Album Reviews

Issue 2024-034

Cheer-Accident — Vacate

USA
2024
34:47
Cheer-Accident - Vacate
Closer (3:25), Overpass (2:45), Missing (3:04), Prodigal (3:37), Beached (2:31), Price (4:11), Western (2:52), Range (2:55), Postmarked (1:54), Promise (1:53), Gilbert (3:31), Met (2:08)
8
Martin Burns

Stepping away from their avant-prog and Rock In Opposition operating mode, the new album from Cheer-Accident sees them reveal the melodicism that has always been a part of their work. On Vacate it is shown in a series of weird, intellectual and heartfelt pop nuggets in the style of Canterbury favourites like Matching Mole, Robert Wyatt and John Greaves. Though the tunes themselves, as founder Thymme Jones happily acknowledges, are lightly influenced by his love of Burt Bacharach and Herb Albert's Tijuana Brass.

The songs are minimally arranged with piano, trumpet and vocals to the fore, displaying the tunes in all their glory. These are provided by the band's founder Thymme Jones, who also provides other keyboards, Moog bass, tambourine, mouth snare, mouth percussion, handclaps, shaker, and general ambience. His vocals are careworn but fit the music perfectly. Additional instrumentation is provided by a long list of musicians who supply more vocals, strings, drums, trombone, horns, guitars and more besides. All of whom can be found listed at the bottom of their Bandcamp page for this release.

There are some exquisite details in these songs. On Overpass and Western there is some lovely slide guitar. The oddball rhythm, horns and backing vocals on Beached. The strings and organ on Postmarked and best of all the lead vocal by Bethany DeGaetano Smoker on the frustratingly short but gorgeous Promise.

Though the influences for Cheer-Accident's Vacate may strike readers of this site as too easy listening, I would urge a listen as they are not as straightforward as that and repay repeat listens. You may even find yourself coming under their hypnotic tunefulness.

Mike Granditsky — Strange Allure

Sweden
2024
39:23
Mike Granditsky - Strange Allure
Thrills and Fears (5:22), Happiness Leaves no Traces (3:22), The Seasaw Game (4:28), A Desire For Violence (3:30), Anything You Want (3:30), Scent Of Secrets (4:36), Feral (2:28), Spent Hours Watching (2:54), Primitive Boy (4:07), Exposed (5:06)
7
Jerry van Kooten

The name Mike Granditsky is new to me and the fact that I was not expecting anything led this to be a bit of a pleasant surprise.

A little hard to categorise, since the influences and references I find when listening to the album vary quite a lot.

Alternate pop mixed with touches of synth, somewhere between Roxy Music and Talk Talk. Guitar play as you would expect in an old blues or singer-songwriter setting, mixed with industrial elements of Nine Inch Nails. Gary Numan shines through as well. And a bit of post-punk here and there to show the old rocker inside the experienced musician. The combination of styles that may not be too obvious result in a sound that also reminds me of Bowie's Blackstar album now and then. Yes, a jazzy touch as well.

The song structures are full of twists. An ambient sections is just a bridge away from a heavier build-up. Carefully arranged outbursts add to the intense sensation of most of the songs.

Granditsky has as a warm, soulful and slightly rough voice. I think Granditsky is Swedish but with hardly an accent to his English. The heaviest bits could require a bit more power in the vocal department, but it is still fitting with the atmosphere.

The sound feels like a soundtrack to a film noir. I later read that a few of his songs were actually used in a TV series (Partisan) and that made complete sense.

While the mixing styles may confuse or surprise part of the audience, the intensity and warmth of the arrangements and singing is consistent. A captivating release.

Ivory Tower — Heavy Rain

Germany
2024
58:15
Ivory Tower - Heavy Rain
Black Rain (5:53), Holy War (6:28), Never (5:48), The Destination (6:54), 60 Seconds (4:17), Heavy Ride (5:33), Recover (5:13), Monster (5:41), Voices (7:06), The Tear (5:22)
7
Andy Read

Here's a blast from the past.

Ivory Tower were one of the many Dream Theater-inspired prog-metal bands that were trying to follow their idols into the prog-metal premier league during the late-90s. I listened to a lot of that style of music back then.

Their self-titled debut (1998) was too close to cover-band territory for my tastes. Two years later and Beyond The Stars showed more promise, with a couple of real stand-out tracks that I still spin from time to time.

Their third album (IT in 2006) was going off in a direction and sound that I didn't enjoy. To be honest I thought they had split after it came out.

I now know that they actually released two more albums (IV in 2011 and Stronger in 2019). Now I have a copy of Ivory Towers' sixth studio effort. Considering the winter that we have just had in northern Europe, Heavy Rain could be the soundtrack for our times!

After a couple of listens, I can say that two important things have changed since the days of Beyond The Stars. The first is in the vocal department.

The first four albums featured the talents of Andre Fischer. He had the high-pitched style favoured by prog-metal bands of the time. The band's last album featured a singer called Dirk Meyer. For Heavy Rain, the man behind the microphone has changed again.

Ivory Tower. Promo photo by Rainer Hentschke.

Francis Soto has been around for a while. Prog-metal geeks may know his name from the first demo by German prog-metallers Sanvoisen (1990). He has a gruff, raspy, forceful style that sits firmly in the mid-range.

Alongside Soto, two founder members remain, with Thorsten Thrunke behind the drums and Sven Böge on guitar. Bassist Björn Bombach and keyboardist Frank Fasold complete the line-up.

The second change is in the style of the music. While the first two albums clearly bore a Dream Theater influence, I always heard a heavy blend of European power metal sounds too. A quarter of a century later, and the Dream Theater elements have been dropped. Heavy Rain is very much a power metal album with a few proggy sprinklings. On the heavier tracks (Heavy Ride), the verses in particular veer towards pure heavy metal territory (think Accept).

So what we have is an enjoyable collection of ten power metal anthems with memorable melodies and driving guitars to the fore. That is the perfect fit with Soto's vocal style. He is much more suited to a hard rock/heavy metal anthem.

Favourite songs would be 60 Seconds for its driving riff and great hook, and the keyboard flourishes that embellish Holy War. I also enjoy the 'progressive' totems such as the jazzy-fusiony guitar section on the excellent The Destination. The album would benefit from a few more ideas like this. It would break things up a little bit.

On the downside, there are few dull, formulaic fillers (The Tear being one) and several tracks are over-extended by over-repeated choruses (such as Voices and Black Rain) that reduces their impact.

Heavy Rain is not breaking any new ground and sits very much on the fringes of the prog-metal genre, but I have enjoyed catching up with this band again.

Nektar — Journey To The Other Side

USA
2024
157:26
Nektar - Journey To The Other Side
Introduction (0:38), The Light Beyond (1:43), A Tab In The Ocean (15:43), Skywriter (7:25), I'm On Fire (7:57), Dream Nebula (6:29), Drifting (9:03), Cast Your Fate (5:11), A Day In The Life Of A Preacher (11:04), Recycled Part 2 (17:41), Show Me The Way (5:29), Remember The Future, Pt. 1 (16:17), Remember The Future, Pt. 2 (20:25), Look Through Me (7:22), Fidgety Queen (5:05), Good Day (6:46); bonus track: Devil's Door / King of Twilight (13:07, Blu-ray and download only)
6
Armin Rößler

If you think you know everything about Nektar's band history (or are not the least bit interested in it), you are welcome to skip the following two sections and the first five hundred words or so of this review. Nevertheless, the reviewer considers them essential in order to be able to correctly classify this album in the context of a band history that now spans over fifty years.

Journey To The Other Side, the title of Nektar's new live album, and subtitled Live At The Dunellen Theatre June 10, 2023, is also a summary of the long and eventful history of an often great band that has occasionally wandered down somewhat strange paths and not always made the best decisions – the catalogue reaches from Journey To The Center of the Earth (1971), the first album, to The Other Side (2020), the last studio work to date. If the announcement on the band's website is to be believed, this will be followed in June by the first part of a trilogy (!) entitled Mission To Mars. Once again, however, this will be in a new line-up. After guitarist and singer Roye Albrighton, who revived the band in 2001 with The Prodigal Son but died in 2016, and original keyboardist Alan „Taff“ Freeman (last heard on Evolution in 2004 and passed away in 2021), drummer Ron Howden also passed away, shortly after this recording, on September 29, 2023, at the age of 78. Howden had also repeatedly taken on vocal parts. After his death, only bass player Derek "Mo" Moore (who had last performed with the original line-up before The Other Side in 2002 but last appeared in the studio in 1977 on the otherwise not very noteworthy album Magic Is A Child), and Mick Brockett, who was responsible for the light show, remain from the original band. In addition to Moore, Howden and Brockett, Randy Dembo (bass), Kendall Scott (keyboards, vocals) and Ryche Chlanda (guitar, vocals) are also involved in Journey To The Other Side.

Founded in 1969 by British musicians who performed at the legendary Star Club in Hamburg, then living and recording music in Germany for years, Nektar, who are often mistakenly classified as (German) Krautrock, left records for eternity after their debut, especially with A Tab In The Ocean (1972) and Remember The Future (1973). The latter album also opened up the US market for them (number 19 in the Billboard album charts), a blessing and a curse at the same time. The move to the USA led to Albrighton's departure and the weaker Magic Is A Child without him. With Man In The Moon (1980), the first attempt at a revival (with Albrighton and Freeman) was also only marginally successful. From The Prodigal Son (2001) onwards, Albrighton kept Nektar active again after a long break, even with the original band for the aforementioned live performance at NEARfest in 2002, initially also with Freeman, then together with Ron Howden. After Albrighton's death, the drummer initially wanted to continue the group with long-time keyboardist Klaus Henatsch (in the band since 2007), but then left shortly before the recording of the album Megalomania (2018). Musically, this album released under the band name New Nektar is not uninteresting, especially as Roye Albrighton's son Che is on drums, but guitarist Alexander Hoffmeister's vocals are simply unacceptable. Perhaps that's why Howden joined Moore. The Other Side, partly based on ideas from the seventies and including Devil's Door, a song already played live in 1974, breathes the spirit of the old Nektar much more tangibly than Megalomania.

This can also be heard on Journey To The Other Side. Of course Roye Albrighton is missing, his great guitar playing and his characteristic vocals are not so easy to replace – no, they cannot be replaced at all. After a spoken introductory greeting, reminiscent of the circus concept of Down To Earth, and the short instrumental The Light Beyond (originally found on The Other Side), Albrighton's absence becomes painfully obvious on A Tab In The Ocean, the title track of the 1972 masterpiece. Musically, it sounds as majestic as ever, but unfortunately the vocals are not convincing. Just okay doesn't really mean good or very good. This gets better with Skywriter, another of the "newer" pieces (actually also written in 1978 under the title Sky Pilot). A strong number, strongly presented, as is the following I'm On Fire, which also comes from the same period, which is the powerful, driving opener on The Other Side and is performed here live in a very stirring way. With the nine-minute Drifting and its spacey instrumental passages as well as the calm, harmonious Look Through Me, two more tracks from the current album come later in the set, which also do very well.

More interesting for many fans, however, are of course the old songs from the seventies, whereby, as it was almost to be expected, all albums between Recycled (1975) and The Other Side are completely ignored. Nevertheless, the vocals remain a shortcoming. Not so much in the beautifully performed classic Dream Nebula (originally from the debut Journey To The Centre Of The Eye), but then again in Cast Your Fate and above all in the groovy rock'n'roll homage A Day In The Life Of A Preacher (both from Sounds Like This, 1973). Three record-length compositions are an invitation to reconciliation: The music is simply too timelessly good not to be able to turn a blind eye (or ear) to the vocal weaknesses. Recycled Part 2, comprising Sao Paulo Sunrise, Costa Del Sol, Marvelous Moses and It's All Over, i.e. the complete second side of Recycled, is followed by Show Me The Way (from Down To Earth) for a short breather. After that, however, there are the two parts of the best Nektar record: Remember The Future (1973). Great music with its very own mixture of psychedelic and space rock, rocking and sublime moments, grand gestures and catchy melodies – typical Nektar.

Finally, the band presents three shorter pieces. After the aforementioned Look Through Me, Fidgety Queen (from Down To Earth) and Good Day (from Sounds Like This) are two more live classics that represent a worthy conclusion. Unfortunately, only the audio material is available for this review, so an evaluation of the concert film on the double CD plus Blu-ray package has to be left out. The Blu-ray and download-only track Devil's Door/King of Twilight is included as a bonus. The former is another track from the latest album The Other Side and at the same time a (very good!) song from the seventies, on which Roye Albrighton was involved and whose guitar can still be heard on the album version. The latter is another classic from the deep past, from A Tab In The Ocean, and once covered by none other than Iron Maiden (to be heard as the B-side of the single Aces High from 1984). One of those Nektar songs that are still simply terrific today and that you can listen to again and again.

All in all, not a bad live album and a fine testimony to the work of the Nektar line-up up until Ron Howden's death, but unfortunately certainly not the best live document in the band's history. Fans can certainly pick it up, but newcomers should start with the live highlights from the seventies, Sunday Night At London Roundhouse (recorded in 1973, released in 1974, but aim for the 2CD release with the full concert) and Live In New York (a concert from 1974, first released in 1977). The Greatest Hits Live (NEARfest 2002) by the reformed original line-up and Fortified, recorded in 2008 with Albrighton, Howden, Henatsch and bass player Peter Pichl, document the band's second phase perfectly. And two previously unreleased concerts (Long Island 1975 and Toronto 1976) have been released on the current five-CD set Recycled. Another thick box set (four CDs plus Blu-ray) was released in November 2023 with the reissue of Remember The Future, also including a previously unreleased live recording (Münster, 1974). Lots of material...

Vlyes — WHY

German
2024
54:15
Vlyes - WHY
The Arrival (2:27), I Can't Get Out (4:50), I Need A Wise Friend (6:28), Once In A While (4:31), The Petition (6:11), Calm Down (5:16) The Abandon (9:22), The End (3:59), Why (10:25), He Dubiousness (2:15)
8
Patrick McAfee

The modern prog scene is unpredictable and inspired. Around every corner is a new artist or band to potentially get excited about. It is still safe to assume though that this project by the former guitarist of the band, Sylvan, wasn't on many people's radar. Yet here it is and I can report that Vlyes debut is a worthy addition to the genre. Kay Soehl, who played a central role in creating Sylvan's sound, is joined in this endeavor by keyboardist/drummer Jens Lueck and vocalist, Volker Oster.

The album's unique concept presents a critical view of factory farming and is told from the perspective of an affected animal. It is clear that this is a cause of note for the band and the story is told with urgency and compassion. A Pink Floyd influence is present throughout, with Soehl's, David Gilmour like guitar solo's often taking center stage. Not to be pigeonholed, the band injects an ample amount of variety into the sound and style of WHY. Overall, it is reminiscent of some of the better NEO albums of the 90's and early 2000's.

Oster's impressive vocal range enhances the lyrical ebbs and flows needed for the concept. His tone is distinctive and possesses a dramatic flair that plays well into the adventurous material.

WHY is one of the better debut album's in recent years. Highlights such as I Need A Wise Friend, Once In A While, The Abandon and the exceptional title track, reflect the confidence of tenured musicians on an exciting new venture. Vlyes is an intriguing addition to the modern prog canon and proof of how the genre continues to surprise and enchant its fans.

Oliver Wakeman — Anam Cara

UK
2024
57:58
Oliver Wakeman - Anam Cara
The View From Here (4:00), The Queen's Lament (5:45). Here In My Heart (7:25), 1000 Autumns (4:07), Marble Arch (8:44), In The Moonlight (6:04), Miss You Now (4:51), Instead Of My Fear (3:08), Lonely (5:24), Golden Sun In Grey (8:25)
8
Geoff Feakes

Since his debut album in 1997, Oliver Wakeman has released just a handful of solo recordings, but he has kept himself busy. He has collaborated with Steve Howe, Clive Nolan and Gordon Giltrap and like his famous father before him, he is a former member of Strawbs and Yes. Both Oliver and Rick have the dubious distinction of being replaced in the latter by Geoff Downes even though in my humble opinion, Oliver's keyboard versatility was better suited to Yes than his successor's.

Like his previous album Mother's Ruin, Anam Cara is a full band effort although guitarist David Mark Pearce is the only remaining member of The Oliver Wakeman Band circa 2007. Making her debut with Oliver, soprano Hayley Griffiths sang with Karnataka for several years and more recently, has fronted her own band. They are joined by former Pendragon drummer Scott Higham, one of the finest rhythmists to emerge over the last couple of decades. Rounding out the line-up is Oliver Day (acoustic guitars, lute, mandolin), Steve Amadeo (bass), Robert McClung (violin), Mick Allport (saxophone, clarinet) and the multi-talented Troy Donockley (pipes and whistles).

Despite the impressive cast of musicians, the trademark Wakeman synth noodling and rippling piano is evident throughout, particularly during sprightly opener The View From Here. Acoustic guitar and whistle weave enchantingly through the wistful, folk tinged The Queen's Lament while Here In My Heart is one of the album's finest offerings. Classical guitar against a backdrop of symphonic keys, violin and Uilleann pipes builds to a suitably stirring peak. Donockley provides an authentic Celtic ambiance, no wonder his virtuosity has graced albums by The Enid, Iona, Mostly Autumn, Magenta and Dave Bainbridge amongst others. Oliver's Moog toned synth solo could have been lifted from Wakeman senior's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.

Hayley excels throughout the album, particularly on songs with a strong vocal melody like 1000 Autumns, Marble Arch and album closer Golden Sun In Grey which features an atmospheric intro that recalls Bitter Suite by Marillion. It also demonstrates Pearce's versatility with a histrionic solo followed by a melodic guitar theme worthy of Charlie Burchill of Simple Minds fame. Elsewhere on the album, ballads like In The Moonlight, Miss You Now and Lonely demonstrate that Oliver is clearly a romantic at heart. To add a touch of variety, the aforementioned Marble Arch takes a diversion into swing jazz territory, showcasing Allport's saxophone and clarinet dexterity, while the acoustic guitar and piano driven Instead Of My Fear has a subtle country and western vibe.

Anam Cara is Oliver's first solo album in 19 years, but it's been well worth the wait. Although it holds through surprises, the engaging songs, excellent performances and crystal-clear production will appeal to melodic prog fans. It will also find favour with those who appreciate the band's I've mentioned above, along with Robert Reed, Big Big Train, Lee Abraham, Tiger Moth Tales, Downes Braide Association (featuring Geoff Downes no less) and of course 1970's era Rick Wakeman. The album title by the way is a Celtic phrase meaning 'soul friend' and it's also the title of the book Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom From The Celtic World by Irish poet and author John O'Donohue.

Album Reviews