Album Reviews

Issue 2022-119

Autómata — Autómata

Autómata - Autómata
Tanger (9:35), Church (4:07), 3X3+5 (4:43), Verdik (8:30), Automate (9:20)
Jerry van Kooten

Autóata are a relatively new band from France and this eponymous release is their debut. In short, this is mostly post-rock, with an overlap to prog, post-pop, and a bit of post-metal as well. And it's completely instrumental.

Although I don't have a definition of what French prog is, there is a certain Frenchness about it. It's hard to say, but I cannot compare it to, let's say, Mono. Maybeshewill or Mogwai come closer, but Autómata sound a bit darker. They are atmospheric sections like Gazpacho, but heavier.

Failing to find good references means this it is something else. And that's a good thing. It's less about the intensity and emotion than what you might be used to in post-rock bands, and a little more about the compositions.

That is especially apparent in the first and last tracks. They open in a way that could be Gazpacho and grow into something that comes close to Mono. OK, so there are some clearer references, but two I would not expect to see in one sentence!

It's also not as song-driven as Manchester Orchestra. If I use the word atmospheric, please don't think about new-age electronics or soundscapes. There is some powerful music in here. Church starts off in a more electronic / industrial way and turns into probably the heaviest section of the album, though still not true post-metal. Verdik goes that way as well.

Several spins later and I am still looking for words to describe this. A fresh take on post-rock? Let's keep it at that. Really good for a debut.

Condor Gruppe — Gulliver

Condor Gruppe - Gulliver
What Could Have Been (7:43), Galata (4:21), Rasa (3:08), Farid (5:21), Rhymes On Our Mind (5:59), Inside Out (5:48), Echo Of Things (4:44), Leonie Questions Mark? (5:29)
Owen Davies

Condor Gruppe was formed in 2012 and released their debut album Latituds Del Cavall in 2014. Their last album Interplanetary Travels was released in 2018. The Antwerp-based nonet has now teamed up with the Belgium-based Sbdan Ultra record label for the release of their latest album Gulliver.

The band's music is probably best described as psychedelic prog with strong tints of world music and 70s film scores. These are infectiously spiced and flavoured by an assortment of rhythms and psycho-jazz based grooves.

Galata is one of the most interesting pieces. The ensemble flies some of the colours of the Indian subcontinent in its vibrant amalgamation of sound and styles. It is one of several pieces to feature Nicolas Mortelman's sitar. At times the distorted, plucked tension of the sitar, provides the album with a mystic fragrance and a cross-legged air. During Galata the percussive effect of the Darbouka adds to this shrouded mysticism by providing an earthy touch.

There is much to enjoy and appreciate in this varied collection of tunes, where rhythmic patterns are often to the fore. The bass playing of Jan Wygers provides a strong platform for percussive effects to shine. This groove-based approach is frequently accompanied by fine instrumental embellishments. The swirling, knee-knocking effect that is created, is frequently quite hypnotic.

In this respect, the second half of the lengthy What Could Have Been is a fine example of the way in which the ensemble establishes a relentless rhythmic pattern and adorns it with fluid guitar embellishments, piano parts and recurring melodies. These vibrant decorations create a woven patchwork of colourful sounds. What Could Have Been ends in a sudden and unexpected way. It is probably a piece that will appeal to prog fans.

Nevertheless, Gulliver is not an album that is obsessed about establishing infectious rhythms and grooves. Changes of mood occur within pieces and in the running order of the album. For example, Rasa is a slow-tempo saxophone-based piece that is impressively supported by sitar and effects. It contrasts with the previous track and cleans the aural passages. It is calming and rich in atmosphere and could easily be mistaken for something Jan Garbarek might have created. It segues into Farid which features wordless vocals, all gift-wrapped within a jaunty and accessible tune

Apart from Farid, wordless vocals feature and add variety on some of the other tunes. However, the voice is not really used as a distinctive instrument. Rather, the voice is used to create a melody or to follow the melodic patterns already formed. In this respect the 'la la' nature of these vocal accompaniments is somewhat bland compared to other albums such as Ikarus' Plasma which utilises the voice as a distinctive instrument.

One of the strongest up-tempo and shake-and-roll tunes is Rhymes On Our Mind. It's a piece that urges you to let your inhibitions go, and climb on to the table for an indulgent bout of frenzied hand-clapping, toe-strikes and torso-twisting. Its danceable nature and samba energy creates a near perfect piece for supple bodied young adults and by contrast, offers a nightmare scenario for stiff-limbed middle-aged exertions!

The inventive use of the Jaw (Jew's) Harp works well as the piece twirls enthusiastically towards its conclusion. I can imagine that Rhymes On Our Mind would be even more impressive in a live performance where large amounts of improvisation would no doubt take place.

Condor Gruppe is adept at combining several styles. In this respect, there is something about the ambience and guitar tones used during Inside Out that is reminiscent of the style of Ennio Morricone. Although the piece evokes this atmosphere, it adds many other ingredients that bind together, to make it totally unique.

I adore the fusion of sitar and other world music elements that occur during Inside Out. These blend in a natural way and characterise the ensemble's take on an identifiable spaghetti-western style. It is a strong tune and due to its unusual mix of influences, is probably my favourite piece on the album.

I have thoroughly enjoyed many aspects of Gulliver. Overall, it is a fascinating album, and its unusual mixture of styles is very appealing.

M.Chuzi — Papara

M.Chuzi - Papara
Tzatziki (6:31), Mammoet (8:55), Carbonade (5:08), Intermetsauce (1:36), Tahini Miso (7:37), Sambal (5:55), Pickles (5:03)
Owen Davies

Firstly some interesting trivia to get your musical taste buds well and truly prepared for experiencing M.Chuzi's impressive debut release. The album's title refers to a popular practice on the isle of Crete called 'Papara' and each of Papara's seven tracks are named after a band member's favourite sauce. And yes, you have guessed correctly, Papara involves dipping bread into different sauces.

Armed with the indispensable knowledge that there is a connection between the title of the album and the names of the various tunes, let's take a closer look at the ingredients of these flavoursome dishes.

M.Chuzi are a collective of musicians based in Brussels. They ply their trade in a musical world of afro rhythms with a host of other interesting elements, including a spicy amount of progressive jazz. The mix of styles ensure that Papara is a rich and varied experience. On occasions, Dub, frothing funky rhythms, mystical beats, middle eastern flavours and atmospheric rock can also be discerned. These swirl, rise and fall to ensure that Papara is never less than interesting, and on the contrary is often very satisfying.

Everything about the album sounds fresh. Much of the release has an atmosphere that exuberantly and vividly portrays the ensemble's enthusiasm for their art.

The use of three well known guests from the Belgium music scene ensures that the album has a contemporary appeal and will be of interest to music fans from outside any narrowly defined genre boundaries. For example, Pickles features Mixmaster Menno's (STUFF.) inventive scratching skills. Joy Slam, adds some vocal fizz and pop to the sparkling rhythms of Carbonade. Mammoet features the rolling and pitching sound of Nabou Claerhourt's trombone.

I never cared for the sweet tang of Tzatziki, but M.Chuzi's version of the popular dip, frazzles the tastebuds in a frenzy of brass, percussion and guitar. Its refreshing vitality opens the album in a magnificent manner in the opening section. I adored the malevolently-toned guitar-line that menacingly pierces through the busy, chopping rhythms. However, the brass exchanges that rock and shake everything are undoubtedly the stars of this stirring piece

The first two pieces of Papara are particularly strong. Mammoet is about as heavy as progressive-jazz can get. Huge grooves storm the defences and Claerhourt's cheek-splitting bursts of innovative trombone, tumble and soar to vault the outstretched arms of any lingering resistance. Mammoet's relentless energy and insistent rhythmic nature, demands total submission to its irrepressible groove. Claerhourt's playing is masterful and her innovative style puts her right at the forefront of the Benelux progressive-jazz movement.

Tahini Miso is probably my favourite piece. It has lots of moods, lots of keyboard effects and overall has an infectious grip; one that is only tightened by the melodic nature of the tune and its recurring motifs. Its main theme has a cinematic quality and could easily feature in a car chase.

M.Chuzi are Robbe Latre (trumpet and flugelhorn), Martin Lissoir (baritone sax), Matteo Badet (tenor sax), Gil Duarte Da Cruz (guitar), Thomas DE Vries (guitar), Basile Bourtembourg (keys and percussion), Niels D'Haegeleer (bass) and Jan Heirman (drums).

The playing is fabulous throughout the release. As an ensemble M.Chuzi excel, and as individual soloists they superbly show their virtuoso prowess. The saxophonistic contributions of Lissoir and Badet are just fantastic.

However, the rhythm section of D'Haegeleer and Heirman carries a huge responsibility in providing a back drop for the other band members to shine. They consistently succeed with a succession of percussive backdrops, changing rhythms and deep-seated, growling bass lines.

In this respect, when listening to Papara, just take a moment to concentrate on the rhythmic work which underpins the remarkable changes of direction which occur during Sambal.

Whilst much of Papara will not probably appeal to most prog rock fans. There is no denying the excellence of the band's performance. The skilled compositions and varied arrangements are consistently brought vividly to life.

Nevertheless, I must admit that the scratching of Mix Monster Menno during Pickles was a significant step away from my own music comfort zone. I tried to listen to it without any set ideas, but I just could not appreciate its idiosyncratic mix of styles. Sadly, it soon became 'skip' button fodder.

The album is very well recorded. Its pristine audio qualities certainly help to make time spent listening to the album an enjoyable and often memorable experience.

The cover art is also very attractive. Its vivid colours and the bubbling cauldron depicted, accurately represent that Papara has a lot of variation, and contains a melting pot of styles which simmer away with colourful gusto.

One of the consequences of listening to Papara is that I have resolved to try and sample all the sauces represented by the album's tracks.

I have never experienced Tamini Miso or Sambal, but if they are anywhere as enjoyable as the compositions which bear those names, then Papara really will nudge and rattle the senses in every way.

To conclude, I hope you can investigate what Papara offers. Even if the music does not appeal, who knows, you might discover some new sauces. They at least might be too your taste.

Verbal Delirium — Conundrum

Verbal Delirium - Conundrum
Falling (2:50), In Pieces (4:49), Intruders (5:30), The Children Of Water (5:42), Conundrum (6:32), The Watcher (9:03), Neon Eye Cage (9:30), Fall From Grace (5:53)
Thomas Otten

Verbal Delirium are based in Athens and were formed in 2006 by John "Jargon" Kosmidis (lead and backing vocals, additional keyboards). On Conundrum (which means "a puzzle or question difficult or impossible to solve"), the band, besides Jargon, who also is the composer of the music, consist of George "La Trappe" Pagidas (bass) (reminds me of the excellent Dutch beer, this nickname), Stratos Morianos (keyboards), George "K" Kyriakidis (electric and acoustic guitars), and Vasilis "Wil Bow" Armaos (drums). In addition, several guest musicians contribute to musical depth and variety, amongst them Nicolas Nikolopoulos from one of my favourite prog bands Ciccada, whose music Verbal Delirium has a few things in common with, playing saxophone, and clarinet on the title track Conundrum.

Verbal Delirium's previous release, The Imprisoned Words Of Fear from 2016, was very positively reviewed on our site and attracted my attention. That made me waiting impatiently for its successor, which has now came out some six years later. In the meantime, Jargon issued the solo album The Fading Thought in 2020, which I also enjoyed listening to. Altogether, Conundrum is Verbal Delirium's fourth release.

What runs like a red thread through all of Verbal Delirium's previous albums and continues on this one, is a certain bias towards dark, gloomy, dramatic and theatrical atmospheres, sometimes more, sometimes less pronounced. What is also striking is the high degree of originality, making Verbal Delirium's music hard to pigeonhole, a fact which I consider as positive.

The originality is expressed in a considerable variety of styles and creativity inherent in the band's music: gloomy passages alter with almost pop-sounding parts, melancholic with upbeat ones, there is constant change of tempo and rhythm, and smooth, polished sounding pieces follow rough ones and vice-versa. All of this is underpinned by Jargon's expressive, varied and versatile singing style.

Straightforward song structures (intro - verse - chorus - bridge - verse - chorus) are hardly recognisable. Catchy and immediately-accessible melodies need to carefully be searched for (and are found mainly in the beautiful final track Fall From Grace with a Floydian guitar solo and gentle piano tunes). In addition, the band appears to have grown in maturity, and are willing and able to test new waters on this release by enlarging their musical creativity.

As Jargon states in the press clipping coming with the release: “If I had to describe the sound of Conundrum, I'd say something like Pink Floyd meets Cardiacs, meets Queen, meets Muse, meets King Crimson." Depending on the degree of drama displayed in the respective song, I tent to add Porcupine Tree, Phideaux, Anathema, Riverside, Haken, and certainly Peter Hammill to this list.

In terms of the lyrics, Jardon also seems to exploit haunting, dark and gloomy territories.

"Feels like falling, from a great height to the bottom of your soul. Eating the flowers of your womb. I'll rise from your decay. Spreading disease and poisoning your every cell. I am death!”

These lyrics of the opener Falling, are accompanied by menacing synthesizer/guitar sounds and dramatic vocals. In combination with the corresponding Youtube-video, showing Corona viruses floating towards the spectator, it provides for quite an awesome album opening.

Showcasing the sudden changes of mood and atmosphere mentioned above, even within the same track, is the song sequence thereafter. Both In Pieces and Intruders start upbeat, almost Beatlesque, before turning dramatic, theatrical and sinister. The Children Of Water, in turn, with comprehensible melodies, could have been taken from an earlier Riverside album.

The title track Conundrum, the only instrumental, clearly is my favourite. Based on the catchy melody of a Greek-sounding dance, the listener encounters excellent dual keyboard work (Hammond, piano, synthesizer), recurring themes, VDGG-sounding sax playing and symphonic elements. For me, this track opens the stronger part of this release, with the two very varied, complex, harmonic, keyboard-rich longer tracks The Watcher and Neon Eye Cage. The latter in terms of lyrics deals with the effects of social media and virtual worlds on the human soul, and is, for my ears, a very accessible song with great guitar work. The album closes appropriately with the balladesque Fall From Grace.

I know, it can sometimes be controversial to compare various albums of the band being reviewed. Consequently, I always aim at reviewing every release as an independent piece of work, and try to blend out any kind of remembrances and impressions I have of previous albums. Having been strongly impressed by Verbal Delirium's previous release The Imprisoned Words Of Fear, this approach was difficult to maintain this time (and after all, reviewing always remains a subjective matter). On the other hand, comparing albums does offer the possibility to see if and what kind of a development the band has made, to tap their full musical spectrum, and to capture their entire variety, diversification, and creativity.

Against this background, my comparison resulted in a slight preference for The Imprisoned Words Of Fear, which I found to be a bit more melodic, upbeat, subtle and accessible. This, however, is just a subjective impression based on my musical preferences and should not hide the high quality of Conundrum.

Verbal Delirium have again delivered a very strong, varied, challenging, demanding and complex album that is away from the mainstream, full of unexpected moments, and produced and played with an undisputed degree of musical ability.

Whilst staying true to their basic musical style, Conundrum again is a bit different compared to their previous releases. I think that is proof of the band's originality and their broad musical spectrum, as well as their healthy self-confidence to make music which is away from mainstream and attempts at currying favour. The music requires the listeners' patience to become familiar with this album, but such an investment is definitely worth it, as Conundrum belongs to the kind of prog which opens up bit by bit the more one listens to it.

Thus, giving some advice to the prog rock fan with respect to this release is no conundrum whatsoever: put your headphones on, listen intensively, discover more and more, enjoy and form your own opinion.

Album Reviews