The Black Noodle Project - Divided We Fall
Isolation (7:50), Memorial (6:10), Ashes to Ashes (5:49), Under a Black Sky (2:00), Absolom (5:58), Cosmic Dust (9:56), Left Behind (3:31)
The album starts with some fairly atmospheric sounds, with a building texture, overlaid with a nice, simplistic, yet emotional guitar solo. This slowly evolves, with a heavier rhythm section in the latter half of the song, and brings the stunning opener of Isolation to a close.
The album continues in this atmospheric, laid-back and evolving way. Being a largely instrumental album (vocals don't appear until Ashes to Ashes ), the focus is on textures and the feel of the music. And this is one album that draws you in and keeps you enthralled. Some tracks have a similarity to classic prog with their use of leads and the vocal delivery (Ashes to Ashes for example has an intro that reminded me heavily of Coming Back To Life by Pink Floyd), while others have a more modern sound, such as Absolom, which takes a heavier approach with voice-overs instead of vocals, and produces a good, driving rock song.
The stand out tracks for me would definitely be Isolation, Memorial and Absolom.
All-in-all this is a very good and very solid album. It is not fast and technical, nor filled with blistering solos or rapid time signature changes, but it offers plenty of outright good quality music. If you're a fan of Solstafir, Alcest, Perihelion Ship, Pink Floyd or Kontinuum, then you would do well to give these guys a listen.
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10
Clouds Can - Leave
This Dream Of Me (5:28), All We Are I Am Not (6:35), Life Is Strange (7:14), On The Day You Leave (6:31), Like Any Angel (6:16), A Change Of Heart (5:21), Insomnia (6:48), Always Forever (7:13)
The two protagonists have been friends for over 20 years and even produced a couple of low-key albums together in the mid 1990s but have now decided to do, as they call it, a real album. Firstly, I recommend everyone visits t's website and read the t who? page, which is a jolly good read. The chap has a first class sense of humour, which is carried on to the press release, as the text explaining the rationale for the album demonstrates:
"The band's idea on this album is trying to be all short pop singles and easy listening and such - and not stupid. With t in the band, the idea of short pop song must have come down to "less than 10 minutes" and "do we really need a chorus?" Sources say there are about 1001 minutes of music hidden in the abysses of the editor's room."
Progressive pop it is then! But don't let that, or any other genre definition, put you off, as although the songs have plenty of melody and, yes, even choruses, there is plenty for the prog fan to get to grips with. Occupying a musical landscape similar to that resided in by Marillion, particularly on the big opening number This Dream Of Me, the manifesto is laid down from the off. The experience of the duo as producers shines through and their boast of being multi-instrumentalists is no idle one, as the layers of instrumentation are indeed deep.
Leave is definitely an album that warrants repeated listenings in order to discover the nuances of the songs. The dynamism of, for example, Life Is Strange cannot be appreciated from a single, cursory listen. The Big Ballad number, On The Day You Leave, is largely a piano composition with a well arranged faux orchestral crescendo two thirds of the way through, including some great fake timpani! Like Any Angel and A Change Of Heart are both very good songs that vary tempo throughout, but it is Insomnia that takes the biscuit for me, and one that makes the album. There is a Cure-like bass riff that explodes into life with dual wailing guitars and crashing cymbals, before cycling round again a couple of more times, before coming to a screeching halt.
That would have been a great ending to the album, indeed the press sheet does list Insomnia as the final track. However, there is one more number, Always Forever. Returning to a more sedate, piano-based song, actually turns out to be a very good move as it acts as a musical synopsis of the album, the perfect coda. Leave is by no means a pure prog album but one that is laden with progressive influences; it is refreshing to hear a new musical slant. Well done chaps!
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10
Jordsjø - Jord
Over Vidda (1:48), Abstraksjoner Fra Et Dunkelt Kammer (6:50), Finske Skoger (2:56), Jord I (6:25), Jord II (8:27), La Meg Forsvinne!(6:38), Postludium (4:42)
Jord is coloured with an endearing style and has a retro appeal that is sure to delight a number of readers. Although offering something that has a number of different facets, its many recognisable influences ensures that for many, its mix of styles will resonate favourably and will feel as reassuringly snug as perhaps a well-loved glove, or a favourite pair of shoes.
Despite containing up-beat interludes and fine, uplifting parts, much of Jord has a dark grey edge that projects a melancholic, goose-grey ambience. Nevertheless, the overall effect of its unusual combination of delightful melodies and shadowy instrumental passages, is strangely enticing and able to pour sunlight into any darkened living room.
The album contains a number of genuinely superb moments. Nordic folk melodies are often used. These are frenetically juxtaposed by a full band sound, complete with pulsating rhythms and Mellotrons that are reminiscent of the style and approach of bands such as Sinkadus and Anglagard.
Jordsjø have succeeded in creating an album that has the feel of a release performed by a much larger group of players. It does not sound sterile or bereft of emotion, and as a result, what the duo have created is the antithesis of what might be expected from an album performed by a limited number of players.
Complex shifts of tempo abound; these meander gently, and sprint powerfully. The whole release is dressed in swathes of Mellotron. The classic sound and sweeping atmospheric tones associated with this instrument are used to great effect, and simply ooze quality.
Håkon Oftung's contribution on the flute is a key ingredient of the album and positively embellishes much of what is on offer. There are many fine flute passages throughout, but in pieces such as Abstraksjoner Fra Et Dunkelt Kammer and Finske Skoger, the flutework is particularly appealing.
The use of the flute and Nordic folk idioms during Abstraksjoner Fra Et Dunkelt Kammer make some aspects of the piece sound similar to the type of approach Agusa utilised in their Katarsis release. However, the heavy use of discordance and the later development of a much darker mood, is much more firmly rooted in the moodily atmospheric approach associated with Anglagard and Sinkadus. Finske Skoger on the other hand, is a much more upbeat composition and is an excellent folk-infused track. It has a rhythmic feel associated with some of Jethro Tull's 1977-1978 output. Finske Skoger is an impressive piece and is one of the most enjoyable tunes to be featured in the release.
Vocals are included in a number of tracks, including Abstraksjoner Fra ET Dunkelt Kammer and Jord 1. The gentle, lilting melodies and expressive vocals contained in Jord 1 are reminiscent of the early work of fellow Norwegian band White Willow. Whilst the vocal parts contained in the album provide an extra atmospheric dimension, and give a certain human fragility to the music, they are probably the least impressive aspect of the release.
Nevertheless, having listened to the band's previous efforts, the vocal parts in Jord mark a considerable improvement. In this respect, the quality of the music contained in Jord totally outweighs any reservations I might have about the vocals, and does not significantly alter the positive feelings I have about the release.
La Meg Forsvinne! is a piece that many readers will probably enjoy. It features some fine guitar parts and incorporates some of the stylistic hallmarks associated with classic prog bands as diverse as Pink Floyd and Camel. The tune is quite beautiful, but it is very derivative of a certain style of prog that is often associated with the 70s.
Jord 11 is probably the standout track on the album. It has an interesting structure and incorporates many different moods. It includes alternating acoustic and electric passages and some fine keyboard work that is all wrapped in a dense sound that is once again reminiscent of Anglagard.
Jordsjø have created a strong album that is impeccably played and incorporates many standout moments that are thoroughly engaging and richly appealing. In particular, the instrumental passages are often outstanding.
Jord is an album that I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to and I think that I will continue to play it often.
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10
RTFACT - Life Is Good
Life Is Good (6:03), Artifact (6:23), (I Got) Money In My Pocket (6:12), Gotika (5:02), Hail To The Winner (part I) (3:35), Hail To The Winner (part II - Tarantella) (3:28), The King, The Master And The Timekeeper (4:30), Hollywood Walk Of Fame (6:02), Life Is Good (remix) (1:15)
Vocals: Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey, Transiberian Orchestra), Nad Sylvan (Unifaun, Agents Of Mercy, Steve Hackett) and Will Champlin (Micahel Jackson)
Guitar: Oz Noy (Steely Dan, Sting, John Medeski), Jeff Kollman (Cosmosquad, Asia, UFO), Rafael Moreira (session musician) and Josh Smith
Bass: Eugene Sharikov (Arsenal, Vision Of Sound). Drums: Joel Taylor (Alan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola). Flute & sax: Gary Meek (Airto Moreira). The ET (Edward Tsiselsky) Symphony Orchestra.
Keyboards: Edward Tsiselsky (session musician, film score composer), Dmitry Ilugdin (Arsenal, Vision Of Sound)
From the opening orchestral fanfare and Gentle Giant-inspired vocal arrangements of Life Is Good, through the brilliantly arranged mixture of choir, organ, crunching guitar and orchestra of Gotika, to the ELP-dedicated The King, The Master And The Timekeeper, this album is class all the way through. Each of the contributors is at the top of their game, adding superlative performances that enhance each track perfectly.
The two instrumentals, Artifact and Hail To The Winner (part II - Tarantella), are masterclasses on how orchestras can be effectively incorporated into prog, rather than simply used to enhance the sound pallet. These pieces couldn't exist without the integral orchestrations, with the second of these two pieces being a call-and-response type battle between the rock band and orchestra.
It is not completely all-out prog though. (I Got) Money In My Pocket tones down the prog extravagances and focuses on a strong vocal performance. It could have been edited somewhat as it lacks coherence in places. The drum sound (and drumming) is excellent throughout though. Hollywood Walk Of Fame is just a slice of fun, combining a multitude of styles. At first one thinks it is akin to an early ELP number, until it shifts to a vocal and piano section before a selection of solos from a variety of instruments, the Hammond is particularly nice. The orchestral section is very much film score-inspired but in spite of the mish-mash of influences it works well and doesn't fail to bring a smile to the face.
Ignore the 'remix' added to the coda of Life Is Good, as it is really a piece that brilliantly highlights the vocal interplays, with the instrumentation largely in the background, although the drums are more prominent and add a lot to the power of this excerpt.
There is no doubt that if I had received this album earlier, it would have been one of my albums of last year. Everyone like surprises and Life Is Good is one of the best surprises I have been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of. Now stop reading this and go and check it out!
Mark Hughes: 9.5 out of 10
Silent Chambers - Thousand Victories
One Victory (1:19), Growing Pains (4:36), Bedbugs (3:55), You Again (3:42), Moonlets (4:08), Daydream (4:38), Sparks of Change (3:54), Posthumous (4:29), The Crowning of the Monarch (2:13), Down my Spine (4:03), Little Man (7:28), Home of the Brave (4:01), This Day (2:53), Thousand Victories (3:51)
Now, the sole album to be released under The Dust Connection name came out way back in 2010. Trails garnered many positive reviews, including one from the DPRP's Edwin Roosjen (read it here). I also saw the band twice give an enjoyable show at the ProgPower Europe festival.
The 14 tracks contained on Thousand Victories is about as far as you can get from progressive rock or metal, whilst still having any elements of rock to its sound.
Sander Heerings (keys and piano), Jeroen Voogd (vocals), Martijn Balsters (guitar, bass mandolin, vocals) and Robert Spaninks (percussion) have created a fine collection of acoustic-led melodies. They are keen to stress that no electric guitars and drum kits were harmed during the creation of this album.
Whilst there is very little to meet the needs of fans who can only handle music with a progressive complexity and/or a metallic intensity, there is an abundance of riches to enjoy for anyone who enjoys melodic acoustic songwriting, with a heavy folk and a slight atmospheric leaning.
Having given this a few casual listens, with notebook in hand I sat down to pick out some highlights with a more focused perusal. What quickly became obvious, was that without realising it, every single track had already seeped into my memory. In this stripped-down format, the ability of the band to write some great, memorable melodies is impressive. This style of music really suits the voice of Jeroen Voogd. The keyboards and piano add depth but do not overwhelm, as does the guitar work of Martijn Balsters.
If I had to pick a favourite song it would be Down My Spine, although the folky mini epic of Little Man runs it close, benefiting from being the only track to be stretched out past the five minute mark.
I have played this album a lot this month. It simply demands repeat plays. For those who would enjoy some lighter musical moments, then as a debut album, this amounts to fourteen little victories.
Andy Read: 8.5 out of 10