Reviews in this issue:
The Aaron Clift Experiment - If All Goes Wrong
This is a rather different and unusually rocking album from Texan band The Aaron Clift Experiment, with some very hard-hitting themes and lyrics and some wonderful guitar parts from the band and their guests, including Van Wilks, a well known name on the Texan blues circuit and highly respected by the likes of Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
The first track Faith is dealing with a very smug, self-righteous person seeking to inflict their world view on others and not taking their views into account. This has great guitar from said Mr Wilks, alongside Dave North.
Last Crash uses the image of a car crash to show how a partner has consistently hurt and abused them to the point that they want to die, and leave them feeling the pain. This has a very Dream Theater sound to it, along with a complex ascending riff that is employed to great effect. Another hard-hitting track from the band.
Opening with a delicate acoustic passage and strings, Absent Lovers creates a softer melody against which keyboards shimmer. The song features another lovely guitar solo offset against violins, not unlike Kansas. Aaron has a very fine voice, one that he uses to great effect on this track.
Better Off Before has a sing-a-long factor to it and a Beatles-like melody and a chirpy lead piano with some more fine vocals from Aaron and others. This may be a shorter track, but it shows that this band can do shorter songs justice, without losing their impact.
Castle in the Sky offers a great opening lead from Arielle. It offers another complex rhythm part and a riff that twists and turns like a Texas sidewinder. It is refreshing to hear such exuberance in a song. I'm very impressed by all that I'm hearing on this disc: great songs, good subject matter and wonderful playing from all involved.
There is much to admire here, and most prog fans will find much to savour. Savage In A Fancy Suit has a very King Crimson-ish groove to it, with some great keyboards, especially the organ part.
I always think that albums need time to breathe and gain importance and significance, and that is most certainly the case here. The more you listen, the more you hear, and the better it sounds.
Dream With A Dream is another epic track, opening with a very melodic guitar line from Kevin Chin, after which come some sultry keyboards and Aaron's impassioned vocals which speak of the sea and its churning, drifting and shifting tides. A nice bass part drives this song forward with some very tasty ensemble playing. It is a massive song and very impressive too.
The penultimate track, Wild Hunters has another very strong opening guitar motif. This is a very short, punchy track that is vastly improved by the guitars.
The final song, If All Goes Wrong, is a more mellow song to draw things to a conclusion, as it calls for a love to be there if all goes wrong. This is a very heartfelt song with a simple yet very effective premise. At the 3:35 marks comes another guitar line right out of Robert Fripp's bag. It is very Crimson-esque in its sound, timbre, tone, and style. It is another really great piece of guitar playing and one that certainly makes you sit up and take notice as it brings the album to a magnificent, emotive and hopeful conclusion.
Overall this is a superb album and one that will probably be in my best albums of 2018 list. A tremendous piece of progressive rock that deserves a wide audience. An album that is well worth searching out.
The Dame - Losing Sight Of What You Want
When this CD arrived in the post, I was at first a little sceptical of the promotional paraphernalia that came with it. Describing their music as a “Sexy version of progressive rock” the album artwork recalls 1920s nightclub decadence, which is mirrored in the elaborate packaging and accompanying booklet. Would this be a case of style over substance I wondered? Not a bit of it. This debut album from The Dame is contemporary, guitar-driven prog with memorable tunes, strong hooks, inventive arrangements and superb playing.
Fronting the band is the delectably-named Marian van Charante who provides the vocals and the lyrics. She has a very distinctive voice that adds a theatrical touch to the songs. The nearest comparison I can think of is one-time Propaganda singer Susanne Freytag.
Stephen de Ruijter is responsible for lead guitar and the music, and if you've never heard of this man before (which is highly likely as the band formed as recently as 2016) then mark him out as a guitar hero in waiting. From the ringing arpeggios of Water Tumbles Down, a touch of djent during General Disarray, the tasteful Gary Moore-style blues of Faking It In Monaco to the Steve Rothery-flavoured weeping lines of Conveniently Distant, he has all the bases covered.
The songs themselves are equally colourful. From the slow-burning opener, Water Tumbles Down, to the epic 19-minute closer Conveniently Distant, with its multiple twists and turns that builds to a monumental coda, there is plenty for prog aficionados to savour.
The other songs are equally praise-worthy, including the punchy General Disarray, the faded romanticism of Faking It In Monaco, with its opulent synth strings courtesy of keyboardist Thijs de Ruijter, and drummer Ruben Meibergen’s rhythmic gymnastics during The Last Dance.
The lengthy title song, Losing Sight Of What You Want, includes a lovely synth hook and an infectious chorus, whilst the astutely titled Thy Father's Bidding uses melancholic piano, classical guitar and a children’s choir to deliver a potent message. Throughout, Michel Krempel’s bass lines are superbly sublime.
Special mention should also go to Chris Muller whose weighty production gives the album a live feel, especially the muscular drum sound. This certainly gets my vote for the best debut album of 2018.
Dobbeltgjenger - Limbohead
Dobbeltgjenger is made up from various members of Bergen’s prog scene who are letting their collective hair down. The members other bands include Major Parkinson, Ossicles, Depresno, Oceans of Lotion and 9 Grader Nord. They describe themselves as "eclectic and mischevious" and on the evidence of this release it would be hard to argue with that statement.
Lumberhead is Dobbeltgjenger’s second full-length release, though even in the 70s you would have felt a little short-changed by the album's running time. Limbohead rewrites the templates of late 70s and early 80s art-rock, punk and post-punk bands (bands such as Wire and early Talking Heads), before mixing in 90s funk-rock. They twist these influences into punk-prog shapes that are often very engaging.
The songs are mainly short but don’t let that put you off. They generally work really well. There are the punchy-punk, joyful sing-a-longs of Tin Foil Hat and Radio. The acoustic pop-psychedelia of the Barratt-esque Calling Tokyo is great and calls to mind the New Zealand mavericks The Bob Lazar Story. There are great vocal performances throughout the album from Vegard Wikne but he especially shines on Like Monroe and the paranoia ballad Lock My Doors. His guitar playing also shines on In Limbo where he produces a fantastic solo.
Unfortunately, and this is really a quirk of mine, the albums last few tracks take on board my least favourite style of music, that of Red Hot Chilli Peppers style funk-rock. It leaves me absolutely cold. But it’s only for a few tracks that it rears its ugly head.
Overall Dobbeltgjenger mix all these disparate elements into a cohesive and entertaining whole on Limbohead. It is terrifically assured in its tuneful songwriting and arrangements. Limbohead is the sound of a band having a blast.
Mothertongue - Where The Moonlight Snows
Some albums you can understand and grasp quickly and easily, others you have to wait patiently for the coin to drop and understanding to awaken, grow and develop into a semblance of appreciation. So it is with this second album from Manchester sextet Mothertongue, but I promise you that this is an album that is worth sticking with as the reward is a very intriguing and agreeable album. It is a disc that is not wildly progressive, but is a considered, well-paced and memorable collection of seriously good songs.
We open with a swathe of synthesisers and a chugging guitar riff not unlike Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al and laced with a haunting trumpet line. This is a very catchy song that deserves a much wider audience for its sheer inventiveness, the trumpet makes the song very evocative, moody and oh so memorable.
There are shades of XTC and Prefab Sprout here, especially in the song writing, and it has a great vocal line and refrain. There is a lot of looseness and space in the mix that allows the song to breathe and expand as required. It is a magnificent opening number that sets you up well for all that is to follow.
Next up is The Creature Tree with a more urgent approach and a great guitar sound lurking in the background and that trumpet again, played with eloquence by Andy Mabon. Guitarist and singer Louis Smith leads the band through a strange world using his words to reveal his world of not quite belonging and uses his melodies to portray his unrest at the world he sees. I’ve read elsewhere that this is like the softer side of Traffic and has the lyrical dexterity of 10CC, both of which are fine by me
Mai Del Mar follows with a burst of guitar and an urgent vocal from Louis Smith before settling into a steady groove. This song rocks along very nicely.
In fact, the more I hear this album the more I understand where the band are coming from and where they are going to. I want to go along with them, as this is rather astonishing music.
Panic Rock follows with another stunning performance from the band featuring an acoustic guitar part and more of that sweet trumpet. This is swiftly followed by Ofelia which opens with plucked arpeggios from Louis Smith and more melancholy trumpet. This is a very wistful sounding track with a very delicate vocal and strange lyrics talking of letting snakes out and wrecking balls.
It's fair to say that I am very taken with this album and very much want to see where this album takes the band next. I may be too eclectic for some, but those that like such things will find very much to savour.
Sunset Rose is a bit more upbeat and traditional in its style but still a cracking little tune with a lively and engrossing guitar line running throughout. Another favourite is It's Getting Weird with its haunting flute melody woven through. It is a very strange track with its talk of a kiss from a cobra all wrapped up in that gorgeous flute melody. A very gentle song but fascinating in its themes and wordplay. A great chorus too.
Overall this is a lovely album. It is more pop than prog but there are prog leanings alongside some astounding sounds, great lyrics and very intriguing music. What’s not to love. This is a very fine album indeed.
Toundra - Vortex
Toundra have signed to the renowned InsideOut label! They have finally made an impression outside their home country of Spain. That is well-deserved, for these guys are among the best the post-metal field has to offer, and few others have a record label like this behnd them. One could argue whether such a thing is necessary in times like these, but it sure feels like a deserved next step for this band.
Although it's great to see Toundra get more recognition from record labels, they do fall prey to the InsideOut policy of letting reviewers do their work from inferior, low-bitrate MP3 files, missing the full sound and atmosphere that is so important to the genre. It makes certain passages sound tinnier than undoubtedly was meant to be, making me think the production is worse than a proper CD or, in my case, the LP will let me hear. The fact that this review is published after the album has been released is also a consequence of that.
After their side-project Exquirla, I wasn't sure what would happen to Toundra, but hearing the first preview from the new album, Cobra, it was clear Toundra were back on their own track. Well, it might be the same track, but they are further on.
Toundra have never been the ones to follow the most-used post-rock formula. This album is in parts heavier than its predecessors but at the same time, the compositions are more varied, as if extra influences have been seeping through without changing the writing process too much.
More than on any previous Toundra album, the band have blended in more elements here, especially there is some typical post-rock guitar playing.
The longer songs, Tuareg and Mojave, have longer quieter sections, but there is also the start of Kingston Falls.
Toundra wouldn't be Toundra if there was not a lot of really heavy stuff going on. Where Cobra probably is the most venomous, Tuareg has the power of a thunderstorm and also delivers awesome riffing, just like Cruce Oeste.
Cartavio is a beautiful intermezzo and its melancholy reminds me of Nick Drake or Gary Jules; nothing typically post-rock yet still completely Toundra. It gives you some room to breathe, a little time for reflection.
Elsewhere, there are some typical post-rock guitar playing techniques. But it is just one ingredient, without being repeated too often.
This is probably the most melancholic of all Toundra albums. The emotions come across really well. The sadness is tangible, but so is the anger. Cobra mixes those the best with an awesome break into a whole different kind of sadness at the 4:30 mark that keeps giving me goosebumps every single time I hear this track. It's like the riff catches a touch of the blues here, as a secret ingredient to create a whole new level of melancholy.
Listening to this you feel like the man on the cover; the heat, sand, darkness, danger. With Mojave as the pinnacle. This is probably the most progressive track. It still has a compelling drive and metallic ending but not before we've been taken on a journey through several different sections.
With Vortex, Toundra have delivered their most mature album to date, without losing their touch with all that makes up the Toundra sound, and even adding more varied infleunces. They have just delivered one of the most important albums in post-metal.