Reviews in this issue:
Luminous Newts - Songs From A Local Universe
Songs From A Local Universe is the second album by Luminous Newts, the Californian eclectic prog-pop rock band formed by singer Thea Kelley and keyboardist/vocalist Eric Kampma in 2015. Fellow amphibians on this release are drummer Russ Gold, bassist Gary Hobish and guitarist Andy Charmatz.
Although there are plenty of prog elements on the album, in many ways the album is genre-defying, covering many bases but being adherent to none. What is evident though, is the sheer quality of the songwriting. Kelley has an excellent way with words and is perfectly in-harmony with the musical accompaniment.
The album kicks off with My Porcupine, a rather off-kilter pop song, with a glorious, harmonised chorus. The rather odd key serves the song well and the overall structure reminds me of something that could have come from the pen of Andy Partridge, and being a huge XTC fan that is indeed a compliment.
The quality is maintained through Shine and Inside Over And Out, with the former being piano-based, and the latter, in complete contrast, a heavier track with growling organ, power-chords-a-plenty and some great solos to boot.
The humour of the band shines forth in Green Tea And LSD, with erudite lyrics emphasised throughout by the clever musical passages. Commercialized, with added violin by Emily Packard, is a damming portrayal of the modern word, and in particular the crap that comes with excess capitalism. With some clever rhymes (tanking/cranking/wanking) and even some political commentary with lines such as: "We are at an intersection, more than ever in need direction, take a look at that election, defies comprehension." (I wonder what is being referred to there?) It is nothing less than a protest song but with a somewhat optimistic vision of a possible alternative future.
Dream On It is notable for great performances by all of the band members, as well as being a very good song. The excellent recording quality is really evident on this track. The final two tracks offer up two completely contrasting styles, but are two of the album's highlights. When The Newts Cross South Park Drive is a humorous number, with an interesting overview of newts through history but also has a more serious undertone, while Silence takes the mantle of a prog epic, at times beautiful, at others discordant and ominous. This is a really great song, particularly towards the end (before the drum solo finale, how prog is that?) when Kelley adds her voice to Kampa's, who takes the lead throughout most of the song.
If the first Luminous Newts release offered promise of things to come, then Songs From A Local Universe has more than fulfilled that promise.
Oh. - Metallia
Oh. is the moniker for Greek multi-instrumentalist and multi-talented Olivia Hadjiioannou. She has several releases on her Bandcamp page, where you can hear that she's recording music in different styles. This is the second physical release after 2015's Synemotion, which match in style.
Style? While clearly under the broad prog metal banner, within minutes into this EP it is clear there is no single sub-genre to file this under. There's a little bit of the inevitable Vai style here and there, but no overdose. There's some good old riffing a la Metallica, but it's grabbing you by the balls and dragging you elsewhere before you get used to the familiarty.
Although this description might give you the impression of fusion, that's only a small part of the deal. Fusion is often too jazzy and cold for my taste, and Metallia is far from that. Chaotic at times, intense all the way.
The most important adjective is "powerful". Everything oozes power. The compositions, the sound effects, the arrangements, the use of dynamics in mixing; everything has received a large dose of attention, creating an epic sound. These elements make a grandiose mix, where nothing stays the same, except the powerful impression that it all leaves.
Olivia is playing electric and acoustic guitars, violin, keyboards, bass, and drums and percussion. She uses her voice for wordless vocals, adding another layer, another instrument. Indeed, a lot is going on. But keep in mind that this is not just a showcase of what Olivia can do with any of those instruments, it's a showcase of what she creates. It is all about the songs, the music, and not her ability.
From the land of heroic epic stories, now comes the soundtrack to some of those stories. Or at least to the chapters dealing with intrigues and battles. Think the Gladiator movie, but a lot less Hollywood and with a lot more diversity. With Triumph as the final chapter, the title might apply to the album as a whole.
After all these hard-fought battles, one would be exhausted, but I still think this album is too short. I'm going to listen to this story again.
Be sure to read more about Oh. in the interview we did with Olivia!
Oscar Salas - Resolved State
Oscar Salas is a talented Venezuelan guitar player whose musical studies include time spent at the famous music conservatory José Angel Lamas in Caracas and taking lessons with acclaimed Venezuelan guitarist and musician Alvaro Falcón. Now settled in Spain, Salas is debuting with his first release entitled Resolved State in which he shows his talent not only in playing his instrument, but in programming and composition. He has also self-produced this album alongside American producer Jacob Roach in the USA.
Resolved State comes with five tracks fully composed and programmed by Salas, showing us a strong domain and knowledge about shredding style, and in which he demonstrate his virtuosity on the strings. In this EP we can identify musical influences like John Petrucci, Joe Satriani and even Magnus Karlsson and Steve Vai, which makes this work dense, and with many heavier and complex arrangements in the guitar.
I only have one complaint about the drumming parts that sound rather fake and very difficult to be played live by someone else, taking note that these parts were programmed and perhaps composed thinking from a “sequenced” point of view.
Also there are songs in which we can perceive some shy or missing keyboard parts which could have added more energy and power to the tracks. I can identify the influence of bands like Dream Theater (obviously) and Seventh Wonder.
In short, we have five different songs with their own personality that makes this EP very fluid and entertaining - knowing that shredding can be a very hard-to-listen-to musical sub-genre. So, Oscar Salas now has an unique opportunity to raise his bar in his future releases and to try to make a more interesting and innovative shreddding proposal, taking more advantage not only from his own talent, but also from other musical instruments or techniques in order to improve his work. I invite our readers to take a look to this release and have the final verdict.
Spiralmaze - Dunes Of Dorlmeus
Dunes Of Dorlmeus is the second release from Spiralmaze, originating from Greece, who have released one album so far in 2012, entitled Back To The Center. With a style heavily influenced by Ozric Tentacles, their first release depicted a slightly psychedelic, progressive space-rock laced with sampling, dub and ambient. With the band consisting of George Arestis (synths, guitars), bass-player Manos Lefakis and Panos Theodorou on drums, their new release shows a slight growth and a minute shift in their approach and sound, all beautifully self-produced by the way.
Third Zone is a fine example of space rock in a Hawkwind style, opening with spacious electronics and tightly played drums. It flows gently amongst melodic guitar, supported by the use of various synths creating a psychedelic mood, which is further enhanced by heavier guitars and freaky synth-loops, a feature often encountered in their music.
FTFO continues with lots of synth, sampling, dub and spacious guitars transforming slowly into a dancelike state of trance, reminding me of larger events like dance-valley; explored to an even higher extent in Tiktaalik. Based on complex drum beats, converging the dance rhythms to progressive proportions, it features a very tasty Porcupine Tree-like middle section ultimately fading into a dreamy, ambient segment.
The mellow Laccadive is built up around a jazzy melody line, funky bass and vibrant guitars, incorporating some Rush as well, which is equally well executed in my personal favorite Holey, where mid-seventies Rush merges with Porcupine Tree, ultimately ending with satisfying spacy synths.
It’s back to eloquent, ambient vibes on Dunes Of Dorlmeus, where laid-back keys and drums supply rhythmic, spacy sounds accompanied by synths and lots of weird noises. Reggae guitars create a relaxed Caribbean atmosphere, with the keyboards slowly turning the overall mood towards oriental and rain forest surroundings. Lastly we have Jimmy The Dog taking us on a stroll through space rock to meet dance-patterns gliding slowly into the more Tribal Techno side of the musical spectrum.
Spiralmaze’s Dunes Of Dorlmeus might not be winning the award for originality, but it is still very entertaining, executed to perfection and definitely worth checking out, with plenty to behold for space-rock lovers leaning towards Quantum Fantay and Ozric Tentacles.
The Venus Fly Trap - Icon
The Venus Fly Trap have released Icon, the follow up to 2008’s Nemesis. Below the rather exquisite cover image, the duo of Andrew Denton (guitars, keys, programming) and Alex Novak (vocals) are deeply into late 70s and 80s synth pop and post-punk electronica. The music The Venus Fly Trap have created for Icon is a heady mix of early Human League, Magazine, Public Image Ltd, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and Devo. Not the usual suspects you would expect to be name checked on a prog review website.
The music is beat-heavy, with judicious use of samples and vintage sounding synths. Alex North’s vocals has that love-it-or-hate-it timbre. His voice is a mingling of Magazine’s Howard Devoto in a grumpy mood and John Lydon’s stridency, but without the latter’s eccentric relationship to pitch.
The Venus Fly Trap’s Icon is, in the main, a high energy synth pop album of a dark hue. There are a few tracks that move away from that sound. The title track’s thunder has been stolen by Public Service Broadcasting. There is a great dub reggae beat to Return Of Sidewinder, and the final two tracks rely more on ballad structures and guitar, with In The Moonlight’s folk accordion sound a lovely touch.
This is not really a prog album but my synth-pop enthusiast good lady, thought that The Venus Fly Trap’s Icon was passable (although she was on the not-warming-to-the-vocals side).