Dikajee — Forget-Me-Nots
Dikajee is an artist who originally hails from St. Petersburg, but who considers herself as a true globalist, as she puts it: "I am a citizen of the world. No age, no nationality, no gender, no religion." Such a worldly, somewhat esoteric approach is expressed not only in Dikajee's music, but also in the way this, her first, release came into being. It was produced and recorded in Norway, Portugal, Germany, France, Latvia, and Russia, involving a truly international cadre of musicians of high calibre. Dikajee started as a solo singer-songwriter before turning into a full band bearing her name in 2017.
Since then, she has been performing with line-ups differing in number of musicians and instrumentation, ranging from near-solo to mini-orchestra. Hence, I am not sure whether we are dealing with a band or a project in this case (ultimately, this distinction is rather secondary, though). On this release, besides Dikajee herself (lead & background vocals, piano), there are Artis Orubs and Benjamin Baert (drums), Zoltan Renaldi (bass, fretless bass, double bass), Victor Sankov (acoustic guitars), Dmitriy Irinovich (keyboards), Gulia Naumova, Ksenia Sednina, Timofei Ubogich (string instruments), and Leon Sukhodolsky (brass instruments). Additionally, Fiona Rüggeberg from German pagan-folk band Faun (bagpipes), as well as Guillaume Bernard of French art rock band Klone and Joao Filipe of Portugal's Amber Foil (guitars) act as guest musicians on some of the tracks. Forget-Me-Nots is meant to form the first part of an envisaged trilogy of releases.
According to Dikajee "the album is about a human experience realizing the mortality of everything and of self. About someone who wants to run away from society (Forget-Me) and get lost in the wild but at the same time fears the oblivion (Nots). So the someone decides to leave the legacy of a goodbye bouquet of songs." With her music, Dikajee also wants to express the sentiment that "Forget-Me-Not flowers have a lot of symbolic meanings. They are the flowers that are given for the memory, goodbye flowers, flowers to remember about something celestial on earth. They look like little stars. Like friar's lanterns, like little lost souls, flashes, someone's broken or living dreams." And so there is a considerable degree of poetry inherent in these lyrics, and that is perfectly reflected in Dikajee's music.
What we hear on this release is an interplay of many different styles. Folk, prog, ambient, avant-garde, jazz, neo-baroque and neo-classic are tightly-knit together to create something original bearing some experimental character. Subtlety and fragility run like a red thread through the entire release. Dijakee's voice is cristal clear, covering a wide range of tone pitches. I felt it to be more of a cool than a touching nature, but that may be owed to the production. The instrumentation is rich, comprising piano, synthesizers, glockenspiel, bagpipes, electric and acoustic guitars, violin, viola, drums, clarinet and oboe, but whilst being varied, for me, it appeared to be used in a minimalistic way throughout most of the album.
I appreciated these subtle elements and the refined nuances of Dikajee's music, which are a proof of and a claim on the musicians' abilities. But overall, I would have liked a little more power and dynamism, i.e., more of tracks such as Glorious Beautiful Magical, where Dikajee goes out of herself a bit. Classical song structures, consisting of verses, choruses and bridges, are not very evident on this release (please take this as a neutral statement), and a touch of melancholy and sadness hovers above this music. This becomes evident mainly in the tracks Something Mystique, and Millions Of Flashes, which, essentially because of that, are the ones which I liked most on this album, also because of their catchiness.
I must admit, I struggled with this release, and I was torn between my subjective feelings (can't do much with it) and my objective judgment (respect for the musical qualities and for the stamina to produce an album amidst the pandemic). I can't even tell exactly what triggered this subjective impression. Was it the production which put the focus on Dikajee's voice, making it sound a bit too haunting to my ears here and there? Was it a certain sentiment of monotony, having listened to the entire album in one go on various occasions? Or the perceived scarcity of goose-bumps producing and touching melodies? Perhaps an undefinable feeling of coldness and artificiality? Or maybe my impression of subdued power and dynamics, as if Dikajee had not dared to let her foot off the brakes on many occasions? It is not that this type of prog is not mine, as there are a number of related bands, amongst them Iamthemorning and their singer Mariana Semkina, Ciccada, Björk , Nightwish, Kate Bush, and Steven Wilson (without the female voice, though,) the music of all of which I find very appealing.
However, my impression perhaps undervalues elements such as the musical abilities of Dikajee and her band, the poetry of the lyrics which form a perfect whole with the music, and the quality of the production altogether. It should also be borne in mind that, at the end of the day, a rating just reflects the reviewer's own subjective impression. Listeners with an affinity for female-vocals driven, subtle, ambient, calm, sometimes melancholic sounding music with a wide variety of instruments used will certainly like this release. I look forward to part II of this trilogy (to be called Nutricula), which should enable me to find out whether my subjective assessment is sustainable or more of a flash in the pan.
The Far Cry — If Only
If Only is the ambitious debut album by the band The Far Cry. Believe me this is ambitious because it's not an easy one to get into but a rewarding one if you take your time to listen to it several times. Jeff Brewer and Robert Hutchinson are the original minds behind the project and apparently they have been playing in different bands for many years before they decided to form The Far Cry. They got Bryan Collin on guitars and Chris Dabbo on piano, keyboards and vocals and start recording this debut album.
It presents a wide variety of songs as it has three main songs running from eleven to sixteen minutes each so be prepared for long epics. It also has some shorter songs in which the band explores different sides of progressive rock, and two interludes that I particularly haven't enjoyed much. One thing is for sure and has to be said; the music here is perfectly executed. After one first listening one can guess these guys are not beginners in playing difficult arrangements. Bryan Collin does a master job on guitars and the piano parts along the whole album are really beautiful.
And what about the musical style? Well, you will find a wide variety of influences here ranging from some ´70s hard rock to moments that clearly reminds me of King Crimson blended with some Spock´s Beard vocal games. Go check the opening The Mask Of Deception to find this and more. The ambitious Programophone goes next with it entirely different style. Why? Because it has some kind of rap intro while an intriguing keyboard gives way to a more conventional prog rock structure. Definitely this song is not for everyone but somehow it works in this album. Winterlude is the first interlude and even when it is supposed to provide a gateway into Simple Pleasures I don't understand it very well.
In contrast I consider Simple Pleasures the second best song of the album. It has a perfect mix of AOR atmosphere and progressive theme reprised at the end after a beautiful middle section full of acoustic guitar and piano. As I mentioned before, the guitar playing here is exquisite. The Missing Floor is another instrumental song that could remind of those Neal Morse and Mike Portno intros. Very well executed but I'm missing something here. Maybe a proper song after that and not another short interlude...
The longest track of the album is called If Only and it's the best one without any doubt. It represents the best of the band: many influences, shifting tempos, great vocals harmonies and several twists that will make the listener enjoy it without realising it lasts sixteen minutes. Dream Dancer closes the album as an instrumental and calm farewell. Not a bad idea but I think it would have worked better if it lasted less than six minutes.
So, this is what I think of If Only the promising debut by The Far Cry, a group of excellent musicians with great ideas that blend old influences with some modern touches in a cool way. Go check this album and follow the band because I think they can release a more cohesive one in the future that will give them greater recognition.
Stephan Thelen — Fractal Guitar 2
Wow! The first track is an impressive way to begin this interesting and often excellent album.
Prominent guitar parts twist and twitch, scream, yowl and yelp; they ride roughly and grip tightly upon thrusting recurring rhythms. These highly satisfying elements combine to enrich and emphasise a number of memorable melodic passages. The sum of its parts is fantastic. Cosmic Krautrock beckons its audience in to listen with intent and its biting malevolence ensures that its intricate patterns stay in the memory long after it ends. It is an outstanding piece and sets the scene for what a listener might expect over the course of this release.
Fractal Guitar 2 builds upon the polyrhythmic style and success of its predecessor and adds an extra sparkle here and there, to brighten up proceedings.
Both Fractal Guitar releases showcase a number of magnificent guitar players who are able to bring a variety of tones styles and effects to the table. Certainly, the quick fingered talent on display is able to bring out the very best out of Thelen's atmospheric compositions. The contribution of such notable players such as John Durant, Markus Reuter and David Torn is absolutely wonderful and makes the album a compelling and mesmerising experience.
The sound quality of the album is simply outstanding and this helps to transport the listener to sunburst corners of the mind.
If you appreciate music that can create a visual soundscape, the six compositions of this album will not disappoint. All of the compositions create a wonderful backdrop for the imagination to journey to undiscovered places full of tranquillity, juxtaposed with outbreaks of disharmony, turmoil and unabated fury.
The tunes wide ranging aural imagery is capable of creating a shifting canvas of verdant forests, flowing waterfalls, tranquil lakes and fiery lava flows. When a range of interesting effects and sustained high frequency notes dominate, such as in parts of Celestial Transportation, a mysterious air emerges that offers a unique experience, suggesting other worldly landscapes full of kaleidoscopic colours and vividly surreal vistas.
There is something reassuring and entrancing about the way in which each piece evolves in a methodical manner. The music is by turns mesmerising, reflective and explosive. The album has given me a great deal of pleasure since it was first released.
Thelen's detailed commentary about which guitar player plays which part can be found at http://stephanthelen.bandcamp.com/album/fractal-guitar-2. His observations help to make the overall experience of the album even more satisfying. Using Thelen's' notes, I was able to more fully appreciate the different tones and styles that each individual guitarist was able to bring to the project.
If you are already familiar and appreciate the work of Sonar and in particular that bands releases featuring David Torn (reviews here and here), then much of what is on offer in Fractal Guitar 2 will also appeal.
Mercury Transit is one of my favourite pieces on the album, it is easy on the ear, but has a piercing air, where the superb use of dynamics vibrates the ornaments with a deep resonance and shatters the crystal collection with high frequency bursts and rocky salvoes. Jon Durant's ferocious interjections grasp the senses and bite hard, the virtuoso intensity of the playing has the force and power to leave an indentation on any surface, or in the mind of any listener that tries to resist the frenzy of its initial surge. The skilful manner in which all the parts of this fantastic tune are all tightly woven and meshed ensures that it will appeal to any listeners who appreciate intricate arrangements. In the beginning the bass gives a great platform that is redolent of much of Sonar's work. The keyboard parts add an extra dimension to this piece and provide some knee tapping rhythmic embellishments.
Some listeners will no doubt bemoan the lack of conventional song structures in this release. Certainly, the approach and style of this album will not suit everybody and there are occasions when its hypnotic grip momentarily weakens, such as during the lengthy Ladder To The Stars which evolves patiently and slowly. However, there is never too long to wait before another screaming and spitting solo emerges from the shadows to shake the calm and restore the music's entwining, persuasive embrace.
Over time, I have discovered that the music is most effective and satisfying, if heard in small doses. Rather than being a criticism, this is a response to the albums intricacy, depth, subtlety, and overall texture of woven sounds. Consequently, I will rarely play the album all the way through. I much prefer to concentrate upon two or three pieces. I have found that this ensures that I am not over laden by the spiralling ever shifting rhythmic patterns and that I am able to fully appreciate the subtle nuances of how each of the tunes evolve.
Whenever I listen to this album, I am simply left in awe at the skill and panache of each of the players involved. The closing track, Point Of Inflection is one of the highlights and concludes this fine album in a memorable way. The playing in this piece and indeed throughout the release is magnificent.
I highly recommend this album.
Listeners, who appreciate finely crafted instrumental guitar based music with a progressive and innovative edge, will find much about Fractal Guitar 2 that is memorable and satisfying.
Andrew Wild — Eric Clapton Solo On Track... Every Album, Every Song
I confess that I've over the past year or so I've lost count to the number of volumes now present in the popular On Track... series. Predominantly focussing on progressive rock, several new volumes have seen light of day that slowly shift away from this, like for instance the books on Marc Bolan and recent publishings on Tom Petty and Elvis Costello. The latter two are negligible in terms of progressive rock, but like every other single On Track book I've encountered so far they have been a fabulous way to pass the time. Andrew Wild's take on Eric Clapton's solo output does exactly the same, although progressive rock is never around the corner and only gets mentioned once in the book.
Author Andrew Wild is a well known name in Sonicbond's roster with published books on Queen,'Dire Straits and Pink Floyd to name a few. Next to this he's written Twelfth Night's biography Play On and is the sole authority when it comes to The Beatles. On Track... Eric Clapton Solo continues his excellent output and is a successful, passionately written, deeply researched, informative and engaging tale of Clapton's solo-legacy.
One beautiful ingredient of these books is the possibility to identify with the artist in question from multiple angles, be it as a fan, a general music interested person or innocent bystander. Falling in the latter two categories this time around, Wild's smooth page turning story manages to brings back memories of having once witnessed Clapton in action in Den Haag (The Netherlands) in 1987 with his constant companion Nathan East on bass and Phil Collins on drums. A great night which brought many of his hits (I Shot The Sheriff, Tulsa Time, Cocaine, Layla, the list is endless...) and other entertaining songs laced with pop/rock and classic rock. A highlight of the evening was the brilliant and lengthy Same Old Blues (see clip below), representing the musical style Clapton is associated with the most.
At that time Clapton celebrated his greatest (commercial) successes, followed years later by the heart breaking song Tears In Heaven (about the death of his son) and the best-selling live album of all time in form of Unplugged. Nowadays he's taking it slower and released his most recent 24th album in 2018. His greatest musical achievements and progressive roots lie further down in the past with The Yardbirds, Blind Faith and Cream, summarised in the comprehensive and short 'Clapton before 1974' introduction. Bands warranting an additional volume on its own and one I hope Wild, who mentions as much, will venture into next.
The book's a delightful and comprehensive read with Wild's opinions and commitment nicely showing while the many quotations from magazines, contemporary artist and Clapton himself brings substance to his story. Clapton as a person though, apart from his often mentioned drug struggles, remains as elusive as his guitar playing, which earned him three inductees into the Rock 'N Roll Hall Of Fame, a record difficult to break.
Wild's research is as usual impeccable and to the best of my knowledge every single song is indeed present, although Wild's previously shown habit to include songs which might or might not have Clapton playing on them seeps through occasionally. A die-hard's thrill, but for a novice simply overkill. Instead of this indulgence I'd rather read about Clapton's live reputation which is slightly underexposed, although the 'Live Album & Live Recordings' chapter, fitted at the back, admittedly has all the info (and more).
The exact whereabouts of the contemporary album tracks, especially the live recordings, remain for most part unsure (I reckon them to be from the individual Crossroads box sets, but I could be wrong) and it's great to know their existence so fans can do their own digging. I do however question the inclusion of the movie soundtrack Edge Of Darkness as a single one-page chapter and then to neglect to analyse the individual songs, something which is extensively done on the Rush soundtrack a few pages later. And why appoint the official 24th album Happy X-mas (2018) and its tracks only briefly in the introduction to Clapton's I Still Do. A few pages exploring these albums some more would have been appreciated, although in all fairness completeness is rightfully fulfilled.
Nitpicking aside Andrew Wild's book is another fine well written addition to Sonicbond's growing library. The fact that in the background, as I write, Clapton's guitar is gently howling Further Up On The Road from his brilliant live recording Just One Night is a testimony to the writers strength and one of the advantages of the series. It will likely be followed by a refreshing dose of Behind The Sun (1985), an album which shows Slowhand in exceptional form and perfectly befitting within my collection, much like Wild's entertaining read.