Reviews in this issue:
- Eyestrings - Consumption
- Fluxury - Perishable Goods
- Genesis In The Cage – Live Volume 1
- Bauer – Astronauta Olvidado
- Panopticum - Reflection
- Daniel J - Losing Time
Eyestrings - Consumption
Tracklist: All Sales Final (2:02), Valid For A Week (11:48), Stagnant (4:54), Code Of Tripe (i. Ground Zero, ii. Feast, iii. Omega Land, iv. Fallout) (12:04), Slate Clean (7:17), Groove Seven (5:46), Lifelines (i. Tangles, ii. Intervention, iii. Puppet, iv. Traces, v. Cordpuller, vi. Vox Populi) (20:00)
Anyone idly perusing the lyric book of Consumption, the second album by Detroit-based Eyestrings, could easily get the impression that main composer Ryan Parmenter is quite a disturbed young man. The immediate imagery of his words are not comfortable ones, although obviously, that says as much about the interpreter as it does the writer. However, although lyrically and musically, Eyestrings do lurk in the darker quadrant of shadows, their approach is never less than interesting, and frequently enthralling.
Staying with the lyrics for a moment, what you get is, at one and the same time, thought provoking, an interesting insight to the writer's mind and even, dare one say it, a mite controversial. This reviewer found commentary, although usual indirect, on the current state of the world in terms of mass consumerism, the Middle East, Governmental intervention in the daily lives of the populace, erosion of individuality, manipulation, and more besides. As with all good literature, things are open to individual interpretation. Consequently my observations may be far removed from the writer's original intent and also different from what other's perceive. But isn't that what makes things interesting, indeed stimulating?
Still, I doubt if many people have bought a CD solely for the lyrics (isn't that what books are for?!), it is the music that people will want to read about (rather an odd concept considering that music and words are processed on different sides of the brain!). Thankfully, Parmenter and the rest of the band - Matthew Kennedy (bass), Alan Rutter (guitars) and Bob Young (drums and percussion) - don't fail to deliver. Building on the debut release, the rather wonderful Burdened Hands, Eyestrings once again delight with their musical vision. It is unusual for a band to have developed a characteristic sound of their own by only their second album, but this lot have done it. If you heard and enjoyed Burdened Hands then you will have no problems with Consumption as all the elements that made the first album so enjoyable are present on the second. Add to that the inevitable advances that come with the experience and familiarisation of playing with each other and the result is a great album!
Eyestrings are much more than a vehicle for Parmenter as each of the musicians adds a lot to the overall sound (indeed, Parmenter is currently working on a solo album of 'lighter' songs as he admits that Eyestrings material is tending to delve deeper into the darker realms of the psyche). Kennedy's bass is the solid foundation of the songs and his playing, as well as his contributions on the Moog and Theremin, add a lot of nuance to the compositions. His first recorded composition (developed with the aid of Parmenter) is the 12 minute Code Of Tripe and proves he has learnt a lot from the writers and musicians he has worked with. Rutter's guitar provides a lot of texture and adds variety to the sound. Slipping, with consummate ease, from baroque style nylon-stringed guitar passages to electric solos replete with effects, Rutter is that great rarity, a guitar player who concentrates on the sound and the atmosphere of his contributions rather than being hung up on being overtly flash (in that respect, you can draw similarities with IQ's Mike Holmes, easily one of the best guitarists playing in prog today but largely unsung for his abilities). Finally, Young adds Eastern flavour by the use of djembe and tabla (particularly on All Sales Final and Slate Clean), thus subtly changing the more conventional rhythmic structures usually found in prog rock. Indeed, even when playing a regular drum kit, Young's style is at times quite unconventional which adds another layer to the music.
To write a review of the individual songs would be a horrible compromise and could never do justice to the complex and intertwined nature of the extended pieces. It is suffice to say that each song is a delight and there are no superfluous moments, even in the 20 minute Lifelines. Parmenter's use of different keyboards to affect mood and change the atmosphere is brilliant and, as with Burdened Hands, the album is suffused with melodies and moments of lightness, even jollity. Even though this review, and undoubtedly others, mentions the darker style of Eyestrings music, the album is ultimately rather uplifting and a joy to listen to. And you can't say any fairer than that.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
And I didn't mention Discipline once!
Fluxury - Perishable Goods
Tracklist: Me, The Enemy (4:41), After The Revolution (2:49), Safety First (5:05), Light Of Other Days (6:07), I Will Be There (2:47), Surrender (2:37), Dust Settled Down (4:40), Perishable Goods (10:19), Symmetry (1:43), Nothing's Safe (6:41), Heaven And Hell (9:04), Panta Rei (2:36)
As already became apparent in our review of Lunar Escape Velocity back in 2001, Dutch band Fluxury should at least be described as "different". Their latest release excels in originality, most notably in the vocal and composition departments.
If you just start to listen and look at the track list, this could be just another prog album. However, you'll quickly discover that the entire album has a certain theme, a certain feel to it. The concept feeling is enhanced by the repetition of lyrics and musical themes across the songs.
The opening track Me, The Enemy shares lyrics and music with I Will Be There and elaborates on the musical theme first before the vocals kick in. The vocals sound different in many songs, because Fluxury had the luxury (duh) of multiple female singers during the recording sessions, while other band members took care of the backing vocals. Many songs feature choir-like (or even choral) arrangements, sometimes of stunning beauty. Highlight for me is Light Of Other Days, which has one of the most beautiful vocal lines I've heard recently. Thea van Rijen's voice sounds very warm and gracious.
After The Revolution and Dust Settled Down are another obvious pair of songs. The slightly irregular, bass driven rhythm is often interrupted by subtle phrases of music or vocals. Some guitar sounds and chord changes remind me of Genesis' Trick Of The Tail album. The end of Dust Settled Down has a sequence of weird dissonant chords which sounds a bit uncomfortable, but fortunately it all still ends in a major key!
Another pair is Safety First / Nothing's Safe. The former has strange chords in the synths, vocals and Hackett-type guitars. Again, the vocals really shine, especially in the section where they included a lot of pre-delay. Nothing's Safe sounds pretty prog to me, with great riffing and mood changes. Also some male lead vocals in there, as a counterpart to the female lead vocals. Perishable Goods, which clocks in at just over ten minutes, is a floating mix of different parts: jazzy/funky, quiet piano parts, good old prog and a (not too) bombastic finale. I think this would make a great live track. On record, it is followed by the instrumental Symmetry. The other instrumentals on this record (Surrender and Panta Rei) are a bit light weight, but I found the delay-based Symmetry quite enjoyable.
Heaven And Hell, in my opinion, is the epitome of the style of this album: the playing, the musical themes, the harmonies, it's all there. It seems that the short and final Panta Rei is some sort of cooling down track. It's a fairly simple piece of piano, strings and bass, but I would have expected something different. Then again, there's no use in having two climaxes one after another.
After a few spins of this CD, I realized it must have been a great effort to record it. The result is a suite of fairly complicated music, but above all, nice harmonies and vocal melodies. My only critical comment on this album would be the production of the keyboards. I find the sound of the piano and strings too 'synthesized' and thin, which is of course most audible during the quiet instrumental parts. I would also prefer a fade out or echo, to a synth that just stops playing at the end of a song. It literally cuts off the mood of the song too sudden. Other than that, if you like music with intricate musical themes, dark dissonants and vocal harmonies (I know I do!) then I would surely recommend listening to this album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Genesis In The Cage – Live Volume 1
Tracklist: Firth Of Fifth (9:48), One For The Vine (10:14), 11th Earl Of Marl (7:39), Lamb Stew: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Fly On A Windshield, Broadway Melody Of 74, Carpet Crawlers, Anyway, In The Cage (26:13), Dance On A Volcano-Los Endos (24:50)
The music industry is constantly recycling itself, and progressive rock is no exception. In recent years, all the major bands from the 1970’s have had numerous remasters, box sets, ‘best of’ collections, and DVD’s issued. Genesis have also had more than their fair share of tribute albums, ranging from the excellent Genesis For Two Grand Pianos, to the mediocre The Fox Lies Down. There is also an abundance of Genesis tribute bands out there. Log on to the Genesis web site, and you will find a whole host of them listed, including this band. It’s not hard to see where the attraction lies. In the first instance, Genesis left behind a large legacy of excellent and diverse material. In the second, they built up a large following, ensuring there is a ready-made audience out there. The fact that they are no longer performing themselves is surely an added incentive.
This is where I have to lay my cards on the table and say that I normally shy away from tribute bands. Its not that they don’t warrant attention, it’s just that I find it difficult to comprehend why a group of skilled musicians would devote themselves to playing someone else’s material. The other issue I have is with the release of tribute band albums. Given that the Genesis fans that go along to the shows will have the original releases, who are they aimed at? Reservations aside, this album deserves a fair review, based on the band’s performance. The quality of the material speaks for itself.
This release, appropriately titled Live Volume 1, represents one half of a typical Genesis In The Cage show, with the intention of releasing the second half at a later date. It was recorded at three different venues in 2004, from a set that normally includes material taken from Trespass to Duke. As you will know already I’m sure, the band’s name comes from the 1974 The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway album, whilst their logo is from the 1978 And Then There Were Three album. If you fancy playing along to this album yourself, then log onto the band’s web site and find details of how to order a remixed version, minus the instrument of your choice. A neat idea I thought. The purists amongst you will be pleased to know that the band uses much of the original equipment, which is thoughtfully listed in the CD booklet.
I believe their collective tongues were firmly in their cheeks when they added the disclaimer “No members of Genesis play on this recording” on the inlay. The cast list does in fact consist of Mark Jordan as Mr Collins (seated), Maurice Hendricks as Mr Rutherford, Patrick Heron as Mr Hackett, Henry Dagg as Mr Banks, and Trevor Garrard as Mr Gabriel and Mr Collins (standing). I’ll leave you to work out who’s playing what. Mark Jordan, one on the founding members from 1998, has since left the band, and I believe they are currently looking for a replacement.
Hats off to the keyboard player from the outset. When Genesis played Firth Of Fifth live, they usually skipped the piano overture, launching straight into the song. A shame I always thought, as this solo possibly represents Tony Banks’ finest moment on record. Not only does Dagg take it on, his playing is faultless, and the song section that follows is almost an anti climax in comparison. Things pick up again with the instrumental section, and the trumpet-like ARP ProSoloist synth solo is spot on. The keyboardist is fast becoming the star of the show for me. Patrick Heron does a creditable job with the lyrical and lengthy guitar solo. There’s just a hint of distortion, which only goes to prove it’s live. It’s a joy to hear the rich Mellotron backdrop in the closing song section. Trevor Garrard throws in plenty of Gabriel style vocal phrasing, but ends up sounding more like Collins. Overall, a very promising start.
One For The Vine is not as successful in my opinion. The midway guitar solo is too brittle, lacking the smoothness of Hackett’s original. Also, the guitar/keys interplay after the “lead them to glory” line sounds flat, when it should sound dynamic. Full marks to the band for taking on the Eleventh Earl Of Mar, (spelt “Marl” on the CD inlay); a song Genesis rarely performed themselves. The guitar, mellotron and percussion intro sounds suitably atmospheric. The Hammond sound is a little uneven, whilst the guitar solo is fluid and fairs better. The slow bridge section is meticulously done, and I like the punchy bass and drums elsewhere in the song, courtesy of Maurice Hendricks and Mark Jordan respectively.
The Genesis shows of the 1980’s usually featured a Lamb medley, but Lamb Stew served here is a much fuller offering. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was always a great song live, and they do a reasonable version. The Mellotron in Fly On A Windshield lacks the weight to do it full justice, but thankfully driving drums and bass save the day. Carpet Crawlers is a worthy effort, especially the lyrical guitar, although it lacks a little atmosphere. The vocals are at their most Gabriel like in Anyway, and the piano phrasing is just right. It’s only the guitar solo that lets the side down. The audience dutifully clap along to the introduction of In The Cage. The Hammond works well here, injecting the necessary drama into the song. The vocals sound uncannily like Collins, a pity then that the “turning around, spinning around” lines at the end lack conviction.
The timing in the intro to Dance On A Volcano sounds completely off. In fact the whole performance is rather erratic. The convincing vocal performance is the track’s saving grace. Following the obligatory drum solo, Los Endos starts promisingly enough. Bass, drums and keys all play their parts well. Unfortunately the meandering guitar part losses the plot towards the end. When the medley has finished, leave the CD running, and after 5 minutes of silence you will be rewarded with a hidden bonus version of The Fountain Of Salmacis. This comes as a revelation, with the band sounding extremely tight through out, and everyone concerned giving a fine performance. The guitar work is at its best here, delivery a full blooded and melodic solo. If it wasn’t for the audience applause at the end, I could be convinced that this was a studio recording.
As far as giving this release a rating is concerned, I shall pass. This is not an album that I’m likely to return to very often, basically because I have several versions of the songs in my collection already. However, the band give good performances for the most part, and this CD does them credit. Firth Of Fifth and The Fountain Of Salmacis in particular are both excellent. I suggest you dig out those old flared jeans from the back of the wardrobe and catch the band at a venue near you soon.
Conclusion: Not Rated
Bauer – Astronauta Olvidado
Tracklist: De Las Nubes Al Aol, Del Sol Al Espacio, Del Espacio Al Vacio (6:46); El Vernao del Cohete (4:27); Astronauta Olvidado (6:32); Novelty (7:35); La Marana Verde (4:28); Zurich Queda En Paris (8:08); Falla En El Transbordador (5:52); Vendran Lluvias Suaves (6:11); Durmiendo En La Nieve De Gerry (8:30); Hemos Traido Muchas Rocas Lunares (4:38); Un Camino A Traves Del Aire (9:22)
One look at the rather bizarre art adorning the booklet (and the cover only scratches the surface of the weirdness contained within) and I initially assumed this would be a somewhat avant-garde and inaccessible offering. Just goes to show that the old adage that ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ still holds true, as this album is probably the opposite of what you’d expect.
Unfortunately my Spanish is questionable at best, so from Bauer’s website I could only gleam that they are from Argentina and that they previously released an EP in 2003, with Astronauta Olvidado their first full length offering. You don’t have to be brilliant at Spanish to guess that Space exploration is a common theme; the title translates as ‘Forgotten Astronaut’ whilst rough translations of a couple of the titles are ‘The Summer Of The Rocket’ and ‘A Way Through Air’. I’ve no idea if this is a concept album or merely one that’s linked by a common theme, but the frequent use of various sounds such as radio static and space station control announcements seems to serve as a unifying thread.
Musically, this is best described as rather mellow, atmospheric post-rock. The Bends-era Radiohead springs immediately to mind, particularly in the band’s use of piano and keyboard to provide dramatic counterpoints whilst the guitar is used more to add ballast to the sound. Early 70’s Pink Floyd (circa Meddle/Dark Side) are also an obvious influence – indeed the track El Vernado del Cohete struck me as rather similar to the first vocal-led section of Echoes, to the extent that it would be quite easy to envisage stripping away the actual vocal lines and replacing them with the likes of ‘overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air’! Whilst on the subject of vocals, these are (as you may expect given the song titles!) delivered in Spanish, but this is never a problem – they are generally some way back in the mix, and are probably comparable again to those of early 70’s Floyd in delivery and execution – i.e. perhaps a little bland, but equally well-suited to the music.
The material is taken at a leisurely pace, with little that can feasibly be called ‘up-tempo’ – the only real urgency coming from the occasional guitar chord struck in anger; the extended wall of feedback which closes the final track being a noteworthy exception. You could argue (justifiably so to an extent) that at seventy two minutes, this is rather overlong, given the general lack of dynamics or complex instrumental sections (and indeed some individual tracks do outstay their welcome) but in Bauer’s defence the album does remain a pleasant listen throughout, and their ear for strong melodies and a good grasp of how to construct atmospheric soundscapes sees them through. Hardly an essential purchase then, but a reasonable release that’s well suited to late-night listening. Fans of the likes of The Pineapple Thief may well find this album to their liking.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Panopticum - Reflection
Tracklist: Backstage (4:55), Where Does It Lead To (6:32), The Angel And It’s [sic] Drawing (6:54), The Chaos in Between (5:33), Between Us (7:13), Goodbye (4:54), Say No More (6:04), Restless (7:13), End of The Line (6:42), Day After (2:08)
I like to give readers (and myself) a frame of reference whenever I begin a CD review. In some ways, I dislike doing so – all good bands deserve to be considered solely on their own merits, and I sometimes wonder whether I’m doing a disservice to them by listing other bands they remind me of, even distantly. But in an attempt to describe art, one must resort to comparisons, analogies, metaphors at least briefly, to provide a context if nothing else. If I were to say, though, that the members of Panopticum seem to be steeped in Genesis but also aware of Def Leppard, am I helping make their sound clearer to my readers? I doubt it. Let me be more precise, then.
This is gorgeous, seventies-influenced progressive rock - but it couldn’t have been recorded in the seventies, and I say that largely because of the excellent, varied guitar work. Guitarist Mattie Archie and Tim Coulembier can wail with taste and restraint, just like Steve Hackett, even sometimes (as particularly in Say No More) like Steve Rothery; but here and there they indulge in a little shredding, some lovely muted rhythm-guitar work (check out the beginning of The Chaos In Between) that will, I swear, remind you of those now-scorned mid-eighties pop-metal bands and their descendants. And that’s all to the good. Certainly, the guitars are not all that set this band apart from Genesis et al – I mean, their lead singer is a woman (Shari Platteeuw) who, trust me, sounds nothing like either Gabriel or Collins – but what I like about this album is its loving retention of my favourite elements of the first wave of progressive rock and its addition of more modern elements.
But I use the comparative “more modern” specifically – because the band doesn’t sound modern, not like contemporaries of Spock’s Beard and Porcupine Tree, not at all. Everything about the album is retro-sounding, from the performances to the songs themselves to the production. Again, though, I intend that comment wholly as praise. The drum sounds, courtesy of the talented Bjorn De Kock, particularly recall what we’re used to hearing when we slap, say, our old vinyl copy of Trick of the Tail on the turntable. And, you know, despite the advances in recording technology over the years, that’s still a darned good sound. In fact, the whole rhythm section (both guitarists are also credited with the bass work) has a tight, locked-in, compressed feel that keeps the songs, which are often long but never meandering, focused.
And of course I have to single out keyboardist Dieter Caillau, credited with “Synths and backings.” I have no idea what kinds of synthesizers he uses, but, with them, he’s able to recreate all the sounds available to seventies progressive-rock keyboardists and contribute new ones of his own. What’s most impressive about his work, though – and really this is praise of the whole band – is that, frequent (though never overlong) solos aside, the keyboards are essential elements in every song, never just twiddly overlays added for accent. This is a tight, confident band whose songs overflow with interesting ideas well executed.
Does it seem odd that I’ve gotten thus far without doing more than mentioning the band’s lead singer, Shari Platteeuw? I don’t mean by this delay to suggest that she’s either unimportant or unskilled. Nor will I go even so far as to say that her voice is the weakest element in the band, though I’ll go almost that far. She has a powerful, emotive voice, perhaps a bit reedy but always pleasant. I’ve found, though, on repeated listenings, that I enjoy most the songs or parts of songs where she’s singing in concert with one or the other of the male band members – or when nobody’s singing. In general (and this is a large generalization), I prefer songs with vocals to purely instrumental pieces; however, I’d be just as happy if this particular album had no singing at all. To be sure, there are wonderful vocal moments – the highlight of those being the thrilling, lovely three-part harmony that begins Say No More – but this band is so good, each musician so interesting both on his own and in the context of the rest of the band, that I often find that the vocals rather distract from than enhance the music.
From another perspective, though, I wouldn’t want the album any different than it is. It’s a superb, well-written, well-played, mature progressive-rock album, and, frankly, I can’t imagine it not appealing to fans of any of the “waves” of progressive rock, from the late sixties all the way through 2005. I suppose it’s not heavy on innovation – but I’ve reviewed too many CDs this year that sacrifice songs and melody to the quest for the “new” to criticize this album on those grounds. This is fine stuff, from beginning to end.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Daniel J - Losing Time
Tracklist: Black (6:51), Theories In Her Head (4:54), End Of Summer (8:03), Losing Time (4:22), Insane (4:36), Xited (4:13), All The Same For You (4:25), The Best (3:29), Save Me (4:09), Innocence (3:33), Replaced (5:13), Out Of Reach (3:22), Rush (10:00)
Originally from Israel, young talent Daniel Jakubovic had already gained much experience in playing many instruments and producing music, before he met Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess. DT's keyboard magician was rather impressed by Daniel's musicianship and asked him to play guitar on his solo album Rhythm Of Time. Reversely, Daniel got Jordan to play on some of the tracks on this debut album.
Most tracks on the album are relatively heavy rock songs, which enable Daniel to show his musical abilities, most notably on the guitar. Daniel J's guitar playing is very convincing and skilful, and often reminds me of Dream Theater songs. Indeed songs like Black, Theories In Her Head, Losing Time and Insane have heavy rhythm guitars and guitar solos in the style of John Petrucci.
Daniel also plays drums, bass and keyboards on many tracks. However, the only weak point on this album is his shot at the vocals. Both his voice and his singing style failed to impress me. I think both could grow though. The lyrics are not very convincing either, but there's enough in the music itself to enjoy.
After the weight of the first two tracks, Jordan Rudess' piano part in End Of Summer gives us a bit of a breather. This is one of the longer tracks, which leaves room for a better, more balanced build up. The song has some great riffs and solos. Jordan's keyboard solo has two parts: first his trademark classical piano intermezzo, immediately followed by a very fast, typical Rudess keyboard solo. Well done.
The fast riffing in Xited shows some early Metallica influences. The rest of the song is quite different: the singing is too fast and sounds a bit out of key, but the reverbed guitar solo is outstanding.
All The Same For You starts out as a ballad. A bit too sweet perhaps. Halfway through, Daniel's father Jaroslav Jakubovic rescues the song with a tasteful saxophone solo, giving this track a slight jazz twist.
The Best and Save Me are decent rock songs. The latter has nice harmony soloing that reminds me of Scenes From A Memory. The vocals sound a bit like Linkin Park this time.
The song Replaced is a fairly basic rock track, but the second part is quite special: father and son fight a musical battle (sax vs. guitar). That saxophone rocks! The unison and harmony parts are very nice. Innocence and Out Of Reach are the two true ballads on this album, neither very special.
The final and longest track, Rush, is definitely a highlight on the album. The quiet, atmospheric intro builds up to another Jordan Rudess solo. Very audible this time, not stashed in between heavy guitars and drums. The quiet and clean background track also supports Daniel's guitar solo very well. Near the end, the song even has a drum-frenzy which, again, reminds me of Dream Theater.
All in all, Losing Time is an impressive debut album that shows Daniel J's incredible talent as a musician. Credits are due for the production too: all tracks sound very well. However, Daniel should improve his vocal abilities and should try to write more interesting songs: not only the playing technique should be challenging. Also the lyrics should dig a little deeper. There's too much 'yeah yeah yeah' in there now...
As for showing your influences: I think there's nothing wrong with that, especially when you can play like this. The two longest tracks should appeal to all Jordan Rudess fans.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10