Apogee — Endurance Of The Obsolete
Apogee is the solo project of Arne Schäfer, member of the German progressive rock band Versus X, founded in 1991 but without publishing new music since 2011. Schäfer published six albums while being in the band and with Endurance Of The Obsolete he will reach the number 10 in published albums under the name of Apogee.
As he states on his website, the music of Apogee is complex progressive rock based on the great progressive music of the seventies but often emerging out of the established rock field in various directions. Well, I'm not going to confront those words, because one can find many different aspects of rock music here. Moreover, Schäfer has written an essay about Progressive Rock so he knows much more than about this than I do. By the way, I highly recommend the essay available on his website.
In Endurance Of The Obsolete all the instruments but drums are played by Schäfer. He prefers complex structures, combining song-like elements with extended instrumental parts, featuring odd rhythms, unusual harmonies, mystical atmospheres and improvised guitar solos. These are not my words, and in fact is not usual to have an artist being so detailed in describing his music, so thanks for helping me with this review.
The thing is that, as much as Apogee likes to have so many different parts included in the songs, sometimes I find it difficult to confirm that it was always a good idea, because some parts seems to be disconnected with the main feeling of the song. Don't take me wrong, musically all the parts are good but the whole composition itself can be a bit baffling sometimes. We have long songs here, and while I really enjoy different moves within the same composition, I also like it when all of those parts fit perfectly within the idea behind the song.
Having said this I find this album interesting and it's getting better after several listens, especially the Gentle Giant multi-part vocal sections in the opening Interpretations and the great symphonic prog rock parts and folk feelings. In spite of having great keyboard and Mellotron playing, my favourite parts are those played by guitar, classic and latin, but also the very good riffs here and there.
Interpretations and the Overruled are clearly winners in this album but I'm sure each listener will easily enjoy any of the remaining compositions. Waiting For The Dawn would be the least interesting one from my point of view; great guitar but the whole song seems to be out of place after the good start.
Anyway, Endurance Of The Obsolete is a good album if you like traditional prog, with long compositions and twists and turns. I can't help but mention the vocals because honestly I find them the weakest part of Apogee. I hate to say this, but I'd like to listen to a new version of this album having some other singer because sometimes it seems that Schäfer can't give the songs the nuances they deserve, which is a shame. It would be great to know the audience's opinion on this because vocals are almost always the most controversial part of bands.
Mallory Chipman & The Mystics — Aquarian
Canadian psyche-prog-pop outfit Mallory Chipman & The Mystics have released their debut album Aquarian. Consisting of six well-formed songs and two instrumental/spoken word pieces, it clocks in at just over the half-hour mark. So, it might be a stretch to call this an album rather than an EP, but to be honest it's a bit beside the point, as this is a good release.
Singer Mallory Chipman has moved from a jazz background into rockier territory and her voice puts me in mind of Bent Knee's Courtney Swain. The music on Aquarian is pop-prog laced with a psychedelic edge. But this not as fey or whimsical as that description might imply, in fact things are rockier and heavier. The sound is a mix of late 60s Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and Traffic, with the contemporary, edgy psyche of Purson and Rosalie Cunningham.
After a disposable opener, the album really gets going with Indigo and Amber. Its hook-laden melody is enhanced by a clever arrangement and a hiccupping rhythm, underpinned by electric piano and slashing guitar. It is electric piano and guitar that feature the most on this collection. The lovely, reverb-laden ballad Midnight Lady also features a synth solo. Pulsing keys introduce Fruits, where Mallory Chipman gets a smoky rasp to her voice on its cracking melody. The brittle A Stranger's Paradise has twin lead guitars lifting it further.
They go full-bore on Cool Ade blowing away cobwebs with heavy drums, bass and blocky guitar riffs and a great guitar solo in the slower middle section. The album ends with another classy ballad of aching sadness, Queen of Swords, with its pinging harmony guitars.
There are, however, a couple of tracks that just have me reaching for the skip button. The incantatory atmospherics and spoken word of Wolf Children wears out its welcome quickly, and the instrumental, avant-psyche electronic noise-jam of You Can't Edit An Asteroid feels like filler on an already short release. Another couple of songs would have been a better option.
So, Mallory Chipman & The Mystics' Aquarian is a good, sometimes great, collection of melodic psyche-prog that is often a little tougher than you would expect. Don't let a couple of mis-steps put you off if this is your kind of thing, and dive-in if you are the least bit curious.
Code 18 — Human Error!
Code 18 hail from a region called Outaouais near Québec and have released their debut album called Human Error!. A concept album about the US taking all the water from the Great Lakes because of the drought in some of their states. The album is a Canadian smorgasbord of influences, that you never quite know what to expect next.
In the main they are a 3-piece but do have a number of guest musicians, most notably Mystery's Michel St-Père who appears on the track Drought.
The album opener Crystal Of Time certainly sets the listener up for a musical journey, replete with sonic textures and blistering guitar solos. Bönz, singer and bass player, delivers a good performance on the vocal front. The track rocks in places. It's followed by Underlude 1, an interlude with atmospheric keys and string pads that sits well within the concept of the album (if this had been an early Genesis track, it would have given Mr Gabriel time for a costume change!).
Waste is a delicious track. Slow in tempo to begin with, including wonderful harmonies, it hits the prog-ubiquitous 7/8 time signature with a repeating motif that emanates an underlying menace. Things do speed up, with once again great guitar work from JF Rémillard and also superb keyboard playing from Johnny Maz. Probably the best and the most prog-orientated track on the album.
With Underlude II comes a Vangelis, come Tangerine Dream, come Jean-Michel Jarre keyboard-based instrumental with supporting guitar work. A sonic delight when listening on earphones. It also put me in mind of Genesis's The Brazillian for some reason.
One track that didn't grab me is They Took It All. If you think Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Ayreon, then you'll get an idea how the song might sound with its underlying rock opera feel. It also includes a great, albeit short, organ solo. This song is followed by another interlude, another keyboard-loaded track called The March.
River of Blood comes close to a standard metal riff rock 'n' roll and with some wonderful drumming from guest drummer Sonny Tremblay. Clever use of a vocal interchange over a radio or walkie-talkie, adds to the concept of war raging over the fight for water. There is another great guitar solo towards the end of the track.
Similar in style to Waste, Drought is Floydian in nature with hints of Mystery, Marillion, Arena. The solo just brings this track to life, although the fade-out of the solo is a bit ham-fisted. Underlude III, is another filler between tracks and full of energy and gusto.
Bed Time Story is something you don't expect, with its piano-led singer/songwriter-style opening with Rachelle Behrens on vocals. Certainly the “poppiest” moment on the album, with some beautiful harmonies, engaging acoustic guitar solo, and a building of atmospherics with keys and guitars, culminating in another great guitar solo.
Overall this is a very satisfying album to listen to and one I heartily recommend. Too many bands stick religiously to the genre they've been pigeonholed in, but a band like Code 18 have come along with an album where you don't know what to expect.
Robert Reed — Cursus 123 430
Whilst being in isolation and exile due to corona virus, many musicians have seen it as an opportunity to tap into their creative side. Having four albums already scheduled for release in 2020, should be enough for Robert Reed; but oh no.
Deciding to experiment with a new type of musical project, he has created an almost exclusively solo work. The thing that distinguishes this new project from previously self-titled works, is that there are no stringed or woodwind instruments to be found. All you get here are analogue keyboards and synths, an electronic drum machine and occasional percussion instruments.
I was extremely fortunate to receive sound-files literally hot-off-the recording machine. Rob seemed extremely excited by his latest project, and having been privileged to have heard the album, his excitement should soon be reciprocated by many listeners.
What Robert has created is a lush, electronic masterpiece. The use of classic analogue synths creates a journey quite unlike anything I have experienced. Imagine a combination of a classic John Carpenter movie soundtrack, combined with Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds, mixed with a game soundtrack that would fit with something akin to Race The Sun, with Depeche Mode's combination of rhythm and electronica. With this, I am only tapping the surface of what Cursus 123 430 has to offer the listener. There is also an element of classic 70s TV theme tunes, especially those of Gerry Anderson. If you have heard and enjoyed Erik Norlander's take on the Space:1999 theme, then you will, I am sure, find plenty to enjoy here.
As previously mentioned this is ALMOST a solo album. The only additional person to help out is Les Penning who adds occasional narration (which he also wrote). His performance will remind the listener of the dramatic delivery which Sir Richard Burton provided for the previously mentioned War Of The Worlds. I still have not worked out the story, if there is intended to be one, but there is a constant reference to birds and flight. This does not distract, but rather adds to the drama and mystery of the work.
If anyone ever thought that synthesizers do not have soul due to them being electronic, then they need to hear how Robert Reed plays them. There is so much feeling delivered throughout the album. Each key strike has emotion and feeling flowing through it. Each note feels like an individual foot step being taken on a journey of the listener's choosing. The production is amazing. Listening through headphones, the listener is drenched in a musical wonderland. While main passages will oscillate between the left and right ear, the mix makes you feel that other melodies and passages drift in and out, from places you can't quite pin-point. It is a magical experience, which demonstrates how good a producer Robert is.
The physical product will come with a DVD which will feature a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix which should be stunning. An interview with Robert and a piano performance are also scheduled for inclusion. There may even be a deluxe edition knowing the care Rob takes in his new releases. Commercial release is due mid-November, so this should be the ideal Christmas present for the one you love, or yourself. Who knows, they may be one and the same person.
Sloth Metropolis — Humanise
Formed years ago, Sloth Metropolis came together in Glasgow to bring an element of theatrical prog to the world. Formed by Alistair, Peter, Steve and Calum, they have masked guests joining the stage to add some intrigue to the band's gigs. With influences going from Gong to King Crimson and the likes of Van Der Graaf Generator, the group have released a concept trilogy and an EP. Now, in 2020 they have released Humanise.
My first impression is that it sounds intriguing, with a distorted and almost creepy voice-over to bring you in. Then the music starts. The group, partly thanks to Calum's voice, have a sound like the old psychedelic prog bands of old, but with the addition of the rest of the band, they have a modern sound.
Channelling the energies of the aforementioned groups, they create a winding trail of organised chaos. Sometimes ominous, other times a bit whimsical and playful, but always psychedelic and proggy.
One interesting thing is the absence of guitars. This is particularly impressive on Humani2e where there is a period of duelling between the keys and violin. It adds a nice, quirky touch to the group's already psychedelic sound.
I wasn't sure what to expect going into this record, and I'm not sure what I think coming out – but in a very good way. It is a crazy and amusing journey and well worth the investment in time to listen to.
If you enjoy trippy prog, with trumpets and distorted violins, and if you miss the old days when prog wasn't bound by expectations and rules, then give these guys a listen.