Agusa — En annan värld
En annan värld is probably their most satisfying release yet. The album's overall excellence makes it relatively easy to praise its craft, and creativity. Well-worn expressions of appreciation such as "I really like it", "it is simply fantastic", or "it is great!", go a long way to sum up my feelings about this release, but hardly do justice to the band's hard work and art. So at this point, I guess that it is time to dig a little deeper into the music, discover what lies at its heart and offer a more substantial analysis.
The album consists of two long compositions. These are atmospherically entitled Sagobrus and Uppenbarelser. These names hint at the type of music the band create and proclaim the bands Scandinavian roots. They create a picture of green dappled pine forests and carefree brown backed creatures nosing through the undergrowth. A quick gaze of the vivid colours of the vegetation depicted on the albums cover strengthens that impression.
The two tunes contain some stunning passages where contrasts of power and volume have a major part to play. The compositions convey serenity and softness or potent knuckle punch aggression when the need arises. The richly prominent role of the flute gives an impression that an expansive melodic cloak swaddles everything. Overblown intensity, or fluttered delicacy complements or contrasts with the other instruments, to create a range of many diverse moods and colours.
En annan värld is the first studio recording by the current lineup of Agusa. All members of the band have a key part to play and the music comes across as very much a group effort. The new members, Simon Ström on bass and Roman Andrén on keyboards make a stunning contribution and their input has arguably improved the band's overall sound.
For example, there is a wonderful organ solo in Sagobrus that manages to exude a gorgeous Canterbury vibe. Both tunes highlight Ström's bulging and full-bodied bass lines and give many opportunities for him to create vibrating ripples of delight in the dusty corners of the room.
Nevertheless, perhaps guitarist Mikael Ödesjö and flautist Jenny Puertas make the most noticeable contributions. Their frequent solo parts and tasteful embellishments take the album to notable summits. Ödesjö's quick-fingered and emotive performance is particularly impressive showing just the right ability to fire up or dampen things down as the need arises.
Agusa are adept at using repeated melodic patterns that leave a long-lasting impression and capture the senses. Successions of ear-worm melodies swirl and shift. Aggressive rasps of guitar punctuate proceedings. Snarling flurries and thrilling flute bursts add extra bite. Bulbous bass lines and the timely placement of a variety of atmospheric keyboard parts all add to the bands atmospheric, and on the evidence of En annan värld, increasingly progressive mix.
Although Both Sagobrus and Uppenbarelser wear similar instrumental colours and on the face of it contain similar core ingredients that fans of 70s prog will appreciate, each of the tunes offers a different experience.
Sagobrus is probably the more melodic and accessible of the two. It centres on a memorable motif, which radiates a late evening fire lit glow. Whilst the piece has some elements that indicate the band's appreciation of traditional Swedish folk melodies, it also includes many other ingredients that show that the band are able to draw from a wide variety of influences that prog fans will recognise and delight in. These include some Canterbury like moments and some raucous Jethro Tull like flute bursts as well as numerous head shaking guitar parts. There are numerous changes of pace to appreciate and the way in which all of the instruments complement each other ensures that time spent in its company goes very quickly.
By way of contrast, Uppenbarelser portrays a different and more organic laid-back style. It unwinds and uncoils slowly in a series of interlocking patterns. Its varied textures create a drape of sounds. Development, when it occurs is subtle and gradual, apart from the exciting midpoint of the piece, when for a short time; everything takes on a heavier and menacing air.
After a lovely rhythmic introduction by Tim Wallander's drum kit, the appealing use of bass tones and a raft of keyboard effects create a mysterious and spacious air. It is a fine opening statement. Later when the flute floats to the fore, the tuneful ensemble playing sets the tone for how the piece will slowly evolve and progress.
During the contrasting and darker mid-point of Uppenbarelser, Ödesjö's emotive solo flickers, rises and ignites. The playing is simply outstanding and is one of many spotlight guitar parts during the release. Its striking effect bludgeons its way through the tunes melodic heart like a frantically swung berserker's axe. For a moment, both melody and harmony are shattered and dispatched in a series of triumphant yowls and howls.
By way of contrast, there are some fine acoustic guitar moments during the track and although the melodious principal motif does not stray far from its designated path, the skillful use of a softer sound ensures it always has something new or different to say.
As the piece concludes, once again, the main theme returns with an interlude that uses acoustic guitar and pastoral sounding keys. This offers a fine reflective contrast to end things with and provides a satisfying contrast to any slightly strident parts that preceded it.
Overall, En annan värld is a very enjoyable release. Whilst it perhaps doesn't deviate too far away from the bands signature style, nor explore any new ground, it is arguably much more expansive and adventurous than any of the bands previous releases.
Consequently, it is very satisfying on many levels and is very highly recommended.
I guess that there is nothing else left to say, except - I really like it, it is simply fantastic, and it is great!
Fufluns — Refusés
Fufluns started in 2009 when vocalist Simone Cecchini (Il Bacio Della Medusa) joined forces with keyboard player Alfio Costa (Daal, Prowlers), bassist Guglielmo Mariotti (Mr.Punch, The Watch) and drummer Mau Di Tollo. After an early involvement with Colossus Project, with the addition of Stefano Piazzi on guitar and replacement of Di Tollo by Marco Freddi (both from Prowlers), the band released their debut album Spaventapasseri in 2016. With Piazzi making way for guitarist Simone Coloretti (Egoband) the band is now ready for their next chapter.
For Refusés Cecchini, providing the concept and lyrics, took inspiration from sculptures created by artist Beppe Corna. Made from earthenware, clothes and acrylic paint these straitjacketed recusant silenced statues represent outsiders of society. Out of these seventeen grotesquely shaped, mute and stubbornly masked figures, nine have been given a voice to tell their individual story. Celebrating their own kind of outcry the generally saddening stories tell of child exploitation, massacred victims, imprisonment and other humanitarian degrading tragedies.
These narratives of social exclusion, loneliness and enforced confined restrictions of life are voiced with a formidable touch of classic heavy blues-based 'Rock Progressivo Italiano' (RPI), captured in a ravishing and vibrantly organic production. Further use of various vintage keyboards results in a wondrous 70s atmosphere, in which the enticingly variegated compositions provide the perfect platform for Cecchini to articulate the incarnated emotional stages of despair, rage, anger, torment and various other feelings of sorrow, sadness and remorse through his masterly temperamental expressive voice.
For a broader understanding of the song's topics an individual synopsis on Fufluns website can be found. In light of the Italian lyrics this is highly appreciated as the wonderful language will probably never be my speciality. However, as experienced with Costa's previous solo effort Frammenti, the sole combination of transporting music and Cecchini's emotionally charged performance makes the songs and their message come fully alive. Additionally, the raw theatrical approach laced with drama from Cecchini, gives ample character to the compositions, which on their own compellingly engage as they display a great variety in dynamic structures, psychedelics and gloomy atmospheres alternating with reflective moments. Songs that showcase the individual musicianship and the band's experience splendidly.
Opener Sierra Leone is a brilliant example of this, starting with sadness of emotive piano to which a tantalising tension build-up results in heavy prog where mellotron adds poignancy. Thriving on Cecchini's captivating performance it dynamically glides through different compelling moods as sublime rumbling bass work pushes impressions of Derek Moore (Nektar) to the fore, counteracted by superb play from Coloretti.
Martirio D'un Falegname's daunting entrance adds psychedelics alongside raw intense melodies out of which Mountain impressions arise amongst shimmering darkness of Daal. Carried by touching piano the beautiful ascending and descending atmospheric structure of the song gains strength by harrowing vocals expressing sensitive fragility and explosive outcries of pain, to finally drown in a desert of melancholy and grief.
Passionately executed on all fronts the successive Canzone Per Iris opens with a slight uplifting feel, but soon after floats back into melodies filled with sadness. Engaging with various changing musical moods it ends in beautiful simplicity that embraces touches of PFM elegance. In Il Tuffatore Dello Stari Most a similar uplifting feel returns as melodies embrace an atmospheric oriental feel. Converging onto gripping vocals surrounded by progressive blues and colourizations of illuminating synths the compositions slowly progresses into intensifying palpable emerging feelings of existential loneliness.
Telefonata A Putin on its turn sees an energetic return to emotional rawness and reveals delightful retro expressions of Deep Purple and E.L.P.. , while Desaparecido Italiano adds wondrously refined acoustic atmospheres in between spirited dynamic heavy prog. Here recognisable words like 'tormento', 'silencio' and 'liberatos' expresses a strong narrative tone that speaks volumes in itself. And when a majestic guitar solo and delightful early seventies Krautrock touches unfold, it becomes a solid highlight of the album.
The subdued reflective Rosa Del Deserto leaves to me an impression of an elderly man sitting in his final days talking and reminiscing about his life story, an emotional lament filled with tragedy and emotion. A heartbreaking drama that receives a wonderful grieving climax in Blu Oltremare's progressively saddening penetrating melodies. Displaying an immense sense of loss as it walks hand in hand with feelings of mourning, emphasized by howling sirens, its mighty guitar solo and illuminating Nuova Era styled movement paints pictures of an emotively disturbing sentimental journey towards a final resting place.
As a final statement the formidable imposing Canto Dei Bambini Senza Voce effortlessly maintains the music's grasp and closes the album in brilliant satisfying fashion, although the music itself is at times depressing and sombre. Showcasing classical influences, intricate piano play and beautifully restrained melancholic guitars leading into marvellous mellotron melodies, the song gains pace as Cecchini moves through his vocals laced with emotion. Clueless as to what the lyrics convey the song's tangibility is the album's pinnacle point in terms of emotion, drama, theatrics and execution, with an outstanding movement of synth embellishments, bombast, mellotron/bass conversations and an excellent morish, highly emotive, coda.
Overtime, as the 'language barrier' slowly disappears, the album's stronghold of excellent performances and seductively strong diversified compositions slowly begins to reveal its inner beauty and secrets more and more. This makes Refusés greatly entertaining and an overall wonderful experience, solidly continuing the path previously taken on Spaventapasseri.
In short a highly recommended effort for fans of Italian prog and those who love their prog hard, intense and passionate. I hope Fufluns will allow the remaining eight structures to tell their own tale of silent protest, for this excellent effort certainly justifies a future for them.
Three Colours Dark — Love's Lost Property
Following on from the surprise reunion of ex-Karnataka band mates Jonathan Edwards and Rachel Cohen on The Science Of Goodbye under the banner of Three Colours Dark, the duo release a quick follow-up, Love's Lost Property. As on the debut album, Edwards and Cohen are joined by multi-instrumentalist Tim Hamill who together form the core trio throughout the album. Special guests include Kate Ronconi (violin on five tracks), Steve Balsamo (vocals on three tracks), Dave Gregory (guitar on three tracks), and Andrew 'Wal' Coughlan (double bass), Steve Simmons (tenor saxophone) and Catherine Tanner-Williams (oboe) who all appear on one song each.
Anyone who has heard the debut album will know that Three Colours Dark are nothing like any of the prog/rock bands that Cohen and Edwards have previously performed with, adopting an altogether more low-key and folkier influence. In that respect there are similarities with Edwards' collaborations with Anne-Marie Helder under the Luna Rossa moniker (see here and here) even down to the inclusion of at least one cover version on each of the albums. The cover on the present album is Ordinary World by Duran Duran, which for all the sceptics out there is actually a superb song. In fact, when Dave Gregory was asked if he minded playing on a Duran Duran cover he reportedly replied "as long as it is Ordinary World"! It is also one of the highlights of Love's Lost Property with a lovely performance from Ronconi and a neat solo from Gregory.
I rate Steve Balsamo as one of the best current male singers, although he has yet to really find a decent long-term output for his considerably talents. Unfortunately, his role on the current album is very much in the background and he can hardly be distinguished on any of the three songs that he guests on. His most prominent role comes with his excellent harmonising backing vocals on the final section of the album's title track, another high point with the longish introduction setting the tone, Hamill channelling an inner Dave Gilmour and Gregory doing what he does best - he will be sorely missed by Big Big Train.
I am reminded in places of the USA's October Project, particularly in places where Cohen double tracks her vocals and on the piano based Requiem. There can be no faulting her singing throughout the album, even if it rarely gets above a level that would cause her to get out of breath. Melodies are abundant, the playing crisp and precise, but there are few spine-tingling moments and never a moment of excitement. But that is not the point of the album. It is one of relaxation, contemplation and, without any form of condemnation, perfect dinner party music.
As with The Science Of Goodbye and the Luna Rossa albums, Love's Lost Property is a rewarding album and has a welcome place in my music collection, but it is not something that would gather frequent airings but instead be reserved for more introspective moments. An accomplished album and suitable for those who like to step outside the rigours of full on prog every now and again.
Zero Times Everything — Sound Of Music
Having met each other at a Robert Fripp Guitar Craft Seminar during the Eighties the trio of Tony Geballe, Pietro Russino and Richard Sylvarnes became Zero Times Everything (ZXE) in 2012 and following a turn of events released their debut album Sonic Cinema in 2017. Sound Of Music is the ambitious conceptual follow up containing over two hours of Avant-garde post-industrial pre-cambrian pan-ethnic serial noise proto-punk neocortex music. Anybody still out there?
Sound Of Music's concept refers to Pythagoras' "musica universalis" theory: if objects in motion create sound then planets forever in movement must forever produce sound. Applying this hypothesis to a constant harmonious universe what would the balance be, for every action invokes a nullifying reaction and harmony should therefore be signalled out by disharmony? This creative resulting infinite equation of reversing opposites is represented on each disc by two of the universe's counteractive extremes, a black and white hole. Issued with appreciated stylish, more or less, explanatory artwork it adds a daunting dimension to the bands immense otherworldly eclectic 'musical' sum-up.
Lifting off with electronic futuristic moonloops and freakish space noises the album's black journey is off to a flying start with You Are Here. Shortly after it glides into ambient soundscapes and rhythmic space rock with Razorblade Keychain and expresses a worrying beat up psychedelic Zen moment in The Same Flat Field before it sets sail to experimentally freeze in icy coldness as Ice Report tells the tale of Titanic's sinking. With Blisterine adding rock and recognisable structures to the equation some diluted Pink Floyd atmospherics can be traced in Milky Black Sun which is followed by an intricate soundscape of synth and guitars in Sound Tenement.
So far so good, and drowning with reflective simplicity through Tears In The Waterfall and being embraced by the delicate opening melodies of Die Nacht Ist Leben the progress looked bright, but a few minutes into this specific entity ZXE's soundscapes become frighteningly haunting. Imagine the unfolding of a traumatic headache inducing monstrosity that reaches an event horizon of depressively unsettling noise bordering on asylum insanity. A nightmarish journey straight into 12 minutes of unmelodic hell, pulling out every stop as it succumbs in an industrial abyss of chaos, electrifying guitars and stomach turning mental disorder. The subsequent heavenly contrast from Coda's silencing relieve couldn't be better timed.
Taking the white pill paves a similar experimental layout in a randomly less straining and suspenseful way. Adding a worldly vibe in You Are Hearer and electronic Hawkwind-ian space rock in Third Uncle (a cover from Brian Eno) it's the ambient psychedelic Avant Garde/Post Rock of Oculus that slowly drills the intense journey into the mind again. Passing industrial noise as it wades into brightness of ambient in the opening phase of Two Dead Stars Falling Into A Catastrophic Embrace, colliding midway through with clashing experimental cacophony. The epic Lux Aeterna reveals another royal buffet of shining majestic movements, atonal passages, opera and other indefinable musical anomalies. Affectionately seen by the band as their Supper's Ready it cites several 'end of the world' scenarios and fades into slowly evaporating apocalyptic dreariness before the conclusive The Sound brings a final, relatively uplifting, greet of liberation.
For me the finer emitted, occasionally beautiful, moments of actual music fails to absorb the strong repulsive, hideous passages crammed with noise and other undefined heavily abstract experimentations. It makes overall listening to this album an unpleasant 'once in a lifetime' unbalanced experience, completely in numerical alignment with the outcome of the band's own equation.
Ultimately this is an album that will either be regarded as a work of sheer ingenuity or as complete nonsensicalness. In my humble opinion there is simply no in between, and only adventurous lovers of avant-garde prog in possession of a firm experimental stomach will find any appreciation for this release.