Reviews in this issue:
The Black Fall - Clear Perception
Dutch proggers The Black Fall recently released their sophomore album, Clear Perception. Buy it. Stream it. Listen to it. It is very good. Bruce Soord, of The Pineapple Thief fame, produced it, and it clearly bears his mark. The band cite Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, The Pineapple Thief, Riverside, and many others as influences. If you like those groups, you will probably enjoy Clear Perception.
The drums create this tapestry of sound that is brilliantly filled in with delicate and grinding guitar work, intricate bass, and vocals that remind me of Bruce Soord. The album is short, but all the songs flow very well. The longer songs give their sound a chance to develop with long instrumental sections. Much of the album is instrumental, as one might expect given the band's stated influences, but there is singing throughout.
Lyrically, the band approach broad cultural issues with clear precision. Illness Is A Virtue takes a different shift musically, with a bit of Muse thrown in for good measure. In the lyrics, the band critique the wide use of medications to treat so many mental health problems, lamenting how many people become addicted to various pills just to get through the day. This points at a deeper problem in contemporary western culture, and the band aptly point that out without sounding preachy.
Any fan of the aforementioned bands should certainly check out The Black Fall. This album is one of the better releases I have heard this year, and at just under forty-three minutes in length, it is highly accessible. It seems like some of the newer bands in the genre are moving back to the traditional album length, which I think is a good idea. I have no problem with longer albums, but sometimes a shorter album is much easier to digest.
Don't pass on Clear Perception. It has a lot to keep you interested on repeated listens.
Hans Lundin - The Solo Years
CD 2, Visions Of Circles Of Sounds: Visions Of Circles (21:42), Circles Of Sounds (21:33)
CD 3, Houses: Hasselbo (4:22), Bring Down The House (1:38), In The Red House (6:41), Two Girls In A Black House (6:02), House Of Cards (4:40), Metal-Palace (2:25), House Of Pain And Confusion (13:28), Hangar (4:02), Nightlighthouse (2:30), Paper-Power-Station (4:19), Morning In A Strange House (1:20)
CD 4, The Veiled Seveneyed Dancer: The Veiled Seveneyed Dancer (6:21), Through The Fernfilled Timberland Into The Unknown (4:56), Northern Lights Embrace The Starry Night (3:42), Fluttering Wings In The Abandoned Jungle (7:33), Dark And Golden Mountainmirages (5:36), Long Left Unicorn Tracks (5:24), A Walk By The Forever River (1:47), The Young Folke (5:23)
CD 5, In Search Of The Green Glass: Windflowing Meadows (2:57), The Moon Caught In A Spider's Web (2:48), Dustdevils And Waterspouts (3:44), Raindrops Fall Like Orphaned Diamonds (2:45), Changeshifting Horizons (8:05), Feeling The Precense Of Phantasmagorial Animals (4:33), Dreamshadows (1:06), Enchanted Ruins Of Rocky Hills (3:27), Ponds Silenced By Ice (3:36), The Lively Death Of A Chrysallis (2:18), Rusty Sunlight Dancing In An Emerald Forest (3:33), In The Griffon's Den (4:20)
CD 6, Okänt Öde: Dina mönster dina djup (1982) (3:41), Okänt öde (1979) (6:14), Kall natt (Kaipa demo 1981) (4:49), Jakt (1980) (6:11), Glömskans labyrinter (1981) (4:58), Orden i handen (1984) (4:23), Nytt blod rusar fram (Kaipa demo 1981) (4:19), Folke 2 (1984) (2:55), Vid silverstjärnans sköld (Kaipa demo 1979) (2:16), Drömskuggornas återkomst (1980) (3:12)
Now this is interesting. A box with Hans Lundin's three released albums plus three CDs of unreleased music. Hans Lundin is the keyboard player in the original Kaipa band. When the first incarnation called it quits in the early 1980s, Hans Lundin started producing solo albums. Between 1984 and 1989 he released three instrumental albums (save for some wordless chanting) on his own Örat Records label, choosing to do most music on the keyboards, with some guest musicians here and there.
The results are a delight for fans of keyboard-driven music. Lundin had already started recording songs that didn't fit the Kaipa format. The way he writes his melodies might be recognizable though. Overall, it's lighter, more song-oriented.
Avoiding the old keyboards and organs and using the synthesizers that were popular at the time, the sound is very recognizable as 1980s synth music. Very electronic of course, and some sections do sound a bit dated, especially the drums. This will come as no surprise and probably won't bother any electronic music fan.
I hear Jarre, but also Jeff Wayne. Where my taste usually feels the need for something dark and heavy, I found it's quite easy to listen to without any bother. Depending on the occasion of course, I found myself listening to this mostly late at night.
Where Tales now looks like an exploration of his machinery, the second album, Visions Of Circles Of Sounds is more varied and more focused on producing a whole album. The album contains two side-long suites and although split into five sections each, there is a method to building a suite, offering a longer listening experience.
Not sure whether Lundin had more time to explore different synthesizers, but the sound is less dated and more varied. And while the first album probably has more recognisable melodies harking back to his Kaipa days, this second album is making Lundin a more accomplished solo artist.
Houses was released in 1989 on CD only. The songwriting is focusing on shorter tracks again, like Lundin is learning from every album and trying to find new ways. Some songs are written as, well, songs, and in several occasions I was wondering how the song would sound if played by a full band. Bring Down The House, House Of Pain And Confusion, for example. Especially in songs like this, there comes my need for more organic sounds, and the colder electronics becomes a distraction. Roine Stolt's guest role on Two Girls In A Black House and Olof Ã slund on saxophone on House Of Pain And Confusion are therefore a welcome change. I do have to say the latter has some very nice synth soloing.
Compiling a box with his three solo albums of which the first two becoming available on CD for the first time here, was a good idea. But there is more. Between his second and third album, Lundin recorded an album that for some reason was never released, but is now available here as The Veiled Seveneyed Dancer.
Chronologically but also style-wise this fits between Lundin's second and third album. It's got elements of both and probably shows the path to Houses. Regarding my comments on that third album I have to admit I prefer a track like Fluttering Wings... that is taking its time to paint a beautiful picture rather than Fernfilled Timberland which sounds more dated mid-1980s in sounds and songwriting.
In Search Of The Green Glass is the second CD with previously unreleased music. It has outtakes from Lundin's archive with songs recorded between 1980 and 1984, some of his earliest solo works. It's an interesting album and while I expected music that would have fit on the first album, I get a different feel from it. Mostly shorter tracks, like Lundin was experimenting or demoing ideas, but the results are too good to be just that. The songs are also a bit darker, unlike most of the first album. Maybe that's why I like this one so much?
Kaipa fans will probably be very interested in the last CD in this box, as it contains Lundin's oldest recordings (1979) and three demos for Kaipa songs. According to the credits it's Lundin himself singing on the first track and I am amazed he doesn't do this more often! His voice really suits the dramatic, mysterious sounds, adding a layer of warmth to the colder electronics.
Well, colder, this collection has the widest variation of sounds, making it the least electronic. More guest musicians than on the other albums too (real drums on five of the tracks). The songwriting is with a band in mind, making this the most progressive album in the box. Although these are different recordings with different line-ups and from different times, it's an excellent collection.
Tempus Fugit did an excellent job on this beautiful box and for the price of about two regular CDs! It's limited to a 1000 copies, so if you like electronic music of any form or are a fan of Kaipa, make sure you get one! While targeted at fans of electronic music, this box has captured me unexpectedly. I have my favourite albums here and won't listen to some as much as others. Still, the music on offer, its presentation, and having 50% of previously unreleased material, do warrant the "Recommended!" tag.
Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella - Pieces To Remember
Now, I'm not usually a fan of cover versions; let alone a whole album of them! However this is the second such release from this German duo, and they seem to have a found a distinct, acoustic-based formula that I can enjoy and appreciate.
Their first compilation of covers, Gray Matters, received a positive dprp review back in 2016 (review here). As did a live version of that album last year (review here), along with Oblivion Tales, their first, and so far only, original release (review here).
Martin Schnella will already be well known in these here parts, because of his involvement with Flaming Row and Seven Steps To The Green Door. Whilst he provides solid backing vocals (and occasional lead), it is his guitar playing and especially his (re)arrangements of these classic songs that takes this album to a higher level.
Melanie Mau has a wonderful voice and knows how to apply it with the varying textures and emotion needed for this broad collection of songs. The pair are assisted by a formidable collection of guest musicians to add different instruments and expertise as needed.
This time around, of greatest interest to prog fans will be their versions of tracks by Peter Gabriel, Threshold, Genesis, Spocks Beard, Ayreon, Transatlantic, and Kansas. The remainder offers a broad sweep of pop, metal and classic rock/AOR.
Whilst several are pretty faithful acoustic translations, the music works best when Schnella uses his talents to undertake a more drastic (and dramatic) reworking of the original compositions. Unexpectedly it's the version of the non-prog tracks that offer the highlights. The almost-doubling in length of Judas Priest's Painkiller classic, replaces the original Arabian motifs into Celtic ones and allows for an extended instrumental section that totally transform the song. Maiden's Wasted Years receives a similarly successful transplant.
Probably my favourite track is their version of Message In A Bottle. It retains enough of the original to be recognisable, but the changes are truly inspired.
The duo can be seen live with dates currently scheduled between March and June (see their website for more details). The CD is being self-distributed but you can order copies direct from the artists (firstname.lastname@example.org) or if you live in Germany, it is available from Just For Kicks.
Mystery - Lies And Butterflies
In my quest to find beautiful moving music the involvement in DPRP has advantages. Sure, with an appreciative feeling towards a certain style of music, the additional great variety in music widens your musical vision and broadens your taste and mind. A slight disadvantage is the fact that many bands that have made decent to very good albums are unconsciously put in a safety-deposit mind-box labelled "good prog, above standard and nice, and I’ll have a listen to it someday again, if time allows".
Now that could be dangerous grounds, as my previous encounter with Nemo showed (review here) and gave me a "Merde!" experience. Bands evolve, re-invent themselves, have their most creative moment later in life, or for some mysterious reason finally fit all the pieces together to create something beautiful. To keep track of these bands and their efforts a crystal ball would be handy, but alas. So when this CD circumstantially landed on my doorstep, several months after its release, my first thoughts were filled with normal expectations, having heard their previous efforts amidst the many hours of listening to a lot of new releases. I must have missed one or two for as it turns out this is to be "Merde!" part two, the Sequel!
Firmly based on atmospheric neo-progressive rock filled with details and grandeur it’s bandleader and guitarist Michel St-Père who’s accountable for the open, transparent and intricately warm clean production. As a result the acoustic passages shine and are beautifully intertwining with the vibrant up-tempo progressive melodies and momentous melancholic guitar solos. Alongside second guitarist Sylvian Moineau adds refined details and woven together with the minutely softer piano themes and flute create a heavenly classical induced unique sound. Add to this the sparkling keys of Antione Michaud and the dynamic rhythm section of Jean-Sébastien Goyette (drums) and bassist François Fournier and things almost can’t get better.
Yet they do and I can’t state it’s all because of Jean Pageau, who next to vocals handles flute and keys, but he makes this experience unforgettable with his high soaring, pitch-proof and melodic tuneful vocals. And this fact has altered and elevated the sound of Mystery for me from good to extraordinary. Being with them since 2015 this is the second studio-album featuring Pageau on vocals, and long may he last. At first you get a glimpse of his melodic clear unique voice, but in certain passages it’s like listening to Dennis DeYoung (Styx) and John Fannon (New England) melted into one, some of my favourable singers, especially the former.
Looking For Something Else, one of two epics book-ending this album, starts this seventh studio offering by Mystery, immediately lifting the mood with some majestic rich sounds and complex musical structures. Thematically it flows by reminiscent of Yes and Transatlantic with a long solo by St-Père, changing midway to a marvellous guided tearing piano-suite of heavenly proportions, New England-worthy. Melancholic guitars blast in and while expressive vocals fly high it ends in a crescendo of excellent accomplished prog with refined orchestral arrangements.
In between the epics shorter neo-prog delicacies lie, like Dare To Dream, How Do You Feel and Come To Me. All have a warming pop AOR-feel to them, but retain their progressive roots in their own unique way. Each of them filled with unctuous fulfilling spine-chilling guitar solos, careful arrangements, luscious breaks and vocal harmonies. All excellent inspired mini-suites with When Dreams Come Alive at the pinnacle. Taking my hand to come and sail away into a bombastic wonderful world.
But it’s Something To Believe In which does the trick and takes my heart on a journey with its tender emotive strophes, melodies, complex nature and ingenious playing. It opens on a high with a superb Journey feel with guitars resembling Neal Schon and when the ballad surprisingly alters its form to a freestyle jazz-part exhibiting flute and cheerful bass, refined drumming and classically trained piano this is breathtaking to say the least. When Pageau picks it up again with his expressive splendid voice it’s as if something breaks within in me, taking me on an emotional rollercoaster.
The other epic Chrysalis, starts off in best Styx tradition. Top notch expert musicianship, not on an emotional level, but this time via satisfaction through frivolity, darkness, imprisonment, freedom, and relieve, bringing ultimate completeness. Beautiful arrangements, captivating vocals, delicate refined musical structures, strong lyrics beautifully captured via transformations and mood shifts, and all this highlighted by a kaleidoscope of multi-layered instrumentation and superfluous vocals. In one word sublime and the best I’ve ever heard of Mystery. Chapeau.
So there you have it, one of the perks of doing these reviews. Maybe you should try as well, for with this album Mystery have unexpectedly captured my heart big time, which otherwise might have slipped my attention. I bet it will do the same to any prog aficionado out there, so please give it a try, you won’t regret it. One thought lingers in my mind now, before I return to paradise playing this album some more. Are there other albums out there to complete my trilogy of "Merde!" experiences? Can’t wait to find out. Highly recommended.
Manuel Schmid & Marek Arnold - Zeiten
The songs that make up the bulk of Zeiten are readily accessible and for the most part instantly appealing. The album contains tunes sung with heartfelt earnestness and a plethora of sweet centred choruses. The songs are adorned with fine melodies. These uplift the spirit, and radiate charming warmth, to create a thoroughly gratifying air.
The vocal style of Schmid is pleasant and easy on the ear, whilst Arnold’s contribution on sax, piano and an assortment of keyboards give the album a polished and accomplished veneer. Denis Straßburg and Clemens Lischko deliver the majority of the bass and drums. Ralf Dietsch who is also a member ofCyril provides the majority of the guitar parts. Guitarists Rene Niederweisser and Knut Kielmann feature in two other tracks. The solo in Diese Zeit is impressive and has just the right amount of exuberance to satisfy. The recording is clear and crisp and the production values bring out the best in the music.
The songs are light and tastefully measured. They offer a perfect accompaniment to a low-lit evening of aromatic candles and the elusive art of sofa hugging.
Tagraum is particularly sparse. It feature vocals and piano and has a soft, uncluttered approach. Tagraum delicate mix, makes it quite tantalising and it is all the better for it sensitive use of its main ingredients. However, the effects that end the track were slightly incongruous and arguably not in keeping with the main mood of the piece. The laid-back mood continues in Irgendwann, the arrangement is lush and the candle lit chorus evokes misspent nights, spent eating tubs of popcorn, whilst tactfully observing the Euro vision song contest.
One of my favourite tunes is Raum der Illusion. Marek Arnold makes an impressive contribution. Fresh sounding piano tones and rhythmic patterns are a standout feature of this interesting composition. His unusual introduction brightly sets the tone for what follows. The tune has a quirky edge that stands it apart from a standard pop formula and includes some surprising changes of pace that made it quite endearing.
Diese Zeit contains two standout instrumental moments. The synth passage that follows the guitars twinkling flash in the spotlight is enchanting in its own right and provides the tune with some elements that prog fans would appreciate. The last official (non-bonus) track of the album Stiller Schrei is particularly beautiful. Its poetic phrasing and lilting lyrics create a torpid trance like effect that is slightly surreal.
A beautiful pop sensibility lies at the heart of many of the tunes. Abridged radio friendly versions of the songs appear as bonus versions at the end of the release. The lyrics are in German. My lack of understanding of that language meant that I was not able to experience this art pop project as intended. No doubt, the lyrical content of the album conveys an important message that is, enhanced by the beauty and easily observed elegance of many of the tunes.
I found the whole experience of Zeiten quite refreshing. It was good to step outside my comfort zone and share some time with music that I would not usually hear. In this respect, Zeiten was like a cure all elixir recommended by a chemist. Whether or not, such a product might offer any long-term relief is debateable. In the short term, I cannot deny that the therapeutic effect of listening to a different style of music challenged any misguided preconceptions I might have had.
Overall, Zeiten exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed much of the albums unobtrusive and gentle nature. This album will be appealing if you like carefully spun pop tunes played with delightful sophistication.