Album Reviews

Issue 2024-001

Busker's Dog — Sea To City

Busker's Dog - Sea To City
Sea To City Overture (1:20), Right Off The Map (2:31), Unforeseen Circumstances (4:37), Beyond Words (0:59), Virtually Yours (4:05), Rain Song (2:58), The Night Fox (4:16), Kissing In The New Year (3:54), Floating (4:10), The Great Unknown (5:17), The Mahogany Ship (7:05), Sea To City (2:44), I'll Wear Blue (4:19), Keep Your Angel Alive (1:15)
Ignacio Bernaola

Busker´s Dog is the brainchild of Ian C. Thomas and Sea To City is his debut album. It is a collaboration with many singers and musicians, so maybe we should call this a project. According to the Bandcamp site, what we have here is a pop-prog collection of fourteen interconnected songs. I couldn't agree more with that description.

Ian started a Kickstarter campaign to try to get funds to record the album. He explains how the songs already existed from lost projects, and he realised all of them belonged together, so he decided to connect them around a central theme. I guess that's the reason we have some shorts songs as interludes or introductions. I have to say they fit well in the mix and the album could be listened to as a whole even when the songs work as single pieces too.

One thing I value a lot about this album is the overall cohesion even when we have many different female and male singers participating in each song. I have to highlight the quality of the vocals and the whole production too. The music is as one can expect from a pop-prog description: some Alan Parsons Project, some Beatles, some Bowie... Somehow this type of album and music reminds me of that great album called The Clutters Storyteller by Mesmerising but with less prog and more pop.

I'm glad I picked this Sea To City from our review pipeline because I have discovered a great album that has left me wanting more. Very good vocals and melodies, great guitar playing, some sax parts (I love when someone includes the sax into prog music), flawless production and even an interesting artwork. To sum up this review I will stick to my first thought after my first listening: beautiful album!

French TV — A Ghastly State of Affairs

French TV - A Ghastly State of Affairs
Every Morning I Wake Up And Take My Hat Off To All The Beauty In The World (18:34), Baby, You Fill Me With Inertia (11:15), Drunkard's Train To Westchester (8:38), The Mayor Of Ding Dong City (6:53), My Boys Awake At Night 'Cuz They Nocturnal (10:53)
Owen Davies

If the titles given to tunes could win awards, then French TV's trophy cabinet would be bulging with silverware!

I thoroughly enjoyed perusing the titles of the compositions of Stories Without Fingertips. That album sported tunes such as, That Jigsaw Puzzle Is Tearing Our Family Apart and Stubby Index Finger.

Their previous release, All Our Failures Are Behind Us unfortunately narrowly failed to achieve that very high standard of creatively named tunes, despite having such stimulating titles as From Trunk To Tail. However, A Ghastly State Of affairs takes tune-title creativity to another level surpassing All Our Failures Are Behind Us and even the provocative titles of Stories Without Fingerprints.

In my imaginary world!
Gusty trumpets fan-fare, moon shaped smiles curl gleefully and drums roll.
Another glittering trophy is added to French TV's bursting cabinet.
Back to reality!

Thankfully, and much more importantly, the music also delivers. The bands latest release is equally impressive as Stories Without Fingertips and All Our Failures Are Behind Us, if not more so. There is so much to admire about A Ghastly State Of Affairs and little to criticise.

The sound quality of the album is superb and this makes listening to it a fully immersive experience.

The musicians featured on this release are, bass player and band leader Mike Sary, Katsumi Yoneda (guitars), Patrick Strawser (keys) and Fenner Castner (drums). Guest players Kenji Imai (flute), Ludo Fabre (violin), and Warren Dale (saxes) all make enjoyable contributions as well.

Imai's contribution is a welcome addition to French TV's palette of sounds and his interaction with Yoneda is very impressive and enjoyable. It is hardly surprising that they can co-operate so well, as both are members of Tee. Their last album Total Edge Effect was bursting with wonderful flute and guitar exchanges.

The lengthy first piece of the album is beautifully constructed and the flute is delightfully featured in its opening sequence. However, this track perhaps does not offer some of the usual swagger, unpredictability and excitement that can sometimes be associated with much of French TV's output.

Nevertheless, Every Morning I Wake Up And Take My Hat Off To All The Beauty In The World is a very accomplished melodic piece. The title is very apt. The composition's easy on the ear attributes make it very enchanting. For many, it will, no doubt, be considered one of the standout track of the album. Indeed, it has some lovely light touches involving piano, flute and acoustic guitar.

It also highlights some stunning acoustic guitar parts. These stand out, shimmer, shine. The natural tones and timbres created, radiate like a glimmering show bloom rose, in an already abundantly scented walled garden. This creates an extra level of sensory delight.

As the track develops, there are many opportunities for French TV to explore different moods, tempos, and textures. I liked the way that the band were able to seamlessly shift through the various interludes and moods offered. The swish of the whirling synth is very evocative, the jazzy piano fills, even more so. However, without doubt my favourite section occurs near the end of the piece and features lots of lovely interaction between the flute and electric guitar.

Baby, You Fill Me With Inertia is a tune that certainly does not induce slumber nor torpor. It is an interesting piece, that has lots of stop start sections and revels in its five handed rhythmic dexterity. Parts of it reminded me of something Frank Zappa might have composed. Sax player Dale does a lot of the heavy lifting and his robust playing works well within the context of the piece.

Large measures of Violin and frothing tankards of synth are featured in a Drunkard's Train To Westchester. Although the chinking carriages of this amiable composition sit, jostle, and roll comfortably, its woozy title did little to convey the harsh reality of late-night travel.

Certainly, the shifting melodies of the piece were too complicated to evoke the unsettling experience of regularly travelling on the last train home from Manchester to Chester, serenaded by the gabble of, hearty -throated, horse-voiced, ale-spewing football supporters.

The gurgling, belching title of the piece is another matter though!

The final two tracks, are very satisfying and are probably my favourite pieces. Sary's bass work is prominent in The Mayor Of Ding Dong City. It offers a great low-end platform for Strawser's enthralling synth melodies to soar. The change of pace that occurs in the middle of song was unexpected and the tunes change of clothes and direction works very well. It is precisely the sort of quirky approach that makes French TV's music so enjoyable.

Almost everything about the final track exudes class.

Knee tapping beat — tick.
Quirky changes of direction — tick.
Vague resemblance to Zappa's compositional style — tick.
Fiery guitar Solos — tick.
Hard to pigeon-hole — tick.

Oh, did anybody mention the final track's award-winning title?

My Boys Awake At Night 'Cuz They Nocturnal

I guess that French TV will just have to keep on filling that cabinet until it bursts!

Eddie Mulder — To The Centre

Eddie Mulder - To The Centre
To The Centre (5:47), Lullaby (2:09), Unexpected Journey (5:38), Beltane (3:21), Not So Easy (3:58), Panta Rhei (4:54), Work In Progress (2:23), Fairytale (5:10), Muse (3:02), Concentration (4:04), Nostalgia (5:39), Mark The Place (1:27), Summerbreeze (3:11)
Mark Hughes

The Dutch guitarist Eddie Mulder returns with his eighth solo album of original material. The album is largely focused on ensemble playing where Mulder is joined by a range of friends and musical colleagues including bassists Terje Craig, Francis Fournier, Harry Scholing, and Peter Stel; keyboardists Gert van Engelenburg, Tom Scherpenzeel, and Henk Stel; and drummer Albert Schoonbeek. However, there are two numbers, Beltane and Work In Progress that are just acoustic guitar and another two which feature an accompanying keyboardist. Lullaby has the acoustic guitar backed by some lovely electric piano and gliding synths courtesy of Henk Stel while the brief Mark The Place features Gert van Engelenburg on acoustic piano and Mulder on a more electro-acoustic instrument . All four tracks are delightful pieces of music that displays Mulder's fine compositional skills and wonderful mastery of his instrument.

Unusually, the album contains one vocal track, Fairytale with lyrics written and sung by Terje Craig who does a reasonable job of the latter. However, it is musically that the track stands out rather than the vocal sections which are rather mundane if truth be told. However, this can easily be forgotten and lost alongside the excellent proggy instrumentals best of which is Unexpected Journey which has a touch of classic Gordan Giltrap about it. But that is not to suggest that the other prog band numbers are lacking in anything. Title track To The Centre ends far too soon despite being the longest track on the album; Not So Easy sees Mulder's electric guitar playing to the fore with some classic synth sounds; and Panta Rhei is a lovely assemblage of different style and sounds that fit together perfectly.

With Concentration and Nostalgia one hears sonic impressions of the guitar play of Andy Latimer, not that either piece sounds like Camel (of any era). They are more subdued pieces where the concentration is on tone and atmosphere with the balance of acoustic and electric guitar passages on the second of these pieces being particularly please - it is a particularly filmic piece of music and I can envisage it being used in a epic blockbuster (for some reason Out Of Africa keeps coming to mind when I hear this piece, but that might just be nostalgia — haha!).

That just leaves the slightly disappointing Muse which never really starts to get going, and the bonus track Summerbreeze that was recorded during the sessions for the Blind Hunter album in 2021 but for some reason was left off the final release. Unsurprisingly, it does fit in well with the material on that album and, although a few years old (an eternity in Mulder's productivity rate) is not an odd fit with the latest material. Not sure about the faked vinyl run-in and run-off additions though.

On the whole this is another excellent addition to Mulder's increasing catalogue of excellent albums. Nothing here that would disappoint purchases of his previous albums and plenty to discover for those who are new to the artist.

Pallas — The Messenger

Pallas - The Messenger
Sign Of The Times (9:18), The Great Attractor (4:15), Fever Pitch (8:11), Heavy Air (7:00), The Nine (8:42), The Messenger (13:03).
Greg Cummins

When countries are still waging war with each other, our economy is in ruins, millions more people are starving, the planet is under constant degradation and the population has only just managed to survive a global pandemic, is it any wonder there exists a body of people who feel justified in expressing their concerns about such issues. Many submit their thoughts to paper and sell vast quantities of books or magazines accordingly, while others with a penchant for public speaking, make a name for themselves by making notable appearances and espouse those theories. Another successful way to express those thoughts has been through the art of musical narration. The latest album by Pallas, entitled The Messenger is one perfect example of how well those thoughts and ideas can be so well articulated but with a wonderfully creative musical spine.

While Pallas certainly weren't the first band to produce an album with a controversial attack on society's failings as its underlying theme, they also won't be the last as there must be hordes of bands with similar projects still in the finishing stages. It seems everybody has their own beliefs about these same issues and whether your own thoughts coalesce with the majority rule, it matters not when it comes to music. Everyone is entitled to their own interpretations of these insidious threats to world harmony and continuity but thankfully, we seem to over the worst of the Covid pandemic, albeit with some existential threats lurking in the wings. As Traffic so eloquently put in many years ago, "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring?" Despite this, Pallas's version of events certainly bear consideration as their musical muscle has never been questioned over the years and their latest attempt to make some social analysis of these global problems is certainly well done.

The Messenger, is a conceptual journey that not only showcases the band's musical prowess but also delves deeply into social commentary and observations about how well we mere humans have compromised planet earth. The album sees Pallas continuing their legacy of crafting expansive, thought-provoking progressive rock and have done it so convincingly well. Fans familiar with the band's catalogue will recognise the intricate compositions, powerful melodies and dynamic shifts that have been central to Pallas' sound since their inception. The album, however, introduces a modern edge to their sonic palette, seamlessly blending traditional prog elements with contemporary production techniques. Their current offering certainly moves away from their historically neo-prog badge and lands them squarely within the pure symphonic / progressive rock genre.

While the album maintains Pallas' signature sound, it is not a mere rehash of past glories. Instead, it represents a natural evolution, with the band pushing boundaries and experimenting with new sonic textures. The album's conceptual nature, akin to earlier releases like The Sentinel and The Cross And The Crucible, weaves a narrative that adds depth to the listening experience. Pallas manages to strike a delicate balance between honouring their roots and embracing the ever-changing landscape of progressive rock. With so many great albums being released by their competitors, especially in 2022-2023, to deliver anything less than a substantial album such as this one, would leave a band bereft of fans.

The album serves as a reflection on the current state of the world, tackling issues such as political turmoil, environmental concerns, and societal unrest to name a few. Pallas utilises their music as a platform for storytelling, offering listeners a poignant and immersive experience that goes beyond mere entertainment. The lyrical depth adds an extra layer of complexity to the album, transforming it into a relevant and timely piece of art. The socially conscious themes resonate with the listener, providing a thought-provoking backdrop to the intricate musical landscapes crafted by the band.

The album boasts a rich and diverse instrumental palette, from the majestic keyboards to the intricate guitar work and the dynamic rhythm section, each element contributing to the album's immersive atmosphere. The drums and percussion, however are programmed. Pallas continues to excel in creating intricate arrangements that captivate the listener's attention, and the skilful use of varied instruments ensures a constantly evolving sonic journey. Alan Reed's vocals also showcase a level of maturity and emotional resonance that adds a compelling layer to the music. His voice, weathered by experience, conveys the gravitas required for the album's thematic depth. Reed's nuanced delivery enhances the impact of the social commentary, making the listener feel every word and note on a visceral level.

One can not ignore the exceptional graphics that accompany this album. Whilst I have only been supplied with a digital copy for this review, the accompanying lyric sheet, double cover and other promotional information just reinforces how completely immersive this album has become for these eager ears. Listening to the album at least 6 times with the lyric sheet in hand has enabled me to really dive deeply into this album's inner sanctum and become a willing victim to its total allure. While I always prefer to see a physical CD copy in my hands, we, as reviewers should be supplied with nothing less than what Pallas have supplied our website as to supply anything less is akin to selling the band's efforts short. Kudos to the band for supplying what you have done.

The Messenger stands as a testament to Pallas' enduring commitment to musical innovation and thematic exploration. The album not only pays homage to the band's progressive rock roots but also pushes the genre into new and relevant territory. With its fusion of intricate instrumentals, socially conscious lyrics, and Alan Reed's evocative vocals, The Messenger is a compelling addition to the band's illustrious discography. There are no weak songs here on the album and while it only contains 6 tracks, the holistic depth inside each one tells a convincing story that really resonates with me. As a sonic manifesto of social commentary and musical evolution, this adventurous project is one of the best I have heard in years. May I quote you some totally appropriate lyrics from the closing song?

"One more chance to make amends. Or is this the place where history ends?"

I rest my case.

Pallas On

Pattern-Seeking Animals — Spooky Action At A Distance

CD: 59:02, 32:07
Pattern-Seeking Animals - Spooky Action At A Distance
CD 1: The Man Made Of Stone (7:01), Window To The World (3:58), What Awaits Me (5:22), He Once Was (12:16), Underneath The Orphan Moon (3:53), Clouds That Never Rain (5:17), Bulletproof (4:16), Somewhere North Of Nowhere (6:45), Summoned From Afar (7:32), Love Is Still The Light (4:42)
CD 2: There Goes My Baby (3:49), Orphans Of The Universe (Live At ProgStock 2022) (10:39), Elegant Vampires (Live At ProgStock 2022) (4:27), Time Has A Way (Live At ProgStock 2022) (13:12)
Bruce Warren

Spooky Action At A Distance is the fourth album, in only five years, from the "supergroup" Pattern-Seeking Animals. It finds John Boegehold and company in terrific form, moving deftly between classic prog, straight rock, and even some ska-ish sounds over the course of the main album's ten tracks. This is not a band most easily described as an "off-shoot" of Spock's Beard any longer. They have clearly broken away on this record, setting their own path forward, even when retracing some familiar ground in the process.

For those unfamiliar with P-SA, the California-based group, all of whose members are/were members of Spock's Beard, is led by composer and keyboardist John Boegehold. Ted Leonard handles the vocals deftly throughout, but also is a standout on guitar. Dave Meros handles the bass guitar and Jimmy Keegan rounds out the rhythm section on drums. The group's prior three albums have all been well received here on, and I am not about to break that streak.

P-SA have achieved a great leap forward in songwriting on this album, not just musically, but also thematically. On first listen, there is no doubt that the music is what holds you. This is a record that is full of interesting textures and has pieces that you continue to find after repeated listens. The record begins with classic prog sounds - big synths and a story about a weary warrior in A Man Made Of Stone, but then on the next track, Window To The World, we are grooving to rock guitar riffs and a world-class bass line anchoring the ska-ish melody by Meros. Special mention should be made of both Leonard's and Meros' guitar and bass work on this record - both gentlemen are playing with more conviction here than on prior efforts.

Spooky Action is also as cinematic as past P-SA efforts. Boegehold is giving us a full plate of emotions to feast on. Tales of weariness and loss, fear and loneliness - but there is always a sense of hope permeating the songs. We get to meet the warrior mentioned above, but also a young lady running from home, another young woman answering the call from a higher power, and a World War One soldier yearning for who he once was. P-SA have also dug into the Spock's Beard catalog for their namesake song off of Noise Floor, Bulletproof, which is turned into a duet between Leonard and some female background singers. The result is a song made richer in texture than the original, bringing out the beauty of the lyrics. However, all the lyrics would be for not without Ted Leonard finding a range that I have not heard before. Leonard is, of course, a fantastic singer, but he is finding a higher register that brings an ache to the songs when they need it.

All of the above comes together in the obligatory epic track He Once Was. Clocking in at just over 12 minutes, this is a story about a man who served in the trenches of World War One and is living with the ravages of the gas attacks used on the front. His mind and body are destroyed, but he remembers the birds singing free in the trees while hoping that the warning canaries in cages among the men stay alive. The track begins like a folk song you have heard a hundred times, but is still fresh. The textures that Boegehold captures throughout are fantastic. He even adds in a sax solo (the oldest cliché in the book!) from Alex Bone, and they absolutely nail it. If you listen to nothing else off of this record, you should listen to He Once Was.

The second bonus disc is made up mostly of three tracks from the band's set at ProgStock 2022 in Rahway, NJ, USA. The live version of the band is not the same as on the records, as John Boegehold does not tour, but these tracks are a welcome addition and show where Spooky Action takes off from. Time Has A Way, the epic track off of their last release, is great live and shines here. I hope Pattern-Seeking Animals continue to focus on this band and if the last few years are a guide, we should not have to wait long for new music.

Pattern-Seeking Animals On

Taine — Chaos & Contemplation

Taine - Chaos & Contemplation
To Infinity (5:44), The Anger Within (4:15), Neuralgia (4:39, Return To The Sea (4:52), Seconds (4:52), Demons From The Past (3:06), The Night Before That Day, (5:00), Dark Days Of Our Lives (5:49), Fusion X (2:39), Prea Mult (4:27)
Calum Gibson

Taine come to us from Romania, having been formed by Andy Ionescu back in 1993 (5 years before current drummer Teo Pop was born) and born of a love of the metal that was around in the early 90s, citing Megadeth, Annihilator and later Death and Cynic as some influences. According to the band, the name is "Slavonic in origin, with no accurate translation to English. In a wider sense it is used to depict a hidden truth or meaning that has not been meant for the human mind, in its current state, to understand."

To Infinity kicks us off with a superb blend of technical prog mixed with the aggressiveness of melodic death. The influences from the aforementioned bands are very apparent here. Riffs and solos and harsh vocals rise and fall to a backdrop of non-stop drums. Before you can rest, The Anger Within flies in to launch heavy chugs and frantic double bass as it grows in intensity. Think Gojira mixed with some thrash, and it will give a bit of an idea. Following this, the calmer-yet-still-heavy Neuralgia comes along. Still retaining a steady pace and a heavy vibe, it is nonetheless more melodic and melancholy. Who ever thought you could have sad chugs? Return to the Sea fires back on all cylinders as harsh, atmospheric, guttural guitar work shines alongside the immense drum work of Teo.

There is so much more detail that could be delved into for this album. Second half of it is equally impressive, with riffs and licks galore. Even the two instrumentals fit perfectly and seamlessly switch between styles of music - from insane solos to calmer bridges that build back up to face melting outros. From the slow and lamenting sound of Demons From The Past to the balls to the wall ending of Prea Mult, the album is rounded off perfectly. Unfortunately, if I said all I wanted to, then I would be here for a lot longer.

This really is an album that "has it all" in the realms of prog-death. Technical, catchy, aggressive and full on throughout, it also knows when lighter touches "make the heavy parts heavier" perfectly. The production is crisp as well, with everything coming across beautifully and clearly. Stand out tracks would have to be Neuralgia and Return to the Sea just for the sheer breadth of styles showcased within those tracks.

If you like old school metal, but also have a love for death metal, then these guys are a must. A phenomenal group with an astounding amount of potential. One of the rare times an album has dropped my jaw.

Album Reviews