Akku Quintet By Manuel Pasquinelli — Kinema
Recorded over three days, the new studio album Kinema, from Switzerland's Akku Quintet, sees them continuing to explore minimalist, circling, rhythmic patterns with repeating melodic motifs and restrained but adventurous soloing.
For this new release, there is a minor change in the band name, now being known as Akku Quintet By Manuel Pasquinelli. He is the founder, composer and drummer of the Quintet. It is an odd change but hey-ho. The important thing is that the musicians involved have not changed, and they remain a cohesive and smart unit.
There is a less-obvious Steve Reich influence and more of a fusion of subtly-driving grooves, repeating and evolving melodic phrases, and solos that mix jazz invention, with an almost post-rock concern with build and release.
This is all evident in the 13 minutes of Zephyr. It begins with Maja Nydegger's grand piano melody fitting into gentle, tapping percussion lines, eventually joined by Markus Ischer's picked guitar and Andi Schnellmann's anchoring but mobile bass (for me this album revolves around the bass playing). The calm start builds in strength, adding treated guitar lines and a cracking guitar solo. Eight minutes in, it reaches a crescendo and falls back to piano ostinatos, over which Michael Gilsenan's breathy sax has a spotlight that veers worryingly towards the lounge-y, but not for long. There is a nice, arched structure to this opening track.
The shorter title track packs in just as much. Electric piano sets up a pulse, restrained sax and syncopated drums and bass move this on. The sustained guitar chords push the melody further. Controlled feedback leads into another great guitar solo. Forceful sax pushes its way in, and spars with the guitar. Terrific.
More electric piano sets up Ink's use of full-on sax and fiercely-distorted guitar solos, in amongst a tune-full of switch-backs and turns, Akku Quintet also find their funk. This is jazz-prog fusion at its best.
The short, reverb-laden improvisation of Morph closes the album with a stuttering melody that deserved more development.
On Kinema Akku Quintet have taken their live sound and translated it into a clear, precise, passionate and top-notch studio recording. Supremely melodic, un-showy in its power, and harmonically intricate, this is cracking music.
PS: My apologies to Markus Ischer for misspelling his surname in my review of Live.
Captain Cougar — Bonnie
Finnish band Captain Cougar was formed in 2005 and released their debut album, Chapters, two years later. Since then two more albums have seen the light of day but none of these are familiar to me. The only album that was reviewed by this site, 2014's Åkerblomrörelsen wasn't received with great enthusiasm by DPRP colleague Niels Hazeborg.
But when a band tags itself as a post/folk-rock band, which is in itself rather incomprehensible, and also describes their music as "difficult to categorise", my curiosity is easily called upon.
Captain Cougar are Juha Kujanpää on keyboards, Laura Lehtola on vocals, Jussi Petäjä on guitars and other stringed instruments, Juha-Matti Rautiainen on bass and synths, Janne Torvikoski on drums and percussion and Julia Vuorinen on vocals. It is surprisingly hard to find any actual information on the band, let alone details about recording, production, mixing or lyrics for this album. As we were only supplied with the digital music files, it is impossible to provide such background information, which I found quite frustrating. If you want your music to be reviewed properly, then please facilitate the reviewers with some information to chew upon!
So the only object of this review is the music itself on this fourth album Bonnie. As the band suggests, that music proves quite hard to label. As a consequence, I found it hard to get acquainted with the music. But slowly, after more than ten spins, the music started to unveil its appeal and its intricacy.
The main characteristic of the band's sound, is that it seems to be acoustic, but isn't. The effect is brought about by the restrained acoustic drumming and the almost complete sonic absence of the bass. Furthermore, the musical themes are rather simple, sometimes just a couple of single notes played on synths or guitar onto which the melody is built. It makes the music a bit dull at first glance. The songs sound deceptively light, augmented by the dreamy vocals, subtle guitar playing and ethereal synth chords. Listening makes me think of an intimate, unplugged Cranberries or Stevie Nicks-gig, but without clever poppy tunes.
The opening song, Places, sets the scene perfectly for what is to come. During the first half of the song the music is simple with just a single guitar and wide synths in the background, over which Lehtola sings some soft lines. Then the band comes in with some light drumming and more synths and the vocals start singing the same lines over and over again, creating a sort of repetitive soundscape. Lehtola's voice is soft, a bit hoarse and perfectly fitted to this kind of quiet music.
The rest of the songs are more down-to-earth with a more standard verse and chorus form. In neither song is the music complex or technically advanced. The band has clearly chosen to provide an adequate yet restrained but very atmospheric musical background. That makes it a fine album to play as background music or to calmly relax alongside a warm open fire with a nice glass of wine at hand.
Sometimes a song stands out because of the use of a special instrument, such as a banjo in Liquid Helping Hand or a more energetic vocal part as in Wake up. The longest track, Weightless, Loveless, Bloodless even shows a real guitar solo consisting of long notes backed by swelling synths, marching drumming and even a fine bass loop.
But most of the time the music just floats softly and evenly, for instance in the title track that is a very slow affair with just some notes on guitar, some spacy synths and soft vocals. Hardly anything happens during the first three minutes, after which the band comes in and the instrumentation becomes fuller, albeit still very restrained. The simpleness of the song will appeal to some, others will classify it as dull. Unfortunately I tend more to the latter.
A real pity is that the music simply disappears into nothing after the last song, Walk Away. It is already a very quiet song, with simple, effective guitar playing backed by synth notes, but after some four minutes it just fades away, thus giving the album a very unsatisfactory end.
As a real slow-burner this album will certainly attract those who value quiet, acoustic music without any showing-off of technical abilities. A good producer could have lifted this album considerably, but I guess the band has decided to do as many things themselves as possible. Unfortunately that doesn't turn out for the best. That adds up to not offering any easily-accessible marketing of the band or the album, which is really too bad. It makes that I still don't know what "post folk/rock" means but more importantly it disregards an album that may appeal to a lot more people than will now be reached by this too-obscure band.
HeKz — Terra Nova
Following the release of a promising debut album, Tabula Rasa back in 2012, UK prog-metallers HeKz have been slowly building their reputation. The ambitious Caurus won a positive review on this site, and their third album, Invicta was one of my top albums of 2018.
According to the band, album number four is their most ambitious project yet. First impressions certainly support such a statement. Terra Nova is a double concept album that took two years to craft. Weighing in at almost an-hour-and-a-half, it weaves a narrative of "ambition, duality and the relentless struggle to confront the darkest aspects of one's personality; ultimately striving to become the person destined to be".
The band's line-up consists of lead singer and bassist Matt Young, guitar virtuoso Mark Bogert (known for his work with Knight Area and Magoria), Irina Markevich on violin and the rhythmic powerhouse Moyano el Buffalo on drums.
Adam Holzman and Pieter Beemsterboer bring additional keyboards and Moog to half the songs. The sound is further developed with the use of violin (Lucia La Rezza) and horn sections (Nic Weaver) on three tracks each.
The album was recorded remotely by the musicians at their home studios in England, The Netherlands, Spain, Ukraine and the USA between January 2021 and April 2022. So in a sense, this album is more of a (home) studio project than one recorded in a traditional band set-up.
Musically this is the style of prog-metal that spreads its wings very widely. Plenty of heavy guitars and blistering solos and extended instrumental sections. The use of the horn section gives it a classical tilt. I enjoy the use of the violin throughout the album; giving the band something to differentiate them from other prog-metal names. There are clear influences from the 80s hard rock, some Queen-style theatrics and a 24-minute Dream Theater-meets Symphony X epic. I have previously enjoyed Matt Young's vocals. Here he utilises a very wide range (pitch and style). Not all of it works for me.
Whiles it has its highlights, overall both the album's length and the lack of memorable hooks, has left me feeling rather indifferent. In places, I feel that the storytelling has got in the way of the songwriting.
But overall this is another solid album from HeKz that will hold extra appeal for open-minded prog-metal lovers who also have a soft spot for 80s hard rock.
Terra Nova was released in digital, 2CD & 2LP formats last Friday, 3rd November 2023. The band will perform an album release show tonight (Sunday 5th November 2023) at The Cart & Horses, London; the venue renowned as the birthplace of Iron Maiden.
Bruce Soord — Luminescence
Bruce Soord has had a career that is somewhat similar to that of Steven Wilson. Both released ostensibly solo albums under the name of a fictional band, which became an actual band. Both bands featured Gavin Harrison on drum. Both artists resumed a solo career after the bands achieved greater recognition; and both are renowned and well-respected for their abilities in immersive mixing. The relative scale of the successes and fame may be different, but each have forged a unique place in the worldwide musical environment. There is one difference though. Whereas Mr. Wilson has employed the cream of session musicians to realise his solo ambitions, Mr. Soord has taken things back to his beginnings and opted to stick to the true meaning of the word solo.
Well almost, for both of those clauses. Soord's beginnings of course started with the epic prog albums of Vulgar Unicorn which, rather unbelievably started at the end of the last century! It is rather amusing that in both of the VU albums reviewed on DPRP, The Pineapple Thief are referred to as a 'side project'!
On this latest solo album, although Soord plays all the main instruments, he is accompanied by a six-piece string section of violinists Everton Nelson, Marianne Haynes and Richard George, cellists Chris Worsey and Hetty Snell, and viola player Bruce White. The strings were arranged and conducted by Andrew Skeet, one-time member of The Divine Comedy, collaborator with Anthony Phillips and composer of a multitude of film and television scores.
Obviously, to get the best out of a string section, one can't have a rock band overpowering everything, so a lot of the album is based around acoustic guitar, which creates a very intimate atmosphere. The songs Don't Lie, Olomouc, So Simple, Day Of All Days, Instant Flash Of Light, Stranded Here, Read To Me and Find Peace are the most unadorned of the pieces. Each has a lovely lightness, with the strings shining through and Soord's gentle and often plaintive vocals occupying a prominent place in the recordings.
The songs themselves were born from days exploring various cities whilst on tour, and were inspired by the idea of finding inner peace whilst living in the metropolis of the modern world. Hence the title, Olomouc, the name of a city in the Czech Republic where The Pineapple Thief played a concert on the 15th March 2022.
Although the overall design of these pieces is relatively simple (or very simple on the aptly named So Simple!), the music deceives in many ways. The acoustic guitar playing contains a multitude of intricacies and unexpected twists that go beyond more straight-forward songs; after all Soord is a progger at heart. The string arrangements fit beautifully with the other instrumentation. Soaring when appropriate, quiet or absent when they would be too distracting. Accordingly, there is a fair amount of space within the songs. No more so, than on the closing number Find Peace, the title of which should be amended to include a question mark, as the song concludes with a more questioning air, rather that a definitive conclusion.
The other tracks are not so reliant on the acoustic guitar to provide the backing, with Lie Flat and Nestle In dallying with electronic beats, but in a subtle way. They are upfront but don't obscure the excellent acoustic guitar parts on the former and are subsumed into the glorious chorus of the latter. Both tracks also contain extensive field recording captured on Soord's city wanderings that are expertly intertwined with the music.
Never Ending Light also features a lovely electric piano as well as probably the best vocal delivery on the album; there is also a smidgen of electric guitar! Rushing, the sole instrumental on the album, has a more incidental feel to it and seems somewhat out of place, the absence of the strings is noticeable, and it doesn't really go anywhere.
Soord's third solo album is a fine addition to his musical output and displays a talent that is not afraid of diversity and exploring new avenues. The solo albums have consistently been separated by four years. Whilst 2027 is ages away, no doubt it will be worth the wait; and besides, we will no doubt have more from The Pineapple Thief to enjoy in the meantime.