Lesoir — Mosaic
It is not often you can precisely date when and where you gained an interest in a band, but in Lesoir's case I can date it to 24th March 2019 at The Mill in Digbeth, Birmingham, UK where they opened for Riverside. Unfortunately, I thought Riverside were a bit average that night (compared to other times I have seen them) so Lesoir more than made up for that sense of mild disappointment.
So, when the opportunity arose to review their new album, Mosaic, I was a little worried as to whether their live sound would be captured? I need not have been concerned. Using producers John Cornfield (Muse, Supergrass, Ben Howard and Robert Plant) and Paul Reeve (vocal producer of Muse's Matt Bellamy), Mosiac is a vital, alive-sounding recording. Indeed, I would say Lesoir's live sound is captured and improved by a clear mix that takes account of the complexity underlying their music.
This album has grown on me with successive listens and it felt pretty good on the first encounter. Lesoir's mix of Pineapple Thief-style song-focussed prog, Porcupine Tree crunch and Pink Floyd melodicism is run through a two guitar, keys, bass and drum line-up. The difference here is that Lesoir's pianist and flute player is also possessed of some vocal power and an edge when it is needed. On Mosiac, Maartje Meessen matches the likes of Anne-Marie Helder (Panic Room), Heather Findlay and Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (Mostly Autumn) with ease. The band also produce superb vocal harmonies throughout the album.
The song writing, arrangements and musicianship from Ingo Dassen (guitar, synth, drum programming), Bob Van Heumen (drums, percussion), Eleen Bartholomeus (guitar, vocals, synth) and Ruben Heijnsbroek (bass), have the prowess to spotlight the melodies, and their more or less consistent line-up is paying dividends on this constantly-evolving album.
Lesoir, in time-honoured tradition, start Mosaic with the title track, an indie rock-tinged prog-pop song that grows in complexity and heaviness as it goes on. Besides the vocals, the dual guitars are the other stars of this album. Acoustic guitar and menacing synth pulses lead you into Is This It?'s off-the-beat vocal. They layer stunning vocal harmonies and guitars over pounding drums and bass. The guitar solo has a middle-Eastern tinge to its melody that takes it further out of the ordinary.
Lesoir mix indie-rock passages with symphonic prog-metal flourishes on The Geese's tale of refugees, leaving you wondering how they achieve so much in just four minutes. The longer playing time of Measure of Things sees them ramp up the intensity from the balladic opening, to full band glory. Floyd jamming with Nordic Giants gives form to the superb music on Dystopia. Rick Wright-style organ and keys, sliding guitar lines and punchy drums and bass accompany a reading from Part III, Chapter III of George Orwell's 1984.
Following on from that, Lesoir find their inner art-rockers with the flute and more Middle-Eastern flavours to the adroit It's Never Quiet. A short keyboard instrumental MXI has a delicious piano melody, electronics and synth washes. That makes you wonder if Lesoir have an album of keyboard-led prog ambience up their collective sleeves, just waiting to pop out. The long, slowly-growing Two Faces moves from keys to chugging riffs and great guitar interplay. It closes the album in fine style.
Lesoir's Mosiac is a cracker of an album, brim-full of melody and arranged to near perfection with a top notch sound. And as you can tell, it didn't let me down in the transition from the live arena to the studio one. This is a grower and a keeper, with a band whose sound is really their own, and that often takes the less obvious path, although that path is always towards the heights.
Just as a final note; Lesoir are touring Europe and the UK in November (current crisis permitting). I urge you not to miss them live or to miss this fabulous release.
Mrs. Kite — Flickering Lights
Mrs. Kite, a quartet calling itself "men of conviction", hail from Cologne in Germany. The line-up consists of Florian Schuch (lead and backing vocals, keyboards), his brother Ferdinand Schuch (electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals), Philipp Verenkotte (drums), and Lukas Preußler (bass guitar). For live performances, the band is supported by Stefan Keuneke (guitars, backing vocals).
The band derived its name from the song Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite by one of their prime musical idols The Beatles. Despite having won the "German Rock And Pop Award (Deutscher Rock und Pop Preis)" in the category "Best Progressive Band" three times already, and playing live and having the same line-up for 12 years, the band still does not seem to be very well known in the prog rock scene (yet, I am inclined to say - they surely deserve a better recognition).
Flickering Lights is the band's second album after their 2013 release A Closer Inspection. (There was also a "debut" EP with the mouthful of a title ...And A Laughing White Monkey Will Greet You As You Pass The Gates Of Slumberland, released by the predecessor It's Us with almost an identical line-up.) Whilst such a releasing frequency might not be popularity-boosting, it appears fully comprehensible to me given the high standards that the band is imposing upon itself and which it is meeting.
Composing the music is taken care of by Ferdinand Schuch (maybe one of the reasons why the music sounds fairly guitar-oriented to my ears), with the whole band looking after the arrangements. Florian Schuch and Philipp Verenkotte are responsible for the lyrics that deal with personal experiences and impressions of day-to day life. Whilst not being a concept album, I liked the lyrical comparison made by a fellow reviewer of a nocturnal car ride across flickering lights; people, situations and stories derived therefrom. According to its information, the band invested substantially in mixing and production, consequently the sound quality is excellent and considerably improved compared to the previous releases.
Mrs. Kite describes its musical genre as "progressive music", as (intentionally) opposed to "progressive rock". It does not wish its musical style to be confined to rock, but to also incorporate ambient and metal elements on the one hand, and to be progressive by creating something new and original, with constant development.
A few things come to my mind upon repeat listens to Flickering Lights. First of all, the musical output of this release clearly is a band effort. Yes, guitars are in the forefront, but each band member is putting his musical and technical abilities into service of the musical collective. Consequently, the music is dense and compact, with almost no extensive soloing (with some exception proving the rule, such as in Some Time), especially concerning the keyboard work of Florian Schuch. I haven't heard many albums where keyboards are used as effectively as on this one. Their use is scarcer compared to the guitars, but whenever they come into play, the effects are spot-on, such as the organ in Kurschatten and Some Time, and the piano in The Old Man and Questions. Somehow, the keyboard playing reminds me of Michal Lapaj's on Riverside's magnificent album Love, Fear And The Time Machine. With respect to the input from the guitar, I liked the alternation of fierce and heavy parts, with gentle and delicate elements, and the combination of acoustic and electric sounds.
Variedness, complexity (not complicity), contrast, eagerness: those are the main terms which best can be associated with Mrs. Kite's music. Fragile and romantic parts, alternate with heavy outbursts, melodic lines with dissonant riffing, elegance with brute force, dreaminess with realism. It is a music of many details and subtle elements, which open up the more one listens.
Hence, the arc of suspense remains present despite the release being fairly long, with no "wearing-out" cropping up with the listener. Catchy elements with earworm-like melodies are scarce. The music does not sound very symphonic to my classical music-trained ears. That does not mean that it has no goosebumps-inducing moments. Try the beautiful multi-vocal chorus in Kurschatten (searched without success for a translation of that German word. It means a lover someone is having whilst undergoing a treatment at a health resort), and the first part of The Old Man. This song for me is the one which comes closest to the music of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree, the basic source of inspiration for Mrs. Kite.
Overall, despite having its heavy elements, a sentiment of elegance, lightness, and tenderness forms the basic mood of Mrs. Kite's music. The vocals perfectly fit this musical style, with Florian Schuch's voice sometimes reminding me of Yogi Lang from German peers RPWL. My favourite songs are Kurschatten and The Old Man plus the more baladesque By The Lake. Hums closes the album in a contemplative and melancholic way.
Mrs. Kite have released an album with music which is by no means "by the way". It requires the listeners' unrestricted attention, but will provide him/her with many subtle things to discover along the way. Take your headphones, relax and listen attentively. Let it grow upon you. It took me some time to come to terms with it but it definitely was worth the efforts made.
Parhelia — Celestial Horizons
Irish band Parhelia returns after an absence of seven years. In that time the band has shed two members and is now a duo of Greg Clarke (guitars, keyboards, effects) and Cathal Rodgers (bass, keyboards), with guest drummer Ben Wanders.
Although the band has supported acts like Anathema, Katatonia, 65 Days of Static and God is an Astronaut in the past, their reduced line-up means they no longer perform live. One may have gained an inkling of the type of music they produce from the bands they have previously shared a stage with and/or the fact that neither of the band members sings. Yes, this is instrumental music that broadly fits into the post-rock category.
However, while their music may share a lot of the characteristics common to the genre, there is a freshness to Parhelia and they have managed to create their own identity, not an easy task in a crowded scene.
They achieve this by ensuring their music is intricately layered. As they don't have to worry about reproducing the album live, they have freed themselves from having to consider the limitations presented by how a duo (or trio) would portray the essence of this music. Consistent with the band's historical output, the songs feature dual guitars that are frequently split between channels and, accordingly, listening to the album via headphones pays dividends.
While there are plenty of guitars, in many ways it is the bass that grabs the attention and is an integral part of the Parhelia sound. Mixed so that it is right up there in your face, Rodgers weaves integral lines around the guitars, often taking responsibility for carrying the melody or providing the substance of the song and elsewhere providing a solid basis upon which the guitars and keyboards can build, sometimes within the same track.
All four of their previous releases have gained favour with DPRP reviewers which is a testament to the group's ability to stand out and offer music that is free of clichés and can be enjoyed on many different levels. Read about 2006's First Light EP, the Oceans Apart EP from 2007, 2009's Shifting Sands, and The Precipice Of Change) from 2013.
Another advantage of slimming down to a duo, is that there is no need for either of the musicians to fight to be heard. If only one guitar is needed, then just one guitar track is laid down, giving the music plenty of space to breath. This allows the individual instruments to be clearly identified, even when they are ramping up the levels for a more vigorous sonic assault. The band can also produce atmospheric landscapes when necessary but don't think that involves creating new age twaddle, as there is always an underlying hint of aggression and power.
Each track is an individual journey but in spite of this (or maybe it is because of this) there is an overall cohesiveness to the album, that despite its relatively short running time, feels like a complete musical statement. In that respect it is not appropriate to single out individual tracks, as I believe this album needs to be experienced as a whole. One thing I would say though, this is the kind of music that surround sound was invented for!
Quel Che Disse Il Tuone — Il Velo Dei Riflessi
This five-song debut album by Italian four-piece Quel Che Disse Il Tuone (meaning "What The Thunder Said") is true Italian progressive music, yet with a modern 2020 layer on top. Not really suitable for easy listening, you will have to work on it. Many things are happening during each song, all of which make you listen closely to each and every unexpected tweak and change. It's brilliant stuff!
The album Il Velo Dei Riflessi (The Veil Of Reflections) starts with a classic prog tune, Paradigma Dello Specchio (Paradigm Of The Mirror), to fool you a bit. After one-and-a-half minutes, changes come in to keep you awake. Quickly after, magnificent vocals try to tell us a story, in their beautiful Italian language. Chords, instruments, time signatures and fierce vocals are creating a wonderful range of highly impressive, hallucinating musical wonders.
The second track, Figlio Dell'Uomo (Son Of Man), shows an Italian intro using keys to turn to guitars and back again. When this is over, it's time for a little community singing, drums are competing and all kinds of instruments are gettting in-line too. Your ears will be glowing when the intro is reintroduced. Some riffing keeps your ears awake and produces the right stuff in your brains to feel enchanted. Whoops, suddenly an abrupt end.
Chi Ti Cammina Accanto? (Who Walks You Next?) might be the biggest secret of this band and album. Listen to the first guitar sounds and you immediately feel at ease. Slow, magical music in perfection. The most impressive of all these impressive tracks.
Next is Il Bastone E Il Serpente (The Staff And The Snake). Serpente, meaning snake, is what happens here. A snake is clearly crawling and meandering through a musical environment that varies from possible dangerous threats, to tasting a quiet, safe surrounding. The final and fantastic long track Loro Sono Me (They Are Me) is led by some lovely keys supported by bass and flute. What is keys heaven? Well, just listen to this.
Although a new band, all members are active in other musical activities. Francesca Zanetta played with Unreal City, Niccolò Gallani also plays keys at Cellar Noise, bassist and singer (great fitting voice) Roberto Bernasconi plays In-sight Band and Alessio Del Ben also plays drums in Caravaggio. They clearly understand the art of composing and bringing it to life. Speaking of live, unfortunately with a virus spreading around the world, the band had to cancel their first European tour. Hopefully the tour will start some time later. Go and see them if they are in your neighbourhood to get the feeling. Recommended.
Tiger Moth Tales — A Visit To Zoetermeer
Peter Jones seems to be everywhere these days, playing with Magenta, Camel, Francis Dunnery, Red Bazaar and under his own band; alias Tiger Moth Tales. A Visit To Zoetermeer was recorded on the 26 January 2019 at the Cultuurpodium Boerderij at a concert supporting the release of Story Tellers Part Two, coincidentally on the same day that Red Bazaar recorded their own DVD. Or not so coincidentally, as Red Bazaar and Tiger Moth Tales feature the same line-up: Jones on keyboards, guitars and vocals, Andy Wilson on guitar, Mick Wilson on bass, melodica, vocoda and backing vocals, and Paul Comerie on drums.
Starting with the Camel-esque Toad Of Toad Hall with its fine synth riff, the next three tracks are all ballads (and in the case of Match Girl, pretty depressing to boot) and it is really not until midway through The Boy Who Cried Wolf that any real pace is injected into the set. The Ballad Of Longshanks John, a highlight of The Depths Of Winter album, is not as jaunty as the studio version due to the lack of recorder to double the keyboard riff and the vocoda backing vocals sounding a lot more artificial.
Tigers In The Butter from Cocoon is the only really proggy track on the album and is a great band track, watching Jones simultaneously play guitar and keyboards is quite amazing and shows what an extraordinary talent he is. However, I've never got to grips with the rather bizarre thing that is The Merry Vicar that seems to be one of the most popular Tiger Moth Tales songs. Even preceding it with an improvised audience participation section where the band play snippets of other songs (for the curious, these are Another One Bites The Dust (Queen), The Day We Went To Bangor (Fiddler's Dram), Tulips From Zoetermeer (Amsterdam) (Max Bygraves), Smoke On The Water (Deep Purple), the theme from English football highlights TV show Match Of The Day, and I Was Born Under A Wandering Star (Lee Marvin)) it is a step too far into the whimsical.
The final song, A Visit To Chigwick rounds off the trio of numbers from Cocoon, and features a nice guitar duet for the first couple of minutes before Jones switches back to keyboards. It could have been a great song, but the spoken text, acting as a link between different sections, is rather annoying. Although all the musicians play with panache, overall the song is too disjointed to really gel.
The promo videos on the DVD are not really promo videos as such, but Jones being filmed in the studio (all on the same day by the looks of things). Of the five videos, the last three are the best. The Ballad Of Longshanks John is interesting in the way it flips between Jones playing piano, recorder or guitar and him singing, (although the shot of a blurred Jones behind an in-focus microphone is somewhat overused across the videos). Toad Of Toad Hall takes a similar approach and is notable for the great bass playing, while The Hundred Acre Wood (which to me doesn't invoke the spirit of Pooh and friends at all!) is cleverly done to have Jones duetting with himself on piano and clarinet. It is also features a quite comical into and outro.
Hardly a prog essential, the full band Tiger Moth Tales experience is enjoyable enough but I don't think matches the studio albums. It is more likely I would play one of those than this, and when I do pluck A Visit To Zoetermeer from the shelves it will be the CD that is played in preference to the DVD. Nevertheless a commendable release.
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia — Benefit For Moogy Klingman
Mark 'Moogy' Klingman was a long-term associate of Todd Rundgren from the late 60s onwards. A keyboard player and composer of some talent. When he became ill with cancer, Rundgren and a number of members of the first incarnation of Utopia got together for these live concerts to help cover Moogy's medical bills.
This extravagant four CD and two DVD set covers both of the concerts. The first two CDs cover the one at the Highline Ballroom, New York on January 29, 2011. On these two discs you get just about every Utopia song you could want from the two initial prog-heavy albums, before they started to morph into an 80s power pop band and slimmed down to a four-piece. The only person performing from the latter line-up is bassist Kasim Sulton. The rest of the line-up is from those who performed on those first two releases. So there is a first time in 30 years re-union of Utopia alumni with Todd Rundgren (electric guitar, vocals), Ralph Schuckett (keyboards), John Siegler (bass, cello), Kevin Ellman (percussion) and Mark Klingman (keyboards, vocals) plus back-up singers.
The Highline gig commences with a boogie-woogie arrangement of the Utopia Theme before making their way through earlier Rundgren songs that Moogy had worked on or had written (Dust In The Wind). So you get Never Never Land from Disney's Peter Pan and a run through the pop and Philadelphia soul inflected songs that are full of joyous energy. Then the prog rock kicks in with a full run-through of the Utopia Theme. Brimming with pomp and slightly overblown in its tunefulness, and all the better for it. The two sets of keyboards playing off each other is a delight, as well as the heavier sections when the drums, bass and guitar dominate. This is followed by the jazzy Freak Parade with its stop-start rhythm, that, unfortunately, goes a bit messy in the middle. The joys of a warts-and-all live recording.
Altogether more successful, is the keyboard-led Another Life where organ and piano spar with each other. Then the prog goes way-up to eleven with a 17-minute version of The Ikon (which on the original release was just over half-an-hour long). Fabulous organ and bass playing hold this together as the band barrels through it, with all the players having time for a solo, and nobody disappoints.
As the gig goes on there is a return to the pop, soul and garage rock in Rundgren's back catalogue. The garage rock crops up with Heavy Metal Kids and The Move cover Do Ya. Wonderful power-soul is to be found on The Last Ride, with great organ and electric piano interplay topped by a cracker of a guitar solo. The anthemic Just One Victory is Moogy Klingman's favourite Rundgren song and they do its positivity proud here.
The gig closes with (You Got To Have) Friends, a song Moogy Klingman wrote for Bette Midler when he took over as her musical director from Barry Manilow (now there's two names I never expected to put in a prog review). Moogy takes lead vocals on this and his cracked, weary voice reminds me of Randy Newman in its expression of friendship.
The second gig, later the same year on November 18 at the Peekskill Performing Arts Centre, Peekskill unfortunately came three days after Moogy Klingman lost his battle with cancer. This gig is recorded on two CDs as well, and as you can see from the track-listing it covers much the same musical ground. The main difference is that the pop/soul elements of the earlier gig have been dropped and replaced by more proggy fair (The Seven Rays has a great synth solo on it, a 25-minute long run at The Ikon and a bit of a scrappy version of Freedom Fighters).
There is not much to choose between the two gigs and fans will argue the merits of each. On the Highline gig you get the extra keyboards but it is a little messier in its energy. The Peekskill gig has slightly better vocals. But it's really swings and roundabouts. These are two good gigs that highlight the contribution made, and pay tribute to, the talents of Mark 'Moogy' Klingman.
(Note: Neither of the DVDs were submitted for review).