Issue 2018-089: Mini Reviews Special
Martin Barre - Roads Less Travelled
Roads Less Travelled sees an all-round improvement in Martin Barre’s abilities as a songsmith, and overall is a much more satisfying album than his previous effort, Back to Steel released in 2016.
Much of the album explores well-known musical territories. If viewed as a solid rock album then the majority of Roads Less Travelled fits the bill, and often excels. The songs are accessible and linear in their approach. That is not to say that M. Barre has not attempted to mix things up a bit. There are occasional nods to a more wooden sound, which might appeal to fans of Songs From The Wood-era Jethro Tull fans. The music rarely deviates from an obvious path, but some of the arrangements occasionally veer away, to hint at the way in which Barre’s songwriting might develop over time.
The inclusion of mandolins gives portions of the album an earthy sound. The mandolin break, which concludes the opening piece Lone Wolf, is particularly satisfying. Similarly, the gentler wooden moments that are prominent in probably the most satisfying piece on the album, Trinity, are excellent. The slow-burning mandolin embellishments during I’m On My Way act as a necessary contrast to the tune's heavy-footed, often repetitive rock structure and memorable guitar outro.
However, Martin Barre is primarily a rock guitarist, and it is when the music spits and growls that his imperious playing comes into its own. His solo in_ Out Of Time_ is so good, it casts my mind back to a time when the sound of an expressive rock guitarist could uncoil the hairs on my then youthful neck.
The tunes are not without merit. They are skilfully executed and performed, but are safely conventional. Paradoxically, it is their predictability in terms of structure and dynamics, which give the songs a satisfying, reassuringly familiar feel. Overall, this makes the album an enjoyable but unsurprising experience. In this respect, the title track is a fine example of how a piece that treads and explores no new musical territories, can become a thoroughly appealing earworm.
M. Barre will be touring the UK in January; catch a show if you can, it will be interesting to see how these tunes are adapted. In a concert setting much of M. Barre's music comes alive and many of the songs are dragged kicking and screaming from the mundane, when accompanied by the energy of a live performance.
Cytrus - Trzecia łza od słońca
Cytrus were a Polish band who were active from 1979 till somewhere in the 1980s. They didn't release any singles or albums during those years but have three compilation albums in their name now. A decade ago, two CDs were released with from what I understand is their complete recorded output, all recorded between 1980 and 1985.
The CD currently under review is a compilation of only instrumental recordings, recorded between 1980 and 1984. All the these songs are also available on the two aforementioned albums. While it may seem like an odd choice to collect only the instrumentals, the album has a certain sense of cohesion. I've heard some of the tracks with vocals, and there's a different vibe in the arrangements, like there had to be made room for the vocals.
Which does imply that there is no room for them in the instrumental tracks. Well, hardly. Cytrus' songs are dense in a Mahavishnu way, but with less jazz and more rock. Focus and The Flock also come to mind, as does Tempest but even Mastermind and a bit of Kansas. Heavy rock with proggy and jazzy twists.
Having flute and violin in the line-up at least results in a sound not too common, but it's mostly the arrangements that make this album a special one. Some of the tracks have some room to breathe but most of it has that lovely intensity. Some favourites: Trzecia łza od słońca and Rock '80.
It's remarkable this band was never picked up by a record label. Maybe it was the timing, or just lack of luck? Most of the songs have stood the test of time very well. You could be listening to a great album and only later realise the songs were recorded in the early 1980s.
I love this album a lot and if you like your prog a tad heavy, intense, and a little different with complexity, but in a way still sounding natural including several lead melodies by different instruments (all of which sound excellent), then I am certain you will love this too.
DC Sound Collective - Dirae Pax
The prolific Daniel Crommie is a songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Oregon. On top of over two dozen solo albums, plus numerous albums with Group Du Jour, four with Echo System and five with Saturnalia Trio over the last quarter of a century, he also operates a revolving cast of musical collaborators as the DC Sound Collective.
This is Daniel's third release of 2018. Although it is sold as a full album (on CD it comes with lyric booklet in a Digipak), it is actually partly a re-issue of four tracks from 2016's Following The Noise EP plus six new songs.
The four re-issued tracks have been "remastered and remixed", however the music of The Collective is never going to be renowned for its sonic complexity and high-end production values. Thus the value of doing this, two years after their original release, is miniscule. My review of the EP covers them in more detail. My only question has to be: why not include all five tracks? Especially when the one that does not appear here (Rowena) was marginally the most successful. Certainly far superior than Ghostwriter, which appears here but remains unfathomably unlistenable.
Of the new tracks, the self-given label of "electro progressive rock with ambient moments" is an able summary, if you add a nod to the prominent presence of a flute. Next Exit 7 is pretty successful. Thoughts And Prayers less so, with its horrible Casio keyboard sounds, and a happily repetitive structure.
Of the two instrumentals, Blunt Instrument is just noise, whilst Gravel Underfoot manages to mix a trance-like beat and electro sounds, with wildlife atmospherics of the sort sold on CD by alternative/eco/gemstone stores in the 80s. The flute adds an Andean atmosphere towards the end.
Industry Man opens in a similar mode, before widening into a cinematic ambience. This is probably the most interesting of the new compositions. Something Somewhere offer another restyling, with its four minutes of guitar-led nu-wave meets alt-rock.
As with the last EP, there are as many hits as misses here, but this is another interesting collection of genre-defying music, all delivered with a firm stamp of independence and a tongue hovering over its cheek.
Hillward - System Live
In the space of three years and two albums, this talented band from Québec has become one of my most-listened-to artists. Both their debut Flies In Amber Stone (review here and this year's sophomore effort, System have made my list of favourite albums of the year.
So what a pleasant surprise to get news of a pre-Christmas present in the shape of a digital-only live album. As far as I can make out, this was recorded at the launch party for the release of System in Quebec City on September 18th. There was no initial intention to create a live disc, just a memento. However the quality was so good, that the band thought: "Why not?"
My enthusiastic review of System gives a full background on the band and their music. So all I really need to say here, is that if you are already a fan of the band, then this is an essential addition. If not, then it's as good a place to start as any.
The performance and sound quality is superb. All of the songs offer something new when proffered in a live setting. The thing that really stands out however, is that this band are incredibly consistent song writers. There really is not a weak track, nor a weak moment in any track.
Personal favourites here would probably be Life In Serigraph from the new album and the excellent and powerful rendition of the title track from their debut. Hopefully one day they will make it across to Europe but until then, this is a great addition to my Hillward collection.
Warning: once you have discovered them the music of Hillward is very hard to get out of your system!
Ljungblut - Villa Carlotta 5959
This was bound to happen, having just reviewed several exquisite progressive rock albums very much to my liking, here we probably have a majestic record by a very accomplished Norwegian singer/songwriter who with his third band (next to Seigmen and Zeromancer) found the time to record a deeply touching, moving, melancholic, spine-chillingly sublime album. To some, I hastily add, for I don’t feel it like that at all. This album has parts which indeed move me, but ultimately they have the opposite effect.
The album I’m referring to is Villa Carlotta 5959 by Ljungblut. Originally Ljungblut started out as a solo project in 2005 by Kim Ljung, releasing three albums in the course of several years. Steadily developing into a full band project, they have since released two independent albums, both sung in Norwegian. This is his sixth album, and is the last in a trilogy featuring Norwegian lyrics. Norwegian is nowhere near to my native language, but as it turns out this isn’t a problem whatsoever. It’s probably even for the better adding mystique, drama and otherworldly uniqueness to the music.
Ljungblut consists of founder Kim Ljung on vocals and synth, Dan Heide (guitars), Joakim Brendsrød (keys), Sindre Pedersen (bass) and Ted Skogmann on drums. To aid the album they used several guest artists like Erik Ljunggren (A-Ha, Zeromancer), Ginge Anvik (SubGud) and Terje Johannesen, who is also responsible for the mix of the album. All new names to me, and only a hint as to what to expect, not having any more than a promo CD and a factsheet.
Hasselblad, a song about the 12 Hasselblad cameras left behind on the surface of the moon, immediately gives a 80s pop-music feel, equal to Simple Minds meets Ultravox, with the melancholic voice of Ljung uncannily reminiscent of Bono. Vintage synth and keys swerve round in typical 80s fashion ending into a psychedelic outro.
Oktober follows suite, still slightly up-tempo but already sounding familiar. Til Warszawa turns the tempo right down, incorporating lovely sounds of violins and mesmerising vocals. It’s based on a simple repetitive song structure and normally I don’t skip a track on an album when listening to it, but here’s a first. With 235 it’s back to 80s pop, yet again constructed on a simple musical theme. All tastefully done, and I’m sure there are many out there who adore this kind of music.
Superga, referring to the plane crash that killed the Torino football team in 1949 starts to make me drowsy on the inside. Not because of its message but because of its musical minimalistic, melancholic approach. The sadness in the voice of Ljung amplifies this even more and I get dreams of Bono (U2) having lost his glasses and as a result is irretrievably helpless. I’ll have to remember to skip this one next time.
Diamant wakes me up with its catchy drums, but this is only temporarily. It’s the same repetitive trick again and it’s getting a bit boring. Himmelen Som Vet, filled with beautiful arrangements, crawls by slowly leaving me shallow and empty, something that doesn’t change with Ohnesorg giving off the same feelings of futility. I feel dreary and I’m imagining a window from which I brainlessly watch leaves fall from a tree in Autumn. I start to think it’s probably easier to select tracks then to skip some.
Aldri helt stille (Never Completely Quiet) and Min krig finally deal with Ljung’s chronic migraine. Indeed a tragic affair to have and I can relate in a way, for these are exhausting, heavily personal and intense tracks resulting in me having a mild headache.
Will I play this CD again, can be answered with an assured no. Although brimmed with outstanding melancholy and severity, it is also filled with sorrow and grief and frankly too depressing for my taste. Skipping 8 out of 10 tracks doesn’t feel right either. If you however do like emotional, vintage, alternative indie rock mixed with 80s pop like U2, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and newer Anathema this could be just The Cure for you.
Napier's Bones - Monuments
UK-based Napier’s Bones have thus far delivered four albums filled with traditional seventies-styled prog-rock, and consist of Gordon Midgley (musical octopus, lyrics, backing vocals and production) and vocalist Nathan Jon Tillett, who is also responsible for the great artwork to the albums. Monuments is the band’s fifth album of classical progressive rock encasing mythical ancient tales and stories.
The production is very authentic, resembling the sound of rural 70s prog bands like Jethro Tull, King Crimson and Genesis. Inspired by the aforementioned names, it suites their raw and rustic progressive music perfectly, adding layers of atmosphere and depth. This is aptly demonstrated in the opening epic, Standing Childe, where a marching rhythm, guided by guitars, competently sets up the story of medieval nobleman Childe. Reflective sounds of Mellotron (from a synth) enhances the mood-settings, to which rugged and expressive edgy vocals deliver just the right amount of vigour.
The highly depicting track tells the tale of a nobleman called Childe through nine different musical movements, each one filled with solidly executed progressive rock in the vain of Genesis, Yes and Ancient Vision. The acoustical passages, resembling the lighter strophes of Childe, clash beautifully with the narrative instrumental heavier prog strides. Glued together by the fine guitar-work of Midgley and a dark and mysterious intermezzo, the journey ends in a melancholic vein after a dramatic turn of events leading up to Childe finding his monumental resting place.
In a similar formula Napier’s Bones continue with strength on Mirabilis and Waters Dark sustaining their credibility as craftsman who incorporate folklore structures. Free To Choose showcases their happier, more dreamy side, setting up the scene for The Heights; a dashing example of underground neo-progressive rock typical for the UK in the very early 80s.
An enjoyable, albeit occasional old-fashioned effort with some lovely touches of classical historic prog expertly done by two modern-day minstrels.
Oakhaart - Parallel To An Endless Dream
For almost a quarter of a century I based my existence in the lovely Cotswold market town of Stroud in Gloucestershire. World-famous as the birthplace of the humble lawnmower (the first ever example is housed in the town's museum), in all those years it managed to contribute zero, diddly-squat, f-all, rien in terms of my search for new progressive rock or metal (Pendragon preceeded me by 10 years or so and had since moved two train stations up the road).
They may be five years too late (I now live 1000 miles away as a proper European) but excuse me for giving mention to a band that is finally flying the flag for prog-metal around the Stroud Valleys.
Hailing from Dursley (Stroud's scrubby little bruvver), Oakhaart released a self-titled EP four years ago. This debut album is a major step-up in class.
Consisting of (I presume) brothers Max Medlow (vocals, guitars and bass) and Ollie Medlow on drums, this is an impressive exercise in full-frontal tech-death-prog-metal. The mix of death and clean vocals is well balanced. The musicianship and arrangements are complex but not impenetrable. I'm by no means an expert on this sub-genre (death vox are not my thing) but the aggressive tech-thrash elements of this disc remind me of bands such as Sanctuary, Watchtower and Communic as well as the likes of Chaos Divine in their more melodic moments. And for once, the shorter instrumental interludes add, rather than subtract, by bringing totally different musical ideas to the party. Well worth a listen.
Tusmørke - Osloborgerlig Tusmørke: Vardøger og Utburder vol 1
DPRP reviews editor: "Describe this album in one sentence."
Humble reviewer: "Monty Python meets Syd Barrett during a Jethro Tull set at Fairport's Cropredy Festival, which has been relocated to a Norwegian hilltop over-looking misty forests and fjords."
This is the seventh album from Tusmørke (Norwegian for twilight) since their 2012 debut Underjordisk Tusmørke. Possibly the longest appellation for an album I have ever listened to, OTVoU (for short) is humbly billed by this recently-ultra-prolific band as a collection of “demos and out-takes”.
Further explained, this is "part one of a series of compilations of songs that don’t fit in on the albums proper. We move so fast that sometimes things are left behind. Also, we write so much material that we can’t always wait for proper studio time."
My hopes were not high. Normally "demos and out-takes" is music-world code for a disjointed collection of leftovers for completists and die-hard fans only.
I guess though, that norm-al-ly are three syllables not often combined in the Tusmørke lexicon. For this is a remarkably complete and coherent collection of fully-realised songs. Sure there is a demo feel here and there, and the production quality is inconsistent, but overall this stands as an album of music in its own right. The eight songs even tie together thematically, with each one exploring the history and myths of the band's home city of Oslo. There is also a laid-back, bygone feel to all the songs, with the flute playing a prominent role amidst a wandering of Norwegian folk, 70s blues and 60s psyche pathways.
This is not a band I have ever listened to before but OTVoU has been an unexpected pleasure. They even save their best to last. The wonderful use of clarinet and then organ and then both together in the extended instrumental breakout of Gamle Aker Kjerke, is just too good to have been left on a studio floor. Thankfully it has not been.
Zan Zone - It's Only Natural
The crazy cover artwork is unusual for a site like DPRP. It can be refreshing to see some people not taking themselves too serious. The three-pane digipack and 16-page booklet packaging have been taken very seriously and are a good laugh together with the photos and stories.
But what about the music? This is the fourth album by this New York-based rock band. Considering you're reading a mini review means we're maneuvering near the edges of what DPRP are focusing on. The music is hard to put under a label. I hear some unexpected arrangements and breaks I know from Max Webster and Frank Zappa, but the overall structure of the songs are more song-oriented.
He's Coming Home is a high point with slow blues as a foundation, wonderful soulful vocals, and lovely melodic guitar melodies not unlike David Gilmour.
Some songs like Here I Go Again and Dem Blues Is Sad stand out in the sense they don't really fit the overall sound and feel of the other songs, and therefore break the flow a bit. The powerful, sometimes clear and sometimes rough, then soulful or angry voice of Sabine Clery is worth a special mention as it's excellent.
Pop/rock that is blues-based but weighs in a little heavy here and there, with surprising songs and arrangements, and has touches of funk and rock and roll, and also a little jazz here and there. If that description makes you curious you should have a listen.