Review – Playgrounded – In Time With Gravity – by Emma Roebuck

Playgrounded is a Greek band born and forged in the heart of the financial crash post 2007 and whose first album ‘Athens’ is a narrative of Greece and a Greek youth in crisis and ultimately the European Project. They moved to Rotterdam to explore their music more, in their own words “Heavy Rock meets Electronic”, this is of course is not happy joyous music.

‘In Time With Gravity’ is 8 tracks of music but, technically, only 6 as the final track is a long form piece subdivided into 3,  The Stranger, based on the Albert Camus book of the same name which can be summarised in Camus’s own words.

‘I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

I will let that dangle for a while as I explore the rest of the album and return to it later.

To begin properly at the beginning, The Crossing, the meaning of this song eludes me if I am honest. It could be a metaphor for their journey from Greece and learning to connect to a Northern European culture? It could also be a metaphor for the journey of the refugees making a similar journey or I could well off the mark. Musically it is very dark and electronic driven with an understated but definite slow grinding guitar work woven around the main themes.

Mute is a definite stand out track on this album for me. There’s big sounding and very powerful guitar work but not in a way that swamps the rest of the music. They manage to sound big and yet leave space in the music, it is a trick some of the other Prog metal bands could do with learning if I am honest. There’s an addictive guitar hook that repeats often enough to become an ear worm.

Waves, now this is to me where the band show their influences at their clearest. A song of a wasted generation lost in the turmoil of politics and chaos of the times. Playgrounded have played on the same bill as Anathema and Riverside and they are very comfortable musical bedfellows here.

In Time with Gravity is the title track and the most electronic based track on the album. I have not heard ‘Athens‘ so it could be a hangover from the past or a hint at the direction to come but it has a lighter tone and feel to it almost but not entirely optimistic in outlook. I suppose this is as close to a love song as this album has but a pop song it isn’t. Coming in at over 10 minutes long it has plenty of time to explore the themes and melody and give a few opportunities to have off-shoots and pathways to explore.

Rotterdam is obviously the band trying to express their first experiences of living in a new country and finding their feet, moving to be as close to the heart of Europe as they could to see where the music could take them. Musically the main driver here is the bass line and keyboard sequencing.

Finally we Return to The Stranger, I will be honest with you here, I only know of the book but  have never read it. Praise the internet and a cheat sheet to help me with cross referencing Camus’ book and the tracks that make up the whole piece based on that tome. In short man attends his mother’s funeral then kills someone and is then sentenced to death. The primary character, the Stranger of the piece is an outsider of the society that he inhabits and ultimately that society destroys him because he is an outsider.

Hence:

‘ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

The three parts “Funeral”, “Killing” and “Verdict” break down the story into its component parts. It expresses the film noir of the 50s French film scene very well and how the outcome of one who is outside the whole is doomed in one way or another, in this case execution by guillotine. The Cure’s ‘Killing an Arab’ is based on the same book.

I have avoided genres here as much as possible in this review as I honestly think that these guys sit apart in many ways from any specific genre or type. I have chatted with a couple of fellow DJs about it and they agree, they sit in an area of their own BUT I am going to make a few comparisons and references for people who have an interest.

Dark moody emotional and different are good words for these guys. If you have a liking for mid/ late period Anathema, NIN, some of the slow grinding Black Sabbath with added late Depeche Mode and Gary Numan for a little spice then this could be for you. If you want happy and lightness with lots of sparkling unicorns then i would suggest that you steer well clear!

I have a feeling that live these guys are far less restrained and rip it up good and proper.

Released 19th October 2017

Order ‘In Time With Gravity’ from bandcamp here

Review – Charlie Cawood – The Divine Abstract – by Emma Roebuck

This landed in my inbox and I will admit to anticipating this with a huge amount of glee. Knifeworld are a personal favourite (hint new album please), Mediaeval Baebes and the wonderful My Tricksy Spirit album released not long ago appeal to my love of the leftfield of music. The publicity from Pachyderm Central (a hidden cave on the coast of Yorkshire) leads with:

“A veteran of the London music scene for over a decade, Charlie is best known as bassist of critically acclaimed psychedelic octet Knifeworld, and instrumentalist/co-arranger for Emmy-nominated Classical choir Mediaeval Baebes. He also plays stringed instruments in Bad Elephant Music stable mates My Tricksy Spirit”

Charlie must feel great pressure to deliver something very special and on the more eccentric side of the esoteric. In truth I had no idea what to expect as all three of the projects that Charlie is involved in were so different and not really all him but more where he is a contributor or guest of the primary writers. The list of musicians he has on this album is massive and listed at the end of this review. There are instruments that I had no idea what they were let alone what they sounded like.

To the actual music, which is after all what folks really want to know about. Imagine a place in heaven or another world or plane of existence where you have access to living and dead masters of their instruments jamming in a space.  From Ravi Shankar, John Mclaughlin and George Harrison to Vangelis, Mike Oldfield and many others, I think this is what is in Charlie’s head in this album. He has sat and heard all these and has filtered what he has heard and made it The Devine/Divine Abstract ( both spellings are used on my copy).

Shringara, the opening track is a melee of Sitar and guitar instrumental music yet has clarity and lilting tone. I assume it Comes from the Rasa, meaning the love of art and beauty, because it does channel that feeling to me.

The Divine Abstract is next falling into 4 subsets –  Echolalia, an endless repetition of someone’s speech often associated with mental health issues is just that, a refrain shared with instruments with a sonorous cello linking the music.  The Earths Answer picks up the theme and carries it to an acoustic modern quartet classical piece, Fearful Symmetry carries on balancing the sonic journey but lifting the pace with a violin taking the lead and finally Western Lands is carried by a melodic drifting connection of the three previous pieces into a final whole to complete the journey. I don’t know a great deal about Charlie but it feels like he is channeling or commenting on the human condition with music, no words just the honesty of his composition.

Earth Dragon from the Chinese Zodiac is a three part piece using what sounds like a very classical Chinese music approach. There is nothing fiery about this dragon but a meditative repetition of musical themes using instruments true to the form. You are carried on the breeze of the music which is easy on the ears yet far from simple in its form.

The Garden of the Mind, this is a tranquil jazz fusion freeform piece that is the closest to Knifeworld in form but without the manic intensity of the band in free flow. I could drop this into a Weather Report or Miles Davis set and it would not be lost in the melee.

Skip two tracks because I like to leave a little mystery and we finish with Apotheosis. One meaning is to deify and raise to its peak. In this Charlie has drawn together the thematic musical strands of the album to create a piece that stands apart from the rest.

First the gripes, I want more exploration and testing of the limits of the music. Just as I get into a piece it ends and I feel there is more to hear.

This is an album that can be heard on multiple levels. Put it on in the background and let it wash around the room and a tonal pleasance will fill your senses and make whatever you are doing feel easier. Headphones on in a darkened room it is akin to musical meditation with layer upon layer of music to discover, clever sophisticated music that opens doors both spiritually and emotionally. Charlie has opened his musical heart in this album and it shows being very accessible and yet very varied in influence.

It will grow on you as you listen. I struggled looking how to get my feelings about it over but not because it is a hard album but the way it made me feel was complicated.

Released 3rd November 2017

Order ‘The Divine Abstract’ from bandcamp here

Charlie Cawood: acoustic, electric & classical guitars, Fender VI, acoustic & electric bass guitars, sitar, pipa

with

Katharine Blake: treble & sopranino recorders
Lucy Brown: French horn
Flora Curzon: violin
Hannah Davis: vibraphone, glockenspiel
Julie Groves: flute
Chlöe Herington: bassoon
Steve Holmes: piano, celeste, Minimoog, bass synth
James Larcombe: piano, dulcitone
Dennis Kwong Thye Lee: xiao
Nicki Maher: clarinet
Ben Marshall: oboe, cor anglais

Review – Constructs – Shapes – by Emma Roebuck

Constructs – ‘Shapes’ – well, where to start on this one? Foolishly my first run out of this was ill considered. I normally try out a to-be-reviewed album in the small hours around midnight in the thick silence of my bedroom; this is an EP but more of that later. My error is that I never check promo materials before hand or I would have parked this for a more appropriate time. This is not, I stress NOT, an album to help you chill and ease you towards the land of nod. My insomnia is bad enough but, by the end of track 1 – Tempest that was it, I had been hit by a shot of the musical equivalent of a double espresso. A deceptive electronica  intro drops rapidly into a bass and guitar battle not dissimilar to the war of the god that a see in a thunder and lightning storm. Thick solid sonic sound scapes abound with apparently chaotic but in reality a very disciplined musical approach.

Who are Constructs,

Trayen Burke – Guitars
Gordo Leete – Bass
Dennis Willoner – Drums

Constructs is a three-piece progressive metalcore band hailing from San Jose, California that formed in 2015. Their name comes from the idea that everything in our reality is in some way, shape, or form, a construct, whether it be thought patterns, society, or the way we interact with each other and the world. The band, consisting of Trayen Burke, Gordo Leete, and Dennis Willoner, have spent the past two years polishing and refining their sound while writing and recording. The band draws influence from metal titans such as Northlane, Periphery, Animals As Leaders, Dream Theater, and is focused on creating a precise, articulate, and stunning live performance.”

Ok to the EP/Album then I struggle here with what it actually is. This EP is 6 tracks long yet comes in at a length not far short of the albums I bought as a Teen back in the dark ages of vinyl, hang on are we not re-entering those days again? 30 minutes plus of  a Californian Trio that has its roots more in the 90s when Dream Theater, Kings X and Queensryche were pressing the metal button but being progressive in their attitude to composition structure and song length.  There is no reference directly to the Prog that served my teen years in the 70s. This actually cheers my heart no end rather than scares me. The ghost of prog bands past haunts way to many bands for my liking and is limiting what bthey do in their creativity and development.

Being an instrumental album, getting meaning from the music, is often very personal in the way you read a title and apply to the music. Atmospheres, the second track, feels like a flight to me through the varied weather systems of our planet from calm to threatening and destructive using the distorted thundering bass sound that reverts to softer textures of the electronic effects and the scaling solos of guitars.

Event Horizon, one of the most destructive things in the universe set to music, is never going to be a happy place for music and this is far from a light and fluffy track.  It implies chaos and obliteration but still within the rigid systems of physics and the music reflects this very well indeed. This track typifies a thing they do well yet some of their equivalents seem to forget. They do space and time where others do not and pummel the listener with constant double kick drum and bass without relief, saving the intensity for when it will have greater impact.

I always leave out tracks for others to discover for themselves on any album but be assured I have not cherry picked but given a flavour of what these guys deliver.

Rather than saying who should stay away from this I will say who would best appreciate this intense, dark and yet still uplifting product. Anyone looking beyond the mainstream of melody, verse, chorus, verse, solo, middle 8, chorus and then repeat. Fans of The Fierce & The Dead, Mars Volta, Animals As Leaders and the likes of Voyager and Ne Obliviscaris would sit very well along side of this EP.

It heartens me to think that there is music being made that has depth and power and retains an identity that pushes the boundaries. Many will not like this but many will see its merits and the true progressive spirit of some of the stuff that is out there.

Released 6th November 2017

Order ‘Shapes’ direct from the band

Review – Johannes Luley – Qitara – by Emma Roebuck

The guitarist from Moth Vellum and, more recently, Perfect Beings comes out with his second solo album ‘Qitara’ after 2013’s ‘Tales From Sheepfather’s Grove’ which, if I am honest, I have not yet heard but, after hearing, ‘Qitara’ I shall be it hunting out.

Johannes says this is a collection of music he has created over the last few years and was looking for a way to put it on an album for people to hear. The album is mainly instrumental with one vocal song Sister Six which is not that far from what Perfect Beings produce and has a very slow percussive atmospheric feel to it along with a psychedelic edge from a pseudo Sitar sound on the guitar parts and sweeping sonic landscapes.

The rest is instrumental and is essentially Johannes exploring musical styles, slipping from jazz to rock to avante garde via the progressive greats. Some of it is outright jamming by some amazing musicians, Soliloquist being a good example of that musical telepathy that happens when musicians get in sync and let things happen. Faces in Reflection is taken from the same mould and, although it is a George Duke, composition they take it to places that only they can do when in the moment. Both tracks have a deep jazz/rock crossover and are delights to these ears.

The Doer is classical guitar with a very open beginning which then flows into  a track that has Weather Report clashing with Frank Zappa at his jazziest.

Hot Sands has a fat chunky keyboard line with soaring guitar lines channelling a desert journey and the constant drive for thirst and water. Red and Orange, the other cover, is a Jan Hammer piece with tons of edge, drive and virtuosity  and yet is neither sterile or cold. Fans of Mahavishnu will find much to like here.

White City & Agni Rahasya have the feel of a homage to Steve Howe and his works with a big chunk of Luley interpreting the style.

This album moves across styles and genres but has jazz rock at its core. If you like Dave Gilmour, Pat Metheny, Frank Zappa, Steve Howe or Steve Vai then it has much to offer. There is a brief reunion with his band mate from Moth Vellum Ryan Downe – on vocals. The sleeve notes are remarkably comprehensive for the guitar geeks of this world and the way he has constructed the album.

I would say that this is far from a mainstream album and sits in a niche of primarily instrumental guitar music. Having said that, I played Red & Orange on my show last week and it received praise and interest from the listeners. If I have a criticism then I would love to have heard longer pieces and more musical navel gazing and exploration from the album. It feels like he has edited down which makes me want to hear the stuff on the cutting room floor. But I suppose, as P T Barnum said, “Always leave them wanting more!”

Released 15th September 2017

Order ‘Qitara’ direct from the artist

 

 

 

Live DVD Review – The Pineapple Thief – Where We Stood – by Emma Roebuck

Darran Charles, Steve Kitch, Jon Sykes, Gavin Harrison and, of course, Bruce Soord are the current touring version of The Pineapple Thief. On the 11th February 2017 they played the Islington Assembly Rooms, touring in support of their ‘Your Wilderness’ album. It was a packed audience and was a much anticipated tour and album.

The set list for the night was:

  • Tear You Up
  • The one you left to Die
  • No Man’s Land
  • Alone At Sea
  • That Shore
  • Reaching Out
  • In Exile
  • Take Your Shot
  • Show a little love
  • Fend For Yourself
  • Part Zero
  • Simple as that
  • Final Thing on my mind
  • Encores Snow drops / Nothing at best.

The show was recorded and will be released in various packages on the 6th October as ‘Where We Stood’.

First the limitations. I had no access to the package in itself with the multitude of mixes and vinyl stuff which Kscope have produced as a rather excellent showcase of a live band in full flow in front of a passionate audience. I will review what I have seen which is the concert DVD footage and the documentary footage. After all, this is the actual product they are selling in its many forms.

I am a music fan and believe the arena of the stage and live presentation is often the best judge of what a band is capable of in the purest form. A band can live or die on what it does on stage and putting out a DVD of a stage set is a brave thing to do for any band but it seems to be a common thing to do these days.

The set is mainly drawn from the recent album and shows the music in a new light with an additional dimension to the material. The band is completely together in this and are a very slick and tight outfit putting on a show worthy of a much larger stage and audience.

Visually it is a delight and it is also of a very high quality sound (which is available as a standalone live album). It comes as close to letting you be there during the actual performance as any DVD can. The band as individuals get fair shares of shots and it lingers on key musical moments like solos, licks or breaks.  High points for me are, obviously, Snow Drops and Take Your Shot but Exiles and the opening tracks Tear You Up and The One You left To Die also deserve special mention. The set flows like water and is a fine surrogate for those who missed the tour and also as a souvenir for those who have seen this line up recently.

Bravely the new album fills the set list but has a different tone and quality to the studio version. Gavin brings a new feel to the older songs and adds to the live versions. Bruce is a great front man and connects to the audience well. This brings me to a couple of frustrations which I hope can be resolved with the DVD menu manipulations. The show is interspersed with interviews with the guys which ruins the flow of the concert. They could as easily been dropped into the additional 15 minute documentary of the back stage, pre and post show scenes.   Instead I would have let the whole gig play and get the interactions of the band with the audience. I want to feel like I am at the gig and that gets broken up.  Having said that it is relatively minor gripe for what is a great visual presentation of a great band in full flow.

For fans it is an essential purchase but also if you have even a slight interest in good intelligent music then buy it and see what ‘good’ looks like as well as sounds like.

Released 6th October 2016.

Order all formats from the Kscope store at Burning Shed

(Featured image credit: DIANA SEIFERT)

 

 

Review – Whitewater – Universal Medium – by Emma Roebuck

We move into the autumn and the new releases are starting to roll in for the new season after a fairly quiet summer.  The Naughty Pachyderm is no exception to this seasonal pattern. I expect a whole raft of new and exciting music from all corners in the coming weeks.

The first on my list for autumn is this new album from Whitewater‘Universal Medium’. Whitewater is the brainchild of singer and multi-instrumentalist Stuart Stephens and percussionist and programmer Paul Powell. I am going to be honest and say until this landed in my inbox I knew nothing of the guys and what they did but this their second album after the debut ‘Obscured By The Sun’ in March 2015. In many ways this is a good thing as I had zero expectations of the music or the sound they were aiming for when making their music.

My initial thoughts on first listening were that of a fine use of melody and sound to construct a soundscape from the keyboard which is very atmospheric, building layer by layer to the core of the pieces. This is very obvious in the first tack Light of Day evoking a sunrise drawing in an insistent bass line that drives into the vocals. Everything is understated on the track which brings a level of intensity inversely proportionate to the music. It has a tension to it which tells the story of the song, of the way we hide ourselves behind layers of emotions.

Seconds Fade Away is in two parts, again an atmospheric short keyboard driven piece accompanied by acoustic guitar. It is an apparently simple introduction but has a strength in its simplicity going straight into part two which is the meat of the song, an unhurried examination of the race of life as each second of our lives fades away. The irony of the unhurried approach offsetting the speed of life could be the hidden message to savour life as we wander though the days, weeks and years blindly. You cannot fault the skill and writing of the construction the music but personally I would like to have the guitar higher in the mix when the solo hits at the end.

Onto a very electronic music based Filtered Images which reminds me of the late 70s Tangerine Dream both in tone and quality but it also collides with mid period Porcupine Tree about halfway through. Call it a collision of 70s and 90s in a 21st century setting. At 9:33 minutes I would love to see it longer with greater exploration of the themes but it keeps the attention throughout the instrumental track with variations in atmosphere and tone.

Fallen has a guest vocal on it in the form of Mike Kershaw, a fellow Pachyderm artist. The addition of Mike introduces a sinister layer to the track’ the theme of failure and the impact of failure on the Fallen of the song. The guitar has a huge part to play in this track with a superb solo which is both restrained yet exuberant. It has great atmosphere and draws the listener into the music.

Moon Pulls Pt 1 to 4 is an epic piece that runs just short of 14 minutes long, again with Mike on guest vocals and is the strongest track on the album from my listening. It is a love song, one using gravity and the orbit of the moon and its affect as a metaphor for the emotional turmoil of that dread emotion. Musically it pulls together the guys as a whole and is as complete a way to show what they can do as a band as any other track. It has the layered keyboards and it is not an insipid traditional song to the woes of love but a sincere exploration of the feelings.

I rarely talk about all the tracks on an album I review but give a flavour of the album and try to leave the buyer a reason to find out about the rest. This release is no exception as all 9 tracks have much to offer any listener who cares to spend their money on this release.

I will say this, ‘Universal Medium’ is album that from play one is instantly familiar but also stands repeated plays as you plummet the depths of the construction of the music and the many layers the guys have put into the album. There is no thrash or pastoral sound to Whitewater, they are measured and careful which is reflected in the intensity of the music, yet it can be played on a superficial level in the background and still break through to the listener. For fans of classic Floyd, Electronica, Porcupine Tree there is much to gain from this album. I am off to find the rest of the back catalogue and check it out.

released 22nd September 2017

Order ‘Universal Medium’ from bandcamp here

 

 

 

Seconds fade Away” is in two parts again an atmospheric short keyboard driven piece accompanied by acoustic guitar it is an apparently simple introduction but has a strength in its simplicity going straight into part two which is the meat of the song which is an unhurried examination of the race of life as each second of our lives fades away. The irony of the unhurried approach offsetting the speed of life could be the hidden message to savour life as we wander though the days, weeks and years blindly.  You cannot fault the skill and writing of the construction the music but personally I would like to have the guitar higher in the mix when the solo hits at the end.

 

Review – My Tricksy Spirit – My Tricksy Spirit – by Emma Roebuck

‘Balinese gender wayang’, three words that don’t spring to mind, even to the most ardent musicologist let alone this enthusiastic amateur reviewer, but that is the instrument of choice of Nick Gray,the main driver of this project, along with Charlie Cawood (Knifeworld,  Mediaeval Baebes) and Rob Shipster (MatchMusic), latterly joined by Roxanne Aisthorpe as a guest vocalist and now a full member.

A Balinese gender wayang (mainly because I wanted to know what one looked like.)

In the current climate of “Is it Prog-gate?” I am loathe to categorise this album in any shape or form mainly because it does defy pigeonholing and I do not want to get involved in a pointless debate.

To the music; Nick lectures in South East Asian music and this is a central pillar of the album with a very western twist. Percussion and rhythm sit front and centre in the whole album, as you would expect. Equally there is nothing traditional in the structure and form of the album, despite there being 7 tracks, it flows from beginning to end in complete connectivity.

Always with You opens with beeps and tones going into an insistent rhythmic drive (from the said gender wayang) that gives an electronic dance music feel but not a 4/4 120BPM time signature. Roxanne gives a Rock In Opposition vocal performance, counterpointing the music beautifully. If it ran to 4 minutes then Radio One and the like would be all over this like a Bee is to nectar, but it runs to 10 minutes plus without repetition or tedium. This track sits very well in the current cadre of intelligent music coming from leftfield with no genre to call their own or willing to claim them. Her voice reminds me much of Mishkin Fitzgerald of Birdeatsbaby in tone and quality.

Free Of Stars takes me immediately back to my student daze (sorry, ‘days’) in the early 80s in Manchester. This is not because it sounds like the music of the time but because I spent much time in places like “The Band on The Wall” watching some of the dub reggae and toasting sessions with the sound systems of the time.  The heavy off beat bass line that is distorted in Dub style drifts through the track completely filling the sound,giving the sub woofer a great work out and it wipes out a few cobwebs in the process.

Dropping straight into Coming Down Again, a discordant violin and warped keyboard with Nick (I think) on vocals along with a sitar solo and, again, the east Asian percussion give this a unique feel and a sense of otherworldliness. Which I’m sure is the intention given the title.

Skipping a few tracks on, as I prefer to give a flavour rather than a blow by blow view letting interested parties find something to discover in this delightful album, we come to Circle of Light, which is very much the closest to western song structure and something that I can give potential purchasers a comparator to act as a frame of reference. If you own a copy of ‘Live Herald’ by Steve Hillage then add what he is up to these days with System 7 and then you will be close. I can see a remix of this working fantastically in the likes of Creamfields or, for the older ones among us, Tribal Gathering. It is trancy, danceable and contagious in a good way.

The album closes out with Dub of Stars which, as the advert says, does exactly what it says on the tin. Wide open spacey and full of huge bass and Dub “echoiness”, this is 2.00am crank the volume up bassiness to annoy the neighbours and have a groove to music. I defy anyone not to move to the rhythm of this song as they listen to it.

Now this is not music for the unadventurous, if you are a pastoral classical western music fan with a love of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus, and instrumental close mentality, then maybe avoid it but you will miss out on something rather special. Fans of Gong, both the Daevid Allen and Pierre Moerlen versions, Firefly Burning, Steve Hillage, World music, Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush you will get something from this album. Bad Elephant Music is more and more becoming a beacon for quality, whether you like the output or not; there is no argument about that in my eyes. This album has that quality and its rich layered multi-instrumental structure dares to explore places that few are looking. However it remains accessible and not even vaguely in the ‘difficult to listen to’ box.

Released 1st September 2017

Buy ‘My Tricksy Spirit’ from Bad Elephant Music here

 

 

Review – Damanek – On Track – by Emma Roebuck

Damanek is DAn Mash, Guy MANing and MarEK Arnold (with Sean Timms coming to the party just a after the band name was decided, Guy tells me.)  A fairly stellar cast is joined by other heavenly bodies to guest on this, the debut album of this project.

Brody Thomas Green (‘Southern Empire’) – drums.
Tim Irrgang
 (‘UPF’) – percussion.
Antonio Vittozzi (‘Soul Secret’) – guitars.
Luke Machin
 (‘Maschine’/’Kiama’/’The Tangent’) – guitars.
Stephen Dundon
 (‘Molly Bloom’) – flute. 
Nick Magnus
 – keyboards.
Phideaux – vocals.
Ulf Reinhardt
 (‘Seven Steps to the Green Door’) – drums.

Their live debut at Summers End 2016 caused a stir and a buzz of excitement in the crowd and the Prog community as a whole. It is strong album from beginning to end and it is also, as you would expect from Guy, one with a message. If I am honest it has many messages all in the main told through the allegorical story telling of guys lyrics.

We have 8 tracks that have light and shade along with the complex use of instruments and layers to play parts in the sound. The production is outstanding and reminds of some of the classic albums of the 80’s (but without sounding like an 80’s Prog album.) Sean has done an excellent job in the mix and production of this truly global album.

The opener Nanabohzo and the Rainbow opens with a tribal rhythm and an insistent bass and drum riff throughout give an exotic feel to the track and a rather excellent ear worm quality. Marek has a big part to play with his Sax and, along with Sean on keyboards, is the flesh on the bones of the rhythm. Guy’s voice is on form all the way through the album, it slots so well in the sound as it shifts in form throughout the song.

Long Time, Shadow Falls, this has the most 80’s feel to me, drawing from the best of what Peter Gabriel in style and form did in the mid 80’s. I think it is the keyboard sound but the song is a commentary on poaching and the impact of man that is sung from the view of the victims, the Rhino, the Elephant and the Hippos. It is our gift to stop this but as a species we are doing a poor job.

Just pictures in a glossy magazine
Long time, a shadow falls and the Earth is lessened”

With the demise of the natural world we are lessened more than we realise.

The Cosmic Score is told on a much larger scale with the keyboards of Nick Magnus adding much to it. Imagine if you will the stars are notes on the score of the universe and the music of the universe is playing forever but how badly are we affecting that score on our little planet? It is massive in scope and symphonic in sound.

Believer – Redeemer could be a jazz-funk soul piece, in fact it is to these ears and a real pleasure to listen to as well. The music is a metaphor to the lyric, challenging the prog fan to step outside and listen to a world beyond the Prog bubble. The lyric does the same to the intolerant and unaccepting people of this world. I could honestly hear George Benson or Stanley Clarke doing a cover of this with little or no changes. Oh, by the way, this is a good thing!

Guy has a pixie like sense of humour and in The Big Parade it comes out in spades. The guys here write an anti-war song to a martial beat. The pomposity of marching music along with the beat of an Umpah band make the idiocy of war look like what it is – a playground for overgrown bullies. Reminiscent of Tom Waits “In the Neighbourhood”, with hints of ragtime and New Orleans jazz, here Marek gets to show off his skills to great effect.

The Finale on the album is Dark Sun, a 14 minute epic and  truly prog of ‘end of days’ proportions, it’s honestly scary and as ominous as its topic. The sun is getting darker and light gets dimmer as we kill the planet. Air gets thicker with pollution. The sight of our cities in the sunlight with unbreathable air and thick smog hanging like a veil over our lives. It utilises an excellent instrumental break and brilliant piece of guitar keyboard jamming with the brass synchronising beautifully.

I paint a picture of an album that is fundamentally depressing and dispiriting but it is actually very uplifting. The music is tight and full with the quality you would expect from the players but no one dominates in this and it feels like a complete piece of work. The malbum feels global with influences from across boundaries and geography. The messages may be a warning but each song offers hope rather than a sense of inevitable doom. It bears playing and playing again.

I sincerely hope that Damanek produce another album and take it out on the road. I won’t reference bands (as I usually do) but this is an album that has melody and song structure by the bucket load and is not frightened to go outside limiting parameters.

Released 15th May 2017

Buy ‘On Track’ from GEP

 

 

Review – Jet Black Sea – Absorption Lines – by Emma Roebuck

Jet Black Sea: when I got this through my inbox I admit as to being blind to who they were or what to expect, apart from a brief listen to the demos on the band’s Facebook page which was enough to pique my interest.

Adrian Jones’ name popped up and then the penny dropped and the fog cleared with a tinge of familiarity, Nine Stones Close. He is bit of a creative tornado and, like many musicians in the progressive field, prolific in guesting on many other albums. ‘Absorption Lines’ is the second with Michel Simons, the first being ‘The Path Of Least Existence’, released in November of 2013. I did some ferreting around after my first listen through of this one after a very oh my response. Normally the first time I play any album it is to purge out what I have listened to before and get a general feel of what I am listening to musically. I can then flood my mind with the music so all I have is what any musician has created. I never make a snap judgement, I just get a first impression. My first impression here was very much this is special and I immediately flipped back to the start.

Adrian Jones: talent, Michel Simons: cool dance moves”

To the music which is described as experimental, ambient and dark progressive by the guys themselves and that description ispretty much spot on for me. On paper this is an album of 7 pieces of music or songs with guests:

Pieter van Hoorn: drums on Wrong Turn, The Sixth Wheel & Cathedral
Brendan Eyre: keyboards on The Sixth Wheel & Cathedral
Paul van Zeeland: bass guitar on Cathedral
Adrian ‘Aio’ O’Shaughnessy: vocals on Cathedral
Tony Patterson: vocals on Hours Slip Into Days

I am going to say that this is actually one piece of consciousness flowing into the recording and divided up into digestible chunks. It is fluid and connected and thus really difficult to do any song by song break down. Musically the journey is rich, varied and textured with more influences than you can shake a stick at, from the ambient trance dance of The Wrong Turn flowing into the middle-eastern doom chording of The Sixth Wheel, Brendan providing the tonal variation drawing the ear to the Minarets and deserts of the Arab Peninsula and North Africa.

Suddenly we join the crew of Apollo 13 for Jumping to Conclusions and a short ambient Berlin School piece drifting in the vacuum of space with Absorption Lines, which flows into a classic Floydian jam session drifting of guitar, keyboards and vocals.

It continues pretty much in this vein through Cathedral until we have a “brass” song as such, with Adrian O’Shaughnessy on vocals and some very understated but powerful guitar work from Mr Jones. Without missing a beat we find ourselves in Hours Slip Into Days, Tony’s voice is silky soft and sits in the sweet spot at the centre of the melody, carrying you into the void beyond this world. We lapse to the end of 133 hours, the time the world held its breath while we waited for Apollo 13 to return home safely. This is a musical and thematic soundtrack to Houston and the Crew of Apollo 13 conversations. It is electronic music married with understated guitar that is built on pure atmospherics.

The album is a sonic experience and as a DJ I want people to hear this and hear what I hear. Playing a track won’t cut it for me as it misses the rest of the release. It is an album not a collection of songs, it flows and grows from one end to the other filling the listener and drawing them through and into it. I am a lover of the discipline of the album, maybe it is my love of classical and electronic long form music but this sits in the same place. Adrian and Michel are not frightened to go outside traditional structure and style and they understand their art and want to see how far it can go.

Fans of Cosmograf, Public Service Broadcasting, Autechre, Scanners, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Robert Fripp and Eno will find succour and pleasure in this album. It is individual in its style and is “Jet Black Sea “rather than a version of someone else. I would say this: when you buy this album switch the connections off to the world and spend 45 minutes just letting the music swallow you up, better still, take 90 minutes and go round twice.

Released 30th June 2017

Buy ‘Absorption Lines’ from FREIA Music UK (UK & Ireland)

Buy ‘Absorption Lines’ from FREIA (Europe):

Jet Black Sea – ABSORPTION LINES

Review – Gentle Knife – Clock Unwound – by Emma Roebuck

Gentle Knife is a Norwegian Ensemble of 11 members:

Astraea Antal – flutes, woodwinds and visuals
Pål Bjørseth – keyboards, vocals, trumpet
Odd Grønvold – basses
Thomas Hylland Eriksen – sax and woodwinds
Veronika Hørven Jensen – vocals
Håkon Kavli – vocals, guitars
Eivind Lorentzen – guitars and synths
Charlotte Valstad Nielsen – sax
Ove Christian Owe – guitars
Ole Martin Svendsen – drums, percussion
Brian M. Talgo – samples, words, vocals, visions and artwork

There is a saying that too many cooks spoil the broth and you would think that 11 chefs would create a truly chaotic spoiled broth. I am glad to say that this, the follow up to Gentle Knife’s eponymous debut in 2015, is one where the chaos is always under control and adds to the sum of the 11 parts and the very disciplined approach to the music that they make.

The relentless passage of time is the main theme of our 2nd album, Clock Unwound, which delves into lives overshadowed by longing and disappointment. Plans go askew, lovers betray and dreams fade. Yet, as a sense of resignation descends upon a dystopic inner landscape, moments of beauty remain. Songs are epic in format, and play across a broad spectrum of emotions.”

The promotional material tells us, and it is true to a point, but I hear more.  I have lived with this as an album for a few weeks and see many metaphors for the modern world here beyond the main theme of the album. It dances with a classic Progressive Rock feel with an end to end flow that, for this listener, is important for anyone planning on buying it does just that, listen to the completed album rather than piece meal track by track. The whole is far greater than the parts with themes carried over from track to track reflected and distorted by the huge range of instruments they have on call.

(Photo by Vidar Jensen)

Opening with Prelude Incipit, an overture to ease us into the album. A grand piano with ominous chords and a doom laden solitary Trumpet over the top hails the tragic end of times, plaintive and hollow. Dropping straight in to the title track via a lovely guitar life, Clock Unwound is straight from the Steven Wilson play book. Keyboards, guitars down-beat and a distorted vocal giving it a slightly steam punk feels then it veers off onto a remarkable musical journey swapping guitar and keyboard as they battle for supremacy. Veronika has a dissonant vocal line which then harmonises beautifully with the tale of regret and lost hope.  Failed love and life are thematically reflected both in the lyrics and musically. Fans of VDGG will find something here with the way the brass adds to the chaos of destruction and entropy. It is a 15 minute epic but your attention does not waiver and it passes by all too soon.

Fade Away will draw in the fans of Big Big Train, Moody Blues and BJH with its brass and Mellotron opening and is completely unhurried until a middle section of big Sax and Moogs show how carefully balanced the band is in the studio with an orchestral feel to the arrangements. Rapid and mixed time and key changes drop into 2 or three different styles in a 3 or four minute instrumental section. The poignant use of flute highlights the deep sense of looking for what is lost and will never  return. The way Veronika and Brian share and harmonise the lyrical conversation works very well to define the song.

This is a quick jump to Smother, a manic track that always feels close to chaos and a musical riot but then comes back from the edge, again it’s a perfect match for the lyrics, the idea of defeat and loss of all, close to achievement but missed despite all. The dream, highlighted by a jazz section of halcyon days, is all the more painful for the memory of its loss. The brass in this never intrudes but is always here in the right measure.

Plans Askew is the simplest track on the album by far and is almost a straight rock power ballad in form. The Acoustic guitar introduction in this is building on the continuing theme of chaotic loss but critiqued externally as a narrative rather than a first person perspective, it then becomes something else entirely.

Resignation, the joker in the pack and final track on the album, returns us to the primary theme of despair. We have a deceptively sparse track of the end of time for the person and the world as we know it. The song is narrated rather than sung and a weary soul speaks of giving up on all things in a universal expression of depression and loss. This track really picks out the way Ole Martin Svendsen (on drums) and Odd Grønvold (on bass) work to be the foundation that supports the every present mix of music so despite the potential chance of chaos, it never actually happens because they are solid as a rock throughout.

Overall the way this album works deserves praise for its maturity and skill in song writing but also the disciplined studio work. There is plenty for the classic Prog fan but it isn’t a mirror of the past, it actually feels like it belongs in 2017 not 1973. This is slick where it needs to be and raucous at other times. I review every song of an album but feel the variation on ‘Clock Unwound’ needed just such a treatment. That is like quite a few of the albums made in recent years and proves to me personally that good and intelligent music can be produced despite being ignored in the boardrooms of the big labels of the world.

Released 15th June 2017

Order ‘Clock Unwound’ via Caerllysi Music

(Featured image by Thomas Hysvær)