Issue 2017-070

Cellar Noise - Alight

Cellar Noise - Alight
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 50:33
Track List:
Dive With Me (9:33), Underground Ride (8:03), Embankment (6:29), Temple (8:24), Blackfriars (3:27), Move the Stone (5:45), Monument (8:52)
Cellar Noise were founded by Alessandro Palmisano (electric and acoustic guitars) and Niccolo Gallani (keyboards) in Milan in 2013. The band experienced a few line-up changes in its early days, before finding stability. However, they soon had caught the attention of Fabio Zuffanti (Finisterre, Höstsonaten, La Maschera di Cera), who offered to act as artistic director of the band's first album Alight, the recording of which started 2016, with a release this February. Besides the two founding members, Cellar Noise consists of Eric Bersan (bass), Loris Bersan (drums) and Francesco Lovari (vocals). Four of those five band members are in their early twenties and even below that. In light of their young age, their musical skills are remarkable.

Cellar Noise is eponymous for something unexpected coming from below (emotionally off the top of one's head and physically out of the cellar) that pulls people out of their everyday life and their comfort zones, leaving them disturbed, scared and unsecure. Hence, the band's name can be seen as a metaphor for someone being aroused from their routine and confronted with something new and unexpected.

The antagonism of routine and boredom on one side, and changes and visions of those on the other, is what is being dealt with lyrically on this album. It can be regarded as a concept album, describing a ride on the London underground system, when the everyday routine and boredom is suddenly replaced by dreams and visions, based upon the station names that the train passes by.

The album cover reflects that as well, with the subway train being both dull and grey, but also colourful.

What do we get musically from this talented band of very young musicians? In a nutshell: very symphonic, keyboard-driven, melodic and accessible progressive rock, based upon the Italian archetypes of the seventies, but with a decent neo-prog element and English vocals.

The instrumental opener, Dive With Me, is a good example of that. It starts with the soundscape of a subway train entering a station (apparently recorded on a Milan subway line). The noise of the train brakes is picked up by a similar single notem which in turn transforms to a Mellotron chord accompanied by bass pedals (these guys probably have heard Watcher of the Skies quite often). It provides a very strong opening. The track continues in an early Genesis vain, with piano runs, acoustic guitar and Tony Banks-like synthesiser arpeggios. It strongly reminds me of the fairly unknown German band Epidaurus and also of the Dutch group Trace, owing to its extensive use of Mellotron, Hammond and synthesizer, and its harmonies inspired by classical music.

Francesco Lovari's warm, mellow voice accompanied by acoustic guitar starts Underground Ride, another mid-tempo, melodic track with a goose bumps-producing refrain and a great Mellotron-synthesizer-led middle section. One might argue weather Cellar Noise should use English or their native tongue for their vocals. I personally prefer this type of music being sung in Italian, but the English vocals fit the music and are a distinctive element of the band's sound.

The next three songs, whilst showing symphonic elements akin to those on the previous tracks, spread a small hint of progressive metal, with the guitar riffing being somewhat heavier than before. The short Blackfriars is the only track breaking out of the mellow, mid-tempo mood, before the closing songs continue in the same accessible, melodic and smooth way as the first three tracks. The album closes with the soundscape of a subway train leaving the station.

I liked this album for being easily and instantly accessible, for its strong melodic elements (sometimes at the border of kitsch, though), for its intensive use of keyboards, and for the beautiful soloing of synthesizer and guitar. Fans of The Watch, La Maschera di Cera, Il Tiempo Delle Clessidre and of some neo-prog bands will certainly be pleased with this release. I personally would want more twists and turns, dynamism, complexity and variedness for the any future albums which, given this very promising debut, hopefully will not take too long to see the light of day. I very much look forward to it.
Thomas Otten: 7 out of 10

Cheer-Accident - Putting Off Death

Cheer-Accident - Putting Off Death
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 38:11
Track List:
Language Is (11:24), Immanence (4:12), Wishful Breathing (3:45), Falling World (3:40), More and Less (3:00), Lifetime Guarantee (6:59), Hymn (5:11)
Chicago-based Cheer-Accident have recently released their 13th studio album Putting Off Death, it is the follow up to 2011's No Ifs, Ands or Dogs. This is the first time that Cheer-Accident have come across my prog radar, and I find their eclectic mix of art-rock, avant-prog, post-rock and pop very winning. Apologies to Mark Hughes whose review of Cheer-Accident's 2009 release Fear Draws Misfortune had passed me by.

The core of the band is the ever-present Thymme Jones (drums, vocals, piano, trumpet, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, Moog, noise) and Jeff Libersher (guitar, trumpet, vocals, keyboards). They are ably supported by the relatively recent recruits Dante Kester (bass, keyboards), and Carmen Armillas (vocals). The album also features a seven-piece horn section, a violin and a couple of backing vocalists. As you can see from this instrumental line-up, Putting Off Death is going to be a rather different affair.

The music that Cheer-Accident produce is crisp and uncluttered, even when there is a bewildering amount happening, as on the lengthy opener, Language Is. It moves from a introspective piano ballad, with a lyric that echoes Peter Hammill's fascination with language, through a brutal time change and a squall of avant-prog noise, before a guitar floats in to take the melody into a fabulous horns section. The horns and guitar play-off each other as it winds down. This is 11 minutes of fabulous music that makes you sit up and pay attention.

The musical rollercoaster that is Putting Off Death, then slips through drone-laden psychedelia and muted trumpet on Wishful Breathing, before bursting through more avant-prog and art rock with the dirty, fuzzy bass and synth of Falling World. It then loops the loop through a strange jazziness of horns and tuned percussion on More and Less. The rollercoaster also provides Carmen Armillas with her chance to channel Laurie Anderson on Immanence, a quirky, left-field, catchy pop song.

The songs all benefit from the mixing up of male and female vocals throughout, but especially on the two closing tracks; the superb Hymn and Lifetime Guarantee, that also features cascading horns and a neat guitar solo. On Hymn, the beautiful melody is spread across harmonised vocal lines, trumpet and synths in layers. It is a moving climax to the album.

Cheer-Accident's Putting Off Death is a wonderful and warm amalgam of Matching Mole surrealism, Knifeworld attack and Zappa in prog-quirk mode. It is an album where each track could be by a different group, but the diversity of styles are unified by the coherent and intelligent vision of Cheer-Accident.

Putting Off Death is by turns a challenging, rewarding and entertaining listen, by a band at the top of their collective game.
Martin Burns: 8.5 out of 10

HFMC (Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion) - No Place Like Home - The Concert [DVD/CD]

HFMC (Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion) - No Place Like Home - The Concert
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 97:22
Track List:
Seconds - Intro (1:53), Can't Stop the Clock (7:05), Everything Can Change (5:08), Godsong (4:53), Pages (15:27), Valleys and Fields (2:28) (Previously unreleased), Song for July (4:49), Chasing a Dream (7:47) (Previously unreleased), Genius (6:50), Something Worth Dying For (5:10), In the Warmth of the Evening (10:33), Life Will Kill You (4:06), Fallen Empire (10:33), Venice CA (4:48), Stardust We Are (4:25), Someone Else's Fault (1:41)
Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion (HFMC) has been recording albums for several years now and although many assume HFMC is a side project for Hasse (Fröberg), this could not be further from the truth, as this is a band growing in stature at every crossing and, without fail, one that writes and produces music of the highest quality. All the band members contribute to the writing process and all excel in terms of musicianship and performance, both in the studio and in a live setting.

This is a very neat package featuring 2CDs, a DVD and a 12-page booklet, which captures the energy of a band at the top of their game. The Reginateatern in Uppsala was the perfect choice of venue for ambience and atmosphere, and the packed hall was treated to two hours of sublime rock-infused prog.

When watching a DVD of a live performance it is important that the viewer is left feeling like they had been there. Capturing live energy on film, and editing it to deliver that feeling, is not easy, but the film crew successfully achieved that goal and you will look forward to many spins if this show on the DVD player.

The setlist spans the band's three studio albums, as well as Stardust We Are, which all fans of Hasse's work with The Flower Kings will know very well.

My own puzzle with HMFC is why are they not mainstream and why are they not known to a much wider audience? I have heard it said that they are "too rock" for the proggers, and "too proggy" for the rockers ... a statement that I disagree with entirely. The influence of Yes and Queen (to name but two classic bands) is there for sure, and the band would be proud of that likeness, but they put a unique stamp on it and they do it so well!

In a live setting, all bands need a frontman, and Hasse is from the old-school style of rock vocalist/guitarist performers. He delivers a blistering vocal performance and visual treat.

To round off this review I would like to pay tribute to HFMC for this LIVE package and to say that the fantastic musicianship of Ola Strandberg, Anton Lindsjö, Thomsson and Kjell Haraldsson is nothing short of brilliant. A job well done boys!
Ian Smith: 10 out of 10

Magic Bus - Phillip The Egg

Magic Bus - Phillip The Egg
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 55:14
Track List:
Mystical Mountain (i) Twelve Kings (8:50), Fading Light (3:36), Trail to Canaa (5:43), Zeta (4:33), Distant Future (7:10), Kepler 22b (6:41), Kalamazoo (3:30), Yantra Tunnels (5:03)
Imagine the scene: in the foreground stands an old jalopy bedecked in street art; a kaleidoscope of rainbow colours. It is set prominently in its position; its role is to contrast and stand apart from the natural vista of verdant meadows that dominate the rest of the scene. The distant sound of a wood chime freezes time. A young man is busily chaining daisies through his lover's hair. Strengthened by love and mutual desire; her hair and chain interlock to settle briefly, before cascading in golden curtains upon the neck of a freshly flowered dress.

The smell of musk and other herbs gently waft the air. Everything is sun-bleached and peaceful for the braided couple. Hazed by the rapidly-fading light, the time has come to board the magic bus for their journey home.

I have often found that if an album is powerful, and if it has more than enough of a hint of quality, then it is able to create a host of vivid pictures in my mind's eye. Magic Bus's latest album, Phillip The Egg, has sonic values in abundance that enable it to hint at, suggest, and sometimes impose backdrops of cinematic quality that are full of drama and laced with shrouded mystique.

The image of the couple is one that returns each time I play the piece entitled Fading Light. Who the lovers are, I have no idea, but the music is a fitting backdrop for their story and the mysteries that lie ahead for them. As the track concludes, and as the fading light that illuminates the vision dims, a thought recurs: Good luck folks, enjoy tomorrow and remember today.

Magic Bus are based in Devon and this, their third album, is probably their most satisfying release to date. Their previous release, Tales from Sogmore's Garden, was given a DPRP recommended tag (see the review here). It was an enjoyable combination of the whimsical style of Caravan, blended with hints of psychedelia, and laced with some wonderful Canterbury-styled keyboard parts.

Phillip The Egg is, on the face of it, less whimsical and much less song-based than its predecessor. It continues the style that was suggested in that album's more complex pieces, such as Jupiter 3am, and to a large extent, it has moved away from the tuneful pop sensibilities of tunes such as the sweetly-scented Sunflower, which opened Transmission From Sogmore's Garden. Nevertheless, there are plenty of reflective moments which emerge during the course of Philip The Egg, and these perfectly complement the more offbeat and rhythmically demanding passages that dominate pieces such as the impressive Distant Future.

The album begins in an upbeat manner with the ear-friendly Mystical Mountain, and this opening section is arguably as near as the album gets to the overall style of Transmission from Sogmore's Garden. The fluttering flute work in the first part of the tune has an ethereal quality, that creates just the right sort of atmosphere to appreciate the laid back tones of vocalist Paul Evans.

The second part of the tune is fascinating and keeps the listener guessing as to which direction it is going to take. After some sparse and delicate piano parts, it eventually navigates a path that is designed to bludgeon the senses, with some mildly explosive, but far from clichéd, riff-laden rock. It's an impressive opening piece that has an edge-of-the-seat unpredictability, and which enjoyably sets the scene for much of what is to follow.

The instrumental Fading Light follows, and although it has duration of only just over three minutes, the couple's recurring story that it generates, seems timeless, as the protagonists play out their joyous parts. The piece hints at the style of bands such as Gilgamesh, and the keyboard, bass and guitar parts remind me of the ample musical breathing space that Alan Gowan's band achieved in their Another Fine Tune You Have Got Me Into album.

One of Phillip The Egg's standout characteristics is that many of the pieces contain unexpected twists and turns which invite the listener in. I have found it easy to concentrate upon the music, and this has helped me to enjoy it to its full potential. In this respect, Zeta is particularly impressive. It has many distinctive and dissimilar parts that in the end somehow seamlessly meld, to take the listener on an evocative musical journey that defies description.

All I can add, is that there are some moments in the piece, such as the Canterbury-tinged keyboard break and the Jethro Tull riffed flute parts that made the hairs on my neck stand to attention, and then later on, to bow in deference to the skills shown.

The most satisfying piece on the album is probably the instrumental Kepler 22b. The flute-led opening and final coda was vaguely reminiscent of the celestial vibe of the Stone section in the title piece of Manning's The Ragged Curtain album. The rest of the piece has no obvious points of reference. Although in this tune, and on occasions throughout the album, notably during Yantra Tunnels, the expansive nature of the music and the pungently-scented atmosphere created, is redolent of the work of Gong.

Over the course of six minutes, Keplar 22b is able to synthesise both melodic and discordant parts and also mixes reflective and aggressive parts into a meaningful experience. Wayward keyboards, heavy with emotion, sink earthwards, awaiting capture as chunky bass parts propel and accelerate rapidly. Waves of Mellotron sounds weave a patchwork, on which expressive flute parts soar.

This is a tune that is able to reveal something new each time. It has enough off-beat elements to fascinate anybody who enjoys progressive music. Conversely, the girth of its well-worn riff is wide and upbeat enough to remind listeners that the route sometimes driven by the band contains rocky outcrops that rattle leathery limbs and serve to satisfy a primeval instinct to shake and roll.

All of the members of the band contribute skilfully to the overall success of this album. Nevertheless, I was particularly impressed by the flute playing of Viv Goodwin Darke. Her contribution throughout adds an extra dimension to the lush keyboard work of Jay Darlington that has a prominent part to play and offers support and contrast to the expressive work of Terence Walstadt on guitar.

The floating warm breeze captured in the cover art of the album sums up what this album is capable of. In the musical world that is beautifully expressed in Phillip The Egg, the unexpected can become the norm, and in the mind's eye of a listener, even the impossible can seem possible.

Imagine the scene: in the foreground stands an old jalopy bedecked in a kaleidoscope of rainbow colours. What comes next is of course entirely up to you. But if you allow Phillip The Egg to enter your head, or embrace your heart and take hold, you may just discover a surreal storyboard or two to share.
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10

Trojka - I Speilvendthet

Trojka - I Speilvendthet
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 41:32
Track List:
TROJKA - Tsarens Tårer (2:55), I Speilvendthet (4:27), Et Spill (4:03), Drømmeløs (4:31), Mat For Tanke (5:32), Trojka (3:49), Litt Glede (3:18), Alltid En Gåte (4:11), Til Neste Farvel (8:42)
Trojka is, oh wonder, a trio form Norway, consisting of Gjert Hermansen on drums, Simon Kverneng on bass and August Riise on keyboards, where the Rhodes and Moog are the principal keyboards.

The label's description, sees them in a drawer of early seventies prog, combined with modern pop music, but I beg to disagree with that. For me their music has much more to do with the contemporary, ambient jazz heard in bars and restaurants of that period, rather than with any form of rock. A few influences come in from the seventies funk movement and maybe also some bits from the Canterbury scene, but in general, all the advanced chord progressions, melodies, licks and arpeggios are what you'd expect from a jazz trio in a club or bar.

They are good though. While their compositions are absolutely harmless and meant to be background music, the musicianship does not fail to grab one's attention throughout this debut album. They are very good at how they play their music in a very perfect way, without any show-offs. The great production of the album lets this retro music come to life and that is what makes it stand out from those old jazz recordings. Yes, sometimes modern techniques do real wonders.

There are only two things that bother me. One is the really shabby Moog sound. They really take the worst sounding wave forms out of that instrument that can offer so much and with such versatile power. It's a shame, really. Secondly the vocals damage my listening fidelity a lot. It's not the fact that he sings Norwegian lyrics, but rather the way that he generally sings without any technique. Still, the notes are all at the frequencies they should be and in tune, but it's the thin and rather uncontrolled airstream that makes it sound so unattractive. But besides these points, the album is really good and even a grower.

So if these young chaps improve a bit in vocal skills and sound-shaping, their next album should be the perfect choice for a romantic candlelight dinner.
Raimond Fischbach: 6 out of 10