Reviews in this issue:
Glaston - Inhale Exhale
Formed as recently as 2014, Glaston are yet another contemporary band that describe themselves as "post-rock". A curious label I've always thought, but given that everyone's favourite online encyclopedia says that “Typically, post-rock pieces are lengthy and instrumental, containing repetitive build-ups of timbre, dynamics and texture” I have to confess it's very apt as far as Glaston are concerned.
Hailing from Basel near Zürich, the band comprises Selina Maisch (piano), Jake Gutzwiller (guitar), Timo Beeler (bass) and David Preissel (drums). Judging by the photos on their website, I doubt their combined ages would amount to a 100 but they play with a confident maturity that belies their youthful looks, eschewing vocals in favour of atmospheric, piano led instrumentals.
Inhale Exhale is their first full length CD following the 2014 EP Sailing Stormy Waters. Classical music and progressive rock are sited as inspirations and whilst their music is not likely to feature in a hollywood blockbuster at your local multiplex anytime soon, it's not too difficult to imagine their immersive compositions gracing a film soundtrack.
Their classical credentials are present in the opening Game Of Tones where strings are sparingly but tastefully used, complementing Selina's moody piano themes. Strings also appear briefly during the expansive Sunnar and the infectious Better Luck Next Time but otherwise the 10 tracks follow, for the most part, a distinct instrumental pattern.
Each begins with gentle, repeated piano and guitar motifs in a deceptively minimalist fashion that often disguises the complexity of the playing and the slight but haunting melodies. It's the calm before the storm however and as drums and bass become more prominent, the music builds to a peak before the final release.
Selina's piano technique is fluid and very rhythmic at times, playing soft and delicate one moment, pounding the ivories with both hands the next. Gutzwiller employs standard rock guitar riffs and chords when it suits but he's more likely to turn such conventions on their head as the blistering conclusion to Mariana Trench Skycrapers testifies. Preissel and Beeler really come into their own for the tricky rhythm dexterity of Implosions And Her, perhaps the albums most conventionally rock sounding piece. Less conventional, the poly-rhythmic jazz patterns of Ritou are a joy to behold.
Unsurprisingly given its length, the near 10 minute Sunnar is probably the most thoughtful and successfully developed piece with its heartbeat rhythm, rippling piano and ringing guitar. Judge for yourself, it can be heard in its entirety on Bandcamp (see link above) or even better, watch the video on the band's website. Like the rest of the album, it benefits from producer Tommy Vetterli's crystal clear recording.
Whilst I usually prefer my "post-rock" of the more tuneful, grandiose variety (exemplified by Sigur Ros, M83 and more recently Nordic Giants), there is no doubt that this is a meticulously crafted album, rich in mood and atmosphere. It certainly bodes well for Glaston's future.
Murder And Parliament (Tom Slatter) - Murder And Parliament
Murder And Parliament is likely to be a new name to you unless, of course, you are a fan and follower of Tom Slatter.
Tom Slatter is likely to be a new name to you unless, of course, you have a very good memory and remember the 2015 DPRP review of Slatter's sixth album Fit The Fourth, or eighth album if you include the two he recorded with the now defunct Comrade Robot.
Originally intended to be a collection "pop-inspired classical pieces" written for various instruments including a string quartet and solo harp, the musical templates for the material on the eponymous CD by Murder And Parliament have been languishing on a hard drive for many years until Slatter could either realise his original vision or work out what else to do with the compositions. In the end, Slatter decided to record the pieces by himself with additional support from Chrissie Caulfield (violin) and Alun Vaughan (bass guitar).
The album is quite a mixed bag in many respects. Opener A Scattering has echoes of John Wetton-era Crimson particularly in the repetitive chord sequences and inventive percussion. Crookedness should really be called Hookedness as the melodic refrain is one that lodges in the brain and Kettle And Cauldron, the piece originally intended for the harp, has turned out to be a very interesting, and somewhat serendipitous experiment, generated by running the original score through different synth sounds and at different octaves to see what came out. Certainly an interesting result even helped by the tempo changes ending up in the wrong that adds to the originality of the piece.
Embers is a very atmospheric piece immeasurably enhanced by Caulfield's violin and Vaughan's double bass. They Broadcast My Birthday On A Numbers Station (nope, no idea what that means!) is more of a traditional rock instrumental with some great guitar effects throughout and I feel is somewhat more in keeping with his more proggy albums.
There are a couple of less interesting numbers. Grey Malkin is a bit messy and doesn't know if it wants to indulge in Cardiacs style mayhem or be rather more pastoral, and the drum programming is not at all helpful. Firecracker drove me a bit mad and Clamour has its moments but the slightly atonal guitar line didn't quite gel.
But on the whole, the pros certainly outweigh the cons and there are genuine moments of delight in this collection of somewhat unclassifiable instrumentals.
Reformat - The Singularity
Reformat is a UK band formed in 2015 and The Singularity is their debut studio album. Upon first listen, what instantly struck me about this recording was its uniqueness. Though the band displays their influences plainly, it is their creative meshing of styles that creates something musically distinctive. Utilizing classic electronic music elements as a base, they mix the musical stew with a pop, symphonic prog and heavy rock sound.
In terms of making a comparison, this album somewhat reminded me of the Jim Matheos/Kevin Moore project, OSI. Mostly instrumental with some vocal harmonies, the musicianship displayed on The Singularity is not overly flashy, but it is nonetheless compelling.
In less talented hands, an album of this nature could come across as a bit pretentious. Thankfully, that is not the case here. Compositionally strong, the music has purpose and the creation of a infectious melody seems to be their priority. The electronic elements are so effective that it would be equally as interesting to hear these songs in that context alone.
The forceful nature of the performances gives this album its edge. There are some driving moments of pure rock bliss to be found throughout.
Ultimately though, it is the melodic, cinematic approach that resonates. The Singularity is certainly suited to a particular musical mood, but when that mood strikes, you can't go wrong here. Performed and produced with care, this is an impressive debut from a compelling new musical ensemble.
Sleep In Heads - On The Air
Sleep In Heads are a band from Ukraine, having formed in 2015 by guitarist Serj, violinist Natali and bassist Fann. They were later joined by Sonya on vocals, Roman on drums and Katerina on keys. They released two demos before the recording of their debut album, On The Air, featuring session work from Erland Sivolapov (drums) and Nikolay Kirsanov (keys).
Pacifying starts the album off softly and melodically, with some nice modern prog sounding guitars. A good intro, focusing more on the melody and with minimal lyrics. A wonderful way to ease you into the band.
Next comes Vagrant. This brings in a slightly heavier element to it, sounding reminiscent of the likes of Katatonia or Votum. A generally slower, melancholy sounding song but with a stunning vocal performance from Sonya in the first half, before a nice heavy, riff fuelled bridge comes in to kick off the faster paced second half.
Follow up track Deceiver has a heavier sound again, bringing in more the "metal" sound to it. Still a nice melodic track, but with a bit of added "crunch" to the sound.
Beginning the second half, we have Time Like The Sand which continues the pattern set by Deceiver. However, I would say it is the weakest on the album, and while good, it does not stand out much.
Blue Fear brings in the twists that the previous song lacked. The heavier sections of the song fitting in nicely with the clean elements.
Finally, we come to closer Secret Shelter. The end begins with a lovely blend of piano, clean guitars and violin. This track combines the best bits of all the previous ones, and even adds in a bit of almost Alcest-type shoegaze riffing nearer the end. All in all, an absolute stand out track.
If you are a fan of the modern prog sound, and bands such as Katatonia, Votum, Riverside, etc. then I would recommend picking this up. While this album may not have been perfect, it certainly shows a young band with talent who have a lot of potential. I’d expect great things from them in the future.
Tapio Ylinen with Tatu Rönkkö, Miikkael Anttila - Left Unsaid (The Longstanding Problems Of Happiness)
Left Unsaid is sweetly melodic, and is warmly accessible. The rich vocal tones of singer, guitarist and principal composer Tapio Ylinen are high in the mix and give much of the music a heartfelt feeling of warmth and sincerity.
The album comprises of six songs that incorporate an adult orientated rock sound with attractive pop sensibilities. Ylinen’s guitar parts are impressive and his blues-based solos colour a number of the tunes with a rock stained hue. His playing has a sophisticated edge and provides an affective backdrop that supports and accentuates the lyrical message of the songs. As well as being an accomplished guitarist, Ylinen is the founder of Eclipse Records. He is also the artistic director of the Eclipse Jazz Club.
In tunes such as The Great Gamble, Ylinen’s easy on the ear style is a perfect match for the involuntary finger and foot tapping that might occur, because of the enticing rhythms of the music. His preferred tone in many of the songs is reminiscent of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits in their commercial prime. Ylinen’s evocative playing in the moving ballad Noble Heart is particularly expressive and the explosive solo in the latter part of the piece is genuinely impressive.
The other members of the trio are Tatu Rönkkö (drums), and Miikkael Anttila (bass). The bass throughout has an impressive presence. Antilla has notably worked with singer Jenni Vartiainen. During Left Unsaid, he consistently displays an impressive ability of being able to utilise a range of bottom end tones to bring out the best in a tune. Drummer Rönkkö has worked with Elifantree, Efterklang and Liima. His sensitive percussive embellishments and ability to lay down a solid rhythm fully complement the melodic guitar led style of the tunes.
Left Unsaid has a reassuring retro vibe that presents itself in the production, instrumentation and song structures. The 80s heavily influences the music and, as well as Dire Straits, the trio's general sound has some superficial similarities to the Police . This is particularly apparent in the bass and drum introduction to The Great Gamble. However, on more than one occasion during the course of Left Unsaid, I was reminded of the radio friendly rock style that was prevalent in John Carter’s collaboration with Martin Barre in albums such as, Clean The Page and Spirit Flying Free.
Overall, Left Unsaid is a very pleasant album and although it is not the style, that I usually listen to, it would fit the bill perfectly, if I wanted to hear something that is melodic, skilfully played and above all, carefully constructed. I am not sure whether Left Unsaid’s accessible guitar led songs will find many plaudits amongst the readers of DPRP. However, there is no doubt, that its blend of tuneful songs, good mannered arrangements and rock-tinted guitar will charm many more listeners than it will repel.