Albaluna — Heptad
Hailing from Portugal, Albaluna are a sextet of talented musicians whose ethnic background is heavily-rooted within the region from which many of their musical influences emanate. Their vast degree of influence is derived from many ethnic sources such as Balkanese, North European, African and the Middle East but the predominating factor must surely be a strong blend of Iberian and tribal African rhythms.
The band consists of Ruben Monteiro (Afghani rubab, Turkish bağlama, Arab oud, hurdy-gurdy and vocals), Christian Marr (bass and vocals), Raquel Monteiro (violin, vielle, dilruba and vocals), Dinis Coelho (darbuka, riq, tombak, tablas, davul, bendir and daf, Carla Costa (Turkish ney, low whistle, bagpipes and dance) and Tiago Santos on drums.
Featuring a mesmerising array of instruments, the band exhibit some extraordinary dexterity, especially on the hurdy-gurdy, bouzouki, vielle (medieval fiddle), bagpipes and tin whistle, in a way that leaves you in awe of the talent on board. Although not strictly a progressive rock band per se, Albaluna will certainly appeal to those whose appreciation extends towards the ethnic and world fusion ends of the musical spectrum. This does not detract at all from their unique and compelling sound but it is certainly enhanced by the inclusion of acoustic drums and electric bass guitar which help to underpin the rhythms and dynamism of their songs.
As is often the case, too many exceptionally gifted bands fall under the radar to the detriment of the music-buying public who never get to hear such talent. The band's latest album, Heptad, was completed in early 2021, yet it is only now that some momentum is being generated to spread the word. This is the band's sixth release since 2010 and I must confess to not having heard of the band or any of their previous releases until now.
The first song admittedly left me a little underwhelmed as it included many sections of spoken words rather than any true singing, but thankfully that issue quickly dissipated when the second track got underway. It is when the band fully utilise all the instruments at their disposal, that the full impact of their musical creations, really take on some significance. The swirling rhythms that form the backbone of the band's music is brought into the 21st century, as the ethnic components rub shoulders with some of the more recently created instruments to really propel the songs forward. This gives the music a very lively and holistic sound which enables the listener to enjoy more than just a smattering of ethically inspired motifs that don't go anywhere.
As it stands, the band have overcome that by utilising very emotive lyrics and singing, that while not being in a language I understand, does not create an impediment to the music's enjoyment. The remaining tracks thankfully exhibit sufficient energy and vitality to ensure the listener is kept fully engaged. I understand the band's live concerts are quite popular in parts of Europe, so would appeal to those who enjoy seeing what their ears are also experiencing.
The band credit their success to being able to meld their historical and cultural influences, and to blend these with the music of tomorrow. They have successfully played in many European countries together with Morocco, India and China. I could easily imagine the band headlining the roster at music events such as the Womadelaide Music festival held in South Australia in 2022, were they to undertake the journey down under.
Possessing such a diverse array of talent and with its music being generated from many ethnic sources, creates a more complex question of similarities. While not sounding identical, anyone familiar with the collaboration between Hossam Ramzy and Phil Thornton on their excellent Enchanted Egypt and Immortal Egypt albums, will find much to enjoy here. Similarly, the band could easily find themselves performing alongside (Yanni) on his Live At The Acropolis concerts or Loreena McKennitt on her excellent Nights From The Alhambra concert, as the instruments used during both performances would certainly be enhanced by those used by Albaluna.
Albaluna are certainly not for everyone, but those willing to experiment with the more cultural and ethnic side of the musical fence will surely derive more than just a passing interest in this very interesting band. I myself would certainly like to hear more. Well done guys, a great effort.
Amarok — Hero
Amarok is essentially a solo project from Polish multi-instrumentalist Michał Wojtas. Hero is the sixth album under this banner since the self-titled debut in 2001.
DPRP has previously reviewed five Amarok albums, but these are exclusively from the long-running Spanish prog-folk band with the same name. We have recommended the previous two (Polish) Amarok albums Hunt and The Storm on our new releases blog. This is the first time that we have received a promo to warrant a full review.
Hunt was a superb release with some great songwriting, set within mesmerising moods and grooves. It takes the melancholic tones that are the staples of Polish prog and mixes them with a carefully blended selection of post-progressive rock, ambient, electronica and straight rock. It is now available digitally on Bandcamp.
Heavily-influenced by the British contemporary dance performance that it was set to accompany, Storm was more about the rhythm and groove, than memorable melodies and songwriting, and thus less to my liking.
Hero sits somewhere between the two. It has some real highlights but each track fails to develop very far from its initial groove and melody. It is a decent collection of songs that are heavily-rhythmic and atmospheric, complimented by strong vocals and instrumental performances. Despite the elongated song-lengths, it just feels rather unfinished. The basic song ideas are crying out for further development and exploration. As a listener it leaves me unfulfilled.
It's Not The End is the best song, for being the one that does evolve. Initially reflecting the minimalistic moments of Satellite or Riverside, it picks up pace offering really fine songwriting. The metallic crunch of the guitar and the "synth-copated" beat at the end, works well.
Surreal also impresses with its lovely, coasting, soaring vocal and some alt-pop beats interwoven with bursts of keys and electronica.
After a promising start, Hail! Hail!'s repetitive groove, behind the sound of someone clearing their throat, is only deserving of the 'skip' button. Orb is just some vocal harmonies and piano, lost amidst a fog of ghostly electronics. The instrumental Dark Parade is equally one-dimensional.
Hero is a story of a protagonist, fighting for survival, going up against reality and themselves. It fits into the album's lyrical thread referencing the ongoing digitisation of our life and the unsure position of a human in the future world. The song has a delightful vocal melody and some enjoyable bursts of bluesy guitar, over a beating electronic pulse. The digitalised female voice spoils it for me, and again it is a bit one-dimensional. It is the obvious choice for a single.
We close with What You Sow which is meditative almost to the point of being static. More a case of not sowing very much!
The soundscapes across this album are clearly intended to seem exotic, thanks to the use of less common instruments such as violin, theremin, wind gong, djembe, harmonium, flute, and rains-ticks. But many other artists have incorporated such multicultural influences to far better effect.
Those who enjoy switching between meditative, film-scape music, contemporary dance-like rhythms and some direct Polish-style neo-prog, may find this to your liking.
After enjoying Hunt so much, I have found this album to be a disappointment. The opening pair of songs are nice and Hero has its appeal. But the album lacks a depth of composition and is padded out with a soundtrack to nothing-very-much, that leaves me unsated, unsatiated and unsatisfied.
Anyone — In Humanity
A few months ago I had the opportunity to review Anyone's album called On The Ending Earth. I ended that review hoping the band would get more into progressive rock. You know what? They somehow heard my prayers. Well, not they, only Riz Storey, the everything-man behind this band.
This new double album achieves what its predecessor didn't in terms of composition and execution towards a highly progressive direction. It's not an easy-listening album, and you will have to find your time to fully appreciate it. Riz says it took a decade to make it, so you can imagine the amount of details you can find here.
In Humanity was conceived as the original soundtrack for Riz Story's motion picture and novel concept of the same title. It is a scathing statement on a world in collapse. It seems to be the natural continuation of On The Ending Earth but this time "the story takes place in the future when mankind has made the earth uninhabitable and so ventures into the cosmos to find a planet that is even more beautiful than the earth, which they immediately begin to destroy".
According to Riz Story he wanted to explore the limits of his creativity and musicianship and pushed himself to play all the instruments in a different way. He also produced, mixed and mastered the album. I can only confirm that he has succeeded in this because the overall sound on the album is something different from what one may expect, especially the dynamic drumming behind the main instruments and intricate arrangements, as if it was somehow improvised in a modern jazzy style.
As I mentioned when reviewing On The Ending Earth, the band had three members at the beginning, Taylor Hawkins, is now playing with The Foo Fighters among other projects, and Jon Davison from Yes. Here we can find Jon Davison helping Riz in one song. Sadly it's not the best song on the album, and it's not one of Davison's best performances.
Honestly I can't find many similar bands to help you understand the progressive rock style that Anyone is playing on this album but maybe one can find some resemblances with that project from 2003 called Frameshift, with Henning Pauly doing almost everything and having James Labrie and Sebastian Bach as singers. It's not the same because In Humanity is a deeper adventure and it's presented as a journey in a more complex way, but the modern prog style could be somehow similar.
So my conclusion is a big congratulation to Riz Story, because this time he has done an impressive job releasing a great, different progressive rock album. It is one of those that grows on you after each listening and one of those I love to recommend if you like long and intense albums.
Interview With Tony Thompson, Author Of The Doors - On Track
Sonicbond published a book about The Doors in their On Track series. While reading the book for a review, Jerry van Kooten had a chat with author Tony Thompson.
I was a bit surprised it took Sonicbond so long to publish a book on The Doors in this series. Any idea why?
I'm not sure. My sense, when I first came across Sonicbond, was that the focus was on prog and heavier British bands but, if that's so, they have certainly branched out. Stephen Lambe, who runs Sonicbond, was very enthusiastic when I wrote to propose The Doors' book. His only concern was that they didn't record all that many albums and that this would make for a very short book. They'd done books on Fairport Convention and Hawkwind! And Gong! I was pretty confident that there was enough to say about The Doors to fill a book and I believe that it is one of the longer titles, but I'm not sure. People often forget the two post Jim albums and American Prayer. A huge amount of live material has been released over the past 20 years, as well.
You obviously did a lot of research, but I can imagine that, as a fan of the music, you had already done that before you even thought of writing this book. I mean information about the reissues, all the cultural and literature references, etc.
My background is in literature. I taught English at high school for many years before moving into the university sector. When I was a teenager, like everyone else, I became obsessed with Kerouac et al. I had been listening to The Doors for a couple of years already, and I started to make the connection between Jim's writing and the Beats. I was finding out about Rimbaud and Blake as well and it all started to make sense.
For this book, I spent a bit of time reading about Los Angeles in the 1960s because I wanted to respond to the presence of the city in their lyrics. I was interested, in particular, by the connection with cinematic ideas like Film Noir, which is famous for its urban backdrops. One of the things that happened to The Doors in the 1980s was that they were decontextualised in terms of their place in 1960s (and very early 70s) rock and roll. The Los Angeles connection seemed to get lost as well. American literature tends to have a regional quality that seems obvious in Jim's lyrics. I think that's an important part of The Doors.
I've read several books on The Doors, and while most of them were written as by screaming fans (most notably Danny Sugerman's book!), I loved John Densmore's book, and yours too. I realised that one reason is the openness and honesty about the events and music. Was that a conscious decision to write it this way? (It's why I am very reluctant about reading Ray Manzarek's book. He doesn't come across as an honesy storyteller. Interesting to read Robby's book, though.)
Yes, absolutely. I turned 13 in 1979, just as The Doors turned up on the Apocalypse Now soundtrack and Jim Morrison became an icon again. The Greatest Hits album with the red cover appeared, along with Sugerman's book (screaming is exactly the right word!), and a lot of posters of Jim looking moody were suddenly available in head shops. I have always felt that their music got lost in all of that somewhere. I wanted to focus on the recordings, Jim's lyrical ideas, and the production process. I thought that if I could get through the first draft without using the word "shaman", I'd be doing well. I almost managed it too!
Ray's book is a good read but it is true that he doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story, as the saying goes. That said, he was closer to Jim than John so there are some interesting observations here and there. I tried to use both books to see if I could figure what really happened in some of the recording sessions. It wasn't easy. Paul Rothchild, their producer until L.A. Woman, did a lot of interviews so his take on things was valuable too. I've just started Robby's book. I read tons of interviews with him in guitar magazines, so I know something about his views. Still, I'm very interested in his book. I'm a great admirer of Robby Krieger. He is one of the most underrated guitar players in rock and roll and it's important to remember that he wrote almost all their hits. He strikes me as a very cool guy. I wish I'd been at his place that night when he and Jim wrote Hyacinth House. His pet bobcat was outside in the garden!
I am writing for DPRP.net, a site focusing primarily on progressive rock, and then covering related genres that might be interesting to our readers. I've reviewed the Live In Detroit album. I see quite a big overlap between progressive music and the music of the Doors. You mention it only in the beginning, and only mention it again with regards to Ship Of Fools, so it makes me think don't regard it their music as progressive. What is your opinion on that?
There is a book that came out a few years ago about progressive rock that suggests that Sgt Pepper is a starting point for the genre. (Editor's note: so did we!) While I agree to a point, I think that there are a series of albums from 1967 that, in essence, gave rock and roll musicians permission to open up well beyond the one hit single. The Doors' first album, recorded in the summer of 1966 and released in January of 1967 is just about the first chronologically. We are all used to experimentation on LPs now, but I try to imagine what it would have been like to have heard The End when the album was released. There is great critical fanfare around the Velvet Underground and Nico album but that first Doors album must have really blown minds when it appeared and, to be honest, a hell of a lot more people heard it. Again, it all got lost in the fact of Light My Fire's great success and Jim's subsequent appearances in Tiger Beat. Their credibility suffered in the 60s and they have never really been given their due as a truly ground breaking act.
But, to answer the question, I think there are certainly prog elements in their music. If I was going to make the case, I'd point to Manzarek's use of harpsichord and the occasional Bach quotes, the longform narratives like Celebration Of The Lizard, and The Soft Parade album which, though not entirely successful, is nothing if not ambitious in scope. The whole question of American prog is a good one for late night arguments, but I certainly think The Doors are on the table.
How do you think the music of The Doors stands in the world as it is today, when compared to other genres that followed, but also how it has stood the test of time in general.
I think Morrison's influence as a stage performer has been very significant. He was fascinated by experimental theatre and the idea of the rock and roll show as a spectacle. I think that the more theatrical acts that followed, particularly the confrontational ones, owe a big debt to Jim. Iggy Pop is always noted as an early example of a "punk rock" singer. Ask him who he was imitating!
Musically, their influence is perhaps most obvious on a certain strand of post punk that appeared in the 1980s and has itself become a major influence. Bands like Joy Division, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Birthday Party, and, a favourite of mine, The Triffids, all drifted into Doors' territory at points. There are many other examples, of course. I think wherever you find a band with a darkly Romantic vision combined with a hint of garage punk, and fronted by a moody singer, you can be sure that someone owns a Doors album or two.
Tony Thompson — The Doors: On Track... Every Album, Every Song
There just had to be a book on The Doors in the On Track series. But does it have to be reviewed on DPRP? I think it does. Their music holds a lot of progressive elements, and I know for sure that I am not the only one with a musical taste that extends from prog into the psychedelic music of the late 1960s. I wrote a review on the Live In Detroit album released in 2001, and perhaps it's time to do an overview of their albums. But first, this book.
It was written by Canada-born, Australia-based author Tony Thompson, who has published several books and lots of articles on books, music, and education for more than a decade. He knows how to form a readable sentence, give information (without overwhelming you or losing track of the goal and the limitations set by the publisher), and knows how to structure a story.
The structure of the On Track books is always the same, so you will know what the main part looks like. Besides the usual descriptions of albums in chronological order and songs in track sequence, Thompson starts off with a live recording that was released only fairly recently, but chronologically took place before the debut album.
Thompson is a Doors fan, naturally. He is never shy of admitting it, and he must have loved the fact that he could write this book. Still, I love how Thompson writes the story as an author, rather than as just a fan. (Danny Sugerman's No One Here Gets Out Alive is an example of that.) Also, Thompson is very honest when he likes a song that not a lot of people seem to like, or when he does not like a popular song. He manages to find a nice balance; one that just makes a good read.
He also steers clear of making assumptions you find in so many other books and portraying them as how things actually happened. When something is likely, suggested, or assumed, he says so. He never takes a story for a truth, just for the sake of fascination, as happens in a lot of books. It's the same kind of honesty that I read and loved in John Densmore's Riders On The Storm. (And it is the expected lack of honesty that keeps me from reading Ray Manzarek's book.)
Thompson points out when he thinks people (musicians, producers, engineers) were doing a good job, or when they didn't do a good job. I like it, and share his view on this, when he points out the songs where Krieger and, especially, Densmore didn't really get the credit they deserved or have their performances overlooked. A thing like that does not make me like the book better, it makes me like the author better. It also shows his eye for detail and that he's really done his homework.
There are lots of references to other writers, plays, and songs that obviously were or might have been of influence to the band. Numerous lists of those exist all over the place, but Thompson is clear when something is easy to find on-line, and I am pretty confident he has actually read (about) all the references that are mentioned.
Regarding the contents, it's also refreshing to see the post-Morrison albums (Other Voices and Full Circle) being discussed in the same fashion as the albums before Morrison died. The band were The Doors, after all.
Within the limited length of an On Track series, Thompson was lucky that The Doors released only eight albums during their career, so he could expand a bit more on several songs, which is very nice. Even the often-called album fillers get a decent description (or explanation as to why they are not just fillers).
The introductory chapters contain some cultural references to paint the background of the picture. It contains the pre-Doors singles by Rick & The Ravens, the Doors' 1965 demo, and the aforementioned The London Fog 1966. Then follows the main section of the book where the Morrison-era studio albums and one live album are described (The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting For The Sun, The Soft Parade, Absolutely Live, Morrison Hotel, and L.A. Woman) plus the final two studio albums (Other Voices and Full Circle) and even An American Prayer.
A short epilogue on other live albums, the Bright Midnight releases, and some compilation albums. The compilations don't offer anything new, and although the live albums could have been described in detail, most of that would be a comparison to the studio recordings, so focusing on the original albums only and being able to do that in more detail, was, in my opinion, a good choice. I guess the live recordings would require a separate book. If you are interested, check out websites like The Doors Interactive Chronology or Mild Equator.
For most albums, Thompson has included non-album tracks that are related to the respective albums, such as single B-sides or tracks that were released as bonus tracks on re-issues, like the Rock Is Dead session and, most notably, The Celebration Of The Lizard in the Waiting For The Sun chapter. Thompson tries to be complete by mentioning things like the unedited versions of Break On Through on the latest reissue of the first album or the "Doors Only" remix of The Soft Parade, but only where necessary, not to duplicate any info. The fact that he does mention things like that, makes you realise that he really does know a lot.
I simply couldn't stop reading, constantly looking forward to both his opinion on songs and albums, as well as the chance to discover something I didn't know (which happened a couple of times).
The greatness in this book lies in the balance between dry facts such as the chronology and recording details on the one hand, and the stories behind it and the influences on the other hand; all combined with his personal opinion. It makes a great reference for those looking for facts and trivia, while offering a good read from start to finish for everybody.
I expected a book about The Doors in this series a lot sooner! But if we had to wait for Tony Thompson to write it, then it has been well worth the wait.