EBB — Mad & Killing Time
Now I was going to give this release by EBB, the Scottish six-piece art-rock, rock and progressive-rock band comprising five women and one guy, a score of 9 out of 10. But the more I listened to it, the more irritated I became, not with any aspect of the music, performance or production, but with the terrible cover to this, their full-length debut, Mad & Killing Time. I mean, what were they thinking? And what does it have to do with this collection of finely-wrought tunes? Answers on a postcard. Then I did some digging, and the postcard was discovered.
It turns out there is a concept to the album and behind the cover image. It is based on people who the band met in the USA; an army veteran and a sex-worker who live together in a celibate, mutually-supportive relationship. The penny drops, light bulb illuminates above my head, and the score returns to a deserved 9. I still don't like the cover though.
Anyway, the music here is exemplary, brimming with energy and melody. EBB, which rhymes with web, take a neo-prog approach but give it a rocking, arty makeover to great effect. They mix Touchstone crunch with Panic Room keys but give it a spin with jazz touches, especially by the bassist, and incidentally is the solitary guy in the line-up, Bad Dog.
The album is arranged and composed by guitarist and lead vocalist Erin Bennett along with producer and co-composer Finton McGregor. The insightful and quotable lyrics are also by Erin Bennett, and they reflect how to negotiate the problems of modern life whilst trying to retain one's mental and moral integrity.
The album opens with a short prelude of orchestral tuning-up with added layers of keys and horns. The album really kicks off with the prog-rock of The Animal Said "I". This moves through gentle start, to a head-rush of guitars and keys but with plenty of subtlety. It ends with a stanza from a poem from which the album gets its title, recited by the splendidly named Kitty Biscuits.
Big Dog's sliding, fretless bass and Anna Fraser's drums introduce Tension. Add Nikki Francis' Hammond and Suna Dasi's swirling synths as the pace picks up, and you have another punchy winner. Hecate arguably has the album's best melody, played with banging guitars and lovely piano and great, syncopated backing vocals. In fact, the icing on the cake on this album are the vocals throughout. Exquisite harmonies compliment Erin's burnished, characterful lead vocal.
EBB knows how to rock, and how to add those progressive touches that will put a smile on the countenances of DPRP.net's readership. These are all superb arrangements, along with touches of trumpet, clarinet and non-irritating spoken word passages. On the seedy nighttime pursuits of Krystal At The Red Light it moves from its punky-prog opening to quotations from The Dave Brubeck Quartet's jazz classic Take 5.
They are equally at home with ballad forms as well. The acoustic strum of Mary Jane shows they are as comfortable in quieter settings; and how strong the songs are. The other ballad, What Under What, has Nikki's flute, Mellotron and multi-layered vocals that would put many bands to shame. This is another album highlight.
For me, EBB's Mad & Killing Time would have been a top ten entry for last year had I heard it sooner. This is super stuff; alive, dexterous and poetic. Songwriting of a high order.
Roll on the next album.
Gintonic — Gintonic IV
I previously reviewed Gintonic's third album and was looking forward to hearing the Basque-based band's latest set of readily-accessible tunes.
However, since receiving Gintonic's latest release, I have learnt that the group has now disbanded. Consequently, information about the band or specific details about the release are no longer readily available.
The album features Aukerne Nunez (keyboards, vocals), Mario Clavell Larrinaga (flutes, EWP), Ed Landeta (drums) and Marcelo Hormaechea (bass). Larringa wrote all the pieces except Tú y Yo that was composed by Nunez.
The album is easy on the ear. The most prominent instrument is undoubtedly the flute. However, Nunez's keyboards fulfil an excellent supportive role in several of the tunes. I particularly liked her playing in tunes like Vincent & Theo, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sumptuously-rich organ tones that underpin Gute Nacht.
The band have a penchant for creating tunes that you can tap a finger to, or hum along to. These are frequently vibrantly embroidered by proggy, folk and jazz interludes. Folias Novas begins in a gentle manner and then adopts a thigh-slapping folk-rock rhythm. It's a late-night dance-around-your-hat sort of tune. Nevertheless, it includes some snarling flute parts, an expressive bass solo and some enjoyable organ tones. These help to maintain intertest, but it never strays into experimental or avant territories.
Overall, Folias Novas is a good representation of all that Gintonic do well. It is just one of several highly accessible tunes in Gintonic IV that are played with a great deal of poise and melodic flair.
B & P is arguably one of the more sophisticated tracks on the album. Larringa plays in the higher registers and her fluted tones delicately complement the rest of the instruments. The types of words that might be used to describe B & P include ethereal and gentle, relaxing and soothing.
Sustraiak is simply a lovely sunset-at-the-table tune. It breathes gently and fills the air with a delicate whisper and a warming, homespun caress. The middle section is more up-tempo and explores several styles including folk-rock and jazz in an interesting way. This section includes a lovely cocktail-jazz piano interlude and a carefully formed bass solo.
There is much to admire about Gintonic IV. It is often a very enjoyable album. It is obvious that a lot of time and effort has been put into the project. The biggest issue for some listeners will no doubt be that it does not offer anything unique or exciting. It is all a tad predictable and slightly sweet. That criticism is valid to some degree, but the tunes are well constructed and the playing is consistently excellent.
Jauzi emphasises this point, with Hormaechea's lovely tone and gorgeous solo being a real highlight. The rest of the tune flows along effortlessly in a jaunty fashion, but it probably just needs a touch less sophistication. A smouldering plateful of controlled aggression would take it to another level and ensure that it would be instantly more memorable.
Nevertheless, I certainly enjoyed Jauzi and time spent in the album's company always passes quickly. I will have no hesitation to turn to Gintonic IV again when I want to hear some easily accessible, well delivered flute-dominated prog.
Kansas — Another Fork In The Road – 50 Years Of Kansas
America's premier progressive rock band are no strangers to compilation albums, but this 3CD digipak is the most definitive yet. Released by their current label InsideOut Music, it celebrates their 50th anniversary and spans their entire career.
Although the name Kansas had been around since 1970, the band properly formed in 1973 when they also recorded their self-titled debut album. They were partly inspired by the influx of UK acts like Jethro Tull, Yes, ELP and Genesis that were regularly touring North America at the time.
The collection opens with a new version of Can I Tell You that originally opened the 1974 debut album. It has been re-recorded by the current line-up of Phil Ehart, Billy Greer, Ronnie Platt, David Ragsdale, Tom Brislin and Richard Williams, and despite the passing of time and several line-up changes, they have not lost their proggy edge. Carry On Wayward Son that opens disc three is taken from the 1978 Two For The Show album and is the only live recording, otherwise the tracks are the original studio versions. Unusually, they are sequenced in reverse chronological order, beginning with two songs from the most recent studio album The Absence of Presence from 2020 and concluding with three tracks from Kansas.
Generally, disc one covers three decades back to the early 1990s, disc two their extensive output in the 1980s and disc three, their 1970s prime. Due to licensing restrictions, there are notable differences on disc two between the European and North American releases. The track-listing above is the European version and the first five songs which are taken from the In The Spirit Of Things and Power albums released on the MCA label, are absent from the American edition. As such, only the European version includes a track from all sixteen studio albums. To compensate, the American edition includes three additional songs Fight Fire With Fire (from Drastic Measures), Curtain Of Iron (from Audio-Visions) and Angels Have Fallen (from Monolith).
The disparity between the European and American versions aside, as with all compilations, you can't please all the people all the time, although this collection is as comprehensive as one could reasonably expect. The compilers have certainly been generous with three hours and 50 minutes of music (on the European version) spread across the three discs. In addition to extensive liner notes by journalist Jeff Wagner, the digipak includes images of rare memorabilia and archive material.
Although there are those who will no doubt debate the inclusion of certain songs at the expense of others, this is an excellent collection by anyone's standards. Very few bands can boast such a prestigious body of work spanning half a century. For your reviewer, this compilation proved to be a nostalgic and rewarding journey down memory lane back to my teens. Conversely, for the uninitiated, it's an ideal introduction to Kansas, being free from obscure and previously unreleased tracks that often clutter box sets.
As founding member Phil Ehart comments in the press release: "This is far more than just another greatest hits album. Another Fork In The Road is an in-depth representation of the evolving and winding musical journey of the band Kansas that's been 50 years in the making."
Klangwelt — Here And Why
Klangwelt, which translates into Soundworld or World Of Sound, is an electronic crossover project by Gerald Arend, a German audio-technician who fills his working days within the multimedia and gaming industry. Taking musical inspiration from the likes of Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and Yello Here And Why is his fifth album and my first encounter to his music, previously having only engaged his credentials as producer of Roger Universe. A project he was invited to finalise upon request by the untimely-departed Ulrich Mühl.
Where Mühl's enchanting journey on Earth Express showed excellent reflection in chosen moniker and album title, Arend takes this assuringly one step further. Not only through expressed richness in sound, which through samples and imaginative sound fragments receives a striking contemporary feel, depth and variegated atmosphere. But also through his immaculately crafted musical universe which incorporates a wealth of authentic worldly explorations.
Based upon sirens, helicopters, barking dogs and news broadcast samples that slowly invade the desolate opening atmosphere, combined with intensifying patriotic marching rhythms close-guarded by guitars, Propaganda's point of entry is almost certainly inspired by questionable Capitol events that recently took place in the USA.
The subsequent Cold War Child emphasises this starting location. Provided with a beautiful sonic depth in both sound and spatiality, this enticing track turns icy coldness into a raving hot-white sensation when tribal rhythms and hypnotic sequences enter. And like Propaganda it speaks volumes in view of the album title once the lushly-designed synth flows embrace spoken news messages that resonate with Ronald Reagan; the ultimate presidential personification of Cold War.
Through melodies that create a great sense of cinematic pursuit and blessed by refined piano play in spirit of Corciolli, Corium then submerges the album's compelling ambience into a vast and desolate futuristic landscape that envisions both of the Bladerunner movies.
Futurist rises to the surface with oxygenic freshness twinkling with Jarre and Ultravox. The latter's impression resurfaces again in Attic when Klangwelt's wonderful imaginary voyage travels to beautiful Vienna and steps into romantic realms caressed by cherishing synth melodies.
Travelling onwards with ingenuity of sound and melody it is Noir that brings a journal fragment filled soundscape that flashes with elegance of Didier Marouani. It is followed by the energetic Information that flies once around the world with vocoder and futuristic synthpop twinkling with brightness of Daft Punk. Escape brings ever-changing fluctuations that in the spirit of Vangelis drift freely on beautifully-crafted synth flows.
Never short of variety, Wake up. Sleep. Repeat paints dreamy pictures of tranquil rainforests through its intricate design and delicately-pouring melodies, while the attractive Muse gives rise to a peaceful Japanese Orinoco flow, graced with royal African enchantment. Ago's marvellous creation melts tangible crystalline Antarctic atmospheres into warm melancholic melodies as cosmic fireworks and chants nourish the harmonies with glowing Eastern warmth.
Fascinating through its richness in sound and varied musical content, one hardly notices 78 minutes have flown by once An Explanation Of Life, a touching tribute dedicated to Mühl that gives birth to beautiful transporting oriental sounds, has rounded off this very convincing and thoroughly appealing album.
Overall, if you are a fan of electronic music that meets the likes of Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kitaro, Tomita and Eternity it would be a mistake to pass this album by. If you are new to the electronic world and want to experience what visionary electronic music means and sounds like today, then Here And Why is a great place to start.
Psychonaut — Violate Consensus Reality
My first experience of Pelagic Records was with The Ocean. Since hearing them I've been exploring more of the label's output. As I kept getting lost in their label mates (such as C.R.O.W.N.) I have never made it to Psychonaut (not to be confused with Psychonaut 4 another good band but on the “depressing extreme metal” side). So, I have high hopes for Violate Consensus Reality based on their friends. Formed back in 2013, this band has only had one line-up change (drummer Peter Le Page left in 2020), and have released four EPs and one full length before this album dropped.
A Storm Approaching takes you by the hand and thoroughly launches you with the energetic and intricate riffs and drumming. The twin vocals of Thomas and Stefan ride along the tab, both harsh and clean. Guitars and bass and drums all intertwine to build the web for the album to rest on.
The jarring and intense sound of All Your Gods Are Gone comes in next with bass-heavy chugging, before a lovely lick of hammer on/pull offs swing by out the blue. Complex musicianship litters this track, showcasing a talent for fast-paced and psychedelic metal.
Age Of Separation combines a mixture of ethereal verses and Gojira-styled bridges and passages. The track manages to provide a combination of styles, to create an exciting sound that drives you into the final number on the first half. The title track is a slow-build with overlying textures, building and evolving into the technical and metal middle, at which point it fades and rises again to the explosive crescendo.
Hope is a gentle entry to side two that lives up to the name. Much lighter tones drift through and combine to lift the spirits as the drums continue to roll over each other to keep the pace. At the start of Interbeing we are sucked-in by an almost hypnotic guitar-line with rhythmic grabs keeping you locked in, while the music slowly escalates until it bursts into waves with a mix of clean and harsh vocals.
A Pacifist's Guide To Violence bursts in next with up-tempo tremolos, more akin to a melodic death-metal style, but in the tight, mechanical-yet-organic way the group have delivered so far. And finally, we find ourselves moving Towards The Edge for the finale. A culmination of atmospheres and tension creep forward before controlled bursts break out. A perfect blend of technicality and intricacy, mixed with simplistic bridges, creates an unavoidably good and well-rounded closer. Harsh vocals punctuate at the exact points needed, cleans soar over the top, while the guitars effortlessly flow between complicated licks and riffs and atmospheric soundscapes before it gently calms and fades out. A fitting end, for a fitting album.
I'd definitely recommend this to any fans of Klone, Solstafir, Devin Townsend and similar. A fantastic album from beginning to end. Now if only we can get a tour with C.R.O.W.N. and The Ocean!
Nerissa Schwarz — New Eyes For Laika
Probably best known in these pages for her work with the band Frequency Drift, Nerissa Schwarz has released her second solo album New Eyes For Laika. This follows on from 2016's solo debut Playgounds Lost.
Similarly to her debut, this also has a concept behind it; the ambivalent theme of self-aware artificial intelligence. With purely instrumental albums, the concept is really an inspiration for the artist, and it is difficult to discern, as a listener, any narrative. But if it is treated as a cinematic soundtrack to an unseen film, then it works well on its own terms.
There is more colour to this release, as Nerissa Schwarz's compositions make more use of her synthesisers as well as piano, Mellotron and the electric harp. Additional keyboards are provided by her Frequency Drift colleague Andreas Hack.
It is the various sounds that Nerissa manages to elicit from the electric harp that makes this album for me. She plays it in ways that are not just the plucked sounds that you would expect. Treating it through pedals, makes it sound like a guitar at points, sliding and riffing as well as playing it with a bow, which gives a cello-like resonance. Allied to a strong showing for acoustic piano and an array of synth sounds, along with a variety of Mellotron voices, each piece has an individual identity without compromising the overall cohesion of the album.
The music has a restrained spectacle to it, avoiding any hint from this Bayreuth-based artist, of Wagnerian grandeur. THowever, the music is often as sumptuous. Have a listen to Making Plans In The Dark for example. There is a threatening storm on the horizon in the atmospheric On Blackout Avenue. The bowed harp on Memories Of Being Made gives it a luscious darkness. Every track has something to recommend it.
However, I do find the two shorter, I think keyboard-only pieces (Olimpia's Rage and Europa Waiting), less engaging and more ordinary in the context of the whole album.
However, that is a small caveat, as Nerissa Schwarz's New Eyes For Laika is a repeat-playable, atmospheric, multi-hued gem, that repays the effort of a close listen.