Beautiful Bedlam — Beautiful Bedlam
Beautiful Bedlam is a new band from Melbourne, Australia, and they released their self-titled debut album back in May. A couple of months ago we recommended it on our Something For The Weekend blog even saying this album had topped quite a few people's halfway-through-the-year 'best of' lists. I decided to pick it for a full review, and I'm afraid Beautiful Bedlam are not going to be included in my 2021 top ten. This album has many things and ideas that I love, but my feelings after many listens is that something is missing here.
The band is Luke Ancell on guitars, Scott Ancell on drums and programming, Ross Taylor on keyboards and vocals, and James Van Strien on bass and vocals. One curious, and unusual, thing about this debut album is that we have up to six extra guest vocalists from different bands and two more guests as backing vocalists. One can guess how different and varied the songs are going to be. Truly they are.
The band describes their sound as "progressive/alternative rock music, with hints of jazz, metal, indie, etc, showcasing many different sounds worlds from song to song and within." So, nothing to hide here. They wanted this type of album and they have succeeded in that, but they haven't convinced me. I'll tell you why, and then you can decide for yourself.
As I said, Beautiful Bedlam includes many great things in their music, such as nice vocal melodies, good structures, nice instrumental parts, but I find it difficult to comprehend some changes in the middle of songs, such as the final part of Life, Death & Cheers (+ Slow Creepin´). I really like the jazzy feeling until the last two minutes. Don't take me wrong, I like tempo-changes and breaks but I prefer if they lead to something interesting.
Sometimes they develop beautiful sounds and instrumentations but the songs never take off. I'm talking about Two Thirds. Another example could be Open World (+ Apparitions), which should be a superb song, but it also ends in a weird way to nowhere. Instead, the next song, I Adore is a brilliant alternative rock composition from the very beginning to the very end. Sweet Oblivion can also be included among the best of the album, as well as Silent To The End, in which one can imagine Pain Of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow giving a hand.
I have to say the album has being growing on me with each listen, but I still have that feeling of incoherence in some songs. It's a pity because I think Beautiful Bedlam has potential to become a great progressive rock band. They have all the good things to achieve that, but I'm afraid I will have to wait until their next album to include them in my top list. In the meantime, go check this new promising band because you will find many interesting things and ideas, and maybe the coherence that I'm missing.
Dec Burke — Life In Two Dimensions
Declan Burke is mostly known by many from his involvement with Frost* and to a lesser extent of AudioPlastik and Darwin's Radio. Being slightly familiar with the first act, it is however Dilemma's 2018 release of Random Acts Of Liberation that put Dec on my radar. Being amongst the first albums I reviewed after joining DPRP, it turned out to be quite the revelation and achieved the highest position in my 2018 list, with the highest score awarded.
Besides the attraction of Dilemma's music, it was Burke's voice that impressed. According to my own scribblings: "he gives the whole album a sumptuous flow with his strong, delicate, melodic, unique voice'. Not realising it at the time, I soon found out that besides being a formidable vocalist, Burke knows his way on a six-string as well, as witnessed on Dilemma's live performance in Zoetermeer.
Life In Two Dimensions showcases Burke firing on all cylinders and whipping out sublime guitar work and a vast variety of sensational solos bursting with melody, power, technique, refinement, subtlety and melancholy. To make a long story short: with two previously highly-rated albums on DPRP, in which these skills are wholesomely acknowledged, Burke's fourth guitar-driven effort marks his third favourable DPRP review.
Next to Burke on vocals, guitars and keys, the album features Scott Higham (ex-Pendragon) on drums and Kristoffer Gildenlöw (Kayak) on bass, and sees contributions by Robin Zuiderveld (Dilemma) on piano, Guilherme Aguilar (bass, cello) and Reiner Siemens (Dilemma) on bass. With Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) aiding on backing vocals, keys and bass as well as taking care of the mixing and mastering process, Life In Two Dimensions has become a highly energetic, no holds barred, heavy melodic rock affair.
Life In Two Dimensions is a great opener with its catchy melodies surrounded by choruses that give greatness and grandeur to the song. Going through tempo changes, moments of reflection, pristine harmonies and a first proof of Burke's virtuosity on guitars, this song gives the album a marvellous injection before infectiously soaring into the intoxicating melodic prog of Emergency. At high-speed velocity this song brings mighty melodies sparkling with AOR-ish synths and powerful guitar play.
Driven dynamically onwards by a hard-hitting Higham (probably in need of surgery or replenishing oxygen himself after this powerful execution), Burke grabs hold and keeps the album's momentum going by unleashing the excellent hard rocking Sister X. Here the melodic sense of Burke's compositions comes fully into its own, as heavy dynamic structures reveal themselves, encased by synth, lush melodies, some prog influences and a marvellously unchained Burke shredding away on guitar. One of my reviewing notes simply states "yummie stuff", which in fact applies to all the fast-paced, melodic songs.
Sunlight and Love Steel pack the same kind of punch. Tantalising bridges and tension building passages make these compositions delightfully compelling and Love Steel's end solo is literally to-die-for. Almost as invigorating is the outstanding solo in the touching Energy, which serves as a mild resting point.
Written and composed during the various UK lockdown situations of 2020, the lyrics of the album touch upon themes of hope, excitement, our modern society and loss; the latter most likely induced by the passing of Burke's father prior to Dilemma's 2019 support tour of Flying Colors. Songs like Fly With Broken Wings and This Time remember this sad moment. Both of these sublime songs are embraced by a wonderful emotional vocal performance of Burke.
The latter is a subdued calm ballad in which melancholic grandeur comes excitingly to the fore and beautiful atmospheric synths and harmonies enhance the symphonic sound and depth of the song. Its heavenly subdued penetrating solo gives goosebumps all around and rounding off with sensitive moving cello is the icing on the cake. Fly With Broken Wings expresses a delicate, brooding atmosphere that slowly grows in scope, and travels past hopeful choruses embraced by symphonic elements into a magnificent coda of immersive guitars.
Up to now, the prog content has been relatively low but the final tracks make up for this, especially Paper Fortress. The intricate entrance on piano, written by Robin Z, who took on responsible for the artwork as well, brings bright Images of Saga which bring warmth and homeliness. As the composition slowly unfolds, Burke's gracious guitars and melancholy-drowned vocals enchant to the fullest. The segue of powerful metal riffs diving into a blistering solo from an inspired Burke borders on pure divinity. Once the composition elegantly flows into reassuring monumental melodies that bear Burke's melodic trademark its a final gracious guitar solo that rounds of this magnificent composition beautifully.
The final song Trap Door is a peerless epic and opens in acoustic refinement after which excellence of dexterous play and vividly dynamic melodies bring thrilling up-tempo movements. Surrounded by structural complexities an refreshing uplifting acceleration then elevates the songs atmosphere to which synths add lovely sparkling accents. Under mild Rush influences, Burke opens his jar of majestic solos one final time and closes the album in great style.
In comparison to Burke's previous efforts Life In Two Dimensions qualifies as being his least prog-orientated and heaviest album, yet the melody-laden compositions have managed to stay confidently within Burke's recognisable style of melodic rock, embracing delightful influences of neo-prog. It showcases his compositional strength and artistic growth splendidly and is a very solid and modern sounding album.
For prog enthusiasts the album's true prog oasis is concentrated near the end, but the speedway leading up to this is filled with wonderful moments in which Burke's spirited escapades occasionally remind me of Rik Emmett from Triumph. A band name that provides a fair and to the point description to Burke's overall accomplishment with Life In Two Dimensions: a triumph!
Coarbegh — Watercolours
Coarbegh is a side-project of Poor Genetic Material (PGM) consisting of Pia Darmstaedter (flute/voice) and Philipp Jaehne (keyboards, electronics). With Watercolours they present their fourth album following their 2019 effort The Sound And Flow Of London Town, which flowed beautifully, with compositions harbouring reflective moments. It also managed to project elegant and graceful imaginary sceneries of London and the vast railway network underneath its surface, through compositions whose inner beauty revealed intricate progressive (rock) and electronic ambient/new age inspirations.
Apparently, Coarbegh have a certain fascination for the underground, as Watercolours also dives deeply into relaxing and refreshing soundscapes that submerge into vast oceans of electronics and enchanting flute, swimming graciously with Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Eternity sounds, adding a few progressive surprises along its shores. It steers well away from the dangerous "dozing off effect" (see previous review) and upon closing one's eyes, the music consolidates its intriguing nature by transporting the listener to faraway places and deep lakes of enchanting serenity.
Ideas for Watercolours surfaced from improvisations performed during concerts in 2020, which were then elaborated upon and finalised during the seasonal change of 20/21 at a time of lockdown. A period of deserted emptiness and tangible loneliness is captured beautifully in the icy emptiness of Hometown Lockdown where industrial accents and dark, slightly psychedelic atmospheres, cast pictures of an oppressive submarine descent.
The album is bookended by compositions involving PGM, and opens with a re-imagined version of Watercolours from their Springtidings effort. Heaving on waves of electronic melodies this wonderful new interpretation changes its previous summery atmospheres into chilling electronic coldness. Enticing flute movements bring embracing warmth, while the sum of its parts illuminates spacious refined rays of enchanting Solaris sunshine.
Absence Pt 3, a sequel to parts that started on PGM's Absence, adds grandeur, and travels touchingly through alternating oceans of vast greatness and pools of puny smallness. Wonderful flute and delicate electronic surges unite in a beautiful Vangelis symbiosis.
In similar fashion The Long Sleep By The Sea reaches far and wide in scope, bringing loops and intriguing flute coloured by beautiful touches of ethereal vocals and transient synths. This beautiful, open sound also reveals itself in Starriver which follows the light of Eloy into mysteriously haunting spaces, where sound effects and a church organ create endless echoes of bright galaxies floating on a bed of woodwinds.
Diving deeper into darker colouring, Voices adds sensitive fragility from piano and makes one feel completely at ease; drifting alone in an ocean of calmly-bobbing electronic waves and heavenly vocals. It's final flare leads into Through Hopeful Eyes where synths elegantly project images of returning mountainous snowy coldness, while sparkling synths and flute sensitivity generate futuristic brightness, glittering with melodies occasionally mindful to Eternity.
Coarbegh has once again delivered an attractive and engagingly entertaining ambient/New Age-orientated album; one that streams fluently from start to finish. Amidst today's hectic pace it is wonderfully relaxing and a highly comforting effort that speaks to the imagination and is capable of transporting one's mind and thoughts to the far-out stretches of the world. All with the advantage of sitting luxuriously at home.
Overall a solid effort well worth exploring, especially for fans of contemporary electronic music with an ambient touch.
Cyan — For King And Country
As we are all aware, the global Covid pandemic has had a profound influence on many artists. I guess that most of these influences were not very positive, to say the least. Yet some seem to have been inspired by the strange times we are currently living in and by the significant societal changes that it has brought about. And some have taken the opportunity to work on plans that probably had been shelved for quite a while but could now be realised since touring, promoting and other obligations are not possible.
Prolific composer and musician Robert Reed is one of these. He managed to release five original albums in 2020 and it seems as if he wants to try to equal that achievement in 2021. Earlier this year he released a new 2CD version of Tubular Bells under the Tubular World moniker. That was a long-time dream coming true, as he has always been a huge fan of that fabulous work of art.
He has also just released a new 2-cd album entitled The Ringmaster (review to follow soon) but just before that he realised a plan he already had in his mind when talking to DPRP-colleague Stefan Hennig in 2020 at the release of the most recent Magenta-album Masters Of Illusion. Then he mentioned a new Cyan album, but it apparently didn't work out to release it before Christmas 2020.
Now the new Cyan is here, a resurrection of Reed's first band from 1984 but with a completely different line-up. To be fair, the music as such is far from new. This is a complete reworking of Cyan's 1993 debut album For King And Country. That was in itself already a reworking of demo-ed songs the band had recorded in the eighties but never managed to get released. They were schoolmates then, and as such simply didn't have the equipment nor the money nor the guidance to develop a genuine album.
On the 1993 debut Reed did everything himself including the vocals and the production. It's a nice album that with today's ears left much to be improved, especially in the vocal and production departments. I came across that album because one of the tracks, Don't Turn Away, was part of the second volume of the legendary SI-music sampler discs. It immediately appealed to me because of its medieval-like musical keyboard theme. I obtained the album from the local library, copied it and have enjoyed it ever since.
Reed told Hennig that he has never been fully satisfied with the debut because the songs didn't sound as they should have. Enter the pandemic and time at hand which enabled him to gather some first class musicians to rework the songs again. Joining Reed is the omni-present Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Camel) on vocals as well as saxophone and whistles, Tesni Jones on background vocals, Angharad Brinn (also featured on his Sanctuary albums) on vocals, guitarist Luke Machin (Maschine, The Tangent), bassist Dan Nelson (Godsticks, Magenta) and Tim Robinson (Magenta) on drums. Inspired by this bunch of musicians, Reed decided to completely re-imagine the songs. That was a very wise decision.
This album is not only completely different but also far better in every respect than Cyan's debut. The most marked difference lies in the overall maturity of the musical performances. The debut album had, listening to the songs now, a rather 'thin' production with subdued vocals, 'cheap'-sounding keys and hesitant guitar parts. Not bad but not very good either, but very pleasant to listen to. That has all been improved dramatically.
The eight songs on the album are presented here in the same order but all new versions are considerably longer and better elaborated on. Take for instance the album opener, The Sorcerer, originally an epic of more than 11 minutes but now clocking-in at more than 15 minutes. Of course longer doesn't necessarily mean better but this time it certainly is. The intro is now a fine new orchestral affair. Jones' great vocals are so much better and are furthermore strengthened by Brinn's fine voice (Reed finds himself a bad singer which is too harsh a verdict as the original vocals were quite acceptable). New musical parts have been added amongst which are tubular bells and several powerful and confident guitar solos, while the many different parts segue into each other more fluently. It all makes this version a magnificent epic which forms an apt introduction to the album.
And in fact that counts for the whole new album. Second song Call Me was an instrumental but has now been turned into a very fine power ballad with excellent vocal duties shared by Brinn and Jones and a more upfront position in the mix for the excellent rhythm section. The fast keyboard solo in the end section with tubular bells in the background is very fitting while the acoustic coda leads to a satisfying end of the song.
I Defy The Sun was another 'thinly' produced song that now gets a more mature makeover. The vocals are much more powerful, the keys sound full and more varied, with for instance, trumpet-like sounds around the four minute mark. The addition of two short guitar solos works well too.
Personal favourite Don't Turn Away gets a more extended intro with gentle harp and Mellotron accompanying the keys theme, before the main theme, now in a more orchestral version, enters, giving this song a really symphonic feeling. It is not until almost halfway that the vocals come in after a very melodic and quiet section with acoustic guitars and soft keys. Parts of Jones' vocals are echoed at the end of the verses which works quite well also. In the middle of the song Brinn takes over the vocals in a completely new part, segueing into a bridge on electric guitar, after which Jones takes up the chorus again. The interplay between electric guitar and the keys theme during the last minute is fantastic. To my ears this already very attractive song has gained even more attractiveness with this new arrangement.
The instrumental Snowbound has become considerably longer but mainly gains from the more powerful guitar parts, the addition of the flute-like keys backed by wordless choir and the fluent interplay between these.
The first minutes of the second epic Man Against Men is sung alternatively by Jones and Brinn in a slower pace than in the original. The instrumentation in the first part is more sparse with just soft keys and soft guitar, providing much room for their combined voices. At two minutes the full band comes in and the pace becomes slightly faster with a prominent role for Machin's guitar. Again the power of the music is good and the new musical parts blend in very well. The sound of the song is far more mature and full, making this the song for which the reworking works the best.
The second instrumental Nightflight gets a new musical intro that reminds me of Marillion's She Chameleon. After the intro Machin shows his skills as a guitarist and takes the melody up to combat Reed's keys. The quiet middle section is beautiful and leads towards a guitar-driven bossa nova-like part with acoustic and electric guitar, bass and keys which is really nice. Through a dreamy piano theme, the music comes back to the central theme in which tubular bells emerge as well. In the end section Jones plays a fine short sax solo which is taken over by Reed's organ solo. Especially in this song Reed proves how he has grown as a composer and how easily he now combines different styles within one song without it sounding disjointed.
The title track was a rather short and repetitive rocky song but has now been transformed into a quiet ballad with a mellow piano intro backing Jones' vocals. During the first chorus strings are added after which war sounds can be heard, illustrating the depth of the lyrics. Machin is again important, with some fine guitar soloing but this version is especially far better in the vocal department. Jones' expressive voice makes you forget the repetitiveness of the chorus which is enhanced by the new arrangement with room for keys, drums, bass and guitar as well as for the background vocals by Brinn and Tesni Jones. After a fierce guitar outburst, a solemn church choir is added at the end of the song which is very fitting given the theme of the lyrics. This song is now an appropriate closure of this fine album.
Reed was a schoolboy when he started Cyan, so it is logical that the first band attempts are far from flawless. He was still very young and inexperienced when he reworked the original versions to produce Cyan's debut album. Now he has been around for decades and with much success in his many projects, so he knows what good music demands. In that respect it is actually unfair to compare both versions of this album. I think that they can best be regarded as separate albums. The 1993 version is to be cherished in a more romantic way. This new version is foremost an excellent modern prog album in its own right.
It is a must-listen for everybody who likes good melodic prog with excellent vocals, spot-on keyboards and magnificent guitar performances, supported by an energetic rhythm section. This new version can easily match many famous albums by for instance Pendragon, Marillion and also Genesis because of its warmth, melody, variation and musical performance.
Cyan released two more original albums, Pictures From The Other Side in 1994 and The Creeping Vine in 1999 before Reed started Magenta. Musically I've always preferred the debut album over the latter two. Now that I've heard how this new Cyan line-up can transform and modernise these old songs completely, I think it would be a good idea to rework those other Cyan albums too. I can't wait to hear those new versions!
Last but not least, I really like it that for this new version Reed has re-used the original artwork designed by himself and the driving force behind SI Music, the late Willebrord Elsing. That is a very duly and highly valued tribute to this prog pioneer who is still dearly missed.
Kama Kollektiv — Toivo
Toivo is an intriguing release. It stretches out in several directions; its fresh approach is hard to categorise.
On the face of it, the album contains an identifiable blend of primary jazz colours. The glowing hue and warming effect of these principal components is never completely hidden. On the contrary, these colours are vividly tinted, liberally splashed and on occasions thickly painted, to create a canvas; one that will satisfy anybody who has occasionally donned a jazz party hat.
However, this sometimes familiar and reassuring impression, is somewhat challenged by the inclusion of a few unusually-structured sung tunes. These display a quirky inventiveness, and indicate that when the need arises, the Kollektiv have a penchant for creating something that sits outside the box. On these occasions, I recalled the unusual accessibility of bands such as Slapp Happy.
Maybe is a great example of the Kollektiv's inventiveness. Be prepared to foot tap and knuckle wrap if you hear it. It takes a lot of ability to write a twisted pop tune. It works well on many levels. The lyrics cover the important topic of body image, and its overall message and sincere delivery leaves an impression.
Nevertheless, as suggested earlier, Toivo also contains several compositions that tread a somewhat more recognisable path that will delight those who like accessible tunes dressed with the sonic qualities associated with contemporary jazz. In this respect, several of the album's pieces feature languid melodies that roll, pitch and bob in an enchanting way.
Some tunes like Toivo, Phlegmatic Escapism and Distance Song skilfully massage the senses in a heartfelt embrace. Changing tones and atmospheric melodies combine, to have an uplifting effect. The Kollektiv performs these pieces with a great deal of panache. It is not hard to imagine a situation where these tunes could be utilised to readily provide an emotive accompaniment for dusk-lit picnics, body warming nights and dew-dawn breakfasts.
It was interesting to hear how the Kollektiv have developed their style and approach since releasing Koti in 2019. On balance, I think Koti is slightly more satisfying than Toivo and is probably more likely to appeal to fans of prog.
Nevertheless, due to the unusual structure and nature of tunes such as Inventing Memories, there are occasional aspects of Toivo that fans of inventive music might enjoy. In this tune both dissonance and harmony successfully coexist. This creates an original mix of styles that is slightly disturbing and not always gentle on the ear.
Band leader Kirsi Harju excels on the trumpet. Her flowing playing and idiosyncratic, whispered vocal lines are an undoubted highlight of this piece.
The album's title track is also an impressive composition. In the mid-section of the piece, the human voice becomes the focus. It dresses the composition with a human fragility and is effective as a unique instrument. The pitch and sway of Harju's voice creates a memorable, ethereal effect. Discordance also has a part to play in the final section of the tune. This alters the shape and mood of the piece in a manner that changes its direction in a gratifying way.
Jonathan Nagel's double bass underpins many of the tunes, and whilst Harju's trumpet is often to the fore, it is arguably Nagel's beautifully crafted bass tones that give an opportunity for the rest of the Kollektiv to express themselves.
Whilst, I enjoyed much of the album, I am not certain that I will return to it too often. The vocal pieces were enjoyable, but if I wanted to experience quirky vocals combined with unusual yet accessible song structures, I think I would probably turn to bands like Slapp Happy before listening to KAMA Kollektiv.
Nevertheless, the lush tones of Harju's trumpet and the overall excellent performance of the ensemble ensured that the album was never less than an enjoyable experience.
Muva — Yum Cháak
The debut album by Muva, called Yum Cháak, is named after the Mayan God of rain; a symbol of a force that washes away unsolved pains and regrets. Muva, based in Mexico City are a world music-influenced, cinematic prog band with a core quintet of musicians and a warm organic feel, through the use of mainly acoustic instrumentation. The melodies are distributed across flute, clarinet, saxophone, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, jarana (an eight-stringed small-bodied Mexican guitar), viola, violin and strings along with drums. Joining them sailing on the waters of world music, are eleven or so other musicians.
Muva is directed by Chatrán González in terms of composition, direction, programming, drums, world percussion, choirs, synths, throat singing, recording and general production. The music on Yum Cháak takes the listener on a journey through different musical cultures across the world. It opens with the strong, folk-inflected melody of Ye´Etel U Pixan Masada that rises out of breathy clarinet and pulsing synths and gentle stabs of guitar. It is a warm embrace of a track.
The warm embraces continue on Teriya's lovely melody that takes in West African influences, with a large role for a djeli ngoni (a guitar/banjo hybrid) and the djembe drum. Also providing a worldwide musical hug is Mandála's slow build of synths and flute with a dancing synth bass that grows in intensity as the melody switches to grand piano for the track's coda. Terrific stuff.
Muva also visit Scotland. On Taming Kelpies the bagpipes of Duncan Knight from Edinburgh, (where he is also known for his work in Celtica - Pipes Rock) features heavily. Taming Kelpies marries the pipes with percussion that echoes the sound of a bhodran, giving the track a winning, post-rock, celtic feel. The album ends gently with the title track's glitchy electronica, tamed by viola and guitar, before gentle saxophone waltzes us to the track's conclusion.
A few tracks don't quite match up to the standard Muva have set themselves however. Yateré's pacey drums and fuzz-laden electric guitars sacrifices their hard-won subtlety for sheer power. While the brooding viola and dark tones of Tantum are undercut by the distracting semi-operatic vocals of wind-player Carmen Fuerte. She also sings on Nahuaní where she channels Dagmar Krause's vocal style, but it works better on Nahuaní as the musical background, with the layered strings and the guitar solo, is more sympathetic.
Muva's Yum Cháak is a slightly mixed bag but when they are good (on Ye´Etel U Pixan Masada, Teriya and Mandála) they are great. It is a very interesting debut. If you like the world-music stylings of Peter Gabriel's soundtrack work, such as Passion, but want a greater chamber-prog oomph, then try this release.