Album Reviews

Issue 2022-014

Here at DPRP towers, we frequently receive some interesting albums that whilst not strictly "prog", would be of interest to many of our readers. We sometimes receive albums that have been released in previous years. Also, with so many albums submitted, it is not always possible to find a writer with the time to give every release our usual in-depth review.

So how best can we still bring you news of such releases?

This is an edition of Prog Bites. Each still has all the usual album information and links to samples and videos (where available), but the reviews are much shorter, and we do not award any score.

We hope you will find some great music that you think deserves further investigation.

The Boxx Orchestra — Out Of The Boxx

The Boxx Orchestra - Out Of The Boxx
Behind (2:55), The Eye Of The Storm (3:28), Don't Look Back (2:58), Words Of Laughter (6:38), Will I (4:46), A Star Almost Fell (5:31), As One (4:41), Grandpa Has A Button (3:52), In Ruins (5:03)
Jan Buddenberg

The Boxx Orchestra was founded in 2016 by keyboardist Jan Boekestein, formerly of 70s symphonic rock band Argyll and the mildly successful 80s rock band The Boxx. Reviving compositions from those days, as well a giving shape to new ones, he is joined by Jos Van Der Zanden (guitars), Ria Mulder (vocals), Kees Schollen (drums) and multi-instrumentalist Walter Hüsstege (Cause 17) on bass. Together, they describe their style as 'power rock with symphonic influences'.

This is partly true, as within the uncomplicated songs there are some lovely rocking moments and fine symphonies presented. Yet power is one aspect that's sometimes missing, due to the thin production, safe instrumental executions and sweet-toothed nature of several compositions. One of those, Don't Look Back, feels forced in its compositional flow and imprints Willeke Alberti images with its ear-worm melodies and lyrics. As One's rippling ABBA melodies with Anita Meyer (or Carola, to keep it Swedish) appeal almost suffers the same fate, but a rather fine guitar solo comes to its rescue.

These examples don't do full justice to Mulder's vocal contributions, for in the classically orientated Behind she smoothly reveals her melodic approach. The Eye Of The Storm, a tribute to all healthcare workers, is subsequently highlighted by a fine guitars and gracious vocals embraced by harmonies and easy flowing, although predictable, melodies.

With Grandpa Has A Button adding a slightly darker moody atmosphere and the reworked Cause 17 composition Will I bringing elegance and catchiness, the dynamic Words Of Laughter proves to be one of the stronger songs on the album.

A Star Almost Fell, a composition dating back to 1980 Argyll days, combines the best of these worlds with uplifting melodies and tuneful vocals. As with Words Of Laughter it delicately shows the bands prog intentions and ends with some much-needed roughness. This direct rawness actually suits them just fine, and In Ruins's convincing example hears the band step firmly out the box and settle for slow-moving blues rock brooding on a solid rhythmic foundation accompanied by tasty keys, excellent guitar solos and an edgy-voiced Mulder. Quite possible the band's finest minutes.

With room for improvement on arrangements and production, this first attempt is a nice, albeit somewhat inconsistent, album that brings sufficient starting points for a sequel.

Amanda Chaudhary — Meow Meow Band

Amanda Chaudhary - Meow Meow Band
Invocation (French Miaou Bast) (2:57), White Wine (4:10), Cables And Carafes (3:49), North Berkeley BART (5:42), Under The Ceiling Fan (5:02), Donershtik (6:53)
Jan Buddenberg

Besides being a solo artist, keyboardist and composer, Amanda Chaudhary is known from her collaborations with Jason Berry's Vacuum Tree Head and Nubdug Ensemble (see also #nubdug-ensemble). These references spin some expectancy towards the music, but as it turns out, it only scratches the surface.

Supported by flexible Nubdug musicians, an agile Chaudhary opens up several hatches of complex electro-jazz-funk-fusion with additional curling twists. The experimental, avant-garde style Invocation (French Miaou Bast) (sung by the late Serena Toxicat) is a good example. It shows the treacherous character of Chaudhary's compositions, which for prog-minded listeners is not likely to be their cup of tea. The inspired summer breeze of the crispy White Wine, will likely end up with the same fate, despite its appealing, uplifting nature.

The RnB-inspired North Berkeley BART is purring with delightful electronic advertisements from Chaudhary, whilst in the laid back, jazzy Miles Davis flow of Under The Ceiling Fan she demonstrates equally rewarding wanderings on keys. The ravishing, kittenish disco beat of Donershtik is another fine illustration jumping on all fours with driving bass and funky Chic moments. At any given moment it feels like Johnny Guitar Watson is about to join the party, which raises the question: where's the prog aspect?

Well this is supplied by Cables And Fables. Entering hypnotic Milky Ways with spacious loops, bleeps, earthy percussive rhythms and psychedelic beats, it projects visions of Ozric Tentacles on a hot, raving day. I'm not totally convinced this will live up to anyone's prog-expectancy (probably not), but it makes for a refreshing diversion amidst all the other purr-fectly executed, eclectic jazz-fusion compositions.

Daniele Liverani — Incomplete

Daniele Liverani - Incomplete
I Dream Of Me (1:04), How I Feel (5:22), I Won't Cry (7:02), Incomplete (3:13), Get Out Of My Way (3:49), Hopefully (4:36), I'll Change My Life (6:30), Keep The Faith (4:12), I'm Gonna Move On (4:42), In My Heart (5:59), Impetus (12:55), Aiming For Peace (5:39), Millennial (8:00)
Jan Buddenberg

Multi-instrumentalist Daniele Liverani is an artistic centipede who easily moves within different styles and genres. Classic AOR fans will remember him from Khymera (featuring Steve Walsh on vocals), while his escapades in Genius Rock Opera may spark recognition for prog-metal adepts with its vast array of international greats (check out Liverani's website!). For the past decade, Liverani has focused on his independent solo career.

Incomplete marks a return to carefully-crafted song-based compositions, rounded-off by Concerto for violin and orchestra in D Major n.1: Impetus. Performed by Tonio Geugelins (violin) and composed in 2017/2018 by Liverani, this three-part instrumental composition captures various centuries of classical music and sounds very much in tune with Vivaldi's art.

Geugelins gets to explore the full range of his dexterity, and glides with virtuous ease through an oasis of classical music, chamber music and meticulously arranged symphonies with a contemporary hint of The Typewriter (Leroy Anderson) in the closing segment Millenial. A lovely experience and a complete contrast to the 70s AOR/pop melodies of the other vocally-guided songs.

These beautifully-rounded songs enchant through their 'not a note too many' simplicity. Giving further alluring shape are regularly recurring symphonic passages, Liverani's piano magnificence, mild prog influences, Simon Ciccotti 's driving drums and expressive melancholic vocals from singer Jack Seabaugh.

All across the album its Seabaugh's voice that adds sadness, fragility and feelings of loss and solitude to the songs, perfectly demonstrated in Incomplete. This gives seemingly-uplifting compositions like Get Out Of My Way and I'll Change My Life a delightful, treacherous twist. Simultaneously it's the orchestral theatrics, melodic catchiness, graceful guitar leads, floaty synths and soaring harmonies that bring progressive beams mindful to Different Light meets Queen.

Incomplete is a beautiful, touching album that within its two-fold appearance manages to show many faces of Liverani's musical spectrum. A joy to listen to and certainly worth exploring.

Nubdug Ensemble — Volume 2: Blame

Nubdug Ensemble - Volume 2: Blame
Blues (2:48), Bluff (1:51), Bloom (1:36), Bleep (2:53), Blood (2:21), Blaze (3:50), Block (4:52)
Jan Buddenberg

Nubdug Ensemble is the brainchild of Jason Berry. Last year, this flamboyant company released their first volume The Machines Of Zero, a collection of randomly-fired, short compositions manoeuvring boundlessly in a matrix of free-jazz, avant-garde, experimentation and prog (?). Volume 2: Blame expands and bends this surrealistically-shaped universe further, with an eclectic array of structural ingenuity, weird attractiveness, lyrical confusion and funky fab-ness.

Led by the letter B and with each musician a master of their trade, the music boasts through a multitude of alternate realities, calling upon ingeniously-driven, jazzy avant-garde with uplifting psychedelics in Bluff, and handing out a letter of complaint in the Rhythm and Blues-inspired frolics of Blues. Shortly drifting on intoxicating sax, the odd-signatures and fruitful strangeness of Bloom then adds a subtle, swinging swagger, persuading one to take the "Red" pill of the propulsive psychedelics in Bleep.

Crashing on Gordian-knotted structures and driving bass, this inventive composition accelerates in peculiar Zappa-formation with triumphant trumpets and marvelling guitar gymnastics. After this the melodies slowly permeate the nerve system in Blood.

Revving-up with bashing drums that settle in atmospheric galaxies of experimental drift, the song's swing-jazz extravaganza hurdles on with lush piano, surprising breaks, poly-rhythms and asymmetric King Crimson guitars; all the while spurred on by unbridled bass.

Finally, it is Block's smooth, enticing up-funk jazz that blocks every prog-nerve in its path with infectiously beating Parliament-Funkadelic inhibitors.

Less quirky and more coherent than Volume 1 this turns out to be another bewildering musical ride that on occasion strikes the prog-imagination. Interesting to "c" what lies in store next.

Relate — Level Up

Relate - Level Up
Asleep (4:00), Palette (3:34), Residues (4:10), Gold Ruch Symphony (4:29), Thief (4:23), Building The Vault (3:05), Keine Tränen (3:02), Ring The Alarm (3:52), Wherever We Go (3:24), One Last Dance (3:44), Glow (4:30)
Ignacio Bernaola

Relate is a name I had never heard of. However, I like discovering new prog bands, so I decided to pick up this album and check what these guys from Ruhrpott, Germany have to offer. Here at DPRP headquarters we usually receive samples or Bandcamp links first, but this time I only checked their main single, Ring The Alarm, on Youtube.

My first reaction? This sounds cool and somehow different from what one could expect in the prog-rock world. Being a confessed fan of Pure Reason Revolution, it wasn't difficult to show some love for this song. It also had that fancy 80s vibe, so I was prepared for some new modern prog mixed with some Acolyte and Voyager touches.

A few days later I received my beautiful copy of the CD and I have to say that the band has done a great job with the artwork and the package. I also received the press kit, and reading that, I started to realise that I was not going to be enjoying a progressive rock album as I expected.

Second reaction? OK, I'm very open-minded when talking about music, so let's try this "electronic rock / synth pop" as they state on their website. They also say they combine brute metal guitars and indie pop, but the overall feeling is that we have a danceable album here with different touches here and there that enrich that somewhat limited definition.

The band has Mike Mülller on drums and E-drums, Lukas Wagner on bass, keyboards and backing vocals, Lisa Zuber on guitars, keyboards, and some beautiful vocals, plus Patrick Krahe as the main guy, thanks to his emotional and theatrical voice. I like the way he sings, it fits with the music. But what I like most are the passages where he changes his Dave Gahan voice and adds some extra layers and anger; such as he does in the song Building The Vault. After several listens I found myself loving not only those different vocal lines but also the more guitar-driven parts.

Third reaction? I guess I'm not ready for so many danceable rhythms; even when I like them.

There's no need to describe every song but at the end of the day I'm happy to have chosen this album because I have discovered a very interesting band and a very good album for those non-prog moments. (I have found myself enjoying it the most while driving).

But as a reviewer I can't end this review without being a little selfish. I like the kind of music that Relate presents, but I have to ask for more "different" moments in their next album. It'd be great to hear more brute metal guitars, more anger vocals but also more vocals from Lisa. I think it can make their music much more interesting, and who knows, maybe become a more progressive rock band. That's my advice, do whatever you want with it.

Giorgos Tabakis — hEre nOw theN

Giorgos Tabakis - hEre nOw theN
Attraction (6:33), Insideout Upsidedown (6:23), Touch (1:23), Cloudshapes (7:33), Dream Within A Dream (3:39), Under The sun (2:53), Dust (1:08), Soul & Body (5:02), Transition (5:11), Exodos (5:29)
Jan Buddenberg

Judging from Giorgos Tabakis' Bandcamp site hEre nOw theN is his first solo album, after collaborating with several musicians from the contemporary jazz scene. A confirmation of this can be found in the album's subtitle, For Solo 8 String Guitar which refers to the GT 8 string MOOV guitar, custom build for Tabakis by Yorgos Behlivanoglou. It is a futuristic-looking instrument from which he improvises and conjures all kinds of beautiful sounds and compositions in predominantly jazz, chamber music, minimal classic and avant-garde styles.

For DPRP I actually struggle with the progressive aspect of Tabakis' compositions, but that says more about me than about the music. I'm no expert in the contemporary jazz field (far from it). With a bit of will and imagination, some recognisable references do float to the surface though.

Throughout the album it becomes clear that Tabakis possesses a lot of technical skill, creativity and compositional strength. This attraction reveals itself instantly with Attraction, one of the stronger compositions on the album, that shifts through various moods in which subtlety creates depth, while some delicate, neurotic escapades bring to mind Robert Fripp (King Crimson), alternating with refined breezes of Steve Hackett.

A similar sort of inventiveness is shown in Insideout Upsidedown where playful guitars fill in the vocal lines. Tabakis' finger-picking is flawless and is extremely rewarding in bringing out darkness and light, which after the warmth of reflective intermezzo Touch shoots visions of Frédéric L'Épée into my mind with Cloudshapes.

In Dream Within A Dream, whether or not inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's poem from 1849, Tabakis is once again able to extract enchanting sounds from his instrument to give feelings of deserted loneliness and palpable nothingness.

From a musical point of view the material here is strong and technically brilliant, yet the summery Under The Sun and the graceful improvisations of Dust, Soul & Body and Transition don't bring anything new to the table. A final elegant touch in Exodus, where layered-play and compelling structures discharge darkly-atmospheric melodies, finally rounds of the album on a high note.

This is well worth a listen for fans of contemporary jazz and those in favour of wonderfully-executed and moving acoustic music.

Album Reviews