Downes Braide Association — Live In England
In the seven years since their debut, Chris Braide and Geoff Downes have been regularly asked about the possibility of DBA live shows. While a proper tour has not yet occurred, this release is an audio/visual document of their first ever concert that took place in September of 2018. Downes and Braide have an innate ability to mix progressive rock with more accessible pop/rock elements. When done well, I have a strong admiration for this type of melodic prog, and DBA is one of the best in the business right now.
The setlist is predominantly made up of songs from their last two studio albums (Suburban Ghosts and Skyscraper Souls) and presents a largely effective retrospective of their work together. Missing are any songs from their excellent debut, Pictures Of You, which is a bit of a missed opportunity. Due to the demo-like quality of the original recordings, material from that album would have benefited most from live interpretation. Downes' career is represented by the inclusion of a few signature tunes from Asia and The Buggles. The Asia songs are presented as a heartfelt tribute to John Wetton. Though it would be a task for any singer to cover Wetton's legendary vocals, Braide does so admirably. The version here of The Smile Has Left Your Eyes is especially impressive and poignant.
The musical performances are all strong and Downes/Braide receive top level accompaniment from Andy Hodge (bass) and David Colquhoun (guitar). Also, Big Big Train's David Longdon reprises his Skyscraper Souls performance on the splendid, Tomorrow. One quibble is with the lack of an actual drummer. The use of pre-recorded drums somewhat limits the band's ability to expand on the sound of the studio versions. That said, it is tough to be critical, as the performances are impeccable and Braide's strong vocal work is flawless throughout the show.
The true calling card for those already familiar with the material is the live DVD. Considering the rarity of a DBA concert, this provides a chance for fans in any country to see them perform. I have not been to Trading Boundaries in East Sussex, but through various camera angles, the filmmakers do an excellent job of presenting the unique vibe of the venue. The band are packed pretty tightly onto a small stage, and the visuals and lighting effects are minimal. However, there are some nice visuals provided by Braide's wife. Ultimately though, the main focus is on the music and the performance, which is a positive. It's quite apparent throughout, that Downes and Braide are enjoying this first opportunity to present their collaborative work in front of an audience.
Live releases are often a valuable tool to appease fans between studio releases, and also as a means to introduction new listeners to a band/artist. DBA - Live in England succeeds in both of these areas. It is a highly entertaining document of the first concert by this extremely talented duo. Also worth mentioning is the cover art by Roger Dean which is typically fantastic.
(Editor's note: Live In England is available as a 2CD/DVD set via Cherry Red Records. A double-vinyl edition will be released on 14 February 2020. To coincide with the vinyl release, DBA have announced two return live shows at Trading Boundaries on 14 and 15 February 2020 with special guests. More info and tickets available here!)
Emmett Elvin — The End Of Music
This new release from Emmett Elvin is a grand listen. Known for his keyboard work with psyche-oddballs Knifeworld, experimental chamber rock orchestra Chrome Hoof, and experimental prog-rockers Guapo, his new solo release, The End of Music, is an eclectic mix of songs and instrumentals that have a boundless energy and invention.
As a multi-instrumentalist, he displays his chops on more than the keyboards; showing fantastic skill with guitars (electric, slide, acoustic, 6 and 12-string), recorders, bass, percussion, sounds and vocals. He is joined by dynamo drummer Alex Thomas, who plays with Squarepusher and Air. Adding warm violin and viola textures throughout, is Sarah Anderson.
The album opens with Know Nothing's stuttering, eccentric rhythms with heavy prog guitars. It has a Crimson-meets-Knifeworld vibe to its infectious, singalong melody. It turns out that Emmett Elvin has a decent voice, and even though he treats the vocals electronically, they are absolutely fine.
There is sparring between different keyboard riffs on Magnus Opium, a track that never stops moving forward with its infectious energy and bounce. Pin-sharp drumming and a melodic bass line are the icing on this cake. The listener gets a breather with the delightfully-layered classical acoustic guitars of To Live And Die In Llangrannog.
The two longer tracks then display Emmett Elvin's plethora of ideas. Through The Hoops switches moods with ease before settling into a lovely string-driven finale. Then on Butterfly In The Labyrinth a propulsive piano motif and shifting harmonic patterns on other instruments puts you in mind of The Phillip Glass Ensemble. But it is smarter than that, as some fast, lithe snare-work and the bass drive it away from the predictable systems music path, before it breaks up and returns to the opening motif. The pulsing keys make a return on the next two tracks as they take on a wonderful Krautrock hue, but not as "motorik" as that might imply.
Emmett Elvin's The End Of Music is an album full of strange joy. From the cool placement of slide guitar, to full-on keyboard barrages, this album hardly puts a note wrong (except for the John Cage-referencing seven minutes of silence on the final track). This is an album to savour through many plays.
Euphoria Station — The Reverie Suite
Every so often you read an album press release where something catches your attention and grabs your interest. The press release for Euphoria Station's sophomore album was one of those particular occasions. The chance to review a concept album with a “sound that evokes America in all its beauty - whether it be folk, rock, jazz or Native purple mountains with progressive tinges”, was for me far too tempting an opportunity to pass up.
Oh boy, was this one of my better decisions. Whilst my mind had conjured up ideas of what I might hear, when the disc arrived, it far exceeded any expectations I had imagined. What Euphoria Station have delivered with The Reverie Suite is quite simply stunning.
If I were to list all of the artists that I know of, to reference when listening to this album, it would be a very long and eclectic list. To give you a sample, lets go with Johnny Cash, The Carpenters, Yes, Styx, Kansas, Bon Jovi, and Dream Theater. You might be getting a flavour that what you can expect is very varied. The beauty of this album is the prevalent melody and passion throughout. All the songs use the music to tell the story of singer Saski Binder's life from childhood to present day. It is a story so very beautifully simple, one of discovery and choices, that will resonate with everyone who takes the time to read the lyrics. Saskia deserves immense credit for being so candid with the lyrics and being such an immensely gifted lyricist, providing the foundation for her husband, Hoyt, to create such wonderful music to compliment the story.
Saskia has a very melodic and distinctive voice. As she is telling her own story, her passion and feeling in singing the lyrics is genuine and honest. Not once, during the many listens, did I question the integrity of the story that I was hearing being told.
Hoyt has written a stunning musical accompaniment with which to to compliment his wife's story. Just listen to the the musical section of On My Way. The continuously changing musical passage makes you feel you are riding with Saskia while she travels through different American states. Reverie tells the story of Saskia and her childhood best friend, the music reflecting the childhood innocence of two kids discovering life. At times the crafting of music and story is spellbinding.
The album would not be what it is without the contributions of all the musicians on the album, who are collected under the banner of 'The American Daydream Revival Orchestra'. The musicians here provide performances which leave you in no doubt that you are listening to an American story. From Native American sounds, through Nashville and early blues, touching American prog, and bombastic choruses reminiscent of the best stadium rock that the USA has provided. Euphoria Station provide an utterly compelling release.
If you have the slightest appreciation of the aforementioned artists, then take a risk with this amazing release. It contains so much to enjoy, I would be more than surprised if you didn't discover something to like. It has been a long time since I have listened to a release where you can feel the love flowing through every note and every word in every song. An easy addition to the forthcoming annual top 10 list for me. I just hope others take the chance and add this to their music collection.
Magoria — JtR 1888
CD2: Overture JtR1888 (3:28); Day By Day (4:31); Let Her Be Safe (7:19); Pub (1:09); Dignified Woman (2:51); Annie Crook (4:32); Catherine Eddowes (4:20); From Hell (4:04); Last Night In Whitechapel (2:38); Mary Jane Kelly (4:10); Freedom Of London (5:55)
JtR 1888 is one of those rare musical releases that begins as a musical idea, and then takes on a life of its own. When deciding to review JtR 1888 there were two things that drew me to it. The first, was that it is a project from Mark Bogert, the talented and respected guitarist of Knight Area. The second was the two words: "Rock Opera". While there have been many great concept albums released this year alone, Rock Operas appear few and far between. The most recent high profile one being Dream Theater's The Astonishing, which was much maligned, but remains one of my favourite releases from the band.
The problem with Rock Operas seems to be that their greatest asset, is also their biggest burden; this being Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. With their early musical collaboration, Jesus Christ Superstar, being promoted as a Rock Opera, this has become the project that immediately springs to mind for most people. Because of this, the casual listener probably expects a lavish live production to support the music. But the grandeur of the 70s and 80s are now long gone, and any musician wanting to produce a Rock Opera today either needs the backing of a large record label (such as Dream Theater), or have the musical connections to pull upon the talent required. Only two current artists that I am aware of are able to do this regularly and successfully, they being Ayreon and Clive Nolan.
It appears that the intention was for JtR 1888 to be a stage production from the very beginning, so the project's intentions were of a grand scale. Fortunately for Mark Bogart he has enticed a collection of musicians and singers which reads like a who's-who of the Dutch progressive music industry. These include fellow Knight Area members Peter Vink on bass, and Jan Willem Ketelaers on vocals, Marks fiancé Nadine Pruim also on vocals, and keyboard legend Cleem Determeijer. Each singer takes the role of a specific character in the story.
The story is based around the legend of Jack the Ripper. The Alan Moore graphic novel, and later a film, From Hell, seems to serve loosely as the plot used for this production. For those readers who have never experienced either version, I will not spoil the plot. If you listen to JtR 1888 and are intrigued enough to further investigate the source material, I would recommend the graphic novel rather than the film, as anything from Alan Moore deserves to be discovered by everyone.
Onto the music contained within the two CDs, which is why I am sure you are reading this review. The music reminds me of the two albums Clive Nolan made with Oliver Wakeman, The Jabberwocky and The Hound Of The Baskervilles. The music is well and truly based within the prog camp, reminiscent of early Knight Area and Arena. The music adds the right textures of suspense, fear and drama in all the right places, and provides a platform for all vocalists to deliver stunning performances.
It is evident that this has been an immense undertaking by Mark Bogert, and I can't credit him enough for what he has achieved. This is a glorious piece of music, and credit needs to go to all musicians and vocalists who have contributed. Everyone has supplied an exemplary performance and Mark must be so grateful that the cast has helped him realise his ambitions. A true team performance.
The lyrics enable the characters in the story to appear very human, touching upon difficult subjects such as why a prostitute would turn to drink (Pub), the despair when a particular life path has been chosen (More To Life Than This), and the regret of a life cut short without the chance of redemption (Dignified Woman). The lyrics may go overlooked, but great credit must go to Mark for wanting to turn the story into one which examines human feelings.
It is difficult to pick any stand-out tracks, as all are of such a high calibre. There are no discernible low points in the whole production. The only slight criticism I could find is that most of the songs follow the same pattern of towards the end of the song, previous verses of chorus' are repeated. I would have welcomed the odd track to vary from this formula, as it may have helped the story develop in a more holistic way. But that is a small thing when the end result is such a glorious piece of work.
As I am finishing this review, Magoria have performed JtR 1888 live for the first time, and from the videos posted on Youtube, in front of an extremely enthusiastic audience. Hopefully this will be the first of many live performances and projects that Mark Bogart will bring to life. If you want a treat, grab yourself a copy of JtR 1888. If you don't, the result could be murder.
Odd Logic — Last Watch Of The Nightingale
Andy Read's Review
This is album number eight from one of prog-metal's most sadly hidden gems, and like its predecessor, it is another slow burner of a release.
It was the desert island favourite Penny For Your Thoughts that first drew me to this Washington-based project/band. And their seventh album, Effigy was a strong follow-up, albeit in a more complex metallic vein. Much of the music for this new album was written immediately after the release of Effigy, but has taken quite some time to slot into its finished shape.
And where Effigy was the first time Odd Logic appeared on disc a full band, this new effort sees it revert back towards a one-man band format. Sean Thompson contributes all guitar, bass, keys and ever-impressive vocals, with only Pete Hanson being retained for his services on drums and a spluttering of gutteral vocals.
However Last Watch Of The Nightingale is a case of third time unlucky for me; as the hour of music to be found here has largely left me disappointed.
The opening track is a slow-building instrumental that swells and sways between the different styles that the band has shown previously; a bit of ambience, a bit of fusion, a bit of avant-garde and a lot of anchor-weighted riffing. A musical scene setter perhaps, but (apart from the samples of washing waves) it doesn't in anyway tug me into the story or the concept.
From here on there are some moments of true musical jaw-droppingness. But as a whole there is an unevenness to the composition of every track, that leaves me frustrated. The constant style changes within the album (especially on the closing 23-minute epic) are jarring, breaking up whatever cohesiveness has been built up. There seems to be some sort of fundamental need to introduce a new theme every minute or so. Yet only on Of The Nightingale is there anything (in this case a lovely piano motif) that ties these often-disparate themes together.
Dreaming in Color is probably the most extreme example. Again we have a strong opening with a clever, off-kilter riff and vocals. This needs to lead into a killer hook; but instead we get a sort of bridge, then some long riffing and solos, before a repetition of the bridge, which it now seems is meant to be the chorus. Halfway through, we transition onto a new theme; first heavy and then an ambient, folky section. Birdsong flutters into earshot, then a classic progrock (Enchant) ballad chorus with a guitar solo from the Pendragon songbook. Key orchestrations, with waves, bring the track to a fade-out ending.
Neither does the songwriting play on the band's big selling point; Sean's amazing vocal talent. The emphasis is on instrumental (mainly guitar) explorations. Finding the melodies are akin to finding land in the middle of an ocean. There is a coldness to the production that may reflect the concept, but again doesn't really invite me in to the show.
Both Garden of Thorns (Enchant-meets-Redemption) and Absence (Enchant-meets-Kings X) begin impressively but quickly lose their way. I like the vicious riffing of Chance of Gods, and the Zero Hour-meets-Fates Warning sound of Boundary Division has its moments.
Those who enjoy a colder, more riff-based form of 90s progressive metal may well connect more strongly with this album, but for me this is one of the disappointments of 2019.
André de Boer's Review
According to the band: "This is release number eight for these veteran prog rock/metalists. Yet another full concept album with an available full booklet to follow the story." Odd Logic was also very polite to share us the concept of this album.
Overall it has been a harsh yet extremely wonderful job to review this new Odd Logic album. The main reason is me, myself. Because I instantly fell deep in love with their 2016 album Penny For Your Thoughts, honoured with a well deserved 10 out of 10 by DPRP's Andy Read who concluded that "this really is the Full (Prog Metal) Monty". And I agreed 100%. Same thing with the follow-up Effigy, with me also agreeing on Andy's 8 out of 10, although we both missed "the unpredictable inventiveness of A Penny For Your Thoughts." So, what to expect this time? No problem, we will both tell you our findings.
This is a long album that clocks-in at 68 minutes, of which the last track, Boundary Division, takes an epic 23 minutes! It is a splendid one. Although it doesn't have the extra-bright sparks of Penny For Your Thoughts (an album that is still available on Bandcamp, name your price), this new work has matured musically and offers very much to enjoy. So I will pinpoint some of the highlights.
The instrumental opening track Last Watch distinguishes itself with a blend of styles, from a classic piano and violin intro, blasting straight into a partly organ-led, progressive metal riff-fest to set the musical direction, around a short jazzy interlude and ending with an echoing scream. This feels like a warm invitation by the band, saying: "Welcome to Odd Logic!".
According to the band, tracks 1 to 6 are one song, depicting the ship's journey in degrading weather. That may well be, although each of those songs shows a different side of Odd Logic's array of songwriting, thus making this a very enjoyable and varied two thirds of the album. An absolute plus is the ultra impressive voice of singer Sean Thompson (he is also playing guitar, bass and keys).
With the home-coming of the captain's Nightingale, we come to the saddest of instrumental songs, Sorrow, presumably depicting the thoughts and fears of the skipper's wife about her husband's likely death.
Boundary Division takes 23 minutes to end the album, containing all moods, instruments, solos, both soft and heavy. This epic has it all. You'll be within the story if you close your eyes and focus on the ongoing adventures inside your ears.
Like I said before, this album isn't Penny For Your Thoughts, yet Odd Logic has made a huge leap to perfection in high quality progressive metal. This album is diverse, soothing, awakening, well balanced, excellently composed, played and sung by a two-man band (the aforementioned Sean Thompson together with Pete Hanson with drums and lovely 'gutterals'). This being played live would be a ProgPower fan's wet dream. Make it happen, guys. Please!