Reviews in this issue:
Si Hayden — Bass Wears Red & Laughs Like A Crow
For an artist who has released over 50 albums under his own name and has guested on over 100 more, I am amazed I have never heard of Si Hayden. To refer to Si as a guitarist, would be one of the greatest understatements ever. This guy plays every facet of guitar styles I have heard of, as well as piano, bass and double bass, as well as being a composer of film, TV, radio and theatre scores. I bet he also makes a damn good cup of tea.
One of the benefits of reviewing unknown artists, is that from time to time you get to discover someone as talented as Si, and you end up baffled as to why his profile is so limited. I have had the pleasure of not only listening to this review album, but also discovering some of his other amazing work. His version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons for acoustic guitar is simply stunning.
At this point in writing my review, I decided to check the DPRP archive to see if Si had received any previous reviews. He had, for an album earlier this year, Guitar Tree Hill (review here).
What immediately jumped out was that Mark Hughes' review began almost the same as mine, whether this be a joint appreciation or the limited information about Si, I'm not sure, but let it be known that it was not plagiarism.
But what of Bass Wears Red & Laughs Like A Crow? Well two things struck me even before committing to listening to the disc. The first being the stunning cover artwork by Jonny Nichols, and the second being Si's ability to come up with song titles which intrigue, before even listening to the music.
As for the music itself, for anyone who decides to take a listen, then all I can say is you are in for one hell of a treat. What you are given is a stunning jazz rock album delivered by three talented musicians: Si obviously, who is accompanied by Denis Hay on double bass and drummer Ben Haines. But the listener gets far more than a traditional jazz trio. I have never heard the double bass sound so enthralling as an instrument to listen to as here. The sounds Denis produces are captivating, and ably supported by Ben's stylistic drumming. The rhythm section allows Si to produce far-from-typical guitar sounds over their scintillating background.
The one player that Si reminds me of the most here is Eddie Van Halen, in sound, playing and in his exemplary use of the tremolo. I'm sure you can all remember the first time you had the aural pleasure of hearing Eruption, and for those as long in the tooth as me, then the sudden realisation that guitar playing had been taken to a new level.
Every listen to Bass Wears Red ... provides new opportunities to be amazed by what you hear. And you discover something new every listen. It was probably the fifth or sixth listen when the production of the disc began to intrigue me. The crystal clear definition of all three musical instruments was something I had heard, but it seemed strangely out of place. Then it dawned on me, the experience I was having was as if I were in the same room, listening to these three musicians enjoying themselves and pushing their musical talents to the limits for my enjoyment.
This will be an album that does not stray too far from my CD player for the foreseeable future. Thank you Si for providing me with the pleasure of reminding me of why the guitar captivated me so much in my younger days, but at the same time for taking playing to the next level. Anyone with a passing interest in the guitar or discovering a new guitar hero, should (must) grab this album. Take my assurance, you will be glad you did.
Mystery — Live In Poznan
CD2: Looking for Something Else (15:04), Dare to Dream (6:20), Where Dreams Come Alive (7:04), A Song for You (12.26), Through Different Eyes (20:03), Chrysalis (14:09), The Preacher's Fall (3:55)
Lies And Butterflies, released in 2018, managed to soar into many neo-progressive Top 10 lists. At the time it swirled passed me, thankfully embracing me at the beginning of 2019; just in time for the opportunity to see them live on the first leg of their tour on the 9th of April in Luxor, Arnhem. I simply couldn't resist. And as it turns out Live In Poznan was recorded just prior to that on the 7th of April at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Poznan, Poland.
As one can judge from my previous review of Lies And Butterflies, the success of this live album is not a matter of Mystery's musicality or their collection of emotive, melancholic neo-progressive rock, for that's taken care off aplenty. It's rather a question as to whether they are able to succeed in achieving the difficult task of capturing the warm, live atmosphere and comforting feelings that flow throughout their engaging, heartfelt and atmospheric concerts. This was confirmed again when I witnessed their recent gig at De Boerderij, Zoetermeer (review here).
The image popping up is like being a kid again and spending a weekend at your grandparents: here you get everything your heart and mind desires, surrounded by warmth and kindness and without boundaries or restrictions. Invitingly they most caressingly "spoil" you with their love and tenderness, while taking you to the carnival where they smilingly watch from the sidelines as you ride endless rounds in a carousel. With your own excitement growing inside and their smiles becoming bigger and bigger on each turn, they at long last considerately bribe you away by means of a magical gravitational memento in the form of a balloon.
Surprisingly grandpa has a cunning plan to visit "Mevrouwtje Pauw" (translated: Madam Peacock), a lovely elderly lady running a small but oh so delicate liquorice all-sorts store, known by heart within your home town. With a small fortune gently dropped in your small hands, you get to pick your most bubblicious favourite candy, at rewarding prices you can hardly start imagining nowadays. You leave with appetising bags of deliciousness to take home in anticipation. Completely fulfilled you doze off, to be taken back to reality by your parents picking you up the next morning, and the sight of a worn out balloon in need of some desperate repairs.
Transported back to the present day, I can conclude that this live album touches, moves and delivers in exactly the same way as a "real" concert by Mystery. The warmth of production highlights the emotive passages and gives the powerful movements overwhelming strength. The clean, open freshness of the mix brings out the harmoniously-balanced instrumentation perfectly, while it manages to highlight the delicate, beautiful melancholic music. Combined with a high spirited bunch of friends performing their hearts out, the touchable connection with the audience makes this a true representation of a Mystery concert.
And there's more, for there's something for everyone to enjoy. We all have our favourite songs, but if you could pick any song at random which you would desperately like to hear from Mystery it is very likely to be found here. For apart from the complete Lies And Butterflies album effectively allocated throughout, it holds epic tracks from Delusion Rain and One Among The Living, through to a general overview and deep cuts from Beneath The Veil Of Winter's Face and The World Is A Game.
Furthermore it feels as if in today's stable formation each member of Mystery inspires each other, elevating their performances to exceptional heights. This is most recognisable in the deep cuts which are far superior to their studio versions, sounding expressive, passionate and inspired. Clocking in at 160 minutes, it's also a long lingering, mindful token of Mystery at their prime.
To those familiar with my scribblings, I can honestly say that Lies And Butterflies, though slowly fluttering its descent to desert island status, has had to fly off again as Live In Poznan has surpassed it. Released in different digi-pak formats, one of which features the same gorgeous set of photos as included in the 4LP vinyl set, it's the ultimate live Mystery collection so far. A highly recommended, flawless and essential release, that will earn a confidently high ranking in my top 3 list of 2019. Don't miss out on this one!
Red Kite — Red Kite
I have recently left the urban soundscape of south Manchester for the autumn-frosted, sights, smells and sounds of Dumfries and Galloway.
My new dwelling place offers an ever-changing vista of green, yellow and brown hues, broken by occasional flame red and purple-tinged fronds of heather that cling to the hilltops, like tufts of hair on the loosely folded contours of an ageing pate.
The measurable feeling of solitude is often interrupted by a gathering of red kites. They offer a free flying spectacle of barrel rolls and dare-winged loops. The distinctive, forked tail and the colourful, red/grey plumage of this magnificent bird of prey, gives an imposing presence and a unique mystique.
It is therefore somewhat apt that this review concerns the fiery, free-flowing music of Norwegian instrumental band of the same name.
Just like the regal predators, this impressive young band bursts, hovers and soars with energy, grace and precise aggression. This ensures that experiencing their debut self-titled album is an exciting and fulfilling journey in every respect.
The album begins superbly with a sharp-clawed version of Alice Coltrane's Ptah The El Daoud. It is a wonderful re-interpretation and I must admit that whenever I wish to hear this tune, then Red Kite's impressive rendition has become my go-to version
Red Kite's inspiring interpretation contains a muscular, gut wobbling quality, that is hard to physically ignore, but is also very easy to connect with and also enjoy in a cerebral way. Kaleidoscopic colours dive, spin and break free in all directions, to make the whole piece an imposing and impressive experience.
As the piece progresses, the band are able to imaginatively tunnel, mine and extract every last fragment from the piece's impressive, riff-laden core. The intensity of what is offered in Ptah The El Daoud is on occasions ugly, but satisfyingly is often very impressive.
The overall outcome and final impression that is made, is absolutely joyous, as distortion is resolved and melodies are revisited.
When the band fire fully, as they do in this piece and in a significant proportion of the others, the sound that they are able to create is immediately identifiable and can be loosely labelled as somewhat "Scandinavian".
The tune is a great choice as an opening piece, as its main theme offers a number of similarities to a typical Ganglat style. The hard-edged application and combination of instruments has a similar, no-holds, gruff appeal and energetic drive that Grovjobb were able to achieve in the guitar rhythm sections of their outstanding debut release many years ago.
The opening piece, and indeed the whole album, grabs unsuspecting listeners tightly by the collar and refuses to let go. That is not to say that the album is one-dimensional and is simply all muscle and white knuckle fury. There are numerous interludes which show the band are masters of subtlety, if not beauty. The piano interlude in the middle of Ptah The El Daoud stands out, and provides a comforting illusion of cocktail bar sophistication amid a fist-shaking, rowdy-alehouse cacophony of sound.
Nevertheless, the band are adept at racking up the power dial even further during the intriguingly titled 13 Enemas For Good luck. This composition displays the sort of unbridled power and disturbing energy that some bands search for in a lifetime, but seldom manage to achieve.
Its heavy-riffed and muscular-shaped form, fills the aural spaces with a confident and uncompromising air. The strident main riff arrives unannounced, like an old acquaintance from the past. When it breaks through, it presents a reassuringly familiar air. Somehow I just knew, and intuitively felt, it was going to sound that way and it doesn't disappoint. However, over the course of time, just like a welcome guest who might have outstayed their welcome, its relentless, recurring nature, risks the danger of appearing slightly stale.
Luckily, the piece has some outstanding free parts that vigorously bludgeon the senses and boil and bristle with imaginative creativity, to send any thoughts of over-familiarity and staleness scurrying away in shame.
The middle part of the album is particularly strong. I particularly like the quirky nature of Flew A Little Bullfinch Through The Window. It is a fine tune, where the guitar and keys offer a pleasing contrast to its foot-tapping bottom-end rhythms.
My favourite piece on the album is undoubtedly Focus On Insanity. It incorporates so many different moods and types of music. It is belligerent, yet soothing. It is content to wear a patchwork Kaftan that is sweetened by the smell of musk, and topped by a jazz party hat.
For added interest, and no doubt wider appeal, it is bottomed by a rock-ready pair of sweat-boiled breeches. This disparate mix of styles and influences is held together by a pitted leather belt that is proudly sporting a studded rockers belt-buckle. This often unique combination gives much of the music a feeling of unpredictability, excitement and uncompromising power.
Red Kite is a very impressive album. Whilst the band's music may not be as inspiring or novel as the aerial adventures and feathered, fluttering frolicking of their majestic namesake, their outstanding début album is very enjoyable in its own very distinctive way.
I for one, have thoroughly enjoyed the experiences of each.
Bruce Soord — All This Will Be Yours
This album must go down as one of my most pleasant surprises of the year.
I have tried, but have never connected to English rock outfit The Pineapple Thief (TPT). I'd go so far as to say that their brand of guitar driven rock is simply too predictable for my tastes. A few years ago I also tried the debut solo album from TPT songwriter and frontman Bruce Soord. It also left me feeling unengaged.
Always willing to give things a second (third and fourth) chance, I half-heartedly decided to give Bruce's second solo album a cursory spin. I immediately succumbed to its charms. All This Will Be Yours is an altogether different proposition.
This is an album of acoustic and personal vision, inspired by joy from the birth of his third child, juxtaposed by the local deprivation in his home town (the rurally-isolated Yeovil in the south west of England).
This context is very relevant. Bruce has explained: “Emotionally it was a pretty unique and eventful time. We had this new life in our lives and it introduced a very different perspective on the world around me.”
He continued: “You'd like to think that something as simple as having a child shouldn't impact on how you view things, but even the sight of a serene, sleeping baby in my studio while I was writing and recording, impacted on how I was inspired to write. I was still observing. Taking walks in my home town, witnessing the deprivation, the 'incarcerated souls' shuffling to my local drug den 'number 158', the screaming children on their commute to school. And the incessant sounds of sirens."
Bruce took a mobile recorder out with him and some of these sounds made it onto the record. The kids, an old man walking along the street singing outside his house (Our Gravest Threat Apart) and the sirens. The sirens appear throughout the record.
I can leave you to explore the lyrical themes that have resulted.
Musically, the sound of All This Will Be Yours is all about a warm production, acoustic guitars and layers of electronica and samples. On top, are Soord's emotive, melancholic vocals. It sounds wonderful. Sod the digital versions, slip the CD or vinyl versions into your system and enjoy that warm, throbbing bass which enfolds the whole album. It's a game of two halves. The audio has been recorded as two continuous, linear pieces to replicate the pleasure of listening to an album on vinyl.
(In addition to the usual digital, CD and vinyl versions All This Will Be Yours has also been released by Kscope as a deluxe hardback book three disc edition, featuring the album on CD, with an extra CD of acoustic re-workings and bonus studio tracks plus a DVD with hi-res versions of both.)
Having myself grown up in a village on the edge of Yeovil, I still return most years to watch the local football team. I can fully appreciate (and recognise) the austerity and isolation behind the lyrical imagery here. Musically it also takes me back to that period of my life; the 90s. Much of the music reminds me of Talk Talk. Not the poppy stuff, but the more electronica-fuelled experimentation and ambient-moods of their latter period.
Sure there are elements here that fans of TPT will be able to relate to, but in musical terms, this is more of a long-lost cousin than a sibling. Neither is it similar to Soord's other previous "solo" album, the more risk-taking Wisdom Of Crowds, with Katatonia's Jonas Renske.
This is a very personal album; one that sits on its own, show-casing an artist that is unwilling to stand still within a single style or genre. It's not about risk-taking, pushing boundaries or long-form songwriting. The melodies are instantaneous and long-lasting. Connoisseurs of the more electronic, acoustic progressive stylings should lap this up. I have enjoyed every single moment of every single track. Highly recommended.
Thrailkill — Everything That Is You
This Californian trio has been active under the moniker Mammoth for a couple of years, putting out a good variety of instrumental music between shreddin' metal and fusion/jazz tunes at a somewhat mediocre level. Until this!
Last year they renamed the band as Thrailkill, after guitarist Wes Thrailkill, and tightened all the somewhat loose screws which they had in their compositions. The outcome is a sheer insane piece of work, which easily can be considered as the mathematically most complex album (so far) this year. The musicianship displayed on the album is of such high quality, both rhythmically and harmony-wise, that they have shot themselves into the league of Animals As Leaders in an instant.
But unlike the mentioned genre-leaders, Thrailkill always manage to lead the listener through the most complex forms of music in an extremely catchy way. Where most of the audience gets bored easily with AAL, quite the opposite happens when listening to Thrailkill, because the longer you listen to their tunes, the more you need to go through the entire composition, wondering every second what's coming next. And throughout this entire album, everything that does come "next", is something new.
In the beginning of the album you are welcomed with a very warm and nice cello part during the intro, but after that, hell breaks loose! The second track starts with a severe, shaky ride into the Thrailkill universe of maths, so intense that some people may hit the stop button after 15 seconds and miss all the beautiful and catchy melodic atmospheres of which this album consists. Others will be impressed (extremely impressed) by the sheer musicianship with which this starts. And if you've surpassed the first 35 seconds of this track by not hitting the escape key, you'll remain in that universe until it lets you out at its very last note.
And you will not be in there just once, you will return happily to this incredible piece, because it is a sheer joy to listen to. It's not only the instrumental and mathematical inhumanities that shine on the album, but also the brilliant, catchy compositions in which this all happens. And after the 15th listen, you will still explore new, never heard aspects of it.
These three men have created a true monster in All That Is You, an album that should not be missing in any collection that brags about having either the best shred albums or the best math/metal/jazz albums. But the best part is that it still has catchy melodies, leads and even catchy breaks, so it can also be played in the background while working or such. Though I would never recommend that.
It is hard not to rate this album as a 10/10, but one has to make commitments to not give the highest rating to too many albums. What the album can't offer is a cinematic or emotional aspect, which normally is a must-have for me. So I subtract that one point, even if the missing ingredients are not necessarily missing here.
Trappist System Trio — Arrival
Russian proggers Trappist System Trio bring the heat with a complex combination of rock and metal. Heavily bass and guitar driven, the interplay between all the instruments works really well. From delicate drum fills, to heavy pounding sections, the music varies quite a bit, even though the songs are relatively short and the album is under 44 minutes long. Shifts in time signatures abound, and the music and singing can shift in tone from relatively tame, to particularly aggressive in short order. What's even more remarkable, is that there are only three people in this band; thus their name.
The guitar work is a highlight for me. Vladimir Kulikov, also the band's singer, plays both clean tones and more aggressive riffs. The album is definitely guitar-oriented, but the bass guitar is also particularly noticeable. Cause And Defect has a wonderful King Crimson moment about three-and-a-half minutes in, where the band improvises in a jazzy manner. The ending guitar solo in Killing Pigeon demonstrates the potential this group has. That solo could easily have been much longer, and it would have taken the song to new heights. Longer instrumental "noodling" could improve the band's sound, especially since the album is on the shorter side.
The singer has a great voice, but I think he could improve his delivery at some points. He often sings in a very abrupt manner by cutting off the words too quickly. There are plenty of times where the song calls for that, such as in the speedier sections of Dogmann, but I think he overuses the technique. A smoother delivery would help them, but like I said, he does have a good voice. I particularly like that he sings clean vocals while occasionally throwing in a growl. He'll mix up the style in the same breath, and that works very well for their sound. That probably isn't easy to do as a singer, so he clearly has excellent vocal control.
All the pieces are in place for some truly outstanding music in the future. A few tweaks and they'll have something really special. I could definitely see this group offering a strong live performance. They would be served well by playing as an opening act for a bigger band on a tour. Arrival is a solid album worthy of attention, with tasteful nods to the past, while blazing their own trail forward. Anyone looking for a solid rock album, with progressive technicality will enjoy this.