Dick — Second Thoughts
Behind the alias Dick one finds Jaakko Soimakallio, an independent artist and a songwriter from Finland, releasing his third album in form of Second Thoughts, successor to the 2017 release of Dangerous Dreams. And similar to this outing he's responsible for most instrumentation ranging from drums, vocals, bass, percussion, various keyboards and electric & acoustic guitars. A wide variety, which can be stated for his engaging music as well.
One can definitely hear the love and passion Dick has inserted into the compositions, as they contain many layers and refined details, all captured in a pristine clear production. The six tracks featured on the album also prove he most splendidly knows how to construct and write miniature suites that each on there own are embedded with expressive stories and messages. Bound together these songs even give the impression of having travelled through Dick's own journey of emotional seasons.
The fragile and modest opening with acoustic guitars and minimal backup of Heaven Sent reveals a delicate touch as it slowly turns into an almost cheery joyous uptempo pop melody, with a smooth sax solo by Tuomas Sipponen, carried by Dick's pleasant voice, which has a slight melancholic feel to it. It flows beautifully into Possibles, which is the first highlight of the album. The fresh summery feel it radiates is formidable as ELO melodies intertwine with a The Beatles pop sense, meanwhile sweetened by happy notes from its catchy chorus.
The gorgeous change into sensitive guitars and tender piano is met by refined arrangements, after which a superb bridge with sweet synth sees magical A.C.T. frivolities on guitars, keys and drums. With Toni Rintala on additional electric guitar and Sami Turunen supplying the heavenly melancholic ending lead guitar solo this near flawless and highly accomplished epic track has washed by before you know it. Near flawless for I don't grasp the all (but one) curious mispronunciations of its title.
Next up is I Will Carry You Home, a passionate intimate ballad with supremely drum and percussion, reminding me slightly of Roger Taylor's (Queen) Fun In Space. The small reprise of sax, whistle and trumpet give it a fresh and lively vibrancy, which is picked up by sweet piano, while Dick's voice gives it a Peter Gabriel / Peter Nicholls (IQ) impression. A song that could just as easily have been a Genesis staple.
The remarkable When We Flow is an extremely sensitive and jazzy tune, sung in a breakable Peter Nicholls fashion. With small details of birds chirping, a sultry sax solo and penetrating violins, sadness now slowly creeps in as you sit silently alone near an imaginary pond. If you triple this feeling of fragility, mindful to Kermit's It's Not Easy Being Green, and then multiply it with radiated melancholic loneliness and your halfway to Dick's heartfelt desperation.
This tangible sadness continues in Losing You In Number One, slowly flowing from small intricacies towards grandeur symphonies. The overwhelming theatrical intensity that follows is passionately driven forward by Dick's voice, reminiscent to David Bowie, while several minute detailed orchestral arrangements and underlying complexity elevate the track. Finally the Pink Floyd inspired Second Thoughts adds a deep dark layer of sorrow and atmospheric mysteriousness. Grand in scope the melancholic flow is of impressive depressing beauty, where the combination of subdued bombast, strings and emotionally charged guitars chill you to the bone.
Summarised the album is a confident display of carefully crafted art, shifting from springy optimism and summery fortune into autumn loss and ice cold melancholic winters. When Dick dives into the frozen deep end of melancholy it expresses the same feel as T's Solipsystemology, which is actually wonderful. Though I prefer the lighter side as shown in it's engaging title track. Either way, without hesitation a recommendable effort.
Mekong Delta — Tales Of A Future Past
The progressive trash metal band Mekong Delta was founded in 1985 and Tales From A Future Past is their eleventh studio album. From the original line-up only Ralf Hubert (bass, classical guitar) remains, who is now surrounded by drummer Alex Landenburg (Kamelot), guitarist Peter Lake (Theory In Practice) and vocalist Martin LeMar (Lalu, Tomorrow's Eve).
The style of Mekong Delta doesn't repudiate itself, as they once again unleash a mountain of complicated trashy riffs, odd time signatures and indefinable complex song-structures, that might take an eternity to fathom to the untrained ear. At first encounter it's quite a lot to take in, and you really need to sink your teeth into the music before it reveals any subtle multi-layered differences.
The instrumental Landscape compositions act as a red line for the coherent theme off the album, where the atmospheric opening of Into The Void sets a dark and mysterious mood. The orchestral bombastic movements of Waste Land enforces Eastern cultural melodies that go along nicely with the artwork, yet the well construed composition could however have been more concise as my mind wanders off after a few minutes. A fate equally suffered in the technically defiant Inharent, while the TSO bombast wizardry of Pleasant Ground flowing into a Spanish classical interlude sees me lifting a curious eyebrow out of unexpectancy.
Both Mental Entropy and A Colony Of Liar Men bring overtly constructed mayhem, proving the incredibly tight and dynamic rhythmic section to be carved out of extremely good metal. Surrounded by mildly aggressive trashy riffs the powerful expressive vocals of LeMar are a perfect fit, carrying the latter convincingly through complicated alternating trash/quiet segments, although his deliverance is a little one-dimensional in comparison to his involvement to Tomorrow's Eve. Mindeater and The Hollow Men speed up the anti with a mind blowing display of bashing drums, aggressive trash metal and countless resourceful guitar eruptions, showing the harsher origins of Mekong Delta.
At a loss from the overwhelming array of inventive metal When All Hope Is Gone reimburses as Mekong Delta suddenly open all the prog registers. Gone are most of the trash riffs which are now replaced by orchestral theatrics, progressive melodies, bombastic passages with passionate vocals and a fuming atmospheric ending. A welcome diversion, which is more or less continued in the negligible, acoustic A Farewell To Eternity.
Despite the energy and the great challenges the music imposes, there's a certain lack of heart that makes the music feel cold and detached to me. With several compositions overstretched and the occasional feel of restrained safety, I can't help but feel the album could have been better. Fans of technical metal like Psychotic Waltz or Voivod will likely say otherwise, so best to check it out yourself.
Scaladei — The Swing Of Things
Scaladei is a newly formed prog-rock band consisting of Enric Pascual (vocals, drums, keyboards and Mellotron) of Harnakis and DocTorNo (Dr. No) fame and Santi Calero (Electric and Spanish guitars) and features some special guests. The origin of the band-name is proudly shown on the cover art of the digi-pack that denotes a picture of the ruins of Scala Dei, a monastery from Priorat (Catalonia), which holds the very first registered evidence of wine production in the region dating back to the 11th century.
Both musicians have poured their heart and soul into the music, as delicately demonstrated by the epic Tower 9 which incorporates lovely melancholic ideas and many neo-progressive influences. The engaging extensive track flows through many different atmospheres and delicious segments that feel somewhat familiar to Eighties Italian Neo-progressive rock bands like Fancy Fluid and Leviathan, while the middle section seeps into darker early Marillion territories. Most appealing is its continuance into a long embracing instrumental movement mindful to Eloy (Silent Cries & Mighty Echoes), which is brought with perfect harmonisation of keys, mellotron and gorgeous guitars, played most excellently by special guest Peter Fischer.
It's a musical direction in which they excel as shown in the serene soundscape Scaladei and the delicious, mostly instrumental, Beyond And Comeback The Sky. The latter contains some gorgeous mellotron melodies interacting with playful drums, whilst ending in smooth melodies and an exquisite dreamy guitar solo. It is confidently preceded by Autumn Colours, a short delicate Spanish styled acoustical interlude.
Title track The Swing Of Things features Samuel Calero on bass, who adds a distinctive signature to the music with a fine bass line giving the music some needed depth, which personally would have been welcomed throughout the album. This uptempo track gently flows with sparkling keys while the guitars furthermore leave a friendly Genesis feel. Lastly the passionate vocals and tasty synth solo in Dangerous Bends add a nice touch, while the breath of IQ and superb guitars in Seeing Things, Your Thoughts is equally soothing.
Yet despite this fine musical labour of love from Scaladei the album has slight shortages. Some of the arrangements need tidying up as they now on occasion sound forced and lack refinement, while the production leaves something to be desired. This is painstakingly felt in Tower 9, resulting in an initial underwhelming effect that gradually fades into a very dated early nineties demo impression. At times it sounds flat, hollow, thin and raw, thereby reducing the overall atmospheric feel of the compositions and album.
Add to this the curious incompleteness of their Bandcamp site that omits two tracks from the album (and the actual CD?), and slowly the thought arises Scaladei where a little too eager to release their debut album. Similar to the process of ageing wine, which is potentially able to improve the quality of wine, I hope they invest more time on their next venture in order to achieve the same maturation. Considering the nice melodies and atmospheric melancholic neo-progressive rock compositions, showing definite promise, it should make a harvest to look forward too.
Marcel Singor — Travel Light
Marcel Singor (guitars, vocals, synths) is a renowned Dutch musician one might know from his early melodic rock escapades, as I did. Or through his involvement with foremost Kayak and Ayreon (Electric Castle Live And Other Tales), or more recently his assignment to replace John Mitchell in Fish's touring band. Travel Light is his second solo-album, successor to Futureproof, which sees a successful collaborative return with famous Dutch Producer Bas Bron (synths and drum parts).
The music on display shows the versatility of Singor as a guitarist and songwriter most elegantly, yet it is miles away from what you'd expect from the household names mentioned prior, for the music on offer is a superior blend of synth/techno-pop and funk, caught in an assuring retro-vibrant 80's production.
A standout quality is the rich and detailed production of the album, which gives each song depth and character. This makes a song like Unthink It Over go back to Prince through its funky beat, tight rhythm and virtuous guitars, aided by the similarity in smooth vocals by Singor. In Just Go There this approach is initially continued through a slow beat and tasty synth-layers, after which Singor Wham's out a curveball by providing a delicious poppy Saga-chorus (Wildest Dreams era). The gorgeous synths and natural flow of the track furthermore give mild impressions of A-Ha.
In the funky Shapeshifter, which could make Chic jealous with envy, the interaction of jazzy vibes and twinkling keys is carried by subdued vocals which in unison move the composition smoothly forward, while Singor's guitar weeps gently along and moog-sounds emulate visions of Jim Crichton (Saga). This Saga reference shines even more brightly in Gamechanger, which sees a return to laid back jazzy vibes, encased by an enchanting Behaviour Ian Crichton-like guitar sound. Under Your Radar, once again harbouring that gorgeous bass sound, rides smoothly by offering gooey sweet background vocals and swirling guitars, softly reminiscent to The Cars.
Start is a slow moving synth-pop composition stuffed with catchy melodies, multiple harmonies and uplifting beats bringing further 80's relieve, which is surpassed by Flash Forward where one can relive this memorable era via Jan Hammer meets Axel F textures, while Singor unconsciously draws attention by constantly interchanging his dexterity with refined melodic raptures. Lastly Travel Light floats by in a fresh upbeat car-friendly mood thereby containing ironclad sensitive guitar frivolities, solid harmonies and lots of familiar comfy synths.
While Singor possesses the skills to shred and amaze with technical sublimity, and occasionally does so, on Travel Light he tends to focus on melancholy, creativity and sensitivity . His wide range of guitar styles in which he expresses himself is rather unique and difficult to pinpoint into one direction, although by his own account traces of Jeff Beck and Todd Rundgren can be picked up. The security of favouring basic song structures, instead of becoming lost in his own game, has resulted in highly accomplished tracks that feel complete and finished, whilst containing a lovely frivolity and comforting approachability to them. Perfect for a summery drive in your convertible, or a cocktail garden party underneath some shiny Steel Umbrellas.
Zopp — Zopp
Zopp's debut release will definitely appeal to listeners who wish to experience an oven-ready take on a stylistic canvas of sounds often associated with bands like Hatfield And The North, National Health, and Egg.
Ryan Stevenson's glorious compositions capture the mysterious creative essence of the type of music that is often associated with those artists.
Stevenson is the driving force behind Zopp and on the album he provides Keyboards, Mellotron M4000D, Hammond organ, Arturia analogue synthesiser, Korg CX-3 organ, piano, Hohner Pianet T, bass and electric guitars, Nord Electro synth, voice, sound design, noises, field recordings and percussion.
Despite Stevenson's prominent role, Zopp is essentially a duo. Stevenson is joined throughout the album by Andrea Moneta on drums and percussion. His dexterous and sensitive playing provides the album with a rich rhythmic texture and occasional bouts of knuckle rapping appeal.
However, a number of tracks contain additional musicians. Their input gives the album a greater range of sounds than might have been the case if the music had been presented by Stevenson and Moneta alone and helps to give the album a more ensemble feel,
Andy Tillison, is credited with providing additional piano on V, and extra Hammond organ on Eternal Return. He is also responsible for Leslie processing on three tracks. Tillison mastered the album and co mixed it with Stevenson. The sound quality is excellent and each instrument can be clearly discerned.
Theo Travis gently fluttering and flowing flute enhances the excellent Being and Time. Saxophonist Mike Benson makes a satisfying contribution to The Noble Shirker. His balloon air, full cheek blowing, reed work changes the direction and mood of the piece. His spirited contribution infuses sections of this tune with a slightly raucous earthy air. This contrast works well, when set against the splendid rhythmic nature and sophisticated quasi Latino feel of some of the earlier sections of the composition.
The atmospheric wordless vocals of Caroline Joy Clarke, give three tracks an ethereal quality. Her contribution on the albums opening piece Swedish Love has a soothing allure. Its celestial vocal arrangement offers a clasping invitation to stay around and to listen with intent. This delightful track manages to evoke relaxing memories of the sweet emotion and evocative sense of melody that the Northettes were able to bring in their work with Hatfield and The North.
Swedish Love sets the scene and places the bar exceptionally high. It is a foretaste of the delights to follow. Throughout this impressive release, the musician's selection of a carefully crafted sonic palette of Canterbury inspired colours is always vibrant, fresh and crisp and is never monochrome, stale, or limp. The album contains many standout moments.
The spacious air of Sanger is somewhat reminiscent of National Health's Brujo. The entrancing and enchanting Sanger delivers Kentish inspired images of spacious meadows and thatched roofs. It teases the senses with lingering aromas of oast house, hopped beauty, within its weathered shrine, pilgrim spired melody. It is about a great homage to that easily recognisable style and sound as one could wish for. It's a gorgeous piece!
However, underneath this piece and brimming beneath the surface of the album as a whole, lie a host of other influences, which if you seek them out, give the album a satisfying contemporary tinge. These elements coexist memorably with the sleek sculpted patterns which are reminiscent of the past and consistently reward and often beguile.
On rare occasions, the Canterbury influenced and inspired flavour which underpins much of the album is subtly broken down. The arrangements are then given a different edge. When this occurs, the tune is momentarily, skilfully and firmly slung towards and into the present, to good effect. Whilst the measured inclusion of these, does not make the release ultra-modern, or vaguely fashionable in any respect, they give the album a broader dimension and offer a different range of colours to seek out and enjoy. These include electronic tones that bristle, bubble-burp and bray in ambient drones as they purposefully recede to complete the impressive V and the excellent noble shirker which concludes the album.
The textures sculpted by Stevenson's array of keyboards are a real joy to experience. The organ tones are simply wonderful. There is so much to hold the attention and so many layers to enjoy. When other instruments such as, guitars are introduced, as in the concluding section of Sanger, the emphasis rests firmly on the subtle touches they can add and on the carefully constructed brushstrokes they can bring to the whole musical canvas.
Being and Time is particularly satisfying. It is quite exceptional composition and is yet another stand out track. The guitar is more prominent in this tune and the tones chosen and its overall structure is redolent of Phil Miller's work with National Health.
Everything about this album works very well. Time passes quickly in its genial and satisfying company. It swaddles the listener in lush tones. It rewards the mind and wiggles the ears in equal measures. Consequently, it presses a firm invitation to re-visit it again and again and again.