Armelle LC — L@ Dérive (The Drift)
Following a recent review I wrote for Seven Reizh, our site was sent a CD from an associate of one of the original band members and to see if we would review it. I'm not sure of the closeness of this associate to that band member but review the album we will.
Armelle is a French musician who uses the harp as her predominant instrument as well as using her voice in a somewhat unusual way. Her vocal styling certainly will have you thinking that Kate Bush is holding the microphone but Armelle's voice is far more lilting, far more extreme and breathy at the same time. In some sections of her music, she will change pitch and tone in a way that seems a little odd but I am sure there is an underlying reason for it. On the song, Claire Obscure, for example, the sound of her voice takes on more of an Asian texture which is quite a departure from the French language which I am assuming is her native tongue.
Her use of the harp which is often very softly plucked is quite pensive for many of the 12 tracks on offer so there is plenty of time to explore the inner nuances of these 12 songs. What exactly is going on is a little hard to say as I normally don't listen to music such as this. Is it world music? I don't think so. Is it progressive new age? Not really. I feel it probably belongs to a brand new musical genre that has not yet been named. There is some degree of ethnicity to the songs as testified by the variety of instruments used. However, it could hardly be said there was any African influence despite the use of Nigerian timpani drums
The music could probably be described as a little self indulgent inasmuch that Armelle is creating music that suits her own styles and direction and the public, whoever they may be, are invited along for the journey. Whether they enjoy what they hear is dependent on how many times they actually get to play the album before deciding exactly what their thoughts might be. They would also require a very broad appreciation of what Armelle is hoping to achieve with this album. After all, it certainly does not follow any musical text books regarding regular song structures, patterns, rhythms or methods of creativity that the average music fan could accept and enjoy. My initial thoughts were not exactly encouraging, however, after several spins and with enough time for some of the musical patterns and concepts to sink in, some of the music began to take on a slightly more structured feel. Some of the songs left me feeling slightly puzzled, some left me feeling quite entranced while others had me hitting the skip button.
The songs are very quirky, extremely different to what most people might expect to hear but I can see some people hating this as being too nebulous while others will declare it to be a masterpiece. I am neither feeling any ambivalence towards the album nor am I accepting as the aforesaid masterpiece we all like to discover.
After finally receiving the physical CD, my initial thoughts of the exact type of instruments being used have been well and truly confirmed. Not having any original liner notes or promo material from which to glean some idea of who is playing, my initial guesses included some support from other fellow musicians. Just how many other people were involved became apparent when the disc arrived in the mail. I had no idea how many were involved but it seems most of France was crammed into the studio as the guess list is insanely long. The production of the CD is also absolutely first class and has been very professionally done. The lyrics are supplied in both French and English which certainly helps to follow what is going on. The images and pictorial quality are on the same level as the cover for Seven Reizh's brilliant latest album reviewed here under issue 2023-043. Simply stunning and graphically pleasing.
Some of the instrumentation used on the album is quite special. The album includes the use of bass, some percussion, synths, harpsichord, piano, strings, keyboards, Tibetan bowls, a few sections of guitar, didgeridoo, acoustic guitar and the all encompassing harp, played in a large variety of ways. I also see there is lot of programmed music accompanying this album and some layered sections where needed. There is even a very brief section of Mongolian throat singing and as it definitely sounds like a male's voice, one can only assume the obvious.
This is certainly not the style of music I would recommend to everyone and in some respects, possibly not to many who visit this site. However, if you have an extremely broad taste in music, enjoy something very quirky, ethereal and adventurous and don't shy away from a serious challenge, then you may well discover something worth exploring further. Will this album succeed in the same way that albums from Kate Bush did? Certainly not. Will it sell a decent number of copies? Probably not. There is simply not enough captivating sections for large numbers of people to be instantly mesmerised by what they hear. But I don't think that is really the point of this project. Armelle is creating music that pleases her and is not conforming to what normally occurs when record labels dictate exactly what sort of songs they want to hear and push down the public's throat (I mean ears). After all, record labels do this with the expectation of the album selling by the truckload so they can line their pockets with all the profits. That is an understandable motive for any business.
I must admire Armelle's creativity as I don't believe I have heard anything quite like this before now. She is in charge of her own destiny with crafting music such as this so if anyone else wants to climb on board, I am sure you will be given a very warm welcome. Intriguing and challenging to say the least but a little outside my normal comfort levels for me to be overly enthralled. However, I must given top marks for creativity and the quality of the overall package as it is really well done and must have cost quite a lot to produce. Given the quality of the artwork, not to mention the large number of guest musicians, projects such as this are a pretty rare occurrence as not every aspiring musician could afford such a lavish budget.
A totally professional project indeed but not quite by cup of tea sadly. I'll settle for a glass or three of my favourite Shiraz instead thanks. Pass the cheese and biscuits will you?
Missing Jack & The Kameleons — Human Cycle
From France comes Missing Jack & The Kameleons, formed in 2016. Having three guitarists in the line-up might give the expectation of a heavier sound, but in general, MJ&TK is more laid-back. If you know other titles on the Six Tonnes de Chair label then you will have an idea. The sound is open, allowing for lots of carefully crafted details to shine through, almost like touched by jazz.
The first two tracks share a driven 1960 garage psychedelic rock with dreamy vocals. In the latter (with a rather disturbing video), the vocals and melodies have a strong resemblance to Men Of Lake, but having guitar where the Italians used more keyboards.
One Drop Later has some parts that remind me of Nektar's quieter moments, like their Desolation Valley. Longer, dreamier, more progressive. Almost relaxed, but still emotionally intense. The sparse vocal parts have a strong early Pink Floyd influence. Closer The Wheel also shows some Portishead influences. On the whole, King Gizzard must be a favourite among the band members.
Offliners is a bit more jumpy and starts off almost danceable, as is the next one, Wegonnadie. Early Krautrock influences are a little stronger here. Almost psychedelic surf music, but a more progressive approach with several different sections, knowing when a song needs some power and speed, which is shown in the wonderful guitar solo at the end.
The mix is clear, without losing the warmth and fuzziness this music requires to get in the right groove and mood. The band are a tight unit, arrangements are clever with lots of layers. I'd love to see this band live, see if they allow themselves some room to jam and freak out. For a studio album, this is a good debut.
Ossi — Ossi - Album su LP
Garage prog rockers Ossi, consisting out of Deadburger Factory members Vittorio Nistri (keyboards, electronics, loops) and Simone Tilli (vocals, loopstation) are psychedelic storytellers who hail from Italy. OSSI - album su LP marks their experimental freakish, quirkily enjoyable and ravishingly bonkers debut album.
Supported by Italian underground's finest Dome La Muerte (guitar), Andrea Appino (guitars), and Bruno Dorella (drums) Ossi's album is a truly baffling and strangely intriguing effort packed with absurd realistic humour and an unbridled concoction of enigmatic music which through a cornucopia of musical twists and turns leaves one at a total loss from time to time. Frank Zappa would be well pleased.
Exquisitely packaged in provoking acid-drowned artwork the album comes with a delightful complementary 28 page humorous, hippie-inspired underground comix strip designed by Andrea Pazienza and Ugo De Lucchi. Thankfully for those whose Italian is a bit rusty including English notes to clarify and elaborate on the 100% true Italian stories of social and political madness addressed within the various songs. Much like my colleagues experience with Deadburger Factory's La Chiamata OSSI's is also hard to pinpoint and leaves one constantly guessing at what comes next.
Whether it is the rioting weirdness of AvantGarde synth surrounded by unfriendly voiced samples of a political election rally in Ventriloquist Rock, the catchy seventies inspired acid Surf melodies of Ricariche, or the treacherously rockier protesting melodic song textures of Toy Boy; with each song confusion and bewilderment reigns high.
This is topped of in the lengthy Demons out, a song inspired upon two-years of pandemic weirdness and psychedelic rocker Edgar Broughton's 1970's song Out Demons Out, which brings an exorcism of rhythmic beats and peculiar Italian temperamental conversations surfing over far-fetched elements of The Doors with melodies slightly reminiscent to early Spirit psych after which it ultimately touches down in alienating human beatbox environments. Once finished I'm left behind in baffling confusion and entertained laughter at the same time.
Adding lively 70s impressions with touches of rock in Monk Time and Miss Tendopoli, the latter shining with impressions of a country styled Rolling Stones, it is especially Naturalmente Non Possiamo Pagarti that firmly ups the anti in fantastic freakish frolicking by weaving beatbox beats and rocking riffs seamlessly together with galloping elements of Proto-punk that mount onto an infectious 90s inspired rave complemented by a variety of odd vocals including operatic theatrics.
Not letting go all the other remaining compositions each have their own quirky experimental potent design and equally estranging topics, until finally the brooding lament of Navarre rounds off what looks to be 2023's weirdest, yet secretively enjoyable, far out album.
Ossi album su LP's musical oddity never fails to entertain and surprise, but one thing stands upright for sure: It's prog guys, but not as you know it!
What Strange Beasts — Starlight's Castaways
This is glorious. Brimming with short art-rock instrumentals and power-psyche prog songs that dance joyfully in your ears and rapidly end up as earworms. But not the kind that become annoying, rather their joyful exuberance sizzles at every push of the play button.
Seattle natives What Strange Beasts' new album, Starlight's Castaways, is a thoroughly enjoyable concept album concerning a journey through the galaxy. If you are not into Science Fiction don't avoid this release as the concept is lightly worn and unless you follow the lyrics closely (handily available on their Bandcamp page) it can be discounted if that is your wish. The melodies are so strong that you can let lyrical conceits sail by on the solar wind if you so choose.
The concept runs to a full 80 minutes over the course of 26 tracks, and it doesn't have a wasted second. This four-piece band use a range of keyboards and guitars to realise this remarkably energetic 70s infused psyche-prog. But it is not without subtlety especially when it comes to the intertwining keys and guitar lines and the glowing vocal harmonies and lead vocals. They easily sidestep the retro tag by taking those influences and giving them a working over behind the bike sheds to make them thoroughly modern.
The short instrumentals act as connective tissue between the songs, but honestly, quite a few of them deserved to be developed into longer forms. But, hey, it's What Strange Beasts' party. The songs themselves have arrangements that display their vocal and instrumental prowess without ever resorting to any kind of showboating. And, oh my, they also have a superb way with melody.
I'm just going to single out a few things on Starlight's Castaways, though it is a bit like choosing your favourite child. The title track fizzes and rocks as well as being an up-tempo psyche classic. Scattered Skies has great electric piano from Benjamin Ruby who also provides synthesizers, Hammond B3, Wurly, Theremin, and vocals, followed by a wah-wah guitar solo from Alley C. There is a late 60s psyche air to Second Sight that is introduced by Aaron Kremer's bass (also synthesizer, acoustic guitar, vocals). It's Mine sees drummer Jonathan Maxwell (and acoustic guitar, vocals) ramping up the boogie as the band smash AOR melodies into psyche-prog shape. What Strange Beasts are a class act.
This album is the single most enjoyable short song/instrumental album I have heard since Radwimps' 2016 soundtrack album to the Japanese animation Your Name.
Andy Read gave their 2021 full length debut release The Maestro's Tale a positive review. With Starlight's Castaways I'll go one better score wise. I changed my mind several times about whether to give this the top mark and the only thing holding me back is that I think What Strange Beasts next album will be even better. Starlight's Castaways is a journey across a universe whose path in music that I will follow in awed anticipation.