Airbag — A Day At The Beach
As a reviewer at DPRP.net you're sometimes lucky to lay your hands on a pre-release copy of a new album from one of your favourite artists. Most of the times though, there are albums of lesser-known or unknown artists which makes it always a challenge to start to listen. Most of the time it is worth the try. And every now and then there are albums on offer of artists you like, or think you like, although they are not favourites per se but too good a chance to let go by.
To me the latter was the case with Airbag, the Norwegian proggers whom I got to know by means of their third album The Greatest Show On Earth. I really liked that one, especially the long and wide guitar solos by Bjorn Riis and the overall melancholic mood of the songs. I also tried All Rights Removed to find out I liked that album as well. Their 2016 album, Disconnected, somehow passed me by. But Looking at the scores on several prog websites and the review by my colleague Andy Read, it was another pleasant record, so I'll give it a listen in the near future.
So, I was really looked forward to listening to Airbag's fifth album entitled A Day At The Beach. I knew that that the original line-up had almost halved for this one. Airbag is nowadays Riis on guitars, keyboards and background vocals, Henrik Fossum on drums, and Asle Tostrup on lead vocals, keyboards and programming. I was simply curious as to how the new album would sound, and whether the two former members would be missed.
While listening, my mind wandered off long before the record ended, quite disappointed in what the album offered. Of course I tried it several times more, but each time I wondered what I had been listening to: a soundscape, a film score, an exercise at a music school or background music for the mall?
That puzzling feeling has gone now, but I still cannot help but be underwhelmed. The main reason is that far too little happens in the more than 48 minutes that the album lasts. Four of the six tracks on the album have epic lengths, clocking-in at well over eight minutes, but musically none of these songs really deserve that length. Except maybe Sunsets.
Opener Machine And Man starts with a repeating sample of a low sound on which the whole song is built. To my ears the vocals are unexpressive and therefore boring. Tostrup doesn't have a very expressive voice but here he also has a rather non-descript melody which proves hard to make interesting. Into The Unknown has another repetitive intro but here the vocal lines are much more appealing with a fine chorus and a somewhat uplifting vocal sound. The musical bridge however is very simple again and doesn't captivate. Fortunately the song has a fine characteristic Airbag guitar solo but it's a shame they let it fade out just like that. That solo deserved a more creative end.
Sunsets starts with a simple, uninteresting drum sound over which long stretched keys and guitar chords are played with some sound effects before the vocals start, this time with some pace. Tostrup's singing here is very good with a real melody to sing instead of filling in a soundscape like in the former songs. Halfway Riis' fabulous guitar appears and lifts the song farther up for the remaining four minutes. There is a sudden break that isn't a break, there are some variations in pace, there's a real wall of sound, this is Airbag at their best. It is clearly the highlight on the album.
Closer, Megalomaniac, starts with a simple and very uninteresting guitar riff that goes on and on and on. It is supported by some sound effects but that doesn't make it any better. Alas the vocals are very predictable again and the break halfway is totally uninspired, although it is followed by another fine guitar outburst by Riis. The coda is that same uninteresting guitar riff that slowly fades (it takes almost two minutes in which nothing happens …). I find this a really boring song that could, at best, have been half the length.
The two shorter tracks on the album form the title track divided over two parts. Part 1 sounds more or less the same over the whole length. There is, again, little if any musical development in the song. The vocal melody is fine but nothing special, the instrumental section towards the end is very simple and monotonous. Part 2 is instrumental and presents some more development, as the middle part is one of those fine Riis outbursts.
My first huge disappointment has diminished somewhat, after having listened to the album for more than a dozen times now. The several fine guitar solos make this record a bit attractive but not too much. I find that Airbag has overall delivered a weak and boring album.
Of course it is difficult to sound fresh and creative with every new record, especially when band members decide to leave. Then it may be a challenge to strip back your music as far as you dare. That is a courageous move that deserves to be valued, but here they have gone too far. This album sounds uninspired, with too much dragging in too many long songs and two short tracks that are not strong enough to compensate for that. Like I said, only Sunsets is a very nice song that reaches far above the rest, illustrating what they are capable of.
Although I liked two of their earlier outputs, this one fails to appeal to me at all. Airbag can do far better than this one, I hope they show that next time.
Victor Go — Going For The Sense
Victor Go is a multi-instrumentalist and composer originating from Odessa in The Ukraine, modestly known from his collaboration with Vladimir Gorashchenko (Modern Rock Ensemble) on his Touching The Mystery release. Further investigation reveals that Go's musical career started in the eighties when he formed a duo with cellist/keyboardist C. George under the name of Agenda. Changing their name to Ayesway in the process, they gave birth to various movie soundtracks as well as being involved as producers for FM radio stations.
With his focus fully turned towards studio recordings nowadays, Go has released four albums so far, with 2018 being an admirably productive year with three releases, of which Going For The Sense is one.
Go finds inspiration predominantly from the English progressive rock of the 70s, which he fuses into treacherously-simple compositions that breath a joyous 80s feel. His experience as a producer shines through magically, resulting in a fresh, contemporary, crystal-clear sound, which not only gives the songs a delightful crispness, but sets him apart sonically as well. The use of a drum computer does add some clinical touches, which are easily overcome via the approachable melodies and a huge array of detailed instrumentation.
Going For The Sense is the relatively more approachable album of the two. One of the reasons for this is the inclusion of many soundscapes, giving the album a lovely ambient feel on occasion. For instance, the atmospheric Lost In Ocean, featuring whale and ocean sounds, sees some effective percussion, while the electronic, spacious sound is captivating. The translation of Freightening Dream into impending and haunting music is done just as convincingly through added symphonic elements. Go's superb use of percussion shines through meticulously in the mellow earthiness of the wonderfully-crafted Branches And Roots and Lost In Desert, which both see further highlights in alluring electronics.
The harp-sounds intertwining with violins, acoustic guitar and enchanting flute do exactly what they should do in the ultimately-seductive Romanza, elegantly depicting a candlelight diner, while Elation features some emotive bass play and twinkling dreamy melodies reminiscent to the ambient parts of Modern Rock Ensemble. Rolling the end credits The Only Road. Afterthought, reveals a sensitive, symphonic composition taken straight from a movie. Altogether these instrumental soundscapes manage to give the album a cohesive strength, ultimately surpassed in the rockier instrumental bonus track The Amazon, painting pictures of a colourful exhibition by E.L.P. through exciting keyboard pulses and great guitar work.
Next to these cinematic soundscapes, the compositions reveal an engaging crossover prog/pop sense, which through the fullness in sound immediately sparks thoughts of Yes in the opening track Going For The Sense. Cannot Reach Altitude sees further musical influences of Collins-era Genesis (1980-1983), with Go's vocals occasionally mindful to Flame Dream (Travaganza). The rhythmic atmosphere of Diligence, featuring that same type of slightly computerised vocals, emphasises this, surrounded by some delicious guitars and a flawless pop sense. The mellow, subdued Follow Your Heart, sung with echoing effects, echoes Jon Anderson's solo work as well as Going For The One.
The infectious pop feel offers a further highlight in Stream, a ballad with a lovely IQ embrace and Steve Hackett-inspired guitars, while the smoothness of (harmony) vocals and a richness in sounds give way to Peter Gabriel's solo material. Similarly Eventide bears that lovely IQ mark through its vocals and playfulness, which is surpassed in the deliciously-crafted Pretty Faces, showcasing symphonic layers, converging from small and intricate, into grander movements.
Overall Going For The Sense is a fine accomplishment, which sees small additional parts from C. George (cello in Elation and piano in The Only Road). An album one definitely has to excavate in order to receive its refined melodies. A liquorice treat which changes colour and palette upon every taste. The excessive nature of The Leap tops this, in being a soft rock where the outer spheres melt away, slowly revealing sophisticated musical crystals, fused together into a kaleidoscope of progressive gems.
Victor Go — The Leap
Slowing things down, The Leap is Go's latest effort from 2020, although you actually still get three albums worth of material considering the richness in detail and the complex melodies.
After hearing the voluminous musicality displayed on The Leap the question raised is when does an artist finally set his compositions free to the public, in his strive for perfection. For example, some individual artists strive to write in a "less is more" manner, giving the music wonderful openness and substantial depth, while some composers will opt for the "lets add more" option. The resulting music can have the same results through the richness of sound, although the danger of shrouding the music by doing too much lurks around the corner. Apparently Go's studio is a smooth, round sphere, for both albums are great examples in the "let's add more" approach, with The Leap successfully pushing boundaries.
There is little difference in fidelity in The Leap, compared to Going For The Sense, feeling lovingly nostalgic to the 80s. One subtle distinction is The Leap's bigger experimental drift, which on the one hand makes the album more difficult to fathom, but on the other makes it all the more diverse and interesting. The fact that the vocals are equalised with some form of autotune, gives the album a strangely distracting character, making it less appealing to Go's previous effort, although the musical inventiveness is hugely victorious, levelling it all out, with a slight personal preference to The Leap.
The jazzy, restrained character of Once Again feels comfortable as Victor Go continues his musical quest successfully. Surrounded by many backing vocals, rhythmic changes and twisting and turning keyboard frivolities, the summery atmosphere is strengthened, while underneath many audible instruments add substantial meaning to the song.
The ambient opening of the instrumental 2020. Hopes And Alarms softly glides into Yes gestures, with classical symphonies opening up to a Genesis/ELP movement that sees superb guitars soar through many states, which later on in Last Hope paves the way for a delicious Awaken (Yes) feel. The many curls and twists, surrounded by smoothness of production and infinite odd time signatures, add a wondrous complexity to the music reminiscent to Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, especially in the keyboard compartment. This is also nicely illustrated in one of the Pilot. tracks (Pilot Triumph), which reaches a vibrant state of symphonic euphoria.
Prior to this the ambient and dreamy Pilot. Dream slowly drifts towards twinkling awakenings, while the neurotic nature of the Genesis-inspired Pilot. Conceit is so full of ideas one can hardly keep up with its many melodies and textures. And despite the restrained psychedelic edges, Pilot. Anticipation spreads hope, which proves to be a lovely precursor to the extravagant complexity of 2020. Move On, revealing many ELP influences, oddly-timed rhythmic effects and Yes!
The playfulness of Tension, incorporating many creative changes and excellently executed guitars and keyboards, is in sharp contrast to the spacious, ambient surroundings of Everlasting Quest, which deepens the musical content of the album marvellously. The latter is also a majestic ending to the album, containing a delicate, mysterious intonation.
Lastly Flywheel impresses with approachable, tantalising and sparkling melodies that intertwine to lively complexities. Here Go goes all out, with many polymeric keyboards flying around a sun that gently emits ELP sparkles, meanwhile radiating Genesis underneath, through captivating Hackett-like guitar work. The initial, light acoustic touch furthermore makes one run up a Solsbury Hill to the wonderful world as portrayed by Jon Anderson's In The City Of Angels. A vibrant, deeply-layered and highly-accomplished composition.
Compared to other multi-instrumentalists operating in the same crossover-prog field (Soniq Theatre / Sunrise Auranaut), Victor Go's efforts show a wider range in creativity and inventive structures, set in a far superior production, which loosely reminds me of Rupert Hine. I feel that not only keyboard-orientated prog lovers should check these albums out, but frankly they could appeal to anyone enjoying seventies prog or neo-prog as well. Whilst one has to invest some time in exploration, once invested there's a lot to gain, which goes equally well for the effective simplicity of the delightful artwork.
With the global lock-down not differing too much from his own personal compositional seclusion, Victor Go has started working on a new album already. I'm looking forward to his next effort, hoping he still aims at his own perfectly-found restrictions of "more is more" and doesn't go overboard. Only time will tell; an uncertain period which I'll gladly fill with these albums.
Steve Hackett — Genesis Revisited: Live At The Royal Albert Hall
When Steve Hackett embarked on his solo career and began touring in October 1978, the only Genesis tunes in the set list were the acoustic solo Horizons and live favourite I Know What I Like. Since then, the Genesis quotient has grown, especially in more recent years. Had it not been for the corona virus pandemic, in 2020 Steve would have been touring the Selling England By The Pound and Seconds Out albums in their entirety. By way of consolation, he has been entertaining fans online with solo guitar performances and 'Track-chat' videos from his home studio.
Genesis Revisited: Live At The Royal Albert Hall was initially released as a 2CD/DVD box-set in July 2014. The CDs and DVD were separately reviewed by the DPRP and both were well received. The recordings have now been remastered and reissued as a 3LP/2CD package. Such is the demand, the first run of copies quickly sold out on Steve's official web store. The new version is also available from all the main digital platforms. So you may well ask, what is the justification for a reissue six years on from the original? The simple answer is, this new version is aimed squarely at vinyl lovers. The CDs are a bonus. The other main selling point is the remastering, which is described as 'highly dynamic and more transparent'.
The concert itself was a sell-out, recorded on 24 October 2013 in London's most prestigious venue during the extended Genesis Revisited II tours. The two-hour 15 minute set is made up of Genesis classics, with Steve's solo material conspicuously absent. For fans of 70s-period Genesis, the song selection could hardly be better with a representation from all six studio albums Steve played on between 1971 and 1977. Coincidently, Genesis themselves would have been touring in 2020 had it not been for the corona virus and it would have been interesting to see how many of these songs featured in their setlist. Can you imagine Collins, Banks and Rutherford playing Supper's Ready in its entirety? No, neither can I.
On the night, Steve's band comprised of Roger King (keyboards), Nad Sylvan (vocals), Gary O'Toole (drums, vocals), Lee Pomeroy (bass, bass pedals, twelve-string guitar), and Rob Townsend (saxophone, woodwind, keyboards). They are joined by special guests Amanda Lehmann, John Wetton, Ray Wilson, and Roine Stolt. As you would expect, the performances are impeccable. Take Firth Of Fifth for example, King faultlessly nails the piano intro that Banks was never comfortable playing live and Townsend replaces Gabriel's original flute part with a sublime soprano sax solo. O'Toole and Pomeroy are rock solid in the rhythm department, while Steve's infamous solo is as good as any he's recorded. Of the guest singers, I would single out Steve's sister-in-law Amanda Lehmann and her beautiful rendition of an acoustic (and abridged) Ripples. Elsewhere, Sylvan skillfully strikes that Gabriel - Collins vocal balance, which has become his forte.
If, like me, you treasure your original vinyl copies of Yessongs and Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends in the belief that triple live albums were a relic of the 70s, this release will be welcome. But don't be fooled into thinking that these days Steve is little more than a heritage act. If you missed it, check out his most recent studio offering, the brilliant At The Edge Of Light which was my top album of 2019. For a full appraisal of Steve's output spanning five decades, look out for my book which will be published later in 2020.
Kashmir — Balance
First off a special thanks to the inventor of Cruise Control, for the highly addictive energetic rock of Balance would otherwise have resulted in many a ticket. Secondly appraisal to the ones who have unearthed this gem from the golden era of Spanish infectious energetic melodic (AOR) rock, now seeing evidence through Balance. For the album under review was actually recorded in 1998 and only now sees light of day.
It all started in 1988 when Kashmir was formed as a cover band playing, amongst others, songs by Led Zeppelin. The band records an album with original material (The Promised Land) and slowly build a following by playing the club circuit and festivals, which sees a highlight in a subsequent support tour with The Scorpions. Spurred on by this success they record an EP in 1997 (Hard Times), which is once again met with high appraisal. With recordings for the successor Balance finished circumstances involving their record label made is all go sour. As a result the band eventually split up and the album got shelved.
For many a band-name like Kashmir will be an inseparable reference to Led Zeppelin. And although brief musical references can be found in Remember Kashmir through it's orchestral arrangements and vocal ad-libs in Queen Of The Show that show a resemblance to Robert Plant, that's where the similarities end. What remains though is an infectious album filled with melodic rock 'n roll that simply has me dazed and confused. Especially why this was never released at the time in the first place, for the sheer high quality of the music is unquestionable.
Although any real prog references might be slim, fans of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep should pay close attention to Sweet Child which thrives on the Hammond organ sound (Emilio Gutiérrez) resembling that magical feel of Jon Lord. Come And Dance even on occasion manages to feel like a close relative to Black Knight, bursting with energy and a delicious organ solo that slowly prepares a great guitar solo. The equally appealing Dirty Road and Having A Good Time are spiced up with horns resulting in an excellent party rock feel, elevated by the confident swing of both tracks in style of Extreme and Aerosmith.
The AOR knob is screwed on tight in Freezing In Your Heart and aforementioned Remember Kashmir through inspired bluesy Shotgun Symphony influences, and sees a highlight in the contagious Rescue Me. Here the country styled opening on violin turns into appetising Tyketto rock, stays extremely catchy and melodic throughout, and features a delicious Shooting Star ending on violin.
The passionate and powerful vocals of Fernando Martinez in combination with the heavy fuelled rock of With Hands In Heaven and Another Name In The Sand gives way to Bad Company, and ignites Atomic Rooster in Around This Moment. The latter is a superb emotive blues ballad, lifted by delicate organ, strings and a marvellous subdued guitar solo by Ángel Antonio Berdiales, while the vocals and some of its melody show a peculiar likeness to Andre Carswell (vocalist Anyone's Daughter).
Highlight of the album Queen Of The Show sees Eastern influences, which though playful percussion (Manu Maroto) gives rise to thoughts of Angra. Further implementation of Pomp-rock elements through a tantalising synth solo that glides heavenly into a fierce guitar solo eruption, proves to be the icing of the cake. It ultimately shows the divine skilled and playful interaction of each band member, which is their biggest asset.
The acoustical Hard Times Rock 'N Roll, a relative straight forward enjoyable composition with a severe audience participation feel, doesn't play into these strengths, although it does feature some nice Saloon piano movements and delicate guitars. A curiosity lies in the fact that this track has some weird sound issues. Taken from a single (by the sound of it) one can actually hear the authentic needle land in the groove, sprinkle a vinyl campfire throughout the song and exit into the final groove several times. A saddening thought that this is supposedly the best audible version available.
The production of the album, although typical for the era, still sounds fresh and vibrant after all these years. Not only does it suit these timeless seventies inspired rock compositions perfectly, it also makes you wonder what could have been. Something we'll never know for this long overdue release is a simultaneous tribute to Kashmir's bass player Alejandro Espina, who recently passed away at the age of 46.
Balance is a strong and beautiful salvaged memento, which I encourage everyone to buy a ticket for and join for a celebrated joyous flight.
Nektar — Live From The Wildey Theatre
Recorded on 7 March 2020, before the global Covid-19 lockdown had really struck, particularly in the US, this concert has been released by the band following the cancellation of the remaining dates on their 2020 tour. The recording, using a couple of cameras from which the audio has presumably been taken, was obviously never intended for release, as it is far from a professional recording. More of an officially-sanctioned bootleg, with all the limitations such recordings bring with them.
The levels of the instruments are far from balanced, the bass and drums can dominate, the keyboards are lost in many places and audience noise and talking intrudes through a lot of the music. The superfluous stage introductions and in particular the introduction at the start of the concert, particularly on the video version which drags on for five painful minutes, could have done with editing out, as they don't add anything.
What you do get is an authentic Nektar show from the band that features two original members in Derek 'Mo' Moore (bass, vocals) and Ron Howden (drums, vocals), along with Randy Dembo (bass, 12-string guitar, part of the Nektar line-up for a few years since 2004), Ryche Chlanda (guitar, vocals, part of the Nektar line-up for a while around 1977), and new recruit Kendall Scott (keyboards), with Mick Brockett, another original member of the Nektar ensemble, reprising his role on visual conceptions.
The set list can't be faulted, covering a lot of the major releases from the band's back catalogue between 1971 and 1975 as well as a large chunk of the 2019 reformation album The Other Side. As one may expect, time has had an effect on the vocals, particularly considering that 'Mo' Moore was never lead vocalist and Ryche Chlanda is not a very adept live singer. However, they just about get away with it in most places, Fidgety Queen being the most obvious example where they don't.
The audio and video are available separately, or together at a reduced price. The video version is the better of the two, as at least you get the visual projections to look at. If you are a committed Nektar fan, or happened to be at the Wildey Theatre on this, or one of the other three nights, then you may be interested in having a copy of this recording, but otherwise this is not really a worthwhile addition to a collection.
I have long been a fan of the band and was impressed with The Other Side album but I have long given up accumulating even 'historic' recordings that don't add anything special to the existing catalogue of a band, and may even detract from it. For me, Live From The Wildey Theatre falls into this category.