Last Flight To Pluto — Random Karma, Fate And Destiny
Random Karma, Fate And Destiny is the latest release from Welsh prog-rockers Last Flight To Pluto. Their previous two releases, 2015's See You At The End and A Drop In The Ocean from 2019, received positive reviews from DPRP.
With a line-up consisting of three guitarists (Jack Parry, Ryan Barnard, and George Jones), rock is emphasised over the prog part of the phrase prog-rock. Also in the band, are founders and song-writers Alice Freya (vocals) and Darren Joseph (drums, piano, keyboards), along with some very fine bass playing from Ed Rees. The musicianship throughout the album is exemplary.
Alice Freya has a strong voice that, for me, sometimes goes a little over-the-top, flirting with bombast. Our other reviewers had no problem with her voice. I just find it a bit distracting. The music that she sings on top of tends towards the hard rock and classic rock, with a sprinkling of prog dust that at times moves them towards prog-metal. But overall, I find it less engaging on repeat plays.
They do have generally attractive melodies, some with more of a commercial edge. See the mid-paced, and better-than-generic ballads Any News and Around The Corners, for instance. The prog sprinkles can be found on tracks like the opener, Stop Yourself From Turning Into Dust, where the track breaks down for a piano spot from their label-owner Rob Reed. There some nice synth work too. There is a Magenta, circa The Twenty-Seven Club, feel to the social-media-driven We're Being Rewired.
The two best tracks for me are, coincidentally, the proggiest. White Noise has layered vocals and a jazzy air to it. It is well arranged and holds my attention. The other is Game Over with its switches in tempo and volume, the use of riffing guitars and some great synth work.
Last Flight To Pluto's Random Karma, Fate And Destiny will appeal to anyone who has a greater tolerance for the hard rock side of this album. Unfortunately, this is not for me. I find it unengaging, but I have nothing but admiration for the musicianship.
Morgendust — 14
After their EP Storm Will Come Morgendust had a full wind in their musical sails and released an additional four outstanding singles before the mother of all storms (Covid) took their momentum away and left them home-alone reminiscing on days of old.
During this period the band got inspired to bring an ode to songs that shaped their musical identity. More specifically to music and compositions encountered at the specific age of 14, which according to recent research is the moment when one's musical life is forged. This album 14 is the result. They call it an in-between album, which suggests that within the foreseeable future their real "debut album" can be expected.
They take their own compositions as a starting point, a process explained in the accompanying (English subtitled) documentary, and the band achieve extraordinary results in creating mashed-up versions of well-known, timeless songs from the eighties. Staying true to their original form in terms of melody, each of the (what they call) "re-dis-covered" songs gets to gently breathe that refreshing Morgendust sound, while the textural foundations of the compositions have been minutely altered. Through subtle re-arrangements and authentic formidable executions from Morgendust's seasoned musicians, the songs have been given a new lease of life.
Some are more lively than others, like their interpretation of The Police's Spirits In The Material World which spontaneously combusts in energetic form. In this inspired flow it feels more in touch with The Tubes then ever before.
Equally bright is the restrained richness that surrounds Walk On The Wild Side which gives it a gracious, homely atmosphere that to me transcends it to original, also in light of Marco De Haan's warm vocals that feel so much more in place than Lou Reed's deadpan voice. In the sensually-attractive version of Kate Bush/Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up, this vocal element (which De Haan also accomplishes live on Gabriel's Sledgehammer), proves to be of real importance and melts beautifully with the precious vocals of Cindy Oudshoorn (Ex-Kayak). It yields a rewarding pinnacle moment on the album.
Next to these highlights, there's a solid version of Fleetwood Mac's Big Love, which shows a lovely diversity in vocal interactions. Then there's a smoother, more modest version of David Bowie/Pat Metheny's This Is Not America. Flawlessly executed, these songs nicely show the band's inspirations. Together with the upbeat happiness surrounding Simple Minds' Alive And Kicking and the disco-like embedding within Depeche Mode's new-wave hit Enjoy The Silence, it makes for a fine, easy-listening experience.
The one song slightly confusing, at least for me, is Genesis' Land Of Confusion. Initially unrecognisable, its melodies do become its spitting image in the chorus part, but listening to a sole female voice (Judith Elders) feels kind of strange, and her vocal expression takes some getting used to. The appended contemporary Slavic fragment is however an inspired touch and clearly shows the song's lyrical strength and modern relevance. Unfortunately, I might add.
Overall, Morgendust have delivered a nice and cohesive song-selection from their days of initial inspiration and musical upbringing. But I do feel that their own material is far superior and of much greater interest than these, admittedly brilliantly done, re-dis-covers. So all in all a nice breeze, but I'm still waiting for the storm...
Duncan Patterson — Grace Road
Described by Duncan Patterson as a lo-fi gothic opus, Grace Road is the ex-Anathema and Antimatter man's first release in five years. On it he has played all the instruments. He has enlisted one other person to provide lead vocals and that is the Palestinian vocalist Enas Al-Said; She has a delicate, melancholy tint to her voice that suits Patterson's songwriting like a glove.
On a first listen Grace Road is quite beautiful in its melancholy but feels very similar across all five tracks. It is only with subsequent and concentrated listening that exquisite details begin to reveal themselves. And, paradoxically, it is a quiet album that benefits by being played loudly. It will fade into the background at lower volumes.
The album sets its path immediately. Absolut Absolutum fades in with choral voices and a gentle grand piano melody. The melody is also wrapped in silence, with pauses and acoustic space used as in instrument. The ethereal, slow pace continues as Enas Al-Said's vocal enters, but not as you might guess in a Kate Bush style, rather Enas uses a deeper register. Patterson's lyrics grasp for the spiritual, as the music tries to "'lead us back to heaven'".
The longest track, the stately The Quiet Light, has a short, repeated piano phrase to open. Male backing vocals contrast well with Enas' voice. Subtle changes ensue with synth bass, a church organ and what sounds like a Theremin. It builds to a louder, intense climax with the last minute percussion.
There is the use of tubular bells on Walking Between Worlds, whilst flute, piano and picked guitar produce a great sense of tension on The Amber Line that never gets resolved, leaving one unsettled (but in a good way). The final track, Grace Road has strings and keyboards that echoes the contemporary classical composer Max Richter in its feel.
Overall, Duncan Patterson's Grace Road requires patience to appreciate its spiritual melancholy. It is worth the effort, but it will not be for everybody. Anyone who wants a bit of crunch or pacey outbursts in their music should look elsewhere. Those who appreciate ambient-inflected melodies and a metaphysical sensitivity should give this a listen.
And just to note, the description lo-fi does this recording a disservice. It is well produced and has an organic, open sound, as if it had been recorded in a church.
PreHistoric Animals — The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter Two)
The modern "modus operandi" for most music-review websites is to maximise page views by getting their thoughts published before (or at least around) the release date. With many labels only releasing promos a week before the release date, readers should be aware that such speedy publication often permits the "reviewer" to have only a few days to listen to and absorb and evaluate the often-complex music, and to write and publish the review! No wonder that so many web-reviews are tirelessly positive. Perhaps I am becoming too cynical, but the catchily-concise (and always positive) concluding paragraph has now become a trope in a bid to win the approval/friendship of the artist (and their fans).
At DPRP, if we get a promo in good advance of the release date we will of course try to publish the review in good time. However, I make no apologies for us taking our time with reviews, if that allows a fuller and hopefully more reliable evaluation of the artist's endeavours.
Existing fans will generally buy the album regardless of any reviews. It's the curious reader for whom a fuller evaluation is (we hope) helpful in their decision whether to investigate further.
The reason for this lengthy intro, is that this third studio album from Sweden's PreHistoric Animals is definitely one that requires some time to absorb in order to evaluate.
If you have yet to encounter this band, then I'll forgive you, as they are relatively new arrivals. Their out-of-the-blue debut album raced into the Top 3 of my favourite albums of 2019
Consider It A Work Of Art is a sublime and unique blend of progressive rock, AOR, melodic hard rock, with just a hint of metallic oomph. A year later, they cemented their reputation as a-band-to-watch with the well-received The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter One).
As the title suggests, this new release is a continuation of the concept that sees a return to the exploits of Cora and Jareth. It wraps up their exploits, having been tasked with collecting the good and bad traits of the human race in order to make their way to a "'new'" Earth, as their world is dying. The lyrics and graphics ensure that there is much more than the music to absorb.
With the same personnel involved, it's not surprising to learn that musically and stylistically the output on Chapter Two continues in a similar fashion to the predecessor. I will admit that other life-events meant that I did not give Chapter One more than a cursory listen. This time I have been able to give Chapter Two the time that it deserves.
The first three songs and the album closer sit comfortably at the level of those on the wonderful debut album. The other four tracks are still yet to work their magic on me. I'm not sure that they will succeed.
The opener, We Harvest The Souls Of The Brave, is great track, with its shuddering crunch of guitar, driving some wonderful melodies. The off-kilter beat of I Am The Chosen One took a bit of getting used to but is now happily within my song-memory-bank. Ghostfires is the most immediate song. It's killer hook and joyful vibe demand repeat plays.
After this impressive opening, things become less enticing. I sense it has the same problem that many storyline concept albums face. In trying to fit in all the details of the story, the focus on the music and melodies goes wayward.
With Cora's New Secret, I love the main hook in the chorus. The verse doesn't work for me. The Protectors Of The Universe lacks focus. The celtic bit and a few others don't work for me. The vocals are either over-processed or too strained (at the end).
2100 (New Year's Eve) is very AOR in its style. A bit too limp musically for my tastes and the melody does not really stick in my memory. The processed vocals again annoy. The guitar section at the end is fabulous.
The same problem with a lack of memorable melodies sits with Pull Me In. Here I get a feeling of it being a case of style over substance. This would have been a good transition piece mid-album, but coming after two weaker tracks and nearing the end of the album, it struggles to hold my attention.
The album closer is the longest track and another up-tempo track. I seem to enjoy these more.
So having given this album plenty of time to work its magic, my un-trope-like conclusion is that The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter Two) is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. I am sure that those who enjoyed the first part of this story, should equally enjoy this. Those who loved the debut, but found Chapter One less engaging, may wish to approach this with caution. Anyone else who seeks a blend of progressive rock, AOR, hard-rock and just a hint of metal, should perhaps start with the debut album and take it from there.