Issue 2016-050

Cosmograf - The Unreasonable Silence

Cosmograf - The Unreasonable Silence
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 59:18
Track List:
Echo $abduction (2:17), This Film Might Change Your Life (9:03), Plastic Men (6:27), Arcade Machine (8:36), RGB (4:02), Four Wall Euphoria (5:23), The Uniform Road (7:20), The Silent Field (2:15), Relativity (4:48), The Unreasonable Silence (9:07)
After having produced some prog gems already with Capacitor(2014), The Man Left In Space (2013) and When Age Has Done Its Duty (2011), the multi-instrumentalist Robin Armstrong has succeeded in making another tremendous neo-prog album under his Cosmograf moniker.

On this new album he plays all instruments, with the exception of the drums, and he sings as well. The drumming is in the very capable hands of Nick D'Virgilio, one of the better drummers in our prog scene, best known for working with Spocks Beard, Mystery and more recently as a member of Big Big Train. The only moments we can hear guest musicians is on the track Four Wall Euphoria, when we hear Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson, The Mute Gods) on bass, and on the track Arcade Machine with Dave Meros (Spocks Beard) on bass. So it's very much a two-man job, if you don't include the additional vocals by Rachael Hawnt on three tracks. Just like its predecessor, the Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd influences can be found on this new album. The track Relativity could easily have been a track on PT's Deadwing album for instance.

The story of this album is inspired by an essay written by the French philosopher Albert Camus entitled The Myth of Sisyphus. It's about a software engineer who is slowly starting to lose his marbles and even thinks that aliens are coming for him. After the short first track, the long second track kicks off in Deep Purple-style with an organ sound we know so well from Jon Lord. This track has lots of diversity from heavy to tranquillity. Just like on his earlier albums, Robin makes frequent use of spoken monologues, news messages, voice mail messages and other samples. In general we can say this is probably the album with the most heavy tracks. One of the exceptions is Four Wall Euphoria which has a slightly jazzier approach, with some nice vocals by Rachael Hawnt.

An absolute highlight for prog lovers will be the end track, with a Floydian ending where Hawnt has an important role with her impressive vocals, and where Armstrong delivers a brilliant solo on guitar.

What's not to love about this album? Although I think Capacitor is just a tad better, I really love this album. I think this guy is still underestimated in the prog world and never disappoints on his latest album. If you love the aforementioned bands, this is a must have recording. Don't be surprised if you keep repeating the final track on your CD player over and over again. The Unreasonable Silence is one of the best albums of 2016 for me.
Peter Swanson: 9.5 out of 10

Marillion - F*** Everyone and Run (FEAR)

Marillion - F*** Everyone and Run (FEAR)
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Track List:
1. El Dorado (i. Long-Shadowed Sun, ii. The Gold, iii. Demolished Lives, iv. F E A R, v. The Grandchildren of Apes); 2. Living in F E A R, 3. The Leavers (i. Wake Up in Music, ii. The Remainers, iii. Vapour Trails in the Sky, iv. The Jumble of Days, v. One Tonight), 4. White Paper, 5. The New Kings (i. Fuck Everyone and Run, ii. Russia's Locked Doors, iii. A Scary Sky, iv. Why Is Nothing Ever True?, vi. Tomorrow's New Country)
It's a cliché to describe Marillion as the father of the internet crowdfunding business model, but that is and will forever be one of the legacies of this neo-prog band. Since 1997's USA tour and Anoraknophobia, they have successfully relied on their loyal fanbase to pay up-front for the next release.

I myself have signed up for the latest, Fuck Everyone And Run (FEAR) which will launch on September 23rd. However, we have been granted a "stream" in order to make an early appraisal. With songs in excess of the 15-minute mark, I felt it would be unprofessional not to be able to have a copy of the lyrics, and the lady in charge of the promotion duly obliged. Making a rod for my own back here, I realise this is a very cerebral piece of work, although clearly emotionally-charged with true belief in the oeuvre. This is the album's outstanding unique selling point and probably its downfall.

Steve Hogarth has written from the heart, almost in prose or reported speech, and the rest of the band have provided a "soundtrack" to the documentary script.

The opening El Dorado (UK TV soap-opera based in Spain? just me then...) is a tale of utter foreboding at the state of the world today, and introduces war and refugee themes:

"The roads are travelled by many
Like promises of peace and some choose not to go
The f e a r looks like bravado
It always did I see them waiting
smiling on the borders in dawn's mist
or lost to the world in their upturned boats
I'll be free or I'll die trying to be trying to be."

It's a difficult listen, mainly because it's telling a truth that western society appears to brush under the carpet. Musically, it's business as usual with choir keys and fairy-dust guitar. However there is a change in the bass sound. It's more "proggy", with that plucky Rickenbacker feel that Pete Trewavas has used to such great effect in Transatlantic.

Sixties CND is written through Living in Fear like a stick of Hamhung rock, then we get to The Leavers, a song about "life on the road":

"We are the Leavers And the road rolls beneath us
We sleep as we're driven, We arrive before dawn
We wait in grey truck-stops
For the night to release us
Then slip in from ring-roads
And our work starts again"

White Paper concerns growing up and ego, and then the final The New Kings is probably the most controversial epic here. Having a go at the Russians is always a safe/unsafe thing to do, and this 20 minutes of full-on journalistic exposition of how the former democratic Soviet Union has dissolved and turned into gold for the owners who now have the "keys to the locked doors":

"We are the new Kings seldom seen,
Elsewhere and unknown
We are the new Kings,
Buying up London from Monaco
We do as we please
While you do as you're told"

Cue end credits, theme music, and the inevitable "coming up next...." from the announcer.

From vibrato guitar, arpeggio piano loops, and Floydian pads hiking through Roger Water's What God Want's territory, this is a Marillion album for the die-hard Marillion-arenos. It demands attention and it deserves attention. If you want a bit of fun, replay Cannibal Surf Babe, but for now pour yourself a stiff drink and have a notebook ready to take down the finer points. It's going to be a long but ultimately rewarding night.
Andrew Halley: 8 out of 10

Neo Prophet - T.I.M.E.

Neo Prophet - T.I.M.E.
Country of Origin: Belgium
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 63.OO
Track List:
Horizons (3:12), Divide and Divine (9:20), Around the World (5:07), The Pendulum Swing (4:41), Generation Games (7:38), The Hourglass (8:10), Nemesis (6:50), The Art of Aging (1:55), Orchestral Death: Pt.I In Social Skies (7:33), Pt.II Need to Write My Song (1:51), Pt.III The Genuine Me (6:29)
Neo Prophet is the successor of Neo-Prophet, and some of you will surely remember their fantastic album Monsters. All in all Hans Six is the remaining co-founder and together with his new bandmates they decided to restart without the "-". A very small difference and luckily we have only small differences in the music as well.

Neo Prophet plays a very enjoyable kind of rock music. They credit quite a list of influencing bands from the 70s to the 90s, but if you need something to compare, I would choose the Marillion, but with more power and tempo and less theatrical vocals. The sound is dominated by either keys or guitars and the tracks show lots of fine harmonies and chord changes, together with well worked out melodies. Their music never leaves the pleasant side of melodic rock, as we have no atonal or discordant parts. Nevertheless the music never gets boring, because Neo Prophet integrate nice and short soli as well as some surprising breaks.

T.I.M.E. showcases all the good ingredients of Neo Prophet's musical ambitions. Good songwriting, dynamic changes and short acoustic parts, as well as uptempo rocking. We have more relaxed and easy-rocking pieces with a polyphonic chorus like Around the World and The Art of Aging, some ballads represented by The Pendulum Swing, and uptempo rockers like Nemesis or the opening Horizons.

Many of you will have much fun with the longer tracks: Divide and Divine, The Hourglass (featuring a very fine guitar solo delivered by guest Joris van Daele) and the three-part 16-minute Orchestral Death suite. These are well written and constructed tracks with hooky lines, rocking parts and fine instrumental works. This album provides positive vibrations and energy. It is positive, and logically most tracks are performed in major mode. The production and sound are really good, so it's easy to locate the instruments and find details in the music. The vocal parts fit in very well, without dominating and they have a charming tone.

All in all this is a very fine piece of melodic rock with a classic progressive touch, that you will easily return to again and again.
Peter Funke: 8 out of 10

Troyka - Ornithophobia

Troyka - Ornithophobia
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 40:50
Track List:
Arcades (4:33), Life Was Transient (4:22), Ornithophobia (4:56), Magpies (4:31), Thopter (5:27), Bamburgh (3:12), The General (6:49), Troyka Smash (2:52), Seahouses (4:07)
I have always had a soft spot for cartoons that feature birds. Donald Duck, The Road Runner, and Tweety were amongst my favourite characters. The only feathered character that made me hide behind the sofa was the mischievous and bulbously billed Daffy Duck.

In real life birds tend to attract lots of positive thoughts. The famous naturalist David Attenborough once said: "Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?"

Well not quite everybody; Troyka's guitarist Chris Montague's phobia of birds inspired the bands Ornithophobia release. His dislike of birds began as a child when he had the misfortune to dig up the carcass of a seagull whilst happily playing in the sand. This event was undoubtedly traumatic and it is not difficult to appreciate the long lasting effect that this has had on him.

The album envisages a time in the future when the world is battling the devastating effects of an avian virus that has infected humans. This scenario is vividly portrayed in the albums excellent packaging and comic book artwork and is reflected in the spoken word passages that litter the disturbingly titled Thrapter.

Troyka are a three-piece instrumental band. Chris Montague is accompanied by pianist and organist Kit Downes and drummer Joshua Blackmore. Their music straddles a number of genres but is most likely to appeal to those who enjoy progressive jazz-rock.

Ornithophobia is the bands third release. Their previous album Moxxy had a more spontaneous live feel, but what Ornithophobia lacks in this respect, is more than made up by the quality of what is on offer and by the multi-dimensional and polyrhythmic approach that the trio were able to perfect in the studio.

Ornithophobia marks the first time that Troyka have had the opportunity to spend more than a day or so in the studio and as a consequence much emphasis has been placed upon integrating additional layers into the bands usual sound.

Troyka's music is quirky and contains a refreshing amount of unpredictability. Even after numerous plays, an aura of surprise and unfamiliarity still surrounds the album. This is largely due to the manner in which many of the compositions are structured. Numerous ideas are put forward, or are briefly hinted, but few are fully developed. The relatively short running time of the nine tracks on ensures that the band never completely exhaust the themes presented. This makes Ornithophobia a fresh and exciting experience for the listener.

In a live setting, Troyka are able to stretch out their compositions and are able to explore opportunities for improvisation and exploration. In this respect, the highly composed nature of the album pieces reveals a tension that is only partially resolved between the bands love of improvisation and their need to make a succinct musical statement.

There is a lot about the album that is appealing for those who appreciate music that is not constrained by clearly defined boundaries. During the course of Ornithophobia a diverse range of artists were brought to mind and reference to some of these might give some indication of the type of stylistic territory that Troyka inhabit.

In pieces such as, Magpies, and Thropter, the excellent contribution of Kit Downes provides the album with an extra prog wow factor. These compositions are underpinned by a keyboard sound and style that is in some ways reminiscent of National Health.

The intense rhythmic chaos of Magpies vividly evoked memories of the type of skilful rhythmic intensity that National Health could summon up in tracks such as The Collapso. Magpies also displays the power and unleashed discordance that aficionados of The Power to Believe era of King Crimson might appreciate. Magpies is one of the albums highlights and it contains elements that anybody who enjoys the music of artists such as, The Three Wise Monkeys or Jonas Hellborg would enjoy.

Thropter has a number of sections that are led by the organ and by the guitar. These musical excursions are set against a backdrop of pulsating rhythms and a spoken narrative punctuates the whole piece. The spoken parts work surprisingly well and provide an atmosphere in keeping with the albums darkly despairing subject matter. Thropter is aggressively sharp beaked and displays a contagious fervour. It also possesses a ruffled feathered malevolence that vividly presents the triumph of the avian virus and the depth of humanities plight.

The album sleeve notes has no mention of a bass in the instrumentation used, but the album has an impressive rhythmic intensity provided by Downes tuned percussion and Blackmores intricate stick work. There was a brief moment at the conclusion of Thropter when the funk embossed, energy exhibited brought to mind the style of Marcus Miller's work in Miles Davis Tutu release.

In Thropter the guitar work of Montague has a spacious feel and is used judiciously to create just the right amount of tension between melody and discordance. His style in this piece and in the impressive The General was redolent of Bill Frissell. However, when required Montague is able to evoke a more blues-rock based approach as demonstrated in the concluding section of the albums first track Arcades.

The shortest track on the album is Bamburgh. It has a different style to the other compositions. It is placed between the albums big hitters, Thropter and The General, and provides a useful reflective interlude. Bamburgh drones with a calming purpose and has a style that is vaguely reminiscent of Robert Fripp's work with Brian Eno in Evening Star.

The album does not contain a plethora of explosive guitar solos. Many of the guitar parts create a specific mood. They weave intricate patterns and are multi tracked to form a dual effect. A tapestry of sounds created by the clever use of effects is often in evidence. This approach also gives the music an opulent texture and this is especially the case when the imaginative and innovative guitar parts are combined with the other instruments of the trio. The General provides one of the rare occasions when Montague solos and the band have an opportunity to stretch things out.

Montague's fluid, fleet fingered work in this piece is absorbing. His short solo is impressive in both its construction and execution. Taken within context of what is, for the most part, an ensemble album this opportunity for Montague to break free, albeit briefly, from his predominant role as a provider of textures reveals a different side to the band's usual approach and sound.

Ornithophobia is an album that has many satisfying facets. It is not afraid to challenge the listener. Its compositions are always interesting and rarely stray or lapse into any specific or predefined categories. Like similar bands such as, Polar Bear and Zed-U that also have emerged in recent years from the UK jazz scene, Troyka are not afraid to incorporate various elements of funk,rock, electronica and prog into their highly skilled and imaginative repertoire.

One of my favourite bird proverbs confidently states 'A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song'. I guess the same might apply to Troyka. I certainly enjoyed Ornithophobia and the way in which Troyka sang their unique song.
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10

Steven Wilson - Transience

Steven Wilson - Transience
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 67:01
Track List:
Transience (single version) (3.10), Harmony Korine (5.07), Postcard (4.27), Significant Other (4.31), Insurgentes (3.54), The Pin Drop (5.01), Happy Returns (Edit) (5.11), Deform to Form a Star (Edit) (5.53), Happiness III (4:32), Thank You (4.39), Index (4.47), Hand. Cannot. Erase. (4.13), Lazarus (2015 recording) (3.57), Drive Home (7.33)
Originally released in 2015 as a vinyl-only release, Transience is now being released on CD with the additional track Happiness III from the recent album 4 1/2.

This release could be labelled Transience: An Introduction to Steven Wilson. For that is exactly what it is, and it is aimed at those who want a less challenging introduction to the man's solo work. It is in this spirit that the CD will be reviewed. Any long standing fans will have most of this material, with the exception of the re-recorded Porcupine Tree classic Lazarus.

On Transience you get a mix of tracks from all five of Wilson's solo albums. If you are new to his music or just curious, then this compilation will hit the spot. Cherry-picking the most melodic and generally shorter pieces from the albums, you get a flowing set of accessible rock tunes, expertly played and recorded.

Highlights include the title track from the wonderful Hand. Cannot. Erase. album, and the beauty that is Drive Home, with Guthrie Govan's outstanding guitar solo. There is the strange alt-rock of Harmony Korine and the reverberant, gorgeous piano of Insurgentes (which incidentally, contains my daughter's favourite misheard lyric, where Wilson sings "your dream, absolve" she thought he sang "your dreams have souls", which personally I prefer).

There is still a sense of adventurousness on here, especially with the superbly unsettling Index and the jazzy elements in The Pin Drop. The re-recorded Porcupine Tree track Lazarus features Wilson's current band, and whilst not radically different, it does feature superb slide guitar playing (Mr Govan again), and as a long-time fan I'm glad to have heard it.

There are a couple of odd choices. One of which is using Alanis Morissette's Thank You from the Cover Version album. This casts Wilson in an uncharacteristic singer-songwriter mode that doesn't quite fit with the album's overall feel. I would have preferred the cover of The Cure's A Forest which would have been a better fit. The other point is that if you are going to have an introduction to ... why is there no live track? Replacing Harmony Korine with the excellent live version from Get All You Deserve would have done the trick. But these are really nit picking points on my behalf.

For the long term fan, it does feel a bit like having an MP3 player on shuffle through Wilson's solo work. This disrupts the carefully-crafted atmospheres that Wilson develops over the course of his full length releases. But it does serve to throw a spotlight on his way with a tune.

So Transience is more for the curious listener who wants to know what the fuss is about. It is a fitting introduction to Steven Wilson's oeuvre, and hopefully will spur such listeners on to investigate the full albums.
Martin Burns: 7.5 out of 10