C Sides - We Are Now
Out of the Water (9:22), Black Road River (8:52), Deck Chair City (8:27), Truth Through Clowns (3:15), Rock and a Hard Place (10:16), Before the Fall (3:27), Living Without Wires (5:17), Lies in the Open (9:11). We Are Now (10:19)
The Candian trio's impact on these musicians can be identified throughout the album opener, Out of the Water. Clocking in at over nine minutes, the track presents a mix of musical styles and gives the listener a very good indication of what's to follow. The progressive elements in the song are strong, but there is also a straighforward rock sound that forms the base of the proceedings. This same thing can be said for much of the album. I could even hear influences that reminded me somewhat of 70s bands like Rainbow and UFO.
Throughout each track, there is a significant emphasis on harmonies, and the band certainly knows how to create an earworm chorus. With a majority of the songs running anywhere between eight and ten minutes, there is also an adventurous and long-form nature to most of We Are Now. The exceptions, such as the acoustic and accessible Truth Through Clowns and the instrumental Before The Fall, work well between the longer tracks. That said, the more legnthy songs never wear out their welcome. In particular, the fusion-infused Rock and a Hard Place and the diverse Lies in the Open are fantastic. At times, C Sides' music reminded me of solo work by Kings X gutarist, Ty Tabor for some reason. Perhaps, it is because they share the ability to create a good old-fashioned and wholly imaginative guitar riff.
If I have a criticism, it is that some of the music sounds a bit similiar. Not in a devastating way though, and overall the album is consistently entertaining. The band impresses with a combination of solid songwriting and very strong performances. I also like that their music, though progressive, avoids symphonic clichés, and instead employs a sparse rock sound, both in performance and production.
They certainly wear their musical influences, yet there is also something unique about their overall sound. If you are looking for music that is progressive and melodic, yet with a gritty edge, you truly can't go wrong with We Are Now.
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10
Eyesberg - Masquerade
Joke On You (5:17), Come and Take a Look at My Life (6:32), Faceless (5:12), Here and Now (4:38), Storm Flood (6:05), Steal Your Thunder (5:21), Wait and See (18:01)
And to get straight to the point, this is a very enjoyable listen. Nothing groundbreaking. Nothing to revolutionise the world of music. Nothing that you will never have heard before. But the seven tracks are well written, well performed and offer the sort of prog that will be very at home at the annual circuit of Summers End, Night Of The Prog or Crescendo festivals.
With their roots embedded in the soil of Genesis, the music on Masquerade wanders between classic symphonic prog and classic neo-prog. Its constant core of heavy rock energy and a dynamic, clear production, prevent anything from sounding too dated.
Joke On You launches the album with an energy and riff that reminds me a lot of Magic Pie's excellent Suffering Joy. It is carried by Malcolm Shuttleworth's expressive mid-range vocal, which maintains a very likeable quality throughout the album.
Come And Take A Look At My Life starts off in safe IQ neo-prog territory, but the constant shifting sands of this album uncovers a clever funky mid-section, before keys come to the fore and an engaging Big Big Train Canterbury vibe plays out. Here and Now and Steal Your Thunder both possess memorable motifs, whilst swaggering between the sounds of IQ, and Karmakanic and early Spocks Beard (the presence of SB drummer Jimmy Keegan probably helps in that respect).
I'm not a big fan of prog instrumentals and Storm Flood is never going to change that. With no flautist credited, I presume the flute-sounding sections across the album are digitally generated. That's a shame, as there must be some decent rock flautists in Germany who could have been used to bring a bit more authenticity, and the instrument is very much a natural extension to the band's sound. Faceless is probably the most dated track, sounding very 80s pop-prog with very trite lyrics about the errors of a Facebook generation ("Young people today ..."). Generally the guitar solos have too much of a cut-and-paste sound from someone's collection of 80s and 90s neo-prog vinyl. A few different styles and sounds should be utilised.
The band saves their best to last with the long-form, carefully constructed, 18-minute Wait and See. It collates all of the sounds that preceeded it and builds a memorable finalé.
I'm not sure that Masquerade is a good title for this album. It implies something being done under false pretences; of being something on the outside, that you are not on the inside. I'd suggest Eyesberg know exactly what they are and what they want to be. And as a result, they have produced an enjoyably-honest slab of modern progressive rock, that it would be very hard not to enjoy.
Andy Read: 8 out of 10
Mostly Autumn - Sight of Day (Special Edition)
Sight of Day (14:33), Once Round the Sun (5:08), The Man with No Name (3:50), Hammerdown (6:06), Changing Lives (6:17), Only the Brave (5:36), Native Spirit (10:27), Tomorrow Dies (7:21), Raindown (8:02), Forever and Beyond (6:18)
Bonus CD: No Sense (5:22), Back in Time (4:46), Heart, Body and Soul (4:59), Moments (5:37), Pushing Down the Floor (4:20), July (6:20), In Time (3:53)
Bonus CD: No Sense (5:22), Back in Time (4:46), Heart, Body and Soul (4:59), Moments (5:37), Pushing Down the Floor (4:20), July (6:20), In Time (3:53)
Delivering new albums at such a consistent rate, whilst the band's dynamics constantly change, is quite an achievement in its own right. It is even more impressive in the light of the success of their former album, Dressed in Voices. That concept album, dealing with the dark theme of a person reliving his life during his last, short moments alive, was a big success and led to an integral live album Box of Tears.
So it was always going to be an even bigger challenge to come up with a worthy successor. Anticipation was therefore high when the release of a new album, Sight of Day, was announced.
On the band's website, guitarist and founder member Bryan Josh announced that the new album would be filled with big songs. That's a good way of attracting attention, because what would be the meaning of 'big' this time? Heavy? Long? Complex? Philosophical lyrics? Or maybe all of these? He also announced that whilst the new album would be lighter in mood and lyrics than Dressed in Voices, it wouldn't be all good, lyrically speaking.
All of that appealed to me, as I wasn't too enthusiastic about the former album (review here) because it lacked, to my ears, both variation, and that typical MA-sound, in which heavy rock merges fluently with romanticism, atmospheric moods and some folk. Dressed in Voices was a good album, but very dark in theme and musical mood, without stand-out tracks.
So, with Josh's statements in mind, I put the new album into the player and started to listen. And now, after many spins, I can only conclude that Mr. Josh has proved again to be a trustworthy artist. The songs are indeed big, in length, in mood, in lyrics and in arrangement.
With Johnson back in the band, a fourth composer is added. He immediately contributes three songs (Changing Lives, Pushing Down The Floor and In Time), while long-time keyboardist Iain Jennings adds another two (Tomorrow Dies, co-written with Josh, and Moments with Josh and Sparnenn). Lead vocalist Olivia Sparnenn-Josh adds another two songs (The Man with No Name and Heart, Body and Soul), while all other songs were written by Bryan Josh alone.
The title track opens the album, and clocking at more than 14 minutes, is a real epic MA-track of the type that has been absent since their 2008 album Glass Shadows. Piano and vocals set the scene during the first four minutes, then bass, drums and guitars fall-in fully to build a complex yet very recognisable MA track. Of course there are a few big guitar solos by Josh but also some very fine nylon string guitar, excellent harmony singing by both Sparnenn and Josh, and some sudden but melodic breaks. It is their strongest opening track in many years and is a perfect opener for the great album that is to follow.
Almost all MA-albums contain at least one song that seems to serve Josh' preference for straightforward AOR-rock. Musically they often are very straightforward, as they build upon a strong rock riff. Mostly I find these tracks the least interesting of all. The second song, Once Around The Sun has everything to be that weak song on this album. Josh takes on the lead vocals and there's a strong guitar riff that goes on and on. But this time the song develops, after a quiet opening, into a slow and addictive rock song because of Josh' very good singing (actually throughout the album his singing is excellent), plus an attractive harmony in the chorus with Sparnenn, and subtle flute playing by Gordon. It is not a weak track at all.
In The Man Without a Name the band builds in four minutes for a soft and moody ballad. Just piano, synths, the angelic yet powerful voice of Sparnenn and a beautiful melody, and that's pretty much all you get. It is a very nice contrast to the heavy rock of the former song.
And the variation goes on. Hammerdown is another slow song with very bluesy guitar, sounding like David Gilmore in the first part of the song, before the band bursts-out fully. The melody is immediately attractive, the singing by Josh and Sparnenn again very good and smooth, and the instrumentation is well chosen. And just when you expect the big Josh solo, the song ends; it doesn't need a big solo indeed.
The mood on the album changes completely with the next song, Changing Lives, the first of Johnson's contributions. His voice is far higher than Josh's but it also blends very well with Sparnenn's voice, albeit that the sound is completely different. The pace is also significantly higher than in the songs that precede it. While the keys work towards a dramatic ending, the guitar solo comes in, after which there is suddenly a harmonious break. The crowds during gigs in Zoetermeer and Blakey Ridge take over the vocals by singing some soft 'oh-oh-oh'-lines that evolve into fiercer singing, as the background to another guitar solo. It works remarkably well.
Only The Brave starts off with some choir-like singing, after which the energetic song, driven by Smith and Cromarty, back the main guitar riff and Josh's vocals. Troy Donockley, an old friend of the band, adds some delicious pipes. The keys and Hammond arrangement is great.
Then again the mood changes in Native Spirit, in which a quiet acoustic guitar and a haunting keys arrangement form a huge contrast with the masculine former song. The music bursts out twice, with the full band building a heavy musical wall, but in-between the central theme on acoustic guitar with Jennings' keys in the background returns. At the end of this epic, the full band takes off again in a tasteful orchestral arrangement.
Sparnenn takes the lead again in Tomorrow Dies, another good example of her powerful singing. She has an enormous range, combined with great strength in her voice, something that is recorded very well on this album. The wide keys, combined with double guitar solo, soft piano and the driving pace in the song make this another stand-out track.
Raindown starts moodily with a beautiful violin solo played by Anne Phoebe accompanied by Jennings' keys and piano. After a minute, Sparnenn adds a beautiful vocal melody that flows fluently into an attractive harmony chorus sung by Sparnenn and Gordon. Drums and bass give the song some pace but it is Gordon's flute with Phoebe's violin that give it a melancholic mood. It is the most folky song on the album and most certainly the most folky they have recorded in many years, reminiscent of The Gap Is Too Wide from the Spirits of Autumn Past album. The fade-out is a bit of a let-down.
The closing song of the main disc Forever and Beyond is atypical. It is quite cheerful, with folky flutes and uplifting keys in the background. From a quiet opening, the song builds towards a nice, middle-paced folk-rock song. Maybe not a necessity on this already long album, but very pleasant to listen to.
Lyrically the songs are much more optimistic than on the last album. The title track is a clear appeal to enjoy life, no matter how hard it may seem, and that sets the stage. Most of the lyrics call on one to follow one's talents, to make the days bright, and to wonder about the things that are beautiful, instead of focusing on what is not right.
There are songs that tell about Vikings and native Americans, whilst Tomorrow Dies puts Death up-front, thus being the darkest song on the album. The lyrics bring about much lighter moods, but are far from light-weight. That can also be seen in the design of the booklet, in which bright blue, green and yellow colours are conspicuous, in contrast to the black images that dominated the booklets of the former albums. Too bad the typography in the booklet looks rather cheap.
In what has become a nice tradition, the first edition of a new MA album always comes as a special edition (SE), with a bonus CD containing out-takes, acoustic renditions, or a couple of special songs. This time the 35-minute bonus disc is filled with a worthy collection of eight well-elaborated songs. No re-workings of older material, no demos or jams but, as with the 2006 Heart Full of Sky SE, it's all new music here.
From the energetic opener No Sense, through to the quiet, piano-led romantic ballad Heart, Body and Soul (with again very powerful vocals by Sparnenn and Gordon), and on to the addictive Moments, with the typical Josh outburst on guitar, and on towards the acoustic Pushing Down the Floor with only Johnson on vocals and an acoustic guitar.
The instrumental July would have been an appropriate closing track of this album because of its nice, laid-back, lazy guitar playing by Josh. Themes from this album, but also from former ones are recognisable. The real end of it all is however the up-lifting, small ballad In Time. As a consequence, the laziness that has taken control over you during the former song disappears, to be replaced by a MA-song that has everything that made Fleetwood Mac world-famous. Such a success would be well-earned for Mostly Autumn, but I doubt whether it will ever fall upon this nice band.
One of the strongest assets of this new album is that the characteristic folky element in MA's music is back again, probably because of Gordon's return. With the use of folk instruments and themes, MA distinguish themselves from many bands. With more composers in the band and more variation in the lead vocal voices, their uniqueness is even greater. All of that is what makes Sight of Day indeed a big album, in many ways.
The length of the main album, with more than 73 minutes, is impressive, yet it isn't a minute too long. Josh's solos sound more inspired, the vocals are excellent throughout, and while there is ample room for heavy outbursts of the complete band, more restrained moments with only the piano, acoustic guitar or flute are also abundant. That variation makes this another gem in the MA discography.
Overall, I think that this is the best MA-album in recent times. It is an absolute must for those who have already discovered their music. For those who are not yet familiar with this band, I recommend it whole-heartedly. The special 2CD edition will be available for only a short time, so it is more than worthwhile to take the trouble and lay your hands on this double pack as soon as possible. Excellent stuff!
Theo Verstrael: 9 out of 10
Les Penning - Belerion [CD/DVD]
CD: Portsmouth (3:11), St. Clement's Isle (2:28), Nobody's Jig (1:33), Easter 84 (3:38), Sellinger's Round (1:20), British Grenadiers (2:13), Tower Hill (4:07), The Baskerville Down (1:53), The Stones Feel Warm In Belerion (2:33), Sussex Carol (2:25), Bach Minuet (2:14), Quirk (1:29), Lyme (7:09), His Rest (2:51)
DVD: Interview (42:05), Portsmouth Promo Video (3:30), Sellinger's Round Promo Video (1:21)
DVD: Interview (42:05), Portsmouth Promo Video (3:30), Sellinger's Round Promo Video (1:21)
Oldfield and Penning developed a firm friendship and regularly performed as a duo at the Penrhos Court Hotel close to where they were both living at the time. In 1976 they recorded several pieces from their repertoire for Penning's intended solo album but it never saw the light of day.
Forty years on, with the support of guitarist Phil Bates (of ELO2 fame) and Magenta maestro Rob Reed, Penning has reworked six of those pieces, along with eight other tracks for the CD Belerion, which takes its name from the beautiful county of Cornwall located on the south west tip of England.
The recorder is a much-maligned instrument, in the UK at least, where it has long been associated with the high-pitched squeaks produced by school children doing their music homework (it was 15 years ago, but I can still hear my daughter now). In the skilled hands of Penning however, the sound is refined and evocative, and it's not hard to see (or hear) why Oldfield was attracted to the instrument.
As you would expect, the album has a melodic folk ambiance for the most part and I was particularly reminded of medieval minstrels Gryphon (who had a brief association with Yes during the mid-70s). This is especially true when Penning swaps his recorder for the distinctive sound of the crumhorn, as he does on Sellinger's Round.
Portsmouth which opens the album is taken at a less jaunty pace than Oldfield's version, but is just as effective. Other traditional tunes include Easter 84 and Tower Hill, which sit comfortably alongside Penning's own compositions, including The Stones Feel Warm In Belerion and Lyme. The common theme throughout is beautiful melodies, sensitively arranged and produced (by Reed and Penning).
Oldfield fans will experience a strong sense of déjà vu when they hear British Grenadiers and Sussex Carol (the tune Chris Squire & Alan White borrowed for their 1981 Christmas single Run With The Fox). As he did so brilliantly on his on his own albums, Sanctuary (2014) and Sanctuary II (2016), Reed steps comfortably into Oldfield's shoes, by layering guitars, keyboards and assorted percussion to convincing effect.
The accompanying DVD includes promo videos for Sellinger's Round (Penning in the studio with Phil Bates on acoustic guitar) and Portsmouth. The latter features Penning and Reed in a small boat in the middle of an idyllic lake, with just a few swans for company.
For the interview the erudite Penning is filmed in various locations, including Hergest Ridge, reminiscing about his association with Oldfield and his work on Ommadawn. Amusingly he recalls the time he invited Oldfield to join his folk band to perform in a local restaurant, not knowing who he was, even though Oldfield already had two No.1 selling albums in the UK.
I wrongly assumed that this CD would at best have a novelty attraction that would quickly wear thin. The more I played it however, the more I appreciated its grace and beauty. It stabnds as a perfect companion to Oldfield's own recent return-to-form-album Return To Ommadawn.
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10
Various Artists - Spheric Music Silver
Joel Fajerman - Late Evening (3:28), Robert Schroeder - AtmoSPHERIC (6:31), Klangwelt - Starlight (7:52), Axess - Edison's Legacy (9:58), Vanderson - Ambient Garden (5:26), Rudolf Heimann - In hellem blau (5:32), Mesmerised - Room Caught in a State of Longing (4:14), Bertrand Loreau - Art of the Sound Part 3 (6:52), Klaus Schulze - The Breeze (5.32), Lambert - Silver (4.19)
All of the artists are firmly into the electronic progressive realm, and so you get synths used in all their guises. There are three corkers here. One from the ever reliable Klaus Schulze. The Breeze is taken from a limited edition box set of rarities, and its use of flute is exquisite. Another is Bertrand Loreau's Art of the Sound Part 3 where he mixes synths with bird song and telephones ringing, to add an avant-garde touch. Thirdly, there is Axess with Edison's Legacy. This has a modern spin on the 70s Berlin School of electronic prog, and Axess is an artist I will follow up on (which I guess is the point of listening to such compilations).
The majority of the rest are good examples of electronica. Moving from Klangwelt's Starlight, which manages to transcend its Kraftwerk worship, through Vanderson's more ambient piece, and onto Rudolf Heimann's mix of synths and non-electronic instrumentation with its Mike Oldfield-style melody.
A couple of pieces aim for a Jean-Michel Jarre populist sound, of which label owner Lambert's is the more successful, whilst Joel Fajerman's opener has a creeping blandness to it, and is the album's only disappointing track.
As with all compilations, you miss an overall vision to unify the music here, but as an introduction or sampler it's very interesting. It brings different aspects of Spheric Music's electronic canon to one's attention, whilst rewarding the loyal followers with a collection of rarities.
Martin Burns: 7 out of 10
The Werks - Inside a Dream
The Answer (5:59), Drop (5:21), Opus 66 (6:05), For you (6:09), Give or Take (3:13), Find Your Way (8:22), Inside a Dream (6:41), Alive (7:19), Not Alone (6:50), Transformational (5:34), Waiting Room (4:37)
Released in November 2015, Inside a Dream has the typical elements you can find in a jam band. From great musicians and intense tempos, to improvisations and superb melodies. But this time The Werks are going further, as they are mixing the jam spirit of their compositions, with the complexity of writing a concept album. And the result is good, as they combine them in a way that one can enjoy this album as if it was an indie rock one or as a conceptual adventure, thinking about the anatomy of a dream.
Each of the tracks explores a characteristic of dreams. They also explore different soundscapes, ranging from funky melodies and dance tempos, to progressive rock structures. To mention some examples of the variety found in the album, don´t miss the chance to listen to Opus 66, a strange but beautiful piano piece, or the great Transformational, which perfectly combines psychedelic beats with a rock ballad ending.
As I said at the beginning, listening to Inside a Dream may be a challenge, but, without any doubt, it is a nice challenge. So, if you like jam bands, don´t go only for Humphrey´s McGee or String Cheese Incident. The Werks are offering a new approach to the genre and to their style, and it´s worth listening to. And, by the way, since this album was released, the band has issued a number of live efforts and their new studio opus hit the streets on March 17. Magic is available direct from their Bandcamp page (here).
Ignacio Bernaola: 8 out of 10
Yurt - III - Molluskkepokk
A Lesion in the Chrysalis (3:43), Parasitic Cabal (12:18), Sjambok (5:05), Ruptured by the Shrapnel (16:22), Unknown Component (9:09), Testament Zero (11:23)
Sure, the opener A Lesion In The Chrysalis is reminiscent of an early, psych-label Pink Floyd, but after that the style is mostly long, relentless pieces driven along by a heavy bass, with vocals that are multi-tracked and intonated with a fair degree of aggression, rather than melodically sung. Okay, this style does suit the music and I have to say I was quite captivated by elements of Parasitic Cabal, which struck me as being an original approach to a heavier sound. The more guitar-orientated Sjambox didn't really seem to get anywhere, but a greater promise was offered by the electronic, spacey sounds on the opening to Ruptured By The Shrapnel with an understated guitar melody adding to the variety. However, after less than three minutes, the heavy bass and same style of vocals resumed, and then carried on in a similar style to Parasitic Cabal, so much so, that the only thing that really separated them was the addition of some electronic sounds that really don't add anything.
Unfortunately, that is how things continued through Unknown Component and Testament Zero, resulting in my initial interest soon turning to boredom. Too relentless, too similar, too full on! I am sure there are people out there who are turned-on by such onslaughts, and the fact the band have released three albums (although I am assuming that the first two follow a similar style) would indicate that there is a market. However it is not for me. Proceed with caution if you are into the more traditional progressive rock.
Mark Hughes: 3 out of 10