Album Reviews

Issue 2022-055

Eric Baule — Demo Compilation Vol. 1

49:11, 61:56
Eric Baule - Demo Compilation Vol. 1
CD 1: Once Lost, Never Forgotten - Awaking Spirals Of Time (4:06), Fall From Grace (6:21), X - Pand (3:11), Redemption Phase I (2:44), Touching The Earth (2:26), New Ways (3:16), Redemption Phase II (6:41), Swimingserenity (5:18), Leaving Train (3:02), Lode All'inviolato (3:30), Hope Ends (1:48), Fall From Grace (Alternative Version) (6:23)
CD 2: Weaving Chapters - Circle of Dead Eyes (6:49), Back To Nature (7:02), Flying High (8:05), Free Spirits (7:28), Journey Through The Earth's Ages (5:01), Rise & Shine (4:06), Reborn From Ashes (5:25), Waiting For The Sun (5:12), High Hopes (9:36), Little Wing (3:07)
Jan Buddenberg

In 2021 Eric Baule, a project by Spanish composer and multi-instrumentalist Eric Baulenas, simultaneously released a pair of demo-albums Treasures From The Deep and Reflecting Circles. In imitation of this, Baule recently issued a new set of demo recordings as Demo Compilation Vol. 1, which gathers his older works Once Lost, Never Forgotten from 2008 and 2010's Weaving Chapters. At the same time, Baule has re-issued last year's releases on a subsequent entitled Demo Compilation Vol. 2.

Not familiar with Baule's efforts, and having my sense of progressive exploration awakened by my colleague Sergey Nikulichev's reviews, I decided to examine the music included on this pair of handsome and comprehensively packaged CDs.

Issued as demos, one of the first aspects noticed throughout is the splendid sound quality of the recordings. Next to a nice spatial freshness they're surrounded by an equally appealing sonic depth, and as such exceed my expectations towards demo recordings, having heard several other inferior official releases over the years.

There are however exceptions to this rule like for instance Flying High from Weaving Chapters. Expertly rocking away with fierce shreds and melodic power-(prog)metal that depicts memories of Majesty, the earliest incarnation of Dream Theater, it's a little under par, but that's as challenging as it gets. Generally speaking, when not indulged into overly metal surroundings, Baule has achieved a fine level of sonic appeal. The same, albeit different aspect, applies to his collection of executed ideas captured over the various albums.

The oldest album Once Lost, Never Forgotten dates back to 2008, and from the start we hear Baule's calling card; masterly play of the guitar in a broad range of styles. Creating lovely melodies and exhibiting his playing strength through a large variety of riffs, shreds, intricate work, rhythmic diversions and graciously flowing solos, this album is replete with excellent showcases of his talent.

Awakening Spirals Of Time's atmospheric flight into progressive landscapes that include prog-metal mountains of multi-layered guitars, is a fine opening illustration of this. The subsequent Dream Theater-inspired Fall From Grace simultaneously oozes a delightful psychedelic Pink Floydian atmosphere and brings an early highlight example of his compositional skills.

Some songs, or parts of songs, are not fully developed but even in this embryonic state they show their potential splendidly. One of my notes to Touching The Earth simply reads 'elaborate further please!', unaware at the time that this excellent piece of music is included in its finished form on Baule's Revelations Adrift. The same applies to both Redemption Phases where part two, at least for me, initially brings a nostalgic neo-progressive, new-wave ambience similar to Airbridge followed by some ripping solos and melodic complexities.

Showing his emotional touches in the ambient tranquillity of Swimingserenity, embraced by his gracious guitar streams, it's the alternative version of Fall From Grace that marks a remarkable ending to this lovely collection. Where the original version showed elements of Pink Floyd, also in light of Baule's generally mellow and relaxed vocals, this song now gains a strong sensation of The Gathering thanks to the divine vocal contribution of Adela Ordoñez. Her striking resemblance to Anneke van Giersbergen is a heavenly revelation and I hope Baule has kept her telephone number on speed-dial for future collaborations.

On Weaving Chapters Baule's finer singer/songwriter skills come beautifully to the fore. Touching upon lush Pink Floyd-ian atmospheres in the psychedelic dreaminess of Circle Of Dead Eyes, the melodic prog-metal of the up-tempo rocker Journey Through The Earth's Ages adds energetic Xavier Boscher flavourings. This is followed by a more worldly, tribal approach in Rise And Shine.

Giving balance and harmony to the overall enjoyment of the album, we have the serene atmospheres of Back To Nature, a mixture of oriental elements and choirs in the epic Reborn From The Ashes, and a cosmic reflection echoing with Vai extravaganzas in album highlight Free Spirit.

Next to the aforementioned shredding qualities of Flying High Baule dreamily weaves folk inspired melodies into his compositions (Waiting For The Sun) before the album ends with two covers. The first one, High Hopes by Pink Floyd, has been fully re-arranged into a respectful and expanded version that ripples slighter slower than the original and carefully builds upon progressive lush atmospheres.

The Jimi Hendrix composition Little Wing, actually recorded in 2003, hears Baule excel in honour and spirit of the guitar master in the solo section, yet somehow the overall atmosphere, melodies and sound fidelity of the song draws immaculate visions of Mountain and Leslie West to me. Choosing Mountain over Hendrix any day, it's probably needless to say I prefer Baule's version!

Overall Demo Compilation Vol. 1 is a frequently convincing gathering of songs and ideas that showcases Baule's offering as a composer and musician beautifully. A collection worth exploring.

Eric Baule — Demo Compilation Vol. 2

48:11, 64:30
Eric Baule - Demo Compilation Vol. 2
CD 1: Treasures From The Deep - Liberation (5:16), Synchronic Beauty (5:23), Gallery Of Diminished Nightmares (5:09), Keep Shining (4:59), Pare (4:10), Silent Trip (5:44), She Is So Beautiful (4:10), Suspicious Cat (1:56), Far From Here (5:22), Spring Disease (5:44)
CD 2: Reflecting Circles - Ancestral Voyage (5:02), Grateful Essence's Tale (5:08), Island (7:06), Guiding Light (4:14), Carved In Stone (4:25), Dangerous Red Level (7:01), Loving The Alien (5:52), Despertar a primavera (2:36), Thrash Trance Europe Express (4:39), Sailor's Sea Of Wonders (6:46), Alabada Búsqueda Del Cuidado (6:49), Watching And Waiting (4:52)
Jan Buddenberg

Coinciding with Baule's Demo Compilation Vol 1 (see above review) one finds the (re-)release of Demo Compilation Vol 2 which includes Treasures From The Deep and Reflecting Circles. The contents of the former have not changed as far as I can tell, but the latter has undergone several changes, like its song order and mix. The most significant and noteworthy improvement is the addition of three new tracks, which shifts the own material/cover needle now favourably towards Baule's own compositions.

Liberation's entrance of engaging, melodic, instrumental Cody Clegg prog-metal with its atmospheric cosmic drifting pull gets Treasure From The Deep off to a good start, followed by the equally attractive Synchronic Beauty, which brings a enchanting continuation of Baule's previously encountered singer/songwriter credentials. Songs like Keep Shining, She's So Beautiful and Far From Here float by in a similar rippling manner. Buale creates gently entertaining and varied songs surrounded by a beautiful, atmospheric shimmering with intricate light and gracious melodies. The Spanish-sung composition Pare is also of note here with Baule bringing out the best of his sensitive and brilliantly moving guitar play.

Amidst these relaxed compositions one finds an unexpected surprise with trashy, doom-like metal of Metallica in Gallery Of Diminished Nightmares. A minor set-back is the fairly basic and tinny drum play and a muddled darkness of sound, but despite this it's a solid demonstration of Baule's instrumental skills, much like the catchy Suspicious Cat which shortly emits Baule's inner Steve Morse. Finally we have Spring Disease's heavenly spacious album conclusion, with a fearful, echoing tinge of psychedelic Pink Floyd and repetitive mild space rock atmospheres. This ends the album on an astral high.

Reflecting Circles' newly-added opening song Ancestral Voyage resonates in much the same way. Wandering through airier atmospheric passages and uplifting prog-metal segments, it expresses a lush, early-70s sound that harbours echoes of Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd. Returning to acoustically-guided melodies in Graceful Essence's Tale, laced with dreamy guitar leads, the second new composition Island continues the album's dreaminess with excellent guitar play and sophisticated intensity in the song's coda. Both of these show a growth in Baule's voice, and together with Sailor's Sea Of Wonders, the third new song, they delightfully illustrate Baule's current musical identity.

Continuing with warming spiritual serenity in Guiding Light and Carved In Stone, Baule then wades into a series of covers, some more surprising than others. Highlights among these are the pleasantly-surprising guitar treatments inserted into Kraftwerk's Trash Trance Europe Express and the identifying Baule-twist given to David Bowie's Loving The Alien. The assault of Dangerous Red Level, a King Crimson medley that stays compelling and entertaining throughout, is however once again challenged by weakness in the drum department. Rounding-off with Watching And Waiting by The Moody Blues, the album comes to a warm and folky finish with a (not so surprising) Barclay James Harvest touch.

Demo Compilation Vol. 2 showcases a finer consistency in comparison to Volume 1, fully aided by the three new compositions found on Reflecting Circles. As such it's a more mature and 'finished product' that leaves a great impression. I am slightly more attracted to Volume 1, which is just a matter of taste. These two releases make me look forward to Baule's other projects and future efforts from Bauluna.

Hopefully Baule will issue a new batch of CDs for those interested, and the ones already having missed out on the first limited run of 50 copies. For in a short conclusion, both volumes are a fine set of attractive compilations that deserve to be heard and discovered.

The C Sides Project — Purple Hearts Corner

The C Sides Project - Purple Hearts Corner
Fields (8:08), Into Clouds (12:07), Bremen (10:39), Engine Down (10:57), Purple Hearts Corner (12:29)
Ignacio Bernaola

We have reviewed previous albums by The C Sides Project before, but I must admit that I hadn't heard of them before. There are so many bands out there, that sometimes one can miss great albums while trying to find the hidden good things in others. Luckily, and by absolute chance I picked this album from our pipeline. In fact, I picked this one and also their latest release from 2021 because both albums are part of the same project, with a single story told across the two albums.

For those also interested in their previous releases, you can check our good reviews of 10 Days, We Are Now, and Devitrification.

Note from the editor

With or without 'The'. With or without the hyphen. With or without "project" and any combination of the above! Subtle differences in the way that the band write their name on different albums and platforms does not help in searching for their albums, but we think we have covered all of them now!

The C Sides Project was formed by three ex-members of Magenta: Allan Mason-Jones on drums, Dan Fry on bass and vocals, and Martin Rosser on guitars, keyboards and vocals. The line-up here isn't including Dan Fry but has Allen McCarthy on vocals, bass and lyrics, Sian Elson on additional vocals, and Kevin Dawson on keyboards and piano. This time Martin Rosser is playing electric and acoustic guitars.

Purple Hearts Corner was recorded just before lockdown, so it wasn't available physically until now. Good news for a CD collector like me, but I have to spot a trouble with the audio quality since apparently the mastering of the album is too soft. Of course, I'm not a sound engineer, but I have to turn up the volume a lot. Not a big deal, but being that this album is the first part of a two-project opus, it's uncomfortable when you finish this one and insert the second album. Trying to listen to the whole story in a row, then you have to turn down the volume again.

Having said that, and focusing on the music, I can only say good things because the five songs that we have here are good. Not outstanding, but good. This is light progressive rock without any kind of complex arrangements and of course some Magenta influences as well. There are similar sound atmospheres that can be found in the band The Paradox Twin.

All the band members know how to play and deliver great performances, but the best thing here are the proper songs that are very well-structured and composed. So, no weak points? Not really, only minor things that for some reason could make this album a very special one if they were fixed. The vocals for example aren't bad, in fact I like the way he sings, but sometimes Allen's singing becomes monotonous. Maybe some more additional vocals or even a combination of vocals like the aforementioned The Paradox Twin? Anyway, Purple Hearts Corner is a good album that I am glad to have finally encountered.

The C Sides Project — Different Plain

The C Sides Project - Different Plain
Stigler (9:08), Crossing The Rubicon (6:54), Circles (8:21), Different Plain (5:29), 250 Feet (6:03), Old Friends (3:48), Beneath The Sky (6:38)
Ignacio Bernaola

I love it when bands make it easy for me to write a review ... and even more so if the album is good.

Different Plain is the second part of the story behind their previous album Purple Hearts Corner, but it has avoided all the weak points that I found on that release, whilst also improving the good things.

Now, the CD sounds great. Again the players execute their parts very well but this time I have nothing to say about the vocals but good things. Allen McCarthy sings better and conveys the emotions better. I don't know how to describe it better, but he seems more relaxed, and sometimes he reminds me of Steve Balsamo in the first Chimpan A album, which also has Rob Reed from Magenta. Neural connections in my mind I guess.

The other great things about the vocals on this album is the addition of more female vocals. Sian Elson only appeared a bit on Purple Hearts Corner but this time she has gained more prominence and is being helped by (her sister?) Lucy Elson. That is a great decision that I guess will be repeated or even increased in future releases because it's definitely the differential touch.

Listen to the great 250 Feet for example and decide for yourself.

The musical style stays with the light progressive rock that the band has being playing in their last albums but this time with a more modern sound. I can't help but mention Chimpan A again but without all the electronics. And again The Paradox Twin thanks to the combination of male and female vocals. The length of the songs also helps here because it fits better within the compositions and the ideas.

As the great architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used to say: less is more. A highly recommended album that leaves me wanting to listen to future albums by The C Sides Project. Hopefully they will keep on making it easy for us reviewers.

The Light Afternoon — Estanyo Nord

The Light Afternoon - Estanyo Nord
Wide Open Highway Road Movie (4:25), The Girl From Panorama (5:10), Anacirema (5:11), The Paradero (4:16), All Of These Things (3:56), Watching The Perseids (5:18), Estanyo Nord (4:16), Our Time In The Tin North (5:15)
Greg Cummins

I had heard of this band some months ago but had found their singer, Annette Appleton, to be a little off-key and with a voice that unfortunately grated with me for the duration of that album, which was released in 2014. The keyboards and general songwriting of fellow bandmate, Steve Newland, were perfect, with more than enough variety and originality.

Eight years later, the band have again sought to break into the realms of the better-known progressive bands doing the rounds. To a more convincing extent, they have somewhat succeeded. I say "somewhat" because unfortunately, for my ears at least, the same vocalist is holding the microphone.

On this outing, the keyboards are punchier and more robust which is amply demonstrated on the opening track. This has a rather infectious melody to it that keeps proceedings together well. But sadly, it is let down by an inadequate singer that for my ears, just sounds too flaky, too often. This begs the question, would the music sound better with a different female singer, a different male singer or simply no singer at all?

The music stands up pretty well on its own and for the majority of the time, you'd be forgiven for thinking that more people were responsible for the creation of the songs. Although the credits attributed to the band members don't include who provides the percussion, I am assuming it was Steve Newland using an assortment of electronic drum kits. They provide a reasonably convincing backdrop for the tracks compiled here, but as always, a real physical drummer is preferred where the budget allows.

There is no denying the songs are quite catchy and will have you humming or singing along in no time at all, but it really boils down to whether your ears can accommodate the vocalist. Regrettably, I can't but your mileage might vary. I don't wish to continue listening to the album while writing this review which is something I have never done before. In all honesty, Steve Newland's ability as a songwriter deserves much better than what my ears are hearing from the vocalist and in this regard, I would surmise that with a grittier male singer and some more aggressive sections, this could become the new Renaissance, Magenta or Iona.

Looking at this band's output since 2012, their four albums have garnered a total of only 12 ratings on Rate Your Music, with none really standing out as being anything other than average. If Mr Newland hangs about for album five with some new, punchier, more convincing material and with a different singer, I'd be the first one to put my hand up to review it, as I normally don't like to discourage bands from doing better. I am sure this is still possible, so let's see what the future holds.

For the music alone, I'd be happy to give this a rating of say 8-9 but for the vocals, only 3-4 so averaging that out, let's settle on a 6 but with the caveats mentioned earlier.

Tangerine Dream — Raum

Tangerine Dream - Raum
Continuum (7:09), Portico (6:42), In 256 Zeichen (19:07), You're Always On Time (8:07), Along The Canal (5:29), What You Should Know About Endings (6:55), Raum (14:54)
Martin Burns

I'm not getting into the debate about what constitutes the 'real' Tangerine Dream. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of such a debate take a look at Plato's Ship Of Theseus argument. I have never had much time for metaphysics, so I'll just say that if a release comes out under the Tangerine Dream banner and it sounds like Tangerine Dream, then it is Tangerine Dream (this is the duck argument; if it walks and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck).

So, putting aside the wildfowl, the new Tangerine Dream album Raum comes out seven years after the sad passing of founder, and ever present member Edgar Froese. However, Raum contains three writing and performance credits for Froese. His tape archive was used in the creation on those pieces. The line-up remains the same as for the last Tangerine Dream album that I heard, 2017's Quantum Gate. The line-up being Thorsten Quaeschning (synthesizers, musical director), Paul Frick (synthesizers) and Hoshiko Yamane (violin, electric violin/viola). Between them, well over 100 instruments are credited on the album sleeve, so good luck picking which is which.

Anyway, to the music. Continuum starts off with grandiose synth and Mellotron chords, then they smash the ambience they create into Kraftwerk-like electronic percussion. This is done without sacrificing the sunny, open melody that gets shared between various sequencer motifs as they drop in and out of the mix. This is a good start to Raum.

Edgar Froese makes an early appearance on the second track, Portico. Morse code-like dots and bleeps fade into increasingly ominous layers of synthesiser layering. The volume increases as sequencer lines entwine. A looped, pizzicato violin transitions the piece between its minimal percussive opening and a second half of sweeping walls of sound.

The long-form In 256 Zeichen matches Tangerine Dream's classic 70s period. It is by-turns expansive and contemplative. To my ears it seems to divide into three sections. The first, spacious washes and pulses of synth, overlapping Mellotron chords, topped by the slow introduction of sequencers. The second section is signalled by the violin taking control, with overlaid, fugue-like loops as the synths temporarily step back. Moog bass introduces the last part with a pulsing, heart-beat rhythm that paves the way for the synths and sequencers to produce towering crescendos.

In 256 Zeichen shows this trio taking the essence of Tangerine Dream and making it theirs. They emerge from the long shadow of the previously omni-present Edgar Froese, with their own demonstration of the mastery of the form, creating a cathedral of sound that would surely have Froese's blessing.

Initially, the two tracks that follow this masterpiece felt a little flat, but subsequent plays show them to be first-rate. You're Always On Time's clock-like rhythm and low-end synths introduce what is possibly Ruam's best melody. One that is sombre but never dour. In contrast Along The Canal has bubbly, watery sequencers that have a finesse that evokes cooling, summer rain. It also nods to Tangerine Dream's avant-garde origins in places, with some sparingly used avant-electronica.

Edgar Froese returns for the final two tracks. The dark and threatening feel of the first half of What You Should Know About Endings echoes the early soundtrack work of Sorcerer and The Keep, and the second half has an opulent ambience to it.

Then there is the title track (also the name of their Berlin recording studio) which takes you on a 15-minute spacey journey. Sustained Mellotron chords and lengthy sequencer runs unhurriedly push this along. Slowly evolving violin lines take the melody forwards, and it is only when you reach the end that you realise how much of a trip it's been. Raum is a fine ending to a great album.

Though this release is nothing new in the Tangerine Dream canon, it is still a quality release and a terrific work of explorative electronics. Anyone fence-sitting over getting this, don't worry, it's a proper duck. Raum easily takes its place as one of the best post 70s Tangerine Dream releases.

Album Reviews