Albert Bouchard — Imaginos III - Mutant Reformation
After Re-Imaginos and Imaginos II - Bombs Over Germany (Minus Zero And Counting), this is the third act in Albert Bouchard's series of albums that tell the story of Imaginos. The opening 1-minute introduction gives a bit of information on the story, including the message that this is the final instalment. I have to say I was a bit disappointed by that...
The style is roughly the same as the previous two albums, which was to be expected in a series: a slightly more acoustic approach to a collection of Blue Öyster Cult classics, deep cuts, and curiosities from the Soft White Underbelly or Stalk Forrest times or even earlier.
This style often makes the sound even darker and more mysterious than the originals. The riffing, the groove, bluesy guitar soloing, and dark vocal melodies — if you like a moody atmosphere this is awesome stuff. I had to think of the scene set by the opening tune for the True Blood series - damp, fat sounds, telling you that nothing is safe. I love when music can do that. Tracks like Sole Survivor and (Aldebaran Alien) Take Me Away are simply menacing, the pressure is palpable — and I can mention more songs like that but that is also for you to find out.
When listening to BÖC albums I find myself usually skipping the rock-and-roll tracks, like Hot Rails To Hell or Stairway To The Stars. From these three albums, most tracks have originals that are in my regular playlists. True — my skip-list usually includes RU Ready 2 Rock, and I am not a fan of Godzilla, but this Bouchard treatment makes even these new versions a very pleasant listening.
There are some tracks I didn't know. To quote one of my favourite Imaginos songs, I suspect "some of them are new, but mostly they are old". Of these, Mountain Of Madness stands out, because besides containing all elements of the rest of the album, a level of US stadium rock epic-ness is added, with elements of Kansas.
I have to add that none of them are tracks that stand out because they would not fit. There is enough variation in style and atmosphere on offer here — St. Cecilia and Curse Of The Hidden Mirrors are quite different. The overall flow of the album brings you different places. On the whole, this is a thrilling experience.
It's a bit of a pity that "the story is over, it's all over". I really like these three albums a lot and now can only hope Bouchard has more ideas to put to music, even outside the Imaginos storyline.
Cope — Icarus Falling
This new Dutch symphonic prog band is made up of two members of the obscure-ish trio CPP, whose 2022 album Brushes & Paint was given a recommended rating by Jan Buddenberg.
Cope follow on from CPP, with Coen Fischer (drums) and Peter Everts (guitars), producing an instrumental concept album chock-full of symphonic prog amalgamated with some neo-prog guitar. The concept is, as you can probably guess from the album title, the Greek myth of Icarus. Where Icarus, and his father Daedalus escaped imprisonment from Crete by flying on wings made from feathers, threads, clothes, and beeswax. Spoiler alert, though Daedalus was successful Icarus, ignoring his father's warnings, flew to close to the sun where the beeswax melted causing his wings to fail, leading him to fall to his death.
The music Cope have produced to illustrate the myth moves in an arched structure over a suite of melodies that rise and then fall in an encompassing and seamless arched structure. The longer pieces are linked together with short ones that feature a recurring humming tune that sounds much like a didgeridoo but on a closer listen, sounds like someone's deep voiced chanting, that has been treated electronically.
The album then uses a mix of keyboards and guitars with drums and bass in support to produce a melodically engaging set of tunes. After the short introduction the album, ahem, takes flight. OK, stop groaning at the back please. Flight Against Fate shows immediately what Cope are about. Opening with pulsing synths followed by tuned percussion (like a gamelan), breathy keys topped off with chunky guitar riffs. A terrific slide guitar solo ices the cake brilliantly.
Unfortunately, there is only really one more track that reaches these heights. The Price Of Hubris starts with a drum pattern and arguing voices (Daedalus and Icarus probably) moving into guitar driven symphonic prog, a classic rock style guitar solo. It ends with a Roger Waters like bass, all Set The Controls For The Heart of the Sun appropriately. This is great.
The rest of the material though good sometimes feels a little makeweight compared to these two. Though they are not without their charms. Sun's Fury has some lovely trumpet on it and Mortal Limits ups the volume with some heavy prog riffing.
So Cope's Icarus Falling is a good album of symphonic rock that is tantalisingly balanced on the edge of being outstanding.
PS: Cope have very little presence of the internet and makes finding information about them rather scant. There is even less than for their previous band CPP (see Jan's complaint on the same ground above).
From Grotto — Monuments Of Our Time
From Grotto is a psychedelic rock band from Finland. This is their second "proper" album, but I have to admit that I am not sure if that is how everyone would see it like that, because after their debut album from 2017, they released a trilogy of albums that are the official soundtrack to a game called Noita. That's three full-length albums in 2019, 2020, and 2022. I am not a gamer, so I never realised how much music goes into those games. Anyway, here is something that they call their second album as well.
The photo on the inside of the CD make you expect some viking version of psychedelic rock, but you'd be mistaken. This is not the stomping and shredding and bold, heavy king of psychedelic, but a clever and well-written kind of psychedelic music. Surprisingly, the jazzy kind.
Opener Wildfire slowly drags you into their world with a slight hypnotic distortion, clearly recorded bass lines and tribal drumming, and dreamy vocal lines and flute playing.
Shigir weaves in some relaxed funk, reminding me of a very recent album review of Missing Jack And The Kameleons, and the intensity starts closing in on you. And with I Remember Summer, there is the jazz, probably more than in any other track, although it's never far away.
Dandelion Tea is more Canterbury, which of course already has a jazzy edge. Turso also has that kind of Canterbury weirdness but taken more into the psychedelic field, which the following Discovery Of A Tear takes even further, going into full psychedelic mode at the end. Especially the latter shows the crazy kind of fun this band is having with their music.
Let me also mention the electronic side of the band shown in Das Boot, and we have a wide collection of styles coming together, with a culmination in the closing track, which circles back to pay a modern homage to Hawkwind and the whole genre.
The album had an unexpected twist with the jazzy side of psychedelic rock, but because the dosage is different in every track, and with all the other elements it is not overwhelming at all. The combination of styles is an excellent quality of From Grotto's music and will bring many hours of listening pleasure. The more intricate parts will be very interesting to people who like Swedish bands Pocket Size or Khadavra, but basically everyone with an interest in psychedelic rock should have a listen.
Tyler Kamen — Bamboozle Tesseract
In the world of prolific artists where blinking in anticipation towards a new album is a dangerous affair, Tyler Kamen is a name to continuously watch. With six albums released over a period of 18 months, many of which favourably reviewed by DPRP, it was in April 2022 he released the magical Artichoke Pythagorum, followed shortly after by the conceptual "Rock Radio Power Hour special" Saturday in July, a hauntingly psychedelic record in form of The Tale Of Moon Hollow And Other Ghost Stories in October, and the Folk inspired EP Lady Of The Mountain in February of this year.
Come May 2023 Kamen's latest effort, which might be an untrue statement by the time this review is actually published, is the thoroughly enjoyable Bamboozle Tesseract. A prog rock sequel set 200 years after Artichoke Pythagorum's glorious "psychedelic rock adventure in which vegetable gnomes undertake a quest to seek out a mysterious artichoke that grants eternal life". In this futuristic time their small Gnome village has now fully grown into a metropolis known as Gnome City and scientist are about to invent the Bamboozle Tesseract, a magical device able to create super vegetables. A wry turn of events however mutates these vegetables into terrorising creatures. Will the gnomes, with the aid of detective Sheriff, be victorious again and restore the city back to its splendorous former glory?
Before the answer is revealed, Kamen most successfully takes his listeners on an adventurous and frequently dazzling concatenated musical roller coaster ride. One that like Artichoke Pythagorum resulted in looks of surprise and drop-dead amazement when the album aired in my store on Marvelling Monday, Wacky Wednesday, Freaky Friday and Screwball Saturday (the remaining days I'm off duty). Albeit in a less baffled way, which might be down to the reality of my customers slowly becoming more and more accustomed to my peculiar taste in music.
Or from the fact that the fantastical Bamboozle Tesseract offers a minutely close-shaved, downscaled mind-boggling eclectic cyclone in comparison. One that also startles from start to finish through its jam-packed array of masterfully executed ideas and immaculately arranged multi-layered twisting and turning compositions. Songs that brim with an exhilarating musical brightness which some bands take a lifetime to achieve and which each in their own are an utmost joy to experience. Listening from beginning to end is however advised to fully grasp the inventive contraptions of Kamen's quirkish narrative.
Starting off with a bombastic opening and a connecting musical theme that echoes with Pink Floyd, this story at first involves delightful experimentation with pop/prog like Styx with refreshing breaks and spectacular playing. A touch of pomp rock, as the diligent gnome scientists cautiously reveal their invention in The Bamboozle Tesseract. The subsequent infectiously groovy Gnome City Labs, in which their imaginative device comes fully alive through lovely riffs and a bridge of dazzling prog rock, keeps momentum and glides effortlessly into the mysterious Splitting Atoms. A magical composition which amongst a great many breathtaking melodies mixes King Crimson vibes with a ravishing flight of A.C.T.
Following the funny futuristic news broadcast addressing the all-important scientific breakthrough in Breaking News, it is then Vegetable Medley which infinitely ups the elation-ante with some peaceful folky prog, like a fusion of playful Jethro Tull and Yes. If the contagious merry melodies of this ingeniously constructed composition don't bring one into a deeply refreshing state of euphoric happiness I don't know what will.
Then it all goes horribly wrong, with musical boxes ticked brilliantly right! In Nuclear Core Meltdown, the cheerful tale tumbles into a blissful waterfall of musical destruction. It pours into the phenomenal whirlpool of melodies, aggressive guitars, swirling synths and psychedelic realms of Are You Mutant?. This resourceful transformation phase is followed by a short addressing of musical themes in Intermission, after which the dazzling Detective Sheriff presents an express invite for headphones. A captivating multitude of tuneful layers reveals itself and the song continues to shoot off in excellent psychedelic guitar extravaganza.
Lights Over Zezop Way exhibits similar captivating attraction through its spinning carousel of meticulously intertwining melodies, after which Cruciferous Creepers subsides in quietly crawling ambient atmospheres that shimmer with psychedelics and impressions of Klaatu. This reflective moment is finally overrun by a magnificent melodic richness that leads straight into the flashy fireworks of Street Fight, one of the most brilliant songs ever composed about spuds. Correction: mutated spuds...
After a relentless battle of prog, Gnome metropolis finally succumbs into full satisfying infection with You Are Mutant! and Conclusion - Bamboozle Reprise. One can only hope Kamen will find a loophole for further exploration within the Gnome realm. Maybe provide the handful of surviving chemical Gnome engineers with a magical machine, with which they can retrieve an antidote which lies deeply hidden within the darkness of the Gnome underworld?
With the knowledge that Kamen is in the process of composing a heavy prog album, that would surely be an adventure I wouldn't want to miss. This statement in similar fashion applies to all those still not acquainted with Tyler Kamen's highly original, easily approachable yet complex, eclectic mix of prog rock. Don't miss out on this one!
Arnaud Quevedo & Friends — 2nd Life
I rather enjoyed my first encounter with Arnaud Quevedo & Friends with their 2021 contemporary classical meets Canterbury meets jazz album Roan. The new album 2nd Life sees a continuation of their sound but with somewhat less of the classical and the Canterbury sounds. Here they have upped the jazz-fusion and added a sometimes-hard-edged prog-rock element to it.
The core members of Arnaud Quevedo & Friends remain the same though they have slimmed down from a thirteen-piece to an eight-piece ensemble. With just a change to the flute player, bringing in Lucille Mille, who seems to be of a jazzier persuasion than the last incumbent of the flute stool. The biggest change comes with a new vocalist. Replacing Emeline Merlande's honeyed tones is more breathy, whispery approach of Eloïse Baleynaud. Also gone are the use of the dual female/male vocals that were a highlight of Roam.
The album consists of four brand-new songs under the umbrella of 2nd Life parts 1 - 4. Interspersed among it are four older tracks reworked and rearranged for this release. None of which I was familiar with, so it's a whole new release for me.
The older works tend to interrupt the flow of the 2nd Life suit and I think that in separating out the four sections Arnaud Quevedo & Friends' have lessened the impact of what is a fine slab of prime jazz-prog-rock.
A brief return to the contemporary classical mode opens 2nd Life Part 1: Awakening opens with Steve Reich minimalist pulses before cleverly incorporating the pulses into the faster paced sung section that grows into heavy-prog power for a short while. It boogies to a conclusion in strangely satisfying way. Part 2: Journey is a powerful statement from the full band with a great synth solo and nice touches of electric piano from keyboardist Marin Michelat, along with a fiery guitar solo from Arnaud Quevedo.
2nd Life Part 3: Inner Demons moves from a rocking opening into a funky fusion. A delightful slow section features the soprano sax of Julien Gomila, before a change of tempo introduces a heavy conclusion. Part 4: Hindsight's rounds off this terrific 39-minute suite in a continuation of the heavy-prog infused jazz in fine style. It baffles me why you would separate out these tracks with material that, though good, doesn't quite reach the same heights.
The best of the remaining four tracks are the ones that follow a similar pattern to the 2nd Life suite. Mixing jazz, fusion and heavy prog with delicate sections such as Any 2.0 and Yuki. The more jazzy No Soy Breton, and the not quite straight ahead rocker Ekinox 2.0, have their moments, but they didn't engage me as much as the other tracks.
So, Arnaud Quevedo & Friends' 2nd Life is a good album of jazz, heavy prog and jazz-fusion. I found with repeat listens that the singer's more whispery vocals are less engaging than they should be. You can treat the rearranged songs as one release and the four-part suite as something separate with the judicious use of the skip button. A missed opportunity here, I think, as a single 39-minute 2nd Life suite on one disc, or two sides of vinyl, would have been stronger and more focussed.
Single Helix (Rik Loveridge) — Prog Gnosis
When I first took a glance at the Prog Gnosis release, I was mildly irritated with yet-another-senseless-wordplay using “prog” prefix that prog-heads are so used to. "It ceased to be funny long ago, in all honesty," was my initial thought. Only after some deeper study, it dawned that the joke's on me and the joke is a rather bitter one. Rik Loveridge — the man behind the keyboard rack in The Kentish Spires — was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2021, which largely tackled his abilities to play with the band (also check Eric's appraising review of their 2019 release). After the diagnosis had been verified, Rik set sail to calmer waters, making home studio records under his own name and Single Helix. Prog Gnosis is Rik's first full-scale release, a mammoth record of 75 minutes running time – the cover and the name of which making a clear picture of a very personal record, dedicated to thoughts on this lamentable threshold of life.
From the musical point of view, Rik stayed in the same post-Canterbury sound, slightly resembling The Tangent (in Andy's least sardonic phases), and, of course, The Kentish Spires — Hammond, jazzy phrases and lots of sax and flutes. The latter were the responsibility of Chris Egan, his former bandmate, with extra guitar assistance from Nick Fletcher (ex-John Hackett Band, check his solo album review). Absolutely no direct influence, but I couldn't help comparing this record with Robert Wyatt's releases. Those familiar with Canterbury prog should note how challenging it is to make this rather nonchalant type of music to serve as means of speaking about life, death and health conditions. Yet, to the best of my understanding, Rik succeeded here.
Among the jewels of Prog Gnosis are the instrumental Dark Matter (wonderful interaction of guitar, keys and winds), Bowie-tribute Death of Major Tom, followed by groovy bass and keys dialogue in West Coast Journeyman. Queen's Gambit is another calm Canter-rocker and the Entropy diptych embraces spacey jazzy motives quite beautifully.
The album is long – probably longer than it should be, and while it is 100% understandable that Rik wanted to put as much material as possible, I would prefer some censor scissors. When played separately, quite a number of tracks suddenly reveal their hidden aspects, not so noticeable if the album is played from start to finish (like Tully Remembered). My recommendation to the listener (which the artist might not agree with) is to play the opening Trilogy as a separate E.P. and continue with the album onwards from there.
Canterbury scene is so scarce these days, that every decent record shines extra bright. I am hesitant to give this record a rating – it won't probably end in a top-10 of an average prog-fan collection, but it can speak to him / her some words of honest support in times of personal health issues. And emotional aspects should not be subject to ratings.