Reviews in this issue:
- Unitopia – The Garden (Duo Review)
- Rush - Snakes & Arrows Live [DVD]
- Ayreon - Timeline
- Diagonal - Diagonal
- Mogwai - The Hawk Is Howling
- The Secret Machines - Secret Machines
- Colossus Project - Giallo! One Suite For The Murderer
- Colossus Project – The Empire & The Rebellion
- Asturias - In Search Of The Soul Trees
- Ian Tescee – A Traveler’s Guide To Mars
- Talisma - Quelque Part
- The Guy - Only Human
- Frequency Drift - Personal Effects (Part One)
- Hermetic Science - These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins
- Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends
- Coldplay - Prospekt's March
Unitopia – The Garden
Disc 1 [49:36]: One Day (2:27), The Garden [a. The Garden Of Unearthly Delights, b. The Dragons Lair, c. Underground, d. Relization, e. The Way Back Home] (22:35), Angeliqua (9:50), Here I Am (3:19), Amelia’s Dream (3:22), I Wish I Could Fly (3:27), Inside The Power (4:31)
Disc 2 [51:27]: Journey’s Friend [a. Journeys Friend, b. The End Of The Beginning, c. The Need, d. The Main Attraction, e. The Path] (16:28), Give And Take (5:09), When I’m Down (5:41), This Life (4:47), Love Never Ends (3:48), So Far Away (2:11), Don’t Give Up Love (7:49), 321 (5:31)
Geoff Feakes' Review
In 2006 my colleague Andy gave a positive but cautious response to More Than A Dream, the debut title from Unitopia released the previous year. It just goes to show what a difference three years can make because their second is for me one of the better releases of 2008. Since the last album there have been a couple of personnel changes but otherwise the song writing and production partnership of Mark Trueack (vocals) and Sean Timms (keyboards, guitar) remains intact. The rest of the band comprises Matt Williams (guitar), Monty Ruggiero (drums), Shireen Khemlani (bass) and Tim Irrgang (percussion). Sax, flute and clarinet feature strongly on the album which I assume are provided by Mike Stewart whose name appears in the press release but not on my promo copy of the CD booklet. After meeting in 1996 it apparently took Trueack and Timms eight years to record the first album whereas The Garden in comparison came together in a relatively lean three years. It’s based on a concept of sorts and binding it together is the stunning artwork by Ed Unitsky, better known for his work with The Tangent, The Flower Kings, and Manning amongst others.
Like its predecessor this release contains elements of prog, pop, rock and world music plus jazz and in the title track, psychedelic. The ambitious compositions are superbly crafted with Trueack’s warmly mature voice to the fore and instrumental support that is uniformly excellent throughout. The music is heavily orchestrated at times although I’m unsure if the same full orchestra was used as the last album but it certainly sounds suitably cinematic. The song One Day opens disc one in understated fashion as Trueack croons his way through a gorgeous melody with a simple piano and strings backing. The title piece The Garden is for my money a contender for track of the year and is certainly the best epic length song I’ve heard in these past 12 months. From the percussive intro with its pounding tribal drums it incorporates a variety of moods, tempos and styles with a stirring finale that’s very reminiscent of, and virtually the equal to Genesis’ triumphant conclusion to Supper’s Ready.
If the rest of the album doesn’t quite reach the same dizzy heights as the title track there’s still some excellent material contained across both discs. Angeliqua offsets engaging, radio friendly vocal sections with heavy guitar driven outbursts. A flamenco guitar break partway through is a welcome diversion. The mid-tempo Here I Am is a fairly straightforward rock number which benefits from a memorable chorus but I Wish I Could Fly on the other hand is a far more ambitious affair. UK readers with long memories will be gratified to know that it’s not a cover of the similarly titled Keith Harris and Orville ditty! Divided into two sections, the lush classical guitar and flute in the first half Amelias Dream brings to mind the acoustic duets of Steve and John Hackett. Inside The Power could easily be described as power-pop with a compelling guitar hook taken up by full orchestra to provide a spectacular conclusion to disc one.
Disc two opens with the lengthy Journey's Friend which sees the band at their proggiest. Although song based, the rich guitar, synth, sax and organ work in the complex and strident but always melodic instrumental sections are from the same stable as The Tangent and Spock’s Beard. The only bit that jars for me is a clichéd hard-rock vocal (in the mould of AC/DC’s Brian Johnson) about halfway in which fortunately doesn’t outstay its welcome. In contrast Give And Take is a mellow tune with smooth strings, sax and slide guitar. When I'm Down and This Life are both chorus led mainstream songs enhanced by strong and colourful instrumental work including the lyrical acoustic guitar in the former and the gritty sax solo in the latter. Love Never Ends is a delicate classical guitar and strings ballad with sensuous female harmonies which may just be a tad too sickly sweet for some ears. The all too brief instrumental So Far Away allows Timms to show-off his classical flavoured piano chops in grandiose Rachmaninoff style.
The penultimate Don't Give Up Love is an exhilarating slice of pop-prog (if there is such a thing) that sums up the bands flamboyant approach perfectly. Beach Boys style harmonies, atmospheric strings, flashy acoustic guitar work (ala Trevor Rabin), a (very Andy Tillison) fiery synth solo and an infectious, uplifting chorus all add up to a very entertaining eight minutes. The album ends on a more downbeat note with 321, a song dedicated to the events of 2006 when three miners in Beaconsfield, Tasmania became trapped underground following a small earthquake. The title refers to the number of hours it took for two of the men to be rescued and it’s a suitably rhythmic account with hammer like percussion and a prominent bass pattern. Trueack’s vocals are delivered with the right level of anguish and in stark contrast to his relaxed performance that opened the album 100 minutes earlier.
For many 2008 has not been an outstanding year for prog rock releases with more disappointments than there have been pleasant surprises. My personal favourite remains Caamora’s 2 CD She which brightened up the earlier part of my year and likewise this two disc release from Unitopia sees the year out in fine style. The bands first album was described as "Prog-lite" but with The Garden, despite a wealth of other influences the sextet from Adelaide, South Australia has certainly found their progressive rock feet. Lyrically they display a spiritual side but without the preachy sentiment associated with some Christian rock practitioners. If you suffer from winter blues then I strongly recommend you add some Aussie sunshine to your Christmas with this double delight from down under.
Hector Gomez' Review
Wait a minute... What do I know about Australian music? Let me think about it... Crowded House? Midnight Oil? INXS? Kylie Minogue?! Russell Crowe’s band!!!! Progressive rock is, of course, nowhere to be seen... Oh, hang on. I think I’ve heard some Vanishing Point tunes, but these Aussie progmetal wannabes (excuse me if that sounded too harsh, especially if you happen to perform with Vanishing Point) failed to impress me. Considering all of the above, I firmly declare Unitopia’s second album The Garden (their debut More Than A Dream was released in 2005) to be my very first experience with Australian Symphonic & Progressive Rock (ASPR?). So, prog from Australia you say? Yes indeed, and quite good I must add. Well, it always feels good when you find something new and refreshing.
Visual information is of vital importance. Before hearing a single note you get a good feeling, as the album proudly wears eye-catching Ed Unitsky (who’s designed artwork for The Tangent and The Flower Kings... more on both bands later) cover and sleeve design, very much in the vein of what he did for A Place In The Queue, but a bit more colourful; as colourful as the music. Being a double, there’s plenty of styles and moods on display.
The journey begins with One Day, a short and simple, but extremely beautiful, ballad. Only subtle keyboards and Mark Trueack’s powerful, heartfelt singing, which is very reminiscent of Peter Gabriel; there’s no need for big arrangements if it’s done with this passion and delicacy.
Anyway, don’t worry if what you need are big arrangements and bombast, for The Garden is exactly what you’re craving for: a 20 minute epic with plenty of different moods, great playing and a majestic feel overall (references to Hieronymus Bosch included). It’s the longest track on the whole album, it’s probably the best and the one that displays everything Unitopia has to offer, which is an evenly balanced mix of classic 70’s symphonic rock, 80’s neoprog and a splash of their Australian roots. Besides the vocals, the other distinctive element in the band is Tim Irrgang’s percussion (everything from marimbas, to congas, to cowbells...). This is particularly evident in some passages on The Garden, such as the first movement, The Garden Of Unearthly Delights, with its "dreamy forest" atmosphere, or Realization, which almost sounds like "aboriginal celebration" music (if such fascinating style exists). Elsewhere, The Garden could have been a perfect Flower Kings or The Tangent epic, save for some Marillion (guitar atmospherics) and Spock’s Beard (jazzy-fusion workouts) dashes here and there (and the grand finale, very Supper’s Readyish).
The remainder of CD 1 is made up of shorter tracks, which are not as good as the previous ones, but keep the listener’s interest, especially Angeliqua (when sung sounds like Angelica), a mini-epic which manages to squeeze ethereal female vocals, catchy pop, jazz fusion and prog oddities in less than 10 minutes. Here I Am is another short ballad, but this time it builds up to reach an infectious and anthemic chorus. Amelia’s Dream and I Wish I Could Fly, though credited separately, might as well be one track, one being the instrumental prelude to the other, forming a majestic and gentle piece of music. Last track, Inside The Power, could be one of the tunes Yes never included on 90125 or Big Generator, with its catchy chorus, driving rhythm and soaring string arrangements.
CD2 is a bit weaker. Yes, we can find plenty of good ideas here, but it lacks a unique, defining song. There’s another epic, the 16 minute Journey’s Friend, which is quite good but doesn’t resist comparison with The Garden. This time, we get a more conventional sound, very reminiscent of Transatlantic, particularly All Of The Above. Nice keyboard solos, a jazzy section, a harder edged section... lacking a bit of punch and personality, but surely more than enough for any proghead. Next song, Give And Take, is one of the best short tunes on the album, a mellow piece which wouldn’t have been out of place on Peter Gabriel’s So or Yes’ Union.
The sad thing is all remaining tracks aren’t especially memorable. When I’m Down feels somehow unfinished, This Life is quite energetic and commercial, but also trite and predictable. Love Never Ends has some beautifully haunting female vocals, but in the end lacks a bit more substance, as does So Far Away, a short and sweet instrumental ballad. Don’t Give Up Love, the other longish track (around 8 minutes) on CD2, is probably the most Yes/Jon Anderson sounding composition on the whole album, with its optimistic message and positive sounding melodies, a mix of All Good People and late period songs such as The Messenger or In The Presence Of. Might sound a bit corny at times, but is good music indeed.
Oddly, a weak track like 321 as been chosen to conclude the album, instead of keeping this privilege for one of the longer or more dramatic songs. It’s also been released as a limited edition single, and bears a dedication to the "Beaconsfield Miners" (the title refers to the hours they spent "trapped inside the earth"). Anyway, and not unlike This Life, this is a fairly conventional rock song, perfectly catchy and perfectly forgettable.
So, what do we have in the end? A pretty decent effort from a very promising band, which could have benefited from a bit of trimming (keep most of CD1 and the best of CD2, and you get one killer 70 minute album; you could do this with virtually every double album, including all those "classics" you’re thinking about), with very solid ensemble playing (maybe only Sean Timms’ keyboards and Matt Williams’ guitars clearly stand out) and excellent string arrangements.
I suggest they let go of their more conventional pop facet, and instead further explore their tribal/aboriginal side, which in the end monopolizes The Garden’s most satisfying moments.
Rush - Snakes & Arrows Live
DVD 1 - Set 1 [66:32]: Intro Film (2:42), Limelight (4:44), Digital Man (6:57), Entre Nous (5:34), Mission (5:43), Freewill (6:04), The Main Monkey Business (6:15), Bob & Doug Intro (0:28), The Larger Bowl (4.26), Secret Touch (7:58), Circumstances (3:55), Between The Wheels (6:09), Dreamline (5:37)
Extras (26:11): What’s That Smell? (3:27), 2007 Tour Outtakes (2:16), What’s That Smell Outtakes (3:28), Far Cry-Alternate Cut Featuring Rear Screen Footage (5:20), The Way The Wind Blows- Alternate Cut Featuring Rear Screen Footage (6:28), Red Sector A from the R30 Tour (5:12), Easter Egg: What’s That Smell? Making Of (5:33)
DVD 2 - Set 2 [102:32]: Far Cry Intro (2:55), Far Cry (5:21), Workin’ Them Angels (4:51), Armor And Sword (6:40), Spindrift (5:52), The Way The Wind Blows (6:37), Subdivisions (7:18), Natural Science (8:40), Witch Hunt (4:49), Malignant Narcissism (2:20), De Slagwerker (8:22), Hope (2:20), Distant Early Warning (4:55), The Spirit Of Radio (5:12), South Park Intro (0:50), Tom Sawyer (6.23) Encore: One Little Victory (5:29), A Passage To Bangkok (3:57), YYZ (5:27), Credits (4:14)
DVD 3 - Oh Atlanta! The Authorized Bootlegs [27:57]: Ghost Of A Chance (5:50), Red Barchetta (7:25), The Trees (5:58), 2112/The Temples Of Syrinx (6:59), Credits (1:45)
Another year, another Rush DVD... I remember when Different Stages was released back in 1998, to be genuinely convinced that it would be the last release from the band. Truth is, the trio has released two studio albums, an EP and four live DVDs (with their respective audio counterparts in one format or another) in the last seven years. Not to mention the compilations and tribute albums...
Sorry, I forgot to mention the tours (2002, 2004 and 2007-08)... Anyway, here’s Snakes & Arrows Live for us to enjoy, a mere six months after the CD version was released. Is this overkill? Are Rush milking the cow dry? Well, if you’re not a fan, they most certainly are. But this band is all about the fans. Sure, they’re not an "underground" band, but they don’t need to please any big label boss; never have, never will. They’re the "biggest cult band in the world", and they’ve always done things their way, on their own terms. That’s why we love ’em, don’t we?
Now, what they want is to release a live souvenir from each tour, and here’s the last one. Is it better than the previous ones? Is it weaker? Despite so many similar releases in a short period of time, they’ve somehow managed to give each one an identity. In other words, a reason to buy them. Rush In Rio was the "big show", with poor sound but very effective (and successful) in capturing the magic of the band and their synergy with the fans. It also served to introduce the band to a new audience. R30, with better sound and excellent visuals, confirmed the "classic" status of the band, even if it didn’t include the whole set the band was presenting on the tour (which was a big mistake, even in the band’s own words). The Replay X3 was great in updating the legacy of the band in the 80’s, at its peak of popularity.
What makes Snakes & Arrows Live worth buying? Is there anything we didn’t know about the band or their music? Humour has always been an integral part of this band, be it at the goofy forefront or the ironic background of the (moving) picture, and this DVD release is maybe the most representative of their "comedy" value. Just watch the extras (maybe not generous in length, but very rewarding; for deeper documentaries, watch the previous DVDs) on DVD 1; all the What’s That Smell stuff is just hilarious. You’ll discover how great comedians Geddy Lee (perfect Scottish accent guaranteed) and Alex Lifeson (perfect German accent guaranteed) are; Neil Peart keeps a lower "silly" profile, but there’s also room for his acting abilities. Just be patient (perfect Barbie Doll flirting abilities guaranteed)...
Even the DVD menus, with Lerxst’s "rotating fakir head" thingy, are funny. By the way, if you leave DVD 1 on the main menu for a while, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the only (as far as I know...) Easter Egg on the release, another funny snippet on the making of What’s That Smell.
As for the playing itself, it is of course top notch, as always. Anyway, their performances have changed considerably; where they once were fluid and versatile, now they display a more muscular and groovy style. Tempos have slightly been slowed down but, far from being sloppy, the band sounds more precise and mature. Geddy’s singing is excellent, his voice kept in enviable shape and range (being, as himself admits, "no spring chicken"), not to mention dozens of memorable and powerful bass lines. Alex’s guitar has been brought back to the fore for a few years now (say since Vapor Trails), and he’s enjoying it so much you wouldn’t say he’s been in the business for nearly 40 years. As for Neil, his playing is simply impeccable, for my taste better than on the two previous tours, where he looked a bit uncomfortable or strained at times.
Set list is great. Yes, we all know The Spirit Of Radio, Tom Sawyer and Subdivisions, to name but a few classics, upside down and inside out, and they’re again represented in this collection, but there’s also wonderful renditions of songs never played before, or neglected for a long time, and rarely featured on any official live release: Digital Man, Entre Nous, Circumstances, Ghost Of A Chance, Mission, Witch Hunt, A Passage To Bangkok For me, the only downside is the excess of songs from Snakes & Arrows included on the set. Don’t get me wrong, I love the album, but I could have managed without, let’s say, The Larger Bowl and Spindrift.
Sound and picture quality are simply magnificent. Both Stereo and 5.1 mixes are crystal clear, but at the same time keeping all the power and presence the band has live. As for the visuals, the HD footage looks stunning, with vivid colours and sharp blacks. The choice of camera angles and the editing are also excellent, focusing on each member at the right time (yes, each relevant lick and fill has its time on screen), but also allowing enough time for crowd reactions and rear screen footage without feeling rushed or choppy. The directors, Pierre and François Lamoureux, have been working with the band for a while now, and they obviously know their stuff.
If you’re a fan, you own it already and probably have watched it too many times. If you’re not, this may well be the best Rush DVD Rush to start with (even if the packaging feels a bit flimsy, and there was no need to split the contents on 3 DVDs, as the third one is only about 27 minutes long...). And then, buy all the rest.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ayreon - Timeline
CD 1 [73:48]: Prologue (3:17), The Awareness (6:36), Eyes Of Time (5:05), The Accusation [acoustic version] (3:43), Sail Away To Avalon [single version] (3:40), Listen To The Waves (4:40), Actual Fantasy (1:31), Abbey Of Synn (9:25), Computer Eyes (7:17), Back On Planet Earth (7:04), Isis And Osiris (11:09), Amazing Flight (10:21)
CD 2 [76:09]: The Garden Of Emotions (9:40), The Castle Hall (5:48), The Mirror Maze (6:23), The Two Gates (6:23), The Shooting Company Of Frans B Cocq (7:42), Dawn Of A Million Souls (7:44), And The Druids Turned To The Stone (6:32), Into The Black Hole (10:17), The First Human On Earth (6:54), Day Two: Isolation (8:48)
CD 3 [77:18]: Day Three: Pain (4:53), Day Six: Childhood (5:04), Day Twelve: Trauma (9:23), Day Sixteen: Loser (4:47), Day Seventeen: Accident? (5:41), Age Of Shadows (5:39), Ride The Comet (3:23), The Fifth Extinction (10:27), Waking Dreams (6:23), The Sixth Extinction (12:16), Epilogue: The Memory Remains (9:16)
DVD [112:48]: The Stranger from Within (3:43), Valley of the Queens (3:02), Isis and Osiris (8:42), The Two Gates (14:32), Teaser: The Human Equation (1:32), Day Eleven: Love (3:53), Come Back to Me (3:21), Loser (3:54), Farside of the World (6:41), Back on Planet Earth (7:03), Featurette Actual Fantasy (11:13), Computer Eyes (6:32), Day One: Vigil (1:37), Day Three: Pain (4:55), The Castle Hall (6:39), Release Party 01011001 (10:01), Beneath the Waves (7:23), Teaser 01011001 (1:34), Featurette Epilogue: The Memory Remains (6:31)
It's been 13 years since Arjen Lucassen's first Ayreon album, The Final Experiment, and 5 more studio albums have been released since, so time is ripe for a retrospective look at he Ayreon discography with this triple CD + DVD box set. The box set is aptly titled Timeline, because, as Lucassen explains on the bonus DVD, it's the end of the first Ayreon chapter. He will make more Ayreon albums in the future, but these will have a new concept, and no longer be about his time travelling and dream sequencing race of aliens.
All tracks have been remastered and in some cases even remixed, and sequenced in chronological order in a way that the overal concept still makes sense. While I am not usually a big fan of compilations, I must say, I quite like this one. The problem I usually have with Ayreon albums is that it is too much to listen to in one go. The albums are just too long. And of course this triple disc contains more music than any of his regular albums, but each of the albums represented are condensed into a very cohesive summary which works surprisingly well. I can't think of any songs I am actually missing, and I definitely like the running order. I would almost dare to say this is the best Ayreon album ever!
If you look at the line-up then of course this is definitely the most impressive prog album ever: Neal Morse, Fish, Bruce Dickinson, Daniel Gildenlöw, James LaBrie, Damian Wilson, Barry Hay, Sharon den Adel, Russell Allen, Heather Findlay, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Clive Nolan, Ken Hensley, Derek Sherinian... you name it!
The compilation is a bit light on previously unreleased material, or rarities. Lucassen strived to create the the best listening experience, so no demos or anything are included. However, there are some rarities in the form of the acoustic version of The Accusation and the single version of Sail Away To Avalon (both off The Final Experiment) and the Actual Fantasy songs are those of the 2004 Revisited version.
But the main draw for fans to fork out the money for this compilation will be the 9-minute epilogue, The Memory Remains, which is a new song especially created for this compilation. The new song is a typical Ayreon track, with a long instrumental intro with delightful guitarplaying by Lucassen himself and his current manager Lori Linstruth. The vocals are courtesy of Belgian singer Jasper Steverlinck. It's a beatiful track although it ends a bit abrubtly. I mean, after nearly four hours of music you want to go with a bit of a bang, but it seemed Arjen was running out of disc space and he just had to cut the song off.
The bonus DVD is a bit of a disappointment. It contains mainly stuff that most fans will already have, like the videos for Actual Fantasy, some tracks of the Star One and Stream Of Passion DVDs and some of the extras which already featured on the Ltd editions of The Human Equation and 01011001. The previously unreleased material on the DVD comes in the form of the promo video for the Star One version of Loser, featuring the late Mike Baker on vocals, a featurette on the feature on the 01011001 album launch (see if you can spot yours truly), and a featurette on the Timeline compilation and The Memory Remains in particular.
The three CDs and DVD come housed in individual sleeves in a cardboard box, together with a 56-page booklet and a fold-out poster. All very well-put together.
If you don't have any Ayreon albums yet this is more than a perfect introduction to his music. Basically it contains all the essential music you need to have, and more.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Diagonal - Diagonal
Tracklist: Semi-Permeable Menbrain (10:55), Child Of The Thunder Cloud (8:47), Deathwatch (7:17), Cannon Misfire (5:29), Pact (14:37)
Rise Above Records, formed twenty years ago by ex-Napalm Death/current Cathedral frontman Lee Dorrian, are primarily known for releasing albums by stoner/doom metal acts such as Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin and Sheavy. Dorrian, however, has made no secret of his love for late sixties/early seventies British prog rock (he’s an avid collector), and more recent signings to the label have included space rockers Litmus and mediaeval folk-psyche troop Circulus. Now come a new name, Diagonal, to add to the list.
If I hadn’t witnessed the band live recently you could easily have told me that this album was a long lost relic from 1970 that had been recently unearthed, and I would have had no reason not to believe you. From the shaggy haired, loon-panted young men who stare out of the promo photograph to the music found on this self-titled album, there is little to denote that this is the product of a young British band from the south coast of England recording in 2008. The music is so retro that, depending on your level of cynicism, you could either call it a tribute to or a pastiche of the vibrant UK progressive scene that exploded into being forty-odd years ago. What you can’t deny, however, is that there’s a freshness and vitality to the playing, not to mention bags of energy and a willingness to explore plenty of different musical territories, that put Diagonal far ahead of many of the current crop of retro-proggers.
A seven piece who include two keyboardists, two guitarists and a reeds player amongst their number, the band’s style tends less towards the more symphonic side of the genre popularised by the likes of Genesis and Yes, and more towards the more experimental, avant-garde, jazz-flavoured side – although it should be stated for those who are a little concerned by that description that the band keep things pretty accessible at all times. Key influences appear to be Soft Machine, Van der Graaf Generator and (at times) King Crimson, whilst heads are nodded to a variety of bands from the Canterbury scene. There’s also a spacey, psychedelic flavour to some of the tracks (particularly the opening cut, Semi Permeable Menbrain, which recalls Barrett-era Pink Floyd, particularly in the build up), a side of the band which is even more prevalent live, where the songs tend to be extended through semi-improvised jamming.
The band’s key strengths are the excellent keyboard work, particularly the interplay between the two players – fans of retro-keyboard sounds (Hammond, Moog, mellotron et al) will be in seventh heaven here. Reeds player Nicholas Whitaker also impresses; turning his hand at various times to clarinet, flute, recorder and alto saxophone (with the latter probably dominating), his playing ranges from sharp staccato blasts to more reflective playing, such as on the mellower Child Of The Thunder Cloud and the world-weary ballad Deathwatch, and is all the more impressive for the fact that he knows when to take a breather and let the other instrumentalists shine. Whilst the song-writing is tight when it needs to be, you get the feeling that the band are never happier than jamming away while the tape rolls on extended workouts such as the aforementioned ...Menbrain and lengthy closer Pact.
The major weak point is undoubtedly the vocals; generally done in harmony-style, these are just about acceptable on the record (although even here there’s some decidedly dodgy moments) but live, I did cringe a little whenever one of the band members looked about to take to the microphone! Whilst the vocals are hardly the focal point of their music, and therefore Diagonal probably get away with it for the majority of the time, it might be an idea to get a dedicated vocalist on board next time around.
Overall, Diagonal have come up with a great release with this debut full-length; managing the trick of paying homage to a particular sound and era whilst coming up with their own take on the genre and keeping things fresh and energetic, this is an album I would have thought would appeal to a wide range of prog fans and deserves to be getting more attention on the various prog web sites and message boards than it has to date.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mogwai - The Hawk Is Howling
Tracklist: I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead (6:44), Bat Cat (5:25), Danphe And The Brain (5:18), Local Authority (4:15), The Sun Smells Too Loud (6:58), Kings Meadow (4:42), I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School (7:33), Scotland’s Shame (8:00), Thank You Space Expert (7:53), The Precipice (6:42), Dracula Family (6:01)
Scottish cosmic post rockers Mogwai have been carving out a unique and increasingly impressive musical presence since their 1997 debut Young Team. With the release of The Hawk Is Howling - Dominic Aitchison [bass], Stuart Braithwaite [guitar], Martin Bulloch [drums], Barry Burns [guitar/keyboards/flute] and John Cummings [guitar] have again succeeded in produced a brooding, memorable and often haunting statement of instrumental rock music.
For those unacquainted with the band, the Mogwai sound is built from surprisingly understated foundations. Each composition is underpinned by simple and often repetitive melodic themes. However the bands genius lies in its ability to provide colour and shade to each piece through clever and subtle changes in mood, outstanding instrumentation and perhaps above all a wonderful use of dynamics. Alike much great progressive music Mogwai have the knack of using simple and often minimalist introductions to songs that then build and build to, on occasion, truly breath-taking conclusion.
Mogwai will not to be to everyone’s taste. Their compositions are not particularly adventurous in the classic progressive rock vein and their songs are better described as atmospheric pieces. However their music rewards repeated listens and as a reference point those who like early Pink Floyd, Red-era King Crimson, Paatos and Anekdoten will find much to enjoy here.
Opening track, the rather oddly titled I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead is an impressive statement of intent and a very good example of Mogwai at their very best. It opens with a simple piano motif that is slowly filled out by a gorgeous string section and a very spacey bass and drum accompaniment with echoes of early Pink Floyd at their most languid. The mood is then intensified further with added layers of subtle if dark analogue synth and fuzzy guitar sound that climaxes with an almost catchy lead keyboard motif. The track concludes in a swirling haze of sound before cutting out abruptly via a distorted guitar coda.
Bat Cat abruptly changes the mood with its barrage of growling metal guitar and bubbling bass that wrestles against a dirty distorted melody that reminds of Nucleus era Anekdoten. This track is impressive in its immediacy. The chopping use of guitar rhythm is highly effective and the clever use of subtle atonal soloing and synth fx ensures the listeners intrigue.
If Bat Cat shows Mogwai at their heaviest then Danphe And The Brain shows them at their most reflective. A beautiful laid back intro of melodic guitar and guitar fx evolves into a fabulous main theme where the wandering analogue lead works in perfect alignment with a fuzzy guitar riff. And the clever use of chimes is given much space to breath in a mix less dense than usual. The track lulls with laid-back dub lines and spacey synth fx before concluding via a trademark wall of sound.
Local Authority slows things done even further but again it is difficult not be impressed by the fragile main theme and understated colours painted through clever layers of analogue synth and guitar. It is reminiscent of later period Anekdoten at their mellowest.
The tempo is brought up a notch with the bizarrely titled The Sun Smells Too Loud and for me this is one of the less effective pieces on the album. The fuzzy and rather catchy lead guitar line is pleasant enough but the track is rather unremarkable failing to really go anywhere and it does rather outstay its welcome.
This mid-album drop in quality is continued with the sparse Kings Meadow that does feel very much like a filler. The main theme is dull and meanders rather aimlessly to a lifeless conclusion.
To say that the disappointment of these two tracks is extinguished by I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School would be a serious understatement. It is one of the finest and affecting slow burners I have had the privilege to hear. Starting from a gentle germ of a melody the track builds with some truly gorgeous guitar riffs and spacey bass and drum interplay before reaching its first crescendo. Things are taken down again before the track builds once more, this time with greater urgency before exploding into an atonal barrage of distorted guitar. What makes the track so affecting is listening to it with the knowledge of the subject matter. It is both haunting and unsettling.
Next up is Scotland’s Shame, a swirling mix of guitar noise, organ and Moog. Although a pleasant slice of melancholy it really could have done with being half as long as it does become repetitive and the ending is abrupt and a little unsatisfactory.
Form is returned with Thank You Space Expert. Again it sees the band slowing things right down but the combination of delicate melody and subtle variation of themes and atmospheres is a joy. This is mood music that flows over you, gently massaging the senses and warming the soul. Stunning.
Less impressive is The Precipice. The main melody is a little uninspired and although the track picks up towards its conclusion the array of guitar noise fails to really take hold despite some interesting bass work.
Final track Dracula Family rounds things off very nicely. A lovely opening guitar melody is fleshed out with some wonderful synth atmospheres and bubbling bass and drum lines. It is a pleasing, and dare I say it, almost commercially accessible conclusion to a fine album.
I was extremely impressed with The Hawk Is Howling and I would suggest it is a very good entry point to a unique and often intriguing band. The album is not perfect and does rather suffer a lull at its middle point. However if anything the sheer excellence of stand out tracks I’m Jim Morisson, I’m Dead and I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School almost set the rest of the album an impossible benchmark to follow.
Overall it is a well-produced, well-played and memorable work that will appeal to many within the progressive rock community.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Secret Machines – Secret Machines
Tracklist: Atomic Heels (3:40), Last Believer, Drop Dead (5:32), Have I Run Out (7:40), Underneath The Concrete (3:51), Now You’re Gone (5:22), The Walls Are Starting To Crack (6:37), I Never Thought To Ask (4:06), The Fire Is Waiting (11:10)
The Secret Machines (TSM) trio is back with a self-titled release, this time with a harder edge and rawness to complement their unique brand of rock and roll. For me, perhaps the biggest surprise here is that this band isn’t better known. They remain true to their sound – a sound they have carved out of the past and repackaged in the present for a timeless final product. Nothing here sounds particularly dated yet their allusions to the past are to be found throughout and cover the last few decades of rock and roll.
Gerald Wandio eloquently described their sound in his DPRP review of their 2004 release Now Here Is Nowhere and his summary remains true for this album despite the change in guitarist in the line-up. The strong and spacious song writing style remains intact and the sturdy "Bonhamesque" pocket groove playing of Josh Garza give them a solid backbone.
This album, as a complete package, is a nice respite in this modern world of single cut samples. Every song has its own legs and, without borrowing momentum from its prior, each song adds to the value of the whole as a progression in enjoyment. I can’t say this for everyone, but this band has achieved for me an entire album where each song betters the previous through to the end. It starts with its straightforward beginnings to driving rock, pleasant melodies, pseudo psychedelia, and finally, into a moody, lengthy, strong finish.
If you are a Secret Machines fan, the elements that made their previous release Ten Silver Drops great are all here and make this a must have. Here, as before, the lyrics are easily discerned (even with the harder and heavier sound) and are interesting enough for the listener to actually want to pay attention.
It is difficult to compare Secret Machines to other bands despite the many apparent influences, and I can’t help but to think that the way they pay homage to these influences is with the utmost respect delicately interwoven throughout their own style.
Since this review is based on an mp3 download, there was no cover art or liner notes to mull over and include in my review, but overall this is a quality release that touches on greatness; without hesitation, I can recommend this one to everyone.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Colossus Project – Giallo! One Suite For The Murderer
Tracklist: Alfio Costa: Frammento Rosso [Intro] (1:08), Dark Session: Visions Of Helga (26:08), Leviathan: Vecchi Giochi (21:00), Floating State: Suite Dall'Inconscio Dell'Assassino (25:08), Alfio Costa: Mirrors [Outro] (1:33)
Giallo! is another release from the collaboration between Musea and the Finnish magazine Colossus. These albums feature many different artists and are mostly influenced by famous movies. One Suit For The Murderer has been inspired by the movie Deep Red from Dario Argento, a horror movie made in 1975, and the music on this album suits the feeling you get from seventies Italian horror movies. The three epic songs are played by Italian bands that are heavily influenced by seventies progressive rock featuring the sounds of the Hammond, Moog and Mellotron. The booklet contains besides the Italian lyrics an explanation of the scenery in English.
The intro and the outro (Frammento Rosso and Mirrors) are short pieces performed by Alfio Costa on keyboard. The first epic Visions Of Helga really crept up and gave me goosebumps. It is sort of like a music score from a horror movie, you do not need to see images to be afraid. It is performed by Dark Session, an offshoot of the Italian band Tilion. This instrumental delivers a scary layer of old fashion keyboard sounds and the overlaying guitar melodies sound very raw and unpolished, a perfect ambiance for a scary horror scene. Some parts contain mellow passages with acoustic guitar and a leading role for the keyboards, but the song is largely dominated by the unpolished guitar melodies. The last five minutes are mainly acoustic guitar with some nice bass parts. At times this song reminded me of the Fantomas album Director's Cut, which exhibits the same dark, raw feeling.
Vecchi Giochi sounds different from the first song and is performed by Leviathan. This song changes a lot more than the first and the guitar sound has been altered to a much more clearer sound, also less scary. Starting with piano and a sudden change to some up tempo Glass Hammerish keyboard tunes. The Italian vocals are alternated between male and female, which are not exceptional but that is not needed in this kind of music. The main part is largely instrumental which lean heavy on the keyboards. The end of the song is a threatening horror like keyboard theme. Vecchi Giochi is less scary sounding and alternates more than Visions Of Helga, an epic in a bit Glass Hammer like style.
Suite Dall'Inconscio Dell'Assassino starts with a more accessible tune, common to Italian band PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi). Albums by that band usually last about thirty minutes so this song could be a whole album for them. This last epic song is performed by Floating State and it features more jazzy structures and more changing melodies. Not as dark as the first epic, a bit more accessible than the second and with only male vocals on this song - again in Italian. It is again a very long song which after two epics is hard to keep interest. The last song is even more polished so the album nicely evolves from a raw start to a shiny ending, although the last bit of the song is not the best on this album.
My opinion is that is usually the case with Colossus releases, tough nuts to crack, but this is another fine release by Colossus, especially the first song which captures the atmosphere of an old fashioned scary horror movie. Though I enjoyed playing this album I can certainly understand that this one is will not be to everyone's taste and it's not a blast from the first spin, but it is an album I learned to appreciate over many spins. Fans of Italian and/or seventies prog should give this album a try, however if you don't like Italian vocals or retro prog drowned in organ-like keyboards, then this is not one for you.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Colossus Project – The Empire & The Rebellion
Tracklist: Astral Prelude (6:16), Droids (9:07), The Dark Lord Of The Sith (7:59), Meeting The Force (7:15), Two Suns (4:10), When I Was A Jedi (7:58), The Millenium Quartet (1:19), The Millenium Falcon (8:48), My Tears For Alderaan (3:55), The Rebellion Suite: I Inside The Death Star, II The Duel, III Attack To The Death Star (19:21), May The Force Be With You (1:33)
Following musical interpretations of cult cinema classics like Once Upon A Time In The West (The Spaghetti Epic), The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (The Spaghetti Epic 2) and The 7 Samurai, Colossus go mainstream by turning their attention to one of the most commercially successful movies of al time, George Lucas’ Star Wars. They’ve also changed the format by not having a different band write and perform each piece. The core line-up throughout comprises keyboardist Alfio Costa (ex Prowlers, Tilion), vocalist Hamadi Trabelsi, bassist Roberto Aiolfi (ex Prowlers, Tilion) and drummer Giovanni Vezzoli (ex Prowlers). They are joined by a host of mostly Italian ‘guest’ musicians who I’ll endeavour to name check along the way. Stylistically it’s consistent with previous releases with the accent on analogue keys and music inspired by 1970’s Italian progressive rock. With one or two exceptions the words and music are all by keys man Alfio Costa.
Given its status in cinema history Star Wars would I suppose seem on obvious attraction for Colossus (AKA the Finnish Progressive Music Association). I know I’m in the minority here but in my humble opinion it’s one of the most overrated films of all time with a second rate script and acting. And that’s coming from a man that queued for several hours outside the Dominion cinema in London to see it on its initial release in 1977. It’s the ground breaking special effects that sold the movie of course along with John William’s sweeping symphonic score which for me is a tough, virtually impossible act to follow. As with previous Colossus releases the ideal conditions for appreciating this homage is with a clear mind and no misconceptions that this will be a clone of the original music. In fact there are quite a few surprises along the way. Take The Millenium Falcon for example. Rather than a heroic theme, Han Solo’s spacecraft is represented by a bluesy, jazz-tinged affair in the style of Tom Waits. Likewise the concluding May The Force Be With You eschews William’s triumphant march in favour of a poignant piano, violin and flute lament.
Overall the mood of the album is darker than you would expect with the performances lingering longer in the memory than the melodies. Alfio Costa is firmly in control with generous measures of Mellotron, Hammond, synths and piano as is evident from the moody opening instrumental Astral Prelude. It’s not until the third track The Dark Lord Of The Sith that guitar makes an appearance. The only real issue I have with Costa’s playing is that occasionally he over emphasises the sci-fi angle by indulging in geeky sound effects in the form of squeaks and whooshes from the Korg and Moog synths. This is most noticeable during Droids and The Duel, but that aside his colourful range should find favour with fans of early ELP/The Nice era Emerson and Wakeman’s Six Wives album. Roberto Aiolfi also makes his mark with melodic and upfront bass playing providing a master class in technique. In fact the album is a bass connoisseurs delight with a Chapman Stick solo during When I Was A Jedi from Cristiano Roversi (Moongarden, The Watch) and the aptly titled The Duel where Aiolfi’s Fender Jazz trades exchanges with Marco Bernard’s Rickenbacker.
On the vocal front Hamadi Trabelsi, a new name to me, is in superb form throughout giving a particularly heartfelt performance at the conclusion of The Rebellion Suite. In terms of tone think of Damian Wilson with a heavily accented delivery and you won’t be far off the mark. Sadly Costa’s lyrics lose something in their English translation so Trabelsi has to contend with sycophantic lines like "Wonderful ladies with skin like pearls". During the bittersweet Two Suns and the sad My Tears For Alderaan he takes a step back allowing Marco Olivotto (TNR) and Laura Mombrini (Prowlers, CMP) respectively to provide the lead vocals. The first of these two songs also features sweet sounding steel guitar courtesy of Fred Schendel (Glass Hammer) who also provides a memorable fuzzed organ solo during Meeting The Force. Likewise Japan’s Keiko Kumagai (Ars Nova) adds her Hammond skills to Attack To The Death Star. A key contributor I’ve shamefully ignored so far is drummer Giovanni Vezzoli who supplies a meticulous pulse to every track except the all sax The Millenium Quartet. Also worthy of mention is Vincenzo Zitello who provides a lush backdrop of violin, Celtic harp, flutes and clarinet.
My main issue with this album, as I alluded to earlier is the lack of consistently strong melodies or hooks. That’s especially given its near 80 minute playing time making it feel like a very long listen indeed. I know that Italian prog can be on the dry side with the emphasis on instrumental prowess but even so I have for example several PFM and Banco albums in my collection that include some very memorable tunes. True the musicianship is singularly excellent as I’ve suggested above, and even then I haven’t credited the splendid guitar and saxophone contributions (Messrs Flavio Costa, Franco Parravicini, Robi Zonca, Giorgio Robustellini and Joe La Viola all stand up and take a bow). Some I’m sure will applaud this as a mature and brooding interpretation of the Star Wars universe but ultimately for me this is an album to admire more than it is to enjoy. I played this over the Christmas holiday back to back with Ayreon’s Timeline and I can’t help thinking that Arjen Lucassen would have done a more effective job of translating this into an accessible sci-fi epic.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Asturias - In Search Of The Soul Trees
Tracklist: Part 1: [i] Spirits, [ii] Revelation, [iii] Reincarnation, [iv] Fountain, [v] Woods (23:14) Part 2: [vi] Pilgrimage, [vii] Paradise, [viii] Storm, [ix] Soul Trees, [x] Dawn (27:15)
Back in 2005 Asturias (Acoustic) released a wonderful five track EP Bird Eyes View, and to this day that CD is in my regular listening list - a wonderful album whose only drawback was that it only lasted twenty five minutes. Since then Acoustic Asturias have released a second album, Marching Grass On The Hill, which sadly I've not been able to get a copy of, so when this new release form the band turned up at DPRP HQ, I was more than keen to review it.
For In Search Of The Soul Trees, Asturias return to their electric format led once more by multi-instrumentalist Yoh Ohyama (acoustic & electric guitars, bass, mandolin, keyboards, glockenspiel, harp, cello, percussion & programming). For those few instruments not covered by himself, Ohyama has called upon members of Acoustic Asturias, along with guest musicians from Shingestu, LU7 and Flat 122. Together this impressive cast have released a rather splendid album.
For those fans of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, then In Search Of The Soul Trees should be very high on your list of albums to check out. There is no getting away from the Oldfield connection on this CD - and Ohyama himself acknowledges In Search Of The Soul Trees as "21centry Tubular Bells". However I will try not to labour the point, as for me the album stands up exceptionally well in its own right. With the aforementioned references Ohyama has added classical, folk, jazz and even South American influences to his music. If we add strong writing and the undeniable skills of all the musicians, then what we have is an accomplished and enjoyable album.
From the CD cover, In Search Of The Soul Trees is listed as two tracks (Part I & Part II) and presumably with a running time per track in the mid 20 minute mark, a throw back to the vinyl era perhaps. However each track is subdivided into five smaller pieces which I have to say work well as standalone pieces.
In Search Of The Soul Trees is infectious and catchy throughout, starting with the rippling classical guitar, piano and layered acoustic guitars that propulses Spirits along. Engaging and delicate synths compliment fine performances from Kyoko Itoh (violin) and Kaori Tsutsui (woodwinds), both from Acoustic Asturias. As the piece unfolds multi-layered electric guitars are added to the rich tapestry of sounds and Mellotron, (a real one I believe), courtesy of Flat 122's Akira Hanamoto. This fascinating and heady mix of driving rhythms, multi-layered parts and delightful individual performances continues almost all the way through Part I. Sadly far to many to mention here...
Part II is generally a little more sedate, although no less arranged. Worthy of note are the choirs in the beautiful Paradise; the muscular trappings of the Emerson/Moraz tinged Storm; and concluding tranquil guitar ballad Dawn. However it should be noted that In Search Of The Soul Trees is chockfull of memorable recurring themes, great playing and overall enjoyable music.
As promised I've avoided referencing Mr Oldfield, however as mentioned earlier this release is likely to sit very well with devotees of his earlier works. Along the way some of the woodwind sections triggered thoughts of Camel's The Snow Goose.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Ian Tescee – A Traveler’s Guide To Mars
Tracklist: The New World (5:27), Passport (6:01), Earthrise (4:01), The Lost City Of Mars (4:16), Aquamarine [Earth Orbit Mix] (3:43), The Wooden Prince [Béla Bartók – Excerpt] (2:24), Dust-Red Sky (2:02), God Of War (2:42), Beneath The Ice (2:09), It’s Time To Go Back - Part 1 (2:48), Part 2 (3:54), Spacetourist Mars (5:23), Life On Mars (4:50), Billions And Billions Of Stars (3:54)
Back in my senior year of college, I flunked a class in cosmology (the outer planets and the like, not hair styling). Because I flunked the class I did not have enough credits to graduate. I was allowed to walk down the graduation aisle and collect my diploma. My mother was horrified, while my sister found the whole episode amusing. The ensuing arrangement upon the collection of my diploma, graciously arranged by my cosmology professor, was for me to get some one-on-one tutoring in the course and retake the final exam. I aced it the second time and subsequently was awarded a passing grade in the class. I was a real college graduate now. Yay for me. This whole thing may not have happened had I been listening to the electronic textures of space musician Ian Tescee.
Tescee has released four conceptual recordings with an outer space theme, the most recent, being reviewed here, A Traveler’s Guide To Mars.
In 1980, Tescee watched Carl Sagan’s 13-hour PBS-TV mini-series "Cosmos", and the Vangelis theme music from the show served as an influence on his debut recording Io, released in 1984. In high school, he was a tympanist in his concert band, and also played in rock bands. During his youth he listened to music ranging from Focus to the soundtrack to "2001: A Space Odyssey". In college, he took course work in computer programming, classical music appreciation, and physics (and probably applied himself more as a student than I did). A short time thereafter, Tescee moved into the field of recording other musicians, and wrote and published a college textbook entitled "The Musicians Guide to Recording". He continued to perform as well, in genres ranging from coffeehouse folk to bluegrass-country-rock.
Before hearing A Traveler’s Guide To Mars I was half-expecting the minimalism of Brian Eno. What I got was a sizeable does of electronica, evident for example on the mid-tempo The Lost City Of Mars, the dance-oriented Passport, and opening track The New World, the latter of which evokes analog-era Tangerine Dream. Other musical styles reflected on this CD include the symphonic (Life On Mars) and the industrial (Spacetourist Mars). There’s some toccata-type stuff on God Of War; Billions And Billions Of Stars is a lighter affair.
The crystal-clear recording is well composed and produced. Tescee is an accomplished synthesist and drum programmer and even tosses in some guitar here and there. He sings on one track, the rock-based It’s Time To Go Back - Part 2, and the tune points to ELO as an influence. Most of the CD’s music is composed by Tescee. Beneath The Ice features an original composition and recording by Tescee’s virtual pal, electronic musician Russell Storey. The Wooden Prince is based on the theme by Béla Bartók. Several audio bits of NASA commands and a NASA countdown are sampled into the music on the CD.
On the glossy CD digipack’s cover, it shows what Mars might look like if you were driving to it through space in a car. A purported Martian landscape adorns the inside gatefold. The back of the package shows a NASA photo of tire tracks left on Mars by a Mars rover, the first tracks ever made on a planet by a human-created vehicle.
This CD will appeal to off-the-beaten path fans of ambient, electronic, and experimental music. If you are looking for more vocal or mainstream based music, this CD may not be for you.
Room for improvement for Tescee? I’m sure he’s a busy guy and may wish to nurture his creative time, but I would like to see his great music released more frequently, as A Traveler’s Guide To Mars is just his fourth released recording since 1984.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Talisma - Quelque Part
Tracklist: Introssimo (5:13), Basse De Fou (2:13), Ibliss (3:56), Iseult (4:42), Quelque Part (2:57), L’aube (5:28), Od (4:26), Astromuz (2:35), Modale (2:33), Cassiopeia (9:00)
In a relatively short space in time this is my second review of a Canadian band, and up till then I was not familiar with progressive rock coming from that country. Of course there are the big names like Rush and Saga. Also Harmonium, the utterly brilliant Terraced Garden and Visible Wind were/are from Canada. But since the turn of the millennium bands like Sense, Hamadryad, Jelly Fiche, Red Sand and Direction started to make a name for themselves (and that list probably isn’t complete). And now there is Talisma. The band was founded by Donald Fleurent (bass, electric and acoustic guitars, synths and mellotron) in 1993 and with the help of some other musicians he released two demos that where simple called 1994 and 1999. Shortly after the release of the second demo Talisma split up, returning in 2003 with Corpus and featuring in the bands personnel next to Fleurent were Mark Di Claudio (drums) and Martin Vanier (guitars). In 2005 they released a second album Chromium and now in 2008 Quelque Part we have their latest offering. Now I am not familiar with the first two Talisma albums, but when I searched the net I found some mixed feelings about Talisma's music. According to their record label Talisma's music features:
"different time signatures and musical tapestries. Talisma creates groundbreaking new soundscapes that are at once structured, yet free."
However a lot of the reviews of Talisma's music mention that the enormous amount of different styles give the albums "makes for a disjointed listen" (Dave Sissons review of Chromium) and a lack of structure. After listening to Quelque Part a lot, I must say that I was very impressed with the music of Talisma.
For this album the band has been expanded with Florence Belanger (voice and piano), Marc Filiatrault (guitars) and Alain Boyer (drums), with Lauren Belec who plays electric guitar on the short Modale. All of the songs on this largely instrumental album were written by Fleurent and only the two songs with vocals were co-written.
The entire album has a slight Steve Hackett feel to it - album opener Introssimo and Ibliss with all the sound effects and fierce guitar parts reminded me of the ex-Genesis guitar man. Both songs are exciting pieces of music, with great drumming and up front bass parts supporting the guitar and keys. In fact, during the entire album the musicianship is excellent. In between Introssimo and Ibliss sits the short but funny Basse De Fou which has a Greek(!!) feel to it.
The two vocal songs (the title track and Iseult) are the least interesting and although Florence Belanger has a nice voice, I think that there is musically too much going on to give the vocals the space they need. The instrumental tracks however are all excellent. Talisma really has found its own style but throughout the album traces of influences from Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Steve Hackett and even fellow Canadians Terraced Garden, (the heavy meets pastoral sound - TC also had big KC and GG influences themselves), can be heard. For example L’Aube has a hectic start then calms down only to build up to a fantastic emotional ending with Vaniers guitar playing to the fore. Then we have the heavy Od and there are definitely King Crimson influences to be heard.
On first listen you could say that the album sounds fragmented, but give the album a good few listens and everything starts to make sense and "adventurous" is in my humble opinion a better description for the music on this album. For instance; after the hectic, earlier mentioned, Od the band calms things down with the short, quieter but still tense Astromuz before entering into the relaxed Modale with its jazzy/Brazilian atmosphere. The tension is built up again with the excellent and exciting three part Cassiopeia - part one has some really nice acoustic guitar parts backed by mellotron strings; part two is louder with again some interesting guitar melodies, excellent bass playing and the Tron strings (there is quite some use of this instrument throughout the album). This part of the song with it loud/quiet sections reminded me of Gentle Giant. The final part has a very pastoral feel to it, with the acoustic guitars backed by flutes, strings and choirs giving this song and the album a very beautiful ending.
To me the music of Talisma on Quelque Part made perfect sense. It is one of the better albums I reviewed this year. I admit that the album needs some time and a couple of listens before it reveals it’s beauty, but then the reward is great.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
The Guy - Only Human
Tracklist: Intro (1:05), Icarus (4:04), An Interlude In Bleu (4:35), Zebra Club (6:49), Young Blood (5:48), Syeeda's Song Flute (2:47), Her Hypnotic Heart (6:25), Something Beautiful (4:10)
OK, so who is The Guy? Connecticut based guitarist Christopher Schreiner is the simple answer. And joining Christopher here on his debut release, Only Human, are David Livolsi (bass), Tyger MacNeal (drums) and Chris Coogan (keyboards (tracks 3 & 6).
Now there was a time when a guitar orientated instrumental album was something I would relish checking out. However in more recent years, due to the plethora of such releases which merely perpetrate the author's skills on the guitar fretboard, whilst in the process forsaking any semblance of music or songwriting prowess, has somewhat pushed me away from such releases.
So the burning question remains - how does The Guy fair? Surprisingly well is another simple answer.
Now it is obvious from the very outset that Schreiner is a gifted guitarist and certainly he could easily have pushed this to the fore. However he has chosen to write an album of well constructed and dare I say it, listenable music. This is evident from the very outset, once we have passed the effective ambient Intro and into the first track proper. The Jeff Beck/Eric Johnson influenced Icarus immediately displays Schreiner's controlled and expressive style. It also gives a good indication of a solid and imaginative rhythm section.
As we move into An Interlude In Bleu we start to get a handle on the CD as the relaxed jazzy grooves and rather sedate playing rests easy on the ears. Although first run through I was still waiting for The Guy to cut loose. So as we move into Zebra Club, the longest (and my personal favourite) track on Only Human, surely restraint can't still be on the cards. Oh yes it can and Zebra Club again grooves along, although the foot tapping became slightly more erratic as the 4/4 tempo showed signs of different time signatures being employed. Around the four minute mark the wah-wah pedal clicks in and a Stevie Ray Vaughan/Hendrix-esque break follows. This trend follows to a certain extent in the stomping, bluesy, Youngblood.
John Coltrane's Syeeda's Song Flute sees the band flexing their collective jazzier muscles, before we once more move back into more familiar territory from The Guy. The aptly titled Something Beautiful gently rounds off what is an enjoyable CD.
I have to admit that I was slightly dubious at first, certainly the album cover didn't appeal and I was a little troubled that Christopher Schreiner was referred to as "The Guy". Surely in the overcrowded guitar instrumental market this was not some sort of boastful claim. Apparently not and the title is in fact a nickname derived over a period of time. As it stands Christopher Schreiner comes across as a genuine and gifted musician, who along with three other talented "guys", have rekindled my curiosity once more.
The album clocks in at just over half an hour, however I didn't feel short changed and was glad that Christopher Schreiner hadn't felt compelled to fill this CD with perhaps sub-standard material. I can certainly recommend Only Human to fans of Mr Beck and Mr Johnson and even those readers who seldom (if ever) dip their toes into guitar instrumental waters - you may well be surprised.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Frequency Drift - Personal Effects (Part One)
Tracklist: 2.13 a.m. Albatross (6:41), 2.20 a.m. Ghost Memory (7:41), 2.28 a.m. River (4:46), 2.33 a.m. Fall (7:05), 2.41 a.m. Romance (9:09), 2.51 a.m. Personal Effect (3:54), 2.57 a.m. Anger (5:32), 4.33 a.m. Retribution (8:02), 5.48 a.m. Portrait (8:19)
Frequency Drift are a new band from Germany and this is their debut CD. The band is quite ambitious, as this first release is a concept album, with a subtitle "Part One", thus suggesting that there will also be a "Part Two". To be honest I can’t really tell you what the story is about, however, I’ve taken the following from their website:
This is the story so far...
"Staring out over the spreading cityscape of New Kobayashi, River sighs. It is the night of the 27th April 2046. Eight years have passed since the incident and still River doesn't understand how all this happened. Although she is desperately trying to forget, all these memories keep haunting her ... This album is the first part of the story of River and her fight against the "Diomedeidae Foundation". On the album you will witness the events of the night of the 27th April 2046 that might lead to salvation or damnation."
All I can tell you is that "Diomedeida" is a member of the albatross family, and that the booklet and the CD, both feature drawings of that bird. All I can make out by the beautifully drawn storyboard in the booklet is that something happened in 2038 and that the Earth has changed into a Dystopian society (an imaginary society with only negative conditions that one would not want to live in) - the opposite of a Utopian society. I guess that the Diomedeidae foundation rules the Earth and the two main characters: the girls, Romance and River have to fight it. But again that is all guessing as the lyrics are not included in the booklet and the story isn’t told in chronological order. Confused? ...I am.
The bands bio mentions bands like Sylvan on Posthumous Silence and Marillion during Brave as references. It also says that the band is influenced by films like Blade Runner which is especially obvious when you listen to the album.
The album has a modern sound, is very atmospheric and the fact that a lot of attention is paid to this, however, you do get the feeling that the songs go on a bit without really going anywhere, and certainly it takes a good couple of listening sessions to get used to this fact. The main man is the keyboard player - Andreas Hack who wrote all the tunes and recorded, arranged and produced them. His keyboard playing is not about long and fast soloing but more about creating an atmosphere. The title track is a beautiful song with only Hack on piano. Guitar player Sebastian Koch also shows that he is a versatile player with his solo at the end of Portrait which is backed by Hack's atmospheric keyboards. The same applies for the quieter sections of Fall where guitar and keyboards sound very well together.
Now there are also some heavier songs or sections of songs, but these sadly are not the best ones on the album. There are a couple of reasons for this in my opinion. First; Katja Hubner's voice is not able to handle the up tempo sections - she does have a nice voice but during the heavier stuff her voice gets a bit shrill and not nice to listen to. Also, as the album is very atmospheric her vocals are very upfront and I don't think her singing is strong enough to carry the album. Second; drummer Wolfgang Ostermann is the bands weakest link, especially during the heavier sections. For example his double bass drum at the end of Fall sounds totally out of place. During segments of Romance he takes all the subtlety out of the song and because of it the guitar solo, which should be centre stage and fails to impress. The best example of his disappointing playing is the start of Anger. Bass player Jurgen Renneck, like Andreas Hack, does not seem to be interested in a front row seat, however he shows some great playing during Anger and Portrait.
Best songs on the album are Fall because it has a strong chorus and some nice quieter sections with guitar and piano; shame about the ending. Retribution again because of the ensemble playing of guitar and keyboards and the closing Portrait. Romance is also a strong song and by ending it with solo piano, it smoothly blends into the next beautiful song; the earlier mentioned title track.
Frequency Drift have set themselves some challenging targets by starting their career with a concept that is spread over more than one album. Despite some of my critical remarks, I am of the opinion that the band does have potential, and we'll just have to wait for Personal Effects (Part Two).
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Hermetic Science - These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins
Tracklist: De Profundis (10:06), Voyages (6:38), Triptych (15:32), Melancholia I (1:54), Aion (8:15), Melancholia II (1:11), The Second Coming (6:48)
The snappily titled These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins is the fourth album by California's Hermetic Science. The one constant member is Ed Macan, the composer of all the material on this album upon which he is joined by Jason Hoopes (bass and guitar) and Angelique Curry (drums and percussion). Macan himself handles keyboards and mallet percussion (vibes, marimba, xylophone, that sort of thing).
Piano is predominant on De Profundis and the short linking piece Melancholia I and is played in a light classical kind of way. Indeed, the first of these tracks has the air of a mini symphony with string synth adding the lighter touches, the percussion, particularly the gong, adding drama and the bass adding jazz flourishes. An intriguing and interesting start that ranks quite highly in originality, the recurring theme being sustained throughout. There is no mistaking the fact that Macan is an obvious ELP fan, even if one didn't know he had written a biography of the band! Voyages opens with a keyboard sound that is instantly reminiscent of Living Sin and elsewhere throughout the album there are sounds and compositional quirks that can be traced back to the famous trio. However, this is only evident in small places and in most cases is probably more a suggestion of an ELP-type 'sound' than anything more direct. The remainder of Voyages contained some nice moments, the organ at the end being particularly appealing, although on the whole I didn't think that structurally the piece hung together very well.
The longest track on the album, Triptych was, I'm afraid to say, a complete bore to listen to all the way through. With xylophone (or vibes, one of the two) being the major instrument throughout the dynamics were not that great. Add to that the fact that there are long passages where not a lot seems to happen bar individual notes being hammered out it failed to maintain my attention. Similar accusations can be placed upon Aion and Melancholia II although at least Aion has a bit more life to it with all three members of the band uniting to provide a rather more coherent piece of music, although it was still seemed to drag a bit. Final track The Second Coming uses more keyboards to provide a quite sombre introduction. An expressive bass pulls things along until, after a slower section, there is a variation of the main theme from Tarkus which sticks out like a shining light. More ELPisms follow guiding the song to a conclusion.
Maybe it is me not understanding or appreciating the jazzier elements of the album but on the whole the album did very little for me. The opening track promised a lot which I thought the rest of the album failed to deliver. The overt references to ELP in the final track rammed it home how much more enjoyable they were than the original compositional elements, although I have to temper that by saying it may be the joy of finding an anchor of familiarity amongst an ocean of bewilderment. I have no doubt that some people will love this album and consider it an exceptionally original collection of instrumental music. It is certainly original, but for more that was not sufficient to make it a completely enjoyable experience.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends
Tracklist: Life In Technicolor (2:38), Cemeteries Of London (3:20), Lost! (3:55), 42 (3:57), Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love (6:50), Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant (7:06) Viva La Vida (4:04), Violet Hill (3:49), Strawberry Swing (4:09), Death And All His Friends/The Escapist (6:18)
For many this was the most anticipated album of the year, and it is widely regarded as contender for biggest selling album of the year. Coldplay's collaboration with Brian Eno made many a heart beat faster.
We reviewed Coldplay's first album, Parachutes, because of its light proggy influences. The second album A Rush Of Blood To The Head was less prog, but a much better album, and thus warranted another review. Then the third album the band had grown to mega stardom, and it was evident in their music, which seemed to focus more on creating more hits, rather than good tunes. I personally never cared much for X&Y but I was interested in how the collaboration with Eno would pay off. Would it be any good? Would it be a disappointment? Could Eno pull the same trick for Coldplay as he'd done U2 back in 1985?
The album starts with a nice instrumental Life In Technicolor, which then fades into Cemeteries Of London, which is a nice U2-like track with a typical Coldplay sound. The next track Lost! is the first departure from the common Coldplay sound. Heavy organ, accompanied by a drum computer rhythm, and a very catchy vocal melody.
42 is a nice little mini-epic, starting as a soft ballad and turning into an uptempo song midway, before returning to the ballad part - all that in under 4 minutes. This is probably the most proggy track on the album - Whoever said proggy songs need to be long?
Lovers In Japan is a nice uptempo poppy track, based around a honky tonk piano melody. For some reason it is coupled with the dreamy Reign Of Love making it a 7-minute track. However, the tracks are seemingly unrelated, so it is a tad strange to glue the two together. The same is done with the next track Yes which has an (uncredited) near-instrumental Chinese Sleep Chant attached to it. Not too sure about that. It's a bit too much art for art's sake for my taste. I mean, what's the point anyway? Yes, I love epics and tying songs together, but a minimum requirement would be that the songs would have something in common to be tied together.
That said, with or without the Chinese Sleep Chant, Yes is one of the best and most adventurous songs on the album. An uptempo track which is spiced up by a Eastern style violin, it sounds a bit as a horror soundtrack at times. Love it!
The title track, Viva La Vida is another one with a lead role for the violin, though this track stays closer to familiar Coldplay territory, with familiar quirkiness and instant likeability.
The first single of the album, Violet Hill is dominated by a dark guitar sound and harks back more to the early days of Coldplay. A quirky guitar solo lightens up the song considerably, evenso it is one of the weaker tracks on the album.
Dead And All His Friends, the 'other' title track of the album, is my favourite. Another mini-epic starting like a piano ballad, but changing to an uptempo mid-section, which reminds me of Supertramp. Once again this song has an unfinished, uncredited ditty attached, in the form of The Escapist, which ends very similar to the start of Life In Technicolor, making it a proper head and tail album.
However, all the little ditties that are attached to other songs are rather superfluous for me. I liked them, but why not index them separately? I mean, I am a prog-head, I get excited when I see the last track of the album is over 6 minutes long, however, in this case it is just one song with another half-song attached to it. And that happens three times on the album. A bit too much art for art's sake for my taste. It's almost as if they had some left-overs and needed to fill up the album.
So in conclusion, yes the collaboration with Brian Eno paid of, as the band seemed in dire need of a makeover. Though their new sound is not radically different from what they used to do, Coldplay has managed to sound fresh again.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Coldplay - Prospekt's March
Tracklist: Life In Technicolor II (4:05), Postcards From Far Away (0:48), Glass Of Water (4:44), Rainy Day (3:26), Prospekt's March (3:39), Lost+ (4:18), Lovers In Japan (Osaka Sun Mix) (3:58), Now My Feet Won't Touch The Ground (2:29)
The final tracklisting of Vida la Vida looked a bit different than the tracklisting that had been officially announced earlier in the year. As it turned out the band wasn't happy with some of the songs and as the deadline for the album approached they left a few tracks off the final album. These have now been released as an EP, while Viva la Vida has been rereleased as a double album including Prospekt's March.
The EP opens with Life In Technicolor II, which is basically Life in Technicolor, but with lyrics this time. Postcards From Far Away is a beautiful little piano ditty, which ends all too quickly if you ask me. Glass of Water is no more than B-side material, as is Rainy Day actually, though the latter makes quite inventive use of drum computer and samples and has a great added string section.
The title track of the EP, Prospekt's March is a beautiful ballad which harks back to A Rush Of Blood days.
Up till this point it would have been a perfect maxi single release, really, but then come the unnecessary extras. First is a new version of Lost! featuring rapper Jay-Z. I am not a fan of rap music, but that doesn't mean I rule out the possibility of merging rap and rock altogether. I mean, the very same Jay-Z did a pretty decent thing with Linkin Park a few years back, so why not with Coldplay? Well, I will tell you why not. First of all this is basically the same version as the album version, only with Jay-Z adding some rap towards the end. And secondly because the rap is awful. It is completely out of place with the rest of the song, unbalanced (too high in the mix) ridiculous lyrics and it adds nothing, absolutely nothing to the original. This is exactly the type of rap I hate, it is soooo cliché. If I were to make a parody on rap music whilst in the shower, it would probably sound exactly like this!
The Osaka Sun Mix of Lovers In Japan adds little to the original and -again- should have been a b-side on one of the singles.
I like that, like Viva La Vida, Prospekt's March also has a proper head and a tail to the album. Now My Feet Won't Touch The Ground is basically an acoustic reprise of Life In Technicolor II
As a separate release the EP doesn't add overly much to the Viva La Vida album though. Life In Technicolor II and Prospekt's March are good songs, but the rest isn't much more than B-side material. And the awful Lost+ doesn't help much either.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10