Reviews in this issue:
- Various Artists – The Colossus Of Rhodes (Duo Review)
- New Order - Waiting for the Sirens' Call
- Amon Düül 2 - Almost Alive
- Amon Düül 2 - Only Human
- Amon Düül 2 - Vortex
- Retrovértigo – Idéjala ! . . . Está Triste
- Cinema - Mindscape
- Exode – D’Ici et D’Ailleurs
Various Artists – The Colossus Of Rhodes
Tracklist: Leviathan Un Pensiero e Sempre Libero (26:34), Greenwall The Secret Passage (27:13), Sinkadus God Of Silence (23:14), Mad Crayon Come Vento Tornero (25:05), Velvet Desperados Lords And Knights (24:51), Revelation A New Dawn (29:26)
Dave Sisson's Review
Following on from their Spaghetti Epic project, the Finnish Progressive Music Association prove what a winning formula they have hit on with their latest offering The Colossus Of Rhodes. Again featuring six bands (4 Italian, 1 Swedish, 1 Finnish), each providing a suite of music approximately 25 minutes in length, the brief being to tell the story of Sergio Leone’s movie of the same title (2 chapters each) utilising only vintage instruments and capturing the symphonic style of 70’s progressive music as typified by Yes and Genesis.
Whilst this adherence to a rigid formula may seem to some to go against the spirit of truly progressive music, the end results are sure to please those (myself included) who have a passion for the classic symphonic style and who wish some of the original bands still produced music of this calibre. Working to this restrictive template has certainly worked for the six bands featured; they all come up with well structured, flowing suites that, seemingly effortlessly, recreate the glory days of the early seventies, choc full of lush atmospheres, grandiose melodies and tension building passages leading to dramatic crescendos. Really, this is my favourite type of music and I can’t get enough of it. Often a band may include a lengthy track (side-long to use the parlance of the vinyl era) as the highlight of their album, but here we have six such epics. It’s the perfect length to hold your attention whilst having room for developing melodic themes and plenty of instrumental passages, but not falling into the trap (Flower Kings take note) of not knowing when to stop.
The packaging is superb, sporting a wonderful cover by Paul Whitehead, recalling his classic VDGG and Genesis covers, and featuring story synopsis, storyboard artwork, full lyrics (in English and Italian, where appropriate) and more.
Leviathan I know from their Heartquake album, which was very much a Neo effort in the style of Genesis. Here they open with a Genesis feel but they gradually move away from this, recalling the vintage Italian sound of PFM, and making room for some great keyboard led instrumental flights. There is plenty of variety in the textures, with flutes and acoustic guitars creating appealing moods. The Italian vocals are good too, so no mangling of English here. This is a very enjoyable start to the album.
Greenwall are another Italian band, but are new to me. I like their contribution even more than Leviathan. They seem less tied to one particular group, but capture a wide range of styles, hinting at many of the great Italian bands – Le Orme , PFM, Quella Vecchia Loccanda – and also throw in a touch or two of VDGG for good measure. With brass sections, cello, saxophone and male and female vocals all jostling for position, it’s a fascinating track and one of my favourites. Rocking passages alternate with folky diversions, jazz jostles with classical, it’s great stuff! The only drawback is the fact that the lyrics switch from Italian to English and back, which is a little confusing.
Sinkadus close out the first disc with a moody, Mellotron-led marathon which refines the formula utilised on their two previous albums, showing that they are more than just Anglagaard copyists (which I often hear them being accused of). The track is largely instrumental, but the scant vocals are in English, which is more accessible than their usual impenetrable Finnish vocals. This track is quite different to the other tracks on this disc, having its own, uniquely Scandinavian vibe, dark and brooding, but that’s no bad thing. It’s good to hear them again after a quiet spell and I am now looking forward to a new album on the strength of this track – bring it on.
Mad Crayon lead off the second disc with another slice of classic Italian prog, a keyboard heavy extravaganza, richly textured and bristling with invention. The (Italian) vocals are extremely good, as are the keyboards – plenty of chunky organ and twittering synths. I make no secret of my passion for the Italian scene of the seventies, and Mad Crayon, like La Maschera Di Cera, Periferia Del Mondo, CAP and Il Castello Di Atlante, prove that there’s more to the current scene than the heavily Genesis inspired Neo bands who proliferated in Italy in the 80’s and 90’s. With Gentle Giant stylisms mixing in with the Mediterranean influences, this is invigorating stuff. Along with Greenwall, this is my favourite track on the album.
Velvet Desperados are another new one to me, and are the only Finnish band here. Their track is another good effort, and introduces some Pink Floyd influences and some blues rock passages, making a change from the preceding track. This is a little less to my personal taste, with the bluesy interlude slightly spoiling an otherwise good track. There is some nice development of themes and interesting dynamics – particularly in the long instrumental passages- though the English vocals are good too. I do like the organ and guitar passages, which recall Wish You Were Here Floyd. This track is nice, but just a touch less exciting than the other groups.
The disc climaxes with another Italian band, Revelation, but unlike the other groups, they choose to stick very, very close to the Genesis template as laid down on Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot. Your enjoyment of this track will very much depend on your opinion of copycat bands- there’s no denying what Revelation are all about. Personally, many of the Neo bands of the 80’s (Italian and English) just weren’t good enough to really capture the sound they strove for, but Revelation’s attempt is so convincing that I found myself really enjoying it. I am a big fan of Genesis, and this track could easily sit alongside their early classics – leaving aside the thorny issue of originality- it’s a terrific exercise in nostalgia. The vocalist does a nice Gabriel impersonation, and the guitarist really gets Hackett’s style to a T. If you enjoyed Mangala Vallis’ recent Book Of Dreams, you should enjoy this one
Really, the standard of music throughout the 2 CD’s is very high, with enough stylistic variation to make it an enjoyable listen from start to finish. Unlikely to find favour with those who only want boundary-pushing, experimental fare, it will nevertheless be a big hit with those who know what they like and want more of it. This is a hugely satisfying, large scale concept project in the classic symphonic 70’s style and I for one can’t get enough of this sort of stuff. I have yet to hear the Spaghetti Epic, but it is definitely on my wants list. I do have the earlier 3 CD set Kalevela, which was very good, but was a bit overlong and featured many more groups and shorter tracks, and I feel they have refined the formula somewhat to good effect. The next project, The Odyssey, sounds great too – can’t wait!
Guillermo Palladino's Review
This review covers a recent release produced by Colossus Records, a Finnish Progressive Rock Label who have been working basically on compilations that are an adaptation of epic, literary and cinematographycal themes onto the Symphonic-Progressive musical genre.
This particular work is called "The Odyssey ~ A Wonderful Tale" and is an adaptation of Homer’s Greek Epic "The Oddysey". Originally, the book was divided into 24 parts but this time the main structure of the story was divided into nine songs, played by nine different bands from around the world: Nathan Mahl, Nexus, Glass Hammer, XII Alfonso, Simon Says, Consorzio Acqua Potabile, Tempano, Minimum Vital and Aether.
All the musical compositions for this release bring many musical variations. Each track was to have a minimum of 25 minutes and the songs produced were distributed over three CDs. All the songs have a common musical connection, bringing homogenity and a very interesting development as each song passes by, no matter the particular style of all the band playing.
- The first disc brings us a very interesting beginning to this musical journey in which Guy LeBlanc’s
Nathan Mahl gives to this Odyssey a powerful opening in Of
Longings, Suitors, Deities And Quests ... and a brilliant execution full of improvised passages
bringing to mind such as bands as Kenso and Djam Karet.
- After that the Argentinian NeoProggers Nexus executes a more fresh and actual mood to the listening
with El Regreso - The Return, combining the keyboardistic ELP elements with all the ambiental and powerful sounds
produced by bands such as Marillion or Arena.
- An impresionant execution of At The Court Of Alkinoos by Glass Hammer closes this first CD, whose song is the result of many musical influences between subgenres like Symphonic Rock, RIO and some Prog Metallic arrangements on guitar and drums.
The second and third CDs have much more in common, and a particular 70’s halo envolves all the songs from now on, bringing to us all the beautiful evocations to bands like ELP, PFM, Banco, among others.
- Disc Two is initially played by French band XIII Alfonso which offer to us a very fresh song
in From Ismarus To The Land Of Death
combined with some electronically generated sequences and overdubs, but at the end it strongly evolves onto a totally classic 70’s masterpiece.
- The second song, Minds Of Mortal Men - Meander Tales, is played by
Swedish band Simon Says which are a some kind of ELP copycat, this musical effort is finally damaged by a poor vocal playing.
- Now is the time of Italians CAP, and Sulle Ali Del Sogno - Odissea,
which brings us back to the 70’s with their characteristic musical style,
fulfilled by the Italian symphonic rock influence, This song appears to be dropped out of their “Robin Delle Stelle” with which
they have a lot in common.
- Tempano, the most important band on the Venezuelan
Symphonic-Progressive Rock scene opens the third disc with an operatic and intense song,
Chapter VII, which immediately beings to mind their 2003 release "The Agony and Ecstasy". I think that Pedro Castillo’s vocals are the best played in the whole work.
- The second song, Etranger En Sa Demeure, is played by French band
Minimum Vital in which this journey takes back a powerful execution as the same way Nathan Mahl did in the opening act, a very changing song but with a strong feeling on its keyboard playing.
- Finally, this musical experience ends with a Brazilian band called Aether and an interesting song in Chapter IX, that fulfils all the listener’s desires to hear an apotheosic song, but not strong enough to leave you “out of order”.
In conclusion The Odyssey ~ A Wonderful Tale is an outstanding tribute, with a musical journey that captivates us in the same way Homer did many centuries ago - with a rich story - like his Odyssey.
New Order - Waiting for the Sirens' Call
Tracklist: Who’s Joe? (5:41), Hey Now What You Doing (5:16), Waiting For The Sirens' Call (5:42), Krafty (4:33), I Told You So (6:00), Morning Night And Day (5:12), Dracula’s Castle (5:40), Jetstream (5:23), Guilt Is A Useless Emotion (5:39), Turn (4:35), Working Overtime (3:26)
Now surely these blokes at DPRP have gone completely mad? What's a New Order CD doing on a prog rock site? Well, after discussing the possibility of reviewing this album on DPRP I got so many people saying 'I've always liked New Order, go for it Ed!' that I decided to take a side step of the proggy path. Seemingly the band's characteristic mixture of electronics, dance and (alternative) rock has more fans in the prog rock community. Did you for instance know that several members of the IQ band and crew were big New Order fans ? So for all you prog-purists, scroll on! For the rest, read on and don't let the chance of discovering a fine album pass you by!
Back in the late seventies/early eighties there was this dark and moody post-punk band called Joy Division. They are probably best known for their song Love Will Tear Us Apart, which was later covered by Paul Young. When the band's vocalist, Ian Curtis, committed suicide the band continued under the new name of 'New Order' with guitarist Bernard Sumner taking up the vacancy in the vocal department. After releasing one album and a couple of singles the band did what everybody at the time probably considered commercial suicide. Not only did they drastically change their style by incorporating Emulator synths in their music, they also released their next single on 12" only. The 7+ minute song wasn't even available on their second album which was released in 1983. Nevertheless the song, Blue Monday, became an incredible hit and has turned into the best selling 12" ever!
After this breakthrough the band continued to release a combination of albums and hit singles which were not always available on the albums, or were released in amazing extended 12" versions. Among these were classics like Thieves Like Us, The Perfect Kiss, Shellshock, Bizarre Love Triangle and True Faith. Most of these song titles probably won't ring a bell, since the band rarely used lines from the lyrics as titles for their compositions, but nevertheless many of you will know these tunes when you hear them.
Unfortunately (for some) the band began to focus more and more on the electronic and techno side of their work, resulting in two albums that might not be to everybody's liking: Technique (1989) and Republic (1993). Besides some rather forgettable material the latter does however feature some New Order classics, like Regret, World (The Price of Love), Ruined in a Day and Liar. It was recorded in Peter Gabriel's Real World studios and even features Gabriel's guitarist David Rhodes.
After a long silence of 8 years, during which many solo projects took shape, the band made an unexpected comeback in 2001 with the album Get Ready and the single Crystal. Whereas their previous releases focussed too much on the dance side of things, this album had (alternative) rock written all over it. And although it is a fine album, the lack of more 'danceable' material (with the exception of Someone Like You) did make it feel like a rather unbalanced album. But now the band returns with Waiting for the Sirens' Call, which has all of the elements that made the band's mid eighties work classic and influential material: the right mixture of catchy pop and alternative rock, Peter Hook's characteristic bass playing (which often forms the melody basis for New Order's songs), Stephen Morris' great energetic drum patterns, Sumner's recognisable vocals (which seem to get better with each album), great electronic effects and a squeaky clean production.
It's quite remarkable that the band has worked with no less than five different producers on this album. And although you might expect a very unbalanced result it works amazingly well, creating a wealth of diversity. Not only are there no weak songs on the album - only great songs and good songs - the variety in style is quite stunning and broader than on any other New Order album. The album starts with a couple of very catchy pop songs which are immediately likeable, among which the splendid title track of the album.
With Krafty we find another catchy tune being combined with the more electronic sound of the band, although it also features a powerful drum pattern. For those who are into dance music the track with the mysterious title Guilt Is A Useless Emotion (which, as with so many other New Order tracks seems to miss any connection with the lyrical content) is a real treat. I also have to mention the excellent usage of (female) backing vocals, not only in this track but in several other as well. They really add an extra dimension to the bands music. As a matter of fact, Jetstream is even a duet with Ana Matronic, a singer of that strange gay band The Scissor Sisters. Yes indeed, those weirdo's that made that BeeGees disco version of Comfortably Numb. Nevertheless, it turns out to be one of the highlights of the album !
And for those of you who get a bit tired of the dance stuff there's always the in-your-face Working Overtime, which sounds like New Order meets Iggy & The Stooges, or I Told You So which has a great reggae/dub vibe. All of the other tracks that haven't been mentioned yet are quality material as well. Even Dracula's Castle, which from a 'catchiness' point of view might be the weakest track on the album, has a lot to offer, including some fine string arrangements.
So, is there absolutely nothing to complain about with this record ? Sure there is. As with all New Order albums, once again the lyrics are missing and the booklet is a rather vague affair. Then again, you're not missing much with some of the lyrics, which are at times among the cheesiest they have ever written ('who's that over there ? seems like he don't care'). Bit those are only minor complaints. At the end of the day, Waiting for the Sirens' Call is without a doubt one of New Orders best albums to date. And for those who still doubt if they might like an album with songs that are less than 6 minutes long and don't feature any Mellotron, make sure you check out the samples on the New Order Online website. Or, even better, if you browse through the news archive on that site, you should find a full streaming audio version of the album to convince you.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Amon Amon Düül 2 - Almost Alive
Tracklist: One Blue Morning (7:26), Good-bye My Love (8:14), Ain't Today Tomorrow's Yesterday (7:21), Hallelujah (4:19), Feeling Uneasy (6:09), Live In Jericho (12:08)
Bonus Tracks: Cosmic Insects (6:13), Live In Obergurgl (1:40), Kitchen Jam (6:59)
The first version of Amon Düül took shape in 1967 and it was a politically oriented avant-garde group. Out of this band came Chris Karrer (guitar, vocals), who joined up with John Weinzierl (guitar, bass) and Peter Leopold (drums), later on Renate Knaup (vocals), Falk Rogner (keyboards) and Dave Anderson (bass) were added to form the core of Amon Düül 2 through most of the early seventies. The mid seventies saw Amon Düül 2 refine their musical style, they took to a more commercial level, influenced by the disco years. Vocalist Knaup left the band in 1978, and after Only Human John Weinzierl quit as well. Karrer initiated a reunion, but the result Vortex disappointed many fans and the band quit for the second time. Now Inside Out release three albums of this cult band as De-Luxe editions, complete with booklet and bonus tracks. And these 3 albums are the beginning of a reissue series including 11 Düül albums!
Amon Düül 2 is regarded as synonym for the term Krautrock, music balancing on the thin line between genius and insanity. This was the first German group whose music can be regarded as a contribution on its own to international pop culture. The band improvised a lot and in their music, especially on the first albums, they mixed psychedelic sounds with fanatic surrealism and pompous bombastic music a la Richard Wagner. Some people even consider them to be one of the most influential prog bands because of the legacy of the music they have created.
Almost Alive was originally released in 1977 and the band consisted out of Peter Leopold, John Weinzierl, Klaus Ebert, Stefan Zauner and Chris Karrer at that time. In fact this is an album filled with solos and it is a great album. One Blue Morning opens with drums and guitar and it is a real prog song filled with many short guitar solos, while the middle part features percussion and piano. The ending of this track is rather mysterious, with jazzy and funky parts at the end of the song. Goodbye My Love is the highlight of this album, featuring female vocals by Knaup and astonishing guitar work by Karrer. If you listen to this song you can hardly believe that it is almost 30 years old! Just check out the sparking guitar solo the last 2.5 minutes of the song!
The third track is almost completely different as the rhythm changes are numerous and this one is filled with horns, trumpets and strings, giving it a classical touch. The lyrics are out of this world, or better said completely weird and almost understandable, really. Hallelujah is almost instrumental and again this song has a remarkable laid back guitar solo. It is one of the band’s most innovative instrumental songs and it was used as the opening track for their live gigs for many years. Live In Jericho is an instrumental jam session with amazing guitar solos and lots of percussion passages, which kind of remind me of the early Camel albums.
The three bonus tracks do not really appeal to me; only the guitar explosive track Live In Obergurgl is my cup of tea. Cosmic Insects is not really music as it is filled with soundscapes and talking and again the lyrics are really super weird! Kitchen Jam is funky and Caravan-like, but at some time it is just a cacophony of sounds…
The title of the album reflects the band’s live concept at the end of the seventies, making this a very interesting progressive rock album, which still can be enjoyed, even almost 30 years later… Food for real prog heads!
Amon Düül 2 - Only Human
Tracklist: Another Morning (3:37), Don't Turn Too Stone (4:08), Kirk Morgan (3:04), Spaniards & Spacemen (5:50), Kismet (7:54), Pharao (4:12), Ruby Lane (3:56)
Bonus Tracks: Einsatz In Timbuktu (5:57), No Sushi For Camels (7:32)
This is the second reissue of the legendary Kraut rock band Amon Düül 2. Only Human was released in 1978 and the line-up of the band at that time was Klaus Ebert (guitar, bass, vocals), Chris Karrer (guitar, vocals), Peter Leopold (drums, percussion) and Stefan Zauner (keyboards). For a short history of the band please check the above review of Almost Alive. On this album the band decided to add disco elements and Arabian and Spanish folk music components and that is mainly why this album sounds not like typical Amon Düül 2 stuff, it is even more experimental and at certain times very unique, although I must add not really my cup of tea…. I really could not believe that this was the same band as the one on Almost Alive, an album that I really could appreciate and enjoy. But if I listen to this CD I do not know what to think of the songs on this album.
The CD opens with Another Morning, a really absurd piece of music with weird vocals and jazzy and sometimes even poppy musical elements. Then Amon Düül 2 goes reggae with Don’t Turn Too Stone (which is spelled wrongly by the way, I think..) and with that one the German Kraut rockers scare the bloody hell out of me; boring!! Kirk Morgan is a rather psychedelic song with funky rhythms, Oriental flute sounds and a confusing guitar solo. Then in Spaniards & Spacemen Chris Karrer shows his love for flamenco and Oriental music with lots of percussion, acoustic guitar parts and a nice slide guitar solo, making this track the first decent song on this album!
Kismet is a crazy, musical maelstrom with lots of Pink Floyd sounds, spacey melodies, melancholic vocals and an acoustic middle part. US rappers Cypress Hill and Shaquille O’Neal were so impressed with this song that they sampled parts of it 20 years later and used them n their own songs. Pharao, as the title already suggest is again rather Arabic with lots of sitar and again a song that is not easy to listen to or even to like….. The last song on this album is funky with a dominant bass guitar riff and lots of percussion, reminding me of certain jazz-rock bands of the seventies.
The two bonus tracks are completely out of this world, fit for people in a madhouse?? Einsatz In Timbuktu features Arabic or maybe Turkish vocals, lots of percussion and very irritating handclapping throughout the entire 6 minutes!! Last but not least we have No Sushi For Camels (nice title by the way), again featuring female Turkish or Arabic whining and almost only percussion and a little bit of jazzy piano playing in the background. These two bonus tracks are superfluous material like I have never heard before, what is the point in adding two of these completely insane “songs”??
This CD cannot be compared with their previous album as this album only features 2 decent songs; the rest is sheer madness and completely weird material, which only can be enjoyed with some serious narcotics. However, you should check out the excellent cover of this album, the song material is not really worthwhile.
Amon Amon Düül 2 - Vortex
Tracklist: Vortex (5:48), Holy West (5:10), Die 7 Fetten Jahre (4:32), Wings Of The Wind (4:49), Mona (5:10), We Are Machine (5:20), Das Gestern Ist Das Heute Von Morgen ( 4:36), Vibes In The Air (6:30)
Bonus Tracks: Whatever (8:36), [Ras]putin In Der Badewamme (9:19)
Vortex, originally released in 1981, is also known as the reunion album as it features the following line-up: Renate Knaup (vocals), Chris Karrer (guitar), Jorg Evers (bass, guitar), Daniel Fischelscher (drums) and Falk Rogner (keys). As guest players on this album you can hear: John Weinzierl, Stefan Zauner and Peter Leopold. Vortex is the only Amon Düül 2 of the eighties and although many considered this one a technically perfect album, after Vortex the band decided to call it a day; there was no future for Amon Düül 2 anymore... But as you already may know, Amon Düül 2 is back and definitely with a vengeance, but now let’s review their only album of the eighties.
Most of the material on this CD reminds of ancient Düül material at their best (as stated in the booklet), but I still cannot understand that this album was rated as good, as all the 8 songs on Vortex are rather unoriginal, dragging so-called progressive rock songs…. The album starts with the title track and this one sets the tone for the rest of the album, as it is spacey, psychedelic music filled with long droning passages that kind of remind me of another weird German band called Ash Ra Temple. A folk-like song follows the opening track with acoustic guitars and the rather dull voice of Mrs Knaup. Die 7 Fetten Jahre features completely insane German lyrics and some strange duet singing, as for Wings Of The Wind is a funky, chaotic song filled with soundscapes and an almost catchy chorus. Mona is a pop rock ballad that almost bored me to death. Where is the band that I liked so much on for instance Almost Alive??? We Are Machine could be described as the first progressive rock song on this CD, as it turns out, it also the only prog rock song on the entire album, sad but true.
The bonus tracks on this CD are Whatever, which is actually a song I rather fancy. It has a drums and keys intro followed by guitar shreds and a funky/jazzy bass guitar line. Then some strange sounds and melodies follow, combined with narrative parts in a foreign language, and directly followed by a violin solo. In fact the complete song is rather lunatic-like but it has a certain attraction to me, especially the rather aggressive guitar solo at the end of the song. The second bonus song called Rasputin In Der Badewanne delivers everything that the title promises. Hysterical female screaming, talking, opera-like vocals, hardly any melody at all, Oriental sounds, violins and lots more. If this song does not drive you crazy, then I would not know which one does.
Completely insane, so in my opinion it has nothing to do with prog rock whatsoever. Once again a rather disappointing AD album in fact!
Almost Alive - 7.5 out of 10
Only Human - 4 out of 10
Vortex - 4 out of 10
Retrovértigo – Idéjala ! . . . Está Triste
Tracklist: Mi Padre Nunca Me Llevé a Roma (6:51), La Esperanzadora (4:11), Tres Meses (2:04), No Puedo Tocar Rock Contigo (9:49), Mi Dulce Y Enferma Vivana Vivana (7:10), Siete Meses (1:35), Intermitente (10:57), Idejéla! . . . Está Triste (7:50), Nueve Meses (1:43), Ultimo Noviembra (6:37), La Violenta (3:35)
Because I’m worried that my description of this album might not make it sound as good as it is, I’m going to begin by saying that I like it and have played it many times – several times just for pleasure. I’ve found it to be an album that I liked the first time I heard it and that continues to grow on me. That said, it won’t appeal to everybody, so I’d better describe it as well as I can so you can decide whether or not it’s likely to appeal to you.
First of all, the album’s entirely instrumental, save for one song, Intermitente, which is sung in Spanish. And that one song, I’m tempted to conclude, illustrates perfectly why the rest are instrumental: the singing really isn’t very good. Now, what does one usually expect from an instrumental album, especially one that (as this one does) fits into the progressive-rock category? Instrumental virtuosity, right? Well, you won’t find much of that here. The band members – keyboardist Fernando Bolaño, bassist David Fotaiña, drummer Daniel Arreaza, and guitarist Alexei Garbán – are all fine musicians, but the pleasure here is not in listening for long, intricate solos but in enjoying the tight ensemble work, all instruments contributing unshowily to each song’s total sound and effect.
And what sound and effect are the songs aiming at? Same as the one aimed at by Sigur Ros. In fact, from the first time I played this Retrovertigo album, another one that I know very well had been nagging at the back of my mind; but it took a good dozen playings before I realized that Sigur Ros had been what I was reminded of that whole time. I hadn’t played their album () in some time, having overplayed it with delight when it was released, or the similarity would have occurred to me sooner. No, I’m not saying “Retrovertigo sounds just like Sigur Ros”; however, I guarantee that if you like that weird Icelandic group you’ll like this slightly less weird Venezuelan group. Both bands’ songs move at the speed of a very tired snail, and the musicians in each band work together as a single terrific unit, and yet there’s nothing “easy-listening” about either group’s music. Retrovertigo somehow manage to be intense in their slowness, interesting in their deliberateness.
Highlights are hard to find, since the album is very much of a piece – perhaps too much. Anybody who’s read more than a few of my reviews will be starting to think “There’s no pleasing this guy!” – because I frequently complain when an album contains too much variety, too many different styles. But I think there’s a fine balance that a band needs to strike between variety and unity. Radiohead, to cite a band that’s mentioned in Retrovertigo’s write-up on their record label’s website (where we’re told that the group plays “music at the crossroads between sophisticated rock a la RADIOHEAD and Seventies Progressive Rock”), manages that balance perfectly on album after album, I think. Nobody could mistake a Radiohead song for one by any other band; and yet all their albums from OK Computer onwards are very much of a piece. Retrovertigo’s album is of a piece, all right, but the band might need to stretch a little more – to vary at least the tempo of a few songs on each album! (Okay, I’ll give them this – the song’s lengths vary from one and a half to eleven minutes. That’s a sort of variety, I guess.)
So there are your bearings. If you like Sigur Ros; if you like Radiohead (because the comparison is particularly apposite, if, like me, you name Kid A and Amnesiac as your favourite Radiohead albums – think especially a song like How To Disappear Completely); if you like interesting, multi-textured, slow but challenging instrumental progressive rock – get this album. I’ve dithered with the rating, but, having first decided on 7.5, I’ve talked (and listened!) myself into giving it an 8 and thus a “DPRP recommended” rating. It’s really that good.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Cinema - Mindscape
Tracklist: The Corridor Of The Time (11:19), A Gentle Scenery (4:58), A Breeze (2:40), The Tropic (7:52), The Hill Of Water (9:16), The Sea Without A Shore (12:33), Departure For The Fortune (1:57)
It's not so easy to classify this album; is it light-classical with some sympho influences, heavy new age, light prog, poppy orchestral classic, a primitive opera or what? Well, some elements of all mentioned 'categories' are indeed in there, but the mix of it all makes this album exceptional.
Cinema is a six piece band from Japan, formed in 1994 by two former members of Fromage (French for 'cheese') when this notorious locally famous eighties band broke up. They claim to play in the tradition of the famous Japanese School (Outer Limits, Pageant, Vermillion Sands, ....) and indeed there are some similarities between these groups and Cinema. Mindscape is only their third album, after The Seven Stories from 1997 and Into The State Of Flux from 2000, so you really can't call them over-productive. They claim themselves that this latest album is showing greater maturity; not knowing the previous albums I must take this remark for granted, but reading the DPRP review (just click on the above link) of their previous album I guess it's indeed a fact.
Let's see how they describe Mindscape themselves: "These seven refined and subtle pieces are enhanced by piano, cello and violin parts, played with great delicacy. Besides slight digressions towards new-age or Celtic music, some intense solos of lyrical guitar are present, sometimes close to the illuminations of Steve Rothery (Marillion). The neo-classical inspiration of the band provides superb moments of sophisticated music." I judge this description as quite accurate, although I kind of missed the Celtic influences and the intensity. You don't have to expect to be blown away by the music of Cinema, it's basically very calm, tranquil with serene orchestral keyboards and occasional light female operatic voices. So it's one for the whole family, supposing they're interested in decent music.
The Corridor Of The Time starts off the album directly in a very mellow way, it's an instrumental song that sometimes comes very close to new-age and elevator music, but also has its uplifting dramatic moments that give the song a more evolved character. A Gentle Scenery is a simple, but fine tune dominated by female singing (in Japanese) accompanied by mainly a cello, again a slow paced song. That slow pace continues on A Breeze (what else would you expect with such a title?), a violin and flute based instrumental. The Tropic builds up slowly, starting with a plain piano, then female singing and then some keyboards and even a guitar are added. Curious is the one strange English line ("Just I was sixteen boy") that floats in between the Japanese lyrics in the refrains. This song also features a more up-tempo keyboard and guitar solo that stands out a bit on this album and can be called one of its highlights; the song ends again as it began.
The Hill Of Water floats along in a calm mood that you might associate with a fairytale lake; it starts vocally based, then some instruments take over the main part, but it's musically not much exciting as all instruments hold back and play just a mellow tune to give the song its ambience. Only the guitar solo near the end brings some excitement. The beginning of the longest song The Sea Without A Shore is mainly dictated by a repeating simple tune played on the flute, the vocals are twirled around that. Then the pace goes up when the guitar and piano join in giving the song a more poppy prog sound for a short while after which its back to the more relaxed melody line that does build up to the end with a guitar solo again stripped of almost all sharpness. Near the end the same tune on the flute joins the guitar until they both fade away to be replaced by the expected sound of water floating (totally new-age). The song to conclude the album Departure For The Fortune is actually just the tune the CD started with played on a violin.
All in all this is a very pleasant CD to listen and relax to and can be classified at the summit of its musical category. My wife thoroughly enjoyed it and would rate it with a 9.8, but personally I miss some essential prog elements and some excitement which makes this album only just enjoyable, but not fabulous to me. It's absolutely advised to anyone interested in tranquil or ambient music with a light prog sauce, but if you're after some excitement in music this album will probably bore you.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Exode – D’Ici et D’Ailleurs
Tracklist: Chant Sous les Oceans (7:10), L’Apprenti Sorcier (5:50), Les Noces Noires (5:28), Helas (3:50), Un Chat Sur le Toit (5:15), Le Funambule (4:44), Voleurs d’Ames (4:55), Zone Rouge (3:56), Celia (6:19), Les Hordes (5:25), Le Chaman (7:00), Frere (7:41), Voyage Dans les Silences (4:21)
When I first played D’Ici et D’Ailleurs, I made this note for myself about the album’s sound: “easy-listening French progressive rock with jazzy elements and histrionic, often ludicrously histrionic, vocals.” Well, I’ve listened to it a number of times since, and I can’t improve on that phrase as a brief description of the album in general. The promo materials put the matter a little differently, assuring us that the album “is directly connected with the golden age of French [sic] progressive rock, the seventies” and that “Roland’s theatrical singing, the Mellotron, organ and piano sounds, the flute solis [sic], and a dynamic guitar are the main points of this brilliant album.” As a description, and leaving aside for the moment the judgement of the album’s brilliance, that’s a useful starting point.
“Roland” is Roland Lelong, a veteran progressive-rock singer once of the French band Ange. His singing certainly is theatrical: the lyrics are not so much sung as enacted, and, though that style works once in a while, by the end of an album – especially an album almost one and a quarter hours long – it wears on one’s sensibilities (and on one’s nerves – or at least on mine). True, there are moments of relief, when Lelong sings more or less conventionally, and further relief is provided by Angélique Raoux, the band’s flautist, who sings lead vocals now and again, notably on the quite lovely Un Chat Sur le Toit. On the whole, though, it’s the vocals that damage the album’s potential more than any other element, at least to my ears.
The songs are perhaps more ingenious and interesting than my preliminary label “easy-listening progressive rock” would suggest, although I’ll stand by that label as a description of the album’s overall sound. Some of the songs are really quite nifty, one of my favourites being the dramatic L’Apprenti Sorcier (I don’t have to translate that title, do I?), which made me grin when I first heard it: if this song isn’t indebted to Black Sabbath, the band but particularly the song Black Sabbath, I miss my guess. Though L’Apprenti Sorcier is faster than Black Sabbath, some of the notes of the main riff are, I believe, exactly the same; and Lelong’s approximation of a demonic cackle is very like Ozzy’s strained “Oh no, no, please, God help me!” The rest of the song, unfortunately, fun though it might be (with the main riff stated and restated by both guitar and keyboards), depends too heavily on those theatrical vocals, and by the time it breaks down into a jazzy section partway through (again, a procedure not unknown to Sabbath), I find myself losing patience with the singing.
Celia is another song that more or less succeeds despite the emoting. It’s barely-progressive pop, a pretty, melodic tune that could have been a hit ballad for Fleetwood Mac in the seventies, if Fleetwood Mac had been French. As is the case in pretty well all the CD’s songs, Christian Raoux’s drumming is a highlight, his tasteful and tasty use of tom-toms adding interest to every verse and, here, both supporting and accenting the guitar solo; and that solo, by Theirry Roseren, is again typical of his work on the album – tuneful but impassioned, restating the melodic theme and taking off from it in interesting but not too esoteric ways.
In fact, the musicians are all very good, and repeated listenings are repaid by the nuances to be discovered in each performance. Next to Roseren’s and Raoux’s playing, most interesting is Laurent Raoux’s keyboard work – the piano, organ, and especially good old Mellotron mentioned earlier. It’s his work, in fact, that gives Exode its most explicit connection to the progressive rock (French or otherwise) of the seventies and makes many of the songs on this album worth listening to.
Although this is by no means a bad album, I can’t recommend it with much enthusiasm. The playing is uniformly good, and many of the individual songs hold together well, with pleasing melodies and zippy contributions from each band member. But the album’s excessive length, its general mellowness, and especially that darned “theatrical” singing make it an album only for fans of histrionic French progressive pop, of whom there well may be more than I realize.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10