Album Reviews

Issue 2005-003

Reviews in this issue:

The Unseen Guest - Out There

The Unseen Guest - Out There
Country of Origin:India/Ireland
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2004
Info:The Unseen Guest
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Let Me In (4:34), In The Black (4:06), Anywhere Somewhere (6:25), Listen My Son (4:03), Mangala Express (5:03), Sandalista (4:23), Out There (5:09), Circle in the Dirt (4:13), One Down (4:32), Never Enough (3:54)

Sublime, that’s all.

Sometimes it's not the most technically accomplished or compositionally complex recording that wins the laurel. Sometimes, there's an overall "je ne suis quoi" to an album, despite perhaps the relative simplicity of the music itself, that makes it the coolest listen you've had in quite some time, which is certainly the case with The Unseen Guest’s Out There. It’s actually masterful, if I call a spade a spade. Now, I’m biased, I’ll admit it. I’m a Beatles fan and I love Within You Without You and all of George’s esoteric experimentation. I think John McLaughlin in Shakti is profoundly mind blowing. I’ve tripped and had my once-in-a-lifetime cosmic initiation. I’ve studied Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. I’m a child of the 60s and the influence of all things Indian upon my psyche is pretty significant, and I’m not unhappy about that fact. But what I appreciate most about The Unseen Guest’s effort (and what I envy as a musician myself) is, not just its employment of non-Western instrumentation (because we’ve all heard it in the past, from Fat Man to Do It Again to Kashmir), but also its impressive ability to blend Western song structure with the indigenous musical sounds of the Sub-Continent. Think The Incredible String Band gone even more crazy on pop music and you’re close. Or maybe XTC born and breed south of the Himalyas. Or even a Dave Matthews/Ben Folds team up on holiday in the land of tea and Brahman.

The Unseen Guest is comprised of Declan Murray (from Ireland, I believe, but seemingly itinerant) and Indian Amith Narayan. The two met whilst “Declan was travelling through South India with a $5.00 balsa-wood guitar”. A musical friendship ensued and after a short while and at Mr. Narayan’s invitation, Mr. Murray found himself in Calicut recording this wonderfully buoyant and clever offering. Mr. Murray is the lead voice (and lyricist I suspect but can’t confirm) and plays the majority of the Western rock instruments (guitar, slide guitar, bass, and piano). Mr. Narayan lends his harmony vocals to the tracks and also plays the guitar, the bass guitar, the mandolin, and something called a “veena” about which I know nothing. And in fact, I guess I should raise this caveat, which is an admission of ignorance. The album abounds with numerous Indian instruments (e.g., dholaks, ganjra, edakka, etc.) and while I can read the names on the promo material, I really have no idea which name produces what sound. So I’ll just describe the music and not worry overly much about cataloguing the instruments. The Unseen Guest solicits strong assistance from local musicians and it is specifically this contribution to the tunes that makes this recording thoroughly impressive and delightful.

The first two songs are nothing short of brilliant. Let Me In introduces us to the remarkably clarity of this recording, very well engineered indeed. There is a hearty exotic flavouring on top of a catchy acoustic guitar riff. The violin is fitting and adds a sad, soulful cast to this track. The lyrics here and elsewhere are freshly unique. I don’t understand them always (maybe like Steely Dan lyrics) but they’re impressionistic and poetic without pretentiousness. Murray sings in a breathy whisper. The background vocals are perfect: light and blended into the mix. In the Black starts with a beautiful opening arpeggio shifting into a funky, Zeppelin-style groove. I love the chorus (it’s Sub-Continental Good Times, Bad Times): “So spare me some extra before you go / there’s a man who cashes checks at the liquor store. I’m not asking for charity, just help me / ’til the next time I get paid. I don’t care if you need me, just keep me / in the black for another day.” The mandolin solo to move out of the song is tuneful and dignified. No hyperbole: This song is as good as any pop song I’ve ever heard, and it’s a damn sight better than most of the drivel that is lauded.

Anywhere Somewhere recalls two personal favourites, Roy Harper and Crosby, Stills and Nash, with its sombre, velvety dirge. The percussion is suitably subtle and Mr. Murray and Mr. Narayan duet sweetly. There is a strain of remorse and pained reflection in the lyrics but they’re never maudlin or whiney. The Indian instruments are the salt-and-pepper (or perhaps curry) here and on all of these songs, but used with a chef’s mastery: careful sprinkles here, a pinch more there. Well spiced, tasty music.

Listen My Son is a rollicking bluesy lick that reminds me of Tom Waits a bit. It swings. The lyrics conjure powerful, novelesque imagery and I was pleased by the full, rich ensemble work of the Indian instruments (including what sounds like a dobro, appropriately enough, in a song smacking of a hobo’s lament).

Manala Express is a hypnotic and moody instrumental like an early Doors track but wholly acoustic. This is maybe the one slightly less interesting tune on the album, but, it journeys nicely in its use of various Indian motifs and soundscapes. I detect a swiped bit of Dear Prudence in the bridge, but I’ll take that chord progression in any song! Again, the gentle percussion work is stellar: there is always a forceful dynamic in wisely used quietness.

Sandalista gives us continued crystal-clear guitar tones and lyrics that I surmise are about refugees and homelessness. The multi-voiced chorus is strong because it’s only used here in this song: a sign of good arranging skill. “She met her guru in the hills of Ladaq / who found a chakra in the small of her back.” I’ll pay my hard-earned cash for rhymes like this, without regret.

The title track, Out There,” is a brisk little shuffle. The harmonium adds a great jaunty atmosphere to the song: kind of vaudevillian, but the Indian percussion keeps the song firmly in the Orient. Again, the vibe is slightly similar to something Tom Waits might concoct, and Mr. Murray’s singing strikes me as close to Thom Yorke on Radiohead’s The Bends, not at all a negative.

Circle in the Dirt is decent enough with another pronounced use of percussion. One Down throbs to a Waltz beat and gives us the best set of lyrics on the recording (reminiscent of Ben Folds in his finer moments), truly evocative storytelling recounting a protagonist’s battle with the bottle and the attendant dejection and despair. Well done.

The CD closes with Never Had Enough and its crazy percussive opening blast: kind of hopefully jumpy. The frenetic pounding to end the song reminds you that the work was conceived and recorded out of the Western sun.

So, in short, Out There might be the best recording I’ve heard in a decade or more. I’m giving it a 9 out of 10. Nothing gets a 10, ever, even if God descends to record His/Her/Its debut. Revolver gets a 9.5 and that’s as good as it gets. I envy The Unseen Guest for what it’s achieved (top quality pop music with graceful flourishes of ancient Indian magic) and I wholly admire its panache. And the songs are excellent: melodic as all hell, loaded with earnest, Irish wit, well played without too much polish, and adventurous in spirit. What else is there? Out There is classic, to be truthful, even if it’s a home-made, self-produced effort, and every song has its individual, unrepeated appeal and yet, they’re all truly of a piece, as is said. I recommend Out There to any and all without reservation. (And certainly, if there’s a record executive reading this review, do yourself and Mssrs. Murray and Narayan a favor and get The Unseen Guest under contract. I’ve never recommended this about any musical outfit in any review, but the band is just that good and deserves an appreciably larger audience.)

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Helmet Of Gnats - Helmet Of Gnats

Helmet Of Gnats - Helmet Of Gnats
Country of Origin:US
Record Label:Ambient Records
Catalogue #:CD-004
Year of Release:2004
Info:Helmet Of Gnats
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Almost Babylon (8:23), Chinese Leftovers (7:55), Yesterday's Brain (7:45), Crumbs (5:53), Lesser Beings (3:34), Misfit Toys (6:07), Chimps In Space (13:05)

The history of "Helmet of Gnats" stretches back almost a quarter of a century to 1980 when students Chris Fox (guitar) and Matt Bocchino (keyboards) formed a high school band under the dubious name of Left Testicle. That particular group lasted for three concerts but fortunately the musical partnership was rather more resilient. After numerous line-up changes, a couple of different band names and an eponymous CD (released in 1996), we arrive up to date with their second release, also self-titled. The line-up is completed by drummer Mark Conese (who previously served with the band between 1982 and 1988 and rejoined permanently in 1998) and relative newcomer (he's only been with the band for four years!) Wayne Zito.

The album is entirely instrumental and the years playing cover versions of songs by Dixie Dregs, Bruford and Brand X, amongst others, has certainly sharpened their chops providing an interesting blend of progressive rock interlaced with elements of fusion. This is particularly evident on album closer and sure to be live tour de force (excuse the Al Di Meola reference, it is pertinent!), Chimps In Space. This piece is a modern day Return To Forever, with Fox contributing the latin tinged melodic and electric lead guitar work so prevalent on early Di Meola albums and Bocchino handling the piano and synth parts that Corea himself would be proud of. Conese puts in a fine performance on drums as well.

But the album is not just a one-trick pony; the remaining numbers are by no means filler. Opening numbers Almost Babylon and Chinese Leftovers have Bocchino making full use of the Hammond organ and Fox adding smooth guitar lines that bear resemblance to the masters but are stylistically his own. Zito contributes some fine fretless bass in the latter track, an instrument that is also prominently featured on Misfit Toys amongst the guitar and synth interplay.

A sprightly Yesterday's Brain harks back to a seventies sound with its plethora of analogue synths while Crumbs, a slow blues, has a definite Jeff Beck influence. Lesser Beings is the anomalous track. Starting with a heart beat straight out of Dark Side Of The Moon, spacey synth sounds are introduced before a young child intones the playground incantation 'Ring a' Roses'. The track continues with various sound effects and dark rumbling instrumentation. Very much a mood piece it is possibly rather out of context on this album, but interesting all the same.

The Gnats have come up with a great CD, not only in terms of the playing but also in the presentation and audio quality. As with all Ambient Record releases, the album is a super audio CD presenting the music through five-channels on the appropriate player. Unfortunately I don't have such a player but one can only imagine the sonic delights such playback would result in. If only a handful of releases that I review this year can come close to this album, then we are in for a bumper year of music!

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Igzit-nine - Igzit-nine

Igzit-nine - Igzit-nine
Country of Origin:Japan
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Records
Catalogue #:PRF-009
FGBG 4517.AR
Year of Release:2003
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Honet's Nest (5:54), Day Of The Nautilus (5:11), Easy Going (5:35), Escapade (4:25), Doomsday Train (5:19), Sagnet Staine (5:25), The Alchemist (5:01), Aerostation (5:49)

The driving forces behind Igzit-nine are Noboru Inoue (guitar, keyboards & percussion) and Emi Hatsusaka (keyboards & percussion) as not only are they responsible for the writing of the material on this CD, but they also take the production and engineering credits. Along with this, their melodically fluent guitar and keyboard workouts richly fill this album, aided and abetted by bass-man Takashi Morita with Takeshi Ishimaru and Satoshi Izutani filling the drum stool positions. The Igzit-nine album contains eight up-tempo instrumentals that are engaging and structured, capturing the attention from the very outset.

Now although Igzit-nine may on the surface fall firmly under the jazz/rock umbrella I feel that some attention should be drawn to the numerous progressive rock references that struck me from the very first run through of this CD. The employment of more angular sounds or darker atmospheres that were, to me, unexpected within the jazz/rock genre - from a simple repeated phrase or theme; the use of "bigger" organ or Mini-Moog sounds; the military snare drumming which crops up in Easy Going; the "flute"-like sounds during Doomsday Train; the violining guitar during Aerostation; the references, although even slight at times, go on and on. But perhaps a greater hint or influence may be derived from Noboru Inoue and Emi Hatsusaka's previous band - Brain Salad.

Having listened thoroughly to Igzit-nine for some months now, I still can't say that I can single out any particular track(s) for more noteworthy praise. The album is consistent throughout, there's not a bad track to be found. The writing is consistent as are all the playing preformances. The rhythm section is tight and imaginative and works well with the rich themes and solos. The keyboards are the most predominant of the two lead instruments with Hatsusaka's variations of sound lending a greater dynamic to many of the tracks. Of these sounds many have been plucked from Keith Emerson's library, although (and I am making the assumption here that Inoue is a secondary keyboardist) Hatsusaka's utilization of these sounds didn't tend to make you think of any particular ELP track. Much of this may well be attributed to Inoue's fluid guitar which often flows along with the keyboards. Another charm of the music is that it never moves into the more dissonant areas that seem to prevaricate many of the far east albums I listened to of late, (the only exception here being Honet's Nest which has some odd piano structuring towards the end of the piece).

All things taken into consideration this is a enjoyable album that struck all the right chords from the very outset, but didn't necessarily grow on me much further than on those first couple of spins. Now I can't really put my finger on exactly why this was the case - the playing is imaginative enough, cohesive and well executed, melodically rich and with any number of precise time signature changes - but in the final analysis its probably all just a little too "safe". By this I mean nothing leapt out and grabbed me, saying - " you didn't expect that did you"! Although this may well change as reading the sleeve notes tells us that the rhythm section have jumped ships and been replaced by Six North's Hideyuki Shima (bass) and Hiroshi Matsuda (drums). Only time will tell.

Still I don't wish to conclude this review on what might appear to be a down-beat. I can well imagine I will listen to this album often and can honestly say it is well deserving of its place in amongst the other jazz/rock/fusion (and progressive) albums in my collection. I wrote much of this article prior to the Christmas festivities, therefore this album was put to one side and when I returned for one last listening, I found the tracks had retained all the freshness of that first spin. Those fans of lively jazz/rock/fusion should certainly check out this release, as should those prog lovers who derive more pleasure from the long instrumental sections of our beloved music. Pointers might well be found in fellow countrymen Kenso, or perhaps Sphere 3, as well as, and from the past Colosseum II.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Thinking Plague – Upon Both Your Houses

Thinking Plague - Upon Both Your Houses
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:NEARfest Records
Catalogue #:NFR0004
Year of Release:2004
Info:NEARfest Records
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Dead Silence (4:44), Lycanthrope (8:29), Maelstrom (4:42), Love (6:59), The Aesthete(4:57), Excerpt From Moonsongs (3:52), Hamster Dance (4:22), Piano Solo (4:43), Kingdom Come (13:27), Malaise (4:40), Behold The Man (4:26), Warheads (6:45)

Not for everyone, this document of Thinking Plague’s set at Nearfest 2000 is sure to please their fans and holds much to entice aficionados of the avant rock style initiated by Henry Cow / Art Bears and others who took up and ran with the Rock In Opposition (RIO) banner. As one of the foremost American exponents of this style, Thinking Plague has released several challenging, disturbing but interesting releases, latterly finding a worthy home on the specialist Cuneiform Label.

I have to admit that this type of music is on the very edge of my tastes, but I do like to push back the boundaries on occasion and I found myself alternately enthralled and repelled by the dark and sinister atmosphere that permeates this, admittedly expertly recorded, live set. In particular I found the curious declamatory sung / spoken style of Deborah Perry, by turns manic, twisted and disturbed, very hard to deal with. I know fans of this type of music may well appreciate her performance (Dagmar Krause has many fans, I know) and it does fit with the menacing nature of the music, but it often set my nerves on edge.

This aside, I found the music strangely compelling. The musicians are all without doubt very adept at their chosen instruments (Dave Kerman, for instance, is much in demand in his field (Ahvak, 5UU’s etc) and the arrangements (which do not veer much from their studio counterparts) are elaborate and never less than intriguing. There are also elements of a more conventional symphonic style to be heard, with flashes of Yes to be found – especially in the guitar sound. Indeed it’s not all harsh or atonal; there are melodic moments and lengthy instrumental passages which are richly rewarding.

Much of the material is taken from their latest offering In Extremis, with three tracks from In This Life and two from the earlier Moonsongs. Hamster Dance is taken from Dave Willey’s side project Hamster Theatre, and heavily features him on accordion, as does Excerpts from Moonsongs, giving an Eastern European folk tinge to proceedings.

Matt Mitchell takes the spotlight for Piano Solo, with no further comment needed save to say he puts in a sterling performance.

Thinking Plague is chiefly the vehicle for guitarist Mike Johnson though, and his highly technical playing is all over these tunes, but the emphasis remains on the ensemble and how they mesh together (very well, by the way).

I prefer the newer material in general - the lengthy Kingdom Come and Behold The Man are my favourite pieces, with the intense Warheads being the best of the earlier stuff, but in the right frame of mind I can appreciate the whole CD for what it is. This is not something I could listen to casually, but repeated listens do enhance a deeper appreciation of the composer’s intentions.

It’s difficult (near on impossible) to rate a CD like this – it’s a great example of a specific niche genre and will have enormous appeal both to fans of the band and RIO music in general, but as to it’s appeal to a wider audience – I’d say that the music is not as difficult as it first appears, and some of the more mainstream prog audience may well find that they could like this if they gave it a fair hearing - but at the end of the day it’s not going to convert hoards of listeners to the RIO cause.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Dying Passion - Secretly

Dying Passion - Secretly
Country of Origin:Czechoslovakia
Record Label:Epidemie/Metal Breath
Catalogue #:MB 0005-2
Year of Release:2000
Info:Dying Passion
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Space Illusions [Instrumental] (2:01), Disgrace With Fortune (5:55), Secretly (6:05), Golden Eternity (5:32), Nightfall [Instrumental] (2:43), It’s Snowing Through the Night (7:06), When I Die (7:16), The Request (6:53), A Few Steps Into Darkness (6:46), A Long Night [My Death] (7:58)

This excellent Czech atmospheric/doom progressive-metal band (I apologize for all the qualifiers, but bear with me) has just put out its third album; I want to talk about their first full-length, though, because it’s the one that hooked me, and its sound appeared fully fledged on this album, largely (and I suppose unfortunately) because of a guest musician who appeared only on this one album.

A multi-instrumentalist named Karel Cvrk joined the band "more or less as a guest," as their website says, and added an instrument that, along with Veronika Skrottova's flute, lifts this band above many of the other "atmospheric" bands out there: a violin (occasionally closer in sound to fiddle than violin, but not with the too-often-disastrous Celtic-rock or Gaelic-rock effect you might expect). And here’s the kicker: those two non-rocky instruments are not added for colouration or pseudo-symphonic grandeur or respectability. No, they’re essential parts of many of the songs on this ambitious, enjoyable album, often carrying the melody or providing interesting counterpoint to distorted guitar chords. In fact, this band understands not only dynamics but also the impressive effect of balancing soft with hard, light with dark. So the flute and violin balance the power chords, just as main vocalist Zuzana Lipova’s lovely vocals are occasionally balanced by creepy death-metal growls. But those growls are infrequent and tastefully employed, really only as atmospheric contrast, so don’t be put off if death metal’s not your thing. This is fine, interesting music that ought to be heard by more fans of progressive rock and symphonic metal.

The album kicks off with an instrumental featuring a deliberate, ponderous beat that will remind most fans of progressive rock of Rush’s Tom Sawyer. As the tune, Space Illusions, builds, we’re treated to late-Gathering-sounding riffing and ethereal, wordless singing by Lipova, then a chanted, processed male vocal, and finally a violin solo (no, really!) as, with a sustained guitar squeal, the tune segues into Disgrace with Fortune (many of the lyrics indeed borrowed from Shakespeare’s sonnets – “When in disgrace with fortune and eyes / When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past,” and so forth), a propulsive, compelling song featuring both distorted power chords and a guitar sound reminiscent of nothing so much as Cobain’s on Smells Like Teen Spirit – you know, that nice and clear yet powerful sound that drives the song. (Oh, and check out the fourth track, Golden Eternity; not only the guitar sound but the chords and rhythm almost seem copped from Teen Spirit!) In fact, here’s another balance on the album: distorted (and not-very-well-produced, but we’ll get to that later) guitars work alongside those other guitars that sound like Cobain’s or like Malcolm Young’s. It’s become a commonplace (and it’s true) that, although we all remember AC/DC songs as featuring heavily distorted rhythm guitar, they really don’t: Malcolm’s lightly overdriven Gibson hollow body provides crunch and power with minimal distortion, and so do half the guitars on this album. The two guitarists, Jaroslav Routil and Stanislav Jelinek, have clearly worked to find room for both sounds and styles, and they’ve done a fine job.

Now for the sound. No, Dying Passion isn’t really like The Gathering, though passages will remind you of that band. You’ll think of Therion in places, too, especially in the distorted guitar work. But of course Therion generally uses women’s voices as counterpoints to the heavy male vocals, whereas Lipova carries the main vocal burden here. And, although she lists The Gathering’s Anneke van Giersbergen as one of her favourite singers, Lipova herself sounds more to me, especially in the higher register, like a less aggressive Pat Benatar, and I even hear some Kate Bush in her voice in places. Really, she does a fine job of giving voice to the sometimes awkward lyrics (they’re in English, and remember that the band is Czechoslovakian), and in songs like Secretly, as her voice plays off first the violin and then the flute, and those guitars are churning away in the background, and drummer Zdenek Smesny is both holding down the beat and rolling some interesting rhythms off his tom-toms, well, the sound really comes together beautifully, and it’s not really like anything you’ve heard before.

Now, the album’s not perfect. The biggest problem is the production, specifically the sound of the distorted guitars. Imagine your electric razor plugged in to an amplifier: that’s too often what the overdriven guitar sounds like. The lovely Nightfall, the second of the album’s two instrumentals, is certainly not ruined but is just as certainly damaged by that sound. The song builds nicely, employing all the band’s instruments, wordless singing included, to great effect, but that Phillishave guitar becomes annoying after a while. And some of the songs are a bit too long, I think. On this first album, the band was clearly trying to get everything said, and so only two of the songs are shorter than five minutes, and the last five on the album are close to or more than seven minutes each. It’s not that they don’t have the invention to sustain their length, but sometimes, as the cliche so rightly reminds us, less is more, and a little cutting might have tightened these songs to good effect.

However, this is a superb debut album. The band’s future? Well, I haven’t heard their new album, Sweet Disillusions, released this October, though it’s getting good reviews. Their second album, 2002's Voyage, I do have, and it’s very fine, but it suffers a bit by comparison to this one because the violin, so important to Secretly, is gone. A flautist was added for the album, but then – well, here’s the band’s mid-summer 2003 report from its website: “We had been playing live shows without flute for some while, so this change of situation hasn’t got us drastically unprepared must go on. All fans who admired Veronika’s magical flute do not panic! A flute sound – such typical for DP - definitely won’t disappear from our music. It doesn’t get so much space in new songs as usual, however it will share extent with further additional instruments. We are still working on final form. On our live shows we try to replace flute parts as well as various sounds by sufficient technical device. . . .”

It’s clear that the band is still struggling with its line-up and instrumentation, and no doubt its geographical placement isn’t doing it much good. However, I really want to hear more from this group, and I encourage all fans of this kind of music – and of fine, interesting progressive music in general – to get this album. You’ll like it.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


The Muffins - Double Negative

The Muffins - Double Negative
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalogue #:Rune 199
Year of Release:2004
Info:The Muffins

Tracklist: The Highlands (6:04), Writing Blind (5:54), Choombachang (2:45), Ugly Buttling (3:39), The Man The Skin-Painted Suit (2:45), Childhood's End (6:15), Exquisite Corpse (6:56), They Come On Unknown Nights (4:20), Cat's Game (3:51), Stethorus Punctum (4:01), Dawning Star (5:19), 5:00 Shadow (3:15), Metropolis (3:34), Angel From Lebanon (6:55), Frozen Charlotte (2:54), Maya (4:24), The Two Georges (5:20)

The Muffins were formed in the mid-1970's and, like so many other bands in our cozy little genre, re-formed in the late 1990's. I saw their act at Progday 2001 and remember a vague impression. I also remember the Progday people were quite enthusiastic about having this band perform there.

Double Negative is the second CD release by this reborn edition of The Muffins, and it is the only one I have heard. The buzz is great, they are described as an avant-jazz-rock band in the Canterbury/Sun Ra vein. Very little guitar, mostly saxes, horns, organs, strings (real & synthezizer), bass & drums. A couple of Sun Ra players, among other guests, feature as guests in this recording. The production is crisp, it was an all-digital recording, and it sounds like someone pushed up the EQ at around 8 kHZ in the final mix because everything, especially the cymbals & tenor saxes, has a glittery sizzle...kind of reminds me of how a Dolby encoded cassette sounds with the Dolby switched off on playback (am I showing my age?). Almost the entire CD filled to capacity, that's good - it always bugs me when its only half full. And the cover art is great! Done by Tom Scott (a band founder) himself, it is really eye-catching, fresh and distinctive.

Now as the musical experience that is Double Negative opens, there is a dramatic, foreboding quality to the sounds that promises a beautiful and inspiring journey, as a great day is promised by a colorful dawn ... But the colorful dawn ends, and the daylight of the tracks begins - and the journey is not as beautiful as promised. After two listens I formed a rather negative impression comprised of two main objections:
1. The material is not really to my taste, and the first five tracks are especially impressionistic and angular. Only elementary chord changes, and no flow, nor swing.
2. The rhythm section - that is, everything except the horns - has a dull, plodding quality to their performance that afflicts the whole product. I realize that not every band can have a Bruford & Berlin, or Csorsz & Reingold. But these guys just make me wince.

One of the things that make prog lovers what they are, besides being snobs, is the fact that they are willing to give everything a fair chance. Who among us has not been initally revolted by music from IQ, for example, only to find it has worked its way into our hearts over time? So being a trooper I forced myself through two more listens, seaching for underlying themes and other redeeming qualities. And I think they are there, but are too few or too subtle to overcome my first impression. At this stage in life I have enough experience to be able to tell whether to keep digging when I can smell gold if not see it. I didn't smell gold with this one.

The fanbase for this band is a question for me. They might be people who enjoy the Rock In Opposition (RIO) sub-genre, since there are some overlapping qualities. One or two of the better tracks (6, 7, 8, 16) remind me of Gordian Knot, with a horn section instead of guitars. Tom Scott's sax playing is good enough that it might appeal to me in a more mature setting. But here, it is overwhelmed by clumsy sounding vamps that seem to last forever and lead nowhere.

The best art seems to be on the cover.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10


Album Reviews