Mariusz Duda — Interior Drawings
As a big fan of much of what has emanated from the European music scene over the last few decades, Riverside is one band I discovered along the way. Their main song-writer, Mariusz Duda, has released several solo albums with Interior Drawings being his fourth. This completes the trilogy of albums that were released during the lock-down(s).
Initial spins of this album will require much attentive concentration, as the contents are certainly not what you would expect from someone whose versatile compositions make Riverside the band that we often enjoy. The quality of the production on this album is certainly reinforced if listening under my Sennheiser headphones, as it completely draws the listener in. The percussive sounds, aligned with the pulsating and throbbing bass licks from the bottom end of the synth, also add incredible dimension and space. The scratching and scrunching sound of pencil on paper while these songs develop, adds authenticity to a project created during a stressful time for the world.
From what I can determine, this is all keyboard-based and explores different soundscapes that you would expect to find on either a Tangerine Dream album or possibly Roger Powell's Air Pocket album. Having said that, it is not quite as engaging as Roger's excellent album but could find vague alliance with one of Tangerine Dream's less commercially well-known efforts. Prisoner By Request and Almost Done are perfect examples of this similarity.
The genre which encapsulates the style of music on this album could best be summed-up as minimalistic / ambient / progressive electronic. Digging further into these descriptors, one discovers the following options: atmospheric, instrumental, ethereal, dark, meditative, calm, repetitive, mysterious, hypnotic, soothing, ominous, melancholic, nocturnal, peaceful, minimalistic, cold, mellow, surreal, sampling, sombre, warm, psychedelic, sparse, space, noisy, lo-fi, dense, soft, lush, spiritual, rhythmic, lonely, suspenseful, avant-garde, tribal, nature, futuristic, mechanical, ritualistic, aquatic, scary, dissonant, lethargic, disturbing, bitter-sweet, abstract, melodic, progressive, winter, eclectic. Take your pick! You could use at least a dozen of these descriptors and be right on-the-money with this album.
Is it any wonder that the music industry is constantly stumbling over itself while trying to define a new earth-shattering name to give to yet another musical genre. As if we need any more!
Apart from a few sections where we can hear some breathy vocals, this is basically an all-instrumental affair and after a few spins, the songs certainly develop a degree of catchiness.
There are simply so many keyboard players who have showered the world with albums that fall within this huge genre. While no expert on all of them, you may derive some enjoyment from Interior Drawings if you also enjoy artists such as, Klaus Schulze, Manuel Gottsching, Mort Garson, Steve Roach, Ashra, Terry Riley, Peter Baumann, Michael Hoenig or Cluster. As much as I am finding a lot to enjoy and explore with this eclectic offering, my head-and-shoulders leader of this genre is definitely Synergy (Larry Fast who worked with Peter Gabriel). His music simply offers so much of the depth and complexity that I am just not quite finding here. This is still a great release however, and stands well on its own. Perhaps it simply calls for yet another serving of shiraz, with cheese and crackers while under the 'phones.
The Fierce And The Dead — Part 1 / On VHS
The remastering and reissuing of The Fierce And The Dead's back catalogue continues with two early EPs, Part 1 (2010) and On VHS (2012). It is hard to believe that it has been ten years and more since these first introduced us to Matt Stevens (guitars), Kev Feazey (bass, synths), Stuart Marshall (drums) and Steve Cleaton (guitars) who joined the ranks shortly after the band released their first album, If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecombe (2011).
That album contained the track Flint which was the second track on the Part 1 EP, which is presumably why it has been omitted from this release, as the remastered version is on the re-release of the debut album (although it would have been nice if it had been included here for the sake of completeness).
On VHS was the first recording as a quartet, as they experimented with how the addition of a second electric guitarist could expand their sound. It was enthusiastically reviewed by our own Jez Rowden on its release. The only thing I can add to that review is the fact that 666...6 contains one of the most earth-shatteringly glorious riffs. It is a peach in the canon of TFATD recordings.
So back to Part 1. This 19-minute track is much more in the style of the solo recordings of Matt Stevens, which is not altogether unsurprising as TFATD came into being after Feazey and Marshall contributed to Stevens' solo albums Ghost and Relic.
With an altogether more post-rock vibe, the track utilises numerous guitar effects to create a solid piece that grows as it progresses. Some elements have a gentle ambient vibe but these are interspersed with ferocious guitar assaults. The track does suffer from being somewhat unfocused in parts, and on a couple of occasions loses its way with a couple of the guitar lines jarring the ears to a degree. I am unaware if this was an improvised piece of music. It does sound that way in places and could have benefited from a harsher edit to make it rather more succinct.
On the whole this is a great release for those looking to explore the origins of this exciting band, now that the original EPs have been long-since deleted. Although Part 1 may not be to everyone's taste, nor the pinnacle of the band's output, the four tracks from On VHS were essential to the group's development and establishment, and are thus required-hearing for a full appreciation of how the band got where they are today.
Heck, even the two remixes of On VHS are enjoyable in their own right, although they possess a totally different aesthetic to what the group deliver live, and on their studio recordings. It is good to have these EPs available again and the opportunity should be taken to grab hold of them while they are still available.
Final Coil — Somnambulant II
Leicester-based prog-metal/post-rock band Final Coil have revisited and re-imagined songs from their back catalogue and released them as the Somnambulant II EP. Taking tracks mainly from 2017's Persistence Of Memory and 2019's The World We Left Behind For Others, they have moved from their signature heavy sound into nuanced, electronic art-rock.
The change has been a success and points to the quality of the song-writing, such that it will stand a radical re-interpretation into another genre. The band rely here on programmed drums and percussion. That doesn't feel out of place. They surround this with Jola Stiles' slinky bass lines and the twin guitars of Phil Stiles and Rich Awdry, along with multiple keyboards. Both the guitarists share vocal duties.
The EP opens with the threatening electronics and piano of Corruption (Shadows of a Dream) evolving with guitar-based soundscapes. There is a heap of melancholy to Lost Hope (Trip) as it channels Depeche Mode-style keys and dual vocals.
Final Coil's prog-metal roots get a look-in on the churning guitars of Waste Your Time (Quills and Trees). The dark, sombre synthwave and distorted vocals make for an uncomfortable listen on the short Echoes of Corruption (Zero Sum). Slide guitar and eastern tonalities and rhythms bring to mind Anathema on Conviction of the Right (Industrial Slaughter), whilst piano and electronic soundscapes join an unexpected a capella section on Imaginary Trip (Still). They take a further left-turn with the EDM beats, goth bass and short synth solos evoking a less manic The Prodigy on And I'll Leave (Outsider Mix).
Final Coil's Somnambulant II is a surprising and engaging EP that is well worth investigating if you have any liking for edgy, electronic art-rock hybrids. And if you don't, then jump onto Final Coil's Bandcamp page and have a listen to the prog-metal/post-rock versions. They are worth your time too.
The Foxholes — Hex
The Foxholes have been a recurring presence in these pages for a few years now, and though they have flirted with prog, they have always remained on the fringes of the genre, or at least avoided its most recognisable tropes and codes. With Hex, a celebration of all things witchcraft, the band comes closest to what a prog album is "expected to be", dropping their more pop-leaning sensibilities and (most significantly) all conventional vocals, to expand their more esoteric horizons. The outcome is a very dynamic and rewarding listen.
If you love the horror scores by Goblin or John Carpenter as much as I do, then the two-minute opening title track is an instant hit; a sort of lost piece from the Suspiria soundtrack. The energy goes up a notch or two with Quarz, a catchy rocker punctuated by violin stabs and fat organ textures. This again might remind you of some Carpenter/Howarth works, if only with a bit more bite.
Speaking of witches, Elvira is a more rhythmically-driven track which leans towards synth-wave aesthetics. So the 70s-80s-postmodern aural palette is complete.
Still, we're only 10 minutes into the album; indeed, the last two pieces take up nearly 28 minutes. A drum roll introduces Corey, the most unclassifiable track on Hex. It is both bombastic and melodic, widescreen and intimate, and when a children's choir makes a triumphant appearance at around the six-minute mark things get equal parts eerie and grandiloquent. Well, The Foxholes can't be accused of not trying new things!
Hexe is the longest and most electronic-sounding piece on the album. After three minutes of Tangerine Dream-like textures, the music evolves into an extended five-minute passage of stop-start, stabbing guitars and playful keyboards, before returning to more dreamlike qualities at around the 10-minute mark. The last three minutes of this epic, reprise the main theme and bring it to a rousing conclusion. Excellent!
As a bonus there's also a re-recording of Escaparatismo I from their 2013 release Escaparatismo Cósmico which might well be their proggiest, along with Hex. Indeed both should make Foxholes' mastermind Jonah Luke proud (as well as the hopefully stable line-up of Max Moritz on bass and Angel Millán on drums) and comes strongly recommended for those who might want to try something a bit different. There's another big Spanish prog-related release named Hex coming out soon. Let's say the bar has been set pretty high.
Stephen Lambe with David Watkinson — Decades: Yes In The 1980s
Sonicbond published no less than 50 books in 2021, with 65 titles planned for 2022. As the numerous reviews on this site testify, the On Track series is thriving, while the Decades series launched in 2020 is also proving to be popular. The majority of the books in the latter series have so far concentrated on the 1970s, so this latest, Yes in the 1980s is a conspicuous departure.
When it comes to the subject of Yes, the co-authors Stephen Lambe and David Watkinson have impeccable credentials. Lambe wrote Yes - On Track... Every Album, Every Song (2018), Citizens Of Hope And Glory: The Story Of Progressive Rock (2011), and Decades: Focus In The 1970s - all very fine books. He is also the publisher behind Sonicbond and one of the organisers of the annual Summer's End Progressive Rock Festival. Like Lambe, Watkinson is a self-confessed Yes fan and is responsible for the excellent tome Perpetual Change published in 2001, and Jon Anderson & The Warriors: The Road To Yes.
Although Yes were at their most creative in the 1970s, the 1980s proved to be the most turbulent (and divisive) period in the band's 53-years-and-counting career. Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman departed at the beginning of the decade, and less than 10 years later, there was a rival version of the band vying for the fan's attention. In between, only bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White remained consistent members. Under the direction of Trevor Rabin, they released their best-selling album and single. Including the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe tour, no less than 14 different musicians performed the music of Yes during the 1980s.
As a Yes fan for over 50 years, I found very few revelations in the book, but it is certainly insightful and extremely comprehensive. In addition to Yes, the authors explore the myriad of off-shoot and solo activities including The Buggles, Jon and Vangelis, XYZ, Rick Wakeman, Jon Anderson, Asia, Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin and ABWH. Watkinson had access to the band during the Cinema period in 1982, as evidenced by his reminisces in the book and the photos from his own collection included in the two, 16-page colour sections.
Regardless of whether you were a fan of Yes' output in the 1980s, this is an excellent, thoroughly enjoyable and well written document of the period. Highly recommended, Decades: Yes In The 1980s may very well be the best book yet from Sonicbond.
The Pineapple Thief — Nothing But The Truth
It's an expensive time for the completest fan of The Pineapple Thief (TPT), with the recent four-CD set of The Soord Sessions and now another lavish 2CD/BluRay/DVD set called Nothing But The Truth (other formats are available!).
The band was about to embark on a major tour in support of their most recent album Versions Of The Truth when everything was pandemically shut down. As bassist Jon Sykes comments on Why Nothing But The Truth? included on the BluRay/DVD, the band was at a bit of a loss. They contemplated recording a new album but thought that that would not do justice to the latest songs, which risked 'getting lost' if they released another new album.
As many other musicians were doing live streams, and the band were well rehearsed for the tour-that-never-was, a form of live presentation was discussed. Bruce Soord explains: "We all knew we did not want to shoot a film of us standing on stage staring at an empty room. We wanted something special, something "cinematic". So, we hatched a plan." Nothing But The Truth is the result.
Recorded on a sound stage with the band of Jon Sykes (bass, backing vocals), Steve Kitch (keyboards), Gavin Harrison (drums) and touring member George Marios (guitar, backing vocals) in a circle surrounding Bruce Soord (vocals, guitar), multiple cameras capture TPT running through their planned tour set. With a camera track circling Mr. Soord, there is plenty of movement. As well as giving constantly-changing camera angles, this also allows Soord to interact with the rest of the band, as he is free to face any direction he wants. A very clever idea and set-up, that pays dividends when watching the film. It is rarely static.
For those who are interested in studying the drum technique of Gavin Harrison (who, let's face it, is one of the current masters of the instrument) there is an option to view the programme with a drum camera permanently on in the top corner of the screen. This is not recommended for general viewing, as it is a major distraction and rather ruins the visual. All-in-all a rather self-indulgent thing and if it was deemed 'essential' it would have been better just to have the drum-cam footage completely separate.
One other small bugbear, and I admit to this being a very person opinion, is that I think Mr. Merios is rather hard done by. He provides much of the guitar work throughout (arguably more than Soord) as well as contributing a fair amount of backing vocals. Yet he is not featured in the group-shot on the rear of the sleeve and promotional material. When he does appear in any of the photos in the book, it is as an incidental background figure, and he doesn't even merit inclusion in the 'thank you' listings. Given his significant contributions to the album (the whole thing would be a considerably less substantial sonic affair without him) this seems a tad unfair. Sure, he is not a member of the band per se, but as most of the band's musical character is based around the guitar, (keyboards are generally more for atmosphere and fill) I think he deserves more of a prominent billing.
What of the music included in the set? It is described as "a unique set spanning the band's career to date; many performed live for the first time". Tracks are taken from five of the band's 13 albums, with only one song earlier than 2012, Wretched Soul which originally appeared on the 2005 album 10 Stories Down. And I guess the only reason this song featured, is because it has been radically rearranged by Mr. Harrison.
Four tracks are taken from the 2018 Dissolution album (Threatening War, Uncovering Your Tracks, Far Below and White Mist) all of which were on the 2019 Hold Our Fire live album.
Your Wilderness from 2016 contributes two songs (In Exile and The Final Thing On My Mind) which both appeared on the 2017 live album Where We Stood.
The 2012 album All The Wars gives us Warm Seas and Someone Pull Me Out and the following year's Build A World EP contributes its title track. None of these have ever appeared on an official live album before. The remainder of the tracks (Versions Of The Truth, Break It All, Demons, Driving Like Maniacs and The Swell) all come from Versions Of The Truth, with the last of these songs only previously available on the limited edition version of the album. It has to be said that the renditions are perfect, beautifully recorded, well-balanced and a joy to listen to.
One thing that is noticeable, particularly during the first part of the set, is that there is a definite similarity to the structure of a lot of the songs; the repetition of lyrics, the inclusion of a short section of primarily Soord with minimal or no backing, and of generally a mid-paced nature. I saw the band towards the end of 2019, and I certainly have the impression that there was a more aggressive slant to the set. This is not to say that these are missing from Nothing But The Truth, as there are plenty of opportunities for the band to rock out as well as several meaningful solos from both Soord and Marios. Maybe it is just me, but there does seem to be a slight imbalance in the set.
There is no criticism implied or intended in any of the above, as this is certainly a fine release with great music and performances from a band at the top of their game. Perhaps the best endorsement I can give is that in the overwhelming majority of cases when I am at home, I much prefer to listen to music than watch a live performance. But in the case of Nothing But The Truth it is the BluRay that will be the first port of call every time.