At The Grove — ...And All The Fear We Left Behind
At The Grove is an instrumental rock 'band' whose sole member is the multi-talented Dennis Abstiens. Next to composing and performing every single note played on And All The Fear We Left Behind he's also accountable for production, mixing and mastering and does a fine job at all these elements. A good deal more than fine actually for the well-structured multi-layered dextrous compositions show great potential.
Pinpointing a single musical direction in Abstiens' engaging songs proves to be difficult as the music moves through variations of atmospheric post rock, progressive rock, a touch of alternative, pop and jazz fusion.
During the course of the album the luscious structures and melodies unlock many images and a brilliant illustration of this can be found in Where The Penguins Go. Here the cinematic appeal of waddling penguins slowly forms as the jazz inspired composition glides through excellent, dynamically driven, drum patterns and entertaining basslines embraced by enchanting virtuous piano and layers of keys.
In Night Gloom the darker desolate mysterious atmosphere, gliding into soothing ambient surroundings and sensitive melodies on guitar that gain strength as the song progresses, is equally depictive. Less illustrative, but by no means less effective, is Anxiety Overload's playful multilayeredness revealing once again admirable jazz influences.
Songs like Words We Can't Take Back and the melancholic With A Heavy Heart move through a wondrous variety of melodies and alternating textures somewhat similar to Michel Héroux, especially in light of tightness, rock, emotive play and the songs gracious guitar frameworks. Songs capable of grabbing ones attention from start to finish superbly. Similarly the soothing post rock atmospheres encountered in the subdued Farewell speak to the imagination, smoothly flowing into uptempo melodies with excellent guitar hooks.
Abstiens' soundscapes successfully exhibit several other wonderful diversions as well. Lockdown slowly boxes you in as mild pop influences and tight rhythmic drum beats gain power and electronic sounds bring diversity, while the eclectic We Will Oppose You initially moves through doom-like Tool structures before it slowly gains intensity and erupts in incredibly tight, heavy fuelled rock that mixes the industrial techno of the likes of KONG and a fiercely rocking Porcupine Tree. The album ends in the soothing serene ambient finale of With Hopes So High, bringing sensitive becalming positivity mindful of Cody Clegg.
These beautiful mutual variations result in a perfectly natural flow of the album, giving this album feelings of great consistency. The great care in arrangements, attention to detail, overall execution and the omnipresent post-rock atmosphere gives it further engaging appeal. All in all ...And All The Fear We Left Behind is a well-crafted and solid rewardingly diverse album and a great listening experience worth checking out.
JPL — Chapitre 2/3: Deus Ex Machina
Sometimes you just know you're in trouble, by which I don't mean the discomfort of finding out you forgot to do the groceries, the unachievable "I'll be home on time Dear" whilst hanging out with your best mates, nor the empty feeling after having just enjoyed your last bottle of limited-to-France-only favourite Pelforth Brune beer. No, what I actually refer to is how an upfront attractive album grows into something beautiful and wondrous after numerous encounters and gradually awakens the need to secure a physical copy on a random Saturday, making Bandcamp Friday seem like an insurmountable eternity away.
In comparison perhaps a mild burden and frankly one I could have foreseen in light of my previous encounter with Jean-Pierre Louveton's music through Némo's Presages. A brilliant album gently urging me to manoeuvre through his extensive discography of Némo and JPL for the past few years, which amounts to roughly 23 albums along with his Wolfspring efforts.
The biggest stumbling block is my recalcitrant lack of the French language which, in hindsight, I fully blame upon my French teacher and the indelible memory of her asking me a relatively easy question as I stood in front of the classroom near her desk. Not comprehending the actual assignment I answered it repeatedly in perfectly flawless French (instead of translating it to Dutch), much to the increasing hilarity of my class mates who where having a blast from the growing annoyance in her voice and my troublesome final grade. JPL's previous efforts slowly massaged this memory away and Deus Ex Machina has made it magically disappear.
Louveton (vocals, guitars, bass and virtual instruments) once again welcomes the participation of long time Némo-companions Jean Baptiste Itier on drums and keyboard player Guillaume Fontaine on Deus Ex Machina. Further assistance is given by Florent Ville on Deus Ex Machina and Stéphanie Vouillot who supplies the choirs in Encore Humains?. Almost the same formation as found on it's predecessor Sapiens - Chapitre 1/3: Exordium, which tells the tale of humanity destroying Earth's nature, which forces them to leave it for a new destiny. The godly intervention of Deus Ex Machina continues JPL's ominous narrative.
The album is off to a flying start as the infectious playful nature of Le Flambeur reveals groovy, almost funky, jazz-rock fusion structures and glides through soothing transitions that give the composition a creatively compelling flow, emphasized by Louveton's ironclad guitars exhibiting tasty riffs and liquefied melodies vibrating in a delicious Rush/Tiles way. The expressive vocals, amidst the rich exchange of melody and firmly rocking rhythm section, keeps the tension and darker atmosphere of the composition in fluent comforting energising pace, while delicate use of keys and rhythmic subtlety add depth underneath the lively jazz environment in the song's coda.
These exciting musical dynamics continue in the contemporary mysteriousness and mildly psychedelic Deus Ex Machina 1 - La Machine, changing with ease from daunting atmospheres brooding with uptempo ravishing rock into smooth, intricate and lovingly light-footed movements, occasionally inserted with vicious stings mindful of Pain Of Salvation. Joyous Némo signature moments shine through beautifully, embraced by fine electronic warmth, freshness of dainty piano parts and elegance of Jazz, resulting in a very well-construed heavenly flowing composition.
The initially throbbing oppressive feeling of Deus Ex Machina 2 - Une Pièce Pour Les Gouverner Tous, somewhat like Porcupine Tree, sees a great intensifying build-up, gaining warmth and strength from the effective spatial mix which brings out the individual instrumentation beautifully. Modestly played with fine guitar relishes it streams into a tempting melody that reveals carefully implemented symphonic accents and excellent harmonies, gliding towards thoughtful strings and intricate piano. The distracting dissonant guitar sound as the song gains momentum feels strange, even after numerous encounters, yet the astounding guitar escapades by Louveton and the ever increasing oasis of enchanting melodies ending in a sensitive piano-led coda, makes you ignore this small scar easily.
After the grand symphonic designed opening of Terre Brûlée, tightly driven by immaculate drums and developing into tasty Hammond organ insertions over fluent bass lines, it's Louveton's imperatively whispered and sweetly tuneful vocal lines that perfectly fit the atmosphere, adding mild aggressiveness and alluring comfort to the music. Groovy diversifications incorporating luscious versatile rhythms then intensify into a powerful passage where divine images of Rush-styled high school halls permeate through the compelling melodies, converging into recurring themes and luscious symphonies encaged with smouldering rock.
Thriving on gorgeous mellotron and melancholic blues, incorporating a perfectly restrained early seventies Barclay James Harvest feel, Encore Humains? slides through many different atmospheres that sees a lovely fragile acoustic movement shuffling with jazzy intonations and flute, while the slowly building tension and subsequent moving extended instrumental intermezzo reveals sensational guitar parts from Louveton. The composition gains drama and greatness as it progresses and bursts with emotional melancholy, effortlessly wading through epic movements in which choirs and refined instrumentation add depth and wealth to the music, ending in a final passionate vocal delivery before the song rounds off Louveton's story on an emotional high note through gracious mellotron and thematic musical retrospect.
Once again it shows that those who laugh last, laugh best for JPL's lecture on Chapitre 2/3: Deus Ex Machina is an immensely joyous and attractively diverse musical voyage through excellently arranged symphonic and progressive landscapes that puts a big smile on my face, secured tightly by the stunningly appealing artwork of the digi-pack.
And although Némo may well be in a coma for the moment, with this highly accomplished effort JPL shows his aspirations are still very much alive. For me the rewarding emotional intensity received from Deus Ex Machina favours it above Exordium's first chapter and I'm anxious to find out how Louveton will conclude his trilogy. I'll simply reside in the comfort of pre-ordering it when the time is ripe, avoiding BandCamp restlessness next time. A highly recommendable album definitely worth checking out.
The Mighty Handful — Men In Stasis
The Mighty Handful follow up last year's Touchy Subjects album with an EP entitled Men In Stasis, an apt title as the three songs are about being in a state of in-between: comfortable but suffocated; simultaneously losing and winning; thinking of the past, terrified of the future, but unable to act. The listener is presented with three different aspects of the band's musical repertoire, a mini epic showing off their prog and rock credentials, a sublime ballad and a rather more laid back number that demonstrates how well the quintet interact as a group.
The Signal starts off sedately with some lovely fretless bass (Tom Halley), insistent piano chords (Ralph Blackbourn) and fractured guitar inserts (Christopher James Harrison) that ramp up into a more fluid solo before the drums (Gary Mackenzie ) and vocals (Matt Howes) come bursting in. A heavier section leads into a vintage keyboard solo before things settle down with the reappearance of the fretless bass with a beautiful guitar coda.
In what is easily the best track I have heard from the band, The Crucible is hardly a band number at all featuring mostly just keyboards and vocals with some subtle drum and cymbal additions added towards the end. Lyrically the song is about childhood remembrances, and despite the beauty of the song it is not about heartache, loneliness or despair but about being sent to bed and not being able to watch the end of the World Championship Snooker final live on television! (The match between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor didn't finish until past midnight, way too late for the eight-year-old protagonist). The strength of the song is the simplicity, the sole piano only once being pushed aside for a keyboard generated string solo. Passionately sung, it is a sublime song in spite of the subject matter!
Finally, The Stand is another number that plays to the strengths of the band. Each member's contribution is essential but at no point does anyone try to dominate; everything in its place and a place for everything as the saying goes.
In duration it may not even reach the length of one side of an LP but in terms of quality there is nothing to complain about at all as it is a fine addendum to last year's album and highlights the bands growing strength and maturity. I await their next release with anticipation.
RPWL — God Has Failed - Live & Personal
No introduction is needed for RPWL I guess: that band that started in the early 90´s as a Pink Floyd tribute act... This can be the worst introduction one can write because even while that statement is true the band has gained so much recognition by itself that they have become one of the most important band in the progressive rock scene. Not a bad album among their 10 studio releases and many live albums too, including their last one revisiting the debut album as God Has Failed - Live & Personal.
I know we have great progressive rock lovers here that have been listening this genre for decades but I must admit I'm not one of those. I discovered progressive rock in 2000 and RPWL was one of the bands that were there, having also Spock´s Beard, Pain Of Salvation...and Pink Floyd. I know it may sound strange but it was like that and for that reason I have a special affection for this band and those first albums, God Has Failed, Trying To Kiss The Sun and Stock. I really enjoyed that kind of music and I still do so picking this live version of their debut took me back to those years with a big smile on my face.
2020 should have been the year to bring a large-scale anniversary tour to mark the 20th year since the release of God Has Failed but this (put here your ugliest words) situation has ruined all expectations, so the band decide to perform a live but personal show. The band says you can bring them into your living room but I can't agree with this: it's great to listen to this revisited live version but it's not the same. I miss live shows and those feelings being among the crowd, singing along with the band...
With all my respect to the band I can't even consider this album a live album. And, sorry for this, but in fact I don't even like live albums because I don't consider them live once you are in your living room listening. Does it mean this is a bad album? Hell no! God Has Failed is a real gem, so having this revisited new version is great!. RPWL delivers an outstanding sound here and the execution is perfect, including some new female vocals that give an additional layer to the songs that make them even bigger even when the songs are less produced. The ¨live" effect I guess. Depending on which format you choose you can also get two extra Pink Floyd covers that were recorded back in 2000.
I can only recommend this album, not for the fact of being a live album but for being an impressive collection of songs that never gets old and even improves with the different nuances. So, go for the DVD version to fully (partially) enjoy the experience of watching RPWL playing live or to just listen to while we wait for this situation to end and we can enjoy a true RPWL live show.
Various — Miniatures 2021
Just over forty years ago, Morgan Fisher, keyboard player with Love Affair, Mott The Hoople and, occasionally, Queen as well as his own excellent prog band Morgan, was contemplating ideas for a new album but had so many separate ideas to decided to see how many he might be able to squeeze onto an album. This initial idea evolved into asking musical friends and other musicians he admired to send him a song for inclusion on the album. The songs could be of any style or genre, be cover versions or originals; the only proviso being that they were a maximum of one minute in duration. The response was almost universally enthusiastic giving Fisher the unenviable task of editing and sequencing songs from such diverse artists as Robert Fripp, George Melly, The Residents, Michael Nyman, Dave Vanian (of The Damned), a cast of English loonies like John Otway, Kevin Coyne and Ivor Cutler as well as 'non-musicians' such as psychologist R.D. Laing, writer/actor Quentin Crisp and artist Ralph Steadman alongside 40 other artists. Although not a great success at the time, the album has gained a large enthusiastic audience over the years, so much so that 20 years later Fisher created a second volume.
To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the original release, English experimental musician and composer Barry Lamb was asked to create a new version that features a number of artists from the original and sequel albums as well as a host of progressive rock legends, post punk archetypes, avant-garde pioneers and many underground cult heroes. This time round there are 124 separate contributions split over two hour-long CDs, essentially a triple vinyl album! I would be a fool to even attempt a track-by-track review - typing out the track list was bad enough! So instead I will give some over all thoughts.
As with the original concept no restrictions were placed on style or content just the time limit. With such a huge variety of different artists, if you are looking for consistency then you will be sadly disappointed, however even if you hate one piece, not too worry as there will literally be another one along in a minute (or less!). The album has been created by Lamb to have an inherent flow and after a couple of listens it does start to make sense, offers up a lot of surprises, some quality music as well as raising a few smiles. Several artists have made the one minute duration an integral part of the song, Martin Newell's Love You For A Minute is a great song that is completely encased in exactly sixty seconds, with other examples being the submissions from Das Rad (60-second Man), John Otway (Gone In Less Than A Minute) and Grand Hotel (The Clock Is Ticking). There are plenty of good songs in addition to the Newell number. The power pop of Irhsan's Spaceman Spiff will get your toes tapping, Pompadour's The Ways It Goes Wrong is a good rocker and Cheap Chinese Chair by Ezio also hits the mark. And as a big Captain Sensible fan, Tragic Roundabout will always get a thumbs up from me.
There are some nice instrumental interludes along the way, Fairport's Ric Sanders, Caravan's Geoffrey Richardson, ex-Van Der Graaf Generator saxophonist David Jackson, Sky Glitz and Elena Theodorou being fine examples. Mountaineering In Belgium by Atilla The Stockbroker might take a couple of plays to appreciate but it cracks me up when I hear it, there is something simply bonkers and delightful about Sir Gammer Vans by Clive Pig, Sleepy Cat by Sigh Figh has feline habits down pat and Rapoon is surely the reincarnation of Ivor Cutler. On the other side of the coin About Now's end of track expletive and follow-up has the power to both shock and amuse simultaneously. Fred Frith, Unfolk, William Hayter, Six Armed Man, Alternative TV and Hazel Jones (whose piece, Sawing, is just that) and Barry Lamb himself provide a dash of avant garde, and even hard core opponents of rapping cannot be failed to be charmed by Mr.B the Gentleman Rhymer and his The Skills That Used To Pay The Bills. And Ode To Joy indeed as Billy Bragg revisits his earliest days bashing out a tune on his electric guitar as if it were still 1981.
Other worthy mentions go to Bruce Wooly, Boo Hewerdine and Hadar Manor as providing pieces that catch the ear. Of course, there is a lot of stuff that I found not easy to digest, a lot of which is on the second CD, particularly towards the end. It is possible that two hours was too much and by the time I got to these pieces I was suffering mental fatigue and overload but on reflection it is probably just the case that he pieces I was most interested in came towards the beginning of the listening experience, others will no doubt find the exact opposite.
And it certainly is a listening experience. Hats off to Mr. Lamb for his sequencing and to all the artists who have contributed. It is a worthy tribute to the original concept and this double album and can stand proudly alongside the first two albums forming possibly the most unique trilogy of albums ever assembled.