Album Reviews

Issue 2015-002

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - IX

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - IX
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD/LP/Download
Record Label: Superball Music
Catalogue #: B00NBB9Y9S
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 47:37
Info: And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Samples: And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead on Soundcloud
Track List:
The Doomsday Book (3:32), Jaded Apostles (4:04), A Million Random Digits (3:07), Lie Without a Liar (3:22), The Ghost Within (3:14), The Dragonfly Queen (2:57), How to Avoid Huge Ships (4:46), Bus Lines (6:09), Lost in the Grand Scheme (7:26), Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears (3:42), Sound of the Silk (5:18)
The Texan alternative-indie-punk band And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead have dabbled with progressive tendencies on other releases, particularly on their concept album Tao of the Dead. The band cites Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd and Rush as influences, though the music of these bands have been so well absorbed into the Trail of Dead's own style, as to be very difficult to identify on this release.

Although IX is the band's ninth release, according to singer Conrad Keely, the album's title is unrelated to its position in the band's chronological output. Rather it is named after the planet Ix, the centre of technology manufacturing in Frank Herbert's science-fiction masterpiece Dune (by the way, ignore the rubbish film and read the book. Here ends the public service announcement!). IX sees a return to the short and punchy, but still complex, noisy rock of the Trail of Dead's earlier albums and it is essentially split into two halves, as if it was sequenced for vinyl release. The first half, or side A, contains highly focused, shorter songs with the longer, freer songs concentrated on side B.

The opening four tracks have a dark, jangly, chiming guitar sound, somewhat akin to a gothic R.E.M., perched precariously over a percussive maelstrom. Long vocal lines dip in and out of the mix, in an interesting contrast. These are twisted, indi-alt rock tunes, formal in structure without being formulaic, displaying considerable melodic gifts amongst the battering squall of drums and guitars.

There are a multitude of things going on in these fierce, compact songs. A lighter shade is achieved as the proceedings catch its breath with The Ghost Within, a quite lovely ballad that builds in a manner that is characteristic of Anathema. Things then return to the more characteristic indie rock sound on The Dragonfly Queen, the stand out track of the short songs.

As we move onto side B, the songs start to evolve and lengthen, combining in an almost thematic manner. The instrumental How to Avoid Huge Ships kicks things off with languid piano and strings, before morphing into a post-rock blast of ferocious drumming and, once again, chiming guitars; a transition that is beautifully accomplished.

Acoustic guitar and a rolling rhythmic pattern introduce Bus Lines, a song apparently about back packing. As the song progresses, the guitars build with melodic intensity which, again, bares a resemblance to Anathema. This is followed by an interlude of acoustic guitar, swathes of keyboards and choral vocals, before the big finale when the electric guitars come crashing back in. This is a satisfying slab of prog-inflected rock, that instrumentally, has a touch of Radiohead about it.

The prog rock style, with the emphasis firmly on the rock, continues with Lost in the Grand Scheme that evolves with terrific power and dynamic attack and, for my money, is the best track on the album. Proceedings are tempered with Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears, a sombre but ingenious post-rock instrumental where piano and strings combine throughout, to create a work of deceptively simple beauty. The closer, Sound of the Silk, is a three-part indie-prog workout, moving from a psychedelic-tinged opening section, through a percussion-led break, to a spoken word finale. It is a short ride in a fast machine, that closes the album really well.

Overall, IX is an album that is a little divided. I like the complex, short and punchy punk-infused rock of the opening numbers, but prefer the more open art and prog rock infused second half. This division of styles has prevented me from giving the album a recommended rating, but overall IX is a good mix of styles that tries to meld punk-rock with something more arty and ambitious, something which, And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead should be applauded for.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Beardfish - +4626-Comfortzone - Duo Review

Beardfish - +4626-Comfortzone
Country of Origin: Sweden
Format: CD/LP/Digital
Record Label: InsideOut
Catalogue #: 0IO01373
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 65:29
Info: Beardfish
Samples: Beardfish on Soundcloud
Track List:
The One Inside Part 1: Noise In The Background (1:47), Hold On (7:47), Comfort Zone (9:34), Can You See Me Now (3:44), King (5:43), The One Inside Part 2: My Companion Throughout Life (4:05), Daughter / Whore (5:22), If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued) (15:34), Ode To The Rock 'N' Roller (7:20), The One Inside Part 3: Relief (4:33)
Nathan Waitman's Review
+4626 Comfortzone is the first progressive rock album I have heard in 2015, and if it is any indication, this should be a great year for prog! Swedish progsters Beardfish, have been on the scene since their debut in 2003. Twelve years later and they are still going strong, continuing to evolve in their sound and style. Their previous album, The Void, saw the band moving in a heavier direction with some songs that would definitely be categorized as metal. This was quite a change from their earlier albums that were much more symphonic and leaned towards the classic progressive sound of the seventies. It was hard for some die-hard fans to get used to, but show-cased a different side to this already talented band. Those who may not have liked the heavier direction Beardfish headed for, can rest easy, +4626 Comfortzone is very much a return to the older style of the band while still containing new and fresh musical ideas.

The metal side of the band can still be heard in part, but it is much more sparse than in The Void, where at least half the album was extremely heavy. The best example here is in the track King, which contains heavy guitar riffs behind the gritty vocals of Rikard Sjoblom. But, even in this song, there are some great groovy sections that provide a break amongst the harshness of the rest of the track.

Daughter / Whore is the other track that feels like it could be lifted from The Void, with almost screaming vocals amongst heavy beats and chugging guitars. These tracks show the dark nature of the lyrics this time around, sung very passionately by Rikard. I find his voice to be an excellent fit for the band. It is very expressive and emotional and can move flawlessly from gentle and sweet, to screaming and agressive.

But things aren't all dark and heavy. There is plenty of fun to be had here. Hold On is an excellent example of what this band does best. This sounds like it could be from one of the band's Sleeping In Traffic records. Beardfish has a strong influence from Gentle Giant and Frank Zappa that can be heard in the eclectic riff that opens the song and continues throughout. It is something I can't get out of my head. There is also a great use of vintage keyboards and organ, something that is always a signature part of Beardfish's sound.

Comfort Zone is the highlight of the album. It starts with some of the most beautiful singing from Rikard along with some excellent piano work. The melody played on piano is one of pure beauty, that really touches me emotionally. Through its nine minutes, the song goes through several different sections including some heavier sections, with stabs of organ. It is the perfect length and never outstays its welcome and it might be the best track the band has ever recorded.

Because of its title, I assume that If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued) is somehow a sequel to the track A Love Story from the band's 2006 album The Sane Day. I need to delve into the lyrics a bit more to find the connections, but this continuation is a great throwback to the classic sound of the band, with many different movements and great vintage instrumentation. The story is very clever and funny; even if ultimately dark. This is another strength of the band, their ability to tell quirky and funny stories that match their music and add a much needed dose of humor to the genre. This track fits in with the other epic tracks the band has done and is another highlight to the record.

Beardfish have managed to craft an excellent album that can please both die hard fans looking for a return to their signature sound, as well as those who enjoy a band that is ever-changing and evolving. What is so special about Beardfish is their ability to sound both retro and modern at the same time. They use instruments that sound like they are taken straight from the seventies, and yet the songwriting has creative touches that show a mature, current band. Beardfish are one of the best bands to come out of the modern prog movement and hopefully this album can continue to gain them fans in the current progressive rock scene. They sure do deserve it. I strongly recommend this album to all progressive rock lovers.
Peter Funke's Review
So, Beardfish has recorded album number eight and it brings us an hour of new, entertaining music.

As everybody should know, Beardfish are belonging to the establishment in the progrock scene. This is a kind of oxymoron, as many of us consider progressive rock has to be in some way revolutionary. But on the other hand, you do not want Beardfish sounding like ABBA, at least not over 65 minutes.

So the evolution from the successful point to the next step (recording) is often done carefully; but this of course includes the risk of stagnation. "More of the same" it's called and mostly meant in a negative sense. As many successful bands show, this probably is a reviewer-problem and not a listener or fan-problem. We always look at the records standing alone, as well as in the row of releases of a band. But sometimes it is quite simple. If music is good, you like to get more of it.

+4626-Comfortzone brings us songs with those typical Beardfish ingredients: the sound, the breaks, the long evolving of ideas, together with a perfect recording / mixing and of course singing and playing. The overall mood is a bit quieter than the last releases. The +4626-Comfortzone has an autobiographical touch, as Beardfish themselves state: "The album is actually all about growing up in our home town of Gävle". The album title is inspired by their last tour in the USA.

As the band explains: "When we were touring in America, we'd see all these adverts which had numbers followed by words. For instance, '1-800-BACKPAIN'. It got us thinking that it might be something we could use for the album title. So '46' is our country phone code and '26' is the town phone code."

"Comfortzone is also the title of one of the songs on the album. And we thought it would work in the title, because it can be interpreted in two ways: either as you being inside a comfortable situation, and not challenging yourself. Or else as you step out of your zone and face new adventures."

As on all Beardfish releases we are served with shorties and longer songs. This time we get four pieces from 7.30 to 15.30 minutes and six 2,4 or 5 minute tracks.

You might have the idea to put the three parts of The One Inside together, and that is indeed not a bad idea. Though the transitions could be better, you get another long track in a very relaxed mood, which develops the main theme in typical Beardfish manner; from the quiet intro lines until a dynamic finale. It is a slow and more acoustic-arranged opus, with a nice, catchy melody. This little trilogy works in both ways.

The remaining shorter songs (Can you see me now,King and Daughter - Whore) are tracks you can count to AOR. The first one does not really have any depth or highs - my skip track. It is a mid-tempo song, more a ballad than a rocker, but somehow nothing special.

The other two are more rocking tracks. King will surely fit into any live performance. Although it has some tricky rhythm parts and features a nice guitar / voice duel, it seems to be an easier track. Not bad - but no ovations.

Daughter-Whore shows very fine bass and guitar work and is the fastest track of the three - quite a nice rocker with some changes within. This one may develop on stage.

By the way, Beardfish now has a second keyboarder onboard - not on this recording, but from now on in their live setting. This will of course help to reproduce the songs even better, and gives room for new interpretations.

The Ode To The Rock'n'Roller brings us the story of a musician playing in a cover band. But one night onstage, he suddenly bursts into playing Stravinski, and lets go of his chains.

This is meant as critical towards the fact that many players can only survive by playing in tribute and cover bands, whilst new bands don't get the attention they deserve. So this track starts quite boring, like the guy must feel. In the second half the track speeds up and shows some fine jazzy elements on guitar and chants as well. The speed increases and the track gets heavier towards the end. Whether you agree with the thought or not, it is well translated into a fine tune.

Track 2, Hold On, starts with a rocking minute right after the quiet opening track and is building suspense right from the beginning. It has typical Beardfish harmonies and singing, tempo changes and is a very entertaining track. Though we get some kind of a refrain, it does not show the typical song-pattern obviously. The main theme is treated nicely in different styles and we have a charming end section, starting at about 6:10 min with the bass grooving, giving room for the vocals and heavy organ playing. A nice track, which rises with multiple listening.

The two album highlights by far are Comfortzone and If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story continued). Those tracks show Beardfish at their best.

Comfortzone is a groovy and relaxed ballad which rises up and calms down several times. A first-class melody, introduced by electric guitar and worked out on the piano, together with fine vocals and pushed to its highs by the great rhythm and guitar work. The track rocks towards the end but never looses its character. The main theme on piano and vocals closes the song perfectly. You might say, it doesn't really happen much for nearly ten minutes, but it never gets boring, because it's a great track. Well done!

If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story continued) is a gem. The opening rocks with a brilliant chord-sequence; mid-tempo and featuring heavy organ playing. That sound could remind you at once of the heavy organ of Hugh Banton of Van der Graf Generator. This lasts for over 2:40 until the charming voice joins in. After the first "verse", the main theme is repeated - now you won't get it out of your ears. Instead of ending the track and letting it be something of normal length with nine minutes, Beardfish increases the speed and starts rocking and rolling over the theme like there is no tomorrow. Towards the end, they calm down and close this mini-opera with a little, quiet acoustic guitar / organ and singing part. Great stuff.

+4626-Comfortzone surely deserves our recommendation. In total it cannot stand with their genius outputs so far, but it is a very comfortable and enjoyable record. It has two absolute highlights and a lot of good music.

As with every Beardfish output, you will not realise the depth and quality of the music on a first listen. That of course is the way favoured by most of our readers. So, you can be delighted by the fact that Beardfish 2015 is still innovative, but doesn't sound and compose like ABBA.
Nathan Waitman: 8.5 out of 10
Peter Funke: 8 out of 10

Hedersleben - Die Neuen Welten

Hedersleben - Die Neuen Welten
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Format: CD
Record Label: 1305 Unterharz
Catalogue #: 1305K02
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 37:13
Info: Hedersleben
Samples: Hedersleben on Bandcamp
Track List:
Zu Den Neuen Welten (17:34), (On The Ground) Safe And Sound (4:16), Nomad World (Dreamstate) (5:00), X05B (5:54), Tiny Flowers/Little Moon (4:29)
Imagine going back to the 70s, sitting on the grass in a park or in a smoky bar, maybe even smoking a joint! That's the general Feel, listening to the album Die Neuen Welten by Hedersleben. Despite being a band from Oakland, California, the German connection is very evident. Hedersleben is a small village in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany with just around 1,000 inhabitants where the band played at The Kosmische Musik Zentrum Projekt.

Back in their home country of the USA, there was no sudden urge to change the band's name, so it kept the name of the German village. Surprisingly enough there are no German band members. The current line-up is: Kephera Moon (keyboards, vocals), Bryce Shelton (bass), Kati Knox (vocals), Nicky Garratt (guitar) and Jason Willer (drums). Hedersleben are also the backing band of Nik Turner (ex-Hawkwind). Die Neuen Welten is their second album and follows Upgoer. Their next release is already announced and will be recorded in 2015.

Back to the present time, we have this album full of cosmic Krautrock, which also sounds quite psychedelic. The opening track Zu Den Neuen Welten (translation: "To The New Worlds") is the Magnum Opus of the album with a playing time of more than 17 minutes. For me, the duration of this song should have been much shorter as it doesn't manage to hold my attention to the end, due to a lack of variation. The song is about the Kepler space telescope that NASA launched in 2009. I liked the shorter tracks better. One of these is (On The Ground) Safe And Sound which offers a more dominant role for guitarist Nicky Garratt.

This is really an album to play when you're feeling a bit nostalgic and dreamy. Certainly not one to be played every day of the week! Not brilliantly played but acceptable and it sounds better than their first release.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10

The Kindred - Life In Lucidity

The Kindred - Life In Lucidity
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: CD
Record Label: Sumerian records
Catalogue #: N/A
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 49 :27
Info: The Kindred website
Samples: The Kindred website
Track List:
Wolvish (5:00), Heritage (4:51), Everbound (4:18), An Evolution Of Thought (5:39), Decades (5:43), Millennia (4:20), A Grand Debate (3:58), Seekers & Servants (5:08), Dreambender (4:09), Like A Long Life (6:21)
The first question that popped to my head on listening to the debut album from The Kindred was, is this prog or not? Is it more metal than alt rock, more alt rock than art rock, and so on. I soon realised that I had trapped myself in a form of genre searching, rather than simply listening to what was on offer. In fact, Life In Lucidity is the kind of work that cannot be reduced to a simple definition. On listening to the album with a more open and less restrictive state of mind, I discovered that it is indeed progressive - in the purest form. The album is highly creative and offers a distinctive sound and signature. The listener will encounter challenging music that necessitates concentration and immersion to be fully appreciated. To me that is prog indeed. That being said, being progressive in nature doesn't make something perfect, So let us get on with the review. As a full body of work, Life In Lucidity is dark, dramatic, and emotionally compelling. The music is full of contrasts, oscillating from almost metal and heavy sections, to mellower keyboard-driven interludes. To me, the band's main forces are the guitars and vocals. The two guitarists are exceptional players and the chemistry between them is undeniable. The riffs are heavy, without being reminiscent of old guitar heroes, whilst having a fresh sound which is at its best on songs like Decades, where you can enjoy a fast-picking line being executed over a very good rhythm guitar. On the slower sections, the two axemen play in a soaring mode that is not too dissimilar to that favoured by Steve Hackett.

The singer, David Journaux, has perfect pitch and possesses an amazing range. He also has the ability to create unique vocal melodies that are uncommon and intriguing. This is most noticeable on Heritage and Everbound where Journaux goes from System of a Down-like melodies (the first lines of An Evolution of Thought are a prime example of this) to some passages that sound a bit like the best of Threshold's Andrew "Mac" McDermot. Drums and bass provide strong support, but in my opinion it's their melodic counterparts that steal the show on this one. I do have mixed feelings about the keyboardist whose work on the slower movements, which are present on the majority of the songs, is excellent. In fact he supplies almost every song with a kind of balance that is necessary on such an album. Without these sections, Life In Lucidity would be very hard to listen to in its entirety. Let's say that it makes it more digestible and mellifluous.

Listen to Millennia and you will be more than satisfied with the organ playing. However, when the tempo increases, the keyboards lack a degree of musicality and sound, to my ears, as if they have been programmed by a computer. The is particularly true on Dreambender where the keyboard arpeggios don't sound natural at all and spoil the song a bit. The addition of violins, horns, choirs and other bells and whistles is superfluous and quite unnecessary. In fact, I would have much preferred to hear the band without these embellishments, as they sound artificial and out of place, particularly as the band already possesses a rich and complex sound.

That being said, if you like your prog heavy, challenging, full of invention, in a contemporary manner and closer to alt rock than old school prog, then The Kindred is certainly a band that you should follow from now on.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

La YnE - La Grande Illusion

La YnE - La Grande Illusion
Country of Origin: Finland
Format: CD
Record Label: Musea
Catalogue #: MP 3287
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 38:56
Info: La YnE
Samples: La YnE on Soundcloud
Track List:
La Grande Illusion - Ad Astra (1:29), Par Avion (4:06), Stigmata (3:29), December 23 (3:03), La Porte De L'Enfer (4:36), 5:15 AM (5:16), Meiko (4:11), Requiem (1:42), The First Snowfall (4:11), Unexpected (4:14), La Grande Illusion - Endos (2:39)
La YnE is an art-rock project put together by Finish multi-instrumentalist Matti Laine. The music here has more than a few traces (as Matti freely acknowledges) of David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Peter Gabriel's world music-influenced fourth solo album (sometimes known as 'Security') and the art-rock of Japan's Tin Drum. So, as you would expect, this release is at the far art-rock end of the prog spectrum.

The music here is very melodic and harmonically interesting, but much of it is mid-paced or slower. The sonic pallet mixes keyboards and synths, guitars, breathy, muted trumpet, strings, didgeridoo and samples of middle-eastern toned and tinged vocals.

The best tracks on this CD have a slightly melancholic air to them. The Japan-influenced, Par Avion, has an off-kilter lilt that plays well against the middle-eastern colours of the sampled chanting. December 23, with its reggae-ish beat has the quirky pop sensibility of XTC.

La Porte De L'Enfer is a nicely ironic title for a smooth, drifting ballad without words; where piano and synths mirror a delightful Mick Karn (the CD's dedicatee) style bass line. I half expected David Sylvian to pop up and start singing on this one.

5:15 AM has a repeated guitar figure and more Karn-style bass, that establishes a mid-paced groove that feels a bit like Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street. Very nice trumpet and strings come in as the song moves on. Meanwhile Unexpected features a vibraphone mixed with electronics and strings, and a vocal that is reminiscent of Grace Jones in its inflections. So, this one ends up sounding like a weird Bond theme, but in a good way.

Some of the shorter pieces, as well as the two parts of the title track, feel a bit sketchy. The album as a whole occasionally drifts towards the middle of the art-rock road, but is pulled back by jazz musician Verneri Pohjola's soulful trumpet playing, which reminds me of the trumpet on Talk Talks Spirit of Eden album. Pohjola often saves these songs from a little creeping blandness. But when it works, the album has an ethereal, middle-eastern vibe to it and it can be quite engaging, in a Sunday morning listening kind of way.

This is an album for those who like the jazzy, synth inflections of art-rock, and who don't mind music that it is light on both the rock and the prog.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Album Reviews