Elora - Crash
Se Taire (4:11), Elle Espere (3:54), Annee Lumiere (5:15), Ici Encore (6:07), L'Espoir (Part. 1) (5:37), L'Espoir (Part. 2) (6:57), Controle (5:44), En Paix (6:19), Elle (4:56), Crash (8:43)
The band offer a dual vocal role, supplied by Anastasia Moussalli and Damien Dahan, vocal tones that complement each other and the emotive approach of the music. We are not talking the proverbial beauty-and-the-beast approach, where the male offers a gruff growl complemented by a female angelic or operatic approach. The interaction of these vocalists is bolstered by the some exquisite, assertive, melodic framework created by the rest of the band, who offer precision and exactness, perfectly matching the mood, and catching the moment.
The album opener Se Taire (which translates as Stay Silent), sets the band's stall out, and more than demonstrates their approach. Although it can come across at times as being slightly formulaic and bland on a first listen, after a few plays it does grow on you, as does the album.
As I said, on first listening, I was not that enamoured. However, after repeated plays the songs and album really grew on me. There again, I do tend to find that the better albums sometimes need to be nurtured, allowing the listener the wherewithal to gain the full artistry that is presented.
With the passing of each song, the power and presentation just grows. I love L' Espoir Part 1 and L' Espoir Part 2 where Elora really horn their trade, offering a tapestry of melodic balladry, with a harder rock sound which is complemented by Moussalli's vocal presentation.
Elle is a rather interesting piece that features some really nice, funky bass parts. In fact Elora's Crash pushes all my buttons. Their approach musically, their adeptness with their chosen instruments, and vocally. Just when you think you have got a handle on where they are going musically, they take a sharp turn, keeping you on your toes, never leaving you behind.
Although the album has been recorded in their native tongue, it is an approach that does not hinder the affair, in fact, it makes it somewhat more interesting, adding a depth and character that will draw you in. The whole emotional soundstage will guide you through the journey, keeping you safe and offering a caressing and loving shoulder.
I can't recommend Elora's Crash enough. Like I said, this is not an instant album, however it is a grower and will reward those that are prepared to stay the course. Roll on their next album.
John O'Boyle: 8 out of 10
Steve Hughes - Tales from the Silent Ocean
Will We Ever Be Free (9:42), 50/50 Zone (7:17), Tapestry of Change (13:55), One Day (7:50), Secretly She Still Loves Him (7:09), The Days Without You (1:56), Gonna Make It (7:24), Free Fall (2:42), Sunshine Willow (16:07), Willow's Lament (3:23), Goodbye My Love (2:01)
The latest Steve Hughes album continues that fine tradition, with Hughes joined by several label-mates including Filkins and Bell.
Hughes is better known as one-time drummer with Big Big Train (1991-2007) and The Enid (1994-1998) amongst others, as well as tribute band The Spirit of Rush. On this debut album he adds keyboards, piano, guitar, bass, vocals and even penny whistle to his percussive talents, although several singers and guitarists (and a violinist) lend their support.
Whilst many contemporary artists are content to occupy a middle-ground between mainstream and progressive rock, there are those that embrace the prog genre in all its eclectic glory. This I'm happy to say, clocking in at a generous 80 minutes, is one such album.
Dynamic instrumental interludes, sweeping sections of epic grandeur, swirling Vangelis-style electronics, manic drum-lead moments and potent melodies, with the pop sensibility (and sensitivity) of Tears For Fears; Hughes covers all the bases.
Don't be fooled by the timings for each track, which range from a thrifty two minutes, to a substantial 16 minutes, because the album flows as one harmonious whole, and anyone that has an appreciation for Hughes' drum technique will be pleased to know that on songs like the opening Will We Ever Be Free, his kit is mixed to the fore with thunderous results, not unlike Simon Phillips' hefty sound on the Mike Oldfield albums Crises (1983) and Wind Chimes (1987).
This is a glorious debut from Steve Hughes, and such is the attention to detail, I'm willing to bet that a long time was taken in the planning and development stages. Like all good albums, the more you listen, the more of its boundless riches it reveals. Right now the heartfelt ballad Free Fall, beautifully sung by Ezzy Anya, and the expansive Sunshine Willow, with its gorgeous Simon & Garfunkel harmonies are probably my favourite songs. However ask me again in a week's time and I may just have changed my allegiance to any of the other tracks.
Geoff Feakes: 9 out of 10
Juke - Chimera's Tale
Schizarium Odyssey (part I) (7:11), Neptuna (21:25), On the Edge (7:43), Mister Mend (15:31), ? (2:32), Sunset Smile (7:17), Schizarium Odyssey (part II) (9:57)
Like so many young people nowadays, the quartet enjoys prog and psychedelia from the sixties and seventies, and that is the main emphasis of their creation. Indeed, it seems that they are trying to recreate the musical blueprints of their idols. Their music strongly emphasizes on the styles of Eloy, Camel and Doors, but it also reminds very much of Grobschnitt, Schicke Führs Fröhling, early Pink Floyd, Eberhard Schoener and, yes, Porcupine Tree. But despite this impressive list of influences, the album is nothing for everybody to like. I can imagine many people not bringing up enough patience for this.
The tracks all begin with a songlike part that consists of two or three standard chords, usually played in beginnerslevel arpeggios. The vocalist has a very relaxed style and is backed up by a female choir in many of the choruses on the album. The chorus part usually alternates with guitar solos in Camel stye. Second part of their tracks is the part where they lose themselves in psychedelic soloing and improvisation. This also happens at a minimalistic level like I never heard before. They manage to give up on the ongoing song entirely and apparently, seem to start over from scratch. From there they spiral the whole thing up to a very dramatic point that will introduce the final song part.
There's synth textures, tiny bass grooves and spacey guitar solos that go wild. All that creates tension, but with the least amount of notes necessary. In their 20 minutes track Neptuna, for example, there is a part that just stands still for several minutes, with literally nothing happening. And it takes quite a while, after the guitar drops in, that you can get something out of it.
After a few listening sessions I began to really like the spacey parts, even though they have nothing concrete to them. It's like the doom of the kraut genre to me. The song parts do hold room for improvement and instrumentation as well as the vocals could be bettered when advancing in technique of the members involved. Advanced chord structures and arpeggio techniques, as well as a lesson or two in vocal technique would provide a lot of polishing. The dropping of the female choir would be something great, at least, to my personal taste.
Anyhow, I want to encourage everybody who's still reading this review to listen to the album for free on bandcamp (linked above) for your own personal judgement on this album.
Raimond Fischbach: 5 out of 10
The Mighty Bard - Blue God And Other Stories
Before... (4:04), Blue God (9:21), Maybe (4:48), Heart Of The Strangelove (8:23), Bird (7:01), No Flesh Is The New Dream (7:30), Placidity (6:22), I Know (9:16), ... After (2:09)
The nine album tracks are basically seven longer compositions, with the exception of Maybe, bookended by the tracks Before... and ...After. All are played in a very enjoyable 80s-ish prog rock style. Bands that came to my mind were (early) Marillion, Twelfth Night and The Tangent. Although most of the compositions are loaded with abundant, beautiful layers of keyboard, there is also room enough for Dave Clarke to showcase his talents on guitar, playing some great riffs and brilliant soloing.
This is the case on what we could call the title track, Blue God, with lots of diversity supported by some great stuff by the rhythm section. Together with the pleasant voice of Webb, this track is one of the highlights of the album. It is an album that doesn't really have bad tracks, and if you don't mind listening to the sound of the eighties, you will certainly enjoy this trip down memory lane. The shorter track, entitled Maybe is a bit of folky prog with a sing-a-long chorus. Another of my favourites on the album is Heart Of The Strangelove, a track that is so catchy that you want to play it over and over again.
TMB has put together a great release and I hope that this review will make that all very clear for everyone. They have the great ability to tell a story and to put that to music in a very tasteful manner. The cool cartoon/comic-book-style spaceman artwork on the album jacket completes this fine package and is another contribution to the eighties feel of the album. The six spacemen on the cover are actually the six group members of TMB in different coloured space suits. This album was a great surprise to me and I think everyone should have a listen to the full album on Bandcamp. I guarantee it will surprise many of you as well - hopefully in a pleasant way!
Peter Swanson: 8.5 out of 10
Not a Good Sign - From a Distance
Wait for Me (5:05), Going Down (4:19), Flying Over Cities (4:59), Not Now (5:07), Aru hi no Yoru Deshita (3:41), Pleasure of Drowning (5:52), I Feel Like Snowing (7:20), Open Window (7:22), The Diary I Never Wrote (5:32), Farewell (1:50)
Two years after their well-received debut, this album retains the hallmarks of classic 70s prog, with organ and complex time signatures and arrangements to the fore. However, while almost every song has depth and goes through several phases, nothing here exceeds the eight-minute mark. There is a contemporary emphasis on accessibility and not loosing the melodic core of each track.
Whilst the whole album is wrapped around a constant melancholy, the real success for me is the clever sequencing and flow of the tracks. Each takes a very different slant on the genre. No idea or style is repeated more than once. It has kept me guessing and engaged over numerous listens, and I am still discovering all of its charms.
The other triumph is in the authenticity of the music played here. In addition to the five band members, guests contribute vibraphone and glockenspiel on five tracks, grand piano on four, and oboe and horn on three. Electronic substitutes may be the easy option, but were definitely not a good sign in this band's studio. The use of the glockenspiel is especially effective, dueting with the keyboards to add a truly unique and lovely effect where used.
The highlights for me are the fiery synth opening of Wait for Me, which quickly evolves into a really beautiful piece of music, the clever guitar licks and the varying groove of Flying Over Cities, and the alt-rock swagger, mixed with jazz fusion outbursts and King Crimson intensity of Pleasure Of Drowning.
If you like a more direct style of classic symphonic progressive rock, which has the complexity, yet avoids some of the pitfalls of outstaying one's welcome, then click on the 'samples' link where the album is streaming in full.
Andy Read: 8.5 out of 10
Pineal - Smiling Cult [EP]
Theta (3:53), AOL (4:23), Civil Obedience (4:02), Acerbic (5:14), Somatic (4:59), Tides (3:09)
A fine description that would turn me off immediately, since my ears are just not tuned for this kind of music. The band's mentioned influences are Tool, Melvins and Alice in Chains. These are also bands I don't play daily, not even yearly. I would add Nirvana to their list as well.
But with an open mind I gave this album a few spins and tried to discover what it has to offer, and what is good about it within its own genre.
Although based in London, the band is quite an international mix. Vocalist and guitarist Daniel Murney probably gave the band a home-base since he's English, while bass player and vocalist Phil Pieters is Belgian, and drummer Nigel Boettinger is Australian. Their Electronic Press Kit informs me further that the band is still unsigned, play progressive metal, and that this is their first release recorded by Wayne Adams at Bear Bites Horse Studios in June 2014.
After a few listens I begin to doubt if this EP should be reviewed on this website anyway, since it's not very progressive to my ears and certainly not of the kind we focus on. The music is rather dull, monotonous (which partly comes with the genre) and pretty straight forward within its genre. I think there must be hundreds of garage bands out there who play the same kind of music on the same level, so there's not much that distinguishes Pineal. The more I listen to it, I get the impression that I could produce this music too, after a few weeks of practising.
The dark, heavy overall sound is well produced, some grunge elements are also represented and the sound quality is quite alright. The singing is not constantly present and very acceptable, with no grunts, howls or cookie monster sounds, just rather melodic, slow-paced, rather raw vocals that fit well with the music. They are mixed a bit more to the back than you would expect from a group in this genre, but I actually like it better this way.
Don't expect any guitar freaking, any complex arrangements, extravaganza and multi-layered sounds as with Tool; they are not in here. It's just bass, drums, guitars and vocals next to each other, following the slow, straight path of very moderately-inspired songs.
This band could be interesting to you if you like your music dark, heavy, doomy and slow-paced, with great emphasis on the lower-part range of the scale, with some decent, semi-melodic singing. But I now need something really progressive again, with more variation, more interesting compositions, some lush keyboards and surprises.
Joris Donkel: 4 out of 10
Regal Worm - Neither Use Nor Ornament (A Small Collection of Big Suites)
Odilon Escapes from the Charcoal Oblivion, but Endeavours to Return and Rescue the Cactus Men: i. Another Forlorn Morn, ii. You Know What? I'm Getting out Of Here, iii. Arrival Of Sorts, iv. Paradise Is Twice as Nice, v. End of Level Baddie, vi. Prism Prison (18:38), Animal Attic (2:28), Tombland Guerrilla (1:21), Sovereign of the Skies (5:56), The King Of Sleep (Parts 1 to 5) (18:34)
Out of this comes a quirky mix of The Cardiacs jamming with XTC in it's melodic sensibilities, touches of Canterbury style whimsy, Gentle Giant like jazzy elements, art rock and a dusting of postpunk attitude.
That Regal Worm has a singular and particular vision can be seen in the three short pieces on the album. Animal Attic, an epic in miniature, moves from toy piano through a mad jazzrock section to calming saxophone before ending with multilayered vocals. The following Tombland Guerrilla is a keyboard drenched atmospheric snatch of a horror film soundtrack. Then comes the insanely catchy Sovereign of The Skies, with its squelchy synths and stabbing organ lines, a slab of fast paced, weird pop prog, which you will find hard to forget.
The two long, multipart, tracks that bookend the shorter pieces Odilon... and The King of Sleep, take these elements and expand them. Weaving in odd time signatures, building tension with harmonically complex chord structures before releasing it all with an eminently hummable melody or a delightful flute interlude. Both of these long tracks are restlessly inventive, constantly moving on in fascinating ways.
An album that is contemporary and retro, spiky and nuanced, brimming with fine melodies that never outstay their welcome; skilfully switching dynamics and tempos. A progressive release in the true sense of the word. Go investigate. Now.
Martin Burns: 9 out of 10
Rush - Hemispheres [LP]
Cygnus X-1 Book II (18:08), Circumstances (3:45), The Trees (4:45), La Villa Strangiato (9:35)
Rush - Permanent Waves [LP]
The Spirit Of Radio (4:59), Freewill (5:24), Jacob's Ladder (7:29), Entre Nous (4:38), Different Strings (3:51), Natural Science (9:18)
Since then, I've had the CD and the 1997 remastered version, so I feel pretty acquainted with this piece of music and know that all of Rush's output has been of a superior technical quality, no matter what it was transferred onto.
I also have Permanent Waves in the remastered form, so from a purely sonic point of view I am able to make a few direct "A/B" comparisons with the M4a files to what I already have.
Not a lot of difference, to be honest, except that during the quiet start of The Trees I did detect a hint of stylus in the grooves and a notable soupçon of hiss...just like the tape!
The "master" of a recording, has to be "mastered" for vinyl, for such things as an RIAA curve (that's why you need a phono stage on your amp) but certainly in the old days, the "bottom end" of a piece had to be "rolled off" so that the record grooves could cope.
I don't want to get bogged down here, but my point is that when I was buying records, they were pretty flimsy bendy bits of plastic and as for my pink copy of Led Zeppelin's IV... But nowadays the vinyls are at least 180 g in weight and I notice that these reissues, to celebrate 40 years of Rush by Universal Music Enterprises, are called "high quality" so I am guessing this is also the case here. Every Rush album is to be released in this format in 2015.
LP vinyl records are apparently a surprise growth sector in the music business probably because it does make buying music a more personal and absorbing experience. I would recommend some top-drawer equipment though. If you want the excitement of watching and hearing that initial drop of needle on record, then these reissues are for you, not to mention (of course) seeing Hugh Syme's great artwork in all it's 12 x 12 inch glory.
Glad that's all sorted then, but what about the music? Hemispheres was Rush's sixth album and continued the path into the more progressive spectrum as started by A Farewell to Kings and indeed picks up on the "Cygnus" saga from that album with the 18 minute epic Cygnus X-1 Book II.
A song cycle of six parts tells the story of a black hole with reference to the twin Hemispheres Apollo: Bringer of Wisdom and Dionysus: Bringer of Love. Steeped in Greek mythology it features a remarkable blend of time signature changes with superbly syncopated rock gymnastics from all three musicians. If this is your first foray into the Rush universe, you'll be stunned by Geddy Lee's clear voice and bass playing, the tone of Alex Lifeson's guitar, and the world class drumming (and poetic lyrics) of the magnificent Neil Peart. The album is also notable for their first instrumental track, La Villa Stangiato, 9 and a half minutes of jazz rock virtuosity that was only bettered by Moving Pictures' XYZ three years later.
Next though was album number seven, Permanent Waves, released on January the 1st in 1980 (becoming the first record of that year). It was considered to be Rush's most "commercial" record they had done so far as it put the brakes on the more conceptual whilst concentrating on shorter pieces. This had a lot to do with the opening track Spirit of the Radio. A terrific rock number, which even slows up at one point to go all reggae on us, replete with a crowd cheering on the line "concert hall". It's never been off the radio, even Radio 2 here in the UK.
There are four shorter songs but the longer numbers haven't been abandoned altogether. In fact Jacob's Ladder and Natural Science (both of which are two of my favourite Rush tracks) highlight how varied Neil Peart's lyrics can be. The former is a dark, brooding, riff laden piece, featuring that lovely Oberheim synth which would make such an impact in later recordings, about the shafts of light that shine through clouds - a very simple idea-. The latter track is pure philosophical poetry about the meaning of life and what we have all done with it.
"Science, like nature
Must also be tamed
With a view toward its preservation
Given the same
State of integrity,
It will surely serve us well"
This long form song, a throwback to the Cygnus tracks from the previous two albums, is a full on rock experience and is probably one of the best things they're ever done. I have to also quote another line, which I admire for its wisdom, "The Most Endangered Species, The Honest Man". Take note, humans.
I've had a great time re-living these two albums and I hope my neighbours agree too, as they've also been forced to listen, just like on that train nearly 40 years ago. I can recommend these albums in any form and maybe the 80-year reissues will be on small blue discs that you stick up your nose. If that was the case, then just copy and paste this review onto your hovering holographic eye pad thing because whatever the future brings, the same words will apply because the music of Rush will live forever.
Conclusion Andrew Halley:
Hemispheres: 9 out of 10
Permanent Waves: 9 out of 10
Sanguine Hum - Now We Have Light
CD1: Desolation Song (6:28), Drastic Attic (3:35), Getting Warmer (3:01), Out of Mind (5:52), Theft (4:52), "Shit" (2:13). Chat Show (6:56), Derision (6:29)
CD2: Just a Prelude (1:57), Cat Factory (2:57), On the Beach (6:07), End of the Line (9:22), Spanning The Eternal Abyss (10:44), Bubble Trouble (6:20), Settle Down (5:38)
CD2: Just a Prelude (1:57), Cat Factory (2:57), On the Beach (6:07), End of the Line (9:22), Spanning The Eternal Abyss (10:44), Bubble Trouble (6:20), Settle Down (5:38)
This is however a concept album for the Steven Hawking generation, as it features some rather different (or weird) concepts. It's a cross between Steven Hawkins' parallel universes and Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy (and TS Elliot for the "Cat" references).
To fully appreciate the album you have to read the booklet that accompanies it, as this details the scenario played-out in the music. What is clear is that this is a very intriguing concept, and that this is actually only Part One of The Buttered Cat Conspiracy (see the TS Elliot reference). The story forms the backdrop and the musical inspiration for the music that follows.
The origins of this music stretch back to the very early years of Jeff Winks and Matt Barber's collaborations, where these ideas have been revisited, expanded, developed and added to, in order to create this fine album.
Musically this is a tad different from what I normally listen to, as it has its own unique tone and sound. Vocals are present but not always clear. Rather they add to the overall ambience and sound that is offered, mixing Pink Floyd and Radiohead's experimental styles into their own, very individualistic identity. The result is a strangely hypnotic sound, which proves to be very compelling in it's progressiveness, and also to be a real grower with it's minimalistic approach.
There is a lot of bass at the forefront on certain tracks, and also some almost avant-garde guitar lines woven into what is generally a fairly stripped-back, yet somehow dense sound, that has touches of "indie" to it, along with more experimental pyschaedelic fare. At times it is somewhat brutal-sounding, at others it seems to shimmer and resonate. It does take some getting used to, but it is never less than interesting and certainly never boring. For once we have a prog album that doesn't open with a wash of sound like Shine on you Crazy Diamond, which is rather a relief. (Yes I love Shine On ... but everyone seems to use that opening gambit nowadays.
All of which bodes well for when part two (Now We Have Power) emerges at some future point. As to whether that concludes or leads to further episodes of "The Buttered Cat Conspiracy", I simply have no clue. However on the evidence on display here, Sanguine Hum certainly have something very intriguing to offer and the concept is highly unique.
I have spun this several times now and it really does unveil its mysteries very slowly. However the melodies do eventually sink into the mind, and once there, stay firmly rooted. This is especially the case with Chat Show and it's refrain of 'Someone in the government doesn't want you to know'. This resonates especially strongly for me.
It's fairly appropriate that I'm reviewing this as the UK is in the midst of a general election. Sadly I can't vote for Sanguine Hum, but they would certainly merit a vote.
So this may not be the most accessible album currently "out there", but I feel sure that prolonged exposure will lead to listeners being fully swayed by both the original concept and with the fine music that Sanguine Hum have delivered on this epic release. And here's to Part Two before too long, eh lads?
John Wenlock-Smith: 8 out of 10