Issue 2018-058: Mini Reviews Special
Reviews in this issue:
Aux - Troubadour
Progressive rock according to their own Bandcamp site description, psychedelic rock as a slightly more objective style description as stated on the Discogs album page. Now even psychedelic rock has its sub-genres after crossovers with happy hippie music, blues, progressive rock, electronica, and doom, potentional listeners need more info. And that's where sites like us come in!
Aux do not fit into a single sub-genre. Their music is predominantly on the slow side, but not as slow as doom and definitely with more melodies. It touches the progressive blues more than progressive rock although I found several breaks to be surprisingly progressive.
The recording and production are warm and mysterious rather than rough and scary. The sound is clearer than many psychedelic rock acts I have heard. Where the latter often seem to have a trio of guitar, bass, and drums, Aux add a second guitar offering an extra layer to the sound that does not have to be created by distortion and screams.
At times things become a bit heavier, as in Geocentric. The singing is a bit more aggressive here, while in the quieter parts the vocals come across as haunted, tormented, and sometimes subdued.
Although my taste prefers more beats per minute, the diversity is still enough to keep me interested. On the other hand, it doesn't really grab my attention either.
Confusing when the CD lists the tracks in LP order (with A and B labels) but has the tracks in a different order. On the other hand, that perhaps fits the psychedelic category even better.
Paolo Carraro Band - Newborn
The birth of your first child and witnessing their first steps/words in the world is a pinnacle moment. From a musician's point of view, the very first musical outing in the form of a demo, and then the evolution afterwards can be equally unforgettable. Paolo Carraro Band, an instrumental progressive rock band from Vicenza (Italy) experienced their blessedness in 2013 with their first-born EP You’d Better Run. The band, consisting of Paolo Carraro (guitar), Daniele Asnicar (guitar), Federico Kim Marino (drums) and Federico Saggin (bass), received a lot of positive feedback from both critics and audiences and have now found their feet to release a follow-up, aptly named Newborn.
Confidently demonstrating their growth, the opening track greets us with enthusiastic, technically skilled progressive rock with a musical diversity, where furious jazz/fusion meets metal and rock 'n' roll, often reminiscent of late seventies Rush and Dixie Dregs. Exeptions follows, which loosens the cruise control and continues the EP in soothing gear. Dominated by rock and funk, a continuous natural flow is created with heavy guitar riffs and solos all blending it together with a laid back, jazzy feel.
Supported by solid, heavy-hitting drums and pumping bass Prog 'n' Roll gears it up a notch towards a more metal approach and highlights the potential of the band even further, being the perfect showcase for both technically-gifted guitarists. Shifting back to 4th, we get some more entertaining sophisticated rock, think Steve Morse Band during his Southern Steel period. The short ride ends with a lot of melody and drive on display during Beck In Town; no need to give a reference there I think Jeff?
Conclusion: The Paolo Carraro Band have nurtured a firm base for themselves, showing they walk hand in hand amidst the finest of inspirational musicians. If they succeed in incorporating a bit more subtlety, refinement and originality, they can start walking firmly by themselves. Definitely worth giving a try if you’re a fan of the aforementioned artists.
Chapter 7 - Frozen Fields
The tell-tale signs that this might not be what you would call a progressive rock album is in the track lengths. None of the 11 tracks are over five minutes. It's a collection of hard rock songs (or metal if you prefer) from a very competent Dutch band called Chapter 7 who have released their second album Frozen Fields.
From their website the band states that they “aim to create modern rock music that catches the spirit and vibe of the 90s. Our sound and inspiration are found in bands such as Alice In Chains, Black Stone Cherry, Puddle Of Mudd and Stone Sour." All these bands are hard rock based metal groups originating from America, none of which I would tag as being progressive.
It's possibly unfortunate that this being the Dutch Progressive Rock Page, and Chapter 7 is a Dutch band, I'm reviewing this album from a progressive point of view and expecting something that pushes this band head and shoulders above their named contemporaries.
The songs themselves are certainly well crafted hard rock songs with catchy melodies, engaging lyrics, strong guitar riffs and motifs with strong vocals, but the album is devoid of any discernible guitar or keyboard based soloing. It is clear that this is a hard working band who like to produce well-rounded metal-based songs but they don't really break any new territory (which I acknowledge gets increasingly difficult these days with such a saturated music market).
If I was reviewing this album for a hard rock or metal website then this album is very good indeed, and I would easily rate this as 7 or 8 out of 10. There are hints that some of these songs could have taken on some sort of metal “sonata” extended form but it's not what the band is about, and I'm sure they would agree. So having my progressive reviewer's hat on, I rate this album 5 out of 10.
The Guess Who - The Future Is What It Used To Be
Canadian rockers The Guess Who formed in 1965 and are famous for the 1970 US chart topping single American Woman. They are releasing a new album The Future Is What It Used To Be in early September. Singer Derek Sharp does state that this is the Version 3.0 of the band, though this version of the band has been together for 10 years and still has original member Garry Peterson on drums.
The album is a move away from the hard rock/psychedelic rock of the band’s beginnings. The album is packed with FM radio-friendly rock of anthemic choruses and tuneful riffing, much in the mould of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers or Cheap Trick. The singing on the album is terrific, with Beatles-style harmonies in abundance. Baby Come Around sounds like an outtake from Led Zeppelin’s III, and the closing track features some wonderful slide guitar. The rest is good classic rock, with touches of swampy southern rock.
However, for this site, The Future Is What It Used To Be is only tangentially connected to prog, through guitarist Will Evankovich who has played with Styx, helping to write and produce their last release The Mission. But if you want a change from prog noodling, with some straight ahead and well done verse-chorus-verse, radio-friendly, sing-along rock, you would not go far wrong with this The Guess Who release.
Maiden United - Empire Of The Clouds
With the original Iron Maiden album Book Of Souls now being three years old, and with that it seeming very unlikely that they will ever play their longest track, Empire Of The Clouds live, cover band Maiden United thought it was a good idea to take it upon themselves to do so. And not just a live version, they also did a studio recording.
My opinion towards cover bands is known to anyone who knows me and probably some of our readers. In short: not a fan. Releasing this on two discs, while one would suffice, is weird, unless it's to make something special; something collectible. For a cover band this seems like overdoing it. It's more about the packaging of a cover version of someone else's music then.
This album contains a 23-minute studio version (long intro, long radio broadcast sections) and an almost complete live version (parts II - IV, totalling 16 minutes). The vinyl version contains these version on sides A and B. The CD version contains a bonus track on CD 2, Killers.
As a composition, this is perfect material for an epic prog band. More epic than progressive, as we're still talking Iron Maiden here. I don't think it's the band's strongest song, but an interesting exploration, not a tour de force. A lot to work for a cover.
A pro is that singer Wudstik does not sound like Bruce Dickinson, giving the idea of something different. But sometimes, most notably in part IV, he goes over the top and not in a good way, at least to my ears. By using more keyboards than the original, the overall sound is also different from the original, which I also think is a good thing.
The rather long radio broadcast sections in the studio version break the flow that is such an important factor in Maiden's music. So is this interesting as an exercise? Yes. Interesting enough for a studio album? Not to me. The live version sounds more spontaneous, and in a live contect, a cover would make some sense. (I mean a cover, not a complete set.)
It's up to you to decide. If you know Maiden United and like their stuff, go get this as it's a pretty special release. Maybe I am alone in thinking stuff like this is nice for a performance but not for a release.
Odd Palace - Things To Place On The Moon
Formed in 2015, Danish alt-proggers Odd Palace arrive with a debut album that swaggers between the much-missed Fair To Midland and the more accessible musings of The Mars Volta, albeit with a stronger propensity to drift along more prog-inspired chemins.
If anything, the shorter the track length, the more complex and varied the music. Contrast the number of ideas crunched into the four minutes of Delirious, with the over-long and ineffective 13 minutes of the title track.
The opening duo of Carnivore and Chemical Solution ably demonstrate an ability to mix the catchy with the complex. The Alchemist mirrors Alien Ant Farm mixed with Rishloo. Dead End is a great album closer.
Odd Palace is a band with an album that wins big plus points for the excellent vocals and for offering a sound and style very much of their own. More killer hooks and riffs are needed to take it to the next level, but for a debut album, this holds much promise for the future.
Pink Fairies - Resident Reptiles
Emerging from London’s Ladbroke Grove underground scene in the late 60s, the psychedelic anarchists Pink Fairies are back with a new album Resident Reptiles. Out of the same scene came Hawkwind and The Deviants.
Fronted by original member Paul Rudolph (guitars and vocals) with former Hawkwind bassist Alan Davey and original Motorhead drummer Lucas Fox, who form a storming and rock solid rhythm section.
The eight tracks on Resident Reptiles are, with one exception, variations on the theme of hard rock meets space rock. The hard rock elements keeps the music more earthbound, but in a good way.
Some songs are more straight-forwardly hard rock (Your Cover Is Blown, Lone Wolf, and Monkey Chatter) but with plenty of power and foot-tapping interest. But the better tracks, for me, are those that delve in to the space-rocking groove such as Mirage, Old Enuff To Know Better and Whipping Boy. Having been based in the US for a while, Rudolph’s singing resembles a less fey, less whiney Neil Young.
The closing track Apologize brings in some psychedelic modal tonalities, gentle Mellotron and a lyric with a political edge. This makes it a bit different from the heads down hard/space rock of the seven tracks ahead of it.
Though nothing startlingly original, the Pink Faries’ Resident Reptiles sets out to be a hard-rockin’, space-truckin’, live-soundin’ monster and it meets those criteria with ease.
Soniq Theater - Squaring The Circle
Soniq Theater is German keyboard player Alfred Mueller's solo project and Squaring The Cirlce is, according to the liner notes of this CDr, his 18th album in 19 years. DPRP has reviewed ten of his previous albums.
Considering Alfred did this all by himself, it's all pretty well done. The drums sound a little too electronic for me though, giving most of the songs a somewhat clinical foundation, unintentionally giving the album a unified atmosphere. The keyboards are warmer in sound, and Mueller sure knows how to construct a song. This lets me forget about the drums often enough, although at some of those moments it made me feel that I was missing a backbeat.
Most of the songs are multi-layered, comprised of different sections, making this far from tedious.
When I compare this to some of his older works, it seems the array of different sounds has not really changed over time, like Alfred has formed his language, but the vocabulary has not grown. If you know other Soniq Theater albums, I think you will know what to expect.
The feeling I get from the sound has a lot to do with the 1980s. I had to think of what Jan Hammer did at the time, but mixed with a bit of Vangelis. Composition-wise this is more like a modern pop / prog crossover, than symphonic prog, with some soundscapes here and there.
For fans of keyboard music, this is probably not stunning but still lovely. Like one of my former fellow reviewers has noted, the man knows how to play, and I think it would be very interesting to see how he would thrive in a full band with other musicians.
Vent Debout - Vent Debout
Mixing folk and the ambient, with a hint of jazz and the calmer side of the Canterbury school of prog, this debut EP from the French duo of pianist/singer Katia Jacob and Grégoire Galichet (drums and glockenspiel) is a largely engaging listen. The pair add organ and bass, whilst Rémy Turpault adds guitar on the third track and the saxophone of Matthieu Metzger enhances the sonic template on the closing number.
The term "vent debout" is usually translated as to be firmly opposed to something or to go against the flow (a headwind). But for the listener, this is an EP where it would be best to lie back and simply go with the flow.
The opening pair of tracks tread very similar territory, with the piano and drums combining well to form gentle melodies and atmospheres. Trees Are Watching Us is the more interesting, for the way it cleverly and gradually builds the melody and intensity. However it is with the addition of Katia's gentle, hushed vocals (half spoken and half-sung) over a lilting piano and plucked guitar on Moonless that provides the highlight here. A lovely song.
The saxophone is the star of the closing song, but this is the weakest of the quartet, for its repetitive, plodding piano beat. If this duo can develop more of the creativity shown on the first and third tracks, I would like to hear more.