Album Reviews

Issue 2021-054

Deckchair Poets — The Crop Circlers' Guide To Abstract Expressionism

Deckchair Poets - The Crop Circlers' Guide To Abstract Expressionism
Deckchair Poem 2 (0:47), Beam Me Up Again (3:29), Unfinished Words (2:15), Dictators' Poor Image Projection (3:06), Roobaron (3:12), Mr Future (0:43), Joe Dempsey (1:47), Shadows (3:23), Bye-Bye Fly (3:07), Fool Too Long (3:15), Bleat (1:00), Even The Queen (4:32), Hey Napoleon (3:40), Pointing Percy (0:19), Fish On Your Car (3:13), Willy's Caught (1:52), Twang (4:24), Sheepless In Seattle (0:40), Sgt Friday (3:52)
Stefan Hennig

Have you ever wondered what progressive rock musicians do to let off their creative steam? I think that The Crop Circlers' Guide To Abstract Expressionism may provide the answer.

Deckchair Poets is part of a collection of musicians who quietly release music under a number of different band names. Each group has its own distinctive flavour, and the Deckchair Poets produce very much tongue in cheek rock music. The type of humour on display is very English, and can be likened to the holiday postcards that used to adorn most seaside resorts prior to the rise of the Woke generation. To hopefully provide an understandable analogy, if you are offended by the 80s and 90s comedy which the likes of Benny Hill or Bernard Manning produced, then it may be wise to steer clear of this release.

Now the safety warning is out of the way, and you are still intrigued, then let me tell you, with 19 tracks, the longest being four and a half minutes, and several being less than a minute, this is definitely not a prog album. The music on offer is best described as rock. But rock produced by the likes of Geoff Downes, Nick D'Virgilio, and Dave Meros. The projects are masterminded by the duo of Lynden Williams and Ollie Hannifan, with the support of a plethora of other artists. The Crop Circlers' Guide To Abstract Expressionism is the fifth release under the Deckchair Poets banner, and is primarily available from various download sites.

The album features three covers of The Rutles, The Humblebums, and Rockpile, which will give you a flavour of what to expect musically. As for the lyrical content, the following from the promotional material probably describes some of the topics better than I could, “songs about stupidly-dressed dictators, a homophobic army sergeant, vicars' alluring daughters, body odour, a longing for summer, a suicidal fly, and an eye-watering tale of an accident with a zipper.”

The album provides a humorous interlude in a musical genre which can be very serious, and on first listening may provide a snigger or chortle, but don't expect to be rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter. For most readers, you will probably enjoy listening to an album multiple times, to fully appreciate the music on offer. With The Crop Circlers' Guide To Abstract Expressionism, the replay value appears to be limited, but I have listened to plenty of albums which I have ended up asking myself “why?” With this offering from the Deckchair Poets, I at least had a feeling of being entertained after listening to the album. So, if you want to enjoy prog musicians not taking themselves seriously, and just having fun, then this may just be what you have been looking for.

District 97 — Screenplay

54:06, 58:13
District 97 - Screenplay
CD 1: Forest Fire (5:16), Sheep (6:56), Sea I Provide (2:53), Bread & Yarn (8:55), Trigger (4:43), After Orbit Mission (1:27), Shapeshifter (5:58), Blueprint (4:36), Ghost Girl (13:22)
CD 2: Divided We Fall (4:33), Jealous Guy (1:19), Snow Country (6:26), Takeover (5:47), The Actual Color (5:56), A Lottery (5:47), Termites (6:27), Presto Vivace (1:12), Back In N.Y.C. (5:35), Travels With Myself - And Someone Else (6:58), Fainting In Coils (6:41), Long Distance Runaround (3:34), Red (6:44), 21st Century Schizoid Man (with John Wetton) (5:02), Out On The Tiles (3:41), Walking On Sunshine (3:27)
Mark Hughes

District 97 follow up their critically acclaimed 2019 album Screens with Screenplay, which it doesn't take a genius to work out is a live version of said album. Recorded on the day that Screens was released, it is a solid performance of a very good album and shows that they can easily replicate the complexities of their studio productions in a live environment. And that really is the downfall of the album, it is not all that different from the studio version, which is probably a better listen as the drums are mixed a bit too loud on the live album sometimes obscuring the other musicians to the detriment of the songs. But it a solid performance and I am sure their fanbase will enjoy having this live memento. Plus the album contains Bread & Yarn, possibly the best song the band has written.

More interesting, for me at least, is the second CD which features a collection of live material gathered from past years as well as a brand new song, Divided We Fall, recorded during lockdown (see video). It is a fairly good number, although the mix is rather horrible, but Leslie Hunt's multi-tracked vocals in the middle are lovely although it is not really up to the standard of the songs on Screens.

Four of the live songs have previously been released. The Actual Color and Led Zep's Out On The Tiles were both on the 2011 recording Live at WFPK FM. Live At Calprog from 2010, which first brought the band to a wider audience, provides UK's Presto Vivace and Genesis' Back In New York City. With the exception of the unremarkable Out On The Tiles, all are worth adding to the collection, although both live albums are worth considering obtaining in their entirety.

The version of 21st Century Schizoid Man with John Wetton is a different recording from that on One More Red Night and it is nice to hear the band tackle another King Crimson number that wasn't on that album, although they might have been a bit more adventurous than that after covering Red, but their performance is tight if a little predictable. We'll skip over Lennon's Jealous Guy, as perhaps the band should have done.

The band show their chops on Long Distance Run Around, which is a pretty cool version, although as with the other cover versions they tend not to deviate from the originals. The two tracks from Bill Bruford's One Of A Kind album, Travels With Myself-And Someone Else and Fainting In Coils, add a bit of jazz fusion to the mix but they do tend to stick out from the rest of the material and, dare I say it, are a tad self indulgent, but hey, it's their record!

The unreleased recordings of their own songs, as would be expected, are spot on and good for the collector to have officially released live versions of these numbers. Surprisingly what I most enjoyed on this CD was the stonking version of Walking On Sunshine originally by Katrina And The Waves! A great feel good, sing-along number made all the more enjoyable by the atonal guitar solo and the very authentic horn stabs. Overall, as a 'bonus' CD (the pricing of the album essentially makes it a freebie) it is far better than one would have expected particularly as they could have easily have just compiled a bunch of previously released material.

Edenya — Silence

Edenya - Silence
The Promise (7:16), Sabrina (5:47), Broken Love (3:57), All They Want (5:56), Will The Demons Win? (8:09), Chaos (4:16), Silence (11:01), Still Alive (3:42)
Jan Buddenberg

Edenya was founded as an instrumental solo-project in 2010 by composer Marco (guitars, keyboard, piano, programming) inspired upon movie soundtracks. This original intention became a collaboration with vocalist Ida Rose which quickly brought forward a first offering with a self-titled EP in 2013, available on their Bandcamp page. After a four year together they parted ways leaving Marco in search of a new singer which was ultimately solved by hiring two talented new lead vocalists: Elena and Rémi.

Aided on many of the albums compositions by Julien Perdereau (drums, bass), Sophie Clavier (backing vocals on Still Alive) and Adrien France on violin. Edenya's new offerings glide smoothly through atmospheric progressive rock with elements of Folk, Post-Rock and Ambient passages accommodated with delicate shrouding mysteriousness and elegant symphonies laced with emotional depth.

Upon first encounter the restrained alternative rock of The Promise, slowly intensifying and brooding with emotional melancholy and energetically bursting into life in the rocky bridge deliciously engaged by violin, brings instant memories of All About Eve, especially in light of Elena's heavenly vocal delivery bringing visions of a unified trinity of Julianne Regan, Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation), and Anneke van Giersbergen (Vuur, The Gathering) upon multiple revisits. Her voice, perfectly complementing the music, shows a sparkling colourisation that incorporates intense brightness and enchanting darkness as well as emotional fragility and mesmerising beauty.

In Sabrina she tops her performance infinitely, drifting away upon celestial dreamy skies providing additional softly caressing ethereal vocals to the warm and intimate musical atmospheres. The excellently constructed composition lives and breathes All About Eve from all its musical pores and Marco's touching guitar-sound majestically elevates this, supported by an admirable well-balanced rhythmic profoundness.

Secondary vocalist Rémi makes a first appearance on All They Want which continues the comforting folk surroundings soothingly, capturing gorgeous melodies with affection of violin and uplifting rock passages that combines mild metal with sophisticated tasty bass lines. The vocal interactions between Elena and Rémi work beautifully, although Elena's capabilities frankly blow Rémi away as she reaches for the skies and soars off into breathtaking operatic angelic deliciousness.

In the quiet restrained surroundings of Will The Demons Win?, igniting mild feelings of Riverside and Porcupine Tree, Rémi proves to perfectly hold his own and brings a frangible performance embraced by divine backing vocals from Elena. The long dreamy movement that follows floats high with endless emotive guitars, and once infused by a delicious twin-guitar melody it slowly fades into soothing ambient atmospheres. In the uplifting and sensitive acoustic closing statement, Still Alive, Rémi repeats this fine performance with a charmingly forgivable accent shining through.

Marco's original quest to write cinematic soundscapes sees an intense example in Broken Love, bursting with melancholy and sadness as the composition fluently progresses from enchanting piano and symphonic synth waves onto deeply moving violin touches bringing feelings of loss and sorrow. The second instrumental composition, the mysterious and psychedelic Chaos, brings similar feelings of emptiness and hopelessness as it glides into desolate walls of guitar that slowly pass into intricate plains of Post Rock, projecting desolate atmospheric quietness.

Finally in the epic Silence the best of both worlds merge as luscious refined folk and indie-alternative melodies sparkle into energetic symphonic (metal)rock with a Neo-progressive edge mindful to Tale Cue. Gliding through several moody atmospheres, while whispered vocals add eerie psychedelic depth and operatic chants bring grandeur, it sails into graceful ambient acoustic harbours and immaculate Post Rock deserted landscapes embraced by Elena's alluring voice.

Overall Silence is a very promising debut album and although released one year to the date shouldn't go unnoticed. Fans of Anathema and several of the female fronted bands mentioned within this review will find much to their liking here.

The full-fledged atmospheric compositions show great potential and variety amongst skilful executions that showcase both passion and emotional depth. There's room left to grow, also to some extent in light of production values, but this first exposure has been a rather enjoyable, adventurous and refreshingly familiar experience. I look forward to what lies in store from this incarnation of Edenya.

Intelligent Music Project VI — The Creation

Intelligent Music Project VI - The Creation
Sense Of Progress (3:23), The Story (6:17), A Shelter (3:36), Listen (2:54), Your Thoughts (3:51), Sometimes (4:04), Back To The Truth (3:25), Let It Go (4:12), A Sight (4:30), That Something (4:19), I Know (2:58), Serve (5:29)
Jan Buddenberg

As if nothing has happened, Bulgarian-based composer and producer Milen Vrabevski MD, the mastermind behind Intelligent Music Project, gives birth to The Creation just one year after Life Motion. This album proved to be a fine recommendation for lovers of melodic rock, harbouring a joyous collection of catchy melodic AOR songs surrounded by mild progressive touches, performed by a cast of highly talented and well respected musicians.

Many of these musicians are part of the equally entertaining The Creation again, where upfront expectancy is created from the featured names on the front cover as usual. And although obviously a lot has changed since 2020 I'm delighted to see and hear that some of these circumstances have also had favourable effects on Vrabrevski's new creations, whose complementary philosophical uplifting conceptual message is about creative approaches, as a key to success in a meaningful life.

Vocals are shared as before between John Payne (Asia), Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Sunstorm) and Richard Grisman (River Hounds) with contributions from Carl Sentence (Nazareth) and Bobby Kotsaka. The chemistry between the vocalists is the first standout feature on the album, now sharing roughly the same amount of lead vocals which gives the album great balance. As to why the submissive role of Carl Sentence gets favourably mentioned on the cover is still beyond me though, as Grisman's role is substantially bigger. This oddity aside it's their vocal palate which complements each other nicely bringing a smooth flow, especially in the songs that feature duets or triple deliveries. One of the slight downsides to Life Motion, was the occasional disrupting presence of vocal ad-libs, has also been improved and feels better in-sync within the songs on this new release.

The surrounding Bulgarian session musicians sees similar entertaining continuation, consisting of Ivo Stefanov (piano, keyboards), Ivaylo Zvezdomirov (bass) and the excellent Bisser 'Go Get Guy' Ivanov on guitar. One significant change is the absence of Simon Phillips (ex-Toto), drummer and co-producer on former albums. His perfect replacements Todd Sucherman (Styx) and Bobby Rondinelli (Blue Öyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Rainbow) on the drum stool are certainly no strangers to fans of classic (hard)-rock and they each bring a tight versatile (rockier) edge to the compositions.

Those who fear that the mainstream harder rock-trajectory taken on Life Motion sees an even heavier approach on The Creation in light of these names can rest assured for this is not the case. The uptempo fast-tracked Tommy Shaw/Damn Yankees inspired first single I Know, accommodated with delicious tight riffs, impeccable energetic performances, powerful vocals and dynamic rhythms might suggest otherwise, yet the album is actually a reassuring delicious return to favourable Sorcery Inside atmospheres. With a gracious symphonic twist I must add.

Opener A Sense Of Progress is wrapped in a wonderful sensation of driving AOR deliciousness and perfectly sung by Romero, who's strong vocals carry the track through strikingly vibrant Toto familiarities, whilst harmonies sparkle and musical transitions are embraced by careful arrangements. It most convincingly sets the pace of the album, continued by the strong The Story, highlighting the three vocalists to work in perfect unison, while John Payne's vocals add a delightful touch of Asia. This is further emphasised by the magnificent symphonic arrangements mindful of Asia's Alpha, while Ivanov's wonderful escapades add another touch of brilliance.

As on previous efforts Ivanov proves to be fully in his element and his involvement in the melodic rocker A Shelter, initially reminiscent of the McAuley Schenker Group and touching upon Asia sounds in its bridge, is no exception. His remarkable talent shines through brightly, playing ample of licks and flashy guitar parts as the composition flows dynamically onwards. In the catchy AOR rocker Sometimes, incorporating a tightly bound versatile rhythm section, delicate synth insertions and tasty upfront bass, his tantalising solo elevates the rock festivities while the melodies and foremost vocal delivery brings lovely memories of John Schlitt (Petra).

Some of the elegant smoothness found on Sorcery Inside was sacrificed in favour of a raw rock orientated approach on Life Motion. The flawless Listen, sensitively sung by Romero and embraced by intricate string arrangements and orchestral themes, sees a wonderful and delightful return. It flow seamlessly into Your Thoughts, the perfect demonstration of the albums symphonic surroundings. With precious violin orchestrations, igniting visions of Trickster, it glides through a variety of smooth and wondrous AOR inspired melodies with epic vocal lines, meanwhile conversing with organ and rock as dynamic transitions originate elegant touches of Queen. It's marvellously ravishing ending could have lasted for me a whole lot longer.

The classic symphonies of Back To The Truth forecast similar appeal, changing atmospheres as it glides through intimate and frivolous passages where symphonic elements prevail and flashes of acoustic rivers bring Parisian Styx memories. A surprising welcomed twist, which can also be found in Let It Go, changing from a restrained bluesy and Jazzy atmospheric lounge-bar feel into a catchy rock song with lots of drive and groove, spiced up by a tasty solo from Ivanov.

Both That Something and A Sight, featuring Vasil Vutev on additional drums and percussion, are engagingly versified melodic compositions with unctuous, catchy Asia/Toto vibes and refined symphonic elements. These tracks beautifully show the vocalists well-attuned feel to each other, which goes as well for the album's delightful finale Serve. A rather surprising song that starts modest and sensitively with alluring symphonies mindful of Trickster/ELO caressed by beautiful harmonies and smoothness of bass.

With careful rhythmic guidance it then subtly flows into emotional movements and restrained melodies after which a spine-chilling guitar solo ends it on a high note fading into touching harmonies where ad-libs successfully add passion. A brilliantly misleading closure, for the composition is only halfway through and the icing on the cake is yet to follow, as the song suddenly builds luscious momentum and serves up a thrilling finale, with relentless rock powered by energetic performances. The vocal ad-libs supplied I'll gladly take for granted.

And so a lot basically stays the same. Vrabenski has composed a lovely collection of catchy rock songs afresh that show a broader musical variety then before, while the solid executions, immaculate performances and excellent production values found on the album will once again delight fans of melodic rock and AOR. This time prog fans might well be surprisingly entertained, for the joyful modification by incorporating bright symphonic textures makes it all the more interesting. Especially for those in favour of cross-over prog that sees the likes of Asia.

Overall a solid album, successfully displaying Vabrenski's musical quest and compositional progress, warranting an unhesitating acquisition from those already engaged with the Intelligent Music Project. And where my personal hopes included the return of Joseph Williams after the Life Motion effort, the cohesively flowing The Creation proves me wrong and shows it can just as easily be done without him. I wouldn't mind it anyway, so here's hoping for lucky number VII.

Simon McKechnie — Retro

Simon McKechnie - Retro
The Origin Of Species (20:51), Retro (6:09), The Enchantress Of Number (12:20), The Return Of The Beagle (5:52)
Theo Verstrael

Being educated as an ecologist, The Origin Of Species is probably the most influential book I've ever read (yes, I really read it and it was far from an easy read...). That book turned our understanding of the world completely around, helped mankind to grow as independent thinking beings and helped to diminish the religious powers that had suppressed that kind of thinking for ages. For me it was foremost a book of liberty, but there seem to be quite a few who think otherwise.

When was offered a new concept album based on this classic scientific work it was a no-brainer for me to select it for a review. The album is written by London-based composer, arranger and musician Simon McKechnie who has an interesting track record in jazz and fusion as well as in music scores for television.

On this album McKechnie is supported by Mike Flynn, who did the guitar solos on The Origin Of Species, Adam Riley playing drums on that epic plus Retro, and Richard Horton for the operation of the Babbage Difference Engine Number Two, whatever that may be. (Editor's note: It's a mechanical calculating machine) on The Enchantress Of Number. McKechnie himself played all other instruments and did the vocals.

In 2013 McKechnie released his first prog album entitled Clocks And Dark Clouds. Two others followed (Newton's Alchemy in 2014 and From My Head To My Feet two years later) which all got reasonable favourable reviews on this site. Looking at the titles I have a strong feeling that this artist is more than averagely interested in science. The reviews underpin this assumption.

McKechnie proves to be a gifted and creative musician who really can play and has a pleasant, strong voice. My problem is that his style of music, that is eclectic and varied with clear signs of jazz and fusion, is simply not my cup of tea. So it would have been better if I had checked out the artist before I selected this album...

The album starts very promising with the epic The Origin Of Species that opens with fine orchestral keys chords and synth sounds that made me think of the opening tune for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, a tv-series from the sixties that I didn't dare to watch as a kid. But after only half a minute some distorted vocals come in and spoil the high expectation. That distortion fortunately doesn't return, so why using it in the opening vocal lines in the first place?

What follows is an amalgamation of musical ideas, short pieces of music, either a fierce guitar outburst with fine bass, vocal lines that contain so many words that the words are forcibly squeezed in, short acoustic guitar parts or some rocky riffing.

There is no recurrent theme, all parts have their own melodies and the breaks in-between are often soft but also sometimes quite blunt. Some of these parts are nice, a few are less attractive and nearly all deserve to have been elaborated on more. This piece lacks a recognizable structure the listener can link to, a problem I have often had with the jazz-rock and fusion side of prog and the main reason why I have always stayed away from acts like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Brand-X, and King Crimson after their In The Wake Of Poseidon album.

It is a truly daring piece because McKechnie choose to use Darwin's original lines from his classic book in the lyrics of the song; of course that can only be highly admired. That those ancient lines had to be matched with his many different melody lines turned out to be quite difficult. The lyrics of this piece sound now as if they had to be cramped upon the music instead of that words and lyrics form a flowing unity.

The title track is a fast and restless piece based on a be-bop-like synth loop backed by organ that really worked on my nerves. The bass playing is thick and keeps the piece nicely together. The overall mood of the song, with again too many different ideas cramped in only six minutes, made me think of Flash And The Pan. The chorus is quite nice, the verses are too nervous to be attractive.

I found the second epic, the 12-minute The Enchantress Of Number, very hard to digest. Again the opening sequence is promising with a fine orchestral intro with strings and horns but after some 45 seconds a really ugly synth sound comes in, followed by some distorted guitars. Around the three minutes mark a really nice slow piano melody pops up, backing some attractive vocals and thus I anticipated that from here on the song would evolve fine. Unfortunately experimental music takes over after some 5 minutes and continues until the end. It makes this an a-melodic piece of music that that doesn't go anywhere to my ears.

The Return Of The Beagle is by far the most melodic. It's an instrumental piece featuring McKechnie playing acoustic and electric guitars backed by flute-like keys and strings. The song also has a recognizable structure with a fine theme at the beginning to which the music returns after a completely different middle section. The mood reminded me of Mike Oldfield's First Excursion or Steve Hackett's Guitars-album which is certainly meant as a compliment.

The artwork of the cover is very modern, very colourful and doesn't relate to the theme of the album at all.

The album contains numerous interesting musical ideas which proves that McKechnie is a creative musician. But as I'm always looking for flowing melodies, nice themes or recognizable loops in music I couldn't connect to this album. McKechnie obviously doesn't want to play that more conventional type of prog music and that is fine of course for he is the artist. But therefore this album doesn't touch me emotionally in a positive way while I approached it with a very open mind because of the central theme. I can hear it is musically a good piece of work but my feelings are a slightly distress (Retro) or even resentment (The Enchantress Of Number). So this is not an album for me but since it is far from a bad album, hopefully many others will enjoy it.

Album Reviews