Album Reviews

Issue 2018-013

The Foxholes - Sci-Fox

The Foxholes - Sci-Fox
Country of Origin: Spain
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 38:54
Track List:
Sci-Fox Pt.1 (7:34), La Ciencia De La Confusión (5.36), Andromeda Blues (5:51), Mephistopheles (3:48), Tierra Ni Hogar (5:17), Sci-Fox Pt.2 (6:53), Cada Miércoles (3:53)
The Foxholes are a prolific band, there's no doubt about it. Jonah Luke's unlimited supply of memorable melodies and riffs, along with a (likely) strong work ethic, brings us Sci-Fox, their seventh release in eight years and probably their most prog-friendly album to date. In some ways, they remind me of some classic bands (Yes and Rush come to mind) in the sense that they're both creative and disciplined, so they can keep producing consistently good music at a steady pace, releasing relatively short albums for today's standards (just to remind you, both Close To The Edge and A Farewell To Kings clock under the 40 minute mark) but, in this way, avoiding overlong releases stuffed with filler.

Sci-Fox Pt.1 opens the album with seven minutes of powerful instrumental music. Just as in the remainder of the album, there are plenty of keyboard textures, but it is Luke's lively guitar work which takes centre stage. It makes, for the most part, for engaging listening, but by the time all the themes have been presented, it becomes somewhat flat and probably overstays its welcome by a couple of minutes. La Ciencia De La Confusión, on the other hand, is excellent neo-prog, in the sense that manages to be both catchy and interesting. As the song progresses, keyboards become increasingly present, giving it an epic edge which is very welcome. Think of a 21st century 80s-style Pallas or IQ (if that makes any sense) so you can get an idea of how it sounds.

Andromeda Blues is another instrumental piece, and its six minutes could be best described as a cross between Hemispheres-era Rush and King Crimson's 90s-00s output, although it again lacks some extra "wow" factor, maybe some twist to make it become truly memorable. As it is, it's just another solid slab of powerful riffing. Mephistopheles, on the other hand, is a short and very catchy 70s flavored hard rocker, closer to Black Sabbath than it is to, say, Genesis.

Tierra Ni Hogar brings the album back to proggy, and even anthemic, territory. This time, it's a light and shade affair, alternating melodic vocal passages with intense riffing and pounding drums, not too far from the Muse trademark sound, although (thankfully) Jonah's vocals are not remotely as over the top as Matt Bellamy's traditional bellowing.

This release comes full circle with the second part of the instrumental title track, and I must say I prefer this one to the opening track. Even if it cleverly reprises many of the themes and motifs found in part 1, this movement comes across as a more engaging and instantly enjoyable piece. Guitars and keys are more evenly balanced and it feels more cohesive. A good way to send the album off. (Well, for those who get the CD there's a bonus track, a rerecording of Cada Miércoles, originally included in 2010's Com O Doin Fier No.)

Probably the most enjoyable Foxholes release to date, and a step in the right direction towards a (next) great album.
Héctor Gómez: 7 out of 10

LEF - Hypersomniac

LEF - Hypersomniac
Country of Origin: various
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 52:46
Track List:
Opening (2.16),Parallel Powers (6:35), Surgery (1:47), Aaran Has Changed (5:53), It's Alright (4:46), Quarrel (00:29), First Day Of Work (4:55), A Glimpse Of Emma (5:05),Pale Skin (00:57), Therapy (5:36), First Step (7.13), Let The Sun Fall Apart (7.14)
Hypersomniac is the latest project of Italian multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari. It is released aptly under the moniker of LEF.

Fornasari (LEF) is perhaps best known for his work with O.R.K.. Their last album Soul Of An Octopus was well received and embodies a range of styles from King Crimson to the artistic musings of Pink Floyd. The album was underpinned by a magnificent rhythm section, a raft of fine guitar parts and an interesting bitter sweet top dressing provided LEF'S unique vocal approach.

Given the pedigree of the performers involved in Hypersomniac and when compared to Soul Of An Octopus, the album is somewhat disappointing. As well as LEF, Hypersomniac features bassist Bill Laswell, guitarist Eivind Aarset, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, organist Stale Storlokken, saxophonist Rebecca Sneddon, and Motorpsycho's drummer Kenneth Kapstad.

Unconventional, tightly spun soundscapes and a challenging vocal style that includes an impressive range of mellow crooning, high pitched warbling and guttural mutterings, are a recurring feature of the release. This unusual combination adds a quirky element to much of the music. Hypersomniac's an album that will delight many listeners, who appreciate music that sits comfortably outside the box, or do not have any preconceived ideas of what prog should sound like.

Nevertheless, the album is arguably not as experimental as some might hope for. Whilst, it contains music that would easily fail any old grey whistle test, it is not a release that is teeming with long drawn out instrumental passages to raise the hairs of the neck, or complex arrangements that thrust freely to explore new territories.

The vocal performance of LEF dominates proceedings. It's an old cliché, but in the case of LEF it's quite accurate; you will either like, or dislike his vocal style and delivery. Unfortunately, despite its obvious qualities, I am one of those who, struggles to appreciate his voice. At times I found his dramatic delivery and often unusual intonations to be a real barrier to my enjoyment of what was on offer.

This would not be so much of a problem in an album that explored lots of interesting instrumental ideas. However, with the exception of two instrumentals and some shorter interludes which set the scene with spoken sound effects, Hypersomniac is primarily made up of songs. Albeit, songs that for the most part have a progressive structure and do not necessarily conform to a usual verse, chorus and middle 8 format.

The album tells a story that is set in a dystopian future. The primary objective of the music is to convey the story and the means of delivering it is LEF's voice. The story is in comic strip form and is available at here. The script was written by LEF and the other elements of the comic were created by programmer Pier Luigi Rocca and cartoonist Nana Octopus Dalla Porta.

Much as Ian Anderson's Homo Erraticus was bogged down by its unwieldy concept, weighty lyrics and need to convey a story, Hypersomniac suffers a similar bloated fate. Although, Hypersomniac is stylistically, radically different to Homo Erraticus, the effect upon the quality of what is on offer is similar, as the music is squeezed and strangled by the prominence given to its narrative concept. The arrangements take on a role that is less effective and considerably less inventive than might have been the case if both the music and the storyline had been given an equal footing.

This is particularly the case in the languid and gently drawn out meanderings of It's Alright. It is largely an acoustic piece that contrasts well with the full bodied sound of the Pink Floyd influenced Aaran Has Changed. However, after its gorgeous trumpet introduction, the music is relegated to a supporting role and is submerged in a sticky syrup of lengthy lyrical ramblings.

The alternative love song A Glimpse Of Emma is probably the piece that gives the performers the most space to break free from the music's usual closely woven sound. In this composition there are some subtle embellishments provided by the trumpet, which give the whole piece a brighter and lighter feel.

However, A Glimpse Of Emma is an exception, as the arrangements that accompany the vocals in the majority of the other pieces are for the most part closely knit and have a dense sound. The band has a tightly spun ensemble style where apart from some occasional manic sax breaks and lively trumpet flurries to add some melodic interest; no instrumentalist really stands out or comes to the fore.

On the occasions when the performers are set free from their supporting role, as in the mid-section of Parallel Powers and in the instrumental First Day at Work what is created is often an impenetrable wall of chugging interlocking sounds.

The most interesting and expansive track was by far the lengthy instrumental First Step. Its unrelenting dark soundscape and disturbing cacophony of wailing sax parts was fitting for the albums dystopian concept. On this occasion, the band establish something of a groove and enter territories associated with hypnotic space rock, where rich key board layers and muscular bass lines propel the piece to a different musical place from that previously experienced. Hypersomniac will no doubt, appeal to those who like concept albums that have an experimental edge and also feature a theatrical Rock opera vocal style.

Whether, Hypersomniac is memorable enough, or has sufficient impact to fully satisfy a wider audience, is questionable and open to debate.
Owen Davies: 6.5 out of 10

Libera Scientia - Tellurian

Libera Scientia - Tellurian
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2018
Time: 25:52
Track List:
The Tower (7:12), Sonder (2:27), Empyrean (ft. Benedict Harris-Hayes) (6:16), Tellurian - Part 1 (5:16), Tellurian - Part 2 (4:41)
Djent has quickly morphed into music of varying directions, and what was once the genre-defining element is barely heard anywhere today. The reason for that is rather simple and understandable, because the sheer thrashing of the low B became boring rather soon and even the most mind-boggling meters couldn't prevent from it.

But luckily, thins one-man project brings it back to a good extend and kept in mind to deliver more than just the plain riffing. The blend here is rather enjoyable: groovy odd-metered thrashing in combination with ear-bleeding ambient textures of cool harmonic soundscapes. Adding the help of Enochian Theory's Ben Harris-Hayes rounds up this EP perfectly.

After this EP of a duration of 26 minutes, one's left alone, craving for more. So let's hope a full album will follow up soon.

Recommended to fans of Uneven Structure, Skyharbor, David Micic, Karnivool, The Contortionist and the likes.
Raimond Fischbach: 7 out of 10

Orpheus Nine - Transcendental Circus

Orpheus Nine - Transcendental Circus
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 75:05
Track List:
Of Zygotes And Grace Notes (1:18), Eightfold Way (6:47), Fetish (8:31), Hand Of Make-Believe (5:33), No Illusions (4:24), Age Of Rhyme And Reason (6:27), Transcendental Circus (21:32) - I: Barcarolle Of Bedlam (5:31), II: Hallowed Playground (4:14), III: Intergalactic Clown Festival (3:00), Swimming In Our Four O'Clock Tea (2:51), V: Not Within The Memory Of Elephants (3:01), VI: Freak Tent Mausoleum (2:55), Reaper's Carousel (3:47), Sandcastles (6:01), The Fall Of The House Of Keys (10:45)
What started out as a solo project by New Jersey keyboardist Jason Kresge evolved into a fully fledged band with the current line-up of Orpheus Nine established in 2012 comprising Kresge (keys, lead vocals), Matt Ullestad (guitars), Tony Renda (bass, backing vocals) and Mark DeGregory (drums, backing vocals).

Despite their recent formation, the individual members have a solid musical pedigree as this debut album amply demonstrates. Even by prog's usual high standards, technically they are flawless, effortlessly crossing the boundaries between traditional prog, jazz-fusion, avant-garde, metal and mainstream rock.

I have to confess that hearing the band for the first time was a little overwhelming (I remember a similar reaction the first time I heard ELP back in the early 70s). The general feeling was that the band were trying trying just a little too hard to impress. After several plays however the music unfolds in a more naturalistic fashion and the individual qualities of each track reveal themselves.

The band skilfully recreate the finer points of vintage prog including the symphonic embellishments of Yes, the jazz-fusion elements of King Crimson, the bombast of ELP and the melody Genesis. Fellow American bands like Happy The Man, Echolyn and Rush are also brought to mind as well as The Tangent and Karmakanic.

The influences are none better illustrated than the excellent Fetish with its juxtaposition of rippling acoustic guitar and heavy staccato riffs and frantic guitar and synth exchanges. There's even a touch of Frank Zappa style quirkiness to close.

Despite a good deal of the material being keyboard driven there is ample scope for articulate lead bass lines and impressively busy drumming bringing to mind Jonas Reingold and Mike Portnoy respectively. And although Kresge's singing doesn't match his keyboard skills his voice is engaging enough in a high register, slightly theatrical style reminiscent of Geddy Lee.

In six parts, the expansive title piece Transcendental Circus is actually a series of musical vignettes that demonstrate the band's abilities to the full. It incorporates snatches of traditional circus themes (albeit with a macabre twist) with Hallowed Playground being the most melodically accessible track. There is also a memorable Gentle Giant (by way of Spocks Beard) choral interlude.

Perhaps my favourite song however is Age Of Rhyme And Reason which on face value is almost a no-nonsense rocker compared with the rest of the album but even here there is hidden musical depths.

There is no doubt that this is very mature debut that succeeds on most every level, benefiting from Kresge's excellent, crystal clear production. If I had to add one tiny note of criticism however, at 75 minutes it is perhaps a tad overlong. Clearly they had a lot of music they wanted to get out of their system.

The album is dedicated to the memories of Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Chris Squire, John Wetton, Allan Holdsworth and David Bowie which will give you a fair idea of where the band's musical loyalties lie.
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10

Vespero - Shum-Shir

Vespero - Shum-Shir
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 68:00
Track List:
Shum-Shir (10:07), Isidore's Dance (8:35), Gaya's Dance (7:05), Gulli's Dance (7:42), Hapi (7:32)
Live Bonus Tracks: Droga (8:45), Gaya's Dance (8:45), Hapi (5:54), Negusa (6:06)
The choice of where to listen to an album, so that it can be heard at its best, can sometimes be problematic. Decisions such as, whether the music might best suit a headphone experience in a darkened room, or an ear-cupped musical encounter in a verdant field, might be made. Is the album best experienced with the head gently lolling on a soft pillow, or when the body is tightly wracked on a rowing machine? Is the music best suited to a gentle amble to the newsagent, or is it better served by embarking on a tight knuckle drive on the motorway?

For the majority of albums, the decision of where or how it is heard may not have a particularly positive or detrimental impact on the overall experience. However, some albums are an exception and I have discovered that Shum-Shir falls into that category.

Russian band Vespero was formed in 2003 and produced its first full length album in 2007. Shum-Shir continues to develop and refine the bands unique style of ethnic flavoured space-rock with kraut-rock and jazz rock influences that were so superbly showcased in their last studio album Lique Mekwas released in 2016 and also in their excellent Azmari: Abyssinian Liventure album released in 2017. Along with Lique Mekwas, Shum-Shir forms a part of the bands Abyssinian Tales series of releases. Shum-Shir contains five interrelated studio pieces and as an added attraction the CD version also contains four live bonus tracks.

What sets Vespero apart from other bands who peddle their wares in the rather formulaic world of space-rock is the bands frequent exploitation of rhythms associated with Africa and their ability to introduce and exploit subtle changes of pace and texture.

These facets keep things varied and interesting and provides not only a cerebral dimension that is satisfyingly complex, but also a physical one that is equally as captivating. The vibrant rhythms and primordial pull of the music in tunes like Gulli's Dance has a mesmerising and hypnotic effect.

However, the most identifiable feature that creates Vespero's signature sound and style is arguably, the manner in which the band skilfully incorporates flowing violin parts and a range of unusual bowed effects, into their ever-changing web of interlocking sounds.

When Vitaly Borodin's virtuoso violin parts are intertwined with a mesh of Fripp-timbered guitar tones, keyboard parts that swirl squelch and squawk, and a rhythm section that is equally capable of grinding out a gut wrenching groove or laying down a plethora of complex percussive patterns, then the result is totally compelling and often stunning.

Shum-Shir is probably best heard with eyes firmly clenched, or with curtains drawn in a darkened room to avoid any distractions. It's not an album to hear whilst doing the ironing or bathing the dog. With nothing else to divert the attention, the patterns in the mind that can be created by the music's relentless rhythms are able to take on a tightly knit weave that has many different hues and textures.

The darkness of any blacked out room is readily displaced by the music's colourful allure. Shum-Shir is more than capable of lighting up the shadowy corners of the imagination during its most persuasive passages. In pieces like Isidore's Dance, Shum-Shir has a thrilling tone and possesses a memorable mystique. The album has the potential to have an all-encompassing and captivating effect. It's numerous musical layers and kaleidoscopic range of sounds has the ability to create a multisensory experience that is not easily imagined, but once encountered is not readily forgotten.

Surprisingly, I have found that Shum-Shir also comes into its own whilst traversing the pock-marked motorways of England. The album's mix of hypnotic space-rock, interstellar sound effects, recurring cycle of rhythms, and shape shifting melodies are just a perfect accompaniment for making a car journey. Shum-Shir makes the time pass quickly and that cannot be a bad thing on the UK's congested roads.

The release begins with the title track and although containing many features associated with space-rock, its mix of styles ensures that this tune is not just one way ticket to the dark oblivion of space, but is just right for other types of journeys. The mid-section of this opening piece includes a drum interlude that is interlinked with other spoken effects, to create an ambience that would not be out of place in an alien dance ritual. It is a rhythmic master class and one that is sure to set free the dancer that lurks within. The outro of the tune is equally rewarding and contains a mix of fantastic guitar parts, which scream in discordant tones, but eventually resolve in a melodic manner.

I have also found that when the album is utilised as a training aid, it is easy to be swaddled and enveloped by its insistent embrace. Because of its frequent groove, Shum-Shir can provide an excellent platform for any activity that might be enhanced by tunes which exhibit rhythms that grip. A session on a rowing machine or an exercise bike can become bearable and even pleasurable. The albums entrancing qualities make it possible to zone out from any physical discomfort. Its array of otherworldly effects also makes it possible to pass into an imaginary world.

Isidore's Dance exemplifies the album's captivating qualities. It boldly announces its ability to allure in its atmospheric opening passage, that features a Fripp-toned soundscape. It is not long however, before the band stir up a tumultuous groove that exhibits boundless energy and is undeniably infectious. Bulbous low end rhythms carve intricate patterns. As the piece evolves, surprising changes of pace occur. These contain cleanly plucked interludes of violin and guitar embellished by choppy keyboard fills. This combination gives the middle part of the composition a minimalist stripped back feel that contrasts well and is at odds with the bubbling groove of the tunes earlier part and its inevitable boisterous conclusion.

Gaya's Dance is probably my favourite piece. It incorporates a synth sound that is bound to please aficionados of symphonic rock. The violin creates its own sonic vapour trail that leaves a mark on a black rimmed sky. As it soars upwards, the upper registers are explored and in tandem with a sweet toned guitar, shapely colourful notes are released to spiral, fizz, dance and party in the delicate glow of a moon beamed night.

Gulli's Dance also has many attractive qualities. Superficially it contains traits associated with space-rock, but its shifting patterns never linger for long. Free soaring violin and guitar parts dispel any notion that it is an ordinary tune and help to propel it to another level.

The album concludes with the enigmatic Hapi. This tune has a slower pace and it is a fine way in which to finish the album. Hapi is characterised by the use of a variety of keyboard, violin, and guitar effects. These create a hauntingly distinctive aura. Its most striking element though, is the use of a glockenspiel-type keyboard sound in its concluding phases. This provides an unusual reflective atmosphere, which is in parts redolent of sections of King Crimson's Lark's Tongues in Aspic or Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle.

I fully recommend Shum-Shir and believe that wherever or however it is heard, it will probably not disappoint. Nevertheless, it really does come into its own when it is encountered on the road, or in a sweat encrusted gym hall, or in a darkened room. I thoroughly enjoyed Sum-Shir and I hope that you are also able to experience and check out what it offers.

All that is left for me to say is, Bon Voyage! Have a safe journey, don't pull a muscle and remember to open the curtains when you have finished.
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10
Album Reviews