Joe Bailey — Ghosts
What a pleasant surprise when you discover a great album! And this happens a lot here at DPRP Towers. Nothing did I know about this musician and producer from the UK, but I really like the album he has released as a one-man army, since he plays all the guitars and bass guitar, synths and even the drum programming. Of course he also does all the lead and backing vocals, the lyrics, the mixing and the mastering, only having the artwork done by Ste Holland.
According to his Bandcamp page, Ghosts is his sixth album, so I have some catching-up to do after this latest release. Joe also has another duo project with Steven Holland called Xylem playing atmospheric rock but also a side-band called The Dark Monarchy focused on symphonic prog rock that gained some recognition with their debut album and they have just released their second effort a few weeks ago. Make sure you also check it out, because it sounds great.
Back to Ghosts and you may be wondering what is it about? Well, Joe Bailey mentions Frost, The Flower Kings, Gazpacho, Transatlantic and Epica as influences, and I have to say the most notable here is Frost. So if you like that band, I'm sure you will like this album. I guess this is because of the synths and all the orchestration and arrangements that flow perfectly with the more traditional guitar-driven passages. Check the first single Waiting in the video below and you will know what I'm talking about. It is also the song of the album when you realise that something good is going to happen here.
I have to highlight the ability that Joe has to create great choruses and vocal melodies through all the album. The way he sings reminds me of Daniel Johns, from the band Silverchair, keeping a similar tone in all the songs but fitting perfectly into each composition and adding an interesting layer to the whole thing. River Of Spite is a perfect example of that, having a very interesting progression while it keeps growing, surrounded by impressive orchestration arrangements. I love this one.
Abracadabra is the ballad here before the dynamic Rat Race starts. Ghosts closes the album, showing how modern progressive rock is done nowadays and leaving you wanting more of this, which is always a good sign.
There are no real low points in this album and if I have to say something I'd prefer a bit more strength in the drum sound. Anyway, don't give my words too much credit because I'm not a musician nor a producer and have enjoyed this great album from start to finish. It's really impressive the great work done by Joe Bailey and not only in this new release but also in the previous albums. He has gained one new follower here. Now let's see what comes next with his solo project and with the brilliant album released by his other band The Dark Monarchy.
Kiku Latte — Stories
Kiku Latte evolved out of the fusion trio Cichla Temensis, into the current five-piece instrumental prog-rock band, formed by the fleet-fingered bass player Takumi Kokubi. The sound of Kiku Latte is anchored by Kokubi's fusion-influenced bass, around which the other players spin more melodic magic.
On a first listen Stories seems to be dominated by the bass and Kazumi Suzuki's flute, which tends to be the lead instrument. However, on subsequent listens the subtle, supportive drumming of Shingo Yoshida provides an intricate rhythmic propulsion along with Yusuke Akiyama's piano, organ and synth. Hiroyuki Kato's guitars flesh out these tunes. As an ensemble work of intricacy and power, Stories grows in stature on every listen.
The music sits within the classic melodic prog-rock of the seventies, with a modern edge that makes them a flute-led companion to their violin-dominant compatriots Electric Asturias and PTF. In prog terms, the tracks are mainly short but take many a twist-and-turn as they explore the melodies through lovely arrangements. Kiku Latte are evidently skilled musicians but they don't engage in any show-boating, putting their skills entirely at the service of the melodies.
The music moves from The Maze's hard, fast fusion licks and theme and solo structure, to the controlled prog-rock of The Encounter Suite with its many moods via some achingly beautiful ballads (Astral Wind and Turquoise Wind). Stories ends with a multi-layered flute cover of Focus' House Of The King in tribute to one of Kiku Latte's inspirations.
Kiku Latte's Stories is a class act of instrumental prog-rock. It is well worth investigating.
Matelo Mantra — Architects of Fantasy
Matelo Mantra is a musician based out of Montreal, Canada and Architects Of Fantasy is his debut album. There are moments throughout these ten instrumental tracks that reminded me favorably of 90s and 2000s era, Mike Oldfield. Most of that comparison is based on the entertaining way that Mantra weaves electronic sounds with organic instruments. This combination also helps in avoiding some of the more generic electronic or new age music trappings. Things do come close to that territory at times, but the majority of the album is significantly more compelling.
The key to the success of the material is that, much like Oldfield, Mantra composes and performs with a strong sense of melody. There is a heart to these compositions, and they are produced to perfection. The prog element is found in the variety of styles, as well as in the sometimes unpredictable nature of the instrumentation and arrangements. Overall, the album is a fairly subdued affair, but Mantra consistently keeps things lively via some intriguing guitar and synth soloing. Plus, there are some signature choruses throughout that truly resonate.
This is one of those independent releases that could struggle to get noticed and I hope that doesn't prove to be the case. It is admirable that Mantra has chosen to create music that is both adventurous and accessibly melodic. Architects Of Fantasy is an entertaining album and well worth checking out.
Seventh Dimension — Black Sky
Seventh Dimension is a Swedish progressive metal act from Stockholm. Formed in 2009 by the guitarist Luca Delle Fave, bass player Rikard Wallström and drummer Marcus Thorén, the trio took a year to find their keyboard player and a lead vocalist (Erik Bauer and Nico Lauritsen respectively).
I had heard of them, before receiving this, their fourth studio album. However as I recall, their last release was a double-CD concept album. I'm afraid releases of such length have never interested me and I never investigated further, until now.
And I'm glad that I did. Black Sky is a solid album for those who enjoy progressive metal of a more 'traditional' nature. Musically it is an accomplished blend of the heavier, riff-based bands such as Threshold or Vanden Plas, the brighter melodic rock touches of Seventh Wonder and the more expansive, keyboard-led atmospheres of Shadow Gallery The latter comparison is the one I would use most frequently, especially across the second half of this album.
In sharp contrast to its double-CD concept predecessor, here the band has taken a very direct approach, with each song seeking to hit the killer hook as soon as possible. It is mostly heavy, but there are sections and individual songs that allow a pause for breath and offer a nice contrast.
Having said that, my favourite tracks are where the band go direct and hard. Bad Blood and Kill The Fire is an impressive opening pairing. The first channelling Symphony X without the symphonics, and the latter blending in Southern Cross, Speaking To Stones, Ascendia and Odd Logic.
I really like the melodic vocals of Nico Lauritsen, who uses his wide range alongside a nice balance of harmonies and a touch of soul. The balladic Falling shows off his talents well. The riffing is low and deep. The keys are used to add a higher sonic range and to compete in duel- and counter-soloing with the guitar.
The two-part title track is where the band showcases its instrumental dexterity; but to the detriment of the song. It's too derivative, too soul-less and too show-off-y for my tastes. The final pairing of As the Voices Fade and Incubus stretch to over 12 minutes. They are less-heavy compositions but leave me with a similar impression.
So for me this is a band that succeeds when it keeps things short, sharp and to the point; playing on its strengths of a strong, melodic vocalist and some effective exchanges between the guitars and keys. Although they have avoided the excesses of their last release, there remains a tendency to delve into instrumental complexity, that I find much less appealing. The first four songs are great and would easily warrant a 'recommended' tag. The second half I find less appealing. A band to keep an eye on though.
That Joe Payne — By Name By Nature Tour
To support the release of his debut solo album By Name, By Nature, That Joe Payne had planned and rehearsed for a UK tour. However, only one concert was performed before the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the world into lockdown. With the temporary suspension of the UK lockdown in October, there was an opportunity to resume the tour, albeit for one night only and with a limited (very limited, only 60 people!) and socially-distanced audience, at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham. In order to recuperate some of the costs involved in preparing for the cancelled tour, and to document the show, (the singer and his band had spend a lengthy period developing and rehearsing), this concert was filmed and has now been released as a two-disc set on CD and BluRay/DVD.
The concert is split into two acts, which may seem slightly pretentious but makes more sense when watching the film of the show. Act One focuses more on That Joe Payne the showman and theatrical performer, while Act Two concentrates more on That Joe Payne the singer-songwriter.
The concert includes all of the songs from the debut album as well four songs that he recorded with other artists either as a guest vocalist or as a member of The Enid. With his four-piece band of Oliver Day (guitar), Josh Green (drums, vocoder), Moray Macdonald (keyboards, trumpet) and Nicholas Willes (bass), Payne, who also plays keyboards, runs through his set with a remarkably assured vocal prowess that is as good live as it is in the studio.
Remarkably, for someone who in the eyes of many is a relative newcomer, this is the 15th album to feature his vocals, a testament to the purity of his voice. As a solo show there is no doubt that Payne is the centre of attention and there is very little movement or interaction with the band, who mainly restrict themselves to playing their parts.
This is a positive in Act One, as attention is focused on the visual aspects of the show with a large screen at the rear of the stage displaying a multitude of song-related images. Best is the interaction of Payne on the elevated platform beneath the screen, with the images that are portrayed. With some superb choreography, the timing and positioning of Payne on the platform is pin-point accurate and adds a new dimension to the show that really has to be seen. The screen is also used to tell the story behind the John Holden song Capture Light, which is an interesting historical background to the origin of the lyrics.
In Act Two the screen is less of a focus, except for on the remarkable Love (Not The Same) where Ms. Amy Birks reprises her role on the album by providing her vocal parts via a pre-recorded section. At least I presume it was pre-recorded, it might actually have been live although I think that might have been a bit risky given the filming of the show. Whatever, the song is the highlight of the show and, as I wrote in my review of the album, is a definite show-stopper that requires a big voice to do it justice, which is what you get on this performance. This is the kind of song that should feature as the theme music to a James Bond film, as it fits in perfectly with the best of the tunes from that oeuvre. And I love the inclusion of a verse and chorus of It's A Man's World by James Brown, which works perfectly.
The two songs originally recorded with The Enid, Who Created Me? and One And The Many are less bombastic than the original versions but maintain the widescreen musical presentation, with Macdonald's muted trumpet being a nice addition. The other non-album track is The Origin Of Blame from the 2015 Methexis album Suiciety which lets Payne release his inner Freddie Mercury.
With new solo material in preparation this may be the last time these pieces will be performed live, as it is unlikely this particular show will be reprised when theatres open and gigging resumes.
To my mind there is no doubt that Payne is a unique talent whose future could lead in many diverse directions. I hope that he achieves enough success and satisfaction from his musical career to enable him to keep on producing albums, as they are guaranteed to be interesting, thoughtful and original. It is just a pity that this concert had to be filmed in such trying circumstances, as the show was deserving of full-throated appreciation by a packed auditorium, rather than by a lucky five dozen people. With a band of great musicians (I was particularly impressed with drummer Green, his contributions more evident from the film than on the soundtrack), faultless vocals, a theatrical flair and some top tunes, this is one live title that is worth adding to any collection.