Dave Foster Band — Glimmer
Dave Foster's prog pedigree extends to five albums with Mr So & So and stints with Big Big Train and Steve Rothery Band. The new Dave Foster Band album, Glimmer, side-steps the expectations raised by his associations, without ignoring them altogether. Glimmer is an album that mixes classic rock strut, with dustings of prog and hard rock riffing, around some earworm tunes. It has taken a good few plays for the album to click with me, but click it has.
The songs on Glimmer are written by Dave Foster (guitars, keyboards, voice), with lyrics by Dutch singer Dinet Poortman (lead vocals). The rest of the band are Neil Fairclough (touring bassist with Queen + Adam Lambert), Steve Rothery's drummer Leon Parr and Anthony Hindley (piano, organ). This album follows 2019's debut Nocebo. Sadly, I have not heard that release, but I will be tracking it down.
At first, I thought Glimmer was an album of powerful classic rock with catchy melodies, but possibly not inventive enough for me. However, with time I found subtle invention, coupled with superb musicianship and cracking singing. So I could not help but keep playing it. It has echoes of It Bites and John Mitchell's Lonely Robot project.
The opener, Every Waking Moment, is the only track not graced by Dinet Poortman's magnificent vocals. Instead, Dave Foster's rawer vocals flow over the skittering percussion, building to a powerful guitar solo. Run is a terrific, heads-down, melodic classic rock stomper. It should come with a 'danger earworm' sticker.
This song-focused set becomes more proggy from then on. Stigma's grinding rhythm supports heavy-prog riffing and another swaggering guitar solo. Dave Foster lets lose his inner rock-God here.
Organ provides lovely, detailed touches to the ballad Chasing An Echo, alongside nice slide guitar. Dive In has a mid-paced Big Big Train feel to it. A five-piece string section joins for the last two tracks, adding further colour to this great set. Both songs make for a great conclusion to the album.
Dave Foster Band's Glimmer is a song-driven collection that may not be overly taxing for those who like their prog complex. But hey, have a day off and get into this more straight-ahead and thoroughly enjoyable music. For on the swaggering Glimmer, a little prog goes a long way.
Kite Parade — Retro
Retro is the follow-up album after the success of Kite Parade's debut, The Way Home, which was released in 2022 to an enthusiastic response. The mainstay of the band is Andy Foster, who is assisted by Nick D'Virgillio and Joe Crabtree on drums, while Steve Thorne provides some interesting lyrics on a few songs. Rob Albury was behind the mixing desk. Andy is responsible for guitar, vocals, bass programming, keyboards and lyrics.
Andy suggests influences from bands such as Frost*, It Bites and Genesis, which is also quite evident to these ears. The major similarity I found on many tracks however, was the striking resemblance to the voice of Chris Braid who is the other half of the rather excellent Downes Braid Association. I happened to rediscover that duo recently, and after easily succumbing to their infectious songwriting, was quick to pinpoint the similarity. No complaints from me.
Retro kicks things off with a bouncy beat and a strong set of bass lines, crisp drumming from Nick and solid singing from Andy. He has a great voice and is able to reach the highest registers with ease; never making a suggestion of straining or shouting. A solid backdrop of accompanying keyboards moves the song along at a nice, steady pace.
Speed Of Light is a very melodic track that is one of the more instantly-accessible songs. Its real strength lies with its excellent bass work, which reminded me of that insanely good song called Johnston's Aeroplane by Australia's very own INXS. Wonderful continues this pattern but also treats us to some excellent guitar lead breaks.
Shadows Fall begins with soft acoustic guitar and gentle vocals in a similar way that Pete Jones, (Tiger Moth Tales), does so well. Then it introduces some tasty sax mid-way through, along with some heavier guitar and power chords. Complex synth sections are counter-punched by Nick's dynamic stick-work that also allows Andy to build that wall of sound with guitars and keys working in unison.
Under The Same Sun features a really impressive keyboard section including a synth-blast right out of the Jan Hammer instruction manual. A a blurt or two of organ really lifts the track. However, that section only lasted for less than a minute, so to me, there was a lost opportunity to have made the song a whole lot more appealing.
The main impact of this album however, will be heard during the final, near 14-minute epic. Its slower beginning, with softly-building guitar, introduces Andy's evocative vocals and takes us on a journey that drifts through various musical sections that defy normal song structures. While it's not outrageously progressive with complex time signatures, it makes an adventurous attempt to mix things up, and in general it succeeds.
You won't find a predictable verse - chorus - verse - chorus structure at all here but will be well served by listening intently, with the lyric sheet in hand, as it provides the only means by which you will make an accurate interpretation of how the lyrics actually fit into place. All in all, this was a great track and the perfect closer for what I found to be yet another inspired piece of songwriting from Andy and his team.
Andy has advised that he is assembling a permanent band to enable him to perform his music to a wider audience on stage, and is looking forward to the challenge in the future. The album is being released on the White Knight Records Label from Denmark. This is yet another excellent album to be released this year and will probably make it into my top 10 for the year.
Rafael Pacha — A Bunch Of Forest Songs
In addition to his continued activities with The Guildmaster, The Samurai Of Prog, Inner Prospekt and other ventures with Kimmo Pörsti, with whom he also recently released the excellent Views From The Inner World, one could almost forget that Rafael Pacha also enjoys a solo career.
Starting with the 2000 release of Aes Sidhe, a swift Bandcamp recap reveals a total of 17 albums so far. Three years ago it was Al Rincón Por Soñar that introduced me to Pacha's wonderful musical world, although admittedly it took some time to do so, for the cover art of this album didn't exactly appeal to me. It still doesn't, but as an example of why one should never judge a CD by its cover, it turned out to be a splendid effort most certainly worth exploring.
This time around, Pacha achieves the same satisfying result, with the difference that A Bunch Of Forest Songs can be judged on its attractive cover, with its intricately crafted artwork, featuring an ancient illustration of a nesting bird by Joseph Wolf. Inside, the graphic designs and collages by Ihmekammari-Kimmo Heikkilä Design show forest animals in their natural habitat. All of this is in perfect sync with the prog-sprinkled folk songs that make up the album. The hidden insides of the digi-pack artwork unexpectedly dig even deeper, and depict various precision drawings of flora and fauna found in woodland environments.
The care and attention given to the artwork is likewise found within the minutely-arranged compositions that make up Pacha's new work of art that revisits a dozen instrumental compositions from his albums Aes Sidhe, Tower Of Dreams, La Tierra Permanece and Back Home that each inhibit an element of European tradition as well as a touch of progressive finesse. A thirteenth, previously unreleased track, completes the album.
As per usual, Pacha plays a plethora of instruments, ranging from the more commonly known guitar, percussion, bass, keyboards, electric violin, recorders and whistles, onto a variety of folk/world music instruments like the baglama, bouzouki, bodhrán, cura, mandola, psaltery and tabla.
Over the course of the album, his steady drumming companion Pörsti, shows a perfect feel and understanding towards the need of the songs in terms of dynamism, drive, restrained play or intricate guidance. Together with several spirited guest appearances, their combined efforts result in many joyously entertaining and preciously enchanting moments of exquisite beauty that will capture the heart of progressive-folk fans.
In light of this, Piper's Dream is an instant fulfiller of dreams that brings to mind a carefree, Tolkien-inspired Shiresong through its fairytale-like opening, followed by impressions of cheerful celtic environments which are creatively blown into life by Carlos Aragon's uilleann pipe. Accompanied by Irish flute from Rafael Moreno, this bag-less instrument also plays a significant part in the intricately constructed and serene Piper's Nightmare, though this time it's executed by Juan Miguel López.
López is also featured on low whistle in the entertaining Balkan Rashness / Pivo U Staklu in which, together with the whistling duties from Pacha, he provides a delightful touch of Jethro Tull amidst rousing Balkan-styled musical treats. His third and final contribution takes place in Stormchaser, a marvellous composition, which guided by López's highland pipes, spirals onwards in full accord with Pacha's accompanying words and sets sail onto the Hebridean prog-shores of Scotland with a roundabout of lushly-decorated melodies designed by excellent guitars and worldly percussion.
The victorious Kenningar (Swordwater) adds combative drumming to this, with superb violin by Jose Manuel Milan. While in the Basque-inspired Artanõla this moving instrument, played by Juan Arriola, provides a beautiful prog touch that hints at Solstice. Like my previous experiences with Guildmaster's efforts, all of these folk-inspired songs take some time to fathom, but sure enough they once again slowly win me over. So do the melody-laden songs of Ossian By The Door and Dance Of Rohan, also the darker Riverdance-like virgin forest shades of Akelarre which features Marco Bernard on bass. There is also a lovely finale in Broceliande which delicately expresses melancholy and tangible sadness.
Amidst these compositions Inma's Song and Bean Sidhe bring a wonderful symbioses of folk and symphonic prog pleasantries in the vein of The Guildmaster. The former hereby expresses a mild Steve Hackett likeness with frivolous melodies shaped by flute and electrifying guitar work, while the latter manages to create images of reflective placidness and deep rivers of peaceful uplift in its awakening moments.
Both songs provide a beautiful change of musical scenery to the generously presented folk atmospheres, and at the same time their (strategic) placement delivers a harmonious flow to the album, especially when the triumphantly enchanting La Mujer De Músico (The Musician's Wife) is taken into account.
Next to a sultry and jazzy laid-back feel, this sensitive song brings alluring flute melodies and refined classical piano-play from Alessandro Di Benedetti (Guildmaster, Inner Prospekt), followed by a decorative Moog moment, after which Pacha lets his inner Hackett speak freely in the song's caressing acoustic coda. Overall a truly beautiful musical embodiment and a highlight worth the exploration of the album alone.
A Bunch Of Forest Songs represents a beautiful anthology from Pacha's oeuvre in which both his folk roots and love for progressive rock are immortalised in beautifully developed and meticulously arranged compositions. This is a collection that will provide a lot of joy for fans of progressive-folk and those that favour the likes of Robert Reed's Ringmaster efforts, Clannad, The Guildmaster, and Mike Oldfield.
Svntax Error — The Vanishing Existence
Describing themselves as "psychedelic post-rock for the apocalypse", Svntax Error are a quartet of theremin (Matthew Syres), two guitars (Matthew Syres and Ben Aylward), bass (Peter Yates), drums (Ben Eadie), and occasional vocals. Based in Sydney, they have recently released their second album, The Vanishing Existence.
Behind its gorgeous cover-art lurks an album of dreamy and sometimes intense post-rock that features experimental use of theremin and layered guitars, held together with pin-sharp drumming and lithe bass playing. They claim their influences are the likes of Mogwai, Nick Cave, The Cure and more. These influences are only visible at the seams of the music. I see them more as a harmonically-progressive Radiohead (with vocals from guitarist Ben Aylward that bear no relation to Thom Yorke's slurred keening), mixed with Mogwai's building drama, and a good dose of art-rock.
Svntax Error won me over with the first track Radio Silence, and its harmonies that remind me of Sheffield's The Comsat Angels in amongst the guitar soundscapes of ghostly disturbance. The first with vocals, Broken Nightmares, is equally engaging, with a terrific build-and-release structure. A Cure-like bass opens Circular Argument's jazz-inflected, picked guitars as the theremin takes it forward, cleverly sidestepping expectations carefully built to where you see a guitar solo coming. Instead, you get a solitary bass line. The solo is saved for the coda.
The title track is a gently-paced but intense slice of post-rock, leading into the fast-paced Relentless with a great drum pattern, and angular riffs supporting a delicate vocal melody.
A noisescape introduces the splendidly named Kelvin Waves Goodbye. This resolves into a theremin- and guitar-led instrumental ballad that grows in intensity and tempo. The closer, Backwards Through The Storm, sees a little Nick Cave influence surfacing with a half-spoken, half-sung vocal. The song's quiet-loud dynamic is great.
If you were going to be ultra-picky about The Vanishing Existence, then you might argue that it feels a little one-paced. This is especially the case for 215 Days, which doesn't really seem to go anywhere musically. Though, as with the rest of the album, the filigree of detail is worth getting to know.
Svntax Error's The Vanishing Existence is a well-mixed and produced work. A clever collection of dreamy post-rock, with the disturbing near-nightmares pushing through. This is a passionate collection, showing there's still more life to be had in expanding the tropes post-rock.