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)

 

 

Review of ‘Black Science’ by Machines Dream – by Emma Roebuck

Not having the time pressures of a “proper music journalist” means that I have the opportunity to mull and digest an album I am given for review as I’m not on a specific dead line most times. Occasionally I am asked to get one done quickly but thankfully I am not on this album. I have played this one through a couple of times a night through headphones while reading since it was sent to me. You could call it a longevity test or the fact It makes great night time listening while immersed in a novel. Both are true in this case as the album will take repeated listening and doesn’t become tiresome in any way.

Most people who know me are aware I am fascinated by the human condition and people politics and this album ticks those boxes and then some. The band describe the album thus;

“Black Science is a musically powerful progressive rock album that thematically explores the dark side of humanity and technology.”

I would agree that it is thematic rather than a concept as the songs do connect and flow excellently and explore modern life and the challenges that are very prescient in the minds of many. Yet I would say it will not become dated in any way.

Opening with a short track Armistice Day, highly reminiscent of a Roger Waters’ vocal style, it’s a doom laden post apocalypse electronic minute and a half that drops straight into Weimar, with a truly ‘Prog’ keyboards, piano and guitar symphonic introduction followed by a very open vocal . It’s very odd as I read this as a narrative close to the series “Handmaidens Tale” currently unsettling the public on Channel 4. There are musical hints of a backward baroque Harpsichord in the vocal breaks then a huge rocking out of synths and general guitar indulgence. Time and key changes rip through this 10 minute mini-epic, a treatise on society’s misogyny and patriarchal dominance. One caveat with this is my reading of the song and I may be off the mark and seeing something that the band don’t.

Cannons Cry opens with a heavy riff and a martial theme that warns of the rise of fascism and the use of propaganda to drive towards an oncoming war of the destruction of common values and principles. These guys are fans of classic Waters/Gilmour Floyd and though this is obvious but not in any way that is derogatory, only complimentary, to the music.

Airfield on Sunwick is very very English despite these guys being Ontario based. Fans of Big Big Train will find solace in a track that is very spartan in structure with lots of space in the music. Guesting on vocals on this, Jakub Olejnik (of band Sound Of Maze) adds real authenticity. This is a song of tragic conscription and the loss of country by Polish refugees in the post 1939 invasion period. Referencing Wojtek, a bear adopted and given a rank of private in the forces in World War two. It has a beautiful tone and quality about it.

Black Science is a real homage to the 70s if ever I heard one. A warning of the darker side of the misuse of science, a very simple tune and the use of the saxophone solo at the end literally took straight back to 1973 as Josh Norling superbly channels the spirit of the use of the instrument so effectively, deliberately referencing our nostalgia for a supposedly better time.

Noise to Signal, the closer on the album, is a real standout track for me combining doom chords and huge sounds to scare the pants of you in a treatise on how social media has filled our lives with noise over substance. Not a second is wasted on this track and it’s as tight as you could possibly get in a studio recording.

The eight tracks on this, their third album, show huge maturity and discipline in writing and production. It is crafted excellently and thoughtfully and fans of music in general will find much to enjoy in this album. Fans of the progressive genre particularly should lap it up as it carries a sense of the past while being still relevant to the early 21st century. These Canadians have a touch and an ear for music that needs to be shared.

Machines Dream are:

Brian Holmes: Keyboards.
Craig West: Bass and vocals.
Jake Rendell: Acoustic and backing vocals.
Ken Coulter: Drums.
Rob Coleman: Lead guitar.

With contributions from saxophonist Josh Norling.

Released 12th June 2017

Buy ‘Black Science’ from Progressive Gears here