Reviews in this issue:
Marc Durkee - Remain In Stasis
Marc Durkee hails from Canada and has recently released his latest offering: Remain In Stasis. Having been releasing music for the last 6 years, this album takes him down the prog metal route. Having been influenced by the likes of Anathema and Porcupine Tree, the album is shaping up to be a melancholic ride through the prog metal world.
The album opens with a catchy number, The Dark Dimension, featuring some heavy, yet melodic hooks on the intro, giving a sound similar to early 2000s Katatonia. It sets the album up with the melodic prog metal sound, but with some nice gothic styled vocals, similar to Jonas Renkse of the aforementioned Katatonia.
There is talent on this album, and while the album is very good upon first listen, after going back over some of the tracks, there are other bits that start sticking out on repeated listens. I can only expect my opinion of it to grow over time. For now, The album nicely straddles the line between melodic, melancholic and progressive with hints of the gothic doom metal sound Katatonia, Paradise Lost, and Anathema.
Elements of the album remind me as well of Ween, and there is also an almost “pop punk” sensibility to some tracks such as Redesign (In Stride) . However, there are also some moments of an almost folk rock style, which actually mixes in with the prog metal sensibilities very well.
It is an interesting mix of styles that are all well blended to create a genuinely interesting album. It has been a good introduction to the music of Marc, and it is one I am definitely going to continue.
Nemo - Presagés 2018
Similar to my late mother, many people tend to write their memoirs in a diary. A history of life recorded in ink, intended to be private and not to be read by everyone for it contains personal issues meant to keep private. Only the chosen few may have a glimpse of this, or in the case of celebrities they sometimes get published in book format. I tried something equally though less challenging by collecting photos and arranging them in a particular order in maps to remind myself of the times I had, keeping the personal feelings and experiences locked up inside me somewhere.
With the years fading away my mind selectively tends to forget several aspects of which I have no recollection, pictures or evident information. Probably more accurate it locks up all those lovely and sometimes unpleasant undertakings from the past in a secret compartment, a private chamber so to speak. It’s music that holds the key for me to unlock these dormant psychic barriers and let memories start flooding back. This time, triggering a wave of melancholy is the re-recorded Présages by Nemo.
Re-recordings have different reasons, an obvious one being when a band doesn’t own the rights to do a re-release themselves by popular demand. Another one could be a poor production and mixing and re-mastering doesn’t do it justice either. Or like in this case where through a wonderful transformation by updating production, arrangements and intensity as showcased by their excellent, matured musicianship, an exciting new rejuvenated collection of songs is formed. For Présages, the difference of the original version compared to this recent edition lies in the fact that the latter has fallen into a so called and almost proverbial Gaulish magic potion.
Originally released in 2003, Présages took Nemo to the forefront of progressive rock and established them as a force to be reckoned with. Personally I never gave them much attention for the fact they sing in French, which isn’t a favourable language for me. Swearwords I obviously could master instantly and sometimes one escapes me out of sheer excitement, but once in high school I quickly dropped the French class for I simply couldn’t apprehend it and the frustrating teacher didn’t help either. In hindsight my one-sided vacation fling ages ago could as easily be the reason for my semi-aversion.
It’s in complete and strange contradiction to the precious moments of lovely vacations in Bretagne, train rides to Biarritz with fellow DPRP’s Jerry van Kooten in 1986, delicious diners and even better wines in Burgundy. And let’s not forget the “dance” on my wedding to She by Charles Aznavour and the soothing clenching feeling whilst drinking my all-time favorite beer Pelforth Brune (from France). Thankfully unable to see into the future ourselves, we do however succeed in coming to terms with inner struggles and demons and once conquered feel more at ease. And that’s the comforting feeling I get from this new rendition of Présages.
After releasing their successful ninth album Coma, Nemo struggled to make ends meet and keep the band alive. Resting in a comatose state they now temporarily return in their classic line up of Jean Pierre Louveton on guitars and vocals, Guillaume Fontaine (keys and vocals), Lionel B. Guichard on bass and Jean Baptiste Itier on drums. Even Pascal Bertrand gives a reprisal on Marimba on La Mort Du Scorpion.
Preserving the concept of the album, a thematic distant but ever so close future omen, Nemo extend it by adding a newly recorded bonus track, Le Pire Est Avenir. A welcome addition. Slightly upgraded artwork contain the lyrics and a supportive fictional story depicts the concept. In French and therefore not my expertise, I’ll just refrain to the music which has plenty to uncover.
La Dernière Vague engages with playful piano gradually shifting into progressive metal met by classical influences. Compared to its former rendition in 2003, it’s bombastically enhanced and feels much more powerful. Bass adds significantly more depth while keyboards and orchestration sound fuller and bigger, reminiscent of Savatage’s The Wake Of Magellan. Continuing with an acoustical midsection Louveton exhibits flexible vocals in unison with the virtuous technically free styled jazzy structures. The growth of the musicians in interplay and arrangements of instrumentation shows and is spot on, apart from the occasional speed-metal drums which in a way Itier hasn’t fully mastered (yet) to his otherwise skillful demonstrations. A prolific section of progressive metal in vain of Vanden Plas and Dream Theater is to follow appetising my thirst.
Générateur, the shortest track, comprises in a nutshell most of the elements Nemo stand for. It features a compelling rhythm generated by funky bass interacting with finely augmented guitars driving the track, surrounded by countless effective minimal changes and cheerful musical diversions resulting in a perfectly harmonious track. The atmosphere shifts to more darker atmospheres in Sur La Tombe Du Phénix which is based on satisfying blues structures. This highly emotive track slowly drags you into the deep with demanding guitars, captivating arrangements on keys with bass and drums carrying weight in constant poise.
La Mort Du Scorpion reveals yet another vision of Nemo. Divided into three parts the two first parts glide by on spontaneous jazzy structures. Classical piano and light hearted acoustic guitar interplay magnificently with seeming ease and frivolity, where part two reminds me of the sheer uniqueness of Canadian Harmonium. Part three leisurely encapsulates with nice flowing guitars and mysterious marimba, intensified halfway through with an interpretation of the extra-terrestrial encounter in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Steady, slowly and diminishing in tempo it thematically intensifies thereby delicately depicting a slow death from a sting by a scorpion through enthralling guitar.
Forcefully awakening Les Nouvelles Croisades lays down Rush-like riff and rhythms and continues to impress with jazz rock and unprompted uplifting prog. Revisiting several themes laid down before it’s an adventurous landscape showing further influences like Saga and Pain Of Salvation. An interlude of exemplary guitars dueling against keyboards and piano even provokes thoughts of early Anyone’s Daughter. Le Pire Est Avenir concludes this newly discovered temporality, representing the evolution of Nemo since 2003. Concise, up-tempo with neo-progressive touches, some more intrinsic Pain Of Salvation, harmonious vocals and an animated wonderful conclusion to an outstanding album, rekindling my inner Burgundian lifestyle.
I sincerely hope it’s not a spasm and hope this release will ignite a new audience and a spark amongst Nemo themselves for it would be a shame to lose them to obscurity. Highly recommendable and I only one thing left to add: By Toutatis! Finding Nemo is rewarding and I’ll have a Cognac whilst checking out their back-catalogue. I feel a biography coming on. Merde!
Nosound - Allow Yourself
According to the press sheet, Nosound have "evolved as a band" and have taken "their minimalistic vision even further", including "80s/90s ambient". As a fan of the heavier side of prog this does not bode well. But it also speaks of "unsettling atmosphere", "70s psychedelica", and "contemporary alternative and post rock". Let's say the press sheet confuses me.
Unsettling, that description fits many of the songs, and it's the good kind of unsettling. The kind that drags you in and really grabs you. Although probably only if the general sadness of post rock music appeals to you like it does to me.
The ambient sections are somewhere between Talk Talk and Sigur Rós. When soaring, distorted guitars and cellos enter My Drug to fill the air waves, it reminded me of Choir Of Young Believers. This Night has a rather typical post-rock build-up but since Nosound decided to leave out the guitar, the sound is not so typical.
Looking at the track durations you will notice Nosound take less time to say what they have to say than some of those references. To some this will be a good thing and in this case I think it works very well.
The effective, emotive and supportive vocals act as one of the instruments to the songs, like with Gazpacho. While the lyrics are said to be about hope and the present, that hope is directed at the future, for the present definitely is still a bit grey. And that's just what I like in music.
I could have done without the sections where mainly those 80s/90s electronics are used, but these moments are sparse. All tracks are relatively short and although the sudden changes make it diverse, in a track like Don't You Dare they are a bit too unexpected, not really fitting thereby disturbing the picture that's being painted. Miracle is a bit out of place here and there as well, for different reasons that I find hard to put my finger on. But these are minor issues and quickly forgotten when I hear the beautiful, melancholic piano melodies.
This album is a solid unit of songs that individually don't really stand out, but as part of the whole concept make it an album you can listen to in one go. Probably best in a dimly-lit room, as the last album you listen to tonight before you go to sleep.
Scolari/Cavalca - Natural Impulse
This Italian improvisational jazz-prog trio have released their third album Natural Impulses. Scolari/Cavalca work in the avant-garde end of jazz-prog, with the emphasis on the jazz side than on the prog side. They seem, to me, to be the equivalent, in jazz-prog terms, to RIO giants Art Zoyd. In that both bands are happy in the avant-garde margins of progressive music, both ploughing a their own unique furrow.
Scolari/Cavalca produce challenging, sometimes obtuse, music that prioritises an atmosphere over a melody or a groove. See that jazz-prog envelope? Well Scolari/Cavalca have just torn it up, then set fire to it and now the smoke alarms are going off.
This jazz project was formed by Claudio Scolari. He is a drummer, composer, percussionist, synth programmer, teacher at a conservatory and member of a symphony orchestra in Italy. His compositional process starts with building the synthesizer sounds, adding rhythm and colours with percussion, drums and then ornamenting them with the help of Daniele Cavalca’s live synths, Rhodes, piano, vibraphone and bass, and Simone Scolari’s trumpet. Daniele Cavalca also plays a second drum kit on four tracks (Unknown Destination, Chasing Inspiration, Uptown Night Trip and Insomnia).
The synth lines do work as a way into the complex and, often fragmented, music found on Natural Impulse. This gives the ear something to follow. In the way that the percussion does on the opening passages of Miles Davis’ electric albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I’m thinking of tracks like Shhh/Peaceful from the first side of In A Silent Way and the title track from Bitches Brew. Where multiple keyboards, trumpet and guitar are held in place by the rhythm section pursuit of a groove. On Natural Impulse Scolari/Cavalca seem to have abandoned the idea of finding a groove in the Davis sense. Sidestepping this convention for a disturbing, uncomfortable ambience of percussion, keyboards and trumpet stabs.
The opening track, Unknown Destination (the title seems prescient), is the most avant-garde piece in this collection. It starts with two minutes of the jazz equivalent of an orchestra tuning up. Then Scolari/Cavalca start a game of avant-jazz ping-pong, batting short phrases and ideas back and forth between the trumpet and the keyboards. In the meantime, the percussion seems to be in a different world all together. None of this leads to a melody or even a sense of some forward momentum or coherence. And like many of the tracks here it threatens to take off but seems to fizzle rather than burn.
However, there are four or five tracks that do work better for me. There is on Chasing Inspiration, a hint of Miles Davis jamming with Black Market-era Weather Report all lithe synths and muted trumpet. The piano improvisation and electronics of the title track have a repetitive melodic phrase that is hard to shake. Moon Mood is the soundtrack to the covert art’s mysterious woodlands. The music reverberates through the trees and undergrowth in a lazy meander that is quite captivating. Dear John has sparkling synths, gentle percussion and an emotive trumpet. The trumpet also so spars with some lovely piano in an almost conventional way.
For the rest it seems to me that that Scolari/Cavalca are feeling their way into the compositions. The spark they had in the studio does not quite transfer to my living room’s speakers. It is easy to admire the musicianship and the singular vision, but I find it hard to fully get on board with the results.
If you are a prog fan who is not at all interested in the jazzier side of the genre then walk away there is nothing to see here. Personally, as a prog fan who has a lot of time for jazz I found Natural Impulse an extremely challenging listen. This is an album for the adventurous avant-jazz lover who doesn’t mind if the prog side fades away.