Roland Bühlmann - Bailenas
Bailenas (7:19), Cinnamon (7:16), Rougeoyer (10:25), Zammeru (7:22), Pange Chorda (18:09)
This release is a good example of how misleading it can be just judging the content of an album by its cover. Looking at this one probably would have prevented me from giving it a serious listen, as I was inclined to pigeonhole it as new-age background music (which I am not very fond of). In that case, I would have done this musician completely wrong and would have missed out on a varied, original and appealing album.
Roland Bühlmann himself describes his music as a blend of progressive rock, fusion and a dose of post rock. Well, in my opinion the latter genre is not that much represented, and I would add a decent degree of folk, ethno and some ambient to complete the musical picture.
Although the album is guitar-oriented and instrumental with a solemn musical direction, the five songs, each beyond the seven-minute mark, provide enough changes and varying moods to hold the listeners' attention throughout the entire album. There is a good balance between power and delicateness, between electric and acoustic parts. The former providing for the necessary drive, whilst the Hanoterre is responsible for folky and ethno elements, especially with respect to the meditative mood of Zammeru.
Mike Oldfield with his early work first comes to my mind as the main reference. His guitar playing and composing styles best appear in Rougeoyer, in my opinion the most dynamic track, and also in the way the song Pange Chorda is built up, however are not omni-present enough throughout the album to make it a simple clone. I also hear some similarities with the music of Steve Rothery, Jean-Pascal Boffo and to some extent of the German band Changing Images.
I have to admit that the music on this release is not entirely my cup of tea, as it lacks keyboards which I consider as indispensable in progressive rock. But I respect that Roland Bühlmann has created a beautifully crafted, delicate and varied album with music for special occasions, moods, and circumstances, appealing to fans of guitar-oriented progressive rock with folk, ethno and ambient elements. Those of you who consider belonging to that group of music lovers won't make a mistake with this release. The others also are invited to give it a try in order to discover alternative aspects of progressive rock.
Thomas Otten: 7 out of 10
Discipline - Captives Of The Wine Dark Sea
The Body Yearns (9:24), Life Imitates Art (4:20), S (4:13), Love Songs (3:43), Here There Is No Soul (3:21), The Roaring Game (6:13), Burn The Fire Upon The Rocks (a. Introduction, b. The Seventh Wave, c. A Picture from The Beach, d. Make Believe, e. Bonfire, f. Return, g. I've Grown Accustomed To Your Fade) (14:30)
Anyone familiar with the band will know that they have a penchant for extended numbers, each a masterpiece of how lengthy songs should be written, which are interspersed with shorter, punchier numbers that are frequently the most memorable numbers. Even with Parmenter's skill at the written word, instrumental numbers are not anathema. This approach has been successful on the previous four albums so that is what is delivered on this latest album. There are two instrumentals, the curiously named S and The Roaring Game. The first of these is quite a quirky number with Parmenter providing the main riff on violin letting Herin add all sorts of guitar sounds over the top. Dzendzal's neat and crisp fills punch through exemplifying the wonderful mixing of the album by veteran producer Terry Brown (who presumably got involved through his connections with Herin and producing Tiles). The ethereal ebow section towards the end is a nice contrast. The Roaring Game is a more straight forward piece focused around the piano and chunky guitar chords, indeed it is not until four minutes in that Herin switches to playing a more melodic line and five minutes before the first solo. Again, Dzendzal is a force behind the kit whose patterns and rhythms are ever inventive and cadences punctuate the piece. Although overall the piece is relatively simple in structure the flourishes by each individual performer provides accent and accord and even at over six minutes long I wouldn't have complained if it had gone on longer.
Of three shorter songs, Life Imitates Art is probably the closest the band have come to producing a pop song with its memorable chorus, farfisa organ and even a section replete with 'la la la la' backing vocals. However, don't think that Discipline are venturing into commercial pap, the lyrics contain the usual dark twist and the incessant core riff will occupy your brain for weeks. In complete contrast, Love Songs is an a more acoustic number whose strength lies in the lyric. Really the title of the track should be 'Anti-love song' with the protagonist pleading to be left alone yet admitting he can't wait to speak with the object of his (anti) desire. Here There Is No Soul is the least memorable of the songs, partly because of the ambiguous nature of the lyric and partly for the, to me at least, rather unsatisfying conclusion to the song, but perhaps that is the point?
Rightly or wrongly, it is perhaps inevitable that more focus will be placed on the the two longer songs that top and tail the album. Opener The Body Yearns has a beginning that reminds me of Peter Hammill (or to be more precise, My Room by Van Der Graaf Generator) but after the first stanza develops into a typical Disciple number, if there were such a thing. The complete switch midway through the song leading to an extended instrumental section with gothic organ and flowing guitar is unexpected and bold but works well in providing the build up to the final song section which concludes with more Hammillesque lyrical wordplay before the melody from the opening section is reprised. I could hurl many a superlative on Burn The Fire Upon The Rocks but it is not really necessary. Perhaps not as intensely progressive as some of the previous Discipline epics but there is certainly more than enough occurring within the 14.5 minutes to satisfy even the most ardent critique. And anyone who thinks that Discipline are singularly lacking in humour need only look to the title of the last section of this piece - I bet you thought that was a typo!
Another solid and recommended album from Discipline who in my opinion can do no wrong musically, although I wish they would do it more often!
Mark Hughes: 9 out of 10
Fish On Friday - Quiet Life
Unreal (8:27), Sweet Love (4:42), Beautiful (7:45), Quiet Life (6:08), Snowed In (3:52), Get Up (5:54), MH17 (4:46), You've Hurt Me (4:15), In The Key Of Silence (5:35), Time Out (4:01)
Also on board is Nick Beggs' daughter Luka Beggs who adds her delicate yet emotive voice to the title track Quiet Life, amongst others. After that it is back to business as usual, but as with every release to date, they have progressed their sound forwards again and are finding their own distinct voice.
This is a very impassioned album even by their standards. It shows how much they have developed over the past few years, from the Airbourne and Godspeed albums. As someone who has been there from their debut, it is heart-warming to see their steady progress and influence develop album by album.
If you are new to the band, this album offers a good sampling of what they sound like. This time, not only does the Alan Parsons influence continue, but the great man himself was so impressed by what he heard that he invited the whole band to Abbey Road Studios, London. They recorded the song In The Key Of Silence there, with Parsons both producing and adding vocal touches, and what a corker that song is too as it builds to an epic close.
This is a great album and it sounds magnificent. Very good separation and a crisp clear production with lots of space for the subtleties that this band excel at to show through.
Also worthy of special note is the excellent guitar work of Mart Townsend who is always ready with a suitably fine solo as needed. His use of textures is highly impressive and that rhythm section of Nick Beggs on bass and Chapman stick and Marcus Weymaere on drums and percussion is a mighty teaming of talents.
This has taken several spins to take root but I can clearly state that this is a very fine album and was well worth the wait. I think this is an excellent addition to their body of work and songs like Unreal, Beautiful, Quiet Life, and In The Key Of Silence continue to show this ace little band have plenty to offer.
Fans of Alan Parsons, modern Hogarth-era Marillion or even Tears For Fears will like this one I'm sure, and as a bonus, the artwork is again superb and adds to what is already a very classy release. Seek, listen, and enjoy.
John Wenlock-Smith: 8.5 out of 10
Möbius Strip - Möbius Strip
Bloo (9:37), Déjà Vu (8:24), First Impressions (7:49), Call It A Day (2:43), Andalusia (8:30), Möbius Strip (8:48)
There are no such concerns regarding Möbius Strip 's debut album. It can be experienced in its planned form, or can be run through in a random manner. One thing is for certain; its zesty compositions are not diminished by the order in which they are heard. The high quality of the album consistently shines through and a number of the pieces share similar melodic characteristics that make the sequencing of the album largely irrelevant.
Möbius Strip is a young Italian band; the eldest member is 26. Their self-titled instrumental album has been released and promoted by the Musea label. The bands style is firmly rooted in the striking colours of modern jazz. The album is subtly filled with accessible and carefully structured compositions which sound youthful and fresh. This appealing combination teases and tempts the listener to come back for more. It is an album that owes more to the legacy of artists such as Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and on occasions Weather Report, rather than the fiery uncompromising sound associated with the jazz rock and fusion of bands such as, Ohm, Isotope, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Vital Tech Tones.
The album is uncluttered and is bedecked with a series of evocative arrangements that frequently offer a feel good, party hat atmosphere. Much of the album is nimbly paced, but overall the music has a spacious feel where solo parts and finely crafted ensemble embellishments are given frequent opportunities to excel.
Piano is given a prominent role in many of the compositions. Principal composer Lorenzo Cellupica is a fine player and his contribution on piano, organ and keyboards is the bedrock on which much of the albums silkily arranged tunes are constructed. Cellupica's impressive input is compelling and his interaction with the sax and flute of Nico Fabrizi is equally as rewarding. Both instrumentalists convey their ability and infectious enthusiasm in a series of solo passages and absorbing flourishes that add an extra seal of quality to proceedings.
The rhythm section is equally adept. The drummer is Davide Rufo and his expertise is apparent, whether he is providing subtle brush strokes, or laying down a thrusting or complex rhythm for the bass to explore. Bassist Eros Capoccitti provides a full bodied, throaty lower end, which at times is notably furnished with gruff textures. On occasions, his instrument breaks free from its supportive position and seeps to the surface to gain prominence. These guttural interludes are harmonious and full of melody. They are never intrusive and perfectly complement the leading role that is consistently provided by keyboards and saxophone. Capoccitti's extensive solo part in Bloo is excellent and is a showcase for what can be achieved by four strings. His warmly played low toned spotlight slot exhibits a plethora of skilful touches that are sure to delight bass aficionados.
There is a notable Canterbury vibe to tracks such as Bloo. However, this is due largely from the way in which bands such as Gilgamesh, Hatfield and the North and National Health channelled jazz influences to be a major part of their progressive synthesis of styles. It is this shared heritage and creative use of jazz idioms, originally set free by Miles Davis and his supporting players, that arguably gives aspects of Möbius Strip some superficial similarities to these bands, rather than any direct attempt to reproduce any aspect of their sound or approach.
Nevertheless, if you find the jazz leanings of the music of bands such as, Gilgamesh, National Health, Turning Point, Nucleus and Soft Machine attractive then many aspects of Möbius Strip will probably be appealing.
First Impressions is one of my favourite pieces, its repeated saxophone phrasing and percussive interludes were reminiscent of the drive and persistent melodies of bands such as, Passport. The piano coda at the end is beautiful and sets the scene for the magnificently poignant interlude tune Call It A Day. This tune is quite stunning and has a timeless beauty that pulls at the heart strings and refreshes lovelorn emotions whenever and wherever they might be needed.
Andalusia combines a number of styles and the success of this fusion of influences make it one of the albums highlights. Its introduction and happily recurring motif reminded me of the blemish free compositions of The Simon Jensen Band. Conversely, the freshly picked piano parts tinged with Latino flavours are reminiscent of Chick Corea at his most ebullient.
The title tune which concludes the release includes many of the elements that make the album so satisfying. The early part of the piece is particularly rewarding and features an array of bubbling synth parts. These harmoniously and playfully joust with the excellent reed work of Fabrizi. Later, the all too brief appearance of a fast flowing piano solo is also an unforgettable highlight. The majority of this piece is dominated by a powerful and memorable saxophone theme. Its strong dynamic phrasing and persistent nature is redolent of the type of approach that Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia were renowned for during the early eighties.
To cap it all, the expressive bass solo that unexpectedly emerges to displace the prominent place of the saxophone is as engaging as anything that renowned players such as Antoine Fafard, Lorenzo Feliciati, Alain Caron, or Jeff Berlin might have constructed. The manner in which this short, yet gripping low end interval helps to propel the piece towards its conclusion is absolutely sublime.
I enjoyed every moment of this track, but ultimately, I was frustrated and disappointed that it should end with a tedious fade out, rather than a tumultuous conclusion that would probably have left a listener gagging for more.
I am uncertain if the music of Möbius Strip will appeal to a wide prog audience as the tightly spun and carefully structured tunes closely follow many of the conventions of jazz. There were times when I would have liked the band to explore a more adventurous approach, where both discordance and harmony had a role to play; or where unstructured and unexpected diversions were given much greater opportunities to be considered. Nevertheless, the album has many superb moments that transcend any restrictions that might be ascribed to any particular genre of music and there is much for fans of progressive music to appreciate.
The lack of a guitarist ensures that Möbius Strip has none of the snarl and bite that rock jazz fans might adore and I was left to ponder how the tunes may have developed if this element was present. Fellow Italian band Endless Season showed how exciting youthful jazz fusion can be with the added tones of a guitar in their 2017 self-titled debut.
However, there was something spring like and refreshing about the whole of Möbius Strip 's album and the lack of a guitar in the bands array of instruments did not detract in any way and arguably makes it special. The quality of the compositions and impressive performance of all of the players from start to finish ensures that the album is highly effective and is able to hold a listeners attention. The tunes are accessible yet provide many things to discover over time. The album is crisply recorded and each instrument is clearly defined.
I have yet to listen to this release in reverse sequence, but I am sure that when I do, I will still find Möbius Strip 's sparkling debut equally enjoyable.
Until then, all that is left for me to say is, Taerg mubla, ylhgih dednemmocer; or perhaps more accurately, Dednemmocer ylhgih, mubla Taerg!
Owen Davies: 9.5 out of 10
Synaptik - Justify And Reason
The Incredible Machine (6:13), Human/Inhuman (6:27), Conscience (8:45), White Circles (6:18) Esc Ctrl (7:17)
The album kicks off with some fast riffs with some vocals similar to Messiah Marcolin of Candlemass fame. Some nice solos and riffing. Quite a catchy prog metal number. Follow-up Human/Inhuman opens with a fairly standard beat and riff, has some good soloing towards the end, but still is a fairly standard track. However, on CD and in your house it may not be "special", in a live setting I could see it being a fan favourite.
Conscience starts off with an intricate tapping intro with some heavy rhythms behind it, almost reminiscent of some of Meshuggah's work. Does have the stereotypical "clean break" around half way through, but it is executed well. An alright track that showcases numerous styles.
White Circles starts nice and softly, but brings back in the heavy music shortly after. It is here we get the growled vocals that the rest of the album could have done with, albeit only during the chorus. A well written heavy track, although still lacking the growled vocals. Definitely my favourite from the album.
Finally, album closer Esc Ctrl. This one has a bit of a more a heavy metal feel to it, but still within keeping of the prog sound. A good closer to sum up the general styles of the album.
I appreciate the skill and technicality that has been put into this, and on paper everything is well done. The vocals are on point, the musicians are talented and know how to write technical metal. Elements of many genres I thoroughly enjoy are throughout the album. But for some reason, I just can't get 100% behind it.
John Knight has some very impressive vocal talents, with an impressive range and delivery, but I do feel some parts of the album could have done with some more of the growled vocals. The album wasn't quite what I was expecting, but still a decent album. However, I sadly can't help but feel "something" is missing. As it is only the band's second album, there is still plenty of opportunity for them, and based on this one I would expect them to grow and mature with their future releases.
Calum Gibson: 7 out of 10