Caravela Escarlate — III
I was keen to try this album out for review as my collection of Brazilian prog has been a bit lacking of late, so what better way to change that than to experiencing what this band has to offer for their third album which was officially released on 23rd January 2023.
One issue I have detected while checking up on some details about this band is that they have gone through four drummers since forming in 2011 with Elcio Cafaro having been with the band since 2016. It seems the band's previous skin meisters survived a year or two before a change took place. The predominant members of the band remain Ronaldo Rodrigues (keyboards) and Jove David Paiva on bass and vocals. Although I have the liner notes of this CD, I cannot detect the original guitarist and singer, David Caravelle as having made any contribution to this album. Although he was a founding member of the band in 2011 and played on their debut album, Rascunho (2016), according to rateyourmusic.com, he is no longer with the band. This then leaves us with a trio of very capable musicians to tease our ears into submission with their very symphonic and pastoral sounding keyboard extravaganza.
Right from the outset, the band let you know this is going to be a keyboard lover's treat as Ronaldo unleashes swathes of majestic and colourful synth, organ and mellotron patterns throughout what is arguably one of the nicest and "easy on the ears" albums I have heard in quite a while. One major attribute that a lot of progressive rock fans in general might notice is the complete lack of any input from the guitar. While this might be considered a mandatory requirement for many fans, on this release it doesn't really impede ones enjoyment of the music. Sure, when the inclusion of a number of "essential" instruments is used by the whole band, one can expect a very holistic type of sound that pays homage to the anticipated interplay between the keys and the guitar. Obviously, this is absent here but given that fact, there is plenty of enjoyment to be explored in much the same way that bands such as Trace, Triumvirate, Cast (Mexico) and others have managed to do, sans the guitar.
Vocally, I am not hearing anything really stirring or powerful but as their bass player has taken on the vocal duties, it comes across as a little light weight in this department. To make up for this in other ways, fans will be treated to a smorgasbord of seriously nice backdrops of mellotron, swirling organ and synth blasts to placate those pining for a six string slinger. The band have managed to embrace the vintage sounds from the 70's while maintaining their own impressions of what progressive rock should sound like today. There is nothing really derivative here but then again, there is nothing really truly innovative either.
The songs themselves, are quite delicate for the most part with the mellotron providing a very soothing and melancholic foundation until Rodrigo turns on the gas pedal when the need arises to include some challenging but boisterous synth runs. The well struck bass notes suggest a very dexterous amount of thumb slapping virtuosity which I enjoy immensely. Jove really is quite the capable player but then again, for a trio of players, the overall sound suggests more musicians were in attendance. The drumming is competent without being overwhelming or too flamboyant but serves its purpose well enough to keep Eleio on the payroll.
Unfortunately, I don't possess their second album which seems to rate quite highly, so I can't make any direct comparisons. Having said that, this new release stands up very well in its own right, although I am still waiting for that magic moment to appear when I am sufficiently familiar with all complexities of the individual songs to work their way into my brain. This may require another spin or two.
While not as well known as some stalwarts from South and Central America such as Nexus, Cabezas de Cera, Som Imaginario, Alas, Cast, Los Jaivas, Bubu, Agnus, Tempano, Anima Mundi, Mia, Pablo El Enterrador and Invisible, (all of whom I really enjoy), it won't be too long before the band will be able to add their name to that esteemed list. This is good quality symphonic prog rock at its finest with some very evocative playing, especially from Ronaldo and comes highly recommended.
Floating — The Waves Have Teeth
Ah Sweden, is there ever going to be a time when the country stops producing high calibre metal bands? From the early days in the 80s, to Entombed and At The Gates to the progressive and jazz influences in the likes of Opeth and Pain Of Salvation there is a mighty high bar. Can Floating reach it? A young and relatively unknown entry to the roster of groups (68 followers on Facebook at time of writing), they bring in the debut album (and so far only release): The Waves Have Teeth.
From the opening chord of The Seep I suspect this bar will be reached. Dissonant guitars spike along the rumbling double bass of the drums as guttural vocals stamp their place in the mix. The overall sound is of something menacing, growing evermore present and constant. There isn't much light in this track, and it is superb. Gag enters next with a downright filthy sound, driving between slower verses and a sound that is thick with a black sludge in tonality.
Pile Of Birds, however engages in a bit of a switch, while still very much being a death metal track first and foremost, it also brings in some post-punk feelings to the music itself. A bit more jovial (while still being pretty dark). More death and post influences are brought out the drawer in No Eyes. A mix of dissonance, tremolos, arpeggios and a call back to some heavier slices of goth from the 80s (I'm reminded of old Killing Joke at points). Second to last, we have The Hills Will Know Him, which begins in an almost jumbled kind of prog way before the doom and death we've seen before leaps out of nowhere. The moonless riffs and melodies still retain that goth feeling of doom, but keep that edge of death metal intensity that has been the foundation of the album so far.
And finally, The Floating Horror comes down to end it all. The closer is instrumental in its delivery. Skirting the lines between prog, doom, goth and post-rock. It ticks a lot of boxes. At times sounding like Kontinuum or Solstafir, other times a bit like Ghost, but throughout it still retains the sound and structure of Floating.
A short album, but enjoyable. I did feel that the vocals were maybe a bit high in the mix, and maybe have done with being a bit less guttural and thick like treacle. A few riffs here and there also came across a bit repetitive sometimes. However, as a debut album it shows a lot of promise. I guess their number of followers is up at 69 now (at time of writing).
I'd suggest having a listen if you're a fan of Gorguts, Dismember, and Imperial Triumphant, or just wish Killing Joke would redo Love Like Blood with a death metal twist.
I.AB — In Time
The US project I.AB has been out of the prog radar for a decade, since the release of their debut Counting. The tightly packed 70-minute-plus album had received a rather lukewarm feedback from Mark, and in 2022 the project returned with a new, much shorter relaunching of their career, named In Time
I don't have an opportunity to trace the developments, but as of 2022 / 2023, I.AB sound is that of a quite confident modern prog, and it would be safe to assume that some progress was made (yes, I know that assumptions are reviewers' dirty trick).
In the 2020s, I.AB shares its style with the likes of Comedy Of Errors, Unified Past and other projects from the Melodic Revolution label. In other words the duet's music dwells in the realm of arrangements and atmosphere, rather than manual dexterity. The songs are rhythmically intricate, mostly written in major tonality, albeit with a dreamy haze, rather than straight-in-your-face optimism of Yes-copycats. Listeners will probably find the last two, slower tracks – early Genesis-influenced Sofia and vast, almost neo-proggish How High The Stars as the most interesting ones, more coherent, confidently performed and filled with nuances.
The one thing that plays against I.AB is the vocal delivery. It is understandable that the project grew from home studio enthusiasm, but with the increased professionalism in instrumental delivery and recording capabilities, the vocals simply do not live up to the rest of material, especially realizing that the vocal lines themselves are nicely written.
In Time is a good test of acquired skills, but not yet a full-scale statement from the band.
Nazz — Lost Masters & Demos
Nazz, the Anglophile band formed in Philadelphia in 1967, was the first group featuring guitarist and principal songwriter Todd Rundgren who started the band alongside bassist Carson Van Osten. Recruiting drummer Thom Mooney and vocalist/keyboardist Robert "Stewkey" Antoni. Managerial impresario John Kurland heard the band rehearsing, bought them out of their existing management contract and signed the band to the SGC label. Kurland originally envisaged the band as competitors to The Monkees although the group had other ideas as they set their sights on less 'ephemeral' music being in thrall to British groups like The Beatles, The Who and Cream.
The band had minor success with their first single Open My Eyes / Hello It's Me with the eponymous debut album getting into the lower reaches of the US charts. Recording for the band's second album actually commenced before the first one was released and included an abortive trip to London to try and capture the 'British Sound' that was cut short (two hours in a studio and one concert that was limited to just four songs) because Kurland had failed to obtain the correct visas. Back in the US the band continued recording with Rundgren in a proliferate writing phase. He was writing so much material that at one point he was pushing for the second album, with a working title of Fungo Bat, to be a double album. However, the rest of the band were not too enthused with the idea particularly as the newer material was much more piano-based (influenced heavily by Rundgren's one-time partner Laura Nyro) and moved away from the rockier sound of the debut album.
Relationships within the band deteriorated rapidly and the original band had effectively disbanded by the time the album came to be released. A total of 24 songs had been recorded for the putative double album but on release Nazz Nazz had been slimmed down to a single 11-track album featuring material more akin to the sound of the debut album. The remaining 13 songs were released as Nazz III in 1970 but only after the SGC threatened to sue drummer Mooney for the return of the studio tapes that were in his possession.
The 24 songs that comprised these second and third albums are what are presented on the first two CDs of this collection - originally Sing A Song, Good Lovin' Woman and Sing A Song (reprise) were run together as one track and the current collection omits the song Kicks that was recorded during separate sessions for an abandoned compilation album. It is here that the title of the current collection is rather misleading as they are not actually taken from the studio master tapes, which were lost in a fire at Rundgren's studio many years ago, but from master acetates. I am not sure how much these versions differ from the versions released on the excellent but long deleted Castle Nazz Nazz double CD (2006) as well as the Cleopatra CD release The Complete Nazz (2019) as the tracks that appeared on the Nazz III album in this set appear to be identical tho those released on the Castle CD. There are some differences in the Nazz Nazz tracks which, which seem to be the same recordings but are generally of a slightly poorer quality (with more surface noise) and have running times a few seconds shorter than the previous CD releases. As we only received the digital music files for review and not the artwork, I can't comment as to on the ultimate sources of these recordings.
However, this is all somewhat secondary to the actual music on the release which is universally excellent. The variety of the music on offer is astounding. Songs such as Forget All About It, Magic Me, Rain Rider, Under The Ice, Featherbedding Lover, Kiddie Boy and Christopher Columbus are upbeat rockers with forceful guitar playing from Rundgren with elements ranging from powerpop (Forget All About It) to old time rock 'n' roll (Kiddie Boy). Meanwhile Only One Winner is a pure pop song and How Can You Call That Beautiful? could have been written and recorded with an eye on the pop charts; Hang On Paul is a faster take on the riff of Open Your Eyes with added hints of Paul McCartney's Birthday, while Plenty Of Lovin' is a slow blues which is only saved from disaster by Rundgren's guitar playing.
The more reflective and acoustic side of things that the rest of the band were no so happy with reaches twin peaks with the lovely ballad Gonna Cry Today and the similar Resolution with You Are My Window being one of the sparsest tracks on the album, just piano and vocals and would sound like a demo if it wasn't for the string arrangement that has been added to parts of the track. There are three other ballads present: Take The Hand is a somewhat standard piece with a nice backing vocals arrangement, It's Not That Easy sounds more akin to a demo recording than a finalised track and Letters Don't Count shifts to acoustic guitar, although it does tend to get a bit weird at the end.
There are a couple of throwaway numbers, Meridian Leeward with its opening lines of "I'm a human being now, but I used to be a pig" is whimsical nonsense but rather lacks substance, and Losen Up sounds more like a warm up number that might be used as an introductory piece at a concert and is not a serious piece of music. Old Time Lovemaking tries to introduce a completely different sound with its pub piano and horns. Some People suffers from the worst interference from surface noise which even though, despite not fading out as early, seems to be the same recording, although maybe a slightly different mix, as the version on the Castle CD I own. A Beautiful Song closes off the second CD, as it did the original Nazz Nazz album. A long scale composition, this was Rundgren's, largely successful, attempt to end the album with a statement piece along the lines of The Beatles ending Sgt Pepper's with A Day In The Life. Moving through several sections with a full orchestral backing the song is a delight from start to finish and well worth hearing if you are unfamiliar with it.
For those cognisant of the band's output then it is the third disc that will likely prove to be the big attraction. A collection of previously unreleased acetates from 1967 and 1968 featuring different versions of released songs. I actually prefer the early version of Rain Rider under it's original title of Get Outta Here Baby. With different lyrics and a less aggressive arrangement, the focus is more on the vocals and it sounds a lot better than the later version with a more prominent organ. The two versions of Gonna Cry Today are what seem to be different takes of the song with not a lot to differentiate between them. The minor hit from the first album, Hello It's Me, is also present in two versions with the mono mix being more laid back and lacking the more aggressive components of the John Kurland curated version. The mono version of Magic Me is very similar to the stereo version released on Nazz III and slightly different to the mono version released as a single. However, the alternative version is more severely edited losing about 30 seconds in running time. The Regent Studios version of Under The Ice is the best of the three included in the set and it is surprising that this version was not recorded on the first disc. In contrast, the Mastertone version is very muddy and lacks the feedback at the end of the song. Of the three versions of Open My Eyes the two 'No Phasing' takes are essentially similar except one fades out earlier, although the instrumental version is probably a different take as the ending is a lot more abrupt.
The only other track from the time of the debut album is Back Of Your Mind which is somewhat rougher than the final version but essentially the same arrangement. There are some differences between the alternative and original mixes of Not Wrong Long but they do require very careful listening. In contrast, the alternative version of Kiddie Boy is not that alternative, I would swear they are the same recording! Old Time Lovemaking (alternative version) is less complete as it only features basic drums and piano with lead and backing vocals added over the top. The tempo is also slightly slower than the final version. Likewise, the alternative Only One Winner is a more basic version without the flourishes and additional instrumentation that was subsequently added. It also fades out a lot earlier than the completed take.
I think you would have to be a total Rundgren fanatic for this release to be high on you list of required purchases. To my mind The Complete Nazz, released by the same company as this set, is a much better buy, having all three albums in the best quality with lots of bonus material to boot. I am sure these acetates could have been cleaned up more than they have been (if they have) and there is really not that much difference from previous releases to warrant the price tag, particularly if one is considering the vinyl version. Maybe I would have been of a different opinion if I had read the booklet and discovered the originals of these acetate and the differences from previous releases but on the whole, based on simply listening to the tracks, I don't think they are at all essential.
Rocking Horse Music Club — Circus Of Wire Dolls
Rocking Horse Music Club is band from the UK, although it could in fact be a proper club. One with senior members and several well known guests that have arrived to lend a hand. I'm not going to mention everyone taking part in this opera rock album, but you will find David Cross (King Crimson), John Hackett and Tim Bowness to name just a few. As mentioned, Circus Of Wire Dolls is a concept album/rock opera and as good concept album/rock operas go, it is very long, with 22 songs and lasting over 95 minutes.
If you love this kind of albums you will enjoy this one as well and in case you don't like long ones, don't be scared because the music here flows very well, alternating between long and short compositions. As songwriter/producer Brian Coombers says, "on the surface, the record tells the story of a man who creates a miniature circus out of wire, string and cloth, but it's really about a man looking back at his life, his work, the people who entered and exited his world, his successes, his failures, his regrets." I really love the concept of this album, the way the band presents it and all the metaphors that appear throughout the show. I highly recommend the physical copy to get all the information about the circus characters and of course to have all the lyrics.
I'm afraid it's not a perfect album, though. While the music here is interesting, I am missing some more dramatic turns in terms of instrumentation and also in the vocals. Stylistically speaking, Circus Of Wire Dolls is not an only-one-genre-album, since we can find some symphonic pop, art rock, some gospel and folk. But all of this played in a very soft way. I like the songs, but I'd have liked this album much better if the band had taken some risks, including rockier parts, more dramatic vocals, etc. I don't have the magic formula either, but it's the feeling that I have had every time I have finished listening to this album. I really enjoy those opera rock albums that are like a roller-coaster in every way, musically and vocally, and this Circus Of Wire Dolls have left me missing that adrenalin.
The best part of all of this is that I have discovered a very good club that seems very capable of making a superb record, so let's wait for their next meeting to see how high they can get.
Twombley Burwash — Grak II Blak
With a name like Twombley Burwash, you'd have to at least expect the unexpected and that is basically the situation I have found myself in with this, the band's second album, released late last year.
I have no idea as to the origins of the band's name, but it sure had me scratching the few remaining follicles on my sun burnt cranium to understand how such an unusual name could have been considered. I'm all for the concept of using a different or catchy name for a band but this one has left me none the wiser.
The main members of this band are a father and son team, Kevin McDade and Bruce Forbes McCade. Both contribute towards the creation of the music and vocals while the lyrics were penned by Kevin. They are assisted by an assortment of fellow musicians offering drums, backing vocals and violin.
This has been quite a difficult album to review due to it taking so long to penetrate the inner sanctum of my cerebrum. This has been exacerbated by a general dearth of really memorable pieces of music, although to the band's credit there have been a few short sections that sounded quite pleasant. The underlying music is also superior to the vocals as there are several sections where the singing sounds a little listless and flat. However, the band cannot be faulted for their general creativity as the music moves along at a pretty steady pace. Apart from an unnecessarily long opening piece that repeats itself for most of its nearly 3 minute duration, the band doesn't get bogged down with too much superfluous noodling.
With four tracks that easily broach the 10-minute mark and being backstopped by a few shorter tracks, the album is quite the journey, clocking in at almost 67 minutes. The band run the full gamut of what is traditionally considered essential for anything to fall under the progressive rock banner. They use an assortment of instruments including keyboards, guitar, bass, mandolins and while there are certainly no blisteringly wild synth sections, the piano pieces when used, reveal a highly talented player is at the helm. Guitar lead breaks, which adopt a slightly fuzzy tone at times are adequate without setting the house on fire.
While things get underway properly with The Painter the basic riff is, well, very basic and reminds you of a pretty average sounding band from the 70s trying to come up with the next big hit. Thankfully, when the vocals chime in, it starts to develop some cohesion. The music then follows a divergent path utilising flute, fuzzed out guitar and violin but doesn't make a big enough statement as this divergence comes at the expense of compositional integrity. As soon as this section has left the listener scratching their head, some adventurous piano pieces attack you from another direction. Once that distraction has left you in another quandary, feedback from the lead guitar assumes the attack but then settles back into a more melodic vocal section. The band have really tried to cram so much into this song that I am at a loss to wonder why it was chosen for the "opening epic" per se.
Things improve dramatically from a musical perspective, as the band adopt a slightly more coherent and melodic approach for Quicksilver Spheres and utilise some nice choral vocalisations to keep the fuzzy guitars in check. Here we also witness some very dexterous harpsichord to close out the song.
Blue adopts a more pastoral approach for the beginning of this song with violin, keyboards and brass underpinned by bass, guitar and rhythmic drumming. It probably represents the best song on the album and flows nicely from start to finish and sustains the listener with a captivating and melodious warmth that will appeal to a wide variety of people.
In The Temple sees the band utilising some extra programming with the synth and which helps create a little more excitement with a more solid drumming backbone to drive the music forward. Some additional piano pieces which are extremely well done reinforce the latent talent that Kevin obviously possesses but again, there can be no escaping the band is trying to squeeze more material into a space that is not flexible enough to accommodate it. The vocals also reveal a singer who hits the higher registers with a little difficulty but not to a seriously deleterious degree. This fact is also evident in the follow-up song, Out Of The Shadows although thankfully, the music is more adventurous for the majority of its duration, including its pleasant mandolin interlude. The melodious guitar break during the last two minutes of In The Temple however, is really quite good and reminds me slightly of the excellent break used by Druid on the track, Left To Find.
I really wanted to like this album more than I have rated it, but it simply needs more glue to hold it all together. While I really enjoy music that challenges me and leaves me speechless, the few sections where that occurs on this album are too few and far between to make this a regular spinner in my CD player. While I would probably rate this at 6.5 / 10, I am going to lift that by a half point due to the "Druid" connection. That really was the highlight of the album for me and closed out the song really well.