Nili Brosh — Spectrum
In the age of streaming and digital music platforms, the releasing of albums is losing significance for many musicians, unfortunately. As many listeners would like to have an easy-to-consume music, the concept albums and physical copies are produced less and less. However, listening to an album with integrity is still a great joy for a lot of music lovers. The latest album of Nili Brosh, Spectrum is a very good example of that, which you can enjoy the most when you listen to it in its entirety. From the beginning to the end, Nili Brosh takes us on a journey.
By means of the collaborations and projects in which she is involved, Nili Brosh is a familiar name in the music industry. She has worked with Tony MacAlpine for many years, also she is a part of the band Seven The Hardway together with MacAlpine, Virgil Donati, and Mark Boals. Moreover, Brosh has had an active solo career since 2009 and Spectrum is her third album released under her solo project.
Prior to the release of Spectrum, the guitarist released the album track Primal Feels as a single in September 2019. With simple melody lines forming verses and chorus of the instrumental piece, this song is a neat example of accessible instrumental rock. The easy-listening parts of the song are linked with complex guitar licks and a synth solo, making this track a very good choice as a single, as it is catchy and technically satisfying at the same time. Those who wonder if a compelling video can be shot for instrumental music should see the official music clip. It features Nili Brosh playing guitar, alongside a group of dancers accompanying her; which is not something that you see everyday. With the colours and choreography, the director places instrumental rock elements into a video clip with modern music industry standards.
The album has a surprising opening with a classical guitar, as Nili Brosh is mostly known for her over-driven/distorted guitar. For the listeners who expect an ordinary guitar virtuoso release, an unfamiliar feeling may continue in the first half of the album, since it will not be possible to hear an over-driven guitar sound.
In the first half of Spectrum, the guitarist initiates our journey in Spain, takes us to Italy, and then France. The role of guitar in these compositions is not dominant but mostly co-leading together with violin, accordion, or piano. Nevertheless, there are enough guitar solos to still make Spectrum a guitar album.
The second half of the album is driven by distorted guitars within a modern musical frame. The journey starts with a nylon string guitar, continues with an electric guitar. As a transition between the two halves of the album, Nili Brosh briefly revisits classic instrumental rock pioneered by names such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, before songs created in the new age instrumental rock sub-genre. The overall sound of the second half of the album resembles the sound of new generation musicians such as Polyphia, David Maxim Micic, and Sithu Aye. This new generation does not limit the distorted guitar sound as a part of rock or metal genres, but shows how it can nicely fit within a more pop-styled frame. This helps the classic rock and metal elements to be more approachable by a wider audience; all helping with the evolution and progress of music.
Throughout this journey, Nili Brosh lets us hear the various guitar styles from different times and places. Hence the name Spectrum. From accordion to synths, the track-by-track changes of accompanying instruments ensures the flow of the album is smooth yet exciting. The album cover displays the details about the album, like the classical instruments used, carried by an electric guitar in a futuristic depiction.
When the first and the last songs of the album are listened to back-to-back, it may not be easy to understand how these two pieces could ever be published on the same album. However, the album flows very smoothly and it is a totally different experience when listened in its entirety.
Cheer-Accident — Chicago XX
The cover of Chicago XX, the new album from Chicagoans Cheer-Accident, pays tribute to and parodies the cover-style used by the highly successful soft rock/AOR band Chicago. They also take on Chicago's inability to think of an album title for much of their career. In using what looks like fuzzy-felt to recreate Chicago's cover style, Cheer-Accident signal that their twentieth album will be an impish, playful take on their art-rock and avant-prog, with a 'this is what we do, take it or leave it' casualness. A casualness that does not apply to the fabuously constructed music on Chicago XX but rather comes across as a joyous enjoyment of making music.
The music on Chicago XX spans quite a range of the art-rock spectrum. At one end you get noisy avant-prog, and at the other, sunny pop; all spanned with spectacular ease.
I think this is referenced in the opening lyric of Intimacy as it talks of an operation that uses "a sledgehammer and a pair of tweezers". Here you get the sledgehammer of avant-prog and urban industrial noise, with Thymme Jones' electric guitar and Amelie Morgan's multi-layered oboe producing a sound like an emergency vehicle siren. A full-on channelling of Cleveland oddballs Pere Ubu's craziness.
Then in the first of series of hard left turns, Cheer-Accident go to the West Coast with harmony-drenched psychedelic pop on the beautiful Like Something to Resemble. It is a hook-laden and peculiar song in equal measures. The vocals of Carmen Armillas are sun-soaked and gorgeous.
The we go left again into an 80s inflected synth pop with Diatoms that breaks down into, well, just screeching white noise, before the melody re-emerges. A great tune spoiled for me. But then Cheer-Accident move on again with the two longest tracks and the band spread their wings into the melodic, bass-driven art-rock of Life Rings Hollow. Guest vocalist Greg Beemster's deep baritone is soon joined by the other vocalist in a harmony-laden festival. The keyboards here almost steal the show, with Todd Rittmann's ersatz Mellotron a highlight.
Opening with a classic-style overture of strings and trumpets, I Don't Believe builds from a stately opening over Dante Kester's lithe bass. It builds in intensity as a viola adds an organic darkness. It is a brilliant song that is worth the price of admission by itself.
Cheer-Accident head back to the 80s for the weird art-rock and almost discordant guitars of Plea Bargain that takes on the bass-heavy post-punk of Metal Box-era PIL. The layered trumpets return on the odd ballad Things. Vocalist Carmen Armillas sings, winningly, at the bottom of her register, then halfway through the guitars come in, if not at 11, then at least at 9. It ends the ballad with a restless intensity.
Unfortunately, it is a shame the album didn't end at that point. As the final track's discordant autoharp, off-kilter drums and bass-synth lines is a let down. The decision to bookend the album with its two most difficult tracks seems a little unwise if you want to bring in new listeners, but ultimately, they are easily skippable.
Cheer-Accident's Chicago XX is in-the-main a terrific work of art-rock that stands head-high with relative newcomers such as Bent Knee. If you fancy an album of art-rock that is grounded in catchy melodies, lovely singing, great playing and a devil-may-care attitude to music making, then have a listen, as over half the tracks on this album would easily get a recommended rating.
Jonathan Hultén — Chants From Another Place
Jonathan Hultén has come out with his debut solo album, recorded entirely by himself in his studio in Stockholm. For those unfamiliar with his previous work, he is better known as the founding guitarist for the blackened-death metal act Tribulation, who have been bringing their brand of metal to the world for the last 15 years. As a fan of them, I was curious to see what Jonathan would offer on his first solo outing.
My initial reaction was one of pleasant surprise. The opening track, A Dance On The Road, is a soft and folky acoustic number, showcasing some impressive vocal control. It is safe to say I was not quite expecting this.
What follows is a very well-produced and rounded folk album. With everything being done by Hultén alone, it makes it all the more impressive. The layering of the vocals to create atmospheric and emotive harmonies is something to be pointed out.
Where Devils Weep is probably the standout track for me. It conjures up imagery of melancholic times, with the emotions being brought forth in the vocal harmonies and the guitar work. For a similar sort of track, I'd look to House Carpenter, in particular the version of the track by Mykur on her Folkesange album.
The album sways between everything a good folk album should have. There are tracks with just Hultén's vocals and guitar, others bring in some strings or simplistic drumming and piano work. But all deliver an emotion or energy that sets them apart from the others.
To me it comes across as what I would have expected Roddy Woomble's first album to sound like, had he been from Sweden. Well written and produced, emotional and atmospheric with some beautiful harmonies woven through the fabric of it, this is an exceptionally good album, and I very much hope Hultén brings out more like this.
If you are a fan of folk music I would seriously advise getting this. If you enjoy Mykur's Folkesange album, or Roddy Woomble's first offering, you will like this. I know that I am going to be listening to it a lot.
Light — The Miracle Of Life
Based in Buenos Aires, Light is a young quartet of musicians. The Miracle Of Life is the follow up to last year's self-titled debut album. Since that first release, there have been a couple of line-up changes with a new rhythm section coming into the fold.
Light is a prog-rock band that leans towards neo-prog, alternative rock, a smattering of hard rock, and modern symphonic rock. The majority of the melodies are split between the guitar/vocals of Claudio Delgift and the keyboards of ONE (a nick-name I assume). Providing the solid foundations for Light, are Leandro Galera on bass, with Nicolas Jourdain's drums.
Musically, this is a strong album. The opener, Time And Space has great interplay between guitar and organ, much in a Riverside way. On the up-tempo hard rocker Let Go they push it along, without forgetting the prog Mellotron along the way. There is a 70s Jethro Tull feel to the melody of the instrumental track Out Of The Way. An underlying psychedelia informs Ethereal Beauty's melodic, well, beauty; something enhanced by the soprano sax of guest player Alex Pedini.
Another guest that helps the music step-up is Derek Sherinian of Dream Theater and Sons Of Apollo, who adds keyboard solos to Dreamland's RPWL-like stylings. The 20-minute, seven section, title track closes the album in fine style. Mixing song-based sections with instrumental ones, it displays this young band's chops to full effect, and they even have a short prog-metal section.
Like I said, musically strong and well-focused, but it is let down by the under-powered vocals of Claudio Delgift. When he goes for power to match the music, he just seems to struggle. If his singing matched up to the songwriting and musicality of Light, I would eagerly be awaiting album three. If they were to seek out a singer to match their ambitions, then this band would fly.
MaterialEyes — In Focus
It's fair to say that in the UK, the further north you go, the fewer progressive rock bands there are. With exception being Yorkshire, from where over the past 20 years or so, a rich vein of modern progressive music has emerged championed by the likes of The Tangent, Guy Manning, and the steadfast presence of the Classic Rock Society, until its recent demise in 2019.
Adding to this northern prog stronghold are MaterialEyes who hail from the Wakefield area. A three piece, they started out in 2016 after friends Dave Westmoreland and Will Lawery met down the pub at an open mic event. Along with Martyn Howes, the principle members have been busy, prolifically returning with their second album, In Focus, only a year on from their 2018 debut, Strange Road. The format this time around appears to lean more towards the longer, epic song structure than its predecessor, and it is fair to say (as with their first album) they wear their influences directly on their sleeves.
After the short Camel-flavoured Prelude, The Poet drops right into an all-too-familiar Floyd groove; It is a slow and melancholic number, backed effectively by the obligatory backing "oooh". The vocal harmonies here give some real texture and depth to the writing, which sadly doesn't continue throughout the rest of the album. Musically there isn't anything new being presented but it is enjoyable nonetheless, and some nice guitar passages emerge at the midpoint. It finishes strongly with a dark and moody atmospheric, slow march.
The laid-back pace continues in the soft-shuffling Waterfall. Fans of early Mostly Autumn (another stalwart Yorkshire band) may find some enjoyable elements in the themes of spiritual connection to the landscape and the acoustic tones that underpin this.
A tasty bass groove is the backbone for the first of the longer pieces on the album. Despite some standout guitar work and well-designed spots of colour in the background embellishments, In The City doesn't break out from its repeating hook enough to give it real variation over its 10-minute runtime.
The Abel Ganz-flavoured A Cold Wind is one the brightest points on the album, with its more purposeful pacing and rich, layered sound of synth and double-tracked guitar.
In contrast, the folky, Celtic vibe of Fields of Heaven finishes the album with a welcome change of tone in the opening section, weighed down slightly by the static pacing for the half of the song that follows. The second half sees a shift in gear, as it finds a nice synergy between the multi-layered guitar and keyboard parts.
Described by themselves proudly as "ageing Yorkshire Proggers", the fruits of their work on In Focus is an example of a band of friends who aspire to create music that they enjoy, based on many of the bands of their youth such as Genesis and Focus. In true Yorkshire spirit the band declare quite proudly that they 'play what they like playing, and if no one else likes it, sod 'em!'. Their influences and work ethic should appeal to many as a result.
Toundra — Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari
First, a sort of disclaimer (call it an "excuse", if you will): I'm not what you would call a post-rock fan by any stretch of the imagination, and obviously even less a connaisseur of this particular genre. That said, I've appreciated and occasionally enjoyed some music from the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Tortoise, Mogwai, and, to a lesser degree, Explosions In The Sky. All of whom are scratching some emotion and raw intensity from an otherwise (in my book) monotonous and somewhat artistically stingy genre.
On the other hand, I'm a film buff and a sucker for movie scores, and some rock bands have produced great film music over the years. I love what Goblin did for Italian horror, as well as Popol Vu's work for Werner Herzog, and I'm sure most of you are aware of the Pink Floyd soundtracks of the late 60s and early 70s (More and Obscured By Clouds). Also, being a film (and art) buff, means I deeply appreciate the beauty and influence of German Expressionism, of which Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920) is a prime example.
Now, is it fair to label Toundra's music as post-rock? Certainly, the style's aesthetics are all present and correct in their music, but they also manage to convey pure feelings and energy in a way that many similar bands only get to express through never-ending crescendos and countless layers of guitars.
One of the band's key aspects, thanks to which they consistently avoid repetition and monotony, is their ability to be concise (for the genre's standards anyway), rarely delving beyond the 10 minute mark. This is not the case with this release, as most of the pieces, called "akts" here, are on the 12 - 14 minute range. Unfortunately, this means that the album feels drawn-out and sluggish when experienced as a standard release, and in this respect I very much prefer their previous offering Vortex (2018) or what I consider to be the best thing they've been involved with so far, their amazing collaboration with flamenco singer El Niño de Elche under the Exquirla moniker, Para Quienes Aún Viven (2017).
Having said that, as a musical companion to a silent horror movie it definitely works, and perfectly complements the mystery and fascination of the images, even managing to match the eerie magic on some passages of akts II, III and especially the climax on V and the atmospherics on VI. It is in this context where Toundra's music breathes and unleashes a creepy beauty, which is not that easy to appreciate when separated from its visual counterpart.
So, this an excellent aural experience when savoured together with the pictures that it illustrates (and a very good "gateway" experience to discover the weird charms of silent cinema). However it is probably not the best place to start your Toundra experience; in this case, please check out the above-mentioned previous releases where you'll find plenty to enjoy.
In terms of a score, I would give this a 6 as standalone album, but as a movie soundtrack it would rise to 7.5. (Ed: Edited to a 7 as somewhere in between!)