The Brute — Brute: One
Born in Halle in GDR times, now residing in Lucerne / Luzern, Switzerland, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gierke records as The Brute. This sounds like it should be a death-metal band, but Brute: One is far from that. The Brute is enthralled by 1980s and 90s British electro-rock, electro-pop and goth rock. The love of this stye is written very largely on his stylistic sleeve. Daniel also has a voice reminiscent of Depeche Mode's lead singer Dave Gahan. So much so, that when playing this at home, my wife asked if this was a Depeche Mode album. Thankfully these strong influences do not make this a cheap copy of what went before.
The sound world of Brute: One may be influenced by Depeche Mode, but it is the Depeche Mode in their imperial heroin addict phase. The phase that produced the two magnificent albums Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion. To be fair to The Brute's album, it would have been as worthy a follow-up to those two, as the actual one, Ultra.
Subsequent spins of Brute: One see the influences drop away somewhat and be replaced by an appreciation of the craft, depth and hook-laden melodics of the song-writing and arrangements. His commercial sensibility occasionally overtakes the soundscapes but in the main the album works terrifically well.
The commercial edge of the melodies in these up-beat, hook-laden songs have engaging corners that are revealed with repeat listens. Driving To You's melody is darkened by bass synths and dirty electric guitar chords. Absolute Disgrace has a political edge to its lyric, taking on narcissistic, would-be dictators with a subtle vocal arrangement and a loud-quiet dynamic. Fuzzed guitars return on Rain, where Kraftwork meets Depeche Mode keyboards. The ghost of Japan haunts the atmospheric soundscapes of Lost as it builds to an intense climax.
There are shadowy, gothic-flavoured ballads on Brute: One, of which Seduce Me is the best by layering Ultravox synths with some quietly-intense guitar. Also good are the deeper vocal textures and dark synth-wave of Stay. The best track here is the closing And I Want You..., which has the most proggy invention on it, as it develops its swirling, sequenced melody to a great level of passion.
For me, there is one track that fails to engage. Lonesome Hero has Erasure-like pop predictability and repetition that feels out of place on this album. However, ignore this misstep and Brute: One is an engaging, densely-layered, sometimes sinister work of classy, electronic driven, dark art-rock.
Corciolli — No Time But Eternity
Prog-heads (including yours truly) are job-conditioned in more ways than one. For instance, when one hears about “chamber music”, one usually shivers in Lovecraftian horror, remembering the sinister names of RIO titans Univers Zero, Present and Art Zoyd. In a way, “chamber music” almost becomes a synonym of a challenging listen. Even less-evil projects like Aranis, Kronos Quartet or iamthemorning only prove that chamber music has a distinct dark edge to it.
With his benign and elegant approach, Brazilian composer and mutli-instrumentalist Corciolli should make you look at chamber music from an entirely different angle.
I must confess that I am not an avid world music listener, so analogies that spring into my mind may seem a trifle banal. For example I am reminded of the soundtrack music of Clint Mansell (including his collaboration with above-mentioned Kronos Quartet) and Hans Zimmer, The Hylozoists and Tuatara. I am hesitant to add Vangelis to the list, because Corciolli drives his music away from the ethereal emanations of the former. While clearly not being fond of prog's excessiveness, he keeps a certain level of that music's “pedigree”; not falling into Buddha-Bar or new age muzak.
For instance, the title track No Time But Eternity boasts a very soundtrackish, bitter-sweet melody, which just screams to be picked-up by any film director. This track is easily my favourite here. Gaia features ethnic percussion and even some dance rhythms. Ulimwengu with its fabulous-sounding Swahili lyrics might have been featured on any post-So Peter Gabriel record.
Although I did enjoy the record, I admit that the second half somewhat lacks the dynamic and diversity of the first six compositions, and just puts a listener into a lengthy dreamy mood. At least until One Sky Above steps in with its mysterious-sounding keyboards, playing in dialogue with the string section. The following Dystopia is as close that such a romantic record could come to noir music, juxtaposing atonal phrases against beautiful string harmonies. The closing track, Tales From The Future, is a calm and soothing progression of chords, making a nice conclusion to the record.
This beautiful piece of work has space to breathe and a taste to savour. A nice change from modern prog, overcrowded with notes, breakdowns and sweeping techniques, yet still undeniably deep and moving. Even your significant other (who's most likely not into prog at all) might like it.
Steffie Moonlady & Dennis Haklar — To The Universe
Looking at the sleeve and reading the track-list of To The Universe by Steffie Moonlady & Dennis Haklar, I was bracing myself, preparing for some saccharine and syrupy folk music with a hideously new-age approach. After the first ten minutes I grew happy to learn that my fears were completely unjustified. Although, the duet indeed plays ethereal ambient folk (and not prog-rock, as you may have guessed by now), it has a lot to offer to any audience, no matter how prog their musical tastes might be.
Above all, To The Universe offers no amateurish “playing-by-numbers”. The harmonies rarely stay in classic major / minor tonalities and make a wide usage of ethnic scales throughout the 43 minutes, including eastern-tinged chords. Apart from guitars and keyboards, Dennis Haklar plays citera, mandolin and sitar. Both musicians add their percussive instruments skills to the compositions. Electric guitar plays only a subordinate role, adding short brushstrokes here and there.
Not as powerful as Lisa Gerrard or instantly recognisable as Enya, Steffie still has a nice mezzo voice, which is intricately-wrapped in production veils, and interweaved with the other sounds. It should be fair to say that most of the time, the vocals serve as one of the instruments, rather than being engaged in singing actual songs backed by instrumental section.
More distinctly, mood-wise To The Universe is closer to In Gowan Ring, Iona and Leafblade's works (see this review, for instance), than to Enya or Kitaro. If these names chime the dulcimer for you, you might like to check this one out. There is a strong element of the British (if I am not mistaken – Welsh) pastoral, acoustic tradition, which makes the duet's effort interesting for the prog community.
The whole record presents itself as a monolithic tapestry of sound, so I see no point in highlighting some tracks in favour of others. It is best appreciated in its soothing wholeness, even if a couple of the opening tracks may seem too dreamy and unfocused.
Nobody — Another World
Nobody, is a one-man musical project hailing from Finland; one that seems to prefer to keep a low profile. There's no website, just some sparse information on Facebook and one or two other sites. There I found to my surprise that the artist calls himself a 'dark acoustic folk group'; a category that sounds quite interesting. The Facebook description is very different: “Satanic folk artist who combines elements of metal, world music and jazz”.
Another search revealed that the person behind the Nobody moniker is Tuomas Kauppinen; now tagged as a 'black metal project'! No mentioning of prog, nor rock whatsoever, and with those satanic and black metal tags, my appetite for this album quickly vanished.
Another World is his third album. It was preceded by the single Three Little Witches. That song was described by Kauppinen as being "about weaving the destinies of all living beings according to the unbreakable laws of Karma". So there is a message to be heard here, and that re-sparked my curiosity a bit.
With an open mind I started listening and was surprised by the first three songs. I neither heard anything satanic nor black metal but instead a rather mellow, acoustic, Donovan-like singer-songwriter trio of tracks. Three Little Witches appears an obvious choice for a single, as it is the most melodic of those three.
It is too bad that Kauppinen has decided to do all the vocals himself. Not only does he not have a strong, let alone good voice, he is not able to keep his singing right in tune. Because the music isn't melodically engaging or because of the use of instruments is not very interesting, these kinds of songs soon become quite boring. So not a very promising start.
Things improve a little with The Letter. No acoustics here, but a full band sound, with fierce drums and bass and electric guitars. It is an energetic song which is emphasised by the mellowness of the former three tracks. It is principally a loud, punkish pop song that reminded me of bands like The Clash or The Stranglers. The guitar riff is fine. The singing is the weakest part of the song, not helped by the fact that it isn't mixed well.
Unfortunately, the improvement does not last long. Next song The Mad Monk is just atrocious. The vocals are bad, especially during his attempt to sound sinister, the guitar riff is far too simple to be interesting, the guitar solo isn't original and everything is further spoilt by the far-too-extensive use of the high hats. The break halfway through the song doesn't improve things. This is sort of eighties punk; hadn't we come past that period?
In Monotype we hear a nice soft piano in the intro combined with some restrained, soft drumming. The guitar sound of this song is strangely flat and muddy, which is a pity. The vocal melody is quite attractive in the verses and chorus. The piano background a welcome sign of subtlety. The outro of the song is played by guitar and piano but fades away too soon.
Because of its title, Panic Attack, I feared the worst but that proved unnecessary. It is actually a rather quiet song based on a very simple bass-line combined with piano and, alas, much high hat use. Here, Kauppinen keeps it all quite restrained, and that serves the song well.
The acoustic guitar re-emerges in Snake Queen, a song that is in the vein of the first three tracks but with some drums and bass. The verses sound quite nice, but the chorus is again musically simple and uninteresting, with again far too much hi-hat. The mix level isn't stable either, giving it a real demo feel. The .J.J. Cale-like last part, with just acoustic and electric guitar is quite nice though, and shows that Kauppinen definitely has talent.
Last song Overstimulated sounds a bit like Echo & the Bunnymen with fine guitar playing, quite good singing and march-like drumming that sustains the vocal melody well. The break is nice, giving way to a rocky part based upon some fine guitar playing. It is not great but listenable. An album with more of this kind of music would have been a totally different affair!
Kauppinen doesn't seem to be sure which direction his musical output should go. That is well illustrated on this album, as it is far from coherent. The music on offer a brave attempt to amalgamate The White Stripes with hints of early David Bowie and the vocal mood of Tom Waits. That can be interesting but unfortunately the tracks sound too much like demos, instead of well developed songs. There are hints of his talent but these are not enough to save the album. A good producer could have been very valuable here.
Although I've tried several times to open up to this music, I can not be very positive. I can imagine that fans of the aforementioned artists might find something to their tastes. I didn't hear anything progressive in the music, so it makes sense he doesn't mention that tag. It does lead to the inescapable conclusion that prog fans should probably stay away from this album.