Album Reviews

Issue 2010-030

Reviews in this issue:

Utopia - Ice And Knives

Utopia - Ice And Knives
Country of Origin:Italy
Record Label:Anteo Records
Catalogue #:ATR 110-2
Year of Release:2010
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Ice And Knives (6:39), Criminal Underworld (6:07), Escape (5:52), Blue (4:50), Walk Alone (5:41), City Lights (6:49), Bad (3:41), Here And Now (5:12), The Flood (7:00), Your Next Wish (6:23), War (5:45), It’s Not Our Place (5:12)

Utopia are an Italian prog metal band whose line up includes Lorenzo Antonelli (keyboards), Riccardo Fenaroli (vocals), Valerio Lucantoni (drums), Enrico Sandri (bass) and Lorenzo Venza (guitars) with Ice And Knives being their debut album, which features Marco Sfogli from James Labrie side band providing a guitar solo on Walk Alone.

Every so often when you review a new band you are caught off guard and side swiped by the quality of their product. Utopia is one of those bands. In general I have found Italian rock bands to be of a high calibre with Rhapsody/Rhapsody Of Fire being my favourite, who have produced a succession of well crafted and genre defining albums. Luca Turilli is a fantastic guitarist and as a solo artist has produced some fantastic work too. On this debut release there are sweeping solos and biting riffs a plenty, which you are going to enjoy, very much. There is not one weak track on this album in my eyes, or should that be to my ears?

The provided promo literature quotes;

“Their debut is a creative mix of Rock, Metal, Fusion and Progressive”.

Ice And Knives the title track is a solid opening track, with Utopia setting the bar high, featuring great guitar breaks and solid bass and drumming with Fenaroli’s vocals really adding to the piece. Criminal Underworld is a dark and powerful track, having dynamic rhythmic bass work. The strong keyboard interaction of Antonelli and guitars of Venza sounds like a Petrucci and Rudess interlude. Escape has a more melodic approach with a more retro rock sound, making it sound more basic in structure than the two previous tracks. The lead guitar solo’s have great tone and are fantastic. The keyboard work is fantastic, reminding me loosely of a heavier Kansas with a jazz rock fusion tone. This is a stunning track. Blue is the inimitable slow song, prog metal style, featuring slow generic guitar work played with real emotion, vocals sounding like James Labrie in places whilst still maintaining originality. Again we have some great drum work and bass interaction, being another very strong track which could be a commercial success if promoted properly, it builds to a crescendo with towering vocals, it’s lighters held high in hand time. Walk Alone brings the band back to its prog metal roots. Its towering drum work is high in the mix, sounding vaguely like Pain of Salvation and definitely Dream Theater, with its time changes akimbo throughout. Marco Sfogli’s guest solo is stunning and changes the whole dynamics of the song, which is a good reason to have a guest guitarist I suppose.

City Lights starts with Sandri’s galloping bass supported by Antonelli. Emotional guitar work is layered over the bass and drums weaving throughout the song. Fenaroli provides more beautiful vocal phrasing and the Hammond sounding keyboard made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Bad is the Michael Jackson song which has been reworked by the band, having made it their own, thankfully not a straight cover, which works well. The band has really got the groove thing going here. Eddie Van Halen would have loved to have contributed to this version, I’m sure. Chamone....

Here And Now gets back to what Utopia does best, quick paced metallic edge music, strong interaction between all the members of the band featuring more exciting guitar breaks and solos. The Flood has Sandri making his mark which is reinforced by the dextrous Antonelli. Again that clear Jordan Rudess keyboard phrasing is apparent. Sandri is on fire and again we have the Hammond sound reintroduced, giving that fusion feel, coming across like YTSE JAM. This is a no nonsense track. Your Next Wish sounds like Dream Theater mixed with Toto, musically it’s all over the place, featuring some racing guitar and bass passages. War has a chugging guitar line and layered keyboards in support adding pounding rhythm. Then all hell breaks loose, with its time changes. It’s Not Our Place is a restrained closing track, being mellow having an electronic sounding feel to it, taking a ballad approach without dropping into cheesiness, offering respite from the previous eleven tracks offered and is probably the most emotional vocalisation offered here.

This is a really good and addictive album with its clear vocal presentation and crisp production. The mix is high but no one instrument leads the pack until it has to. I could find very little about the band, which to be honest if I was secret squirrel I don’t believe I would have done any better, but what I will say is that they are certainly heavily influenced by Dream Theater. The singer has great diction and the rest of the band is very proficient. It will be really interesting to see what the band offer as a follow up to this debut, since the standard and quality has been set high. I would love to hear what these guys would throw out as an instrumental piece; having got the feeling that there was some restraint on some of the melodic interludes. This band has the potential to make a name for themselves and is certainly a band to keep an eye on. I would highly recommend this album, especially if you like Dream Theater, Threshold, Pain of Salvation, Blind Guardian and Iced Earth.

It’s time to crank up the amp and press play again.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Frames - Mosaik

Frames - Mosaik
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:SPV/
Catalogue #:SPV 308272 CD
Year of Release:2010
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Intro (1:36), The Beginning (4:23), Agenda (4:40), Transition (0:58), ISP (6:56), Insomnia (7:17), Driving Head (5:45), Intermission (1:35), Horizon (6:44), Audacity (4:40), M (15:21)

Frames from Germany bring us their second release and their first full length CD. The band comprises of Jonas Meyer (guitar, keyboards), Manuel Schonfeld (keyboards), Julian “Moses” Hoffmann (bass) and Kiryll Kulakowski (drums). The press release that came along with CD did not give a lot of additional information other than Frames was founded in 2007 and are from the Hannover region of Germany.

Frames play music as music is intended to be played, instrumentally that is, no vocals are added to any of the songs on the album.

Mosaik is a wonderful concept album, if I can speak of a concept album. The musical palette presented by Frames is one of a very high standard, considering this is their first full length album and the short time the band has been in existence. To enable me to give a thorough review of the music Frames make, I also had a peak at the EP they had released previously to this album. Only to try and see if the musical ability and strength of Frames had improved since then. I can answer my own question with a firm “yes” they have.

Mosaik contains two tracks that were also present on the CXXIV EP, I believe.

The CD starts with Intro, a spacey tune mostly from the keyboards, with a broad soundscape and with a melody line played on the piano. The melody line from Intro is followed up in The Beginning, the second track on the album. A firm bass is present here giving the track a solid backbone. The spacey feel stays only to be intertwined with the rockin’ guitar thus making a statement on it’s own. All through the track the melody remains.

Firmly the group makes an Agenda and what to do next seems to be a discussion here - and the drums, bass, guitar and keyboards are all involved in a game of what to do. The keyboards then run a melody line and the statement seems firm, then the guitar picks up on this melody. Meanwhile drums and bass lay down the fundamentals. In the end nothing is clear anymore - arguments spread out and...

A Transition is needed. The keyboards play an almost classical sounding piece to bridge the gap. Still nothing is certain on what has been decided.

We can hear the pounding bass going along the road, with the keyboards gently wailing along side and then drums step in just to pick everything up again. More keyboards come along and speak up before the guitar comes walking by, stirring everything up to a higher level. ISP, can we create a frame or a mosaic music palette. Near the end of the track the keyboards and bass seem to agree things are not how they thought it to be. But what to do seems hard. As before the keyboards are left to themselves thinking out loud. Still not at ease, no peace in their minds, all instruments come around again for a heavy discussion. Restless, not knowing what or how creating a wonderful mosaic.

Insomnia seems the key, no way to rest, can’t sleep. Relentless continuing the musical journey they have started. Almost feeling sad, restless, sleepless. In the end it seems as though they are ready to sleep, but alas along comes a driving bass. Drums and keys follow soon and then a strong riff to finish.

Driving Head continues their journey further, seeking a new palette for the mosaic they are creating. Piano speaks out and appears to say “we can’t go on” sometimes followed by a “like this” along the lines. Guitar will come back only to say no. All in all beautiful played music for the creative imaginary mind.

A short Intermission is at hand - piano and guitar for the best part of the time, but yet again sounding very classical.

We are now standing on top of the mountain of sound looking to the Horizon. That’s where it is supposed to happen. All are thrilled by the idea that they now can see where the journey is taking them, this is a joyful track - very cheery. Shouting at the future, oh here we come.

The band continuously succeed in creating an overwhelming atmosphere, where you are challenged to use your imagination to the music. You are able to listen and see the many colours of sound, maybe, or you listen and find yourself taking a musical journey. Both ways the music creates a mosaic of sound.

I find it very hard to categorize the music, it is well crafted, sometimes with such an emotional feel to it and one might call it ambient. But not quite - I’d call the music melodic progressive instrumental rock.

The last two tracks on the album Audacity and M finally pulled me over the edge where most influences must lie. Obviously influences lay with Steven Wilson, Richard Barbieri, Brian Eno and alike.

For the second time around this year I am blown away by a German instrumental band. Frames are not as heavy as Relocator, but never mind, musically they are equals. Frames definitely have succeeded in creating their own style and sound.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Daddy Antogna Y Los De Helio - Viva Belice

Daddy Antogna Y Los De Helio - Viva Belice
Country of Origin:Argentina
Record Label:Viajero Inmovil
Catalogue #:DAH038VIR
Year of Release:2009
Info:Daddy Antogna
Y Los De Helio
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Frascos Tendidos (5:10), Desincrustante (4:26), Viva Belice (4:54), Sub Umbra Floreo (4:42), Brazo Largo (4:40), Colapsa (5:05), Al-Carreta (5:45), Veronica D (9:58)

Recently I have reviewed several releases from the Viajero Inmovil Record label all of which have been of a high standard. Here we have another release by Daddy Antogna Y Los De Helio’s called Viva Belice, of which I have high expectation. This band comprises of Daddy Antogna (drums), Fernando de la Vega (drums), Nicolas Diab (bass), Alan Courtis (guitars) and guest musicians Fernando Gallardo (violin, accordion, Zampona, keyboard, percussions) and Carmen Levinson (volinchello). What is strange is of late I have been listening to Ave Rocks – Ave Rocks, which is the former band of Daddy Antogna’s and which I might add is a damn fine album too, but that’s another story.

As ever I have not been let down, as the eight instrumentals that are on offer are of a high calibre. Like the band Battles this is an album that has been built around the drum / percussion section of the band. Daddy (awesome first name), and Fernando are the spine, the power and driving force of the band dominating and directing the music, make no mistake these guys are serious. These guys are quite happy to lead the pack and then take a back seat without a bat of an eye.

From the opening track Frascos Tendidos Antogna and Vegas work together powering forward one playing lead and the other playing rhythm with some funky bass and violin work to boot. The featured guitar work gives the track a bit of a retro rock feel, whilst bass and violin build structure making the whole affair somewhat quirky with its different time approaches. Desincrustante starts off with a Robert Fripp sounding guitar passage that bounces from speaker to speaker, (which is really effective on headphones), before dropping into a more subtle then defined guitar lead. Unusually the drum playing seems to take a bit of a back seat on this track being very basic in approach allowing the guitar work of Courtis and keyboard work of Gallardo time to breathe. Viva Belice the title track of the album is a funky piece with a repeating rhythm and has a very interesting approach in bass playing and stringed instrumentation by Diab and Gallardo respectively. It’s not long before structure chaos ensues, making this a very likeable piece having an Allan Holdsworth sound and feel. Sub Umbra Floreo sounds like a more straight forward rock song on initial listen, but when you scratch the surface and discover what is happening underneath we find a structured and complex musical passage which includes an excellent drum solo who’s approach reminded me of Parallelogram off the Infrared Roses album by Hart and Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead.

Drummers that play in pairs are an interesting breed as it is really important that they are on the same wave length swapping and sharing lead, making sure that every drum passage marries with the other, which is something that Antogna and Vegas are more than competent of doing. Top quality stuff. Brazo Largo drops in to a lazy progressive jazz fusion vibe with exquisite bass playing that reverbs around your head whilst the guitar work offers mood and melody, seeing the drumming duo again taking a bit of a back seat in the whole affair. I really love the feel of this track and what the guys have accomplished. Colapsa slows things down having that Frippian guitar and King Crimson feel to it with some eloquent slide work and bass passages, before it hits overdrive with some very expressive lead guitar breaks which again allows Antogna and Vegas to step in and demonstrate what the do best. Al-Carreta has the same energy as Desincrustante and Sub Umbra Floreo and for my money has the best guitar work on the album which climax’s right at the end of the piece. Veronica D is the closing track on the album clocking in at just short of ten minutes with whose approach is very basic but cleverly built, being more guitar orientated, allowing the music to breathe with each instrument entering the fray during the building crescendo’s. This is a very strong and fitting end to the album.

This is an album that would appeal to fans of Battles, Holdsworth, Robert Fripp, King Crimson and Ave Rocks. It offers a good balance of psych rock, jazz rock with a fusion of progressive rock with a modern approach which works really effectively.

As a closing footnote I would like to add that so far, I have been very impressed with what I have heard from the Argentine prog fraternity. I would suggest that this is an area that should be explored more as they are turning out / have turned out some quite impressive recordings. Viajero Inmovil Records have again released another great album and they really need a pat on the back for allowing the world an opportunity to hear this quality music. I for one will be digging deeper as every time I hear prog rock from this geographical area I am impressed.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


The Rebel Wheel – We Are In A Time Of Evil Clocks

The Rebel Wheel – We Are In A Time Of Evil Clocks
Country of Origin:Canada
Record Label:10T Records
Just For Kicks
Catalogue #:10T10028
Year of Release:2010
Info:The Rebel Wheel
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: We Are In A Time Of Evil Clocks (6:30), Klak (5:31), Wordplay (8:21), Scales Of The Ebony Fish (5:33), Settling Of Bones (4:52), The Discovery Of Witchcraft (30:26), Evil Clocks 2 (2:47)

It is not easy to label the third album of the Canadian band The Rebel Wheel. Perhaps the label progressive rock, in the true sense of the word, might be best to describe it, as these five musicians seem to be on an obstinate quest to renew the genre. Many different styles seem to have inspired them. According to their website, The Rebel Wheel has its roots in jazzy jam sessions, but we also can hear references to the irreverent (indeed: rebellious) side of King Crimson (Thrax period). Also Frank Zappa, Rush, ELP, Gentle Giant and the jazz rock of for example The Fents seem to have had influence on this quintet from Ontario.

Their search for renewal and unpredictability has resulted in an album with extremes. On the one side we have nasty riffs, dissonant chords, complex rhythms, unusual tonalities and quirky arrangements. The distorted, sometimes monotone voice of band leader David Campbell adds up to this heavy side of The Rebel Wheel. But there is also the other extreme: the dreamy and romantic tracks sung by Angie MacIvor. The contrast of these songs with the heavier ones, makes the warm and pleasant voice of MacIvor feel like a warm bath. Settling Of Bones, a wonderful track with atmospheric (Gilmourian) plucked electric guitars, is a good example. And then there is the funky and jazzy part of The Rebel Wheel, in which the band every now and then takes its time to do some jamming.

Next to singing, MacIvor steals the show with her saxophone improvisations, and virtuoso keyboard solo’s. At least, I think these solo’s are hers, but I am not sure it’s her, as the booklet is not always clear who plays what, and also Campbell does his share of keyboards. In any case, we deal here with musicians that know how to play their instruments individually, but who also know how to create a groovy collective. The leadership of drummer and percussionist Aaron Clark is very important in creating this swing.

We should also not forget to mention bassist Claude Prince, who recently joined the band and seems to be capable to play all kinds of styles. If he plays the fretless bass he sounds a bit like Jones Reingold (The Flower Kings, Third World Electric), when plucking and hammering his bass, he just like Mark King (Level 42) and at yet another point, it is as if Geddy Lee (Rush) personally played some part.

This musicianship makes it easier to bear the production of the album, which is rather dry, even for North American standards.

The extremes make it not that easy to listen to entire album in one go. You should definitely not turn it on as background music but really take the time for it, as if you are watching a movie. We Are In A Time Of Evil Clocks feels like a story, with different actors, sets and unforeseen plot changes. A bit like a concept album. In a sense it is, although not all the tracks fit in one story. The fact that the impressive The Discovery Of Witchcraft consists of seven parts, lasting more than half an hour, contributes to the movie-like sensation. In this epic, again heavy and large (mainly instrumental) parts are alternated with the dreamy, laid back vocal ones.

Despite its qualities, We Are In A Time Of Evil Clocks, is probably not an album which will convince a large audience. For many people, it might be too much having so many different extremes and styles on one disc. From a commercial point of view, The Rebel Wheel might want to make a clear choice: be a prog rock band or be a funky jazz band (or perhaps a jazz rock band), but not all of them at once.

I do like the album though and enjoyed discovering the sometimes hidden gems on it. But most of all, I would like to see them coming over to Europe for some live gigs: with the instrumental capacities of these musicians that really must be fun!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Animations - Reset Your Soul

Animations - Reset Your Soul
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:Sonic Maze
Catalogue #:SMRCD0002
Year of Release:2009
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Reset Your Soul (7:00), Demons Of War (7:32), Inscrutable (8:26), The Manhattan Project (10:06), Request For Redemption (2:41), The Last Man (13:02), 1989 (7:54), Toxicyber (8:38)

Animations are a fresh-faced, fairly youthful looking group to emerge from the ever-branching ganglion of Polish acts who like their music to be progressive in nature and metallic in style. Like many of their counterparts, Animations take elements of established Swedish and American prog metal acts and reshape them over the anvil of Eastern European bleakness to fashion their own brand of metalmongery. Reset Your Soul is the band’s sophomore release following on from 2007’s self-titled and entirely instrumental debut which Andy Read recommended at the time. It differs substantially in that Darek Bartosiewicz has been recruited to handle vocal duties, adding a whole new dimension to their sound and, it could be argued, bringing the whole outfit into a more conventional set-up. Alongside Darek is a guitar, bass, keyboards and drums combo handled by the respective persons of Kuba Debski, Bartek Bisaga, Tomek Konopka, and Paweł Larysz.

There is a certain buzz about this band on the internet, if it’s possible to detect such a thing. Here at DPRP, we’re a little slow off the mark to have reviewed Reset Your Soul and lots of websites (mostly Polish) have already digested it and proffered their marks, many of which hold this release in very high regard. In Poland, they are referred to as ‘the Polish Liquid Tension Experiment’ and their long list of gear endorsements would seem to confirm the fact that lots of people consider them a prospect. Combine this with the very polished presentation and packaging, and I sense that the management of Animations is projecting a profile for the band that would hope to see them take a place on the global stage with their compatriots Riverside and Satellite. So who am I to argue?

Indeed, there is a lot to enjoy, the album is positively bristling with ideas. Every track save one is replete with convolutions that fold and unfold the musical ideas in on themselves. Since I’ve mentioned it, I may as well point out now that I think Request For Redemption is the rank duffer on this album. It’s the ubiquitous piano-led ballad and, for my money, they need not have bothered with it. Ignoring the ugly duckling and pressing on, the musicianship is very high quality with extended instrumental passages that allow Kuba and Tomek to display their pyrotechnic abilities with élan. The keyboard solos are very exciting and Tomek’s work colours these songs with an engaging and inventive array of hooks and voices that cement and give body to the overall sound. Kuba’s work is very much in the mould of John Petrucci in that he is technical rather emotional in his style. I attach no value judgement to this, it’s just an observation and I’m partial to both, either way, if guitar and keyboard solos are your thing, Reset Your Soul is brimful of them and they are great.

The rhythm section is what you might expect from a prog metal band, powerful rolling bass figures and thunderous, tumbling, galloping double kick drums propel the whole thing along with gusto. They have some stylistic surprises too. On the second track, Demons Of War and again in the instrumental The Manhattan Project we are treated to some faux, cod-jazz which only partially succeeds. It’s a technique they use several times throughout the album and it sometimes left me reeling with the wrong kind of astonishment. When it works, and it’s vastly better in The Manhattan Project, then there’s a hint of the metal/jazz fusion of Exivious about them. Sticking with style for a moment, as well as the touches of jazz fusion there is definitely more than a hint of the East about their tonal and harmonic palette. Sometimes they drift over the Middle-East or India for their musical ideas, most audibly in the twisting passages of The Lost Man adding something slightly exotic to its already complex form. Occasionally they borrow from the folk traditions of their Eastern European musical heritage, all of which lends a ‘strangeness’, an ‘otherness’ to their melodic choices. The production is very good, combining a solid, meaty and aggressive attack with a clear and distinct staging. The last track, Toxicyber borders on excellence and is crushing. Blending Gojira with White Zombie in a stand-off with Dream Theater, it has a groove and bite that the others don’t, but it is in these biting, crushing, heavy moments that the band are, I believe, at their best on Reset Your Soul.

In spite of so many positive attributes, I remain underwhelmed by Reset Your Soul. The Liquid Tension Experiment claim is a bold one, too bold. In fact, it’s something of a misappropriation. Perhaps in their earlier guise as an instrumental outfit, it was more applicable, but I can’t hear anything in this to warrant the comparison. Whilst there are lots of ideas on this album, many of them are overwrought and metal becomes brittle under such conditions. Once too often they flog a riff to death before developing a theme and then return to beat the riff some more. In other places they don’t give the ideas time to breathe before they’ve flown off on another tangent. This is perhaps an indication of a band who are still finding their groove and are, in the process of maturing, losing their core identity in a kind of indecision. They ably demonstrate their collective musical imaginations, but in their efforts to appear credible as masterful purveyors of the long-form composition, they are merely masking their inadequacies with information overload.

The worst aspect for me however, and it pains me to have to say it, is in the singing. It’s not that Darek is a bad singer. On the contrary, he has a clear tenor not unlike James LaBrie. My problem lies in the inherent danger of singing outside of your mother tongue, and it’s not the occasional heavy Polish accent that appears from time to time, I can get past that. It’s the lyrics themselves and the way that they scan. Darek’s phrasing sounds clumsy and the meaning of the lyrics is compromised by it. On the page, they don’t look so bad, take this for example:

Why once again
I have lost my chance to change
The beast within me
Spat straight to my face

It kind of makes sense, but it doesn’t really, and once Darek gets his mouth around it, it dissolves into garbage and I found this incredibly distracting throughout the review process. Having said that, I do now find myself singing along to the chorus of the title track, so it’s not all bad.

In conclusion, this is a troubling album to grade but on the whole, I can’t escape the feeling that Reset Your Soul is pretty standard fare within the progressive metal genre. If Animations are not pushing the envelope enough for my liking, they are certainly making it bulge in places and whilst they may not be reinventing the wheel, they’ve definitely got them on the cart and the cart is hurtling somewhere towards something. With such great musicianship and an excess of ideas, they really need to gel with their new vocal possibilities and make them as exciting as the other instruments. If you’re a prog metal aficionado, you’ll definitely want to check them out and partake of their development because the potential is evidently there for them to create a truly stunning album in the future. Reset Your Soul just isn’t it.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Ovale – Slalom

Ovale – Slalom
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:GW 3125
Year of Release:2009
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Dessert (2:13), L'A-Thlétisme (1:34), A (2:46), Remonte-Pente (2:39), Météore (4:30), Titre To Be Found Very Soon (4:13), Dodécaféiné (5:07), Biscouette-Trio (4:30), Calme Plat (6:08), Patin Sur Calme (0:50), XYZ (4:11), 3, 5, 7 Et 4 (5:42), Slalom (3:42), Le Fill (5:26)

Is it Prog? This is a common question while reviewing for DPRP. With Prog being such a broad church it often doesn’t matter whether it is or not due to the diverse tastes of many of our readers.

So what of Ovale? Formed in Strasbourg, France in 2001 they have played with varying line-ups and guests. Their instrumental mix of differing musical ways, mainly improvisational jazz and rock with other forms including Art House movie soundtracks, offer a fairly unique vision of what the band is about. Slalom is their first release.

The rhythm section of Vincent Posty (acoustic bass) and Pascal Gully (drums) also play with the John Zorn produced Zakarya and the rest of the group, Pierre Michel (sax), Jean Lucas (trombone) and Jean-Louis Marchand (clarinets), are experienced musicians with many recordings under their belts. Their music is predominantly acoustic Zorn-school influenced jazz so don't expect a high tune-quotient.

The improvisational feel becomes clear from the start with a quartet of brief pieces to acclimatise the listener before the real meat and potatoes of the album kicks in. The striking mix of instruments leads to an interesting listen and there is no question that the playing is top rank, all paying close attention to the others as is necessary for talented improvisational groups.

The music drifts through many areas but the warm acoustic sound is ever present. The upright bass is distinctive, often with a strummed feel, and the drumming sometimes minimalist and off-kilter. The winds sporadically offer melody but often go for a discordant approach that will be off-putting for many. There is a spot of funk in Dessert and an industrial feel to A with Sci-Fi atmospherics encroaching into Remonte-Pente. There are shrieking stabs of sax and lugubrious trombone here and there. Météore involves humming bass with stabs of brass in a menacing stew of jazz, improvisation and cop show music with the clarinet led mid-section having a more rock orientated approach.

Dodécaféiné features sinister winds with sweeping rhythm and tempo changes that suggest a Zappa/Varèse influence but loses its way with harsh stabs of sax in the improv. Some of the tracks don't really go anywhere and could (and should?) have been removed for the good of the listening experience. 3, 5, 7 et 4 comes in with an interesting stop/start rhythm before a VERY long improv section which builds to a cacophony. The title track fares better with call and response sax and bass, melancholic trombone solo and a driving, fugue-like finale

The distinctive voices of the wind instruments complement and contrast very nicely and the playing features superb attention to detail. The acoustic nature gives the music a human face but this is sometimes lost amongst the players’ desire to boldly head off in sometimes random directions. The playing is excellent but much of the material lacks real hooks, an exception being the quite excellent Meteore.

As is often the case with this type of release the music is probably better in a live setting than on CD. It needs a couple of spins to get used to it as the music doesn't stay rooted in one place and wanders, sometimes aimlessly, between styles and feels but the best of the material certainly holds the attention. Some of the more ragged, shorter and improvisational pieces will test the patience of all but the most hardened Improv Head but the best parts of this album are superb.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Étron Fou Leloublan - Face Aux Elements Dechaines

Étron Fou Leloublan - Face Aux Elements Dechaines
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:GA8663
Year of Release:1985/2009
Info:Étron Fou
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Lavees A La Machine (4:19), Tous Le Poussent (3:39), Hors De Son Monde (4:00), Paris 65 (4:04), Sous Les Draps (3:52), Comment Choisir Son Infirmiere (3:14), Gifle Hubert (4:45), Blanc (4:13), Binet D’eau Froide (0.18), Plus Rein Ne Nous Reient Dans Ce Pays (3:34), Mon Petit Chorus (4:11)

Étron Fou Leloublan's album Face Aux Elements Dechaines features Ferdinand Richard (bass and vocals), Jo Thirion (organ and vocals) and Guigou Chenevier (drums, vocals and tenor saxophone) having been produced by Fred Firth of Henry Cow.

What we have here is Étron Fou Leloublan, one of the founder R.I.O bands (Rock in Opposition), hailing from France, Face Aux Elements Dechaines (Deal with the raging elements), being their last album which was originally released back in 1985. Les Poumons Gonfles and Les Sillons De La Terre have both been reviewed on DPRP in the past receiving 6.5 out of 10 and 5 out of 10 respectively. Étron Fou Leloublan were founded in 1973 and disbanded in 1986 having managed to release six albums, one live and five studio. Not exactly prolific, but then again it’s all about quality not quantity.

Apparently the English translation of the bands name is “Mad Shit White Wolf”, which on balance fits perfectly. The music of the band is that of experimental and avant garde in approach whilst still moving within the boundaries of melody, although at times the musical passages do sound odd and aren’t always easy on the ear. This album would appeal to fans of Henry Cow, Univers Zero, Stormy Six, Samla Mammas Manna, Soft Machine (most of which were also part of the founding movement of the R.I.O) and the more adventurous amongst us.

The band has approached their songs in what would appear to be a madcap and humorous tone, both lyrically and in metre. Their use of both female and male vocals has not really detracted from this, which to be honest has contributed and reinforced it even more. This in turn, distracted me from their musical ability at times, although the band has still recorded some complex and involved but short songs.

Rhythmically the band has a rock based sound, which vaguely reminded me of Captain Beefheart but an approach built on a foundation of jazz experimentation. The songs slip from time signature to time signature with ease with some complex passages leaving the listener feeling that this is all a little bit too clever at times.

The album opens with Lavees A La Machines featuring some strange progressions interspersed with Chenevier saxophone playing, offering a strange bass / vocal passage where the vocal work takes over the track creating mood and atmosphere. The supporting cast of instruments allow this with their layered complex work, which makes the track somewhat interesting. Tous Le Poussent has a great bass line that is mirrored in style by the vocals, this being the area that sounds most like Beefheart. There are some great musical runs that at first go unnoticed but come to the front after repeated listening. The instrumental Hors De Son Monde opens with some very strong saxophone playing, a track that I like very much, supported by some excellent drumming from Chenevier and organ work from Thirion. This is a standout track having a Zappa staccato approach.

Paris 65 is a track that really turned me off due to the vocal presentation, which if I am to be honest is something that I have struggled with throughout the album. I personally believe that it may have been more rewarding for the band to have concentrated more on the musical texture, which in turn would have allowed the listener to do so too. Throughout the whole album there is some rather unique and excellent playing that at times really intrigued me. Sous Les Draps is one of two vocal led tracks on the whole album that I enjoyed and found fitting. It allowed both balance musically with its complex approach and also tonal commentary allowing both to breathe complementing each other. Comment Choisir Son Infirmiere is the other track I liked vocally with its strange interjections of organ playing and again stunning repeating bass phrases and saxophone work reminding me again of the Zappa approach. Gifle Hubert features some stunning jazz experimental style drumming and bass playing which leads the way for the organ to mirror what is being played on the bass line before Richard, who I have to say has contributed the most outstanding work on the album, again takes it away for some very dextrous and complex playing.

Blanc opens with a basic organ line and short drum roles with Richards’ supplying some amazing bass work which has the rest of the group following offering complexity and excitement Binet D’eau Froide is a very short instrumental, with its 18 seconds of time doesn’t really contribute anything. Plus Rein Ne Nous Reient Dans Ce Pays has a bouncing funky bass line which features some interesting lyrical interjections allowing the music to suddenly stop and then start. The piece has an almost punk / new wave tonal approach. I love the feel to this song. Mon Petit Chorus sounds like a prog band has tried to write a euro style pop song for a TV show, which is quick in approach racing towards its conclusion with it’s repeating rhythms and passages.

I thrive on being challenged, but I have got to admit that Étron Fou Leloublan really tested me. You get the feeling that Étron Fou Leloublan are being quirky for the sake of being quirky, which is a let down for what is basically a very enjoyable album musically. There is no doubt that all the musicians involved are very comfortable and able within their field, recording some rather excellent passages, of which the bass being second to none which just seems to hold everything together. The big let down for me in the bigger picture are the vocals. For me they just don’t work with their approach, it makes the whole package sound elitist and far too clever for its own good. Would the album have worked if the lyrics were in English? I am not too sure!

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


El Trio – La Blanca Y La Gris

El Trio – La Blanca Y La Gris
Country of Origin:Dominican
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2009
Info:El Trio
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Solo En Cancion (4:51), Dos Grandes (5:11), Sangre Del Corazon (4:29), Vicio (4:52), Del Desierto (7:04), Cancion De Los Muertos (5:36), La Verdad (6:43), Cancion De Paloma (5:56), No E Como Ante (5:17), Juan Quire Venderla (2:41), La Necia (8:14), Jessica Saca La Lengua (4:47)

El Trio label themselves as, “an indie rock band that expands into fusion and prog like territories,” and are from the Dominican Republic. The line up consists of Jonatan Pina Duluc (vocals, guitar, saxophone and keyboards), Kilvin Pean (bass) and Johandy Urena (drums).

So where do we start with El Trio’s La Blanca Y La Gris, which is their second album, their first being Siempre Que Hay Un Corazon, and to me a far better album with it’s roots firmly grounded in the rock field. What’s on offer here is really a mixed bag of music, El Trio doesn’t really know which camp to fully put both its feet firmly in.

Vocally in places this album sounds like Dave Lee Roth’s Sonrisa Salvaje, (Spanish vocal version of Eat ‘Em And Smile). Musically it sounds like Zappa in places. Jessica Saca La Lengua sounds like Skynryd in places. There are Latin tones throughout the album which comes as no surprise due to the geographical location of the band and then there’s more than a hint of Santana’s guitar tones.

Their press blurb states some of their main references as being, “Livin’ Colour, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson and Soundgarden”? I think that that might be pushing it a bit. In reality this really is a mixed bag of jazz, rock, fusion, Latin and folk music thrown together, shook up and then recorded. Duluc’s guitar works overtime in places with the inclusion of some great drumming from Urena.

Solo En Cancion is a solid rock track with some interesting breaks supported by a strong rhythm section. Dos Grandes has a Latin feel especially with the inclusion of the percussion and Duluc guitar playing. Sangre Del Corazon has a Zappa-esque approach offering some interesting interaction between the band members. Vicio has a heavy use of percussions with the conga’s driving the rhythm of the song, very Latin in approach. Del Desierto, Cancion De Los Muertos, No E Como Ante and La Necia are probably the most prog oriented tracks on the album, and I am using the term prog very loosely. La Necia is probably the nearest thing in approach to King Crimson. Cancion De Paloma has some interesting interaction with the saxophone and rhythm section and vocally for me is the strongest track. Juan Quire Venderla is a punk toned rock song with inclusions of some avant-garde saxophone playing giving the track some character. Jessica Saca La Lengua comes across as a poor mans Skynryd but does include some nice slide work and has a great blues feel to it.

There isn’t one track on the album that jumps out and grabs me, (but if I had to choose one, it would have to be Jessica Saca La Lengua). Musically the album is functional and crosses some T’s and dots some I’s but that’s about it really. There are some interesting passages which the band has failed to explore and capitalise on. Jonatan Pina Duluc is obviously a very talented musician, (who was awarded the Premio Nacional de Musica 2005, 2007 and twice in 2008 for Choir music, twice for chamber music and once for Dominican dance style songs. He also won the Primer Concurso de Composicion de Casa de Teatro 2001, classical category). This is the rub, as all in all from an unquestionably talented guy, the album offers nothing new and is somewhat bland and uninspiring. The literal translation of La Blanca Y La Gris is The White and the Grey which says it all really.

Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10


Album Reviews