Agusa - Två
Gånglåt från Vintergatan (20:21), Kung Bores Dans (18:17)
When I was a child, I realised that music can touch the heart in a variety of ways. Submerged by the playful and bountiful melodies of my youth, I quickly discovered that a discordant sound has its own beauty and a tale to tell. Later, I searched for melodies hidden within progressive compositions. Reluctant tunes emerged to break free from their cave of darkened complexity. I became astounded by the emotive power of a distinctive musical phrase and its ability to enrich feelings of love, or dampen the pain of loss.
Två contains just two compositions. These deliver a rich fragrance of sounds that waft and drift upwards to fill the room. Beautifully-layered melodies are gradually revealed and purposefully uncoiled. Both tracks are embedded with recurring motifs that soothingly swaddle the listener in a gentle embrace. Amidst the cavalcade of intertwining and stunningly-attractive melodies that are unleashed, it is hard to ignore the irresistible and alluring pull of the album.
The band was formed in Sweden in 2013 by former members of Kama Loka. Their first album, Hogtid, was released in 2014. Två is mostly instrumental, but does contain some vocal mantras. These add a touch of human elegance that contrasts with the overall mesmerising effect of the band's retro sound. Agusa's tunes are highly melodic; Scandinavian folk melodies are used as a basis for the lengthy improvisations contained within the album's two compositions. The band have managed to create almost 40 minutes of outstanding expressive psychedelic music, which is laced with the complexity of progressive rock and seasoned with the essence of folk.
Agusa's debt to tradition is immediately apparent in the opening track, the Scandinavian folk inflected tune of Gånglåt från Vintergatan. It centres on a repetitive melody that is full of upbeat emotion. A Gånglåt is a traditional type of Swedish folk tune usually played on a fiddle that is composed in 4/4 or 2/4 time. Other Scandinavian prog bands have used this traditional form as a basis for some outstanding compositions. Some progressive Gånglåts that spring to mind include Grovjobb's magnificent Ganglat from their Vattarnas Fest release, Fläsket Brinner's Ganglaten, which featured in their debut album, and Änglagård's impressively complex Gånglåt från Knapptibble.
Agusa's Gånglåt från Vintergatan will be familiar to those who have heard Kama Loka's debut album. Två's opening piece is an extended and rearranged version of Kama Loka's Ganglat till Float, but is superior in almost every respect. Despite being longer, Agusa's version is much more tightly spun, but equally contains many fluid and expressive parts. The lengthy duration of Agusa's version ensures that the track is much more developed and has greater opportunity for musical themes to be explored and expanded. The performance of the musicians is infinitely better and the quality of composition has been significantly improved. What was originally a roughly-sculpted improvisation has been transformed and polished to perfection to create a glittering musical jewel.
The whole piece is embellished by flowing organ parts, a flute accompaniment and some wonderful guitar interplay. This creates a memorable and emotive experience. Changes of tempo are atmospherically established and a sense of melodic tension is maintained as the scope of Gånglåt från Vintergatan widens and develops. One of the attractions of Agusa's Två is the ability of all the players to create a spacious feel to their music. When the pace slackens this facet is very much in evidence. Frequently outstanding, Gånglåt från Vintergatan is a musical story of epic proportions complete with sub plots and surprising variations.
Kung Bores Dans is even more rewarding. It is blessed with a distinctive and memorable tune that etches itself onto, and then burrows into, a listener's consciousness. The organ work that drives the piece provides a charmingly evocative atmosphere. The accompanying flute and guitar in harmony with the organ create a distinctive, melancholy mesh of woven sounds. The emotional intensity and structure of the piece reminded me of Änglagård's work.
Två's strength lies in its ability to explore, enlarge and develop its two recurring musical themes without becoming unimaginative, or unduly repetitive. Whether its recurring structures will become tiresome and eventually limit my overall enjoyment of it remains to be seen.
At the moment though, Två is undoubtedly one of my favourite releases of 2015. It should appeal to anybody who enjoys hypnotic engaging melodies performed with the retro flavoured mystique of the 70s.
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10
And So I Watch You From Afar - Heirs
Run Home (4:35), These Secret Kings I Know (2:40), Wasps (2:41), Redesigned a Million Times (4:43), People not Sleeping (3:52), Fucking Lifer (2:42), A Beacon, a Compass, An Anchor (6.18), Animal Ghosts (2:49), Heirs (7:31), Tryer, You (5:47)
The band, Rory Friers (guitar/vocals), Niall Kennedy (guitar/vocals), Johnny Adger (bass/vocals) and Chris Wee (drums/vocals), are a highly-intuitive and powerful four-piece, mixing in many disparate musical elements from the crowd-like chant and anthemic vocals of Redesigned a Million Times to the metronomical and repetitive intensity of Run Home.
With some incredible sonic assaults and big riffs meeting powerful guitar assaults backed with a heavy drum beat they are reminiscent of bands like Explosions in the Sky or indeed The Fierce and the Dead, the main difference here being that they have three vocalists, and instead of the addition of vocals turning these into rock songs, the vocals instead are used as additional instruments in the musical work. Weaving in and out of the aural density, they pan from speaker to speaker and only occasionally come to the fore.
However, whilst this album is excellent, it suffers from repetition, with some of the songs blurring into one, and not enough differentiation in pace and tempo to raise it from good to great. That minor niggle aside, this is a worthy addition to their back catalogue and well worth investigating if noisy art rock is your thing.
James R Turner: 7 out of 10
El Tubo Elástico - El Tubo Elástico
Pandora (6:50), Camaleón (7:34), Ispra I (5:48), Ispra II (3:09), Rojo (7:10), El enjambre (8:14), Vampiros y gominolas (6:12)
If you enjoy instrumental music that straddles a number of styles then you should discover there is much to appreciate in the music of El Tubo Elástico. The band is based in Jerez in the beautiful Andaluc'a region of Spain. El Tubo Elástico are made up of Alfonso Romero on bass and synths, Carlos Cabrera on drums and percussion, Daniel Gonzalez on guitars and synths and Vizen Rivas on guitars and synths. Their self-titled debut release contains seven quality compositions. These display not only a prominent post-rock style, but also include substantial amounts of jazz fusion and some hints of melodic progressive rock.
The combination of a number of diverse influences creates El Tubo Elástico's own distinctive style. If you wish to signpost their music, then bands such as, Kermit, Explosions in the Sky, Gšsta Berlings Saga and The Three Wise Monkeys will help point towards the right direction. El Tubo Elástico is an album that has the balance just right in terms of harmony and distortion, accessibility and complexity. The production values are excellent throughout and the sound is precise and clear, enabling each instrument's voice to be heard.
Guitar parts have a prominent role in setting out the band's melodic approach. The compositions often begin in an accessible manner that belies the challenging complexity that quickly develops and is apparent as each piece matures. Tuneful riffs are layered and woven into a complex web of guitars and synths to create a mesmerising soundscape. There are some great arrangements on display that give the music the space to develop and the players an opportunity to express themselves.
The opening piece of the album is Pandora. It contains many features that are derivative of a post rock style, but also contains enough individuality and flair to make it gratifyingly fulfilling. Soaring guitar lines underpinned by a punchy rhythm section richly drape Pandora in a tapestry of intertwining pulses, and instrumental harmonies. The piece frequently visits unexpected places and these are attractively illuminated by some inventive twists that have the ability to both surprise and delight.
Camaleón wears its fusion influences proudly. In this respect, it displays a style and type of sound that is not too dissimilar to what the Three Wise Monkeys achieved in their False Flag release. The bass playing of Romero is skilfully appealing throughout the album, but Camaleón is particularly enriched by his broad and distinctive sound. In Camaleón, many musical crossroads are encountered and when these occur, Romero's bass is often in the vanguard. It can be heard leading, persuading and commanding the other instruments to take an unexpected route. These are further complemented by an abundance of richly lyrical guitar passages. Camaleón is a highly accomplished piece that sits particularly well within the overall running order of the album.
One word has consistently come to my mind when listening to Ispra I and II. Superb! Ispra contains a simple yet enchanting melody that resonates long after the piece has concluded. Brief moments of thickly heavily distorted guitar inject the reflective mood of Ispra I, with a momentary raw retro feel. For a moment, I was briefly reminded of the guitar tone of Lisker, or even Triode. Ispra II contains some tasteful synthesiser embellishments that help to reinforce and add to the piece's overall appeal. These elements within both Ispra I and II give each part a reassuring familiarity and a sweet aftertaste. I could imagine that Ispra might motivate some listeners to leaf through their vintage prog rock collection in order to identify the band's influences. I tried and abjectly failed!
I came to the realisation that Ispra was branded with the band's own style, which, in this case, briefly and coincidentally alluded to some classic elements of progressive rock. The remaining three pieces of the album are every bit as rewarding. Overall, El Tubo Elástico is a thoroughly alluring album that has a clear and distinctive edge. Superficially at least, it never reaches too far beyond what is accessibly familiar; delve deeper though, and the listener may well discover that there is a great deal of complexity to be uncovered and appreciated.
I am delighted that I have been given the opportunity to draw DPRP readers' attention to some aspects of the band's art. I thoroughly enjoyed their music and have no hesitation in recommending this album. I would gladly purchase El Tubo Elástico's satisfying debut. If you feel that you might appreciate this album, it is available as a name-your-price download on the group's Bandcamp page.
It is a convincing album, and I found it to be an almost perfect accompaniment for witnessing the dawn of another day.
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10
Guapo - Obscure Knowledge
Obscure Knowledge Part I (25:39), Obscure Knowledge Part II (4:38), Obscure Knowledge Part III (12:39)
Guapo is yet another outlet for Torabi to free his effervescing creative persona, though here he's a mere contributor as Guapo is David J. Smith's brainchild. After 2013's History Of The Visitation, Obscure Knowledge arrives in time to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary and their particular brand of musical "trips into the unknown". Though divided in three parts (or movements if you will), the album is effectively one long 43-minute instrumental adventure through contrasting aural peaks and valleys, starting off with dissonant keys and rattling percussion; it may remind you of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma. At nearly the two-minute mark, the main motif appears, featuring a bombastic, Red-era King Crimson sound with added keyboards (courtesy of Emmett Elvin, also of Knifeworld); combined with the start-stop acrobatics, it all goes full-on jazz rock for a while. At the five-minute mark, there's a dramatic change of pace, as we enter a long (way too long for its own good) hypnotic, atmospheric seven-minute passage, arranged in a sparse way while adding layers of sound as it progresses. A new, more playful guitar motif is introduced after this section, and then Part I goes through different moods, from nods to KC's Fracture to martial vibes that are pure Magma, before reprising that guitar figure at around the 22-minute mark to close the movement with three minutes of nice groove.
Part II is a radically different animal, as it is a short (under five minutes) ambient piece, with spooky overtones; think of Brian Eno with bagpipes (if that makes any sense). I'd say this feels more like a bridge between parts I and II than anything.
The nearly 13 minutes of Part III are certainly the most dynamic. While the Larks'/Starless/Red influence is unmistakably present again, the intensity of the music more than makes up for any complaint of "same ol', same ol'". After reprising the main motif, the final six minutes consist of a climatic crescendo that, though a bit repetitive, is undoubtedly a fitting conclusion to the album.
So, if you like your instrumental rock intense and with a dash of weirdness, this will definitely give you three quarters of an hour worth of entertainment. For me, it lacks some "thrill" factor and too much of a left-field approach to be wholly satisfying, but I'll keep an ear on Guapo, that's for sure.
Héctor Gómez: 6.5 out of 10
Jane Getter Premonition - On
Surprised (8:01), Where Somewhere (6.13), Pressure Point (3.35), Train Man (7:56), Diversion (5:48), Falling (4:57), Logan (Would've Sounded Great On This) (5:22), Transparent (5:36)
Jane Getter started her long career touring with the jazz/blues organist Brother Jack McDuff and since then she has played her Stratocaster on several important stages, becoming part of the jazz and rock world scenery.
Concerning her solo career, she recorded Jane (1999), See Jane Run (2006) and three (2012), before releasing in 2015 the interesting album I am reviewing: On.
On this album Jane Getter collaborated with many important artists and musicians. Adam Holzman plays keyboards and piano and I'm sure many of you know him for his appearances in Steven Wilson's and Miles Davis' projects (he is also co-producer of this album). Bryan Beller (The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani, James LaBrie and others) recorded bass guitar on every track, while Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa and Steven Wilson, among others) recorded drums. But that's not the whole thing! Corey Glover from Living Colour appears on three songs, an always sublime Theo Travis (Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp) adds flute and sax on a couple of songs and Alex Skolnick (Testament, Savatage and Ozzy Osbourne) supports Jane's guitars riffs and solos.
What a surprising line up! You can almost refer to it as a super group. Now you probably understand how excited I was at the idea of listening to this album. With Holzman and Travis reminding me of Wilson's solo albums, and with Beller suggesting the presence of The Aristocrats-style fusion/rock lines, I could not wait to press "play"!
The truth is that I really didn't recognise these influences as much as I was expecting. And to be honest, that's the precise moment when I started admiring Jane Getter most! Indeed, she imprinted her own style on this album with little or no compromise alongside these other big names of prog rock.
So, what should you expect from this 47-minutes-long album?
I would better describe it as a complex hard rock composition, sometimes approaching the metal boundary with hard riffs (e.g. Train Man or Transparent), some other times calming down in a more relaxed progressive rock mood (e.g. Diversion or Falling). Especially in these moments, Jane demonstrate high composition skills, weaving together the instruments in a wise and enjoyable manner. I would also dare to compare some riffs and sections with some of King Crimson's work, like Lark's Tongues in Aspic.
The album opens with Surprised and you only need the first 30 seconds to understand what I am talking about. A guitar arpeggio is soon joined by a powerful and rhythmic bass and drums section. This leads the way to the main recurring element in the album: a harmonised guitar solo. Within this brief introduction there's also enough space for a short keyboards break. Getter's is the first voice we hear, although it is soon replaced by Glover's. In this first song you will also find a section with overlapping vocal lines that somehow reminds me of Neal Morse, an epic keyboards effect sounding like Steven Wilson's Grace For Drowning (even if Holzman did not record this album), and of course guitar and keyboards solos over time signatures such as 9/4 (just to be 100% sure we're listening to prog music). Nevertheless, I personally think this is not the best you can find in this album. The highlights of On are for sure others.
No doubt Train Man is one of them. Writing the lyrics, Getter was inspired by a homeless man traveling on the NYC subway. Overall, I really don't think I will remember this album thanks to the lyrics, but this is certainly a very interesting piece. Besides the lyrics, Train Man is a complex hard rock song, where Getter once more proves her guitar skills with astonishing solos supported by a wonderful bass line. All of this on a meter composed by 8/4 + 10/8, which becomes even more complex in the end, before the last Glover chorus.
Pressure Point is the most complex instrumental. I would also mention Diversion as an example of a more calm track (or at least the first half) where all of the instruments are wisely overlapped and interconnected. This is probably the song where you can appreciate Holzman and Beller most.
The main defect is the vocal lines, which don't impress me at all. Indeed I find them quite annoying and they often make me regret the previous instrumental section (Where Somewhere above all).
The only exception is Falling, a lovely melodic song where the sweet vocal line overlaps Travis' flute. This is for sure my favourite song. Definitely a gem!
Overall, although sometimes redundant, I find this album really enjoyable and interesting. Maybe I would suggest to taste it in small bites, but I would certainly recommend this and from now on I will keep an eye out for Getter's future works.
Ale Dunzie: 7 out of 10
Montresor - Entelechy
Antarctica (6:42), Daedalus (6:49), Belewga Whale (6:22), Supersonic (4:25), The Madman (6:57), Funkminster Bullerene (6:51), Paracelsus (5:15), The Nolan (11:30)
Utilising the classic rock line up of two guitars, bass and drums along with the colours added by discrete use of sitar and Mellotron, they produce a sound that owes little to the standard classic rock format. With guitars very much to the fore, they mix heavy prog with touches of prog metal, post-rock style atmospherics and jazz-fusion interludes and harmonies.
The music on Entelechy is given room to breathe over the course of these tracks. The lead guitar of the album's composer Cameron Piko drives the melodies. There is interesting interplay between the lead lines and the second guitar of new recruit, Bzen Byanjankar, moving from fast-picked and riff-filled to languid EBow sustained guitar lines. Underpinning this are the solid and often complex rhythms of bassist Dan Nathanson and the crisp drumming of Jack Osbourne, another new recruit to the band.
This instrumental music holds one's interest easily thanks to the fierce melodic clout of the lead lines, but also by the light-and-shade dynamics of the pieces, and the switching time signatures. This is most evident in tracks like Belewga Whale with its catchy six-note melody and the 'go mental' concluding passages, sounding like King Crimson in their twin guitar phase. The slower and post-rock atmosphere of the first half of Daedalus builds well before the rug is pulled from under it as it becomes louder and heavier. Supersonic takes time to display subtle jazz-fusion influences, whilst Paracelsus features nicely-brooding Mellotron. The concluding long-form song, The Nolan, allows the band to let rip with a mixture of solos and riffing that reaches a suitably heavy prog climax before slowly winding down.
The album reminds me in places of the heavier instrumental sections of Porcupine Tree in their In Absentia and Deadwing phase mixed with elements of King Crimson and Frank Zappa. With Entelechy, Montresor realise their potential with engaging and repeat playable heavy prog. Anyone who sometimes wants post-rock bands to turn up the amps will love this album.
Martin Burns: 7.5 out of 10
Opensight - Ulterior Motives
Alibi (6:27), The Chase (5:25), Vanishing Point (6:19), Ulterior Motif (3:55), Antagonist (7:39)
If you take out the silliness from bands like Diablo Swing Orchestra or Unexpect and introduce a metal influence, you have an idea how this new EP sounds. The recording quality, which was a disaster on their first release, is quite good, too. Unfortunately, the themes, chord changes and melodies on the EP are very similar throughout the EP, so all songs sound very similar. After listening to these five tracks, I don't feel like I'd want to listen to much more from this band.
This second EP sounds good and is fun to listen to, but once they settle to write for a whole album, I hope they open their minds to as much inspiration as possible in order to create a broader range in their compositions. The foundation has been laid, and it's a strong one.
Raimond Fischbach: 6 out of 10
Osanna - Palepolitana
CD 1: Marmi (3:57), Fenesta Vascia (1:54), Michelemmà (3:15), Santa Lucia (4:40), Anto Train (1:55), Anni di Piombo (4:29), Palepolitana (3:30), Made in Japan (3:45), Canzone Amara (2:58), Letizia (1:46), Ciao Napoli (3:10), Profugo (3:00).
CD 2: Oro Caldo (14:24), Stanza Città (6:15) Animale senza Respiro (21:13)
CD 2: Oro Caldo (14:24), Stanza Città (6:15) Animale senza Respiro (21:13)
Before I started to listen to this album, I listened to some of the band's songs on Youtube. There you can find some very nice pieces with good melodies and beautiful guitar. The artwork of Palepolitana suggested Genesis-like traditional progressive rock, so I hoped to find some good new music. To me, it was deceptive. The new songs on Palepolitana have nothing to do with prog. It is just a collection of songs with rock and folk influences, and not very special ones.
Osanna presents this album as 'an act of love for the city of Naples for its artistic, cultural, musical and historical excellences'. And this might reveal the real story of Osanna and especially this album. The band makes music in a local context, with lyrics about their beloved city. Their music is as theatrical as their performance (masks, lots of Kiss-like make-up). Musically, it's a bit like Ange.
It is possible that Italian prog fans even enjoy this new album because of the theatrical lyrics and the touch of Naples in the songs. But, for an objective listener, who does not know much about Naples, and who does not understand Italian, there is not much to enjoy.
The reinterpretation of Palepali, the second disc, does not change my mind. This is more symphonic music. Lino Vairetti is indeed a dramatic vocalist. But this does not mean he is a great singer. Listening to Palepali I never had the feeling that I was hearing beautiful music. It's as if they tried to make a symphonic album but lacked the inspiration for good tunes. There is nothing wrong in being a local band, Naples could be proud of their inhabitants.
Wim Dekker: 5 out of 10
Pete Oxley & Nicolas Meier - Chasing Tales
The Followers (4:54), Looking West (6:44), Tales (4:48), The Bridge ((5:28), Serene(7:03), Chasing Kites (4:13), Riversides (4:31), Compass Points (4:57), Breezin' On (4:23), Libra (6:42), Bluster (4:40), Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim (4:16)
In three months, these two guys recorded this album of instrumental guitar music. On four tracks, they play one guitar each. On the eight others, there are a variety of guitars (nylon, electric, synth, 12-string guitar), which, when layered, sometimes give an almost symphonic effect.
Looking West, the second song on the album, and my favourite, is such a lyrical piece of music. Oxley and Meier both play very melodic solos, and they accompany each other very tastefully. When you listen carefully, you have to enjoy their craftsmanship. I have never heard so much subtlety in instrumental guitar music.
The third piece is a good showcase for their more layered songs. Solos in different styles (jazz, classical and Latin) follow each other without destroying the melody.
Especially in the acoustic and latin pieces the music of Oxley and Meier made me think of Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin. In the 80s, this famous trio released and album called Passion, Grace and Fire, which is also a good guitar record. The only difference is that Oxley and Meier do not need to show their excellence by playing very fast and with too many notes.
Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim is the last song I want to mention. It sounds like typical Middle Eastern music, the kind you might hear in a Turkish restaurant. Meier specialises is this kind of music, and shows western listeners the beauty of it.
As I said, it isn't prog, but wasn't it Steve Howe who said that it was his deepest wish to be remembered for his contribution to acoustic guitar music and not for his electric solos?
Wim Dekker: 8 out of 10
Sithonia - La Soluzione Semplice
Treni di Passagio (8:02), Tornando (9:07), Cronaca Persa (22:02), Il Tram del Topo (1:09), La Soluzione Semplice (6:03), Passeggiata (1:31), Il Vento di Nauders (11:38)
It has to be said, there's a Genesis connection, and if you love early Genesis (let's say up to Steve Hackett's departure), then this is an album you're going to fall in love with. If Il vent di Nauders doesn't send you running to put on Selling England By the Pound, then nothing will.
The lyrics are delivered in Italian, and fortunately sound like neither of the lead Genesis vocalists (or any, if the final, short-lived line-up is considered). This isn't so much a copy, as it is an homage to a band that is clearly a big influence. Indeed, there are other portions of the album that sound unique, and others that hint of the early prog pioneers - so no complaints there. But it's really the keyboard sounds and, to a lesser extent, the guitars, that truly evokes Genesis.
La Soluzione Semplice is remarkably consistent. The playing is excellent, the compositions flow, and there are plenty of memorable hooks throughout. It's a quite beautiful, classic prog album. It has some pastoral moments, grand 1970s prog, neo-prog elements and even a pinch of folk and classical thrown in.
There are, obviously, comparisons to Italian giants such as PFM and Banco to be made, but this is an album that echoes the greats, rather than mimick them. It doesn't leave a bad taste, and a clamouring for 1970s prog. It's subtle, and it's a breath of fresh air on a summer's day.
Beautiful. If you're hungry for some more prog in the early 70s vein, then your supper is, as it were, ready.
Jim Cornall: 9 out of 10