Reviews in this issue:
Baaden Cremer - Aufbruch
Uwe Cremer (a.k.a. Level π or Level Pi) has throughout his musical career entered into several collaborations which have always produced interesting results. His latest is with Andreas Baaden, the origins of which extend back almost three decades. The album, Aufbruch (Departure) is a mixture of jams and written compositions played on a variety of synthesisers, and follows very much in the fine tradition of German electronica, mixed with a fair dollop of space rock.
The album kicks of with Das Lebenselixier (The Elixir Of Life), extracted from a long jam session. A sedate beginning, builds with layers of synths, delivering an interesting palette of sounds, rhythms and tempos. It is obvious that the two musicians are on the same wavelength and absolutely synced in their musical approach, as the parts played by each are seamlessly integrated. The piece flows with an almost hypnotic vibe that washes over the listener, generating a feeling of peace and tranquillity.
The Rise And The Fall Of Proxima Centauri Pt II is the oldest piece, as the basic track was recorded live by Baaden way back in 1981 on the two analogue synths he was in possession of at the time (for those interested in such things; these were a Korg MS 20 and an Hohner Excelsior String Keyboard). Zip forward to 2009 and the cassette tape containing the original recording was digitised, and extra layers were added using more modern equipment. Given the age of the original components, there is no apparent loss in fidelity.
Kurz Vor Dem Aufbruch (Shortly Before The Departure) is an imagination of what Pink Floyd jamming with a Klaus Schulze sequencer program might have sounded like in the mid 1970s. Well, that is how Baaden Cremer describe it! However, the absence of the characteristic Floydian guitar and drumming makes the suggestion rather a flight of fancy. The piece itself is dominated by the sequencer, with the additional instruments being rather chaotic, although there is a melody line hidden amongst the almost random playing.
Two extended musical pieces follow in Moonglow and Das Möbiusband (The Möbius Strip). The former takes a while to get going, but the guitar interjections provide a nice contrast to the other more languid synths. Das Möbiusband is also extracted from a jam session and is rather more upbeat, although it doesn't really differentiate from a set pattern throughout its duration.
Another jam session resulted in the basis of Steamroller On The Interstellar Highway, the musical motifs in which prompted the duo to expand it by re-recording from scratch, and in the process change the piece into a totally different type of music. With a greater emphasis on rock music, the piece is decidedly heavy for electronica with plenty of guitar soloing from Cremer. The inclusion of a Hammond organ (real or simulated?) is a nice touch and, largely stripped of the over-emphasis on sequenced patterns, for me this is the standout track on the album.
As ever with Cremer, his work, be it solo or collaborative, provides a good take on so-called Krautrock. Tangerine Dream fans will find a lot to get excited about on this release, although the album's appeal should extend beyond this niche group.
Chandelier - Timecode
CD 2: Stone Age (2018 Version) (6:46), Flight Of The Raven (2018 Version) (5:31), Therapy (2018 Version) (5:30), Mountain High (1997 Piano Version) (3:38), Half Empty, Half Fool (1993 Version) (11:09), Call For Life (1993 Acoustic) (4:24), For Absent Friends (1993 Acoustic) (1:52), All My Ways (1993 Acoustic) (4:09), Jericha (1989 Demo) (6:56), Paper In Juice (1987 Rehearsal) (14:00), Glimpse Of Home (1986 Martin's Demo) (12:24)
After releasing the impressive Facing Gravity (read the review of the remaster), the future was looking bright for Chandelier. It’s success gave them the opportunity to travel the world (Europe), and become a household name within the progressive rock field. Writer's block, musical differences and the gradual change to a semi-professional career did however take its toll in the following years.
Bassist Christoph Tiber left at the end of 1993, to be replaced by Lerke Tyra, a female bass player and old friend of the band. Drummer Herry Rubarth decided to leave during 1994, filled competently by Tom Jarzina, accountable for Chandeliers artwork up to then. When finally Stephan Scholz stepped in to replace Tyra, a stable formation was ready to start anew. With label Inside Out releasing their album Timecode, as well as re-issuing their back-catalogue, a new path was blooming by 1997.
The enthusiasm and professionalism of Scholz rubbed off on the band and in a direct effect resulted in a slightly heavier approach and more complex compositions. It also affected the acoustical passages which were now scarce, and the once delicious shorter pop-influenced songs, a trademark to be found on their earlier albums, were almost extinct.
It did bring many epic tracks round the 7-11 minute mark, with lots of twist and turns, gracious melodies and implemented with new ideas. Ideas that gave them a new face, like the a-cappella introduction and soprano opera-like vocals in Expedition. A composition containing all the classic Chandelier ingredients and a continuation of their sound, though the unexpected female touch at the end of the song still catches by surprise, puzzling me still today.
The appreciative bombastic approach on Timecode, instantly giving neo-progressive visions of Pallas and IQ, is another musically strong and sound composition and keeps the flow going. A flow which reaches its peak with Half Empty, Half Fool, being as memorable as the material published on Facing Gravity. Here a short revisit on acoustic guitar bursts into divine complex neo-prog filled with luscious keys and a tantalising guitar solo. On top of this fierce bass and dynamic drums drive the track forward where shards of Marillion enhance this complex triumphant track, which in a way turns out to be a key point on the album.
For although the refined ballad Child Of Hope tries to seek affection and is nicely executed, there's something amiss. Where the earlier albums have a certain appealing spontaneity, passion and a search for adventure; on Timecode this spark and special feeling isn't present as such and feels executed to safe. The open yet clinical production doesn’t help either losing some of that warmth experienced before. It feels like they tried too hard in succeeding and in the end lost touch to their own identity. A thought that crosses my mind by taking one glance at the curious cover.
With Living In The Human Race, Have A Break and When The Night Begins slowly the impression begins that the distinct likeable features that set them apart where beginning to fade. So much so that they sound too similar to bands like Aragon, Galahad, Arena, and contemporaries, with keyboards by Budnowski there to support Lang, instead of making a difference through interaction.
Ferengi Lover, incorporating slight touches of Saga, attempts to incorporate their poppy side, and succeeds up to a point, apart from its lyrics and rather dull chorus. And while the slow climb in Mountain High has great melodies, virtuosity and deeply moving melancholic solos by Lang, the prolonged dragging structure could have been more concise.
For those in love with the more distinct sound on the first two albums, Timecode was a step back on the ladder. A step many bands admire and would gladly like to reach, for it is still a very good and solid record. It's simply not up to par with their charming previous efforts. Regrettably it proofed to be their last outing for after a short tour with Spock’s Beard they said their goodbye’s in 1998.
Fast forward to 2019 and Chandelier are eager to rehabilitate Timecode by adding a bonus disc, emphasising on their uniqueness. An immaculate CD bringing brilliant newly recorded tracks worth the purchase of this re-issue alone. Most surprisingly Chandelier have lost none of their touch after all these years, picking up right up where they left off: somewhere in between Pure and Facing Gravity. The upgraded Stone Age, a track from their demo Fragments sounds full, lively and fresh, where Eden's voice is as playful and tunefully strong as ever and Lang shows he hasn't lost any of that gracious melancholic touch.
Flight Of The Raven, performed long ago even before the first album, and Therapy (issued on Lang's solo effort No Effect) are delicious prog tracks with refined symphonic touches of Marillion, Genesis and Grobschnitt. Set in a new pristine production and mastered by Eroc they sound as a logical continuation to Facing Gravity and show what could have been, but alas never was.
The emotive and intricate piano version of Mountain High might prove to appeal even more than the original version featured on Timecode, demonstrating one of the strengths of Chandelier. Music doesn't need to be complex and complicated when in essence the melodies are touching, and a bare naked version on piano and moving vocals will suffice.
Another testimony to this are the unplugged versions of Call For Life, For Absent Friends, and All My ways, recorded in small setting (a pub or a café) with distant crowd chatter and noises to be detected in the background. A phenomenon of that era where the sheer simplicity and strength of the material manages to come across and shows the diversity and confidence they possessed as a band.
The inclusion of Half Empty, Half Fool ,recorded in 1993, gives the opportunity to compare and shows significant differences. This version sounds far superior to the one published on Timecode, in being more vigorous and uplifting. Here the spine chilling flashy and shredding guitar work gets far more exposure and the whole song feels alive and bright, emphasised by twinkling keys. It sheds a dark light onto the clean polished version on Timecode.
A taste of the demo tape Call For Life flows by in form of the moreish Jericha, making room for two epic rarities. So rare and obscure they even manage to surpass the sonic wizardry of Eroc. Both tracks are surrounded by digital tape noise, and the end segment of Paper In Juice must have given him some serious headaches whilst trying to remaster it. Despite this it still manages to give delightful glimpses into the early stages of Chandelier, who sounded much more Genesis-influenced at the time.
The home demo of Glimpse Of Home by Martin Eden, delves even further into history. Performed on acoustic guitars only, it outlines the conceptual ideas for the track. Many alterations and years of development later this prehistoric form regressively shows the interaction and compositional skills of the band with each musician leaving a mark on the final result. A great gesture by the band to include these tracks for right minded Chandelier fans.
In the end Chickadisc (GAD Records) have done a magnificent job at making the album available again, thereby reinstating and completing Chandelier's prog momentum. Essentially the inclusion of the Lost And Found bonus CD makes this an indispensable upgrade to the original album. This re-issue, likewise to Pure and Facing Gravity is wholeheartedly recommended for everyone who wants to have a keepsake of German neo-prog history.
So what's next? With the Call For Life demo still pendent, it seems that these newly recorded tracks, Facing Gravity getting a vinyl treatment and a one-off concert at Night Of The Prog festival in Loreley on the 19th of July 2019 has ignited a fire within them. Whether they will keep this newly lit candle burning to radiate more solar music our way only time can tell. For now be sure to check out the album(s) and try to catch them at Loreley if you can, convincing them to once again start it! Let’s hope they record it as well.
Jorodu - Jorodu
Have you ever found yourself transfixed and transported to a different mind space, by the sheer quality of the music that you are listening to and experiencing?
In recent weeks, Jorodu's self-titled release has consistently been one of my favourite go to albums. It ticks all the right boxes and much more!
Jorodu is the latest solo project of Jose Roman Duque. Duque is a graduate of Berklee College and is a renowned drum teacher and educator. He is also the author of the highly respected The Drummers Role. He has composed a number of soundtracks to movies and has featured in many albums over the years both as a leader/ composer and as a performer. He contributed to Burnt Belief's Emergent album in 2016.
Duque is a drummer, but he is also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. During Jorodu, he makes an impressive contribution on many different instruments including drums, Keyboards, bass and guitar.
At various points during the album, a roster of gifted musicians joins Duque. These include Phil Sargent (guitar), Jon Durant (guitar), Manu Koch (Rhodes and synth), Emigdio Suarez (Rhodes and synth), Jose Gallegos (Rhodes and piano), Beatriz Malnič (vocals), Javier Espinoza (bass), and Rodrigo Gamboa (guitars).
Duque’s fantastic compositions and accomplished arrangements are performed with skilful aplomb. This helps to ensure that Jorodu is an engaging and alluring experience from start to finish.
Jorodu possesses excellent sonic qualities. Grammy nominated producer and engineer Erik Aldrey completed the mixing and mastering of the album. His clear attention to detail helps to make listening to Jorodu an absolute pleasure, but of course, this would be somewhat meaningless, if the quality of the music was not every bit as impressive as the precise and pristine nature of the recording.
It is! It is! IT IS!
Each of the tracks on offer exhibit special moments that will have aficionados of seventies style jazz rock and instrumental fusion music, salivating and quivering in delight. This impressive instrumental release glitters and shines brightly and has a bubbling effervescence. It contains an abundance of tunes, which allude to various styles of jazz rock and fusion.
Some of the music is intense, some of it is gentle and some of it as in, Amor MCMLXXX, has a vivid cinematic quality that creates and presents a ever changing array of vistas and images. These amble and dart colourfully and evocatively across the mind. A number of the tunes are garlanded and dressed in a reassuringly familiar style. They possess a structure and ambience that will frequently appeal to fans of jazz tinted bands as varied as Return to Forever, Al Di Meola, Lyle Mays, Billy Cobham, Chick Corea and Tony Williams' Lifetime.
Even though, some of Jorodu has a comfortable warm glove appeal for Jazz rock fans, Jorodu is not an album that simply reproduces a style that might be associated with some of the classic fusion bands of the mid-seventies. On the contrary, there is a contemporary feel to a number of the compositions. Other influences, including electronica,funk and world music, harmoniously coexist within the easily recognisable jazz rock structures on display.
What is apparent throughout Jorodu is that no one player dominates proceedings and that all of the performers have an equally important role in realising Duque’s vision. It really is a team effort!
When solos occur (and they do with mouth-watering proficiency), they sensitively, or exuberantly complement the piece, rather than dominate it. Therefore, everything about this album has an air of crafted professionalism and its overall excellence reflects the careful planning that must have gone into its execution.
Nevertheless, the majority of the tunes on offer have an ability to project a sense of inventiveness. They also possess an extraordinary and enthralling wow factor that keeps things interesting and frequently creates a genuinely exciting and gratifying experience. For example, the Konnokol section, which occurs in Ubi Umbra Vivit, is quite unexpected and offers a quite brilliant rhythmic diversion. Consequently, its inventive inclusion has a striking impact.
Ubi Umbra Vivit is probably the most progressive piece on the album and is possibly the standout composition. Its ethnic flavours, flowing piano interludes and evocative guitar sounds, helps to create a memorable tune that had me tightly gripping my knuckle-red head phones and left me bewitched and smitten.
The range of guitar styles and skills that are on display during the course of the album are quite special. Jon Duran's contribution during Ubi Umbra Vivit is particularly satisfying. His cloud guitar tones and mysterious yowling creates a sound that is akin to imitating a twisted sitar, gives that piece a unique flavour. His contribution ensures that the piece has a mysterious ambience and an even greater irresistible pull.
However, Phil Sargent undertakes the majority of guitar duties and there were many occasions when his legato style solos and melodic yelping in tunes like, Fortuna Non Omnibus Aeque, Verbum Dimissum, and Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis, Tertius quickened the pulse and really astounded me.
In addition, if that was not enough, one piece, the lengthy Victa Iacet Virtus contains wordless female vocals. Readers familiar with my ramblings will know that any album that contains tuneful warbling’s, where the voice is an instrument, immediately makes a more than positive impression upon my senses.
Another selling point and highlight, is the way in which rich piano tones, burbling, gushing synths and flowing piano breaks are skilfully weaved into the arrangements. These interventions and embellishments sound delicious and give the album a fluid, yet subtle edge when required and provide an elegant finess that is hard to ignore and very easy to appreciate.
I have really enjoyed listening to Jorodu and play it regularly. It is a fine album. In every respect, it is a wonderful example of sharply composed and majestically performed contemporary Jazz rock with numerous stylistic nods to the classic sounds and styles for which this genre is renowned.
If jazz rock and fusion moves you in any way, I urge that you check this album out. I am more than confident that Jorodu will not disappoint.
Lost World Band - Spheres Aligned
I have enjoyed the work of Andy Didorenko and his Lost World Band for a number of years. Their carefully crafted arrangements which frequently involve the playful interaction between combinations of flute, violin and guitar has always appealed.
The addition of sweetly scented tunes, sung with an ear for melody and with heartfelt softness by Didorenko on the band's recent albums, has only served to make their often-unusual blend of styles even more appealing. Their latest album Spheres Aligned is probably the band's most satisfying release yet.
Those readers who are of a certain age and who have some knowledge of the UK may well remember the Pick and Mix area in Woolworths. The idea was simple; it was a self-serve, sweet tooth counter, where in childish blissful ignorance of the consequences to your health, you could fill a paper bag with an assortment of sweets and other teeth bashing goodies.
Listening to Lost World Band's slick release reminded me of childhood days spent bulging the bag, with a selection of four favourite flavours. My quartet of tasty treats always included a few jaw-ache rum and butter toffees, a bunch of break-tooth eclairs, and a forest of liquorice sticks. I always left a space in the bag for a final fourth choice, which was invariably something I had not tasted before; namely a flavour, which might provide a degree of mystery and some extra zest. The final selection always provided the assortment with an undefined and unpredictable appeal.
There are at least three readily identifiable and often overlapping and interlocking flavours, or musical essences, which present themselves in Spheres Aligned.
Firstly, they include, whimsical vocal interludes recalling the deft style of Canterbury bands like Caravan, in tunes such as, Dawn Day Dusk Night and Running in the Sun. Secondly, the release contains a variety of Tull like riffs, and fluid flute passages that soar, duck and dive in a number of tunes. These include the wrist-clapping, knee-slapping rhythms of Crystallized and the excellent muscular riffing and swirling silver tube simmering of Symphonic. For good measure, there is even a megaphone vocal effect in the very un-Tull like twisted distorted power ballad I am The World that concludes the album.
The third musical flavour is often predominant and has a distinctive taste and piquancy. It is the stunning violin work of Didorenko, where prog, fusion and classical elements intertwine to recall such diverse artists as KBB, Electric Asturias, Jean Luc Ponty, David Cross and Jerry Goodman. The instrumental passage led by the bow, during the twisted pop of Running In The Sun and inventive bell like vocal harmonies of Dawn Day Dusk Night are particularly impressive. Incidentally, as well as perhaps an erroneous and superficial resemblance to Caravan, some aspects of the vocal section and violin embellishments during Dawn Day Dusk Night, were redolent of the style of Jack O The Clock.
However, by far the most satisfying musical essence on display is the fourth one, which provides an extra zest and a degree of mystery; call it the fresh tang of spontaneity if you like.
Its tingling appeal and exciting presence, brashly and subtly permeates almost everything that is good about the album. Just like the satisfaction gained from devouring the mystery ingredient in the pick and mix bag, the pleasure gained from experiencing the spontaneity which lies at the heart of much of this album is equally gratifying. This characteristic is fully in evidence during the outstanding instrumental passages, which dominates tunes like Aligned, Rockfall, Symphonic and Pressured.
On numerous occasions, virtuoso instrumental breaks on violin, flute and guitar cut loose with snarling exuberance and break, shackle-free from tunes bound, by recognisable and pleasantly reassuring time-honoured structures associated with prog. In this respect Pressured is probably the most progressive tune on offer. Resplendent in its strident riffing, twisting guitars and disturbing King Crimson styled discordant nature; it had me reaching for the play button repeatedly.
This fourth and most important characteristic guarantees that the album is able to satiate a desire for prog that contains familiar elements, but also provides a stable scaffold for the band to explore lesser-known paths with a spirit of adventure, spontaneity and copious amounts of flair and exuberance.
The running order of the album is well planned and carefully selected. It helps to emphasise the variety of styles that the band are able to master. The use of a sparse piano to deliver the classically inspired short interlude tune Aise was surprising and acted as a bridge between the bombast and intricacy of the symphonic and familiar prog ballad territory of Sail Away.
The mixture of delicate vocal tunes and boisterous instrumental passages may not appeal to everybody. However, this combination creates an album that has many delicate and soothing moments in ear friendly tunes such as I Am The World and Lighter Than Air. These gentle pieces are a great contrast to the aggressive and brawny musical style that is in evidence in the swirling measured mayhem of Pressured.
Therefore, this ensures that listening to the album is always an interesting and fulfilling experience. The complex arrangements of instrumental tunes like Symphonic and Rockfall present themselves in an uninhibited and natural manner. The player’s enthusiasm for their art is palpable and the freshness and spontaneity that is self-evident in their skilled performance is consistently satisfying.
I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which the different styles on display often unexpectedly merge and successfully coalesce in the space of a single tune. In this respect, the excellent Dawn Day Dusk Night and Pressured occupy different dynamic ends of the sonic spectrum, but both illustrate the bands willingness to create progressive music that is never stale or hackneyed. Both tunes exude a fresh and joyously created ambience that is a pleasure to experience.
This album demonstrates that Lost World Band continue to develop and improve upon their own unique style. In Spheres Aligned, Lost World Band have presented their familiar mix of prog, fusion and classical elements, but have skilfully dressed it with a cape of unfamiliar and unusual colours that is embossed and brightly patterned with twinkling spontaneity. Consequently, this album works superbly well on many different levels and ticks many boxes.
Oh by the way, if my ramblings have stirred you to reflect hazily on past, moon-smiled times, spent clutching a pick and mix bag, I must ask which type of treat would you select now? Would it be something reassuringly familiar, or something unpredictable with the spontaneous appeal of a mystery item?
Whatever your decision, I hope that a tasty treat awaits and that it is just as fulfilling and gratifying as the pick and mix of styles evident in Spheres Aligned. I recommend that you check out Spheres Aligned. Who knows, you might even enjoy its unusual combination of flavours. I did!
Pattern-Seeking Animals - Pattern-Seeking Animals
Pattern-Seeking Animals features current and former Spock's Beard members Ted Leonard, Jimmy Keegan and Dave Meros along with long-time contributing songwriter / producer John Boegehold. One could dispute the idea of creating a band consisting predominantly of members of an already established band and I will admit to being sceptical at first. That said, Boegehold's goal in starting this project was to "produce music that is progressive and intricate while keeping things immediate and melodic". After listening to the album, the logic of forming the band made much more sense to me. Though the Spock's Beard sound is there to some extent, this is definitely something different.
The album is musically more accessible, but don't let that scare you away. This self titled debut is definitely progressive but freed of the responsibility of staying true to a familiar brand, Pattern-Seeking Animals allows these musicians to change their spots. I wouldn't classify it as a monumental change and fans of their other work will find much to enjoy here. To my ears, the most distinct differences comes in the compositional arrangements and vocals. Even the longer songs feel more concise than a equal length Spock's Beard track. Also, the duo vocal work of Leonard and Keegan is outstanding and adds to the intriguing sound of this band.
As would be expected, the longer tracks are the most proggy and in the case of the Yes influenced Orphans of the Universe and the captivating Stars Along the Way, they are also the highlights of the album. Regardless of song length though, there is a consistent quality to the material. Songs such as The Same Mistakes Again, No One Ever Died and Made Me King and No Land's Man (complete with melodic whistling!) are very strong.
Other highlights include the ballad Fall Away and the almost novelty like, We Write the Ghost Stories. The album displays a modern edge while still embracing some of the elements of progressive rock of the past.
Like any good album, it ultimately comes down to the quality of the songwriting and the performances. Using that gauge, this release is a considerable success. In fact, Pattern-Seeking Animals is one of the better Spock's Beard related releases of the post-Neal Morse era of the band. It is also one of the best albums of 2019 thus far.
The Road - Five Years Later
As preparation for a review of a new release, I enjoy finding out a bit about the artist I am reviewing. With the web, this is usually quite easy, as most bands have a degree of presence on the internet. The Road are the exception to this rule. Their website was hard to find and holds only a single page. No Facebook, Youtube or Twitter account were found. Even the CD provided contains no contact details, and the only reference I could find is on the CDBaby website. Consequently, the bits of band history I have included has been plagiarised from the brief history provided on this website. Should my review encourage anyone to want to purchase this release, use CDBaby. Oh, their website does have a contact form.
Thanks to CDBaby, I can tell you The Road originate from Boston in the USA, and Five Years Later is the bands third release. Primary members of The Road are Aaron Moulin on guitars and backing vocals, and Greg Wilson, lead vocals, lyrics and trumpet. The band appear to have had a number of changes in their line up, since their formation at the beginning of the noughties. The most recent addition to the band is Michael Bruce on guitar, bass and drum tracks. Guest musicians help by providing drums, bass and backing vocals to the finished product.
The Road cite early Genesis, King Crimson, Porcupine Tree, and Vertical Horizon as their main influences. The latter being the only band I had no knowledge of, so after investigation, Vertical Horizon's easy listening rock with catchy choruses, appear the most obvious influence that I can hear. The progressive influences are difficult to identify from the ten songs on this CD. I am unsure whether it is due to Greg Wilson's vocals, which to me resemble those of Anthony Kedis, I am often reminded of Red Hot Chilli Peppers when I listen to the tracks. It is therefore not surprising that The Road produce songs which have a very funky, jazzy rhythm, with catchy hooks and sing along choruses, that leave you with that feel-good summer feeling. Also, this album has the undeniably American rock sound, that Soul Asylum produced to great commercial success. Elements of the Seattle Grunge sound can also be heard on a couple of the songs, and the catchy choruses with harmony vocals, at times give a nod to The Beatles.
The CD opens with a 40-second barrage of heavy metal drums and guitar, providing an introduction that is totally at odds with the remaining 46 minutes of music. Faith, for example, has an acoustic guitar introduction that may be a nod to Genesis or Rush, before developing into an instrumental section that has vague King Crimson similarities, but retaining the pop/rock sound.
The song, Lament, is probably the most diverse track on the album. It begins with a punchy Yes type bass line, with picking guitar, before heavy guitar and drums give rise to the chorus. This leads to a jazzy section, where the trumpet of Greg Wilson makes an appearance, leading to an almost Ska section before the final chorus wraps up a very interesting song.
Descent takes the listener on a post prog journey driven by another funky bass line with discordant guitar, which provide the obvious Porcupine Tree reference. Due to the American sound and melody of the songs, I get a feel, at times, of the sort of diversity which present day Spock's Beard deliver.
The Road have produced an album that delivers accessible rock songs, that retain the familiar American sound ideal for listening or playing at a social gathering. I can imagine this CD being played and enjoyed at barbecues or parties, for example, as most tracks provide a familiar sound where you think you may have heard the song before. If you are now interested in giving it a listen, I just wish there were easier ways to get it.
Daniel Tompkins - Castles
This is the debut solo album from Daniel Tompkins, better known as frontman for prog-metal act TesseracT and previously Skyharbor. He is also co-founder of melodic-prog project White Moth Black Butterfly. It’s his work with dance/electronic band Zeta however that gives the strongest indication of what to expect on this album. The songs were co-written with American musician, producer (and Haji’s Kitchen member) Eddie Head who is also responsible for the music recording and (for the first 8 tracks at least) production.
Tompkins most significant contribution to the album is his voice, but what a voice! He’s a class singer with a warm but silky smooth delivery that glides effortlessly through each song. It came as little surprise to read on his website that he also runs a vocal coaching academy. Prog’s answer to George Michael you could say, although if this is prog (which I doubt), it’s modern prog with commercial, radio friendly sensibilities. Head’s musical backdrop is contemporary pop-rock with a cutting edge sound that incorporates electronic and post-rock. With electronic effects, synthetic rhythms and catchy hooks, the songs are clearly designed to crossover to a mainstream audience.
It’s difficult to single out any of the songs, the melodies vary but they adopt a similar structure. Typically, they begin in minimalist fashion allowing ample space for Tompkins’ reverb laden vocals. The sparsely arranged verses with atmospheric piano, synths and rhythm loops develop into anthemic choral hooks, occasionally (as in Black The Sun and Cinders) accompanied by loud, crashing chords. The end result has an expansive, post-rock ambience. In the memorability stakes, the opening song Saved and the catchy Limitless leave an impression, and both are supported by glossy videos. My favourite track however is the delightfully mellow Telegraph, especially the lush sampled strings.
Although there are 13 tracks on the album, only 7 are original songs. The other 6 are remixes with no less than 3 alternate versions of Saved. With the exception of Black The Sun (Head Remix), they have all been remixed by other producers. Whilst this may seem like filler material, the remixes are sufficiently diverse to justify inclusion on the album. Acle Kahney for example adds an infectious electronic shuffle rhythm to Saved whilst Paul Ortiz gives the same song an 80’s synth-pop makeover with a faster tempo and a bouncing synth line. In some cases, as in Black The Sun (Head Remix) (where guitar is more prominent) and Dmitry Stepanov’s version of Limitless which has recently been released as a single, they improve on the originals. Ironically, Randy Slaugh’s stately version of Saved that closes the album is the shortest and most proggiest sounding track.
This album will not be everyone’s cup of prog although, as I said earlier, its prog credentials are tenuous. It is however a fine showcase for Daniel Tompkins’ vocal talents and clearly a calculated effort to restyle himself as a commercial solo artist. He certainly deserves every success. If you like a good tune and are not averse to modern pop-rock, this could well be a welcome respite to your usual listening experience. It certainly worked for me.