Album Reviews

Issue 2022-079

It's Prog-Tober! 31+ albums and reviews in 31 days!

Pandamoanium — Skellington Quay

Pandamoanium - Skellington Quay
Grumblestrip (9:35), Ultravenus Drip (6:17), Skellington Quay (13:20)
Martin Burns

The new three-track EP from Herne Bay instrumental prog and rock trio Panamoanium is the follow-up to their full-length debut Paradigm Shift which was given a positive review on these pages (check out the interview and review here). In that review, Stefan thought that the "live in the studio" approach was raw and energetic. For this new release, Pandamoanium have made more use of studio technology. They have not lost anything in terms of vitality, but have gained some polish. And they keep their sense of humour with the song titles!

They continue down the same path of putting a progressive spin on the rock-trio format, and they do it rather splendidly. Grumblestrip works its way through ten minutes in a flash; from a slightly threatening atmospheric soundscape with strummed guitar, with Alec Tappenden's delicious bass line leading the way, to a post-rock build-and-release of massive Sabbath-like riffs from Paul Mitchell and belting drums from James Barber. Before pushing-off into a space-jam that lands in a dusty desert with a bluesy guitar solo. A great start.

The full band take off straight away on Ultravenus Drip. Sustained chords are punctuated by drum rolls and give way to chopping guitar riffs. Stop-start breaks signal a change of pace midway, to a gentler mode, with super snare work. This would feel folky if it was on acoustic instruments. Pandamoanium show a confidence borne of the live arena. The title track adds another dimension, with Barber's keyboards enhancing the slowly evolving melody.

Pandamoanium's Skellington Quay is an entertaining way to spend half an hour, without the distraction of vocals. Solid, never dull and always moving forward melodically. It left me wanting more.

Polarity — Live Off The Floor At Jukasa Studio

Polarity - Live Off The Floor At Jukasa Studio
Destruction of Memory (7:28), Terra Firma (5:07), Circle (3:29)
Andy Read

Here's a new one for ya!

Formed back in 2008, Polarity have been a steady presence on the Canadian alt-prog scene ever since. Their fifth recorded offering is their first new music since releasing the 2019 EP Trilateral and features three tracks recorded live off the floor, at the multi-million pound Jukasa Studio in Ontario.

As far as I can see the band has so far garnered little attention outside their home country. That is surprising, as this is one of the best female-fronted alt-prog bands that I have yet to stumble across. I've enjoyed this as much as the Trope album, Eleutheromania which was one of my favourite releases of 2021.

The proggy seven-minute opener Destruction of Memory (video below) amply displays Polarity's more complexly-heavy side as its shifts between different moods and tensions. I love the guitar-work on this track. The vocals of Jasmine Virginia, laid over delicate guitar runs in the clever mid-section, are delightful.

Polarity, promo photo

Terra Firma (video here) has a pop-rock heart, with a melodic hook that floats into your memory bank on the first listen. Love it.

The third track, Circle (video here) has a modern-metal edge, with clean and screamo vocals alongside some intricate rhythms and jazzy chords.

As for the performances, I really wouldn't have noticed that this was a one-take live recording. Sure there is a raw quality and a live energy to the recording, but the performances are spot-on, with singer Jasmine Virginia, nailing every single note and inflection.

"We always want to take our listeners to different unexpected places, both powerful and vulnerable," says Jasmine. "I would say we like to surprise people and give them something unconventional that makes them really think. We're not afraid to do things a little outside the box and sometimes that means asking people to listen a few times to a song before they really get it. We often get feedback once they do, and they truly love it."

Well, I certainly love it.

This EP has been released in the form of three separate live-in-the-studio (video) singles. As far as I can see they are not available in any paid-for format. Hopefully they will be added to their Bandcamp page soon, as I'd like to buy all three.

However, this has been an excellent introduction to a new band for me. I'm off to their Bandcamp page to investigate further.

Han Uil — Walking in Circles

The Netherlands
Han Uil - Walking in Circles
Eternally (5:23), It'S You Now (5:48), Walking In Circles (7:39), Love Can'T Be Made (2:53), Hold On (11:20), Ring The Bells (2:37), One In A Million (5:20), The Cult (6:41), Music Loves (5:00)
Sergey Nikulichev

One problem that many reviewers share is that after listening to many releases, they are able to pinpoint an album easily, but lose a clear understanding of whether they actually like it or not. In the case of Han Uil, I have the opposite. I do like the music, but I am struggling to define it.

Saga doing a Soundgarden tribute? Meh! Godsticks with saxophone and violin? Nope. I would dare to say that this ability to write "in-between categories" is something that makes the music here unique and “indie” (in the very proper and benign sense of the word). Walking In Circles does offer a very individual approach, not bothering with anything deliberately complex or tricky.

So the music here defies the usual genre maps and borders, but it is still my task to describe it. So here goes...

For a short CV, Han Uil is the singer for bands like Seven Day Hunt, Antares, and Tumbletown. All have received positive reviews from DPRP, previously.

Here, on his fifth solo release, he derives influences from both the singer-songwriter approach and alternative rock, not forgetting about the tasty icing on the cake: some confident guitar work and the usage of instruments like flutes and saxophone, very uncharacteristic to alt-rock, played by multiple guests.

Yes, Geoff Tate did try something similar on paper, but with very different results. Yet, with this odd mixture Han does not forget about writing decent tunes, with a good fusion of evil-sounding grunge harmonies (hence my reference to Godsticks above) and more traditional rock grooves (I am thinking of sadly no-longer-active bands like Little Atlas and Three).

The music is definitely guitar-driven, but when necessary other instruments have enough space to shine in the spotlight. See for instance the piano-sax-acoustic intro to One In A Million (notice how masterfully the song grows from ballad to moderate rock groove) or the closing Music Loves, another strong number with saxophone. Other songs worth mentioning are The Cult, probably the best-written composition on Walking In Circles with some masterful arrangements of guitar and keys.

The odd thing about this album is that while Han has done vocal duties in many bands, here the vocal delivery is quite humble; not bad nor bleak, but not something that you'd expect from a vocalist's solo album either.

Describing Walking In Circles as a whole, the album really looks like a love-child release. Not aiming to impress the listener with technical dexterity or complex multipart symphonies, it features modest, but confident songs, which grow more and more enjoyable with every listen.

Wired Ways — Wired Ways

Wired Ways - Wired Ways
Ticket Tally Man (3:51), Peacock On The Highway (4:12), Lazy Daisy (5:47), Hànội Tramway (4:51), Mosquitoes (4:00), Perpetuum Mobile (3:34), When The Doors Are Closed (6:07), Another Sad Man (6:29), Planet 9 (4:56)
Jan Buddenberg

Behind Wired Ways one finds multi-instrumentalist Richard Schaeffer and producer/guitarist Dennis Rux. This originally started out as a studio project, but over time it grew very much into a band effort. Firstly joined by drummer Luchas Zacharias and vocalists Jean-Michael Brinksmeier and Daniel Albertus, it involves more than 40 collaborating musicians, all originating from Berlin and Hamburg, Germany. Together they collectively pay tribute to the sounds and techniques of the 60s/70s, captured in a modern freshness.

Ideas for the album are shaped around public transport, which has led to a variety of lyrical themes that address transfer, connectivity and communication, amongst others. Accompanied by beautiful artwork from Frank Grabowski the result is a delightfully diverse album with well-written progressive pop-art that next shows a nostalgic feel for the marvellous late sixties and seventies. This is music to my ears, as opener Ticket Alley Man so enticingly shows.

As the most spectacular 'pinch-me-please' example on the album, it opens a gateway to an era of yellow submarines, Abbey Road pedestrian crossings and other iconic Fab-Four images that brightly resonate with the Mersey-sound. When Canadian band Klaatu released their masterpieces 3:47 EST and Hope in 76/77 respectively they were often rumoured and believed to be an actual reincarnation of The Beatles. Well, let it be known that that past mix-up is nothing compared to Wired Ways' magical history tour.

By the sound of familiar and comforting melodies, gently-layered instrumentation, a soothing horn section and pristine vocals, I reckon the remaining Beatles Ringo Star and Paul McCartney will surely be checking the locks of their vaults to convince themselves they are still intact. The band have succeeded in capturing the musical essence and atmospheric feel of these magical decades.

Transporting it to the present with a delightful prog-splash, the melody-laden subtleties of Peacock On The Highway follows suit, carrying mild psychedelics mixed with echoes of The Doors from which elements of Syd Barret's Pink Floyd pour.

Perpetuum Mobile shines in similar playful brightness, highlighted by syrupy harmonies and dynamic melodies. Blessed by an ingenious earworm play on the song's title that melodically lingers on for days, the flow of this song also reminds me of The Kinks, with the wonderful pop-sensibilities of Neal Morse and Flying Colors not far behind. When The Doors Are Closed envisions similar views as it travels from acoustic smallness and sensitive vocals, into a psychedelic tunnel that widens into lush sceneries of symphonic refinement and upbeat rock.

Expressing emotional glimpses of Oasis, guided by beautiful harmonies, Lazy Daisy keeps the 70s atmospheres going with a delightful and super-catchy momentum in its break. It rolls on ever so gently into the oriental environments of Hànội Tramway.

The intense sadness of Another Sad Man transcends this through the Mellotron and sensible violins that touch deep within. Sad singing adds scoops of drama to this, which leads to an atmosphere of loss to be cut with a knife. This is given further impact when the impressive mournful melodies finally pay their last respects in the song's overwhelming, grieving coda.

The fabulous Mosquitoes expresses lively impressions of folk with a bluesy Jethro Tull appeal amidst orchestrated depth and theatrical melodies. Planet 9 finally draws the album's fantastic voyage to a soothingly cheerful close, on a delicious interplay of drums and bass with lovely drives of jazzy piano.

After a recent sunny afternoon performance at the renowned Night Of The Prog Festival in Loreley (Germany) and a recommendation from Steve Hackett ("It has a strong feel and is atmospheric, with great use of Mellotron"), Wired Ways' trail is looking bright. This solid recommendable debut shows a lovely growing musical appeal with excellent performances and strong, good-old fashioned, compositional craftsmanship.

Fans of retro-inspired prog, which next to many of prog's greats also hints at Mandalaband, Queen, The Who, Barclay James Harvest, Franck Carducci and E.L.O., are therefore cordially invited/summoned to check this excellent album out.

Album Reviews