Matt Dorsey — Let Go
Multi-instrumentalist Matt Dorsey is probably best known in the prog community as founding member of the short-lived Sound Of Contact as well as being part of the successor of that band, In Continuum. He has also been playing with Beth Hart and Dave Kerzner. He primarily plays bass guitar but his musical skills extend to guitars, keyboards, drums and percussion. And besides playing all these instruments he also has an appealing pleasant voice.
Blessed with these talents, one day it would be clear that it was time to record his own album. In April that album entitled Let Go saw the light of day, packed in a colourful digipack containing a beautiful booklet designed by Ed Unitsky with all lyrics printed against a background of tasteful arty drawings. So on first sight this looked like a great debut.
Dorsey plays almost all instruments himself but a couple of his renowned colleagues also helped. Dave Kerzner provides the keys solo on Waiting For The Fall while the omnipresent Marco Minneman plays the drums on that song as well as on two others. Jonathan Mover also supplies drums in three songs. Dorsey wrote all songs and lyrics and did the mixing and production. Quite an impressive achievement but as he states in the information accompanying the album “If I'm honest I write and play music entirely for the sheer joy of it”. It is very rare for an artist to be that frank, but I highly valued it.
On first listen this album radiated quality and good taste in everything. With every new spin that feeling unfortunately changed into a mixed feeling of dissatisfaction, annoyance and appeal. Opener Castles Made Of Sand is an attractive song with a very nice pulsating piano theme carrying the song throughout, good multilayered vocals especially in the addictive chorus and a fine instrumental middle part. The end comes a bit quick, a more lengthy coda would have suited the song well. Second song Compromise features the electric piano and some soft electric guitar accompanying the nice vocal melody. Halfway a nice slow guitar solo starts and leads the song to the final verses and again a rather sudden end.
In Waiting For The Fall things become a bit rockier with some guitar riffing, more powerful drumming and a higher pace. The keys solo by Kerzner over Minneman's fantastic dynamic drumming is a highlight of the album. With Man things start to become less appealing. Suddenly it becomes clear that the build-up of all songs is quite similar, that the choruses are very short, that the instrumental breaks are absent or simply too short and simple. To my ears, most songs could have been much stronger if Dorsey had tried to stretch them all for a minute or two.
The nice brass-like keys in Echo call for some nice instrumental break which doesn't come. The fine pulsating theme of the title track Let Go could have been perfectly used for an extended coda but after just three minutes the song ends, again far too early. For incomprehensible reasons Dorsey decided to cut last song Dangerous short at just under three minutes by fading the music out unpleasantly fast. Any experienced producer would have altered that for sure for this ugly end doesn't do justice to the song itself, it also ends this album in an extremely unsatisfactory way.
With just eight songs having a median length of somewhere between three and four minutes this debut album has a total duration of just over 30 minutes. Being an accomplished musician having much experience in the music business Dorsey should have realized that this is far too short to consider this as a full-grown album. The songs may be listenable and enjoyable as such, they leave the listener behind with the unsatisfactory feeling that it could have been so much better.
Dorsey makes music primarily for his own sake, yet I guess he also wants to sell albums. I doubt if he'll manage to have a considerable amount of albums sold in the prog community. That is really too bad for the musical ideas in the songs are nice, with clear hints of Tears For Fears, Steve Thorne, even Eagles and Steely Dan. Yet this album should have had a decent producer who had dared to challenge the artist to elaborate a bit more on his musical ideas and create really interesting (prog) songs. This album shows his many talents, hopefully he'll refrain from producing his next one himself.
The Fierce And The Dead — News From The Invisible World
London's The Fierce And The Dead return with their fourth album and their first with vocals. The band's line up remains the same, no new recruitment to specifically handle vocal duties, instead singing duties have been taken up by bassist Kev Feazey. His accomplices are guitarists Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton alongside drummer Stuart Marshall with Feazey, Stevens and Cleaton all mucking in on keyboards when necessary. The first thing that needs pointing out is that TFATD have not dramatically altered their sound, it is still a fierce (!) mixture of guitar-based onslaught of mighty riffs that flips between more varieties of rock that a university geology department - heavy, psychedelic, stoner, post, alternative, doom, prog and everything else in-between. Feazey delivers nothing dramatic in the vocal department: he does a decent enough job despite a rather limited range, and it fits in well with the music. Having been a fan since the earliest days (and before as I was a follower of Matt Stevens' solo career before the band was formed) it does take a while to get used to the vocals and in many ways I find they distract from the musical aspects of the group, indeed it is almost like listening to a totally different band.
It is not all a bombastic assault on the senses as both Photogenic Love and Non-Player could almost be considered to be ballads, in fact the former is actually a pretty decent pop song with a sing-along chorus hook and a catchy melody, although the middle-eight would need to be excised to appease wider audiences as it lacks dynamism and interrupts the flow of the song somewhat. Non-Player is actually one of the longest tracks on the album — there are three that share the same running length give or take a few seconds here and there — and is a very restrained number with more intricate guitar playing. The song breaks at about the four-minute mark with the remainder of the track, bar some ghostly backing vocals towards the end, being instrumental. There is some excellent support by guest performers Terry Edwards and Matt Jones on saxophone and electric piano, respectively which elevates the piece to one of the standout tracks of the album.
The album does feature one instrumental number, What A Time To Be Alive. Okay, it does contain a couple of vocoder obscured recitations of the track's title midway through but that is not enough to take away its status as vocal-free! It may not come as much as a surprise that the album is quite bass heavy when one learns that Feazy took a major role in the recordings and was responsible for the mixing of everything. not that this is a complaint or a distraction as it gives the band a unique sound and is a characteristic they have employed throughout their musical endeavours.
Of the remaining tracks, The Start is a bit of a nothing track as it seems quite a strange track to open the album. I suppose if the aim was to introduce the vocalist it does its job, but I have to say the spoken part is not the band's finest moment. Shake The Jar is altogether different, a glorious riff right from the off and vocals that are blended perfectly with the music. They don't dominate the mix and the gloriousness of the music maintains a dominant presence. The more psychedelic mid-section provides a nice contrast and the following section with its dominant bass pounding away is just great. The standard is maintained throughout Golden Thread (which for some reason my brain always reads as Golden Shread, a UK brand of marmalade!) although I can't help thinking this would have been altogether stronger as a pure instrumental. Wonderful, the shortest piece on the album at just over three minutes, states all it needs to in its allotted time. Like Shake The Jar, the vocals are skilfully Incorporated within the mix. The subtle trumpet and sax parts by Edwards are something to listen out for as they are sublime.
The album is rounded off with Nostalgia Now, which falls into the category of "saving the best until last". A quiet beginning with the best singing on the album and plenty of piano insertions from Jones, there is a mysterious air to proceedings and although one half expects for there to be a dramatic change in proceedings, the band restrains itself limiting itself to the introduction of a slow riff that Black Sabbath would have been proud of, overlayed with solo electric guitar and plenty of piano. Less is definitely more.
For those who were quite happy with TFATD as an instrumental combo, there is also a limited edition companion album, The Lost And Found featuring "purist mixes" (i.e. instrumentals) of the album tracks which is definitely worth getting your hands on while it is still available. Without vocals, The Start makes a lot more sense and is far more enjoyable than on the main album. As these are just vocal-free mixes of the album tracks, they are not substantially different in form. Indeed, a close comparison of What A Time To Be Alive reveals that the only difference is the removal of the two vocodored lines. Having said that, it is a totally different listening experience and one that I found more to my enjoyment, there seems to be a greater emphasis on musical nuances that is highlighted by the absence of vocals.
There are four additional tracks on The Lost And Found: a more biting and acerbic live version of Wonderful; a great early instrumental version of Shake The Jar that is over a minute longer than the completed track; a recording of The Euphoric taped at The Hope And Anchor but not included on the EP of the same name; and a live-in-rehearsal version of Truck. Nice additions even if The Euphoric sounds like it was recorded on tape that was playing at the wrong speed!
So, the first dip into songwriting by TFATD is largely successful, although it does seem that the songs were not originally written to include vocals but were instrumentals that have had vocals added to them. And I just know that when it comes to playing this album it is the instrumental versions that I will be reaching for first.
My rating of a 7 is for the regular album. The instrumental The Lost And Found is worth a 9.
Ifsounds — MMXX
The last time Ifsounds featured on DPRP's pages dates back to 2015 when they proudly presented the (dual-language) release of Reset. Their sixth album when taking into account the two albums they previously released under the If banner. A lot has happened since like for instance various line-up changes within the band, the release of their 2019 effort An Gorta Mór, and the global 2020 pandemic that changed our lives indefinitely.
With MMXX, the Roman numeral for 2020, Ifsounds have attempted to capture this confusing emotional time of loss and alienating isolation in words and music. Something which the band have brilliantly accomplished as the magnificent title track shows. The band, by the way, comprises main composer Dario Lastella (guitars, bass guitar, synth and vocals), Lino Giugliano (piano, organ, synth and keyboards), Lino Mesina (drums), Italo Miscione (bass), Runal (lead vocals) and Ilaria Carlucci (lead/backing vocals).
As a perfect example to Ifsounds' objective to "create a sound that is able to express an emotion, to describe a state of mind, to recount a story, to make a journey into the realms of inner consciousness", this epic suite flows through a multitude of moody atmospheres and complex arrangements that compels from start to finish. Most breathtakingly in the passages where divine layers of choir vocals are meticulously merged together with the darker melodies of the complex song.
My recent visit to the Montserrat Monastery during my holiday stay in Spain came in full impressive sight once more through MMXX's choral opening. Church organ and a ghoulish psychedelic atmosphere strongly enhances this ecclesiastical feel of divinity. This darkly shaped secretive passage then opens up into compelling melodies and blistering raw guitar play that soars into a mesmerising praise of polyphonic choir vocals. Both male and female voices, through the aid of Claudio Lapenna, Nadezhda Chalykh, Mariano Gramegna and Giovanni Liberatore.
Passing through mood-shifting corridors, lit by driving musical impressions of Nuova Era, Banco, Limite Acque Sicure and a touch of Pink Floyd synth flows, the scenery shifts towards playful jazz with frivolous piano and fierce guitar parts. And then another exceptionally construed, intricately guided, polyphonic choral movement. This contemplative stage, with soothing isolation of guitar and a touching delivery from Runal, shimmers with reflections of RanestRane. The song dies in beauty, surrounded by hymning vocals and overwhelming guitar melodies.
Confusingly, this high level of songsmithery isn't fully maintained by Ifsounds. Both The Collector and Stendhal Syndrome, the former incorporating a bluesy Cream / Mountain feel, and the latter featuring tasty organ parts, do offer a competent catchy pop-orientated contemporary prog-rock feel with lusciousness of Pink Floyd synths. This is enjoyable in itself, but even after many visits, these songs never really reach the intriguing intensity of the album's opening suite. The same goes for Kandinsky's Sky, which after a quiet acoustic section shows a splendid build-up with lovely melancholic guitar parts that bring The Flower Kings to mind.
The outstanding closing song MMXXII takes a fine attempt at reinstating MMXX's fascinating compositional values. It is also dwelling in psychedelic darkness, illuminated by elements of jazz and masterful guitar play that delivers visions Daal. This instrumental track comfortably lounges in soothing swing-jazz surrounded by echoes of Pink Floyd. It lifts off into ethereal vocal expressions that recall Renaissance, and it captures a blissful spiritually resonating Yes, and presents a satisfying finale to the album.
Despite this song's marvellously executed and well-composed result, its outcome still doesn't fully live up to the high expectations build with the eponymous opening track though. Something which in the end is the main reason towards my rating not being an 8, which it surely would have achieved if all the songs following the impressive opener neared its rewarding calibre. These songs are however of lesser stunning memorable beauty and for me make Ifsounds' effort overall a slight incoherent affair.
The sole conclusion remains though that if Italian styled prog that includes emotional depth, originality and skilful instrumentation is part of your DNA, MMXX is certainly an album to investigate and enjoy.
Lumsk — Fremmede Toner
Lumsk began their days in Norway back in 1999, with their first EP landing in 2001 under Spinefarm Records. Since then, they have gone from strength to strength, taking influence from Nordic mythology and sagas for their lyrics and music. Despite numerous line-up changes, they have now arrived in 2023 with their fourth full-length offering Fremmede Toner.
We open with Det Døde Barn, a gentle introduction that traverses through atmospheric notes and soft keys, with gentle guitar lines and vocals weaving through to the building heavier crescendo. From here, En Harmoni follows with a more old school prog-orientated sound but with a modern feel. Think Heritage by Opeth, but a bit less "we wish we were a 70s tribute" and a bit more "influenced by". The heavier side of the band comes through on Avskjed, before some Jethro Tull like passages float you through Under Linden. Fiolen however is much more folk oriented. Strings and keys combine with the vocals for a gentle and relaxing track that brings the fjords of Norway to mind. Finally, Dagen Er Endt finishes the half with a rise and fall through emotional solos and vocals, and quieter bridges.
The first six tracks are in Norwegian. The next six tracks have titles in German and English and are a near-literal translation of the first six. The music of the pairs of songs shares melodies and themes, but if you wouldn't know better they are just different songs.
Das Tote Kind kicks off the second half a bit more rock, but still keeping within that "metal but not quite metal" style they have maintained throughout. The first track in German, A Match is up next, and in English. A brooding vocal duet over keys that slowly builds into Abschied. Another driving rock song that borders on metal enough to raise the tension without straying into unknown territory. Under der Linden breezes through stylistic changes, through the neo-folk opening to heavier middle section and the final modern prog later third. Following this we fall into Das Veilchen, another heartfelt track that tugs at the emotions through the keys and guitars while driving straight into the finale of The Day Is Gone. Here we have the culmination of the album's work and styles. Minimalistic piano draws you in until the vocals give way to the rising music, emotional bridges and a powerful outro.
The group are often described as neo folk and prog rock, but with this album - there was little "folk" music, while still definitely maintaining an air of that vibe. I guess to me the simple way to describe it would be Riverside, but from the countryside. However, the nuances are more subtle than that.
As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. Tracks like Das tote Kind and Avskjed will stay on my playlists for a long time. If you enjoy Opeth's or Anathema's recent work, or Riverside, Jethro Tull and Heidevolk, I would advise having a delve into Lumsk's work.
Molesome — Kino
Not all prog heroes wear capes (or fox masks, for that matter)
Mattias Olsson is one of those, unsung ones. To think of, through many years of DPRP activity, releases with Olsson's participation got more than 20 reviews, with an average score of only slightly below 8 stars, which is a rock solid result. If this does not impress you, dear reader, then here's a brief, incomplete, essential-bands-only list, with whom Olsson played or still plays: Änglagård, White Willow, The Opium Cartel, Isobar, Il Tempio delle Clessidre. (If you're still not impressed, here's your copy of DSotM, and sorry for wasting your time).
Back to our hero, first and foremost Mattias is a drummer and a percussionist, but on his solo releases, he's also a composer, electronic music craftsman and producer. Molesome is yet another Olsson solo endeavor — one of many, actually, if you take a look at his Bandcamp page. A couple of this project's releases had been given friendly reviews by Stefan, and only half-a-star separated it from a recommended status. I am going to fix this slight incongruity, with all the sincerity.
Molesome is an open-minded project: indie pop, electronica, trip hop, electro jazz, Scandinavian prog — all these styles served as ingredients for Kino. The album's mostly instrumental, it's ambiance definitely leans on urbanistic and melancholic edge, but does not sacrifice the dynamics, the drive (in this sense they tread the same way with Porcupine Tree, for instance). Other comparisons would be Dungen, Gösta Berlings Saga and Ulver in their current era (not the black metal one, of course). Free Mice has a definite Massive Attack-meets-God Is an Astronaut edge. Moving On reminded me of Royksopp's brand of electro-pop, with soothing female vocals. Acorns in March & Fakktiskt serve a good reminder of Olsson's drum and percussion skills, both echoing Ulver's electronic releases. If you are a conservative proghead who couldn't care less about trip-hops and Royksopps, Olsson still has a prog bunny in his hat for you. Starting from Polaroid Revenge through The Bait, and until Neal his music gives polite nods to a lot of classic Scandinavian prog, including Isildur's Bane, Kerrs Pink and the likes.
Experimental leanings are back with oddly titled Kate Killer, the most aggressive track which borders on Nine Inch Nails sound, and the closing track Langsam, the most peaceful one, rooted in Glass / Eno / Schultze's ambient. With so many aspects to the music, Molesome eschews sounding eclectic or artificial. On the contrary, there's a balance between diversity and artistic integrity to Kino, with fresh ideas and professional realization. Forward-thinking prog is almost in an endangered species list, so while not yet completely extinct, we need more music like this.
Peninsula — Anemoia (A Memory In Nine Movements)
Peninsula are a UK progressive instrumental group featuring David Boothby (electric guitar, guitar effects), James Blackford (electric guitar, bass), Tom Blackford (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, keyboards) and George Robertson (drums, percussion, radio effects). Aside from their bandcamp page, there is very little information about the band on the internet. Their previous releases have included for lengthy and largely unedited jam sessions, at least two of which were without James Blackford who might have been busy as he had recently joined the Liverpudlian metal band Carcass, and optional soundtracks for two silent Fu Manchu films that were released in a limited edition Blu-ray box set in 2020.
So in many ways Anemoia (A Memory In Nine Movements) could be considered their first release of purposely produced music. Recorded over a four-year period between 2019 and 2023 the track is a long-form composition that channels many of the band's individual influences ranging from Pink Floyd to Sigur Rós via Explosions In The Sky (and fortunately no hints of Carcass-like metal!). The piece may have had the gestation of an elephant, but it was definitely worth the time spent meticulously crafting this wonderful piece of music.
Of the three named influences, Floyd are probably the most immediate touching point, but primarily for the scope and grandeur of the music and the excellent guitar playing of Boothby and the Blackfords. The piece flows effortlessly between each of the nine (unnamed) movements providing a variety of different textures creating an outstanding immersive experience for the listener. But my words are not enough, head over to Bandcamp and buy yourself a download, it might well be the best £4 you spend this year.