of their rarities series, this question does not extend to Curved Air. This archival release contains two discs-worth of instrumental music that demonstrates willingness and an ability to alter and adopt the band's usual recognisable style and approach. Readers who are familiar with Curved Air's discography will know that the band usually offers a tightly constructed and arranged sound, that is centred upon the vocal qualities of Sonja Kristina.

In much the same way as drummer Pierre Van der Linden and his fellow Focus members created Swung 1 and 2 without the presence of Thys Van Leer, so Curved Air's drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa and assorted alumni of the band, grabbed some playing time without their principal member. These jam-based and improvised sessions were recorded, and now form the basis of the two albums that are on offer within this release.

The sessions that make up the discs were recorded on separate occasions and feature different performers. Disc 1, entitled Curved Space was recorded in 1991. Much of it was originally released as a Francis Monkman solo project in 2002, and at that time it was given the apt title Jam. Curved Space sees the addition of a new piece to delight the senses; the pungent and fragrantly titled Rose.

The album has also been edited, so that Towards Infinity, which was omitted from the original release, has been reinstated and is included as the end-piece within the Baghdad Café trilogy of tunes. In addition to Pilkington-Miksa, the album features Francis Monkman and Mike Gore on guitar, and Rob Martin on bass.

Disc 2 is entitled Infinity and was recorded in 2011. It was originally an improvised session featuring keyboard player Robert Norton and Pilkington Miksa. In 2014 Kirby Gregory added a series of guitar parts to the recording.

The two discs are very different and should appeal to a range of listeners. Broadly-speaking, Curved Space is probably the disc that is the more accessible of the two. Its chunky riffs, groove-laden jams and spontaneous group dynamics will appeal to those who enjoy rock-based instrumental music.

In Infinity, the flowing and atmospheric keyboards that are punctuated by Gregory's rich-toned guitar, on occasions gives the disc a more ambient quality, and is not so obviously influenced by structures normally associated with rock music. Personally, I enjoyed Infinity much more and its spacious and languid tones created a perfect accompaniment for star-gazing and moments of misty-eyed, dark-sky reflection.

Both discs would probably not appeal to those whose preference is for short, song-based material. Conversely, both discs would also probably not appeal to anybody who enjoys instrumental music that has a capacity to surprise and present something that sits outside the box.

What is on offer is reassuringly safe, and for the most part offers an unchallenging listening experience. There is nonetheless something quite refreshing about the loosely-structured compositions that make up the release. This is embodied by the gritty and tenacious performance of the players, something that is in evidence in both discs, but is particularly apparent in Curved Space.

In disc one the music rarely deviates from its set direction, which in the case of Sea of Tranquillity is a meandering, effect-laden soundscape which laps rhythmically on its journey to ethereal places. On other occasions, in pieces such as Towards Tomorrow and Rose, the band shows no apparent desire to break free from the relentless groove that they have laid down.

Whilst disc one did not always hold my attention or enthuse me, there were many occasions when I imagined that listeners would find much to enjoy, and might consider reaching for a broom handle to show their appreciation. In this respect, the trio of tunes which make up the Baghdad Café trilogy are fervently dominated by fuzzed guitar and swirling riffs, and would undoubtedly be a highlight for anybody inclined to jam along in broom-handled, silent gusto.

In Infinity, the keyboards of Robert Norton add an air of sophistication to the music and provide an altogether different atmosphere and palette of sounds. The pieces are longer and the compositions are generally more structured and a tad more sophisticated. The languid and cinematic nature of tracks such as Expansions, and more specifically in Celestial Dance, give the impression of a soundscape that might be best served up as background music. The album works well in both contexts. There is enough variation in tracks such as the beautiful and lengthy Expansions for it to be listened to with intent, but it was equally enjoyable as an accompaniment whilst completing chores.

I particularly enjoyed Labyrinth. It possesses some real fire, and showcases some enjoyable interplay between the players. The tones chosen by Robert Norton are reminiscent of the work of Alan Gowen, and are a delightful aspect of the piece. Gregory's nimble and raw, flamed guitar runs are also impressive and provide moments that shift the direction of Labyrinth towards a fusion style.

Gregory's playing throughout Infinity is highly evocative and on more than one occasion during Expansions his evocative approach reminded me of the lush, toned work of Terje Rypdal.

The compositions on both discs are somewhat hindered by their improvised origins. They meander or race towards their conclusion, without any overt sense of direction or apparent inclination to pause for a while to explore different or unexpected musical territories. Even though both albums are not particularly innovative, they are nonetheless enjoyable, and in the case of Infinity, often very enjoyable.

The two disc set is a welcome and interesting addition to Curved Air's lengthy discography. The players manage to succeed in creating music that is accessible, and on occasions the set works well within the limitations of its unrehearsed origins, and also within the stylistic boundaries chosen.
Owen Davies: 7.5 out of 10

Michael Holmes - Subterranea Original Sountrack - Duo Review

Michael Holmes - Subterranea Original Sountrack
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 68:58
Track List:
Are You Awake? (3:24), Awake (0:54), ABC (1:54), The Rip (2:18), Reflection (1:55), She's Down There (1:29), On The Street (2:43), Under The Stairs (3:37), The River (1:38), With A Gun (2:02), In The Car (0:53), Closer (4:17), In The Box (0:59), You Need To Leave (1:34), Meeting (1:07), Goin' Down (2:15), In The Basement (4:17), In The House (3:47), Deceit and Death (5:02), Beginning The End (3:17), You Made It (11:27), Goin' Back (2:06), In This Wilderness (6:04)
Patrick McAfee's Review
This is the soundtrack to the feature film version of IQ's much celebrated 1997 concept album, Subterranea. It is not every day that movies are made based on a prog rock band's album, so news of this production was a pleasant surprise. The film itself is an admirable piece of work. In my opinion, its not a high level cinematic achievement, but it is certainly not an embarrassment by any stretch either. This was a passion project by the film-makers, and their commitment shows in the finished product.

It was a very nice touch having Michael Holmes from the band create the music for the film. A wise decision for several reasons, not the least of which is that he does good work here. So much so, that it would be understandable if this led to other soundtrack opportunities for him. He does a great job of creating the mood of the film, and he writes some memorable composition pieces. It is important to note that this is absolutely a soundtrack, and plays like one for the most part. Many of the tracks are short and don't really stand up in a general listening sense, but certainly serve their purpose in the actual film. There are also some musical references back to themes from the original Subterranea album, which is fun.

The longer tracks, such as Closer, In the House, Deceit and Death and You Made It, work quite well and showcase Holmes' skills, not only as a composer, but also as a musician. They too are very much cinematic works, but they do provide enjoyable listening. For fans of the band though, the calling card here is undoubtedly the new IQ song In this Wilderness. Effectively dramatic, with a powerful vocal performance by Peter Nicholls, it is well worth the price of the album.

Overall, I would say that this album is a must for any IQ fan. I also believe that connoisseurs of film soundtracks would enjoy it quite a bit. My overall score judges this on its merits as a film soundtrack, to which I think it warrants a recommendation.
Héctor Gómez's Review
Despite being regarded as a neo-prog classic since its release back in 1997, Subterranea is one of my least favourite IQ albums. I must admit that double concept albums have never been my format of choice (and yes, that also applies to The Wall and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway), and IQ's magnum opus is no exception. It would definitely have benefited from a bit of trimming and pruning, so had it been a 70-odd minute album, it would have worked much better for me. Also, the dry production does it a great disservice, and this is particularly detrimental to the drums, which in my humble opinion sound awful.

In any case, just like Roger Waters' 1979 classic did, the sustained popularity and intriguing concept of IQ's album have yielded a feature film (albeit a small, independent one, nothing to do with Alan Parker's 1982 extravaganza), which portrays the album's sci-fi story of paranoia and isolation. I haven't seen the movie, so I can't provide an accurate review of it, but I've listened to its music.

What do I make of it? Well, I'm certainly partial to movie soundtracks, and love everyone from John Williams to Christopher Young, and from Howard Shore and, of course, Ennio Morricone to Goblin, but I can't say that Michael Holmes' score has impressed me. My main gripe being its lack of personality. This being music made to underline and complement images, one might assume that it only would make sense in the context of a film. However the film scores written by the aforementioned soundtrack composers all stand on their own, and can be enjoyed independently from their matching pictures. That, I'm afraid, can't be said of this collection of incidental music.

Those hoping for a feast of references to the original album are in for a disappointment, as there are only a few faint clues. Yes, there are echoes of Subterranea, Sleepless Incidental and even The Narrow Margin, but this collection of short pieces is primarily an ambient/minimalistic affair, where even Holmes' guitars rarely surface.

The occasional track works, such as Are You Awake? with its pseudo-metallic riffage, and for those on the lookout for extended pieces there's You Made It, which encapsulates all the drama and atmosphere of the soundtrack in its 11 minutes. Probably the most interesting piece for both the occasional listener and the devotee is In This Wilderness, a beautiful and poignant ballad sung by Peter Nicholls which, far from sounding like anything resembling a Subterranea lost gem, fits perfectly with the IQ's modern sound as found on Frequency (2009) and The Road Of Bones (2014).

So, this is one for IQ completists and die-hard film buffs only. How would have this sounded had Martin Orford been involved in its creation? That, I'm afraid, we will never know.
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10
Héctor Gómez: 6 out of 10

Kaprekar's Constant - Fate Outsmarts Desire

Kaprekar's Constant - Fate Outsmarts Desire
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 66:39
Track List:
Hors D'Oeuvre (3:28), Bluebird (17:53), Pearl Of The Lake (5:10), Hallsands (14:18), Four Faced Liar (4:24), Houdini (King Of Cards) (21:26)
What a vintage year for prog, 2017 is becoming. Already this year I've been highly taken by the magnificent debut album The Man Who Never Was by This Winter Machine and now along comes this stunner from Kaprekar's Constant, Fate Outsmarts Desire. Again this is another new band with a very strong and intelligent release, that both draws on the past and faces the future brazenly.

What is especially endearing about this album is the subject matter of historically-based events and personalities that are unveiled in an imaginative and creative manner. Drawing you into the tales being woven, with words and music and the use of spoken words throughout, is a great idea, as it adds gravitas to the proceedings, and yet never gets in the way of what is going on.

Musically this is very inventive and versatile, and when you factor-in the excellent and sublime presence of David Jackson of VDGG on sax, flute and whistles, you know that something worthwhile is happening. The rest of the band are also on on top form here, with great keyboards, guitar and bass throughout, alongside the precise and sturdy drums of Phil Gould of Level 42.

The album has a mix of three short and three longer epic pieces and the band's website gives more details of the stories behind the songs. Also worthy of praise are the vocals of Dorrie Jackson and Bill Jefferson, both of whom are clear and excellent singers. The music has touches of folk, and sounds very pastoral and very English, but it is the sheer quality of the lyrics, when offset to the stirring music, that gives this album a real presence and stature.

Any album whose opening lines are: "You're band of scroats and their dredging boats, rob the shingle from under our feet," has to be interesting. Well it is, and despite sounding a tad Fishermens Friend, soon evolves into a most impressive soundscape. Before long the first of the epics is upon you with Bluebird and Paul Gunn's excellent, clear and pronounced spoken interludes talking of Captain Malcolm Campbell and his quest to break the world land speed record on Pendine Sands in south Wales in the mid 1920s. With evocative sounds of 20s-style music, you can imagine yourself watching one of those classic BBC black and white films. Again some absolutely cracking lyrics accompany this song, which also features the haunting and evocative flute of David Jackson, adding to the drama that is unfolding with the words and music. This is clever, intelligent and articulate music, and really takes the listener into the events as they unfold. It has an emotional impact, as you listen with the sound rushing along to simulate speed very effectively. I have to say this is a bold track and a great approach, as it conjures-up great imagery. With all the instruments pumping away sweetly, it is all rather splendid. This is what music should be like: stirring, evocative, memorable and compelling. It is a truly great track and a great opening to an album that will definitely be in my top ten of 2017.

Hallsands talks of an environmental disaster that befell a village in south Devon when developers removed the shingle to help develop nearby Devonport harbour, which resulted in the village being swept away by the sea; It is an age-old story of man's interference with nature, ending in catastrophic results. Its a sombre tale.

Four Faced Liar features actual police radio chatter from the tragic bombing of the Boston Marathon a few years ago, where Four Faced Liar refers to an ornate, but fairly useless clock outside the old customs house in Boston. The song recounts those dreadful events and the ultimate capture of the last surviving terrorist at that time.

The final song is about Harry Houdini and the spell he still casts over "Magic".

So in summary this is a great album with a rich vein of talent and some excellent music throughout. There is not a bad track on here, yet surprisingly the album does not contain their single, Call It A Memory, which is obtainable here.

This is epic, imaginative and compelling music that bodes well for the band's future. Now is the time to discover and support this astonishing new band. This is an assured and significant album, with echoes of vintage Genesis and also of Big Big Train. Very highly recommended indeed.
John Wenlock-Smith: 9.5 out of 10