Reviews in this issue:
- Karnataka – The Gathering Light
- The Watch – Planet Earth?
- Motion Theory - Featherhead
- Supernal Endgame – Touch The Sky ~ Volume I
- Olivier Feuillerat Projekt – Stories For An Open Mind
- Maudlin Of The Well – Part The Second
- Alamaailman Vasarat - Huuro Kolkko
- Asher Quinn – Forgotten Language Of The Heart
- Moonlight Sky – Moonlight Sky
- Moonlight Sky – I Am
- The Barstool Philosophers – Sparrows
- Øresund Space Collective - Good Planets Are Hard To Find
Karnataka – The Gathering Light
Tracklist: The Calling (1:59), State Of Grace (8:53), Your World (7:48), Moment In Time (6:53), The Serpent And The Sea (10:21), Forsaken (12:24), Tide To Fall (5:36), The Gathering Light (14:12)
This is Karnataka’s fifth release but comes some 7 years after their previous studio offering, DPRP Recommended Delicate Flame Of Desire (2003). Since then, the band have split, somewhat acrimoniously, and reformed with the only surviving member, Ian Jones, carrying the name forwards and onwards in a completely new incarnation consisting of Lisa Fury (vocals), Ian Harris (drums), Gonzalo Carerra (keyboards) & Enrico Pinna (lead & acoustic guitars). What this new line-up has created is an album of astonishing beauty and precision-crafted excellence.
In the very broadest sense, the material here is consistent with previous releases in that it is hugely atmospheric and has a kind of understated ‘Celtic/Traditional music’ wash that will serve to keep old fans of the band content and happy. The wonderfully ubiquitous Troy Donockley makes a guest appearance on four of the tracks (The Calling, Moment In Time, Forsaken and The Gathering Light), bringing his piping, whistling goodness to the game with the assurance that only a tried and tested specialist can afford. Similarly, Hugh McDowell (ELO), contributes cello to the opulent, ethereal and graceful string arrangements that appear on State Of Grace, Moment In Time, Forsaken, Tide To Fall and The Gathering Light. However, I’m sure Karnataka would like to develop a new audience too and The Gathering Light may just be the album to springboard them to wider acclaim.
Predominantly, all eight tracks are tender, cultivated, mid-tempo, soothing and redolent pieces. However, it is in the details of the individual musicians that the magic of The Gathering Light surely resides. Of the new players, Enrico Pinna furnishes every track with radiant and towering guitar parts that sing of Andy Latimer, Steve Hackett and David Gilmour but laced with his own musical personality. He brings expression, sensitivity and emotion to his playing so that the guitar melodies could be considered in the same way as vocal lines. Gonzalo Carrera has contributed his compositional skills to three of the tracks (State Of Grace, Your World and The Gathering Light) and his overall contribution to the album colours every moment with his truly wonderful keyboard arrangements. Every track is alive with a host of acoustic characters that create an incredibly rich canvas of textures, colours, shading and tones. Rhythms, pulses, swells and sonic shapes glimmer and coruscate in a constant interplay of shifting and evolving musical backdrops to fashion dense atmospherics; oceans of sound, teeming with flashing, exquisite and exotic musical lifeforms. I cannot overstate the importance of the keyboards to the overall sound and they are stunning. It’s not mellotrons and analog lead synths, but together, Ian Jones and Carerra have authored some of the best electronic, programmed arrangements I think I have ever heard. It really is that good.
These lead characters (guitars and keys) are supported throughout by a dynamic and articulate rhythm section. I’m a big fan of The Flower Kings, and Jonas Rheingold in tandem with any of the stellar drummers he partners always provides a whole other listening dimension. Ian Jones and Ian Harris achieve something comparable here. Jones’ tasteful and melodic bass is sometimes lyrical and complex, at others robust, full and weight-bearing, whilst Harris shifts seamlessly between steady and ballistic with the sort of élan I would normally reserve for the likes of Zoltan Csorsz or Nick D’Virgilio. This is sensitive, intelligent and technically dazzling musicianship but never showy or ostentatious for the sake of it, every flourish is integrated and organic. The epic Forsaken is testament to all of this and, for me, the stand out track of the album.
Crowning the whole affair is Lisa Fury’s vocal work. She contributes emotional depth and passionate delivery with technical brilliance putting her up there with some of the best female vocalists, not only of this generation, but amongst those who have gone before and left their distinctive mark within the genre. In a general sense, Karnataka tread the path laid by Clannad, Iona, Enya, Dead Can Dance and, more recently, Mostly Autumn. So, Lisa certainly has the sort of range and timbre of singers like Heather Findlay and, in case you are wondering, is every inch a replacement for the charms of Rachel Jones. Whilst I can easily draw comparisons, Lisa’s voice is beautiful, magnetic, charismatic and haunting in its own right. Add to this the credits she receives for her lyrics (which are evocative though otherwise unremarkable, it’s in her larynx that they blossom into life, not on the page) and we clearly have an extremely talented and creative personality who can hopefully hang around to develop and front the profile of the band into the future.
And this leads me into my concluding thoughts. Could this be the breakthrough album for Karnataka? It certainly deserves to be. It crosses boundaries by being accessible and affecting with gorgeous melodies, sumptuous arrangements and absolutely stunning production to give the whole album a highly accomplished and commercial sheen. With the appropriate support, the potential appeal of The Gathering Light is enormous. I can’t imagine it appealing to many young men, it’s not edgy enough, or particularly relevant in any way. But it is beautiful and mountainous and oceanic in scale. As delicate as crystal and as solid, tactile and evocative of grandeur as marble, this is a palpable, poignant, sensuous and impressive musical experience. Without a doubt, my album of 2010 so far.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
The Watch – Planet Earth?
Tracklist: Welcome To Your Life (6:11), Something Wrong (7:41), Earth (5:52), All The Lights In Town (8:15), The World Inside (5:58), New Normal (3:41), Tourist Trap (7:23)
Twilight, by the then Night Watch was deemed “one of the best albums of 1998” in Dirk van den Hout’s 9+ DPRP review. A few years later 2004’s Vacuum garnered an 8/10 DPRP review by Bob Mulvey. Other albums that have not yet been reviewed but which I can heartily recommend are Ghost (2001), Primitive (2007) and Live (2008).
The Watch are an Italian five piece consisting of Giorgio Gabriel (electric guitars, 12 strings acoustic guitar, classical guitar); Guglielmo Mariotti (bass, bass pedals, 12 string electric & acoustic guitars, vocals); Valerio De Vittorio (pianos, Hammond L122 organ, mellotron, Arp and Moog, synths, vocals); Simone Rossetti (vocals, flute, tambourine, Moog, mellotron [studio]) and Marco Fabbri (drums, percussions, vocals).
Firstly, a word of warning. All you mellotron fans had better order in some paper hankies. There’s going to be weeping. And perhaps worse. The instrument is so interwoven into the sound on this record you will be grinning from ear to ear. For me, mellotrons are like cars – I don’t know how they work but I’m glad they do. I’m sure witchcraft is involved.
For all you trivia fans, the band use, and take on tour, an M400 (serial no. 1689) mellotron which was bought in an Italian studio and which has previously been used by, amongst others, Brian May of Queen. Currently the band’s tape set consists of the following sounds: 3 violins, 8 mixed choirs and flute. They all get a tremendous workout.
The Watch are unashamedly progressive, and truly love the genre. Check out their t-shirts if you don’t believe me. Over the course of their recorded output they have honed a sound that is truly theirs. Not a copy, not a pastiche. Constant gigging has seen them develop an amazingly accomplished, incredibly tight sound.
This is a record to be listened to time and time again. It manages to be incredibly complex yet it all sounds so effortless. Yet again the production is top notch.
As the band state on their website, they want the listener to “experience deep musical feelings at the very first listening” then “discover interesting melodies and new musical nuances every time you play it”.
No track-by-track as such as the record stands as a complete piece of music. Not a concept album per se but one with a universal theme - “the wonderful planet we live on”. Given the inspiration, it is no surprise that the texture is less aggressive, more reflective than 2007’s Primitive, which up until now was my favourite Watch album, even though many of the cognoscenti prefer 2004’s Vacuum. Simone Rosseti’s wonderfully emotive voice teases out every nuance of the thoughtful lyrics.
If I have a criticism it is that it’s over far too quickly – 45 minutes counts as an EP now in these 70 plus minute CD days. Ghost, Vaccum and Primitive all clocked in at around 47 minutes. I’m being selfish of course.
Standout track for me is Something Wrong – beautiful choir mellotron, wonderful understated soloing from Giorgio Gabriel.
There are a few slightly more bombastic tracks that would have fit in well on Primitive, Earth for example. Or All The Lights In Town. Put it this way, granny couldn’t dance to it. Time changes a-plenty, stunning guitar, mellotron and keyboard interplay.
New Normal sees John Hackett adding some sublime flute. He and Nick Magnus opened for the band on several UK shows recently, including one at the CRS where a certain Steve Hackett appeared unannounced on stage with his brother.
Tourist Trap, another contender for best track, could have been an early solo piece by Peter Gabriel. It even has the word monkey in the lyrics. There’s Lamb Lies Down riffing with even a touch of Fish in the vocal. All liberally sprinkled with delightful mellotron, Hammond and synth breaks. It finishes far too quickly for me.
Needless to say this record comes highly recommended. Good headphones and a decent stereo will have you finding new bits you missed in the car or through your MP3 pod dock thing. It’s an early contender for record of the year. You see, it’s that rare beast - prog made by genuine, talented people who love prog for people who love prog. And for no other reason. Not to make them rich beyond dreams of avarice, not for ‘brand positioning’. A record that will make you smile.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Motion Theory - Featherhead
Tracklist: I Love The Smell Of The Universe In The Morning (6:17), Until You Leave (4:09), Lucidity (6:33), All I Need (4:23), Big Boys (5:50), Make Some Noise (3:50), Cycles (5:17), Featherhead (6:56)
Motion Theory are a young four-piece formed at Durham University in 2008 where the members, Dom Main (lead vocals and synths), James Kerr (bass), Jamie Wesley (guitar) and Will Soutter (drums), were apparently studying classical music. Within months of forming they released Sunlight On The Sand, a six-track EP, which was followed in late 2009 by an album, Featherhead. The band gained wider recognition when they entered three of their compositions into the UK Songwriting Contest and all three made it through to the semi-finals.
Despite the young age of the band, whose combined age is less than that of BB King, it is clear from the offset that the quartet are no musical slouches and are experienced in musical dynamics and composition that exceeds a lot of bands who are further along in their careers. Opener I Love The Smell Of The Universe In The Morning is testimony to this with an energetic vibe that encapsulates a sound not unlike that of Muse but with a degree more subtlety, particularly on the end coda. Until You Leave is more up-front with full-on guitar assault from the off and a lively bass line that jumps all over the place. Main has an impressive voice that spans the octaves, although one can't help but feel that the recording has not captured the best of his singing - possibly studio inexperience combined with financial limitations and need of a good producer (the drums are rather too loud in the mix for my preferences as well) - although this doesn't detract from the music. Wesley unleashes some blistering fretwork at the end of the song to boot. Taking things down a tad, Lucidity goes for the slow burn with a vaguely ethnic rhythm and a large chorus, with a rather discordant guitar solo in the middle, well originality never hurt anyone! Despite being the most commercial song on the album, All I Need manages not to sell out the integrity of the group with flourishes that hint at their aspirations and, again, Wesley showing his adept and versatile guitar playing.
Continuing to vary the mood, Big Boys takes things right down and showcases a more subtle approach that is perfectly arranged and has become my personal favourite on the album. When applied correctly, simplicity is often more powerful that brutal onslaught. Although Make Some Noise does its best to refute this as a powerful, and somewhat anthemic song that must serve brilliantly as a live number, particularly if employed as a set opener with appropriate audience participation! Different again is Cycles with more words per minute than even the fastest rappers and a middle section where guitarist and drummer sound as if they are racing each other to the end. A lovely melodic bass line somehow holds things together, although I swear all four musicians are playing in completely different time signatures! Final song and title track, Featherhead is one of the numbers contributed to the songwriting contest and once again displays a mature subtlety, carefully contrasting the somewhat angelic vocals of Main against the grittier guitar breaks of Wesley. I don't think the clap-along section in the middle worked too well as it was too much of a break between the far more impressive opening and, particularly, closing sections but on the whole is an impressive closing number.
Motion Theory have far more ideas than any band of their age and experience should, by right, possess. The fact that they are able to convincingly put them into practice augurs well for the future. It is hard to pigeonhole the music as it covers many bases - alt rock to prog with tangents off in multiple directions - but the talent is definitely there. It will certainly be interesting, and no doubt entertaining, to hear what the group comes up with next.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Supernal Endgame – Touch The Sky ~ Volume I
Tracklist: Everlasting Fanfare [Part 1] (4:25), Still Believe (10:27), Psalm 51 (3:54), Disclosure (2:57), Fall To My Knees (5:15), Expressions (5:09), Loving Embrace (6:46), Grail (9:05), In Your Hands (6:03), Gossamer Strings (3:24), You Reached Down (6:17), At Play In The Fields (5:46), Perfect Grace (4:11), Everlasting Fanfare [Part 2] (5:01)
Back in 2004 an album entitled Portal produced under the name of Worlds Collide received a commendable DPRP recommendation although it had originally been released 6 years earlier. The man responsible was engineer, guitarist, and keyboardist John Eargle and since then he has teamed up with Rob Price (vocals, drums) and Dan Pomeroy (guitars) to form Supernal Endgame. Although Touch The Sky ~ Volume I is the debut release from this Texan combo, the trio in question have been making music together for nigh on 30 years. This latest collaboration was born out of Eargle and Price’s shared desire to produce songs where the lyrics have a spiritual bias (ala Neal Morse) and the music has a melodic progressive rock flavour with AOR overtones.
The threesome are supplemented by several guest musicians including Roine Stolt who provides guitar for one song and Randy George (Ajalon, Neal Morse) whose bass talents can be heard throughout much of the album. They take a leaf out of Cryptic Vision’s book (and before that Genesis) by reprising the albums key song, in this case Everlasting Fanfare, using it to both open and close the album. Here however the device is not entirely convincing thanks to the rather overblown finale that concludes both parts. Better is the tranquil opening section to Part 1 that recalls Pink Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine with ambient keys, piano and acoustic guitar underpinning the vocal melody.
The uplifting Still Believe is probably for me the albums best offering that successfully sustains its 10 plus minutes with a compelling guitar theme and prog-pop chorus that evokes 80’s era Genesis. George’s upfront bass line leads into a lively instrumental section with Randy Lyle’s violin and the heroic keys adding a familiar Kansas timbre before returning to the main vocal melody. It was at this point that I was struck by the similarity between Price’s confident (if unremarkable) singing and the voice of Everon’s Oliver Philipps. From here on in my attention span began to be tested by pleasant but not totally engaging efforts like Psalm 51, Disclosure and Fall To My Knees. It’s during the latter tune where the bands Christian beliefs really become apparent in the reverential but not overtly preachy lyrics.
Loving Embrace is clearly intended as the albums showcase ballad and works fine for the most part due to the obvious but effective inclusion of acoustic guitar, violin and a memorable chorus. The mood is spoilt for me however by an annoyingly obtrusive synthesised rhythm which is thankfully drowned out by the soaring guitar solo. Stolt fans will be heartened to know that their hero makes his appearance during track eight, Grail. It’s another chorus centred song but it still allows plenty of room for some blistering guitar dynamics from the Swede maestro whose apocalyptic soling adds an edge often lacking elsewhere. During a lull in the proceedings guest Brad Bibbs provides a sensitive but haunting solo of his own on violin.
Following the up-tempo and extremely word heavy In Your Hands, a welcome respite comes in the shape of the albums second and best instrumental, the delicate Gossamer Strings. Here Pomeroy’s exquisite acoustic guitar is matched by heavenly violin performed by yet another string player, Katie Price. In contrast, one of the more tuneful of the up-tempo offerings is the evocatively titled At Play In The Fields. With a suitably celebratory atmosphere in both the lyrics and tone, a ringing guitar rhythm drives the song along at a vigorous pace with lyrical synth and strident lead guitar perfectly complementing the infectious Yes like chorus.
Touch The Sky ~ Volume I is so named because it is as John Eargle puts it “…the first of a two-volume tribute to the act of worshipping the divine...” It certainly has a triumphant upbeat feel throughout and as John Eargle further explains if you are uncomfortable with the spiritual subject, the music can be enjoyed on its own merits. My only gripe is that despite the strong melodies and hooks prevalent throughout, at nearly 80 minutes it does feel like a long haul at times where the songs begin to sound a tad samey. Also Eargle’s otherwise crystal clear production is a little over bright for an album of this length, often sounding shrill even to my less than sensitive ears. That aside, this album has much to recommend it and I for one look forward to volume two with keen anticipation.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Olivier Feuillerat Projekt – Stories For An Open Mind
Tracklist: One Of Ben’s Mind Games (7:55), Here Comes The Chopper (4:37), Un Dimanche (1:47), Manhattan Man (4:32), Sem Sem (4:18), Piuviose (5:49), Borderline (4:38), Walk On Mars (3:32), Plume (0:57), Seven Snakes And A Half (4:26), Nehen Nehefi (7:45), Beyond The Silver Rainbow (3:04)
Olivier Feuillerat Projekt – Stories For An Open Mind is a solo concept lead by Olivier Feuillerat (electric, acoustic and synth guitars, keys, synth, bass, percussion, orchestra programming, sound design), and also featuring Stephane Gassin (keys, piano 1,2,3,5,6,7,9,11), Marco Manchera (bass 1,4,5) and Jean Denis Rivaleru (drums 1,4,5,7), which all in all means the Feuillerat is somewhat of a accomplished musician, with vocal inclusion being sampled from 1984, Lost and a speech by Winston Churchill.
What we have here is a very cleverly put together piece of work that’s has a very crystal clear production and sound, that incorporates a variety of styles including jazz fusion, progressive rock, metal and experimental. Feuillerat's playing is very dynamic and fluid and he has obviously spent some time plying his trade. He was nominated as a Finalist @ ProgAwards 2009, for Best Debut Album. If you close your eyes you can clearly hear the influences of Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour, Allan Holdsworth, Joe Satriani and in places Jean Michel Jarre. If you like any of the mentioned guitarists you’re going to like this, especially if you are fans of Metheny or Holdsworth, especially when Feuillerat plays the synth guitar.
One Oof Ben’s Mind Games opens the whole affair sounding like an orchestration from a TV program. At the end of the instrumental the vocal sample is taken from Lost and ends with the line, ”Ben has a thing for mind games.” The guitar work in places is like listening to Allan Holdsworth. Feuillerat proving that he is a dexterous and accomplished guitar player. This instrumental almost has an eastern tone to it in places and incorporating more orchestration, twisting and turning never knowing what’s coming next.
Here Comes The Chopper opens with a vocal sample from the film 1984 and a metal guitar rhythm that at a push wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dream Theater album. There is a jazz fusion keyboard solo thrown in for good measure too, which works really well. This probably is the heaviest track on the album, and my second favourite track.
Un Dimanche opens with bird song and keyboard and then acoustic guitar giving the feel of a lazy, relaxing summer’s day. You could imagine yourself relaxing with a nice red wine whilst listening to this.
Manhattan Man sounds like The Pat Metheny Group, and has really excellent bass and drum work, which holds everything together. Feuillerat would appear to have a really passion for jazz, as he takes a very laid back approach while playing guitar and again incorporating jazz fusion keyboard work.
Sem Sem again is a driving jazz instrumental with a summer feel to it. All the playing on it is again tight and competent, and there are some very good rhythm passages being interplayed between each instrument.
Piuviose is another beautiful track opening with a piano piece, which segues into some great jazz guitar work mixed in with heavier rock leads.
Borderline is the nearest tune that could be called prog. When I say prog I mean the heavier end of prog with some church organ chords thrown in for good measure. The only problem I have with this track is that Feuillerat does not come across as being comfortable playing this style as he does with the jazz pieces.
Walk On Mars is an atmospheric experimental piece which again could be lumped into the genre of prog, sounding slightly like something that Jean Michel Jarre would compose.
Plume is a very strange instrumental of piano and acoustic guitar working together, giving the feeling that this is an album filler or outtake. Compared to the other tracks on the album it does somewhat feel out of place.
Seven Snakes And A Half sees Feuillerat doing what he does best, working the guitar twisting and turning creating beautiful imagery with different tones holding the listeners attention.
Nehen Nehefi opens with an 80’s feels to it in places, and I thought at one stage I heard a short Miami Vice drum break, but don’t be put of by that. Vocal samples are courtesy of Winston Churchill’s from a speech given at the House of Commons 18th June 1940, (The famous "This is their finest hour" speech which parts were also sampled by Iron Maiden on Ace’s High). This track is a very dark experimental piece but is well executed.
Behind The Silver Rainbow is another beautiful but strange piece that more than tips its hat to Allan Holdsworth, slowly ambling with a bass lead and layered keyboards a great jazz instrumental, and to be honest is probably my favourite track on the album.
Is this a prog album? In general the word prog can and does at times incorporate many types of music that doesn’t follow the norm, and some do try and exploit this. Basically what we have here is an above average jazz album with some prog passages and a few experiment pieces thrown in for good measure. There is nothing original on this album, and Feuillerat wears his influences loud and proud on his chest. This release won’t set the world on fire, but what has created here is a very good first album. Where he goes from here is anybodies guess, but as he grows as a musician he could be a name to be reckoned with in the future. Watch this space.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Maudlin Of The Well – Part The Second
Tracklist: An Excerpt From 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before The First, Or, The Revisitation Of The Blue Ghost (10:55), Another Excerpt: Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying (5:59), Rose Quartz Turning To Glass (7:30), Clover Garland Island (8:18), Laboratories Of The Invisible World [Rollerskating The Cosmic Palmistric Postborder] (11:50)
Having been a fan of all things avant-rock for some time, you can believe that the excitement of reviewing Part The Second by Maudlin Of The Well is, for me, palpable. This disc was funded entirely by the donations of fans, and said fans were credited as executive producers when the album reached fruition. This album is free, so if you are already bored with my review, please direct yourself to Maudlin Of The Well’s website and download this masterpiece immediately!
This album is not particularly lengthy, but it is so beyond substantial as a musical product, that one hardly seems to notice. Track breakdown as follows:
An Excerpt From 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before The First, Or, The Revisitation Of The Blue Ghost: Instantly sets the mood for what is to come. Opens with, and maintains a rather thin textural presence throughout, though this is not with the absence of tension/release. The guitar and drum playing in this song is simplistic, and yet powerful in the conveyance of tone. The climax near the halfway point never fully dies down, and carries the listener directly into track 2.
Another Excerpt: Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying: The subtle piano/violin opening is very ethereal in nature. As a listener, this was the point in the album that I truly knew I was in for something special. This track is essentially an instrumental, and never loses its pulsating sense of groove. Following a masterfully executed guitar solo, the track delves into some more classically structured stylings. Hand-clapping a la Steve Reich’s Clapping Music permeates through the remainder of the track, as does an indistinguishable vocal line.
Rose Quartz Turning to Glass: Opens again with piano/violin; adding more strings throughout the introduction. This time, however, the introductory statement is led by the strings, who accompanied the piano in the previous track. The initial thematic idea continues as layers of primitive sounding percussion are added to the mix. The strings relinquish the melody at the 2:00 mark, and begin an exchange with the piano. The drums and piano eventually give way to a heart wrenching minute-long solo violin around 3:00, which is finally joined by guitar, and more ambient vocal work. The full band enters at 5:20, and the mood shifts to a very Pink Floyd styled outro. Guitarist Toby Driver is on fine display in the coda of this multi-faceted track.
Clover Garland Island: A declamatory and dissonant guitar/drum introduction lasts for a minute until the band launches into a bass/guitar driven groove which is interrupted by an erratic guitar solo. The layers continue to increase, and the rhythm section of the band does a fine job maintaining the groove that was established early on. Around 3:15, the band reaches a climax in which the strings suspend over into the next section. This is yet another fine example of tension and release, as the chordal structure alternates from tonal clusters, to major chords. Very effective, indeed. The track concludes with an extended string passage, followed by another full-band groove which reaches just enough of a heightened state before decaying away with more string/vocal interplay.
Laboratories Of The Invisible World [Rollerskating The Cosmic Palmistric Postborder]: The guitar opening displaces any sense of time or structure, which is exactly what continues throughout this nearly 12 minute opus. The technical prowess of all the instrumentalists is on full display for the duration of Laboratories… and as listener’s, we truly reap the benefits. Many ideas are tossed about here, with the guitar work being the most memorable to this reviewer. The 7:00 mark is the most grand of any point on the album, dynamically and musically. The vocal outburst combined with dense texture makes for a very powerful impact. The remainder of the album does an excellent job maintaining the excitement as a choral like progression repeats for several minutes. The motive from Keep Light Near You… is utilized as the coda of the album; this time played on grand piano, which I think is a very touching conclusion to a beautiful work.
This is the type of piece that makes one reflect on all that is good in life. I feel lucky to have come across it, and I have yet to remove it from my car’s CD player since the initial listening. A subtle and yet powerful album, Maudlin Of The Well’s Part The Second should stand the time as one of the greatest pieces of music of our time. This was made by the fans, and for the fans, and is easily discernable with each successive listen. Again, visit the band’s website immediately, and prepare to be swept away in the soundscapes!
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Alamaailman Vasarat - Huuro Kolkko
Tracklist: Mielisaurus [Mindsaurus] (3:30), Liskopallo [Lizard Ball] (4:50), Meressa Ei Asuta [Nobody Lives In The Sea] (4:04), Natiivit [Natives] (3:47), Luonto Tuli Lahelle [Nature Came Close] (3:03), Tujuhuju (5:32), Luola [The Cave] (6:32), Omall Ajalla [In Your Own Time] (4:20), Lautturin Viivat [The Lines Of The Ferryman] (4:06)
Finland has made a name for itself in the world of rock music and is the home of great musicians and bands. To this list Alamaailman Vasarat is no exception as this band has excellent musicians.
Alamaailman Vasarat is a six piece musical collective, led by Jarno “Stakula” Sarkula who is the main man playing saxophones, clarinets and special woodwinds. He also is the man behind most of the compositions. Other “band” members are Tuukka Helminen and Marko Manninen (cello), Teemu Hanninen (drums & percussion), Miikka Huttunen (pump organ, grand piano & melodica) and last but not least Erno Haukkala (tuba, trombone & piccolo trombone). Looking at the instruments it may be clear why I speak of a musical collective instead of a band. These are not the instruments one would expect.
On their website they call themselves “The Finnish Prophets of fictional world music”. Founded in 1997 by Jarno en Teemu just after Jarno had bought himself a saxophone. They found reason enough to start off a new “band” which evolved into Alamaailman Vasarat. The members to like experiment with various instruments and therefore their instrument base is growing and changing each album they make. The Tubax is an instrument that makes its first appearance on this album. Huuro Kolkko is their fifth effort, with their first record released back in the year 2000.
Huuro Kolkko is a completely instrumental album comprising of 9 tracks which all tell a tiny bit of the story of a man called Huuro Kolkko, a Finnish explorer from the early 1900’s. In the year 2008 a relative of Kolkko contacted the band and inspired them to do a concept album. The band has made it convenient as they have described the idea in a short story about every song on their website. Reading through the stories you will find the concept in the travels of Huuro. His travels take us on a journey trough Africa and other far away continents.
I did not have any clue what to expect really when I started to listen to this album which starts with Mielisaurus, which after about 20 seconds the cello starts playing and reminds me of Apocalyptica as most will know also as a Finnish “rock band”. Although the cello playing reminds me and Alamaailman Vasarat produces a rocking sound the two bands are difficult to compare. It’s not the same type of music, the only true comparison lies in the Cello.
At first I had my doubts if I would like the music, but I must admit the album really started growing on me. It is absolutely fun listening. It’s different yet familiar, strange sounding but also fun. Alamaailman Vasarat play a type of music that does not let itself be categorized very easily. There are jazz, folk, progressive, metal and a handful of other influences present here. Some of the tracks have a familiar sounding tune, in TujuHuju I hear a melody close to the classic Hava Nagila, in Omalla Ajalla I can even begin to hear the influences of another old classic The Great Pretender, this track of course being a very bass oriented in the vein of old New Orleans Jazz.
By far the best track to me on this album must be TujuHuju, here we can hear the outstanding musicianship of Alamaailman Vasarat.
The album artwork shows us some of the bugs Huuro must have encountered during his travels. The rest of the packaging is fairly simple, withy the inside booklet showing shadow pictures of all the members and tells us which instruments they play. The production of the album is of good quality, with a clear sound.
A different approach in playing “rock music” and a fun approach I must say, after 4 or 5 spins I really began to like the album. It will most definitely be played more often.
If you like new and different approaches to modern day “rock” then this must be on your list of albums to have. Do not run off after just a few seconds but try to listen carefully to the music, you can start by visiting their MySpace page. It is well worth it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Asher Quinn – Forgotten Language Of The Heart
CD 1: Bow Down (5:17), The Mystic Garden (3:58), Alla, Hallelujah, Elohim (2:34), Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot (3:35), La Vie d'Une Oiseau (3:21), If You Believed In Love (3:10), Heal You Heart (7:15), Lily Of The West (4:08), Gypsy Madonna (3:32), Bird On The Wire (2:48), I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say (3:06), A Solitary Bird (5:19), The First Time I Saw Your Face (3:19), Field Of Stars (2:38), Girl Jesus (2:59), Hang On To A Dream (1:48), Soldier Of Love (5:49), Gloria (4:03), House Of Spirits (4:45)
CD 2: Morning Sun (3:08), Golden Brown (3:26), Love Call (4:40), Missa Greca (5:20), Greensleeves (4:29), Sacred Heart (4:50), The Marriage Of The Sun And The Moon (2:27), Silent Night (3:23), Have Mercy On Me (3:56), This Love 3:58), Copper Kettle (4:02), Prayer For The World (4:54), Please Let Me Get What I Want (2:33), Forgiveness (3:46), Down In The Willow Garden (2:4), Sailing On The Silk Blue Sea (5:42), Amazing Grace 4:42), Return To Your Soul (9:06)
Asher Quinn is an English composer, singer, instrumentalist from London (UK) and currently working as a Jungian analyst. He started out playing the piano but eventually went on to become a troubadour and travelled extensively as such. Ant Phillips became a friend and would produce his first album Open Secrets (1987). Part of his music has been inspired by singer/songwriters as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Daniel Lanois, whilst other parts by his travels and along with classical composers. This album is a compilation of many vocal songs but also a number of instrumental songs, originally recorded for piano solo. It's a beautiful way of relaxing, chilling out and just listening to the lyrics, many of them performed by Asher (Asha), whose voice his characteristics from singers like Cohen and Cat Stevens (Yussuf Islam).
The first three songs are in the vein of Leonard Cohen and a mellow Cat Stevens, the fourth track is Asher's New Age influenced version of the famous negro spiritual. La Vie d'Une Oiseau is a New Age piano piece, with just some recorders added. If You Believed In Love is a vocal ballad with the piano accompanying. Heal Your Heart, sung by Susanna Bramson and Gypsy Madonna, are mellow ballads close to New Age music. Lily Of The West is a typical troubadour like song, a 'traditional', recorded earlier by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. A You Tube version of the Leonard Cohen's classic Like A Bird On The Wire is an homage to Cohen but Asher's piano version, a low budget recording, can hardly compete with the original.
Asher adapted the hymn I Heard The Voice Of Jesus in a 'troubadour' kind of a way in the style of early Dylan. Another piano improvisation, orchestrated in a later stage by Phillips is the beautiful New Age song A Solitary Bird. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is a simple but true rendition of a song by Ewan McColl, a nice combination of plucking an acoustic guitar with a tasteful orchestration. More gentle ballads, again sung by Asher, are Field Of Stars, based on an original composition for acoustic guitar and Girl Jesus, a live version, based on a piano piece. Slightly orchestrated is Hang On To A Dream, a classic hit by Tim Hardin, taken from his cover-album Songs Of Love And Chains. Asher's voice sounds like Cat Stevens with Marianne Faithful characteristics (from after Broken English).
Purely orchestral New Age are Soldier Of Love with a lovely guitar solo by Camel's Andy Latimer and House Of Spirits with woodwind instruments playing the melodies. Sharon Sage shares the vocal with Asher in the spiritual song Gloria inspired by Slavonic Liturgies.
CD2 opens with a live version of Morning Sun, a ballad accompanied by piano. Golden Brown is a Leonard Cohen meets Bob Dylan like adaptation from the hit by The Stranglers. New Age combined with folk music in Love Call is followed by a spiritual from Greece, Missa Greca, adapted by Quinn and Asher's rendition of the famous sixteenth Century folk song Greensleeves. One of the best pieces of Asher's (New Age) debut is Sacred Heart and is included on this compilation and is quite a contrast to Quinn's version of Silent Night, child's play to me. In between the track mentioned afore we have The Marriage Of The Sun And Moon from the album by the same name. Another You Tube version of a piano piece is Have Mercy On Me, as mentioned before, is of disputable sound quality. This Love is one of the many mellow ballads, just like the American fireside traditional Copper Kettle.
Prayer For The World and Please Let Me Get What I Want are tasteful symphonic ballads, the latter is an adaption from Morrisey and the Smiths, the mouth harp reminds of Dylan. Forgiveness is a live recording from Asher with his acoustic guitar as a Dylan-cloned troubadour. A sweet song, but I'll bet I would like Art Garfunkel's version better: Down In The Willow Garden. Originally a piano improvisation, later transformed to an orchestrated acoustic guitar piece: Sailing On The Silk Blue Sea is a very nice instrumental track. A reworked version of the Daniel Lanois song Amazing Grace is a good example of New Age meeting soft pop music with a symphonic touch. A worthy final track, also the longest one, is Return To Your Soul, a track in the vein of for example Suzanne Ciani, a very melodic piece.
Forgotten Language Of The Heart is a nice overview from works by Asher Quinn but the combination of troubadour songs, piano pieces, live recordings, spiritual songs and New Age music is a bit strange to me. From the point of view of a fan of progressive and/or symphonic music, only half of the songs could be described as somewhat symphonic, none of them being 'progressive'. Nevertheless the atmosphere is quite enjoyable. Personally I'd go for Open Secrets, rather New Age than 'symphonic' but for me still his best work to date.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Moonlight Sky – Moonlight Sky
Moonlight Sky – I Am
Tracklist: I Am [Intro] (1:36), The Look In Your Eyes (6:14), King Of The Golden Ring (7:30), Secrets (3:02), One Day One Night (6:56), I Am Blues (5:50), Chautauqua (5:11), Family Wound (5:20), Caviar (7:22), I Am [Outro] (1:30)
One doesn’t come across too many Slovenian rock bands, so it was intriguing to review these two albums by Moonlight Sky. Overall, the experience was interesting, but left me with the impression that the band still have some work/thinking to do in order to reach the level of other European bands. The level of musicianship was high and the level of composition was good, but too derived, retro and, over the two albums, uncertain in style: these concerns are sufficient to prevent a general recommendation from DPRP for either of the albums.< p>
The predominant flavour of Moonlight Sky is that of late 60s/early 70s psychedelic, blues-influenced rock. Not all of the pieces are of this type, and this is one of the concerns - that the band have really failed to establish a “sound” – but predominantly it is what you get. Despite this criticism, Moonlight Sky is the more coherent and, as a result, the better of the two albums.
The notable exception to the bluesy vibe is Ocean, which is what you can imagine Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part 3 sounding like. This piece is an instrumental, like the majority of the tracks on the album, which is a pity because singer Andraž Kržič (who also plays keys) is excellent. He shows this as early as the excellent first number, Lunin Svit, which is the only song across both albums to be sung in the band’s native language; elsewhere the lyrics are in English. Angel’s blues rock comes in Deep Purple flavour, courtesy of the Hammond organ. It’s a good track, another of the three sung ones; the trio is completed by How Much?, in which the blues is diluted.
I Am could be by a different band, despite the only personnel change being the replacement of drummer Bor Zakonjšek by Žiga Kožar: the bluesy feel is almost entirely absent and the balance is now in favour of sung (in English) songs. There are some fine moments – the opening and closing acoustic guitar based instrumentals in particular are extremely beautiful – but the enjoyment of the album as a whole is dented by a lack of coherency and by two tracks in particular: King Of The Golden Ring and Caviar. The former sounds like the kind of reggaeish-pop number you would hear played by a house band at those cringe-worthy seaside resort dances back in the seventies, with associated unpleasant instrument sound selection; whereas Caviar is a fairly inoffensive prog-rock instrumental until the band decide to let Kožar perform a drum solo! Maybe you like drum solos, but I think they’re difficult enough to pull off live, let alone on disc. Noooooo!< p>
One Day One Night has a couple of sections, the first of which is a funky/jazzy rocker featuring an unpleasant guitar sound, before moving on to a prettier, wistful synth part. The instrumental Chautauqua seems to be an attempt at jazz-rock, with alternating soloists, but its jazzy vibe is weak and I’m left uncertain as to what the composition achieves. The most successful compositions, other than the “book-end” ones, are those that lie in “art-rock” territory : Secrets is a sweet ballad, I Am Blues brings back some of the bluesy feeling of the first album; and Family Wound has a feel of “musical theatre” about it.
My feeling is that, if the band chose its best compositions, then they could put on a really tremendous live show, because the musicianship and the vocals are all very strong. On these albums, however, they have yet to find their true identity: they are perhaps looking back too much, trying to replicate what other, more famous, bands have achieved in the past, in the hope that some of that glory will rub off on them. It’s an easy trap to get into, in particular if it means the band gets a lot of live bookings locally, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t throw all of that away for their next album, garner some confidence and follow their own instincts, their own soul, their own heritage, their own music. It is then that the world will either see the real Moonlight Sky shine or, if they follow this same path, fade away.
Moonlight Sky : 7 out of 10
I Am : 6 out of 10
The Barstool Philosophers – Sparrows
Tracklist: Afterglow (5:32), Silence (6:01), Lies (4:50), Dreamscape (7:56), Eyes Show The Heart (6:17), Descendents Of The Fall (7:57), Fallen Angels (7:07), Endless Seasons (6:16), Away From Here (7:02)
One of the things I take into account when deciding if a CD meets my personal taste or how I will score it for a review is the variety of the music on the CD. My listen of Sparrows, the debut full-length from Dutch band The Barstool Philosophers, initially revealed to me a band that was overly formulaic in arrangements and instrumentation. But as the fifty-nine minute CD drew to a close, enough musical variations were apparent to me that kept the CD from being a total disappointment.
The band grew out of some jam sessions in the late nineties between Martin Kuipers (INRI, Mystrez, Gate6, ex-Symmetry, ex-Change Of Seasons, ex-Harrow) on drums, René Kroon (Sun Caged, ex-Stigmatheist, ex-Lack Of Hope) on keyboards, Ivo Poelman (ex-Gracious Souls) on guitars and Mark Portier (ex-Ulcerate Fester) on bass. With each musician at the time having obligations to other bands, the embryonic line-up saw a two-year hiatus, with the musicians devoting their time to their main obligations. Song writing in 2001 and the arrival of vocalist Leon Brouwer (ex-Isolation) was followed by more song writing as well as recording. In 2004 new bassist Bas Hoebink (ex-Symmetry) came on board, replacing the departing Portier. A charity song was put out in 2006, with Sparrows following in 2009.
So with the release of Sparrows, based in concept and lyrics on a period in Brouwer’s personal life after the divorce of his first wife, what we have is a recording which may seem as I mentioned earlier formulaic at first, but which could grow on you with a few listens. The style of the music is neo-prog with a lot of edgy riffs from Poelman, like on opening track Afterglow. Brouwer has a singing voice all his own and staple-guns the high notes firmly, with an intensity that would stun Geddy Lee, Jon Anderson and Jasper Steverlinck like a taser.
On other portions of the CD, Poelman’s guitar is more melodic and evokes Steve Rothery, like on Dreamscape. Some Floydian keyboards from Kroon ease their way into the action on Silence, a tune which showcases a bit of determined bass from Hoebink, and into the early Marillion pointer Eyes Show The Heart.
The CD has crystal clear production quality. The booklet artwork is courtesy of Wim van‘t Hoff at Eyemagic Studios, Almelo. The emotive photographs were done in the locale of downtown Utrecht, Holland, where many of the events in the Sparrows concept took place.
So if you dig neo-prog and you have the patience to give the CD a few listens, it may be worth your while to check out Sparrows. If you seek bubblegum pop, this isn’t it.
An area of opportunity I see for the band with their sophomore full-length would be to throw some more instrumentation into the mix to spice up the variety.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Øresund Space Collective - Good Planets Are Hard To Find
Tracklist: Good Planets Are Hard To Find (9:43), Space Fountain (8:51), Orbital Elevator (16:12), PF747-3 (19:35), My Heel Has A Beard (6:01), MTSST (19:28)
I reviewed Øresund Space Collective's It's All About Delay a while back and many of the comments from that review are still applicable to this review too. The music is outtakes from the band basically jamming in the studio. This time round the tracks are shorter and confined to one disc. It's more of the same style and approach where a (spacey) groove is set, with musicians taking turns playing solos. If you are looking for focused prog, angular riffing and the like, this probably won't be to your tastes. I think that this single CD of shorter improvisations is a much better package to sell. If it is priced accordingly then should be on your 'punt list'.
The opening title track Good Planets Are Hard To Find is a superb slow noodling, 'spacey chilled blues vibe', with ethnic sitar and bubbles. It builds up nicely and sounds like a great band jamming, which of course it is. Space Fountain fades in with some lovely Hendrix-esque distorted bluesy guitar licks, nothing revolutionary, just good music. Orbital Elevator is more aggressive with some upbeat driving heavy bass and drums mixed beneath crazy 'analogue' sounding synths and multiple guitars soloing.
I love some of the crazy titles like My Heel Has A Beard and PF747-3 even looks like the secret code that should be used to activate the ignition button on the Space Shuttle :-) It's also a bit more of a manic track, quite different to the first two.
It's very interesting and really for fans of extended jamming with no vocals . There's always lots going on, with lots of loosely similar ideas. I think it's great and deserves a place in anyone's collection who's a fan of early Floyd, Gong, Ozrics and hippy festival music. I'd love to see what these guys can do with some 'real focus', but perhaps this is what it is? I can't give it a full DPRP 'prog' recommendation, but I give it my own 'check it out' recommendation for it's style.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10