Issue 2018-079: Mini Reviews Special
Reviews in this issue:
Aaron Brooks - Homunculus
Aaron Brooks is the former lead singer and chief songwriter for American psychedelic band Simeon Soul Charger. In 2011 he moved to Germany with his band, from where they garnered a fan base all over Europe. In 2016 SSC disbanded, their members following their own musical paths. Following a two-year hiatus from the scene, this is Aaron's first solo album.
Homunculus (Latin for "little person") is somewhat of a mixed bag; both in terms of the songwriting style and the quality of the end product.
His style incorporates the aforementioned psychedelia with generous splashes of rock and folk, of world and more ambient rhythms, alongside the more familiar singer-songwriter conventions. It is a full band sound with added textures of violin, keyboards, trombone and banjo. There's a lot here for those whose tastes drift more towards Simon & Garfunkel, Steve Hogarth and Supertramp. With most tracks clocking in around the three-minute mark, there is little here for those who seek more excessive musical meanderings.
For the most part, I am reminded of Ray Wilson's admirable debut solo album Change from 2003 (review here. Overall this is a genuine solo album. An intimate musical experience, up close and personal.
Such is the breadth of styles covered across the 14 songs, that a track-by-track critique would be a very subjective commentary. What is one person's favourite song, could well be another's least favourite. In a way, that is the appeal of an album such as this. Just dive in and see what you find. I am sure that most people will discover several tracks they enjoy. Not sure that many people will love everything they hear.
For me this is the sort of album that I will revisit from time to time, with two or three songs that will make it onto a more favourable playlist. A series of live dates have been booked around Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic from early November.
Ethernity - The Human Race Extinction
It's been 18 years since brothers Julien and Nicolas Spreutels started this musical project, alongside their cousin François Spreutels. However this is only their second album and follows Obscure Illusions which garnered positive reviews on its release back in March 2015.
The Human Race Extinction is a strong collection of female-fronted prog-power metal, albeit with the prog largely kept to a strong use of keyboard symphonics amidst constantly alternating dynamics and extended soloing. Think of the vocal melodies and chugga-chugga guitars of Delain, with the instrumental "complexity" of say Evergrey and Symphony X.
Although there is nothing to distinguish her from many other female singers in this crowded sub-genre, Julie Colin has an undeniably strong delivery. Again, a Delain comparison would be valid, especially on the video single Grey Skies.
Less is more for this type of music, and some may find a lack of variety and depth here to warrant 14 tracks drawn out for 70 minutes. If it adds to your interest, there is an apocalyptical storyline running through the 14 tracks. If not, then the songs stand on their own six strings anyway. For a great melody I would recommend Grey Skies, and for a bit more power and depth either Artificial Souls or Redefined. If these tick your boxes, then jump in for the full ride.
Heronimus Fin - The Pharmacist
Yay! Underground heavy psych rock jam-packed (Robinson's Jam of course) with that unique ingredient that no band from any other nation can create: Englishness. This band has been compared to The Kinks, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple in style. If you add Sabbath, then that's a full-hand of royal-approved greatness, all wrapped in a Digipak (US trademark).
If you judge your progressiveness by the level of instrumental dexterity and compositional complexity, then this is unlikely to be your thing. Neither will it be if you like your music to have a modern vibe. The music here is so retro, it is still catching itself up. The interest is maintained by (almost) every song taking a different slant on its genre, and (almost) every track evolving through three or more different musical themes.
My favourite songs bookend this album. The Pharmacist will be a belting live favourite based upon a Sabbath-esque monster of a riff, delivered around that off-hand, English lyrical style. With its 10-minute-plus running time, Shiver is the most proggy exploration and just a great little track.
In between this pairing, Road To Jazz is very early Blue Oyster Cult, 43rd November has a punky verse with a chorus that milks The Eagles and The Levellers. Another Sun and Eyes of The Fox revisit Fleetwood Mac and Thin Lizzy, and the very raw Riding The Great Fantastic is a battle between Hawkwind and Doctor and The Medics.
Not a classic. Not breaking any new musical horizons. Just great fun, and enjoyable, and oh so very English!
Lyrae - Answers
Not easy to start this one. It's been a while since my last album review and many days since I received the promo copy of Lyrae´s debut EP Answers. But my opinion remains the same; it's a really good debut EP. In fact I wish it was a whole album because the songs here are all really enjoyable; from the beautiful piano intro, to the great Bethesda, with echoes of Steven Wilson and a great finale bringing back the piano again. You can also check the video on their website.
In between those songs, you can find the poppy Appeal, which combines great voices with orchestral choruses and piano. I'm sure this one would be a hit if played by one of the big names in prog. It is a really beautiful song. Shepherd´s Train comes next, and to be honest I wasn't expecting it, as it is a more guitar-driven track, and no voices this time. It will be good to have more of this in the next album or EP, although I prefer having a singer. And the next track appears, again with the piano, as a good entrance to the last song.
This is a short EP but with much to give. Twenty minutes of great compositions, that make you want more when you finish. So Lyrae, please give us more. By the way, did I say this is a one-man project? Kari Harkönen is the mastermind behind Answers with help on cello and drums. This is highly recommended for those looking for quiet prog, that focuses on the songs.
Laura Meade - Remedium
Laura Meade is best known as one of the vocalists for the underrated New York based band, IZZ, and Remedium is her first full-legnth solo release. For this album, she has acquired the talents of her IZZ bandmates as well as Randy McStine (The Fringe, Lo-Fi Resistance) and Jason Hart (I and Thou, Renaissance, Camel). This line up of musicans ensures impeccable peformances, and though not traditionally prog, Remedium is not your standard singer songwriter faire either.
There is a quirky edge and adventurous feel to the material, which is most evident on Sunflower At Chernobyl (this could be an IZZ song), Never Remember and Dragon. Each of these three songs is worthy of a prog fan's attention. Even the more straightforward tracks display a dramatic flair that is obviously influenced by Meade's musical theater background. That element of the production and arrangements reminds me favorably of early-era Kate Bush albums. It would have been a positive for Meade to break away a bit more from the mellow tone that defines most of the album. Low key as it is though, the songs are still diverse and creative.
Ultimately, Remedium is an entertaining listen for prog and non-prog fans alike. Fueled by quality songwriting and intricate performances, it is absolutely worthy of your time.
Oho - Gazebo
After I heard the first Oho album several years ago with an old review telling me this was "the American answer to Pink Floyd", I was rather underwhelmed and at times even annoyed at the simple arrangements and recording. Needless to say I was not looking forward to reviewing this album, especially as it comes with a press blurb saying: "rock/pop music which defies categorisation; intelligent, sophisticated poetic lyrics; refined and well-seasoned musicianship".
How nice it can be to be wrong! Well, partly. It's interesting to be able to divide an album into tracks that I like and tracks I skip. There are no tracks here that I hesitated about. With every song it was clear right away whether I liked it or not.
The opening two tracks actually fit the given description, and managed to really surprise me. Psychedelic pop/rock with clever arrangements. There are a few more songs like this, but I also liked the blues rock in Baltimore and the dark atmosphere of Slough Of Despond.
Although the excellently titled Paleolithic Godess Figurines is so short, it is a very cleverly arranged song that sounds simple but adds so many things, creating a world class psychedelic pop song.
Like I said there is another side, containing several ingredients I really don't like. Songs like The One are too poppy for me. Some of the drums sound too electronic and cold. How Is Where We Go is too typical American, whining country slide guitar and predictable vocal lines. Blood Brother is soulless dance music. Jazzy experiments in Third Hand Intelligence, the simple electronics in Limousine, nor the danceable rhythms in Out Of Thin Air and Ocean City Ditty don't do it for me.
Several of these are a little too heavy on the saxophone to my taste, especially when it's used to play solos.
Overall, I think the styles of the songs are all over the place, making it a hard album to listen to all the way through. At this length they could have made two albums in different styles. I'll just make a playlist, because the songs I do like, I really like!
Residuos Mentales - Introspection
Residuos Mentales, a studio project formed in 2012 in Athens (Greece), consists of Stratos Morianos (keyboards) and Alexandros Mantas (guitars, flute). Together with several musicians they have painted an instrumental concept album dealing with mental residuals (hence the name), focusing on the effects music can have on a person. One might get triggered into memories, or (the complete opposite) forgetfulness. Either way it would be an introspection of the soul. In this particular case, the story of a man tortured by memories of the past.
The story, depicted on the front cover, is meticulously coloured-in by careful brush strokes and the music has to be absorbed as one long, cinematic soundtrack, with each of the 11+1 tracks intertwined. Spacious electronics, minimalistic soft touches on piano, flute, beautiful violins and classical guitar are sometimes met with sound effects, such as playing a vinyl record or radio waves. Merged together, it results in an intimate, almost classical composition filled with an engaging atmosphere.
With The Thorn In Me and especially A Promise Unkept / Mental Residuals the pair adds some oil to the canvas with a jazzy feel, reminiscent of Eris Pluvia. Subtle electric guitars add depth and contrast to the collage drawn by drums, with flute accentuating and piano perfectly blending tinctures. Cheerful keys finally draw attention, glazed by fluent, moving solo guitar, closing off the album in an opportune fashion.
Albeit short, it is a work of delightful delicacy, framed perfectly for artful lovers of Camel or Mike Oldfield, probably even to fans of Kitaro.
The Spacious Mind - The Drifter
Anyone familiar with the cinematic brilliance of Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker (1979) and Solaris (1972)) might be instantly triggered to a certain state of mind by just one glance at the cover. The oppressive graphic from Stalker is the perfect representation of what to expect from The Spacious Mind; complex, slow paced, emotional and heavily psychedelic, retrogressive, acidic space rock.
Originally starting in 1991 this Swedish band have released nine studio albums and four live albums thus far, and The Drifter (limited to 300 copies) is their latest collection of rare, live and unreleased tracks. The Drifter (featured twice on the album, studio and live) encapsulates everything with psychedelic, melancholic and hypnotic improvisations reflecting echoes of early Pink Floyd. Basically it’s a long, stretched improvisation with lots of distorted guitars, slow-paced bass, hypnotising spacey keyboards and some disturbing krautrock (think Nektar's Journey To The Centre Of The Eye).
The Players In The Band, Spirit Roots and Floatin’ Down The River Whistlin’ On A Tune follow the same improvisational path, inflicting a meditative and emotional trip down memory lane. Mellow, spellbinding keys, intoxicating bass and tranquillising guitars incorporated with some acidic The Bevis Frond. Euphoria, Euphoria showcases their early-period Hawkwind-orientated space rock. Still firmly based on mesmericly-slow rhythms, one travels through different moods and phases, provoked by the captivating guitars and equally sedating organs.
With a future uncertain, this compilation is still a nice way to get to know their music. Worth checking out if you fancy dreamy, psychedelic rock with a relaxed, flowing atmospheres.