Deep Energy Orchestra — The Return
"Who am I?" "What is the I that knows?" "What is the essential element in all experience?"
Asking yourself any of the above questions triggers off a journey, often called "self-enquiry" whereupon the mind collapses into its source; pure and limitless awareness. This is the essence of the philosophy of non-duality, Advaita Hinduism, all the great religions, scientific endeavours, and artistic pursuits. It's exactly what the trio Consider the Source refer to.
Music has the ability to execute the process directly. It is always present, it arises within awareness, is known by it, and ultimately is made of it. I am sure Jason Everett and his collective known as Deep Energy Orchestra had all of the above in mind when creating their art (well, more like not-of-mind). The Return is a meditation in sound. In fact, the opening four-part suite entitled Moksha: The Elimination Of All Duality points directly there.
The collective contains 7-string electric violins, viola, cello, tabla, saran, kanjira and "custom kit" from V. Selvaganesh of Shakti fame, Mister E's fretless bass and the prog-phenom Trey Gunn (King Crimson, Toyah Wilcox, numerous Fripp collectives) on his Warr guitar with help from Fareed Haque (Garaj Mahal). As if that's not enough, the Seattle Municipal Chamber Orchestra joins later in the album.
So as you might expect, with the above tools at his disposal, Jason's palette is ambitiously wide and the compositions reflect that diversity. You will be taken from India to Spain in the outside world, all-the-while deeper into the inner world, and probably outer-space if you let yourself. A particular shout-out for the Mongolian throat singing.
It would be easy to dismiss the project as a pretentious stream-of-consciousness twiddle-fest. If that is the case for you, then you probably stumbled upon DPRP.net by mistake and should quickly get back to qthemusic.com. This is Mahavishnu Orchestra, resurrected. Pop on your ushanka or your Sufi hat, and enjoy.
[Note from the editor: the band are using the excellent option on Bandcamp to offer the album in both 16 bits / 44.1 KHz as well as 24 bits / 96 KHz.]
Outside In — Karmatrain
Its isolation has always made things more than tricky for musicians from New Zealand. The internet-availability of music has eased the logistics a little, and thanks to the ever-rewarding Bandcamp, one can now sample this newish crossover-prog band from Auckland. And what a delightful discovery this has been.
The first thing to state is that this is a real slow-burner of a listen. Few will be too impressed on a first or even a third listen. The melodies take a while to ease into the sub-conscious. But be patient. The best music generally has these attributes. Once it does sink in, there are some serious earworm tracks here that you will keep coming back to.
Musically I am reminded of two other debut albums, from Dutch band A Liquid Landscape and American one-hit wonders The Addiction Dream. The more quirky moments and certain vocal phrasings are reminiscent of my favourite band from Sheffield, InFictions (the opening of Morning Warning).
Those who enjoy bands such as Votum (Metafiction), Soup (The Beauty Of Our Youth), and Wolverine (Communication Lost) may also wish to give this a spin, although many songs here offer a more poppy-bounce and less melancholy.
The best songs come at the beginning, middle and end. I love the tribal rhythmic bounce and guitar crunch of I Am Not The One (the drawn-out ending is unnecessary). The smooth lullaby stroll of Let Me Go is a great path into the album, with the organ adding that x-factor warmth. The more up-tempo Blue Dragon has a hook of impossible-to-ignore proportions. The Garden Of Light is a pure joy. Ferryman benefits from a wonderful groove and clever shifts in dynamics.
Vocalist Mikey Brown has a very sweet tone to his uber-tuneful voice. The drumming by Adam Tobeck is impressive and varied throughout, without ever feeling that he has a need to over-do it. Despite naming four guitarists, this is not a heavy album by any definition; although it certainly rocks in places. It all sounds pristine.
It's a slightly over-long listen, with a little-too-familiar pace and style. For some, the vocals and harmonies may be too polished. A few rougher edges (as heard on Morning Warning) would do this no harm at all. A couple of the too-familiar tracks (The Lake and Om) could have been cut to enhance the impact.
That aside, this is a very impressive debut that deserves a very hearty recommendation. I have only had a digital promo to work from. It is available as a CD in a basic cardboard sleeve or as a limited-edition double vinyl. The addition of the lyrics, with some artwork inspired by them, would enhance the package considerably. Enjoying looking at that, alongside the proper CD (or even vinyl) on my full hi-fi may have nudged the final score closer to a nine.
Ruphus — Inner Voice
This is the fourth in the series of re-releases from 70s band Ruphus that have been remastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel). Originally released in 1977 Inner Voice goes further down the road of rhythmic, pop melody-laden, fusion that was first explored on their previous release Let Your Light Shine, and further away from the symphonic prog of their earlier releases.
A couple of personnel changes consolidated the band's embrace of fusion. The keyboard sounds employed, move away from the Hammond organ to a greater reliance on electric piano, piano and synths under Jan Simonsen's more-than-capable hands. The other change is a new vocalist, Sylvi Lillegaard, who brought a bluesy Janis Joplin sound to the band. Again, renowned jazz guitarist and composer Terje Rypdal is in the producer's chair.
The fusion vibe is present from the start, with the title track's up-tempo jazz-funk, heavily reliant on electric piano and wordless vocals, with an acoustic piano solo that has a percussive jazzy style. This is the only instrumental track on Inner Voices. You can hear immediately that the band have some chops.
On the other five tracks Ruphus proceed to fusion-up songs that have pop-prog melodies and structures. The thing that may divide new listeners and established fans alike is the style of the new singer Sylvi. Her cracked, raw-throated singing does add grit to the oyster here, but it sometimes leaves her limitations exposed. Adding a blues style to the Weather Report-like groove of Come Into View works well, as does No Deal's blend of Return To Forever fusion and the melodicism of Todd Rundgren's Utopia's first album. However, on the ballad Too Late, as the synth line develops the melody, she does go into straining, shouty mode.
On Inner Voice as a whole, the mix of tempos, dynamics and soloing, both on the keys and from Kjell Larsen's guitar, ensures there is enough going on to ensure that the songs don't outstay their welcome. For me the star of this album is Asle Nilsen's fleet-fingered bass lines. The album has a live feel to it and there is a wide stereo sheen to the remastering. The only complaint I have is that drummer Thor Bendiksen's high-hat work is distractingly prominent in the mix. Whether this was the case on the original release I don't know.
Ruphus' Inner Voice is probably not going to win the band new fans. But anyone who liked the direction taken on the previous release will find its embracing of the fusion style engaging.
Subsignal — A Song For The Homeless - Live In Rüsselsheim 2019
Following the critically-acclaimed La Muerta Subsignal went on a short club tour taking them foremost on a round trip to Germany/Holland, and a successful one-off gig at the prestigious ProgPower Festival in the USA. Martijn Horsten (bass) confidently stepped in on the first leg of the tour, but by the time of this recording (28 March 2019) the band was in full force again existing out of Markus Steffen (guitars), Arno Menses (vocals), Ralf Schwager (bass), Markus Maichel (keyboards) and Dirk Brand on drums.
The recordings for A Song For The Homeless took place at Das Rind, Rüsselsheim, a cultural centre sharing a homey-likeability to Holland's De Boerderij in Zoetermeer. It is a friendly, atmospheric place with a preference for many prog rock concerts. Judging from this immaculate live album, Subsignal were actually playing a home-game, for the crowd's response and enthusiasm is heart-warming. The band repay willingly and give a stunning performance that's thankfully been immortalised on CD.
Straight from the opener it shows a band in top form, capable of grasping the audience's attention through their versatile compositions and catchy melodies, all flawlessly executed. The near perfect mix adds pure listening enjoyment, while the enriching live sound gives many of the songs a delicious upgrade in power and oomph. In Touchstones the supreme background harmonies in the style of Yes (Big Generator) are spot on, next to the versatile, tight rhythm section. Heavy riffs alternate with playful, quieter passages, whilst the frivolous keyboard parts accentuate and Menses captivates through his wonderful voice.
Soaring directly into the rousing, AOR-influenced Ashes Of Summer, featuring some subtle, virtuous drumming and a delicious keyboard solo, they pick up the pace with a delicate Rush-inspired bridge and a beautiful guitar solo by Steffen. A very danceable song, that's even surpassed in Even Though The Stars Don't Shine which sees me motoring to Nightranger whilst Screaming At The Beaches (It Bites), encased in a tasty Rush atmosphere, which is reinforced by the Alex Lifeson guitar sound of Steffen.
The beautiful instrumentation, emotive bass lines and profound melodies in The Bells Of Lyonesse oozes Rush during their exciting mid-eighties period, while the exquisite The Sea (one of my favourite tracks) and the equally breathtaking Walking With Ghosts sees Menses shine with his incredibly flexible vocals, lifting these tracks to exceptional heights with a warm touch of Marathon.
The feel of the album is elevated by a seamless flow of uplifting tracks converging and interchanging with epic ones. It acts almost like a Subsignal composition in itself. This is elegantly shown in the transformation of Even Though The Stars Don't Shine when it passes into The Passage, a divine track which turns out to be the icing on a very scrumptious cake, where you don't want to go on a diet but shamelessly indulge.
Showing exactly what is meant by being better than the sum of its parts, they open all prog registers within this brilliant composition and any reservations as to whether the band have found their true form after the apparent shortcomings of The Beacons Of Somewhere Sometime are thrown straight out the door. It's an overwhelming display of sublime progressive rock containing many playful melodies, alterations, a tantalising keyboard solo and a phenomenal midway Kansas overture administering certified goosebumps.
It glides into a drum solo. Apart from a few exceptions, these are usually not my cup of tee, though this short list has now been extended. Where already in the previous tracks Brand has proven to be a confident student of Neil "The Professor" Peart, the entertaining audience interaction and relative shortness of display in the solo is reminiscent of A Briefcase by Saga.
A strong execution of La Muerta, a new crowd favourite, effortlessly keeps the crowd's attention with its sublime Saga-feel, while the equally commanding My Sanctuary finishes the normal set on a high Yes-note. A momentum kept intact with a vibrant and lively versions of Paraiso, which has gained substantial power compared to its studio version. Finally Paradigm, a band favourite and played from the very beginning of the band, ends a fully satisfactory album that's a textbook case of what a live album should be about: a brilliant honest momentum, preserving and capturing the band's essential elements in time.
For those not acquainted to the unique sound of Subsignal, this live album is the perfect way to start discovering their versatile, joyous and thoughtful complex music. In my humble opinion it contains nothing but outstanding tracks, delivered with passion and drive, that together is a great summary of what Subsignal entails today.
For everyone already aware of Subsignal, this impressive live album is a sure recommendation. It's destined to be in my top 10 list of 2020 and can only be surpassed by the real live deal. In light of Covid-19 and its gruesome effect on music halls (see: https://www.dasrind.de/) this remains a dark uncertainty. So my advice is to get prepared and enjoy it at home on a very regular basis until such a day comes.
Steve Thorne — Levelled - Emotional Creatures: Part 3
Let's start with a joke. Did you hear that the Flat Earth Society has complained about social distancing policies in place around the world? They're worried that if they spread out too far, they will fall off the edge!
Okay, I never said it was funny, but it is just the ridiculous notion that in this day and age some people still believe that the earth is flat. Or that man has never landed on the moon. Or that scientists are full of crap and just blindly follow what they have been told, like it is some religion (so-called Scientism). Or evolution is just a mad idea that has no basis in reality. Or that the Twin Towers in NYC were actually destroyed by the US Government and the footage of the aeroplanes hitting the towers is a 'CGI cartoon'. Or that space isn't a vacuum and planet earth is not moving around the sun at approximately 67,000 miles per hour, but is presumably stationary and, of course, flat.
All of these are wild conspiracy theories, right? OK, some people may believe one of those things, be it for religious reasons or due to anti-government propaganda (arguably both being forms of indoctrination), but Steve Thorne believes the lot of them.
Now, being a Guardian-reading, left-wing liberal, I think everyone has the right to believe what they want as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and don't try to subject their views onto anyone else, particularly if those beliefs cannot be backed up by experimentation, observation, repetition, evidence etc. But come on Steve, really? And stating in the sleeve notes that anyone who does believe that man landed on the moon needs to seek help is insulting to the person who bought the CD and also an extreme case of the pot calling the kettle black.
There, that's is the elephant out of the room and to be fair, Thorne has posted on his website that "the album is sure to challenge pretty much everybody lyrically, with its controversial subject matter".
Levelled is Thorne's sixth album or seventh if you include his Emotional Creatures (Live) debut from 20 years ago that he seems to have disowned and is never mentioned anywhere (oooh, is that a conspiracy theory?) and the first since Island Of Imbeciles.
Having been signed to various progressive labels (GEP, Festival, White Knight) he has opted to self-release this album and has also eschewed having guest musicians on the album. Only drummer Kyle Fenton and guitarist Geoff Lea back Thorne, who plays everything else bar the flute on the last track, played by Gina Briant. The music is, as with his other albums, very good. Replete with melodies, completely hummable tunes and a variety in tempo, ambience and attack.
He Who Pays The Piper has an epic prog template that almost invites division into different sections with a totally wonderful chorus, underpinned by a fat riff that is simply joyous. Waking Up is slower with some nice keyboard-generated fretless bass and, with different lyrics, would make a superior ballad. The punningly-titled Word Salad Surgery has a really full sound, and is skillfully arranged and pieced together. It would be interesting to hear how the trio would tackle this one live. Monkey Business is a quirky sing-along that gets the foot taping.
And on it goes, there is not a weak track on the album, they are all very enjoyable in a musical sense, just great tunes. If it wasn't for the batshit-crazy lyrics (which even though one considers them ludicrous one can't help singing along with!) this would be a recommended release all the way. But I simply can't recommend something that supports nonsense and cultist doctrine such as that spouted by Del from Beyond The Imaginary Curve (who receives huge thanks in the album's credits), in the same way that I wouldn't recommend an album that supported any extreme view that demonised and attacked an element of society that disagreed with their beliefs.
The irony is that it is an enjoyable album to listen to and one that I will keep in my collection and play with the same frequency as any of Thorne's other albums. And I will treat the words as I do with any other album with fantastical lyrics. It's just a story, imagination and make-believe.