Monday 20 April will see the release of Realisea's debut album. Based around one of the founders of Dutch prog band Silhouette, we believed this would warrant a Duo Review, with a little bit of a background story by Jan Buddenberg.
Realisea — Mantelpeace
Realisea is the first solo project of Brian de Graeve, founder of the Dutch neo-progressive rock group Silhouette. A reference that will undoubtedly arise anticipation levels for many, including me, yet in my particular case it gets a little tricky. The fact of the matter is that "Brain" and I have a rather long history, knowing each other from about the age of nine, with the earliest memory of meeting regularly during upgraded maths class at primary school; a subject in which we both excelled.
And the buck doesn't stop there, as I'm so generously reminded whilst fond memories flood back upon hearing this new album multiple times. Up to now I could refrain from an in-depth analysis of Brian's musical exploits, as I wasn't part of DPRP at the time of Silhouette's releases, so the occasional birthday tease sufficed. Upon his personal request as to my thoughts on his new solo endeavour, the time has come to fully return the favour, sharing some pivotal, precious memory insights along the way.
Starting off a long time ago Brian was my unintended partner in crime as we skipped a day at primary school in a fruitful attempt to get concert tickets to see Kiss; our first mutual musical interest. A shared passion, which on Brian's initiative, then sees us gear-up and perform as Kiss at school. Hugely successful and in popular demand, we have another go at Brian's secondary school, marking the two rare occasions one might have seen Brian play(back) right handed. If memory serves me correct, both events were documented in Brian's self-designed Kiss magazines, one of which featured my first-ever written raving concert review (Kiss in Leiden, 1980).
Over the years we each kept feeding our insatiable thirst for music. Starting off with hard-rock, we gradually developed our progressive tastes with a shared likeness for Pendragon, IQ, Marillion, and Saga, to name just a few. Over time we drifted slightly apart musically, for Brian desirably likes to have a Sip Of Wine with Les Holroyd, whereas I like to dance along to John Lees's Medicine Man (metaphorically speaking, for we can't dance). While my taste would wander off to complex heavier music, Brian's path was always one of melodic approachability through the likes of Camel, Genesis, Kayak and more pop-orientated music (although we'd always meet somewhere in the middle). A good example being the conflicting allowance of Brian's love in Burnin' For You as opposed to my drive for Hot Rails To Hell (Blue Oyster Cult).
At a very early stage (1980) Brian's creativity shone through, as he created a marvellous Kiss-banner, carelessly thrown in the bin by the security guard upon entering the concert. Strenuously he continued to draw many pictures and fictitious logos in the early eighties that would eventually lead up to the first drafts of the Silhouette logo and today's Realisea design. Curiously, during all these years he never once picked up an (acoustic) guitar, although the presence of one in John's (his dad's) home quarters had given him ample opportunity. Some 23 years ago his inner, restless creativity finally got the better of him and he acquired one.
Musically the rest is history so to speak, as Brian started to write his own songs, with a first outing in the form of an intimate serenade to his first wife, nervously performed on his first wedding. Similar to a domino effect, events then slowly started moving as he joined bands, resulting in the collective form of Silhouette that became more and more visible over the years and is now a fixture of the Dutch prog scene. And here, at long last lies Mantelpeace, being his first release as a solo artist, with some of the compositions dating back many years. Songs inspired and crafted through the lyrics, words and love by his second wife, his musical muse Marjolein.
Each of the eleven tracks have a different kind of charming attractiveness, balancing nicely on the lighter side of prog. It is something I was anticipating, but he's been able to surpass himself with some tantalising melodies, some touching melancholic compositions and equally impressive instrumentation, the latter aided by a network of well-known guest musicians referred to as "The Realisea Family".
For the project, a basic group consisting of Brian (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Marjolein de Graeve (vocals, flute), Geoffrey de Graeve (bass), Christophe Rapenne (keyboards) and Rob van Nieuwenhuizen (Silhouette) on drums and percussion was formed. The additional contributions of this Realisea family elevates the collection of varied compositions that elegantly show the creative peak of Brian as a composer.
The opening song Las Vegas Lace immediately sets a firm standard with melodic pop influences, a strong guitar solo by Aldo Adema (Tumbletown) and a delicious symphonic orchestrated finish. The inclusion of background vocals by Duncan de Graeve (son of...) is a nice touch, leaving only family members Meghan and Eleonora not being featured on the album. Yet the first major surprise is the beautiful, enchantingly powerful lead vocals by Marjolein, a mix of Maggie Reilly (Moonlight Shadow with Mike Oldfield) and Julianne Regan (All About Eve).
The second ear-catching surprise is the frequent use of violin on many of the tracks, played foremostly by Sophie Zaaier, and on one track by Mila Kamstra (Your Part). Sparking warm memories of Kansas the adventurously playful Deep Blue signals this only partly at first, yet the uplifting, familiar nature of This Time with delicious violins and gorgeous lead guitar by Simon Rogers (Also Eden), easily sees me singing along to Kansas's Hold On all the way to the Brinklaan in Bussum again.
Both tracks are passionately sung by Brian in a tuneful way, yet in the higher regions he tends to loose strength and volume, making his voice sound a bit too thin for my taste. Paradoxically Strong Enough is more befitting to Brian's voice, sounding more confident and stronger here, and furthermore the track proves to be a wonderful example of his prog influences. For after the pounding IQ-inspired bass line by Geoffrey (son of...), its many alternations, beguiling violin parts and a spine chilling guitar solo by Bart Laan (Skylake) leaves a firm Jadis and utmost Pendragon impression, which is lusciously enjoyable.
Apart from the exquisiteness of violin, two tracks feature heart-warming caresses of harp, played by Suzan van den Engel (Skylake). It gives the syrupy sweetness of Out Of This World, sung by Marjolein and incorporating luscious piano virtuosities from Erik Laan (Silhouette), a breezy freshness, and in the intimacy of Liquid Domino it supplies serene heartfelt integrity, as the harmony vocals of Brian and Marjolein slowly merge into one.
Leave Street, breathing a soft Barclay James Harvest feel, flows intricately with smooth touches of clarinet by Tamara Koetsveld and refined Camel flutes by Marjolein, towards a delightful Kansas bridge where the subdued keyboard solo could have been overwhelming, but unfortunately isn't. The song does however finish on a high with some beautiful arrangements, and gradually builds towards a melancholic solo by Michel St. Pere (Mystery) that's sumptuously delicious.
The same subdued effect happens in Riroda Roads, which after its atmospheric acoustic opening flows through a brief moment of shallowness, before turning into an adventurous All About Eve-styled track. It offers a solid emotive performance by Rindert Bul (Novatia) on guitars, while the coda with children's chants sparks images of Landmarq.
Thankfully amongst all these silky-soft melodies Your Part and Circles Of Silence add some power, where the former sees a guest appearance of Jos Uffing (ex-Silhouette) on bass. The excellent Barclay James Harvest-inspired opening is dynamically kept going through atmospheric changes and close harmonies, and concluded by a tantalising "John Lees"-like guitar solo by Bul.
Circles Of Silence, sung by Marjolein with background vocals by Jean Pageau (Mystery) keeps this elegant melodic Barclay James Harvest flow going, with once again a great guitar solo (Brian), nice progressive touches and surprising French horns played by Ger Otten.
Saving the best for last, Our Stage is the excellent, epic, progressive closer to the album. The atmospheric opening slowly glides into higher grounds through superb orchestrations and divine guitar interactions, after which a magical musical blend reveals itself igniting flashes of Kansas through it's many transitions, playful character and voluptuous use of violin. The excellent solo by Bul that ends the composition is just as heavenly.
Seeing Mantelpeace as Silhouette-Light is somewhat below the truth, although many will approach it from this angle. From my point of view the album is a testament in the growth of Brian's songwriting capabilities, and all history considered, this album essentially serves up Brian on a plate/disc. In response to my initial introduction all those years ago, I can safely say: "You wanted his best, you've got his best".
Summing it all up in a rating is no easy task. The album has turned out to be a lovely, engaging collection of songs, yet for me it is irreversibly square-rooted by the honey-sweetness of the music and lyrics. Deduction of further circular divisions of vocal tastes and minor mixing quotients are however proportionally multiplied by the spine-chilling solos, gorgeous melodies and inventive compositions. Taking into account the plural justification towards creativity, cubed by the revelation of Marjolein's voice, seen within the endless random friendship-probability factor, it leaves an impossible mathematical equation, which quite frankly has me beat.
Thankfully I can still beat him at Mahjong every time; no matter what any old neighbour might say.
In today's world, with its overload of streaming services and other forms of online free music, artists have a hard time to sell real albums. Modern-day consumers seem only willing to spend their money if they get something special, be it a bonus disc, extensive information on the artist or on the making of that particular album. Or you can make something special of the CD booklet; and that is exactly what has been done by Realisea with their debut album entitled Mantelpeace.
The first impression of the album is rather overwhelming. The front cover is very conspicuous with bright, light colours all around. The booklet itself is no less than awesome; a stunning bright and colourful drawing for each individual song, alongside clearly printed lyrics. It is in every aspect a wonderful example of offering added value to buyers of the real CD, over streaming the music.
Who is behind all this beauty? Realisea appears to be the first solo album by Brian de Graeve whom we know as one of the founding fathers of Silhouette, one of the finest Dutch progressive bands. Besides lead vocals, he plays guitar and is responsible for much of the songwriting, together with co-founding member Erik Laan. His writing for Silhouette is mostly on the more mellow, romantic, sometimes even melancholic side of the musical spectrum. And that made me very curious about this solo album.
The fantastic booklet also contains information on all the musicians that can be heard on the album and that is quite an impressive list. There are among others some members of Silhouette: apart from Erik Laan on keys also his son Bart who plays guitar live with Silhouette, on guitar, drummer Rob van Nieuwenhuizen and also former drummer Jos Uffing on bass and vocals. Jean Pageau (vocals) and Michel St-Père (guitar, both Mystery) and Aldo Adema (lead guitar, Egdon Heath) add their talents while some musicians who also guested on the last two Silhouette albums are also present: Tamara van Koetsveld on clarinet, Ger Otten on french horn and Sophie Zaaijer on violin. Christophe Rapenne plays the keyboards and furthermore there is harp (Suzan van den Engel), additional lead guitar (Rindert Bul, Simon Rogers) and violin (Mila Kamstra). But most conspicuous is that the lead vocals in Realisea are shared between Brian and his wife, Marjolein de Graeve while their son Geoffrey plays bass and other son Duncan does some backing vocals. So it is a family affair for the greater part. Marjolein is also responsible for the amazing artwork in the booklet.
But how about that music? The album starts with lush keyboards and a fine guitar intro, completely in the vein of Silhouette. Then Marjolein comes in with the lead vocals and the music gets a totally different feeling. Her voice is a bit nasal, high pitched and soft in a good way. I guess she will have some trouble to get herself heard as lead vocalist during live performances, since her voice is not really strong. In harmonies with Brian, who is also gifted with a rather high voice, her voice works remarkably well, making the harmony singing one of the assets of the album.
I will not go into detail into each individual song, since they are all quite good with more than enough variation in moods and instrumentation to keep the listeners' attention. There are some really standout moments and a few weaker choices. To start with the latter: the cracking sounds at the end of Riroda Roads make no sense to me, while the children's choir in the middle and end section of that same song work not half as well as the children's choir Silhouette used in their famous song When Snow Is Falling Down on the Across The Rubicon album. And last and most certainly very least, two song titles in the audio files sent for the review were different than the definitive song titles.
The strong moments outnumber the weaker choices by far. The intros of Deep Blue or Your Part are very energetic, with heavenly guitar and subtle keys. The guitar solos in Riroda Roads and Our Stage are very satisfying for prog ears, while the classical arrangement of Liquid Domino, with violin, harp and very good vocal harmonies is extremely tasteful. The outro of Circles Of Time with horns, violin, lush keys and the fine guitar solo that leads towards an acoustic guitar and final vocals, is very attractive.
With Out Of This World the album has a beautiful ballad, with only keys as instrumentation behind the excellent harmony vocals of both lead singers. This Time has a surprising folky intro. And the last song, Our Stage, starts with a very nice mingling of piano, acoustic guitar and flute that took-me-in immediately. Later on in that song Michel St-Pere plays one of his characteristic heavenly solos backed by equally heavenly keys; prog heaven!
Lyrically romanticism dominates, which is no surprise given the colourful design of the booklet. But there are also some sharp edges. Opener Las Vegas Lace tells about a harsh life in nowadays America for someone who doesn't have the privilege of money and good family. Riroda Roads's lyrics are about one's dilemma of what to expect in life in these times of greed and egoism, while in Our Stage the intention of the artist to show and play are described. The other songs tell about love, about inspiring each other, about needing each other but none of the lyrics tred on often-used platitudes.
The songs on Mantelpeace are shorter, and extensive instrumental parts are scarcer than in the music of Silhouette. Yet this album is also very attractive for their fans and for many more. This is simply a very fine album that will please many prog lovers but also those that seek slightly more poppy songs. Looking at the huge effort that has been done to make this a high quality album in so many respects, that extra interest would be well deserved. Recommended!