Reviews in this issue:
California Guitar Trio - Whitewater
Tracklist: The Marsh (4:59), Atlantis (4:13), Skyline (4:22), Mee-Woo (3:18), Prelude Circulation BWV 988 (2:52), Cantharis (3:10), Cosmo Calypso (5:33), Whitewater (3:57), Led Foot (4:17), Relative Illusion (3:58), Red Iguana (3:12), Ghost Riders On The Storm (3:22)
Ideally the California Guitar Trio (CGT) should be right up my street and feature extensively within my CD collection, but they don't. For whatever reason when it comes to a bit of a spending spree on CD's - these guys are always on my list, but somehow get pushed back to "next time". This maybe because their name says it all and the burning question is always "do I really need another guitar album" - (I have so many already). Or is it perhaps that Joris' review (which follows) seems to so typically capture much of what I have read within the progressive press regarding CGT. Well, while I can see much of what has been written might well apply, on the evidence here on Whitewater I may beg to differ. Enough has been written about these three guys for me not to offer any greater elaboration on their musical style, suffice to say that I will be keen to explore CGT's back catalogue and look forward to any future releases.
I would however like to add a little about the tracks from Whitewater. The opener The Marsh is basically a three part piece with a gentle acoustic guitar melody, this then segues into a more up-tempo mid section of interlinking guitar melodies before returning to a modified version of the opening - a superb opening track. Atlantis hints at the band's Bob Fripp influences, again a gentle picked acoustic guitar opens proceedings, but this time with a gentle sustained theme, before leaping into on of those wonderful Fripp-esque guitar parts. The track returns to the opening theme, before developing the piece. A sort of unplugged KC !
Skyline's gentle acoustic guitar work belies once again the complexity of some of the arrangements to be found on this CD. Much happens during this track albeit without the aid of any keyboards. Tony Levin supplies the melodic fretless bass work in the gentle MEE - WOO, which nicely takes the proceedings down for a little gem of a track, Prelude Circulation BWV 988. A simple arrangement nicely complemented by the "harp"-like sound of the guitar. Cantharis returns to the more complex arrangements - classical by nature and with a tension building flamenco style. The "steel drum" patch used in the second half of the track nicely complements the piece.
You would have thought that Cosmo Calypso probably wouldn't need much in the way of pointers, and certainly the opening sections don't. However the track does contain a lengthy atmospheric middle section, layered with a repeating guitar motif and some echoey lead lines. The title track follows - again a strong driving motif interspersed with some (slightly) jarring moments which add character to the music. I mention these slightly jarring parts purely as they are so untypical of what has passed so far.
Led Foot unlike it's name suggests is galloping affair, with tinges of North American music (Western theme style) with twelve string jangley guitars. I particularly liked the sound effects chosen by CGT - these are used to good effect throughout the album and add another dimension to the acoustic sound, however there is one patch on the Roland effects module that should be erased forever. This is the distortion sound that accompanies the dreadful and incongruous solo on this track - shame really as the piece itself is very strong. Relative Illusion returns to the gentler picked acoustic guitar with the smooth lead lines performed in an Ebow style.
We draw to the close of the album firstly with Red Iguana - interesting, constantly shifting arrangement (not so sure about the "funky duck" sound) - but overall very good. And so to the grand finale, Ghost Riders On The Storm which as the opening track is in three distinct sections. Opening with a tongue in cheek (I guess) version of Ghost Riders In The Sky segue The Doors Riders On The Storm segue Ghost Riders In The Sky. Not sure if this was the best way to finish the album - although anywhere else it probably wouldn't have worked. The Doors track works better, but I'm sure in a live context this will probably be a medley will be a real crowd pleaser.
I underwent several differing overall opinions on this album before arriving at my final conclusion - these ranged from the initial "I like this album, but it's not really prog"; through "I'm not totally convinced about this"; "actually this has a lot of prog references"; to eventually deciding that this is a "quality album with enough progressive elements to justify Whitewater's inclusion within the DPRP pages". As Joris says, this CD can be listened to in mixed company (even my wife enjoyed it - but enough of the negative side), but closer listenings will reveal a more complex album than you might initially think. If you've not checked out any of the California Guitar Trio's previous work, then this might be a good place to start.
This could become my shortest review ever! At this moment that's not really an achievement yet, since I'm still not dry behind my ears on the reviewing front as I have only done a handful so far, but I think this one will keep the record for some time though! Why this assumption, what's wrong with this album then? Well, actually there's absolutely nothing wrong with this album, but I just don't have much to say about it!
The group name already says it all; they're Californian based, play guitar and do that as a trio and that's really the whole thing in a nutshell for you! I only have to add to that they only play acoustic; the album features various, mostly slower and some more up tempo (nothing that gets the players bathing in sweat though) instrumental interlocking acoustic guitar parts. Exactly the stuff that's been their trademark since being founded in 1991. So no surprises here, or it must be the weird medley of Ghost Riders In The Sky morphed, not so brilliantly though, into Riders On The Storm.
On the back sleeve it says: "The CGT used steel string acoustic Martin Custom Shop guitars and Roland guitar effect pedals to produce all sounds". That's very clear, but actually you don't miss the electrified sounds here, unless you're addicted to these! The band describes their music as "fusing classical, rock, blues, jazz, world music bluegrass, as well as the quintessential California musical genre surf music", so now you know what to expect. I actually have nothing to add to that.
Before I'll give you my conclusion first some marginal notes: Whitewater is produced by Tony Levin, a quite familiar name in rock music (Peter Gabriel and others) who also played along with the trio on their 2002 album CG3 + 2. The first part of the group name is actually somewhat misleading, because these three guys might now live and work in California, but they clearly don't originate from there; Paul Richards comes from Salt Lake City, Utah, Bert Lams from Brussels, Belgium, and Hideyo Moriya from Tokyo, Japan; quite an international company after all!
All in all this is a very pleasant album to listen to, not over-exciting though and really something you can even play when you're having people visiting that are not open-minded for progressive music. I would say it's close to easy-listening music, but of a very high quality. The fact that's it's so very well played and produced makes it stand out above those many mediocre products that regularly flood the market. So if you're a sucker for acoustic guitar music I definitely recommend this album or one of the others of this talented group.
Trance Of Mine - Reflections
Tracklist: Distant Ground (5:28); Inmost (4:22); Ascend (4:35); Reality (5:57); Blind Side (4:54); Awakening (4:57); Asleep (4:10); Sotiria (5:56); Hourglass (2:32); Daedalus (15:28)
When I get a new CD for review, I listen to it many times before I begin to write about it. Well, I’ve listened to Trance of Mine’s Reflections many times, all right – but not because, or not only because, I’ve been preparing to review it. It’s been on my CD player for several days in a row because it’s a superb atmospheric/progressive-metal album by a very talented band. It might, in fact, turn out to be one of my favourite albums of the last part of this year – it’s that good – but I do have one reservation about it: the band’s occasional nagging similarity to two other bands, Evanescence and, especially, The Gathering. So I’d like to begin by addressing that reservation.
Now, I’m well aware that, these days, any metal or metallic band with a female lead singer is innocently inviting comparisons to Evanescence. And those of us who listen to a lot of metal, especially progressive and symphonic metal, are hearing – with delight, I might add – more and more women singing lead. In addition to those two bands (and I’ll count Evanescence as a metal band despite the ubiquitousness of their songs on pop radio over the last year or so), I might mention Arch Enemy, Otep, and Lacuna Coil. But Trance of Mine’s singer and keyboardist, Isabel Plant, reminds me much more closely of The Gathering’s Anneke van Giersbergen than of any of the singers for those other bands, Evanescence’s Amy Lee included. I mention Evanescence, though, because Trance of Mine’s music is, like that of Evanescence, heavier than almost anything we find on the last few albums by The Gathering; that band’s music, often described as “atmospheric metal” (or “trip-rock,” as van Giersbergen herself notes in the very interesting interview she gave to Remco Schoenmakers and which you can find on this site, is moving further and further from metal all the time, to the extent that their brand-new album, Sleepy Buildings, is aptly subtitled A Semi-Acoustic Evening. (Heard any semi-acoustic Slayer material lately?) But The Gathering’s late music works well in such arrangements – again, see on this site Winston Arntz’s review of that album for an assessment of just how well it works. Quite honestly, though, and I say this as a fan of The Gathering, I prefer Trance of Mind’s Reflections to any of The Gathering’s last three albums. The bands’ similarities allow me to make that comparison, and the comparison only highlights Trance of Mine’s superiority.
Trance of Mine’s music, despite the claim on their label’s site that they’re “gothic,” is unabashedly metal – you know, the grinding guitars and heavy, well-produced churning bass that we fans of the genre love so much – but also unarguably progressive. No Arch-Enemy-style Cookie Monster growling vocals here; no semi-rap of the sort we find in Evanescence’s first big hit Bring Me To Life. (In fact, Trance of Mine’s label’s attempt to label them “gothic” might well be a ploy to lure the segment of the audience that actually thinks Evanescence is Goth.) The songs are well constructed, melodic, powerful, full of interesting dynamic and musical variations – again, if you’re familiar with The Gathering, you’ll know at least very roughly what sort of songs and arrangements to expect here. Phil Roberts, guitarist and lyricist, gets quite a range of sounds from his instrument, from crushing power chords to fluid lead lines; and Plant and Philip Laroche fill out the arrangements with tasteful, inventive keyboard and bass work. The most striking thing about this debut album is that every song is utterly distinctive. Too many bands sacrifice variety to homogeneity, especially on their first recordings, but each of these songs stands out from the others.
I disposed of my worries about their similarities to other bands at the outset because, frankly, those worries constitute my only criticisms of this band and album. I don’t play a CD seven or eight times in a row – except for professional reasons – unless it’s a very fine album indeed, and Reflections is just that. There certainly are a few standout tracks: album opener Distant Ground is powerful and exciting, and slower, quieter songs like Ascend and Hourglass complement the louder songs very nicely. But there isn’t a weak song on the album. And a few of the songs give credence to the promo materials’ claim that the band sports “ethnic/acoustic atmospheres [sic].” In fact, those last two songs I mentioned (Ascend and Hourglass), along with the fifteen-minute-long album closer Daedalus, are the songs that might be called “ethnic.” But “ethnic” here means “a lot like Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir or Four Sticks.” It’s quasi-Eastern music very much in keeping with the feeling and sound of the rest of the album. But this “ethnic” component doesn’t feel forced; the musicians are simply displaying the range of their interests and influences. (Is it a coincidence that this band’s singer has the same last name as Zeppelin’s? Sure it is – but a nice one.)
Here’s the way to think of this band’s similarities, influences, whatever you want to call them. I played my perceptive daughter one song by The Gathering and one by Trance of Mind and asked her what she thought. She said, and I quote verbatim, “It sure sounds like the same person.” Not the same band – the same person. I think she’s exactly right, and that smart comment also makes the essential point. Isabel Plant’s voice does sound very like that of Anneke van Giersbergen – much more alike than her band’s music sounds to that of The Gathering, although there are clear similarities. Does it make sense to criticize a singer for having a voice similar to that of another singer? No. We can recognize and acknowledge the similarity, but then what matters is what the singers do with their voices. What Plant does is to deliver with authority interesting lyrics over innovative, interesting, even exciting music, and I look forward to hearing her do so on many more albums in the future. I recommend this album without reservation.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Radiohead - Com Lag
Tracklist: 2+2=5 (Live At Earls Court) (3:34), Remyxomytosis (Christian Vogel RMX) (5:09), I Will (Los Angeles Version) (2:13), Paperbag Writer (3:59), I Am A Wicked Child (3:06), I Am Citizen Insane (3:33), Skttrbrain (Four Tet RMX) (4:26), Gagging Order (3:36), Fog (Again (Live) (2:19), Where Bluebirds Fly (4:24), Enhanced with 2+2=5 (Live At Belfort Festival)
Originally a Japan Only release, Com Lag is an EP collection of out-takes, B-sides, experimentations and live tracks from one of the finer bands to emerge from the British rock scene over the last decade. All these tracks, apart from the opening live rendition of 2+2=5 were B-sides to singles to Hail To The Thief and Amnesiac and thus were originally all available on the various singles released for that particular album.
The opening 2+2=5 shows why Radiohead still are a commendable live act delivering a show and power that they have not delivered for quite some time on their studio albums. This George Orwell inspired track shows how Radiohead still deliver that crunching guitar power chord that most fans seem to have forgotten since The Bends and is presented with sheer intensity that makes one wonder why their live I Might Be Wrong was so tame in comparison. Incidentally the album also features as a bonus feature a live rendition of this same track at the Belfort festival.
Remyxomatosis is one of two remixes on this EP. The original version (Myxomatosis) was one of the highlights of Hail To the Thief with its fudged bass line. This time around drum beats are brought to the fore of the album with a staccato rhythm that disjoints Thom Yorke's voice completely. The other remixed track is Skktrbrain. The first batch of this EP that was released had a digital glitch on it which distorted the track, though this has supposedly been rectified (mine does not have any glitch!).
The short acoustic I Will makes a welcome departure from the electronic Aphex Twin-like beats of most of the latest material from Radiohead. Paperbag Writer (seemingly a pun on The Beatles' Paperback Writer) on the other hand is quite a bland piece of music, leaving them sounding like a poor man's version of The Beta Band. The track features Yorke's voice amidst various string samples with the occasional groovy bass line.
The bluesy I Am A Wicked Child has a swagger to it with little resemblance to Radiohead as we have come to know them. In fact I dare say that they almost sound like Nirvana on their MTV Unplugged album! However, this musical state is short lived as I Am Citizen Insane brings us immediately to this century's Radiohead with synth drum beats much like the closer Where Bluebirds Fly which for the 2003 tour was used by the band as their concert opener.
The sparse and stripped down Gagging Order and the live rendition of Fog (Again) could be termed as this album's highlights. Gagging Order seem to expose Yorke's voice at its most frail with just acoustic guitar to back it while on Fog (Again) we just have a piano accompaniment though unfortunately the track ends abruptly. These tracks are immediate proof that Radiohead are really capable of still delivering fantastic music
Whatever can be said about this collection of songs, one should always keep in mind that these were tracks that never made it to the final cut of their intended album for one reason or another and instead where chosen as B-sides (or filler material!) to the various singles. Com Lag does have its good moments but these are not for the novice fans of Radiohead. This is more of an EP for the fans and collectors. Far more interesting is the thought that Radiohead have now fulfilled their contractual obligations with their record label and their modus operandi vis-à-vis record output and sales is now open to suggestion. Whether they will revert to a record label, set up their own label or as many have suggested turn to the internet to sell their material is something that we have to wait and see.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Taylor's Universe - Taylor's Universe
Tracklist: Entering Universe (1:58), Emmadusa (3:12), Strange Meetings (6:43), Secret Wedding (3:49), Hearing Noises, Imagining Things (5:55), Pfiffer’s Head [Pulling Iron] (1:51), Saturday Night (4:50), Trick Or Treat (6:03), Joie De Vivre (2:57), Flemming Junker / Junker’s Slaughterhouse (2:50), Mr Garlic (4:37), Jeff’s Office (5:48), Meetings (5:13), Feel (1:11)
Taylor's Universe - Pork
Tracklist: Sir Vannah (3:48), Horsemens Parade (3:20), Porky Park (4:42), Ghost Dance [Indian Hip Hop] (3:10), Syte 2 (1:23), The S.O.S. Coincidence (4:34), Hard To Realize (6:00), Another Rainy Day (9:03), Let’s Run Away And Be Indians (6:49),
Taylor's Universe with Karsten Vogel -
Tracklist: Groop (4:53), Oyster Jungle (4:19), Bellahoy (2:44), Conference At Bird Mountain (9:45), Way Back In ’85 (5:58), Suspect Terrain (4:27), Lazy B (8:43)
A while back, Mark reviewed a clutch of CDs by the various projects of Danish maverick Robin Taylor (Here). Of those on offer, Mark singled out the CD by Taylor’s Universe as being the most appropriate for attention on this site. Subsequently, Mr Taylor has supplied copies of the remaining three Taylor’s Universe titles, including the 2004 reformation disc that again features Karsten Vogel from Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe and Secret Oyster.
The first two CDs in this batch have a core line-up of: Robin Taylor (guitar, bass, keys, percussion); Jan Marsfeldt – (keys); Mads Hansen (drums, percussion); Hugh Steinmetz (trumpet). On the first disc they are augmented by: Jakob Mygind (saxophones); And Henning Plannthin and Henrik Anderson (guitars). On Pork, the core is completed by the addition of Jytte Lindberg (voice).
For Once Again, Taylor retains only Mads Hansen from the earlier discs, adding: Karsten Vogel (saxophones, bass-clarinet); Pierre Tassone (violins); Louise Nipper (vocals); Kim Menzer (didjeeridoo); And Kalle Mathiesen and Rasmus Grosell (drums).
From the opening number of the first CD, which marries a folksy jangling guitar with lurching, irregular rhythms, through to the closer on the third, which lives up to its title as it slowly meanders along for eight minutes –dropping languid guitar notes and bluesy sax into its placid waters- it is apparent that Taylor is a remarkably creative and inventive musician, with a penchant for the unusual running through these strange, surprising but surprisingly accessible (for the most part) compositions which are difficult to compare to anything else on the market.
With a broad starting base of Rock and Jazz folded together (but rarely sounding like conventional Jazz-Fusion) Taylor uses all his ingenuity to continually surprise with twists, turns, electronic bleeps, sound effects, bizarre vocal interjections and all manner of weirdness to confound your expectations. Along the way you will encounter Dance tunes, upbeat melodies, twisted folk, space rock, drones, Metal, found sounds, and all manner of quirks and peculiarities. However, discounting the odd lapse into Free Jazz squawking (particularly on the first two discs) the majority of the music is puzzlingly accessible and enjoyable. Emmadusa for instance splices a jaunty, brassy melody with some heavy screeching guitar. Like most of the tunes, nothing ever goes exactly where you thing it might.
I prefer the latest disc, not least for the presence of Vogel, who is a superb technician on saxes etc as proven with Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe and the smoking Secret Oyster. The other main plus being the swapping of violin for the trumpets that are prevalent on the earlier discs, giving them a jazz feel that may prove a little wearing for more trad prog fans. On occasion, Taylor’s imagination gets the better of him, as I couldn’t help wishing that some of the more enticing melodies were left to develop in a slightly more conventional fashion. As good as his ideas are, and these discs are positively crammed with them, a few of them struck me as being worthy of further, more conventional development. They are too good to be left as merely one element in a crowded soundscape.
Trying to describe even one track is a dizzying task, but some of my favourite moments include:
- The Sax, throbbing Bass and furious Electric Guitars of Hearing Noises, Imagining Things
- The excellent Porky Park with it’s incredible rhythms, evocative Trumpet and garbled nonsense voices which add a hint of Samla Mammas Manna
- The power chords and wordless vocal chant of Let’s All Run Away And Be Indians which also manages to insert a snippet of Jingle Bells into its infectious and lively tune
- Conference At Bird Mountain is a crazy marvel, twinning twittering electronics, upbeat dancing Sax with a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a Motown single
- Oyster Jungle, fittingly reminiscent of Vogel’s previous outfit – his sax playing is superb here.
On the down side:
- Secret Wedding is a bit tedious and droney
- Pfiiffer’s Head is an unsettling mix of cutesy fairground music with sampled laughing
- Syte 2 ‘s harsh trumpets do nothing for me
- Bellahoy goes a little to far with the plinkity- plonking piano
- Another Rainy Day could do with a little trimming – at 9 minutes it goes on too long.
Whilst clearly at the Avant end of the market, with some very "Out There" material, this trio of discs holds a great deal of interesting music which may broaden the horizons of even the more adventurous listeners. With music as varied and peculiar as this, I can only say that a listen to the samples is highly recommended. I am not sure I will listen to these discs regularly but I am sure to dig them out once in a while and I am also sure they will continue to surprise and intrigue me. As Mark intimated, this music is beyond adequate comparison and therefore is nigh on impossible to rate with any meaning.
House Of Not -
The Walkabout Of A. Nexter Niode Part One: Off The Path
Tracklist: Force Of Nature (4:05), Mainstream (5:23), Footnotes (2:51), Off The Path (2:23), Taj Mahal Daydream (1:38), Sad Silk (2:06), A Mile In Those Shoes (2:00), Sacred Cow (0:43), Ol' Phat Fok (4:25), Freakstreet (4:35), Stranger (6:03), High In the Himalayas (1:50), Blood From A Stone (8:46), Sanctuary (3:40)
House Of Not certainly can't be accused of lacking vision. The Canadian duo of guitarist Lou Roppoli and vocalist Brian Erikson came together in 2002 with the very ambitious aim of recording a five CD concept that chronicles the adventures of A. Nexter Niode. Described as a "21st century counterculture rock opus" with a tag line, freely adapted from the sixties mantra, of "Tune out, Turn on, Take a trip", the first part of the saga describes he beginning of the journey and the meeting with the heroine of the tale, Silk.
The instrumental Force of Nature sets the scene starting with a didgeridoo before heavy guitar chords, layers of keyboards and wailing female backing vocals drive things forward with intent. The album is characterised by some very fine guitar playing that displays more than a passing resemblance to David Gilmour. There is no doubt that Roppoli is a fine player, he has the Gilmour soloing style off pat but is just as proficient at providing a bluesy backing, as in the intro to Footnotes. Erikson has also taken some reference points from Pink Floyd, his vocal style and intonations on Mainstream is spookily characteristic of Roger Waters resulting in a track that matches the style of much of the material on The Final Cut.
However, House Of Not are much more than Floyd copyists, although the influences are there, they have a style all of their own. The brief instrumental pieces such as the atmospheric Off The Path and High In The Himalayas along with the gentle Taj Mahal Daydream effortlessly move the narrative along and easily capture the essence of the new locations of the story. Although the group comprises Erikson and Roppoli, they are supported by thirteen other musicians contributing everything from extra guitars (lots of extra guitars!) to trombone. The latter is used in the rather Honky Tonk, Tom Waits style Ol' Phat Fok, the only number where an instrument other than the guitar (a piano) takes centre stage. Although it breaks the album up and adds another style to the album, I wasn't particularly fond of this number, mainly due to the title and lyrics, which I thought a rather juvenile play on words.
Still, Freakstreet picks things up with some fine soloing from Roppoli that has a rather heavier edge to it. Blood From A Stone again displays some Floyd characteristics and again features some fine guitar playing, this time extended over several minutes. The track slowly builds into near epic proportions before fading into the final track, a more acoustic number that leaves A. Nexter Niode safe in Sanctuary preparing himself to face the next episode of his wayfaring walkabout.
House of Not have come up with an ambitious and impressive concept if the synopsis of the remaining four volumes are anything to go by. The group have put together a full multimedia exploration of the concept; their website is a marvel that matches the highest levels of computerised design and is well worth a visit (go look now!). The packaging of the CD was also very impressive and the press pack was the most comprehensive and handsome that I have ever received. What is more it, it is not a case of form over substance as the music is a cut above the norm and, for a debut album, is quite an achievement. There is no doubt that in Lou Roppoli, House Of Not have an ace up their sleeve but maybe the arrangements of future albums could be a bit more adventurous and more use could be made of keyboards. However, that is just a personal preference. If the high quality of this album can be maintained and expanded upon then the band could have created a concept that will grow and gather more enthusiasts as each instalment is released.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10