Reviews in this issue:
- Némo - Le Ver dans le Fruit
- Dodson and Fogg - Sounds of Day and Night
- Thieves' Kitchen - One For Sorrow, Two For Joy
- Chanan Hanspal - Ephemeral Morph
- Roz Vitalis - Patience Of Hope
- God Is An Astronaut - Origins
Némo - Le Ver dans le Fruit
CD 1: Stipant Luporum (2:00), Trojan (Le ver dans le fruit) (8:50), Milgram, 1960 (5:56), Verset XV (7:55), Un pied dans la tombe (7:09), Neuro Market (6:36), Le fruit de la peur (9:34)
CD 2: A la une (4:59), Triste fable (7:43), Allah Deus (5:05), Opium (9:04), Arma Diania (17:19)
This year's idiom is: "Le ver est dans le fruit".
Literally translated as "The worm is in the fruit", it means that the damage is done, that the situation is inherently faulty and that it is impossible or too late to do anything about it. It can also be used humorously, to comment with mock fatalism on the way a situation is turning, or is bound to turn.
Némo's eights studio album is about every kind of manipulation. Obedience to authority. We do what we are told. Over two CDs with 12 songs they warn you about everyone - even themselves...Beware of this album, you will succumb to its charms!
At the bottom of this review you can see links to Némo's back catalogue with comments showing the way that several DPRP reviewers appraised those albums. This new album comes in a beautiful package with some nice detailed artwork that includes references to both the songs and to Némo's history. So, I was keen to research if this double album, that took the band over three years to create, could match the high levels reached by the previous ones. Because of the fact that Némo compositions are rather complex, I took ample time to investigate. You can find the summary / conclusion at the bottom but here is the comprehensive story, describing all twelve lengthy songs.
After a brief a capella vocal soundcheck, Stipant Luporum, the album really starts off in a magnificent way with a heavy track called Trojan, of course referring to 'the worm in the fruit', or indeed anything else. This song breathes the musical style that depicts Némo; an excellent riffing extravaganza featuring the guitars of Jean Pierre Louveton and keys of Guillaume Fontaine, the time changes forming eclectic French prog magic. Like I said, a bit heavier than we are used to but that suits Némo very, very well. This certainly is one of the best and most addictive tracks of the album, right upfront.
It is followed by yet another album highlight, Milgram, 1960. This catchy and eclectic progressive metal rock song continues the heavy course. This track is about the way people can be easily turned into marionettes that blindly follow orders, as scientifically proven by psychologist Milgram's experiments decades ago. Over to Verset XV which handles the 15th verse in bible or Koran that says 'you have to do what we tell you'. It opens quietly and meditative and continues this way accompanied by Jean Baptiste Itier's drums, until halfway through Jean Pierre Louveton takes hold of his unbelievable screaming guitar, protesting loudly to the nature of the verse. The song then becomes rather spooky, probably referring musically to the confusion, and ends as quietly as it started.
I really think Un pied dans la tombe is the most special and outstanding track of this ever so great album. It's a great composition, perfectly in line with the heavier Némo sound this album brings, and it was a good choice for the band to pick as the promo video for the album, which means that you can check this Discipline-like song out for yourself here:
To get a tad bit different, Neuro Market mixes the heavy with the experimental. Successfully. Then the ten minute Le fruit de la peur, or 'The fruit of fear', musically relates to some of the former works of the band, which gives it a special ring. The eighth track, A la une, bounces back to the new musical direction. "A la une" is an expression that means "the first page of a newspaper" or "breaking news" on TV. The song is about how TV / the press exaggerate on insignificant news in order to sell papers and ads, thus disregarding us human beings. This is yet another song that makes you reach for the replay button frequently.
After Triste fable, meaning 'Sad story', the instrumental Allah Deus is used by the band to fully display their uniquely eclectic sound, their bravery and skills as a team. I reckon this is one of the gems of this album. Mandatory. Némo is right; you simply have to be obedient to their authority because they intended to want you to play this over and over again. And you will. I for one certainly did follow those unspoken orders!
The penultimate song Opium, starting with the words "Opium pour la vie" obviously handles the theme of the album. As stated by the band:
"Are we being manipulated? Who would benefit from us, to follow pre-established rules? Careless. As sheep. Political parties? Religious organisations? Commercial companies? TV networks? Beware of everything, even NÉMO..."
The final song, Arma Diania - a latin phrase meaning "the wolves pack" - is about the fact we have to be wary of everyone in this world and has a track length of over 17 minutes. An epic, you might expect but in this aspect the closer falls short. It is a good characterisation of the album, not a climax.
This album reflects Némo at its best. Great complex compositions, intricate play of all instruments, guitar and keyboards standing out as always duly supported by Lionel B. Guichard's bass and Jean Baptiste Itier's drums that both succeed in the impossible job of gluing all the twitches and changes together. As phenomenal as ever, even better, bending a bit more to the heavy side of the spectrum, this is a true plus and Le ver dans le fruit is a glorious addition to Némo's impressive catalogue. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Némo CD Reviews:-
|"If you are into the combination of fusion and progrock with a power bluesy edge and lots of guitar/piano trickery then Nemo is the stuff."
(Dries Dokter, 7.5/10)
|Prélude à La Ruine
|"I for one look for emotional, intelligent, complex (not for the sake of being complex), diverse and melodic music in prog and with Prélude à La Ruine, Nemo delivers all of them in top quality."
(Yalcin Inel, 9.5/10)
|SI Partie I
|"With enough time invested, it’s inevitable to realize the effort that went into this piece of art. And all this is presented in a quality package with a fine artwork and a good production once again."
(Yalcin Inel, 9.5/10)
|SI Partie II ~ L'homme Idéal
|"The music is still great, but knowing that this doesn’t reflect the full potential of the band doesn’t let me recommend this record to anyone blindly."
(Yalcin Inel, 8/10)
|"Némo are undoubtedly a talented group of musicians and the first half of the album also demonstrates a keen ear for good melody and arrangement. And I have no doubt that big fans of progressive metal, jazz-rock and neo-progressive will find much to enjoy. Unfortunately the rather bland and overlong title-track does, in the final analysis, leave Barbares as a rather inconsistent listening experience."
(Gareth Long, 6.5/10)
|"With this new album Némo leaves me with amazement and utter admiration. My conclusion relates to the very high quality of all tracks and is easily condensed into one unmistakable exclamation mark. Out of this world and Highly Recommended! "
(André De Boer, 9/10)
"Personally I think Némo is a band that will always challenge me as a listening experience. Having said that, this is easily the Némo album that I’ve enjoyed the most. Its almost worth buying just for the fabulous opening song."
(Andy Read, 7.5/10)
|Previous Némo Live Reviews:-
|Progressive Promotion Festival
|"As on record I struggle listening to the band at times as sadly Jean-Pierre's voice is not on a par with his wonderful guitar playing. Whilst the remainder of the band consists of incredible musicians, they are somewhat static. As on record, as a live band Némo has the ability to thrill and frustrate me."
Dodson and Fogg - Sounds of Day and Night
In 1963 & 1964 The Beatles had gone from Please, Please Me to Beatles For Sale, via the Hard Days Night film, a work rate that would seem unthinkable for most bands these days; 4 albums in 2 years. In 1969 Fairport Convention made the leap from Anglicised Americana to birthing the English folk rock genre, with three albums.
Three studio albums of new recordings in one year is something that very few artists seem to want to emulate.
Not Chris Wade however, the creative renaissance man behind Dodson and Fogg.
Sounds of Day and Night is the third Dodson & Fogg album in little over a year and, including Moonlight Banquet, is Chris's fourth release during that period.
There has been some questioning online about whether the pace of releases from Chris is detrimental to his music, and whether the quality control slipping. I can answer that here and now, and if you don't want to keep on reading, the answer is a firm 'No'! This is a perfect evolution of the Dodson and Fogg sound, and is arguably his strongest release yet.
Chris is a fine example of the 'Do it Yourself' ethos. He doesn't currently have a touring band and hasn't started playing live yet. He isn't beholden to a record label and contractual demands for record, tour, record, DVD, live album either so he can record the music he wants to make, and release it when he feels it's ready.
Continuing with The Beatles and Sixties comparison, the last time a songwriter released this much great music in such a short space of time, is when George Harrison unleashed his masterpiece All things Must Pass on a post Beatles world.
I consciously refer to the melting pot of music that was the late '60s/early '70s as that era where acid folk rubbed shoulders with folk rock is what Chris is inspired by, and the new album's songwriting and production has plenty of nods to that era, the trademark Dodson and Fogg sound being a beguiling mixture of retro and contemporary sounds.
However this isn't some slavish rewrite of On The Shore or Full House. This is the work of a talented songwriter, weaving ideas and inspirations into his music and creating something new. The loose theme around this album, musically and lyrically, is the crossing point between day and night, from leaving work to going out, and consciously or not the vibe from Moonlight Banquet runs through into Sounds of Day and Night, like the river Thames runs through London, as Chris's sublime mix of guitar and Hammond organ lends that late '60s feel to the music. Hear it in the Morning Still with its unmistakable English psychedelic sound and trumpet could, for instance, have slipped off a late '60s Pink Floyd album.
The themes of day crossing into night are most overt on the W.H.Auden inspired Night Train, its metronomic percussive rhythm echoing the sound of the train on the tracks. With its well observed lyrics and Chris' vocals and guitar work, this (ironically enough) is a great driving song, and is then counterbalanced nicely by the melodic sound of Free in the Night.
Lyrically, Chris is an observant songwriter with the eye for personal detail like Ray Davies or Richard Thompson, and this shines through on tracks like Clocking Off. The album is bookended neatly by the instrumental title track opening and closing the album, the psychedelic closing version bringing to mind the closing coda of Strawberry Fields Forever.
Sounds of Day and Night is a mature evolution of the Dodson and Fogg sound, and reinforces my belief that Chris Wade is one of the most talented songwriters around at the moment.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Dodson and Fogg CD Reviews:-
|Dodson and Fogg
|"...this fine album from Chris Wade would appeal to those readers who enjoy music that originates initially from an acoustic guitar strum and a vocal melody line, with a diverse range of elements added in as the music develops."
(Bob Mulvey, 7/10)
|"...what I love more than anything are the electric guitar sounds this young man creates. The trumpet on What Goes Around is pretty special too, as is the acoustic guitar and trumpet on Too Bright...Notes, chords of electric guitar duet with strummed acoustic as the song gathers pace, wanting to break loose but resisting the temptation. The prog equivalent of tantric sex methinks."
(Brian Watson, 8/10)
Thieves' Kitchen - One For Sorrow, Two For Joy
Currently based in Swindon (also the home town of cult art-rockers XTC) and Stockholm, Thieves' Kitchen have been around, though in different forms, since 1999, when they were founded by guitarist Phil Mercy and former Grey Lady Down drummer Mark Robotham. The band released their first three albums between 2000 and 2003, then there was a 5-year wait before the highly acclaimed The Water Road, which saw the addition of Änglagård keyboardist Thomas Johnson, with other members of the legendary Swedish band (namely flutist/saxophonist Anna Holmgren and drummer Mattias Olsson) appearing as guests. One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, Thieves' Kitchen's fifth release, also comes after a 5-year hiatus, caused by various issues such as a hand injury sustained by Phil Mercy in 2009 and the departure of Robotham and bassist Andy Bonham in 2010. After having taken the time to adjust to the new situation, the proudly independent outfit - now down to a trio - recorded the album with the help of Sanguine Hum's rhythm section, Paul Mallyon (drums) and Brad Waissman (bass); the CD was finally released at the end of January 2013, while a vinyl edition has come out only a few weeks ago. The lineup changes - with one key member living in Sweden - have also led the band to put their concert activity on the back burner, though hopefully only on a temporary basis.
The presence of Johnson and Anna Holmgren (and founders Tord Lindman and Jonas Engdegård involved in the engineering side of things, together with renowned producer Rob Aubrey) would make it easy to label Thieves' Kitchen as the "British Änglagård", as some have already done in the past. In fact, even if the band's music is infused with more than a touch of Scandinavian melancholia, it is also unmistakably and exquisitely English, drawing on the jazz-inflected modes of vintage Canterbury and the folk-rock revival of the Seventies alongside classic symphonic prog. The result is an album of amazing density, consistently melodic but never cloyingly sweet, wistful and contemplative without indulging in tiresome navel-gazing. Even if an undeniable musical and lyrical fil rouge connects the songs to one another, creating a strong sense of cohesion, there are still enough recognizable differences between the compositions to prevent the album from sounding one-dimensional.
One for Sorrow, Two for Joy is Thieves' Kitchen's third album to feature the talents of vocalist/lyricist Amy Darby, who also contributes some nifty if understated percussion work. If Darby's literate, pensive lyrics - whose main topic is people's interaction with fate, viewed from different angles - are an essential component of the album's hauntingly beautiful atmosphere, her pure voice is its cornerstone, following the intricate lines of the music with astounding precision and blending with the lush instrumentation, but also playing a starring role when required to do so. Not surprisingly, Darby cites Joni Mitchell's sublime Hejira as one of her all-time favourite albums: like Mitchell, she can bend the music to her will, riveting the listener's attention without indulging in the occasional operatic mannerisms of Annie Haslam and her countless imitators.
As suggested by the striking cover artwork (a woodcut by Canadian artist Lisa Brawn), the album's title comes from the English nursery rhyme about magpies, which is soberly recited by Darby at the very opening, just before Deor kicks off. The slightly skewed melody, hinting at Änglagård's angularity, accompanies Darby's own interpretation of the Old English poem about the vagaries of fate and the human condition, the wheel of fortune that "turns and turns again". The jagged line of the music (an unusual 11/8 time signature), driven by Waissman's powerful bass, is softened by the Mellotron and Tove Törngren's cello, and Mercy's guitar makes a dazzling appearance in the bridge. On Hypatia (dedicated to the Greek philosopher victim of religious intolerance), Amy's voice, introduced by flute, is poignantly sweet, underpinned by discreet drums, bass and piano, and the song's muted sadness is only briefly interrupted by an assertive guitar solo. Things take a bolder, heavier turn in the riff-laden A Fool's Journey (told from the point of view of a Tarot reader), with guitar, organ and Mellotron - assisted by imperious drums - weaving a tight tapestry for the vocals to follow, though the music mellows down briefly in the second half before a dramatic ending.
The delicate tinkle of a music box (whose story is told by Mercy on the band's website) and chirping of birds introduces the album's longest song, the 14-minute Germander Speedwell (a plant with distinctive violet-blue flowers), whose lovely pastoral atmosphere is enhanced by flute, acoustic guitar and metal percussion, while the cello provides a discreet but unmistakable foundation with its steady drone, and Amy's voice merges seamlessly with the rich instrumentation; a tantalizing Canterbury vibe emerges in the song's second half, when guitar and organ make their appearance, leading to a gorgeous instrumental coda. Sandwiched between the album's two epics, the acoustic ballad The Weaver is firmly rooted in the English folk tradition: the presence of the upright bass instead of its electric counterpart as a backdrop for Amy's stunning vocal performance brings to mind Pentangle. Once again, birdsong introduces Of Sparks and Spires, a paean to Old England in the manner of Big Big Train's The Underfall Yard or Autumn Chorus' The Village to the Vale; faint piano and wistful trumpet lead the way to a majestic crescendo of drums, guitar riffs and organ, interspersed with quieter, reflective passages before an exhilarating climax in which all instruments - as well as the vocals - converge with the powerful emotional punch of a hymn (William Blake's Jerusalem comes to mind).
Impressively balanced, and without an ounce of filler in its 56 minutes, One for Sorrow, Two for Joy can be seen as the musical equivalent of classy vintage clothes or household items, its appeal timeless rather than a tired rehash of older modes of expression. Its stately, sombre beauty blends haunting Scandinavian moods with English quirkiness and reserve, its stunning instrumental texture packed with twists and turns, yet also warm and poignant - proving that there is still life in "old-school" prog, when it is done with heart as well as style, without compromising one's integrity to follow passing fads. Highly recommended to everyone but incurable elitists, this is definitely one of the finest releases of 2013, and a welcome comeback for an outstanding band.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Thieves' Kitchen CD Reviews:-
|"Offhand, I can't think of any bands to compare Thieves' Kitchen with, and perhaps there lies their strength."
(Derk van Mourik, 7.5/10)
|"I urge you to check out the sound clips and then buy the album. You will not like it at first (I guess), but it grows, trust me. I can recommend it, since it really appeals to my conception of progressive music: It should pose a bit of a challenge to the listener, but at the same keep him convinced he can follow what is happening. Thieves' Kitchen do succeed in doing that."
(Remco Schoenmakers, 8/10)
|"Fans of prog-fusion will certainly want to have this, whilst its relative accessibility means that I would encourage all prog rock fans with open minds and a taste for something a bit different to give this a try."
(Tom De Val, 8/10)
|The Water Road
|"I've been playing this album for a couple of months now and each time I listen to it I hear something new. And each time it seems to get better and better. With The Water Road Thieves' Kitchen released a very rich album. Rich in beautiful melodies, rich in quality of the sound and rich in the arrangements. It's a classic and that's that."
(Leo Koperdraat, 10/10)
|Previous Thieves' Kitchen Live Reviews:-
|CRS Progday, Rotherham, U.K.
|"I was hearing the band for the very first time but I found them instantly engaging, mixing a slightly jazzy Gentle Giant-like approach with the heaviness of a modern day prog-metal band. Andy Bonham on bass and Phil Mercy on guitar impressed throughout the long instrumental passages."
|Summer's End Festival
|"The intricate, folk tinged material has a lot of subtleties and many found it too difficult to fully digest in one sitting but I found them excellent and, again, very different to any other band on the bill...Excellent playing from all concerned and a good reception from the audience."
|Previous Thieves' Kitchen Interviews:-
|Interview with Derk Van Mourik in 2000
Chanan Hanspal - Ephemeral Morph
Chanan Hanspal is a Welsh guitarist who counts among his influences Frank Zappa, Igor Stravinsky, Cannonball Adderley, Anton Webern and James Brown - quite a diverse group. John McLaughlin, Steve Vai and Frank Gambale, all of whom are well-known for their jazz-fusion efforts, are cited as guitarist influences.
Hanspal's third CD, Ephemeral Morph, for the most part consists of straightforward, electric jazz fusion. Somewhat surprisingly, the unpredictable, intense flair displayed by most of Hanspal's influences is not evident in Hanspal's guitar playing here; rather, Hanspal's sound is on the smooth side and at times shows shades of Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino. Nevertheless, Hanspal's technical skills are excellent and his crisp sound is appealing.
The songs on Ephemeral Morph range from ballads to mid-tempo fusion to frisky, fast-paced funk. Perhaps most emblematic of the offerings is the CD's closer, Planet Julie. The tune is filled with energy and motion, and both Hanspal and guest Lalle Larsson are in fine form. The sound and style of the piece would easily fit with the substantial body of 1970s jazz fusion. Shining most brightly is the title piece, the only tune with a real edge. There, a rapid, funky bass line guides the rhythm, while horns, guitar, organ (played by guest John Medeski) and flute dash in and about. The tune brings to mind Jaco Pastorius' solo efforts. Also strong is the subsequent song, Burlesqueville, led by the guitar and flute. The speedy guitar licks are impressive, the breathy flute playing adds depth and the solos create a notable tension that holds the listener's attention more tightly than on the other songs. Any Old Iron, featuring guest guitarist Derryl Gabel, includes shredding redolent of Allan Holdsworth. Least memorable are the slower tunes (Irene's House and Fern Splendour), which, though polished, are uninspiring.
Viewed as a whole, the music here is of very high quality: it's well played, chop-laden, and pleasant. But it's a bit sanitized, and the lack of risk-taking dulls much of the journey.
No doubt, this CD will appeal to fans of the more-accessible side of jazz fusion. Progressive rock fans, though, will probably admire this CD only from a distance.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Roz Vitalis - Patience Of Hope
If it isn't Baroque, don't fix it. If Russian neo-classical artistes Roz Vitalis broke any elements of their sound with their last release, Revelator, when they put it out in 2010, the sound of their newest effort, Patience Of Hope, is not in any need of repair.
Roz Vitalis' history goes back to their founding by multi-instrumentalist and composer Ivan Rozmainsky in 2001. The band's discography throughout the ensuing years has seen the release of a couple of independent full-length CDs, an online label download album, some EP length and full-length CD-Rs, and now Patience Of Hope.
For Patience Of Hope, Roz Vitalis is made up of Vladimir Efimov on electric guitars plus keyboards on one track, Philip Semenov on drums, Rozmainsky on the grand Steinway piano, harpsichord, Hammond RT-3 organ, metallophone and other keyboards, Ruslan Kirillov on bass guitar, Yuril Khomonenko on accordion on one track, percussion and some of the drumming, Vladislav Korotkikh on Jew's harp on one track plus flutes and Vladimir-Semenov-Tyan-Shansky on electric and bass guitars.
Several talented guest musicians help out with the action. Among them is Roman Shilepin, who contributes some saxophone, which gently eases a cry on The Forgiven Monday. It's a song that also serves up some equally soothing flute from Korotkikh contrasted with disturbing ribbons of searing synth flavour from Rozmainsky.
On The Unfading Sun [The Love Version] Rozmainsky's metallophone chimes playfully along with some helpful brassy sounds of ceremony from guest musician Ilya Rysin. Rozmainsky also lays in some graceful piano from his Steinway on this short, ambient type tune.
The title track showcases melodic, poetic harpsichord from Rozmainsky, accented by flute from Korotkikh. This leads to a breezy mid tempo groove, with Rozmainsky's harpsichord getting its Jethro Tull on. Scattered piano from Rozmainsky teases a soulful section, offering up some nice guitar solos.
Seeds Among Thorns kicks a playfully determined feel via some militant drumming, and Rozmainsky's metallophone makes a return, bringing a quirky early King Crimson influence to mind. Windswept chime elements and some percussive clicks from Kohmonenko perk things up like that first cup of White Electric coffee in the morning. Shrieking clarinet from guest musician Grigory Maliev and some bold, brassy flair from Rysin bring on a march and a mid-tempo groove. The metallophone becomes more calculating with undertones of bass from guest musician Fyodor Mozhzhevelov gliding along. The whole sound of this song comes off as if Crimson's Lizard-era line-up was performing at the, um, circus.
Patience Of Hope will most likely appeal to fans of avant-garde influenced music. If it's metal you seek, you are best advised to look elsewhere.
As a takeaway opportunity for the band's next release, it would be interesting to see Taurus pedals and perhaps some processed Theremin incorporated into the instrumentation. Risking a sense of perceived tarnishment to what comparatively is a traditional sound would see the band push the envelope a bit.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Roz Vitalis CD Reviews:-
|"Unique and original it truly is and maybe with a drummer and bass player they could manage to give the whole a pleasant twist when played live."
(Joris Donkel, 4/10)
|Live At Mezzo Forte, Moscow ~ September 2009
|"For me, if you are of the more adventurous nature and are willing to try something slightly different, then you aren’t going to go far wrong with Roz Vitalis. I honestly think you may genuinely be surprised with what you hear. I was."
(John O'Boyle, 7/10)
|"So if you have a craving for experimental, adventurous music with touches of Russian classical and a bit of avant-garde, you might like this CD. There’s probably not too much on here for mainstream pop enthusiasts."
(Jim Corcoran, 7.5/10)
God Is An Astronaut - Origins
God Is An Astronaut are not prog, let's get that out of the way. What they do however, is progress the cause of post-rock, so as far as I'm concerned they are as viable on DPRP as anything else.
Hailing from Co. Wicklow in Ireland, Origins is their sixth full-length album in eleven years, or the seventh if you count the reissued expanded EP A Moment Of Stillness. Starting out in 2002 as a studio-only duo comprising the twin Kinsella brothers Niels (bass) and Torsten (guitar), the urge to play live saw them add drummer Lloyd Hanney. Their live show featured deliberately provocative imagery, which gained them a substantial internet following, and led to their breakthrough album All Is Violent, All Is Bright in 2005, released on Rocket Girl, to whom they have returned for Origins. Their Facebook page now boasts an impressive 155000+ "Likes", and is testament to the power of social networking, if nothing else.
Their last album, 2010's Age Of The Fifth Sun, saw the addition of piano and synth player Jamie Dean, and for Origins not only has a fifth member, Gazz Carr, joined on guitar, they are also joined in the studio by the former The Fountainhead frontman Pat O'Donnell, who contributes vocals, yet more guitar, and keyboards to the new album, as well as co-writing many of the songs alongside Torsten. The album also occasionally features the trombone of Donal McGuiness and the trumpet of Kevin Foran.
Judging by some of the track titles, the fixation with all things stellar continues. The Last March could easily have been a track from the sessions for Age Of The Fifth Sun, before the influence of O'Donnell first makes its presence felt on Calistoga. Not only is the sound more earthy than the decidedly spacious Euro influence of before, but Pat adds his buried vocals to the mix. These are so blurred in effects as to be indecipherable, rendering them purely impressionistic. The press release helpfully informs me that "(the) lyrics speak of finding light in a hopeless situation" and that "perseverance in times of emotional hardship seems to be the overriding theme of Origins". Or, Pat could be reading out his shopping list.
The lyrics have been left so open to interpretation, being "effect-fogged" as the blurb has it, that it is down to the power of the music to tug one's emotions in the intended direction. While Age Of The Fifth Sun was a largely introspective work, dominated by minor key swathes of sound, Origins is far more roused, visceral, instant, call it what you will. This is down to the layers of extra guitars fed through "stompboxes" (great word, I'll be using that again) in the mix giving the sound a dirty and densely impenetrable quality, swirling around like a giant dustcloud maelstrom in space.
Back to Calistoga; from the opening fearsome fuzzed-out guitar line, the song is driven by an insistent bass guitar, and like a lot of the bass lines on this record it reminds me of Peter Hook in its pounding insistence, although unlike the moody Manc, Niels is not one for repeated flights up to the top end of the fretboard, thankfully.
The brass section appears on Reverse World, adding to the melancholic atmospherics of this introspective tune, a becalmed early Cure-like vista that is eventually drowned in distorted guitars and cloudy vocals. The staccato introduction to Transmissions jerks one out of the navel gazing of the previous number, and some Kevin Shields influenced guitar strangling enters stage centre, demanding that this particular ditty be played at shocking volume.
Having initially been given a fairly low bitrate download for review, I asked the label for the promo CD as I was not sure if the distortion evident throughout the download was deliberate. Now I've got the CD it transpires that it is, and one imagines this band could be a tad frightening in the volume department when experienced live, something that awaits this scribbler at the album launch gig on 22nd September.
This is indeed a very loud album, everything whacked up into overload at any given opportunity, and it sometimes acts to the detriment of the music. I am well aware of the tendency with post-rock bands to "bounce in the red" as it were, but there are plenty out there who know when to rein it in too, something God Is An Astronaut seem to have overlooked for large sections of this album.
Exit Dream makes good with the New Order references again, with more of those buried vocals, and it would be a good idea to make them somewhat more intelligible, as the affected "singing" is now getting a bit repetitive. Similar to the "cookie monster" vocalising beloved of the metal community, my beef with these highly treated voices is; why bother writing lyrics at all, and then render them unintelligible with electronic treatments?
It is a relief when the band for once turns down the distortion levels, as on the following Signal Rays, thereby letting the melody shine through, clearly showing in the process that they have an undoubted knack for writing a catchy upbeat tune. Another good tune, and much more low-key is Autumn Song, a charming minor-key piano led ballad, without vocals, treated or otherwise. This song also sees the return of the brass section, and harks back to earlier more thoughtful works by the band, and for me is the best piece of music on the record.
The Cure influence shines through again on the sprightly Spiral Code, which keeps the distortion to respectable levels, and the vocals on Strange Steps are tantalisingly almost up front, and are much the better for it. The sonic overload returns on Red Moon Lagoon, and the "Peter Frampton fronting a post-rock band" vocals are back for album closer Light Years From Home.
This is an odd album; there are some good melodies on here, but unfortunately most of them are buried in a production that seems to have been carried out on the basis of "let's see how far those faders will go", a tactic that if used sparingly might have been quite effective. The same criticism can be levelled at the overuse of those "effect-fogged" vocals, too. A bit of a shame really, and I must remember to pack some earplugs for the gig if this album is anything to go by!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10