Chickn - Wowsers!
Psychedelic prog rockers Chickn have released their second album entitled Wowsers! This is a follow up to their 2016’s self-titled debut album. Chickn is the brainchild of songwriter, singer, guitarist and keyboard player Angelos Krallis. The album was recorded live in the studio over a period of 10 days with a ten strong troop of Krallis’ fellow musicians who lend the pulsating, energetic songs a real spirited feel. They are an eclectic mix of Frank Zappa, 70s Gong with a sprinkling of the psyche-pop magic of the XTC offshoot The Dukes Of Stratosphere.
Right from the start this album of psychedelic strangeness is full of melodic invention and many deft left turns. Am I Cher? mixes psyche-pop with a horn section and surprising heavy guitar. Krallis’ vocals are strong and sung in near impeccable English (if only my Greek were as good).
The spectre of 1970s Gong hovers benignly over the woozy Too Many Parables, and over the constantly shifting rhythmic patterns and dynamics of I Cry Diamonds. With the latter’s rock out ending a thing of joy. Then Frank Zappa appears and elbows Gong out of the way for Chickn Tribe (Reprise). This song has terrific drumming and jazz rock bass, they vie with wah-wah guitar and a punchy horn section. It evokes Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo album but with more psychedelia and less big-band jazz. Zappa is name-checked directly, as well as musically, on the bonkers psyche-punk of Elevational Love Of Frank Zappa, full of horn stabs and bravado.
Chickn up the weird ante with the alt-country dustbowl blues meets Miles Davis’ muted trumpet with added pedal steel on Egg Of Love. Peyote psychedelia anyone? Then China Must Win is a slow, stoner psyche-blues that gets darker before kicking up three gears for the finale. Both tracks are the most straightforward on the album but they are cracking tunes of a different kind.
The album closes on a gentle note with Chickn’s paean to their hometown Cloud Over Athens. Gentle electric piano, cymbal splashes and muted horns give this a weirded out Sufjan Stevens feel.
This is a great album of psychedelic prog that has tuneful pop touches amongst the lysergic eccentricity, and it avoids completely the sitar and eastern trimmings as well. If you want something warm, engagingly left of field and foot-tapping, look no further than Chickn’s Wowsers!
Juzz - Juzz
Over the years, Spain has provided a number of excellent bands, whose music spans both jazz and rock. Iceberg are probably the best known and offered a standard for Spanish fusion bands to follow. They set down an important marker, offering music arguably every bit as exciting and as formidable as Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra in their heyday. More recently, bands such as, Glazz have created albums that mix the freedom associated with improvisation, with some of the compositional structures more readily associated with prog.
Juzz‘s all instrumental debut, also offers music that seamlessly mixes prog, jazz and rock. Juzz is a band that does not try to disguise their use of both jazz and rock idioms. There is ferocity to many of the granite-hewn riffs that present themselves in their tunes. The sweat-embossed intensity in evidence at the start of tunes such as, Rathenow Towers and Dead Water had me searching for comparisons with heavy riffing rock bands of the past.
The band also show a willingness to push the boundaries and break free from accepted conventions in a number of tunes. The avant sections that emerge in parts of Outro Tempo and during the mid-section of Lamento Fuzz had me reaching for comparisons with artists associated with free jazz.
In addition to these seemingly disparate styles, where Juzz are able to straddle rock, fusion and free aspects of jazz; the album also contains a more contemporary sound, where jangly post-rock rhythmic influences are present. This fresh sounding stylistic approach underpins some of the instrumental passages contained in Rathenow Towers and Outro Tempo.
The four compositions contain many interesting passages with an appealing ebb and flow. The album also contains many melodic and pleasant sections. The atmospheric meandering nature of much of Outro Tempo is particularly appealing. This tune has a knack of casting a hypnotic effect. Its fluffy spacious nature and Álex Salgueiro's restrained Hammond parts are captivating. Salgueiro's shining contribution on the Hammond B3 is very appealing and often provides the album with a classic retro sound. I also found myself bewitched by the tunes cascading guitar fills. Similarly, Dead Water is a fine tune. It contains some impressive changes of pace and a memorable Rhodes solo provided by Xan Campos.
The use of a hard blowing sax throughout much of the release furnished the tunes with a sound similar to some of the earlier albums of Passport. During passages that are more reflective the music, takes on a more expressive and expansive tone which brought the music of Weather Report to mind.
Although the album was enjoyable, I felt that there were times when the overall sound quality of the release was not precise enough for my personal tastes. On occasions, the definition of individual instruments became lost in broad swathes of sound.
Guitarist and composer Virxilio da Silva’s arrangements are well constructed. They include many opportunities for solos to emerge, or passages where, the instrumentation was changed, or the pace altered. The interaction between the excellent rhythm section and the other members of the band is one of the albums most attractive characteristics.
Juzz is an enjoyable debut, performed by a very competent set of musicians. I will certainly look out for their future releases and see how their style and sound develops over time
Mother Turtle - Zea Mice
Let’s start with a conclusion first. A difficult but brilliant album, Zea Mice by Mother Turtle is a hard to pinpoint yet of indisputably progressive style. One has to invest some time and effort to get to the bottom of this band and album that, beside a broad range of musical approaches, also offers an infinite number of instruments and moods. No easy stuff. But I can promise you this; if you invest in listening you will be rewarded with a timeless and priceless musical gem! To be short, this album is easily going to be in my DPRP top 20 of 2018.
Although I know that listening is the only thing to get to know this band, I will try and put it in words for you. An ingenious combination of styles and flavours of rock, jazz, primal prog, contemporary prog, larded with folk, metal, oriental, classical and endless other influences.
Let me try this another way. I am going to need a lot of imagination here.
Each separate song could easily serve as the main theme song of a great movie. Close your eyes now. Part 1 - Kukuruzu would do great for an Eastern Europe extreme multi-mob murder thriller. Part 1 - Cornhub perfectly fits a Magreb love story between members of opposite families. With a happy ending and wedding of course. Part 2 - Sea Mice is obviously meant to be for the new Bond movie You Only Live Mice! This diamond is forever.
You would hear Part 2 - Zeitenlik as the mysterious score of a typical German "Krimi". And Part 2 - Vermins is written for a real oppressive, vindictive and bloody Balkan vendetta. Murder and revenge without winners. Part 2 - Fourward fits Out Of Africa, The Thrilling Sequel, on egoistic politic leadership. Zea Mice Part 3-Vermins is only long enough to serve perfectly as the aforementioned Balkan teaser.
But then, Part 3 - Nostos is something really different, the real Balkan apotheosis! All layers bundled and no movie needed for this very well constructed largely instrumental progressive epic. Just freaking out while listening in awe, including fantastic horn sections, and gets your adrenaline pumping up your ears! This closing track is the masterpiece of masterpieces that sums it all up in one big, seventeen-minute, lusty orgy of crossing soundscapes and moods. What a trip this would be when played live! Absolutely stunning.
It's impossible for me to explain any of the compositions, you just have to listen several times and you will, yes you will, get rewarded and addicted. Because it’s just unconditionally brilliant. Greece is the cradle of civilisation, this album underlines this is still the case. Highly recommended.
Sequester - Hermit
Sequester is a one-man band from Canada, formed back in 2005. Currently, they have released four albums, with the most recent one being Hermit, released 2018. From the website, Sequester talk about how gaming and books influence the writing, from tracks such as Bloodborne being influenced by the game of the same name, and The Boy Who Lived being the title given to the title character of the harry Potter novels.
Sequester’s Facebook page suggested an influence of everything from heavy and thrash metal, to psychedelia, folk, jazz and classical. Within a few short beats of the album you can see these influences start to come out. The album is awash with grooving riffs, raging from palm-muted, heavy metal chugging, to some almost ‘creepy carnival’ type bass lines and synths, all over laid with Ryan Boc’s foreboding and gothically ethereal vocals.
With a sound that is very similar to Ghost (particularly on the aforementioned Bloodborne), but with maybe with some slightly more of the doom and gothic side to the music, as opposed to Ghost’s more eccentric style.
However, there are elements that remind me of some of Katatonia’s earlier works when they were more invested in the doom metal sound, focusing on emotive heavy music. This helps bring a sombre tone to the feel of the album and helps bring the powerhouse of catchy, yet melancholic riffing and vocals home while still maintaining an almost playful and macabre sound.
I’d say my favourite tracks would be Bloodborne and Means Of Comfort, both have fantastic rhythms to them and are incredibly catchy.
To sum up my take on this, Sequester would be pretty much a more serious version of Ghost. Catchy songs, fun riffs and leads, a gothic and gloomy sound that has a touch of madness to keep you guessing, but not too much to overpower the feel of the album.
Unkh - Innerverse
The Dutch band Unkh have released their follow up album, Innerverse, four years after their 2014 debut release Traveller. They are a four-piece outfit who embody the spirit of 70s-based symphonic prog but have that modern neo-prog edge that defies any attempt to ape the classics delivered by such luminaries as Genesis, Yes and Camel.
The album's thematic idea extends to "existential loneliness" which is expressed musically by the five tracks.
The opening song, Paranoid Void, is a superb piece of music: from piano stabs, dark esoteric sounds, weird loops, treated vocals and catchy motifs. The guitar work is exciting and thoughtfully played. The song slowly builds and crescendos into a nice synth solo, followed by a lengthy repeating bass pattern that gives the foundation for some great sounding, spacey guitar solos that get the blood racing. This track on its own is 10 out of 10.
Unfortunately expectations are slightly dashed with the instrumental Deep after such a stunning opener. It slowly builds to the point where the band enter into a harsh, metal riff strewn section as if they're not sure if they're a symphonic group or not. It doesn't last too long, and we get back to a more symphonic vibe, albeit with driving power based chords. It's certainly a well-crafted song, but lacks some of the tuneful finesse of Paranoid Void. Maybe I'm missing the point and Deep is a side of loneliness that resonates throughout this song.
The Showcase fairs better in the melodic stakes with a reasonable tune that is sung well. Definitely shades of Steven Wilson in this song, especially the spacey strings providing the backdrop to an exciting driving groove (check around the 4 minute mark). Great song and all the hallmarks of symphonic prog.
Slumber is the short prelude to the album's magnum opus, with strong hints of 70s Genesis and Camel at their most tranquil. A simple, atmospheric, keyboard orientated song, with a soft, mournful-tinged vocal delivery.
The nineteen minute pièce de résistance of the entire album is the final track Dreamcatcher. The eerie start and strange noises puts one in mind of Genesis's The Waiting Room from The Lamb. It gradually builds momentum and is replete with sonic textures, catchy guitar hooks, confident vocals, simple but engaging keyboard workouts with solid bass and drums throughout. Energetic, pulsating, raunchy, delicate in places, this track shows this band's talents in abundance. Was that some nod to Pink Floyd at the end? Wonderful track and worthy of the symphonic prog tag.
Great album even though I was not entirely convinced by the second track. Worthy of 8 out of 10.