Issue 2019-063: Mini Reviews Special
Reviews in this issue:
Roland Bühlmann - Crucial
Roland Bühlmann is a musician from Switzerland. Crucial is his third release, following Aineo (2015) and Bailenas (2017). On this album he plays electric and acoustic guitar and bass, aeon sustainer (an electric bow) plus a variety of plucked string instruments not necessarily known to the common progressive rock music lover, such as Hanottere, Kinnor, Mandola and Shofar. Concerning the percussion, he refrains from using pre-programmed sounds, but creates his own based upon "instruments" such as branches, dry leaves, knives, oil tanks, stones, wrenches, and Udu (a percussion instrument from Nigeria). No drum samples are used on this release.
This setup of instruments is unconventional, and so is the music, a blend of ambient, jazz, ethno, fusion, prog and world music. The focus is on creativity and unusual soundscapes. Don't expect catchy tunes or easy-to-remember melodies. The almost complete lack of folky elements has caused the occasional reminiscences to the work of Mike Oldfield, that were present on the preceding album, to almost disappear. Instead, the music has become even more unique and impossible to pigeonhole.
On these grounds, it is a consistent continuation of the musical path that Roland Bühlmann has embarked upon. However, this is at the expense of appealing to a wide-ranging audience, something which anyway is unlikely to be Roland Bühlmann's prime objective. Being diverse, varied, but also somewhat esoteric and introverted, with a focus on subtle details, his music requires constant attention and an open-mindedness concerning the borderlines of progressive rock. The listeners prepared to get into this, will find a remarkable, yet challenging and demanding release.
Coarbegh - The Sound And Flow Of London Town
Coarbegh was founded as a side-project to Poor Genetic Material and has during its existence gradually shifted towards ambient music, reminiscent to that of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. Their line-up nowadays consists of Pia Darmstaedter on flute, alto flute and voice, while Philipp Jaehne supplies keys and field recordings.
Their compositions are built around these outdoor recordings, effectively creating an intricate, cinematic landscape that softly and smoothly glides by. Think of an imaginary empty train passing desolate stations in the outskirts of a peaceful and asleep London city. Most tracks abide more towards new age, instantly evident in Passage Of Colours, featuring distant footsteps and a submerged metro-tube feel, set in a quiet atmosphere, enhanced by gracious flute and shreds of piano. Dockland Loops and Jubilee At St. John's Wood follow the same track gracefully, harbouring suggestive sounds and transient flute passages that float on electronic soundscapes.
The more upbeat Going Up is surrounded by buzz, and takes flight in artful electronic vastness, while Blue Station becalms with sparkling keys and a light, appreciative, buzzing vibe. Their best example is The Magic And Mystery Of Maryon Park, which harvests windy rain in serene sceneries, while electronic resonance and distant chatter flow into flute forests, bird sounds and volatile synth surroundings.
Contrary to these successful compositions, the day-dreamy 6 Seconds to 1:27 and ever-so-slightly haunted The Silent Zone unnoticeably ripple by, before reaching the epiphanic Battersea Dream terminal, waving goodbye through ethereal vocal-chords and heavenly environments to end the ride in grand style.
When you don't mind the gap between progressive rock and electronic ambient/New Age this could be a perfect accompaniment for spiritual inner journeys, imaginary wanderings and meditative moments. There is however the danger of dozing off along the ride, like so often happens whilst going down the tube in London. A worthy trip if you're into electronic music such as Jean Michel Jarre or Brian Eno, or enjoy Eddie Jobson's Theme Of Secrets.
Daniel Crommie - Starseedhead
An eye-catching cover immediately pleasured the eye as I unwrapped the latest album from the endlessly prolific Daniel Crommie, a songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Oregon. On top of over two dozen solo albums, he has featured with Group Du Jour, Echo System and Saturnalia Trio.
We singularly failed to notice Daniel's initial output, which first took shape over a quarter of a century ago. However we have kept pretty up-to-date with his recent solo releases, which he describes as "mind movie music".
Phantoms From The Passed (review here), Winter Roses (review here), Other Elements (review here) and Aquarius In Retrograde (review here) have all garnered deserved comparisons to the music of Fripp and Eno, with passing mentions of Tangerine Dream.
Daniel also operates a revolving cast of musical collaborators as the DC Sound Collective, whose most recent album, Dirae Pax, headed in a very different electro progressive alt-rock direction (review here).
I was hoping that the cover and album title would give me a nice story on which to hang this mini-review. Instead it provided an easy way to describe the music to be found within.
Apparently a "starseed" (star people) comes from a New Age belief where the words extra terrestrials and inner-awakening feature prominently. This being an instrumental album, there are no lyrics to add further explanation, but yes, this is a very New Age type of listen.
Daniel plays (practically) all of the instruments here, and his choice somewhat predicates the type of music that emerges. A range of flutes (wood, bamboo and clay) and electronica (electric dulcimer, synthesizers, Mellotron) dominate, to give this an over-riding light and airy vibe; one that shrieks internally for someone to light a joss stick (or maybe something stronger but equally aromatic).
A combination of world rhythms and more ambient moments weave around a vibe that is more experimental electronica than his previous solo releases. It's an 11-track journey across expansive, yet shifting planes of tone, texture and dynamics. Each track however tends to rest in its own groove. There is certainly no rush.
For those who enjoy a comfort blanket, woven from the more new-age strands of prog, then this would work well as background noise or for a meditative focus (or as both, as one's mood/need dictates).
Fog Light - New Element
Fog Light's New Element is the Finnish trio's third instrumental rock release. The sound immediately brings to mind the adrenaline-pumping, guitar-driven albums of Gary Hoey and Joe Satriani, with jazz-fusion influences.
With only three musicians in the mix, it's easy to hear the nuances of each part. Brothers Saku Hakuli (guitar) and Pasi Hakuli (bass), and drummer Jarmo Pikka, formerly of Omnium Gatherum, are all clearly great players. What jumps out the most though, is the fun these guys obviously have playing together.
Pikka's drumming is busy, but in a good way, and exciting to listen to throughout. Pasi Hakuli's finger-style (no pick) bass is at times reminiscent of Stanley Clarke. His bass solo sections and use of bass chords really show off the range of what an electric bass can do. But at the end of the day, this is a guitar-lead album, and Saku Hakuli dominates with his angular guitar melodies, jazzy chords, and fast-picking runs.
The challenge with instrumental rock albums is in keeping the pieces from sounding too much alike. Fog Light partially avoids this problem by featuring a guest sax player on Jasso and by opening with a beautiful slow bass intro on Loman Odotus (which I've read means "vacation awaits"). But without many strong melodic hooks like you would find on a Joe Satriani or Eric Johnson album, and with the entire album being mid- or up-tempo, it's not always easy to tell one track from another. Surprisingly, my favourite tracks were the final two on the album, which both feature playful 7/4 time changes, and just feel a bit more fully-realised.
New Element will appeal to those who enjoy technically impressive, but still musical, instrumental performances. It will be in my rotation when I have company over and want to play something upbeat and accessible but with enough complex elements to keep my prog-loving brain entertained. I'd jump at the chance to see this trio play live.
Frédéric L'Épée - The Empty Room
Guitarist Frédéric L'Épée is well known for his work with Shylock in the 70s and nowadays with Yang. Next to those band efforts, he has released several solo albums of which The Empty Room is his ninth. As a tribute to absent people, it encompasses compositions dating back nine years, and deals with contemplative, self-reflective aspects of grief, mourning and loss. This sadness and loneliness is accurately depicted through the music and its comparable, strikingly-sober artwork.
Preferably experienced from start to finish, the oppressive music initially engages with slightly-complex, cinematic song-structured prog, reminiscent to Daal and King Crimson (Badong). The heart-warming jazz-orientated Inévitable Traversée adds a further drop of fusion, gradually shifting the warmth of the album towards a more distant, enduring, ambient coldness, bringing to mind Daniel Crommie and Robert Fripp's Frippertronics.
Surely-and-slowly construed soundscapes stream by, minutely drenched in fragility and minimalism, with a slight experimental and psychedelic feel. Treasured Wounds for instance is a wonderfully-crafted track, shimmering with hope through sparkling melancholic keys. The further combination of gaining momentum and a slow build-up in intensity, beautifully represents the thin line between hurt/pain and comfort.
The ongoing brittle atmosphere breathes softly in Mist, guided by earthy touches on fretless bass, whereas playful Pat Metheny guitars intertwine majestically with an intimate piano in Parle-Moi Encore. Finally the delicately energetic Souvenirs De Traversée seeks closure with a dash of fusion, after which soft strophes of emotive guitar glide into soft emptiness and serenity in Wegschippernd (Sailing Away).
The Empty Room is a colourful album, which flows endlessly with its compositions gaining in refinement and detail as it progresses. The progressive, scaled-down nature of the compositions as it unfolds, add layers of depth, forming a unique identity. A fine accomplishment and worth investigating.
Mother Bass - The Bullet Wound Is Gone
Attention, spoiler comes next: this is not a progressive rock album! At least not for me. I know progressive rock has many meanings and maybe whatever you think is "progressive" music, is not "progressive" music to me. So forget these words and keep reading this brief review and take a listen to the album before judging it.
Mother Bass is a band from The Netherlands and The Bullet Wound Is Gone is their new EP, after their self-titled debut album from 2018. The line-up has Daan Dekker on vocals, Roel van Erp on bass guitar, Friso Woudstra on guitars and keyboards, and Roy Veltien on drums.
They know how to play and the sound and production are good, and if I have to highlight something, it would be Daan´s vocals. He reminds me of an angrier version of Dave Pirner from the alternative rock band Soul Asylum, and this is a good point, because Dave is a great singer. Having mentioned alternative rock, the listener should know that Mother Bass defines themselves as a band playing new alternative hard rock, being influenced by big names such as Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The listener will easily find those influences (and maybe more) when taking a look at all the alternative and grunge bands for the 90s.
As I said before, take your time to listen to this album. You only need 22 minutes and you will find yourself pressing the play button again for sure, because the songs are good. Not progressive rock but good songs that you may welcome as a disconnect from a diet of long songs and complex arrangements.
Prins Obi - Love Tunes For Instant Success
Recording under the name Prins Obi, Georgios Dimakis is a member of the Athens-based krautrock/psychedelic band Baby Guru. Prins Obi's new EP, Love Tunes For Instant Success, is a follow up to his 2013 EP Love Songs For Instant Success.
His new release is a five-track calling card, consisting of four psyche-prog-pop songs and one instrumental. The four songs have a Nick Drake, Small Faces, Syd Barrett, Donovan, and Canterbury vibe about them.
A Beatles-y melody invests the psychedelic pop of The Girl With The Golden Hair with a delightful playfulness, and there is some mad guitar in its closing. Prins Obi has a characterful voice in a Roy Harper way, and this comes across on the piano-led ballad Seasonal Beasts, which also has a wry, self-derogatory and amusing lyric. The short Happiness has a psyche-folk melody with its dulcimer and choral voices.
The best track veers away from the psychedelic, into neo-classical piano instrumental. Maiden Voyage has a slowly-unfolding, poignant, uplifting and beautiful melody that could have come from the Italian minimalist Ludovico Einaudi.
Prins Obi's Love Tunes For Instant Success is an interesting calling card. But as with many EPs it lacks an overall structure that you get with almost all prog albums. So it's a bit like listening to a streaming service or MP3 player on shuffle, but sometimes, that's just what the ears need.
Alan Simon - Chouans
Disc Two: L’amazone (3:25), Le Pardon De Bonchamps (3:05), La Virée De Galerne (4:09), L’infernale Danse (3:27), Monsieur Henri (4:33), Coeur De Chouans (3:21), God Save The King (2:55), Réfractaire (4:37), Un Nouveau Monde (3:23), Mourir Pour Des Idées (3:36), Mon Petit Frère (3:56), Le Vent De La Mémoire (3:29)
Alan Simon is a composer of folk-tinged rock operas. With previous subjects ranging from Arthurian legends (the four-part Excalibur), environmentalism (Gaia) and French history (Anne de Bretagne), his latest release Chouans is a prog-rock opera that looks at the dark events in western France during the French Revolution. Events that led to the deaths of upwards of 300,000, mainly, French peasants.
The music is a series of short (in prog terms) instrumentals and songs, almost all of which are sung in French. The music features members of the French prog ensemble Ange who formed in the very late 1960s. The music is superbly played, with an emphasis on a multitude of keyboards and some very fine guitar playing. The arrangements and musicianship gives the songs an orchestral punch. It also leads to a seamless flow across both discs. Simon employs different singers for different roles within the story to some effect, but I always find it less cohesive than having one singer. It is all brilliantly put together and sounds terrific.
The only problem I have with it, and I have the same problem with other works in this vein from artists as various as Jeff Wayne, The Alan Parsons Project and even Ayreon, is that I lose interest in the story, finding the melodrama a little wearing on repeat listens. But if you are a fan of the first two artists here, and have more French than I do, then this may suit you more than it does me.