Album Reviews

Issue 2013-054

Reviews in this issue:


Mike Keneally - You Must Be This Tall
Mike Keneally - You Must Be This Tall
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Record Label:Exowax Recordings
Catalogue #:EX2414
Year of Release:2013
Info:Mike Keneally
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: You Must Be This Tall (4:52), Cavanaugh (3:51), Plum (0:40), Cornbread Crumb (6:32), Kidzapunk (4:45), Pitch Pipe (4:19), The Rider (6:47), Bolarius (0:43), Popes (2:51), Indicator (1:26), 5th Street (1:56), Glop (5:27)

Roger Trenwith's Review

Up until around the end of June last year I had barely been aware of Mike Keneally, then I read Mark Hughes' ecstatic, but never fawning DPRP review of the...err...fantastic Wing Beat Fantastic album, a collaboration with Andy Partridge that turned out to be a musical highlight of 2012 and one that transcended the sometimes risible restraints of prog, or any other genre pigeonholing for that matter.

I was hooked, bought the album, and now we have You Must Be This Tall, which, despite the absence of a question mark, still read as such when I first saw it in print. Obviously, it is not a question, but a statement, in this case a warning on a fairground ride. Semantic dissonance aside, this album is indeed a joyous affair that swings along with the carefree nature of a kid let loose in a theme park.

Andy Partridge reappears here on the far too short Indicator, with some instantly recognisable guitar overdubs weaving in and out of Mike's jazzier tones. A brief but intricate glimpse into their shared musical vision that we can only hope will be rekindled at some point in the not too distant future.

Elsewhere, on Cornbread Crumb and Popes, Mike is joined by his touring band; Brian Beller - bass, Joe Travers - drums, and Rick Musallam - guitar. Cornbread Crumb is a laid back piece of fine musical interplay, the band giving their own take on fusion played out with an easy grace borne of fine-honed skills on the road. The interplay is as intuitive as you would expect of such consummate musicians.

While Cornbread Crumb is a languid instrumental, Popes has another one of those oblique lyrics that I am now becoming familiar with in my short association with Mr. Keneally's muse. The prose sees Mike "Hangin'...Rockin'...and Ridin' with popes" in a surreal road movie played out in the head. Lapsed Catholic Boogie!

The album opens with the title track, originally written for Holland's Metropole Orkest, and here, apart from the ubiquitous Marco Minnemann's exemplary skin bashing, Mike plays all the instruments, recreating the orchestral vista with "many synthesisers", overlaid with some fine guitar playing, both bass and lead, and as a result coming up with something that would grace an early Herbie Hancock album.

Cavanaugh features Mike as an almost-one-man band, were it not for the extra voices supplied by Matt Resnicoff. Together they bring forth a vibe not dissimilar to Mike's former employer Frank Zappa fronting the Hatfields, right down to the bizarre story hinted at in the lyric. Plum is the first of a few short musical interludes on the album, and it begins to fade out almost as soon as it has announced its arrival, the trombones of April West hinting at another delightful musical byway hopefully to be explored further.

The collision of Adrian Belew and The Mothers that is the crazy carousel ride of Kidzapunk is powered along by some crazy driving rhythm from Marco and is a cautionary tale, warning you that they may well "Knock off your block", these "barrels of fun", fuelled by "Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms". It is a dangerous place.

The final track, Glop, semi improvised, deconstructed and reconstructed in a manner his old boss would be proud of gives vent to Mike's spiky side, and marries a keen, almost avant, arrangement with some fiery improvisations on a burning guitar, and is a more than satisfying end to a great album. Mike has a musical range that few can match, shot through with his own inimitable style and humour, and this, my friends, is real progressive music making that any fan of left field pop, jazz fusion, and simply well put together and intelligent music cannot fail to be delighted by. A fun-filled three quarters of an hour's worth of aural delights!

When I look at Mike's frighteningly long discography, there is no way I will ever have the time to catch up with his no doubt glorious past, but his is a name I will certainly be following closely in the future. Oh...and if you read this Mike, please pay Andy's "shed" another visit!

Jez Rowden's Review

Reviewing Mike Keneally albums can be a difficult yet highly rewarding business; the man crams so much into his music (which often comes from very unusual places) that describing the effect seldom does it justice. His work may not be widely known and therefore regarded as niche but his pedigree is beyond reproach - anyone who can wow Frank Zappa deserves to be heard and, having performed stunt guitar in Frank's last touring band he learnt a thing or two upon which he has built his way through a solo career that is now over 20 years old and has produced in excess of 20 albums.

During his solo career Keneally has done much to fill some of the enormous gap left after Zappa's death, keeping his genius alive by incorporating a sound and feel reminiscent of Zappa's best work into his own. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of Zappa's music Keneally really knows what makes it tick but his own music does not parody the great man, simply occupies some of the same territory; the goofy musical mayhem is there but the cynicism is largely absent, replaced by good-natured playfulness. Keneally has worked with Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai and a host of others, contributing to albums too numerous to mention, and he is currently to be found supplying keys and additional guitar in Joe Satriani's band. So varied is his work that even those unfamiliar with him have almost certainly heard him playing somewhere. I myself am a fairly recent convert to the cause but am making strides to catch up on what I have missed - and I'm loving the mix of wacky songs with dextrous playing, Keneally himself an immediately likeable presence.

And so to his latest solo album, You Must Be This Tall; a classic example of a poor marketing strategy as there is, in fact, no height restriction for listening to and enjoying this album. I would suggest that people of shorter stature may even benefit as the good vibrations coming up through the floor will reach their brains that bit sooner. Twelve tracks of lovingly crafted sonic wonderfulness make up YMBTT, shot through with Zappa-esque quirkiness and mind altering 'WTF!' moments, but that is not the full picture as melody flows out of the speakers in great fruit flavoured oceans. Keneally's enthusiastic approach and jaw-dropping technique are one thing but he has a wonderful ear for an off-the-wall tune which gives his music a longevity that sees it benefiting from multiple listening over a long period of time. This is no one-shot-deal, hear it once and you've heard it all record.

The guitar focused instrumental title track, beautifully recorded like the rest of the album, features sounds and phrases that any Zappa fan will find cosy and homely yet still new. Marco Minnemann supplies 'human' drums alongside their electronic counterparts, Keneally providing everything else in the varied and hugely interesting instrumentation. The track darts hither and thither, the drums skittering while guitars pick and soar, keys stabbing and swooping, all with a jazzy feel and hints of Gentle Giant. Glop ends the album as it started, Keneally and Minnemann utilising Zappa to create the perfect finale where the quirkiness is taken to a higher level and extended into extemporaneous improvs before being brought back to earth by the calypso-esque coda.

Although the variety level is high the album feels like a whole and complete work; each new facet contributing something more. Cavanaugh, for example, is a subtle mix of Zappa, Cardiacs and Gentle Giant filtered through the Keneally lens. Again MK does it all with only additional vocals from Matt Resnicoff for company. Piano peeks through amongst the layered instruments and the playing throughout is fascinating as the music just flies; this is inspiring stuff, the whole taking it's influences and forging something uniquely new.

Throughout the album brief vignettes are scattered amongst the longer tracks; tiny hints that offer tantalising glimpses of new wonders that Keneally has chosen to keep subtly veiled, for now at least. Of these the delicate piano of Plumb, with delicious trombone additions from April West, acts as a sweet comedown after Cavanaugh. Very different are Bolarius, where washes of serene and moody synths add new textures, and the piano flavoured Keneally solo of 5th Street, a melancholy affair.

Last but not least of the fragment tracks and the only piece not composed by Keneally alone, Indicator features the writing talents, guitars and drum loops of XTC's Andy Partridge with whom Mike produced last year's sublime Wing Beat Fantastic album. The guitars chime, their complementing styles working very nicely together in an all too brief and colourful explosion that leaves the listener wanting more.

Cornbread Crumb is one of two tracks which feature the Mike Keneally Band in its entirety - Joe Travers on drums, Bryan Beller on bass and Rick Musallam's rhythm guitar. Having seen them play live recently I can vouch for the fact that this band bloody well smokes, and this track brings some funk strut in a rhythm that you can't help but groove to. Keneally's playing has a soulful edge here with hints of Zappa's style while Beller's bass is an object lesson in how to nail down the bottom end whilst driving the track along. The other MKB track is the fascinatingly odd Popes, Keneally's sparkling guitar wending its way through a tale of unexpected papal adventures, the like of which are unlikely to be officially published by The Vatican any time soon.

Kidzapunk, subtitled as the "closing theme from 'Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms'", is built on a thumping kick-drum loop taken from Angle by John Oswald (from his Plunderphonics giveaway album) with Minnemann returning to help out and supply the rhythmic drive. As the title suggests there is a punky energy to this one, Keneally also adding some well funkin' bass. Solo through and through, the majestic Pitch Pipe sounds like it could be a reworking of the score for an old Hollywood epic set in Ancient Egypt before the mid-section features Zappa-esque instrumental fireworks, a Latin flavour working its way in later on.

Of the other longer pieces, aided by Rick Musallem and the voice of Missy Andersen, The Rider is a peach. The pace drops but the depth of the multi-tracking (including an almost Queen-like guitar orchestra effect), the quality of the vocal and the quirkiness of the melody are accentuated with emotional guitar solos and a hauntingly satisfying chorus making it one of the many highpoints.

This is a simply fascinating album that fully displays that it takes more than just chops to make a great album but quality chops can then lift things to even greater heights. There is beauty, emotion, tricksiness, ingenuity and above all quality here in an album that has something for just about everyone - even if they don't actually realise that they want it. You Must Be This Tall is indicative of Keneally's versatility that can see him playing metal with Dethklok one minute, creating beautiful XTC influenced pop songs with Andy Partridge the next and still having time to trade keyboard licks with Joe Satriani; this album takes in so many elements of Keneally's playing and continues to see him ploughing a very individualistic furrow.

But please don't be fooled into thinking that this is just another of those 'look-at-me' muso wank-fests as it most certainly isn't. There is plenty for the guitar enthusiast to enjoy, no doubt, but it doesn't self-serve and the playing is there for the benefit of the songs which are so unique as to make comparisons difficult. The guest contributions are beautifully weighted and there is a playfulness here, Zappa certainly coming through but not overpoweringly so and appearing more like fondly remembered foundation influences rather than as raison-d'être for the music.

If you previously thought that 'MK' stood for the bland and grid-patterned environs of Milton Keynes then be informed that it can also refer to a much more exciting and quirky place full of brain sparking music aplenty. As a talent Keneally should be a household name but, let's be honest, he is just too good and utilising a style that is too far out for most people to deal with. For the rest of us this is a treat that we should savour safe in the knowledge that we will never have to queue up in the wind and rain outside the Milton Keynes Bowl to hear him live (possibly to the chagrin of Mr. Keneally himself!).

If you are either a dyed in the world Zappa-Freak or one of Keneally's growing army of supporters you've probably bought this already. If you're not in those categories then I heartily recommend that you listen to the samples and then investigate this album - and the rest of Mike's extensive catalogue - further as the world would be a much poorer place without Mike Keneally.


ROGER TRENWITH : 8 out of 10
JEZ ROWDEN : 9 out of 10

Mike has produced a video to encourage fans to help in the promotion of You Must Be This Tall which you can watch below before following this link to :-

From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Mike Keneally CD Reviews:-
"This album mirrors a myriad of influences which will undoubtedly strike a chord with any listener."
(Nigel Camilleri, 8/10)
"There is a lot to like on this intoxicating CD, but its quirks and foibles make it something of an acquired taste, so I think it falls just short of being DPRP recommended, but if any of the above has aroused your curiosity, I strongly suggest you try the samples."
(Dave Sissons, 7.5/10)
Wing Beat Fantastic
"Are XTC prog? Is Mike Keneally prog? Should Wing Beat Fantastic be placed along side prog album? Honest answer? I couldn't give a expletive deleted - without a shadow of a doubt, it would take Gentle Giant to reform and release a new album that was better than all of their other albums combined to prevent Wing Beat Fantastic this is my album of the year!"
(Mark Hughes, 9+/10)

Previous Mike Keneally Live Reviews:-
Cardiff, U.K.
"This band is brilliant and turned on a sixpence into whatever direction Mike desired. The mind-boggling number of styles that were deployed beggared belief and the intricacy of the material was simply startling."
(Jez Rowden)

Homunculus Res - Limiti all'eguaglianza della Partecon il Tutto

Homunculus Res - Limiti all'eguaglianza della Partecon il Tutto
Country of Origin:Italy
Record Label:AltrOck
Catalogue #:ALT-035
Year of Release:2013
Info:Homunculus Res
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Culturismo Ballo Organizzare (5:49), ΔU (1:52), Dj Psicosi (3:48), Preparazione Bomba H (3:12), Sintagma (1:08), Jessicalaura (3:17), (che ne sai tu di un) Cerchio nel Grano (3:48), Rifondazione Unghie (3:17), La ballata dell'amore stocastico (3:15), XΦ (1:29), Nabucco Chiappe d'Oro (4:13), Il papa buono (2:51), Accidenti (0:23), Centoquarantaduemilaottocentocinquantasette (2:05), Profiterol (1:28), Estate 216 solstz (1:23), Puk 10 (2:24), Il Contrario di Tutto (2:20)

Homunculus Res hail from Palermo in Sicily, which, like the English county of Kent is situated at the far extreme of its particular country. I'm stretching the comparison here, but if this band had sung their lyrics in English (I'm glad they didn't, by the way), you would be forgiven for thinking they had been practising in a cellar, probably nine feet underground, in the Kent county town.

Limiti all'eguaglianza della Partecon il Tutto is the band's debut album, and translates as "limits to the equality of the part with the whole", a serious sounding title in total contrast to the highly playful nature of the lovely music within.

The humour in this record is apparent from the off, Culturismo Ballo Organizzare ('Bodybuilding Dance Organisation') commencing in an odd time signature and then, leading us through a merry dance of what can only be described as Euro-Canterbury, its twists and turns culminating with a short but sweet guitar break, before reprising the initial theme in the middle. Many classic Canterbury references waltz and quick-step through this aptly named song, including a short and cheeky bass riff nicked from an early Softs album.

So, we know where this fun album is coming from, and probably where it is going to, but the Italian lyricism, in words as well as melody, always shines through. The band I am most put in mind of is Hatfield and the North, the singer Dario D'Alessandro comes over as an Italian Richard Sinclair on more than one occasion.

Homunculus Res are always looking towards the humorous, and Dj Psicosi kicks off briefly with the bass line from Michael Jackson's Billy Jean, intentionally, as the lyric makes clear, before taking a sharp left turn into Picchio dal Pozzo territory, but ending again with the melody from the Jacko hit. Dj Psicosi is a jolly good time; if only it were track seven. If this is psychosis, please may I have some more?

Sintagma is the first of many short musical interludes that makes the satisfying but never tiring forty eight minutes of the album seem longer, but in a good way. The tune sounds like Devo warming up and along with the other nicely strange snippets keeps a smile on one's face.

The band is dominated by the keyboards of leader Dario D'Alessandro, David Di Giovanni and Federico Cardaci. Dario also plays guitar and sings, and we have drummer Daniele Di Giovanni, bassist Domenico Salamone, and flutist Dario Lo Cicero. There are also acoustic guitars, lead guitars, and percussion thrown into this wholesome mix to give a sound that is full but never over-busy.

Adding yet more keyboards from his extensive collection of such things is the AltrOck-ubiquitous Paolo "Ske" Botta, and along with the others in the band they all comprise a veritable army of Dave Stewarts!

"Homunculus" is a term applied to any field of study to refer to a reduced representation of a human being, a definition that may or may not come through in the "sarcastic" Italian lyrics. While this is an at times understated record that doesn't demand your attention, it will insinuate itself into your consciousness, like a cat creeping up un-noticed and curling up in your lap. Before you know it, Limiti... has made itself well and truly at home.

A highlight, amongst many it has to be said, is the languid and laid back Jessicalaura, taking its cue from Kevin Ayres' sun-drenched effortless style, overlaid with some nicely subtle synth twiddling. A very summery song, and entirely lovely, it wears its influences on its sleeve but rises above them by being quite swoonsome.

Dario wrote most of these songs and is the band leader, and lists amongst his influences the Rascal Reporters, whom I freely admit to being entirely ignorant of. Accidenti is the shortest of the musical interludes and is a tribute to Steve Gore from this obscure American avant duo. The more musically erudite of you will spot that Dario also likes to titillate and confuse with songwriting structures involving enneagrams, triangular structures, and Fibonnaci sequences, things which, like me, you need no knowledge of in order to simply enjoy this fun record for what it is.

Egg feature in a mash up with The Residents and Devo on Centoquarantaduemilaottocentocinquantasette (I'll bet you can't say that aloud first time, even if you're Italian!) signalling a strange, almost disjointed end to the album with a sequence of short songs that require maximum attention from the listener, although the effort is well rewarded. That does not mean that melody has been forgotten, far from it, but there's a lot more going on under the surface of this end sequence than a few cursory listens will reveal.

The vocal melody of the final track is soothing, a lullaby to calm the listener's by now highly alert synapses, and is a good end to the record.

This has been a fine debut from a band that is well worth keeping an eye on in the future, and yet another high quality find by AltrOck.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Audio Cologne Project - 2911

Audio Cologne Project - 2911
Country of Origin:Germany/U.K.
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Info:Uwe Cremer
Dave Pearson
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Chemist's Bike (18:47), Crazy Bongos (8:47), Speiluhr (19:43), Grobmotorik (6:56), Mind The Gap (17:36)
Bonus Track: Akustich-1 (4:39)

Audio Cologne Project is an instrumental collaboration between Germany's Uwe Cremer (Level p) on guitars and keyboards and England's Dave Pearson (Computerchemist) on bass, keyboards and sequencers. Completing the line-up is drummer Zsolt Galántai who, as if collaborating between two countries was not enough, happens to be Hungarian. Some four years in the making, the album 2911 takes Pearson's and Cremer's love of seventies German music and creates a modern Krautrock epic. Of course, just as coming up with a description of what constitutes a prog album, defining Krautrock as a genre is rife with pitfalls with the potential to alienate people who have decided that a particular genre is not for them before even entertaining the possibility that there might be something on offer that may well be to their liking. However, knowing that DPRP attracts a more discerning type of reader, I will take it on trust that by defining ACP in terms of Krautrock, it will be understood that this is used in a generic manner and as a nod towards the general style of music on offer.

First, up, it has to be noted that this is a very long album, over 76 minutes, which given the very reasonable download price on BandCamp - the album is download only - makes 2911 great value for money. Of course, price is irrelevant if the musical quality is not up to scratch. On that score, you can rest easy ACP deliver an imaginative, extremely well played, produced and delivered album. With three tracks approaching the 20-minute mark, there is lots of scope for the musicians to explore a variety of soundscapes and improvisation along the way (although given the gestation of the album one hesitates to assume that any of the pieces are total spontaneous improvisations). Taking some of the more experimental 'rock' elements of classic Krautrock, they have craftily infused synth and keyboard lines that add dreamier, sometimes pseudo-psychedelic and occasionally cosmic, tones to the pieces. Take opening track Chemist's Bike as an example; the first half has guitars and drums featuring more prominently in the mix which with the keyboard support is not a million miles away from the type of music Pink Floyd produced in their early post-Syd Barrett years. The second half is somewhat dreamier, with the keyboards dominating, or should I say virtual keyboards as Pearson has eschewed the use of physical keyboards these days and uses virtual instruments accessed via his computer.

The two composers are not afraid to experiment either, mixing genres, prog, Krautrock and electronic music are blended together and cleverly intertwined. As would be expected, some sections are more successful than others but it does mean that even on the longest pieces it is not easy to predict what might happen next and it has to be said that none of the more epic numbers feel like they have outstayed their welcome: boredom is not part of the agenda! However, one piece fails to grab me: Crazy Bongos. This piece seems to lack a degree of cohesion and purpose, particularly in comparison to some of the other pieces on offer. Speiluhr is more cinemascopic and leans more in the direction of Tangerine Dream. Quite hypnotic throughout, the piece flows well, is well paced and apart from an early section where my preference would have been for the drums not to intrude so much, is a thoroughly engaging piece of music. Of particular note is the wonderful guitar sound and how it has been laid under the sequencer lines in the mix, very effective. Grobmotorik is heavier with Galántai shining throughout by providing an inventive array of polyrhythms. Mind The Gap rounds things off for the trio with a generally more up-beat performance which moves from the three musicians performing in harmony to a more languid wash of keyboards bringing the piece to a satisfying and rewarding end. However, things don't end there as a bonus track, Akustisch-1, presents another side to the Cremer-Pearson collaboration. The bonus status is presumably because it does not feature Galántai and, as the name might suggest, features a prominent acoustic guitar element. The acoustic rhythm guitar is juxtaposed against an electric counterpart to create a very enjoyable piece of music that although of a different style to the rest of the album does not sound out of place.

Overall, the ACP is a successful collaboration between two composers who have delved into the music that inspired them in their youths and created a new collection of pieces that stand up well in the modern era. With elements of Krautrock, prog, electronic music and rock the album is a satisfying blend that, irrespective of whatever genre you want to attribute to the music, is well worthy of attention.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Ekos - Luz Interna

Ekos - Luz Interna
Country of Origin:Mexico
Record Label:Subteraudio Digital
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Obscuridad (8:23), Luz Interna (7:57), Mutacion (7:11), Rostro Oculto (8:48), La Huida del Infierno (6:27), Apocalipsis (21:15)

Luz Interna ("Inner Light") is the debut CD from Mexican quartet Ekos. The band - which consists of a keyboard-vocalist, a guitarist-vocalist, a bassist, and a drummer - began by interpreting the music of Pink Floyd. But the band has now created and self-produced an original CD that was two years in the making. The band's website bills the new CD as a journey through our cycles and emotions.

Although the influence of Pink Floyd can indeed be noticed here, Ekos' music is usually more frenetic and, in some places, more hard-edged. Like the music of Pink Floyd, the music on Luz Interna is heady stuff to be sure, but here, despite the somewhat muddy production values, the individual instruments are more noticeable than the overriding atmosphere.

There's not a bad tune on the CD. All of the tunes feature strong musicianship, and the compositions were carefully thought-out from A to Z. The instruments do most of the talking; when the vocals appear, they play only a supporting role.

Obscuridad is an auspicious opener. On this piece of instrumental progressive music a la the 1970s, the keyboard and guitar each take charge for extended segments. The musicianship is compelling, too. Following this is the more-ethereal, ballad-like title track, Luz Interna. Here, the vocals - in Spanish throughout the CD - are mellifluous and well compliment the grand sound. The next piece, Mutacion, begins and ends with power prog, but the meat of the sandwich is mellow. The song features some excellent, languid guitar work. Rostro Oculto, the most mellow song, is a bit draggy but still solid, and the long keyboard section near the close - which, yes, does reek of Pink Floyd - is soothing. Driving, instrumental rock follows: La Huida del Infierno is a fairly heavy, energetic song with a jazzy synthesizer solo and creative drum flourishes. The longest tune, Apocalipsis, has all of the above as well as multi-layered harmonies. On that tune there's much in the way of atmosphere and the guitar leads shine brightly, but the frequent shifts of timing and tone can obscure the themes.

Ekos deserves credit for finding its own way and creating music that, while safely falling within the realm of symphonic prog, stands free of any particular mold. On Luz Interna, the tunes are well crafted, the playing is solid, and the vocals are pleasant at best and non-intrusive at worst. Better sound quality would have made this CD more likely to find a regular place on my playlist, but I'll still be returning to this CD while eagerly awaiting another dose of music from Ekos down the road.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Simon McKechnie - Clocks and Dark Clouds

Simon McKechnie - Clocks and Dark Clouds
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Voyager Records
Catalogue #:Voyager 3
Year of Release:2013
Info:Simon McKechnie
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Mother and Daughter (7:43), Clocks and Dark Clouds (7:47), The City In the Sea (7:44), God Particle (7:41), Gorham's Cave (8:30), He Who Saw the Deep (Gilgamesh) (9:47), The Emigrant (6:50)

Prog is full of examples of lyrics using the words of Edgar Allan Poe (hence the raven on the cover of this one perhaps?). Less common are lyrics based on the written work of Albert Einstein and for good measure on this album from Londoner Simon McKechnie we get both plus contributions from Irish poet Joseph Campbell and legends from ancient Mesopotamia.

Clocks and Dark Clouds is McKechnie's first foray into writing a prog album after a long career in folk, jazz, classical and television work. Although a fan of the likes of Rush, King Crimson and Yes his playing had taken him in a different direction but as a result of a medical condition that precluded him from doing much other than improvising guitar in bed he noticed that the music he was coming up with was very prog in nature. With the songs taking shape the lyrics developed along a theme of time and so the album title appeared.

As a result of Simon's condition he was forced to play all of the guitar, bass and keyboard parts lying on the floor of his studio, the drums played by friend and collaborator Adam Riley whose background in jazz fusion comes through in his contributions to the songs which are all a prog-friendly 7 to 10 minutes in length. McKechnie is a more than capable guitarist and a talented singer with a strong voice and high reaching range. Sometimes, as in the title track, the vocal can be a little too high, the choir boy falsetto possibly not as effective as some of McKechnie's other singing. The vocals are often double tracked to good effect and the result is an instrumentally satisfying album with interesting lyrical content.

Musically, the tracks are based in the territory of the above influences but also benefit from McKechnie's experience in other fields. The whole is quite well recorded, particularly the drums, but the guitar sometimes feels a little thin. Occasionally, as in some of the linking sections of Mother and Daughter, the interface between drums and the rest of the instrumentation can be a little jarring resulting in a good opener that could have been a little sharper. This issue is infrequent and off-kilter and interesting drum patterns are a key feature. Also in Mother and Daughter the slowly rising bass figure reminds of Yes, particularly The Ladder era, and coupled with acoustic guitar the hint of Squire and Howe is a nice way to close the track.

Lyrically the songs are both wordy and worthy, the illustrious lyrical contributors providing literary poetry and prose that work very well in this setting, drawing the listener in to investigate the subject matter further. McKechnie's own words also add much and take on topics such as the hopes and fears of a woman awaiting the birth of her baby in Mother and Daughter and the effect of early human development on other creatures in the three-part title track. Poe's The City in the Sea is a good source for the gothic nature of the music on that track, guitar picking and soloing overlaid nicely, and the vocal here reminds me of a higher register John Wetton in his King Crimson days. The pitch of the vocal also suggests Rush although McKechnie's tone is much smoother.

For God Particle interlocking picked guitar figures are deployed into a more urgent guitar and drums pattern, solo guitar playing at the high end. Einstein's words make up the first part of the song, a delicate and mysterious theme offering a vision of the vastness and unknown depths of space, the lyrics and delivery reminding of Yes. In the second part Simon's lyric muses on future discoveries to be made, the urgent "Can't wait" section bringing Jon Anderson to mind.

McKechnie has done well to fill the sound out with layers of keys to support his guitar and often leads from the front with the bass making for a variety of sound. All of the songs move through good changes of tempo and mood, such as Gorham's Cave which moves along on a sweeping guitar, not standing still, with the sound of hope at the end. There is much to enjoy on this one and the vocal is excellent too. There is depth in McKechnie's arrangements and they aren't cluttered, however, his overreliance on distortion I think detracts from the quality of some of his guitar work and the result diminishes the songs slightly. That said some of the parts work superbly with quality soloing.

The final two tracks also feature literary sources taking in the epic poem Gilgamesh, exotic picked strings supporting and a sense of foreboding in the distorted guitar, and Campbells' words well set in a melancholy song about leaving home never to return. In the former, He Who Saw the Deep (Gilgamesh), keys feature more heavily than elsewhere on the album with Genesis and Yes-like flourishes. I also hear Vangelis' Heaven and Hell in the more rocking moments. For the latter, The Emigrant, the guitar phrase is nice but a little too simplistic, becoming dissonant in a way that does not really suit the song.

Overall a pretty good attempt and there is a lot to congratulate McKechnie on here. The use of lyrics from unusual sources is a sound choice that benefits the music and the playing and vocals are very good. Sometimes the sound of the album can be a little thin but this does not hugely detract from what is an engaging listen that bares repeated plays. I hope that Simon continues in this new-found vein and produces more prog as he is more than capable of moulding his influences into an enjoyable listen.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


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Published 27th August 2013
Album Reviews