Album Reviews

Issue 2022-015

Daniel Crommie — The Inner World

Daniel Crommie - The Inner World
The Approximate First (5:36), The Inner World (13:15), Eye Storm (9:20), Pale Blue Seraph (7:16), Desert Ash (9:04), Menace (12:35)
Theo Verstrael

Portland's Daniel Crommie has already released an astounding number of records as a solo artist and collectively with bands like Group Du Jour and DC Sound Collective. Furthermore, he worked as a producer of albums by numerous artists. Yet for me he is totally unknown and I think that was a good thing. Because without any prejudice I started listening to his new album The Inner World, his third (!) in 2021. And after listening to it several times I was still a bit bewildered: what had I listened to? Why had I chosen this album to review? And how does it compare to other albums in this type of music? And most importantly, why did it grab me?

My first impression was that it was dull repetitive music in which nothing really happened. Music that endlessly drags on without standout melodies, outbursts or other remarkable sections. But very slowly it was evolving around the central rhythm that subtly changed over the course of the track. I liked the colour of the sounds, reminding me of far away places like Thailand, India and indigenous Canada. Then I started to realise that my first impression wouldn't do the music any justice. That was enhanced by the message that was sent by the artist when sending the files to us for this review. He remarked that the reviewer should consider “… the track order … for the flow”. And that did it for me for he proved absolutely right.

This album should be listened to in its entirety, from beginning to end. No streaming just one or a couple of tracks, just loading it up in your list or better still buy the entire album. For although there are six separate tracks they segue so nicely into each other that it is a bit senseless to just pick one. The music as a whole brings about feelings of loneliness, desolation, isolation but without ever feeling despair or hopelessness. The music takes you towards your inner world and there's nothing wrong with that, especially not in these strange times.

The rather cheerful start of the album with its fine flutes and intriguing soft percussion flows to wide mystic oriental spheres (The Inner World), to the imminent threat of severe weather that never seems to materialize (Eye Storm), to heavenly mysticism (Pale Blue Seraph), to empty hot sandy landscapes (Desert Ash) towards haunting darkness with a touch of frivolous jazz (Menace). And although the last title sounds the most threatening the music leaves you completely at ease when it's finished: no real menace whatsoever and that's a relief.

Ambient music often drags on but that is exactly what it wants to achieve. It is music for those who seek some rest, some meditation, simple distraction or just some emptiness and that asks for a very low level of stimulants. The consequence is that the line between dull and boring music versus exciting and inspiring soundscapes is often dangerously thin, especially for those who are not used to this kind of music. When I opened up to the subtle changes in synth sounds, the ticking of different kinds of (wooden?) percussion, the bamboo flutes, the distant drums and wordless vocals on this album, the music took me up to nice mellow new audio experiences and from there on I really liked it.

Is this prog? Meh. I guess that fans of seventies synth music by the likes of Tangerine Dream, Kitaro and Brian Eno will fully acknowledge that this is prog. This collection of soundscapes made me think of a clever combination of Clannad's Atlantic Realm, Tangerine Dream's Rubycon and any of the many mediative Chris Hinze albums. I may be not to fond of these extended synth drone-based instrumentals, but this time I must admit that with each spin I better understood what Crommie was trying to achieve. I was especially appealed to the title track with its clever use of bamboo flutes. And although Crommie wasn't fully capable of taking me in for this album, I definitely liked it far better after a couple of plays than listening to it the first time. Since good albums always have to grow on you I hope that many will take the effort to open up his of her inner world to this fine album.

Discipline — Unfolded Like Staircase (Terry Brown Mix)

Discipline - Unfolded Like Staircase (Terry Brown Mix)
Canto IV (Limbo) (13:44), Crutches (13:14), Into The Dream (22:04), Before The Storm Part 1 (The Ocean) (5:20), Before The Storm Part 2 (The Storm, Eden) (10:18)
Mark Hughes

To celebrate its quarter-century anniversary (!), Discipline's second album Unfolded Like Staircase, is afforded a remastered re-release with a new mix by none other than Terry Brown. For those not familiar with the band then a bit of background information may be required. Formed in 1987 in Detroit, Michigan, the band was, and remains, the delivery vehicle for the compositions of Matthew Parmenter, the singer who also plays keyboards, violin and saxophone. Their debut album, Chaos Out Of Order snuck out in 1988 to very little fanfare or recognition and it wasn't until five years later with the remarkable Push & Profit album that the band started creating a few waves in the world of progressive rock (The Nursery Year from that album sits high in my list of favourite songs to this day).

It was another four years before Unfolded Like Staircase was released yet despite being a genuine classic prog album, it failed to take the band to the next level and it was 14 years before their next studio album. In the interim, Parmenter released a couple of excellent solo albums, Astray and Horror Express, that could just have easily been released under the Discipline name. A collection of live recordings, Live Days was released in 2010, although it contained recordings from the late 1990s (and thus is essentially a companion album to the 1999 Live Into The Dream... CD). These heralded the release of To Shatter All Accord after which there was another five-year period of absence, although a live film crept out via streaming services in 2015, and it looked as if the band had called it a day when Parmenter returned to his solo career with All Of Yesterdays in 2016. To everyone's surprise, Discipline resurfaced the following year with Captives Of The Wine Dark Sea, the shortest space between Parmenter-penned albums in their 30-year history.

But back to the album in hand. For the majority of the band's history they have been a quartet with Parmenter accompanied by Paul Dzendzel (drums), Matthew Kennedy (bass) and Jon Preston Bouda (guitar), although Bouda left before the recording of the latest album. With four tracks (if you count the two parts of Before The Storm as one track, and why wouldn't you?) and a running time of over 64 minutes you can be assured that lovers of long-form pieces will have their desires catered for. What is more, Parmenter is an expert in writing long pieces that have structure and purpose; no superfluous noodling, no unnecessary repetition, just excellence throughout. This is no better heard than on opening Canto IV (Limbo). Undoubtedly the group's masterpiece and a track that should feature in everybody's prog collection.

Parmenter writes songs that lyrically tend to reap the products of the more darker furrows and there is a certain similarity to the themes and word play of Peter Hammill in his early Van Der Graaf Generator days. Indeed, Crutches certainly plumbs the depths, although it is far from a depressing or soul-sapping experience. Particularly in this remix/remaster which is far more open than the original release delivering a wider sonic experience and opening up the musical palette to reveal hitherto buried parts. The violin flourishes in particular are given greater clarity. Overall, there is much greater degree of warmth to the new mix, heard nicely in the final part of the song as the Mellotron comes to the fore.

The seven parts of the 22-minute Into The Dream each has a distinct identity, from the visceral scene-setting Descent, through the angry Chock Full O'Guts where Preston Bouda's guitar is to the fore, and the more symphonic Drawn And Quartered into the reflective Clearing with its variety of keyboards expressing different moods followed by Stealing The Sky which admittedly is the least interesting musical section. Things improve and liven up with Sum Music with some fine bass from Kennedy and into the finale Turtles All The Way Down with its brief lyric and four-minute instrumental ending featuring the best use of tubular bells since Tubular Bells!

The first part of Before The Storm, The Ocean, starts with just piano and vocal, the latter of which is brought right up front in the new mix enabling the listener to hear every nuance of Parmenter's singing. A sax break leads into a very Van Der Graaf Generator section incorporating both the David Jackson (sax) and Graham Smith (violin) eras. The enforced break between Part 1 and Part 2 is, I think, a mistake as it loses the atmosphere of the song. Metaphorically I suppose it is the fabled 'lull before the storm' but I think that would have been evident from the quieter instrumentation at the end of Part 1 and beginning of Part 2. The Storm itself is a great deviation away from the rest of the album in terms of the meter of the vocal line while Eden concludes the piece, and the album, with another extended instrumental section dominated by sweeping violin.

Unfolded Like Staircase is an exceptional slice of prog rock: even though it is 25 years since it's initial release it still sounds absolutely contemporary and defies its age. One shouldn't consider the album as a blast from the past but as something that has matured with age and is ripe for current consumption. Add it to your shopping list, you won't be disappointed.

Discipline On

Matthew Parmenter On

Fractal Mirror — Beyond Borders

The Netherlands
Fractal Mirror - Beyond Borders
Beyond (4:12), Ashes (17:07), Slip Away (4:14), Shadow Man (5:39), Kingdom Of The Lost (4:14), Borders (12:45)
Edwin Roosjen

Fractal Mirror is a progressive rock band from the Netherlands. Beyond Borders is their fifth album and the second to be released by Bad Elephant Music. The band still consists of the core line up Leo Koperdraat and Frank Urbaniak. Fully returned to the band is Ed van Haagen on bass and there is a new member Gareth Cole on guitar. And for this album there is a special appearance by Brett Kull, he provides background vocals and good advice and did the mixing.

Previous release Close To Vapour had more a song based approach but on Beyond Borders it is back to the progressive rock roots. The music of Fractal Mirror is not all over the place, Beyond Borders has a consistent pleasant flow and the sound is very good. Just to name some bands, Arena, Pendragon, RPWL with the atmospheric flow of Pink Floyd.

The opener Beyond starts slowly but gradually picks up when more instruments join in. An instrumental melodic piece that gives a warm welcome to the listener, especially the warm sounds of the acoustic guitars at the start of the song.

Ashes is the longest song on the album. The song is interesting for it's mellow flow, it is not an epic song with a dark mood that just lingers on. It has its moments with lengthy guitar solos but the main feature is the atmospheric almost hypnotizing mood. The vocal range of Leo is not that wide and on a lengthy song like Ashes it might become a bit of a monotone. Instead of trying for a broader range and failing Fractal Mirror choose to keep it safe with the vocal lines.

Next up are three shorter songs that in terms of structure remind of the previous album Close To Vapour. I would have rearranged the order of the songs because now the mellowest of these three, Slip Away, is directly after the epic Ashes. Still, a good song but maybe a bit too much after a similar sounding lengthy song. Better to first have put Shadow Man, a much more powerful song with a nice up tempo poppiness.

Kingdom Of The Lost has more acoustic parts, not as powerful as Shadow Man but both of them are good progressive rock songs. Borders is the other lengthy song on the album. Together with the opener it is the title of the album. I am not completely sure but I think some melodies from the opener are reprised in this song so they are connected by title and melody.

The sound on Beyond Borders has a bit more of a darker mood than their previous album and they have taken a step away from the song based approach. Fractal Mirror have turned more towards a style of progressive rock with a more epic approach. The album has a steady flow and especially the two epic songs have a dark atmospheric mood, the three shorter songs in the middle provide a bit more easily digestible music. If you can get into the hypnotic atmosphere then this a very nice album for you. In the end all I can say is Beyond Borders contains very, very beautiful music.

Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion — We Are The Truth

Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion - We Are The Truth
To Those Who Rule The World (7:32), Other Eyes (12:54), Rise Up (4:48), The Constant Search For Bravery (9:05), Yoko (6:38), We Are The Truth (6:46), Shaken And Stirred (7:15), Every Second Counts (3:56), A Spiritual Change (10:52)
Edwin Roosjen

The vocalist and guitar player from Sweden Hasse Fröberg is back with a new album with his own Musical Companions. Hasse is mostly known as the vocalist and guitar player for The Flower Kings. While other positions in The Flower Kings change Hasse Fröberg is still a steady member. When The Flower Kings had a hiatus, Hasse started his band HFMC (Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion).We Are The Truth is now their fifth album. For this new album there is a new bass player, Sampo Axelsson, but apart from that change all the members remained steady throughout the years. Something that cannot be said for The Flower Kings.

Hasse provides the heavy edge in The Flower Kings sound with his raw voice and this is noticeable in the sound of HFMC, though the sound is still very related to that of The Flower Kings. If fans of The Flower Kings have not yet found Hasse's band HFMC then they should start immediately. HFMC play progressive rock leaning just a bit to the heavy side of the spectrum compared to The Flower Kings.

Opener To Those Who Rule The World starts gradually and evolves into a groovy progressive rock song. Guitar melodies with thick layers of keyboard sounds, rock guitar solos and the raw voice of Hasse. This song just shows what you are going to get, The Flower Kings on rock steroids. And also present in the music of Hasse is the lengthy epic songs. The first epic song Other Eyes is one true to the definitions in progressive rock. Some strange parts and many melodies and all glued together in one big song, the second part of which is mostly mellow with a nice melodic ending.

Rise Up starts out very scary but it soon evolves into a nice up-tempo progressive rock song. This is one of those tunes that sticks into your head after a first spin. The album We Are The Truth has it all, long songs that need to sink in and some parts that easily stick. The Constant Search For Bravery starts with acoustic guitar and then a part that reminds me a lot of neo prog by Pendragon. Again a lot of changes in this song and compared to other songs there is more room for the keyboard melodies.

Yoko alternates between heavy rock parts and easier jazzy melodies. Title track We Are The Truth is more mellow but at times is still all over the place. At the end when you think it slowly fading out but there is still a heavy guitar solo left. My personal favourite track is Shaken And Stirred, a nice rock song and when it is over I found myself humming the chorus. Some albums are in need of a song that does not stand out technically but just keeps returning in your mind, and for me that is Shaken And Stirred. Every Second Counts is a balled with a lot of keyboards. Ballads are usually not my cup of tea. I skipped this one several times, but in the end it got under my skin. In between all the powerful progressive rock there is a truly nice ballad. With the closer A Spiritual Change it is all back to the progressive rock. Many changes, some heavy riffs, some piano tunes. You name it and it is in there. Great closing song, over ten minutes of high quality music.

We Are The Truth is again another fine album by Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion. Progressive rock with slightly more of a heavy notch compared to The Flower Kings. About this album Hasse states: "We Are The Truth is our most adventurous album to date". I agree with him on that.

Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion were already on a high level with their previous albums and We Are The Truth is again another great album. There is a lot of music on this album and after every spin a different tune/song jumps out. There is a lot of good music to enjoy. Great album!

Hasse Fröberg & Music Companion On

Kevan Furbank — 1967 A Year In Psychedelic Rock

Kevan Furbank - 1967 A Year In Psychedelic Rock
Geoff Feakes

The DPRP have reviewed a host of prog - and non-prog - related books from Sonicbond in recent times, and to date they've published around 100 titles. It seems that the Covid related stay-at-home policy over the last two years has encouraged many budding authors to write that book they always had lurking inside them. Following in the footsteps of the popular On Track and Decades series, the A Year In series is a departure from Sonicbond and does exactly what it says on the cover. Author Kevan Furbank has chosen 1967 as his subject, the so-called 'summer of love' when psychedelic rock was at its creative peak.

Based in Northern Ireland, Furbank is the editor of the Irish Daily Mirror and his previous credits include the Fairport Convention and Gong books in the On Track series. As you would expect, 1967 A Year In Psychedelic Rock covers all the classic releases from the period including Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Days Of Future Passed, The Who Sell Out, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Forever Changes, Disraeli Gears and countless others. If you can identify the name of each band from the album titles, then clearly this book is for you.

1967 was also a year when many pioneering bands and artists released their debut albums including Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, Traffic, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Doors, Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, Van Morrison and The Animals so clearly there was no shortage of inspiration for Furbank's writing. And although not exactly psychedelic, let's not forget Beatles wannabes The Monkees who released no less than three albums in 1967 to cash in on their incredible - if short lived - popularity. I'll hold my hand up, I was a fan and spent hours trying to copy their guitar shaped logo and to this day, I can recite the words to I'm A Believer backwards.

As you would expect, Furbank's book is not so much a critical analysis as it is a nostalgic homage to the period. Following a lengthy 'Introduction' which provides insight into the music and events of the year, major artists and key releases are explored at length. In addition to the bands and albums already mentioned, these include amongst others Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Moby Grape and Donavan. As some indication of what a prolific year it was, many of the bands in question released two albums in 1967 and enjoyed hit singles. To round off the book, Furbank acknowledges lesser known acts outside the UK and USA and briefly discusses the music that followed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Anyone that's familiar with Furbank's previous books will know what to expect in terms of his writing style which is lucid, informative, clearly well researched and most of all, entertaining. It also helps if the writer has a passion for the music and era in question and that's clearly the case here. Even The Monkees get a mention.

Octarine Sky — Close To Nearby

Octarine Sky - Close To Nearby
One (4:28), Rosewind (5:07), Night Sky/Into The Dreamer (4:46), The Mask (7:27), 5 (5:38), Midnight (4:35), VII (7:47), Hold (4:57)
Edwin Roosjen

Octarine Sky is the new band by Dyanne Potter Voegtlin and Jan Christiana Vögtlin. Both of them are also the core members of the band Potter's Daughter. The core of the two bands are the same, so I was wondering why Close To Nearby was not the new album by Potter's Daughter but the debut of this new band called Octarine Sky.

The sound of Octarine Sky is a lot more complex and heavier than for instance the Potter's Daughter release The Blind Side, an album with mainly laid back mellow music. On Close To Nearby there are four songs that are also in that style of mellow music and four songs that all over the place, many changes and very complex jazz/rock fusion.

For this new project Dyanne and Jan Christiana collaborate with drummer Simon Phillips (Toto) and guitar player Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia). Guthrie plays guitar on half of the album, Potter's Daughter guitar player Amit Chatterjee plays on the song Hold and the rest of the guitar parts are done by Jan Christiana himself.

Of the four mellow and four complex songs on Close To Nearby but there is no system to the order of songs. Guthrie mainly plays on the heavier song but not on all of them. Opener One immediately is all over the place. What I like a lot in this complex song is the interaction with Jan Christiana's bass playing and the drumming of Simon Phillips.

The rhythm section is fascinating on this album. Woven in between the rhythm section is Dyanne with her classical piano. As stated there are roughly two styles of music and the step to the song Rosewind is a big one. With the start of the next song this is a mellow segment.Night Sky/Into The Dream is probably two separate pieces melted together as one song. Night Sky follows the mellow music of Rosewind and Into The Dream is a heavy guitar solo by Guthrie Govan. After that it is back to the mellow music with The Mask.

For this album you need an open mind to sudden changes of intensity, complex parts are glued to mellow piano music. The song 5 is again all over the place, there is more variety within the song itself, chanting vocals are combined with an aggressive guitar solo. Midnight is the heavy rock song on this album. Heavy riffs and fast guitar soloing, Govan fans will like this. VII combines a lot of aspects of Octarine Sky. The song has the complexity of the opening song, the aggressive guitar solos of Midnight, more room for the piano of Dyanne and all is kept tightly together by the rhythm section.

The closing song Hold features Potter's Daughter guitar player Amit Chatterjee, making the song a mellow closer in the style of that band.

The debut album from Octarine Sky is a tough nut to crack. Close To Nearby holds four complex jazz/rock fusion songs and four songs more in the mellow style of Dyanne and Jan Christiana's other band Potter's Daughter. It makes the album a bit incoherent and if you are not open for an album with different styles then this is not for you. If you are open to a wider variety of musical styles on a single album then this is a good one to check out.

Close To Nearby easily steps from complex jazz/rock fusion to mellow piano music. The combination of Jan Christiana on bass and Simon Philips on drums is very interesting rhythm section. Guthrie Govan plays on four of the songs and as always does a pretty fine job of it.

Album Reviews