Review – Robert Reed – Variation On Themes By David Bedford – by James R. Turner

I like Robert Reed, I think the work he has done with Magenta is stunning, and I do wish he’d finish the sequel to Chimpan A.

I also love David Bedford (and indeed Mike Oldfield) and the influence that both Bedford and Oldfield had on contemporary classical and rock genres are there for everyone to see.

So you’d think that the merger of these great musicians would work? Well…

Following on his successful ‘tonight Matthew I’m going to be Mike Oldfield’ ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Sanctuary’ II homages, Robert brings his not inconsiderable talents to bear on rearranging three of David Bedford’s shorter and more commercial pieces.

You get Rio Grande with great vocals from Angharad Brinn, King Aeolus (featuring Mikes brother, Terry Oldfield on his trademark flute) and Nurses Songs with Elephants, all reinterpreted in the Robert Reed does Mike Oldfield style, right down to the Oldfieldesque languid guitar and production techniques.

Now as pieces of music, they are all superb. Bedford was after all an amazing composer, his work of melody and structure are known to all, and it would take an absolute fool to mess them up. Robert is no fool, and the performances on the tracks are great, musically adept, and as homage to Bedford set out all they achieve to do with great skill and dexterity.

However the whole EP, especially with 3 different versions of Rio Grande and Nurses Songs with Elephants (definite overkill there) is a bit of an unnecessary extravagance, surely it would have been more fun musically, not to mention more challenging to reinvent the ‘Stars End’ suite?

I like the music, I like the performances, but something about it doesn’t grab me where it should do. It doesn’t resonate emotionally with me like the originals do, and whilst it’s pleasant to listen to once or twice, I will reach for the original Bedford albums every time over this.

It seems to me that this is a bit of musical self-indulgence and a trip too far down the Oldfield road, with the musical returns diminishing every time.

There are people who will love this, however I think I’m going to go and make a cuppa and put ‘Stars End’ on.

Released 12th June 2017

Buy ‘Variations On Themes By David Bedford’ from bandcamp

Main feature image of Robert Reed by Howard Rankin.

Review – Sky Architect – Nomad – by James R. Turner

This is the fourth album from Rotterdam based Sky Architect, following up 2013’s ‘A Billion years of Solitude’, and while 4 years may seem a long time to make a record, in this era of everything now and instant gratification it is wonderful to hear the sound of a band who have taken the time, and the energy to put some real thought into their music.

And real thought indeed, as while this is a musical pot pourri of sounds and influences, not so much crossing genres, but tearing down the musical boarders and playing what fits the song, let me answer the bloody annoying question that seems to be hitting every single internet forum for intelligent well thought our music, is it prog? No it isn’t, it’s far better than that.

I do despair sometimes of the current scene where old bands continue to milk their fans dry for every last penny (enamel badges anyone?) whilst new young vital bands like this almost slip under the radar.

This five piece of Tom Luchies (vocals/guitar), Rik Van Honk (keys/horns) Wabe Wieringa (guitars) Gus van Mierlo (bass) and Christiaan Bruin (drums and percussion) are one of those bands where you know they have spent so long working together that they play by instinct and feel, no note is wasted, and the way they musically spar and bounce of each other (like in the wonderful opener Wasteland for instance) brings a big smile to the face.

Endless Roads evokes elements of classic 70’s rock with it’s wonderful mix of guitar and horns, and some fantastic keys, whilst the propulsive percussion and production sound roots it in the contemporary, and the astonishing extended coda with the way the instruments work together is fantastic before the chorus kicks back in, it’s absolutely OK to be influenced by and pay a homage to certain sounds of certain era’s, and then make something new from it, which Sky Architect do with aplomb, it’s not OK to get stuck there and bring nothing new to the table.

The title track Nomad mixes some wonderfully squelchy synth sounds and a great beat, crossing jazz, rock and who knows what to pull together a wonderfully anthemic chorus, and in certain elements, reminds me very much of Ritual, another band who weren’t just pushing boundaries but tearing them down.

Dune shows that the band aren’t just talented instrumentalists but that they can also pull some big riffs out of the bag, and whilst I’ve not mentioned Tom’s vocals much, they are the glue that binds the songs together, and he has a great range going from the higher end for the anthems to being able to rock out, and it is one of those brooding songs that builds and builds, with some great guitar work, whilst the drum and bass anchors the sound, allowing the riffs to grow and grow until the whole band just kick in with another piece of complex and intricate music, that is the hallmark of their sound.

What I love about this band is that there is no obvious musical ego, no one person pushing themselves going ‘me,me,me’, it is all about the music, and whatever works best for the song, and on tracks like Sandwalker, with some sublime guitar playing to the fore, this shows that they are a band, and not just a front man and some session musicians, and the music is all the better for this. The great guitar riffs, and wonderful keyboard sounds make this song for me.

Race to the Sun is probably the ‘pop’ song on this album, being one of the shortest tracks, and it has some fantastic musical moments, with elements of harder rock and funky breaks making a perfectly fitting contrast to each part. In less skilled hands the counterparts would sound forced or jarred, with Sky Architect it just works.

The final track, the epic Into Singularity rounds this excellent album off in style, brings all the elements that make them such an exciting band together in one glorious blast of sound, with some amazing horn work and vocals, an absolute belter of a song that is allowed room to grow and build.

As a reviewer I love getting albums like this because it brings new music into my life, and refreshes me as I listen to something I have never heard before, and it also saddens me somewhat to know that whilst these bands are making amazing new music it won’t get anywhere near the attention that *insert name here’s * latest boxed set of recycled music that we’ve heard a thousand times before will get more likes and shares and purchases than fresh, vital and vibrant music like this.

Sky Architect are a joy to listen to, pulling together complex and intelligently written songs that bounce across genres with ease and joie de vivre, and are one to add to your must hear list.

Before being sent this to review, Sky Architect weren’t a name that had tripped into my play list before, and that has obviously been my loss, as I always say there’s only three types of music in this world, that which I like, that which I don’t like, and that which I’ve not heard yet, and I’m happy to move Sky Architect from the third list to the first category. I think you should too.

All band photographs by Maartje Dekker.

Released 16th June 2017

Buy ‘Nomad’ from FREIA Music UK

Buy ‘Nomad’ in Europe from FREIA Music:

Sky Architect – NOMAD

Review – Nicholas Pegg & David Palfreyman – Decades – by James R. Turner

The concept album, in some quarters it’s a dirty word, the worst excesses of the 1970’s, to some they are bloated behemoths all style and no substance.

To others, the concept album is the pinnacle in musical achievement, to paraphrase something Andy Tillison once said to me, “They are the equivalent of a soundtrack where the film hasn’t been made yet.”

The best and most fulfilling concept albums use all the space the record can provide to build atmosphere, layer on layer of dramatic and musical counterpoints and draw the listener in, and most crucially leave them wanting more.

This is what ‘Decades‘, the new project by acclaimed singer/songwriter David Palfreyman and actor/director Nicholas Pegg (a highly renowned David Bowie expert, and a Dalek in Doctor Who) does. Across four acts and 20 songs (one whole double album, yes it’s available on vinyl, as well as CD and download) it tells the story of the mysterious Kelver Leash as an old man, looking back over his life of fame and fortune.

I had an email conversation with Nicholas and David about the album, which you can read further down however before that, here are my thoughts on this ambitious release.

The beauty with the story is that it’s ambiguous enough for you to put your own interpretations on who and how Kelver became famous, and the musical backdrop fits the whole back story, with the styles and sounds genre hopping and crossing the genres and decades with verve and aplomb.

Some albums which blurs genres and sounds can seem contrived or forced, not ‘Decades‘, the way each song evokes a particular era, and is used to tell Kelver’s story is well thought out, and works perfectly as the acts move on.

With some sublime spoken word dialogue, and an astonishing cast of actors, with character actor David Warner (a name familiar to fans of British horror, and one of the finest actors of his generation) playing Kelver in the present day, and the scenes between him and his agent played by the incomparable Jacqueline Pearce, absolutely crackle with dramatic tension and personality, and the they bounce off each other like they are having a ball.

Kelver as a young man is played by Richard Coyle, and as he is living the celebrity life old Kelver is looking back on, he walks through the play like he owns the stage, a knowing wink here, and a twinkle in the eye throughout, whilst it’s talented newcomer Edward Holtom, who plays Kelver as a young boy that adds to the back story.

With Jan Ravens (Dead Ringers, Spitting Image) playing Jemma/Kelvers Mother and the mysterious Lady Blue, she gets to use her dramatic talents to the full, and the versatile voice artist Simon Greenall (Benidorm, I’m Alan Partridge) plays the roles of 60’s TV news reporter and 1970’s chat show host with aplomb and absolutely authentic to the era that Kelver is reminiscing about.

When you have a cast of actors as strong as this, it’s a case of either go hard or go home with the music and performances, and as the concept grew organically, it doesn’t put a foot wrong musically, covering all bases and all era’s, from the wonderful theme to ‘Decades‘, with it’s fantastic groove and sax sound, to the brilliant There Goes my Darling, with Mitch Benn providing a wonderful lead vocal.

In fact the vocalists and musicans on here are top notch, you have the powerfully soulful Sarah Jane Morris (whose duet with Ian Shaw, Kick On, brings to mind that big show stopper sound of the late 60’s, with Shaw (awarded best singer at the BBC jazz awards for two years) bringing his best Tom Jones to the table. Morris also shines on the albums lead single, the powerfully poignant All Fall Down.

The wonderfully wistful Faraway Day is sung by Jessica Lee Morgan, another powerful female vocalist (whose parents happen to be Tony Visconti and Mary Hopkin). Whilst David Palfreyman showcases his impressive vocal talents on Dead End Morning and Love you ’til Burn Out among others.

The hauntingly beautiful Lady Blue, with it’s beautiful guitar work, and gorgeous vocals is sung by Eliza Skelton, who also contributes vocals to the darker and more intense Blue Requiem, two songs that perfectly contrast each other.

Each vocalist has been hand picked for the songs and with talents like Cassidy Janson’s vocals on the fab Eyes Wide which draws on the best electro pop, and in the tradition of the greatest electronic songs has a wonderfully metronomic beat and powerfully soulful vocals, and Beth Cannon (Escape to Dream, Who knows what is true? Full Circle & Broken Trend). As an aside, there is a name familiar to us all, occasional Oliver Wakeman vocalist, the wonderful Paul Manzi cropping up on backing vocals, no expense has been spared, and this adds so much depth and soul to the album that it is a joy to listen to.

There is an amazing music collective performing on this album, and Palfreyman and Pegg prove themselves adept at bringing together a powerful ensemble to give each song the performance it deserves, with the cream of the musical crop bringing their all, special mention has got to go to the saxes of Gary Barnacle (who also provides wistful flute work), Terry Edwards and John Fordham, as the sound of a sax solo always sends a shiver down my spine and keeps me listening.

All Fall Down, as mentioned earlier is one of the tracks on the album, and it encapsulates the story in a nutshell for me, and is an astonishing piece of musical beauty, and the video is also worth a watch as well.

Who is Kelver Leash? I have my ideas, but I will let you make up your own mind, as the beauty of this record is that like all the best books/plays/films/records treats us as grown ups and allows us that space to fill based on our interpretation and imagination.

The way the music and the story intertwine is a lesson in the art of how to make the concept album work, this is ambitious, this is bold, this is well written and executed, and most of all, this album is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Nicholas Pegg and David Palfreyman should be applauded for the way they have brought this concept from paper to production, as well as perfectly matching every song to a unique vocalist and getting the casting perfect, as you can’t ever underestimate what Warner, Coyle and Holtom bring to the role of Kelver. This is one of those classic records that keep pulling you back, and one where you get something new from every listen.

This is how concept albums should be, and is for me one of the albums of the year.

Released 14th July 2017

Buy ‘Decades’ from the official webstore here

 

Review – Fish on Friday – Quiet Life – by James R Turner

This is the fourth release from Belgian born prog band Fish on Friday, and see’s them stretching their musical wings even further, having coalesced around the founding members William Beckers & Frank Van Boagaert, the line up now includes one of prog’s hardest working bassists Nick Beggs, Californian guitarist Marty Townsend and Marcus Weymaere.

Following on from 2014s Godspeed (also released on Esoteric Antenna) it takes the musical sound of accessible prog (very much in the vein of the Alan Parsons Project, Big Big Train etc) further down their journey.

With the band being introduced to Alan Parsons, one track, the wonderfully haunting In the Key of Silence, was recorded by Alan at Abbey Road, and he even adds his vocals to the track, whilst another of prog’s hard working men, Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell, adds some of his wonderfully fluid guitar work to the track.

The key to the band’s success is their songwriting, as, whilst it’s obvious plenty of hard work goes into crafting such a well realised album of this, from the outside it is like the swan gliding across the lake, we can see the beauty and the majesty and can’t see all the kicking under water as it glides effortlessly into our ears.

This album is also a grower, it’s one of those records where after two or three listens the hooks work their way into your mind, and you find yourself humming tunes, or singing the lyrics, and each listen you get more and more out of it, like a well written novel or intricately crafted piece of art, it reveals more of it’s secrets the more you listen to it.

It also makes a massive contrast from Nick Beggs’ other album release this year, the far darker and angrier Mute Gods ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth’, and his work on here is the ying to that’s yang. Restrained, fluid, and intuitive, this is Beggs at calm, and just because it’s a calmer album it doesn’t mean there’s no power behind it.

With tracks as emotive as the powerful MH17 all about the downed Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down over the Ukraine, the lyrics mix the anger and grief, and with some truly beautiful work by both Theo Travis adding his unique sound to the song, and female vocals by Chantal Kashala and Nina Babet, this is remarkable track by anyone’s standards.

Unreal, has shades of Floyd in there with some truly wonderful lyrics and a blinding guitar finale, whilst Nick Beggs daughter Lula adds her superb voice to tracks Sweet Love and Quiet Life.

The female harmonies throughout this album are sublime and add so much to the tracks that they appear on, working so well with Frank Van Boagaert’s understated, yet powerful vocal range, and I’ve known a track that is so calm and chilled, bristling with so much anger in the vocals as You’ve Hurt Me, with it’s mighty chorus and emotive lyrics.

This album runs the whole gamut of human emotion and this is in part due to the finely observed vocals and the superbly sympathetic vocals, in fact it is an immersive album, one you need to listen to and lose yourself in for the whole hour.

Fish on Friday are steadily building themselves a strong following, and you can see why on records as uniformly strong as this, and the calibre of their guests shows the quality of the band.

This is a fine successor to a great album, and should push Fish on Friday up there to where they belong.

Released 26th May 2017

Buy ‘Quiet Life’ from Cheery Red here:

Quiet Life

 

Review – Cast – Power And Outcome – by James R Turner

Apparently there are two bands called Cast, I wasn’t aware of this, and like so many bands that have the same namesake (think English Nirvana and American Nirvana – about as far removed as is possible to be) the Mexican progressive band Cast are both sonically and geographically removed from their jaunty Britpop counterparts.

Formed in Mexico in the late 70’s this is their first album since 2015’s ‘Cast Vida’, and whilst it is very much traditional prog rock, and well produced and performed, there is a slight feeling of having heard it all before, and in some instances done slightly better.

The opening 11 minutes plus of Rules of the Desert features some great guitar and keyboard interplay from Alfonso Vidales and Claudio Cordero, however too many of the keyboard solo’s are very Wakeman-lite, and with too much power and not enough outcome, there are large musical portions that veer too closely to pastiche rather than plausibility.

The title track has some wonderful symphonic work, and a beautifully understated piano and guitar interlude, with fine violin work by Roberto Izzo, that builds into a great piece of music, whilst the lyrical performances are superb, and it’s when they do something a little different on this piece that is where the album works, it is almost soundtrack like in it’s scope and the vocal interplay between Bobby Vidales and Lupita Acuna is great.

However for every moments that soar like on Power and Outcome, unfortunately there’s also too many prog by numbers moments for my liking, there are plenty of bands out there who are doing exciting new things, and on this album Cast can play and perform with the best of them.

Details is split into two parts with a) Circle Spins being a big power ballad that would fit nicely into a musical, with it’s emphasis on the lyrics, while the musical accompaniment could have fallen from the West End, whilst it’s counterpart b) Start Again is all dramatic strings, mellotron, guitar and power and fury, however it’s all be done before with Jon Lord’s classic/rock crossovers in the 70’s and the real stand out is the violin solo.

I do feel that at points on this album they show flashes of brilliance, however they are dragged down by the weight of their own history and the genres history.

This viewpoint isn’t helped by tracks like Through a Stained Glass, that mix Yes, with Genesis, and some very traditional prog sounds, that makes it very cliché ridden unfortunately.

That’s the problem I have with this album, it is well made, well produced and the band are undoubtedly talented but for every thing fresh they throw in the pot, they also regurgitate prog clichés as well.

With tracks like Illusions and Tribulations clocking in at over 9 minutes, I do think that they could have trimmed some of these tracks down, as again there is guitar and keyboard interplay that brings Wakeman/Howe to mind, as well as some of Ricks solo albums, and whilst it might have been original back in the 1970’s, it’s lots a lot of it’s lustre, because if I want to hear Wakeman/Howe soloing I will put Yes on.

That is where I sit with this album sadly, I want to love it, as it has all the ingredients that make a great prog album, unfortunately all the ingredients make it a great prog album of the 1970’s, and time has moved on.

If I want 70’s prog I will listen to Yes, Genesis, VdGG et al, and unfortunately as the prog bar has been raised so high by so many in such recent years, doing what you always did will not get you the same results as it may have done five or ten years ago.

This will probably be fantastic live, however on record it’s not something I will be returning to.

If you’re a prog fan who moans that they don’t make them like they used to do, then this is your bag, for me it’s nice enough to listen to once or twice but it won’t be hitting the best of the year charts.

(Featured image by Rey Acuña)

Released 7th March 2017

Buy ‘Power and Outcome’ from Progressive Promotion Records

 

 

 

Review – Robert Ramsay – Confound and Disturb – by James R. Turner

There follows a transcript smuggled out from under the noses of our Chicken overlords, we have been unable to verify the authenticity of the document, or indeed what happened to the brave rebel who made this recording but we can only hope he is safe, Mubla praise him.

‘Is this on…..can you hear me? Can you hear me? As you all know they rose up suddenly, whilst we were all distracted by Brexit, Trump and Armageddon, we were too busy worrying about ourselves to notice the chickens….then, they there were, they hadn’t just crossed the road, they’d built a nice big tunnel, snuck into the army bases around the world, and as we were reeling from the aftermath of the big red spark, there they were, our new overlords.

Luckily there were few with foresight, those who knew about the upcoming uprising, and the wisest of them all, some called him a seer, some a mad man, some called the twiceborn moth, all we know is he is called the Wizard Ramsay, and with his coterie around him, and a set of tantalising clues and lessons, spread throughout the world, our journey has led us here.

Who are we? You ask, well we are the resistance, following the orders of the one known only as the Great Elephant, and now…well now I am the only one left, I can’t get the image of Brother Godfrey, sitting in his tree getting pecked slowly to death by a thousand chickens as he pledged allegiance to the ducks, or Brother Stevens,  the hero of the battle of Rushden, he riffed and looped, fierce to the death.

Now I remain, and I have found what I was looking for, the mystical artefact, the legendary disc of words, we cannot fight them by force alone, we need something new, something to confound and disturb them.

…shh…’Bwak Bwack Bwack.’ Cluck, cluck,cluck,’ Bwak, Cluck, Bwak’…..

(silence. The voice goes dead…all we can hear is hissing and the sound of claws scraping on rock…)

‘….they’ve gone, that was close, that was a bantam attack, as everyone knows they are the SAS of the chicken army, where was I?

Oh yes, following the instructions on the sheet hidden by one of the Elephant sympathisers, (a gentleman only known as Wizard Wilfred) I have found the Black Box…. (what’s in the Black Box? It’s definitely not chocolates) I have it, the CD in my hand,  despite the Chicken overlords banning CD players due to them not being able to operate them with claws, luckily the mysterious man of the resistance known only as Wallet Emptier, managed to provide me with one, wrapped up in the tattered remnants of a wizards sleeve.

(sounds of cellophane being ripped, the unmistakable sound of a CD being inserted into the device, and the words of the beloved Wizard Ramsay, a Gandalf for these modern dark times echo round the chamber? Cavern? Sewer?)

Almost as if he predicted it, the first utterance from the disc of Ramsay is a Living Will, full of intensity and power, as if he knew this day would come.

Scattered throughout the sacred artefact are four lessons that will help ensure the survival of our species, all starting with the phrase ‘Ecoute et Repete’ the motto of the resistance, each one being a salutary lesson before the public service broadcasting begins.

Urging the survivors to Open a Hole, someone to survive in? somewhere to take shelter? I am reminded of the sage Moorcock as he told his tales with and without his Hawkwind compatriots, the joy of hearing music after so many months of solitary wandering makes me all giddy and euphoric, the beat hypnotic, the lyrics hitting me, and the sonic effect making up for hearing nothing but the sound of clucking and the cracking of whips as the Chickens made us build statues in their honour.

Almost like he forgot the tape was running we get some behind the scenes action from the Ramsay world, as he is interrupted by Wizard Wilfred, clearly the junior partner, and also, judging by the mishap heard here, still has a long way to go before he is as adept as Wizard Ramsay.

Almost as a warning to our hubris and our downfall, Ego Power gives us strong words for uncertain times, whilst channelling the spirit of whimsy, Stanshall and the cult of Python, Tramps In Their Purest Form is a joy to behold, Ramsay’s use of our language is bewitching and beguiling, and takes me back to the night he and the Brother Godfrey got me heroically drunk on Big Big Train beer at a concert in Rotherham, oh how I wish those days were here again.

I raise an imaginary tankard to fallen comrades, as I listen and take heed to the message, we are members of the Black Box Society, and the final victory will be ours. Hidden in plain sight, Hawaii Fried Chicken, ostensibly an alternative version of the Chicken national anthem, are words designed to inspire and enlighten us. When we hear one particular cluck, that is when the revolution will begin, and we shall be victorious, with the Wizard Ramsay leading us to salvation.

If I Rule the World is his vision of our post Hen utopia, a land where we can be free, where we can live like we should, where we can sit in trees naked outside peoples houses if we want to and no-one can stop us (not even that pesky restraining order).

Urban Crusoe, with it’s baffling co-ordinates and Egyptian references, maybe this is Ramsay telling me where I should go next, where I can find the final answer and help the resistance rise, and batter these chicken.

I will follow them…these words of wisdom, and see where they will take me…….’

Transcribers note: this tape was found wrapped in an old t-shirt, under a rock behind a dumpster near a KFC with the CD intact. It is unknown as to what happened to the brave member of the resistance who followed the clues laid down the Elephant to discover this. He did the work so we didn’t have to. Having played it I can safely say that now our chicken overlords have been defeated, this is the work of either a genius or madman or both. Channelling the spirit of Stanshall, Monty Python and old school English surrealism and word play, Wizard Ramsay has created a unique form of Magick, and one that keeps hitting the spot.

(Featured Image of Robert by Bo Hansen)

Released 23rd June 2017

Order ‘Confound and Disturb’ from Bad Elephant Music at bandcamp

Review – Syncage – Unlike Here – by James R Turner

Many years ago, there was TV show that featured a catchphrase, ‘and now for something completely different’,  and it got so overused that it became a cliché. However, after having been playing this debut album by Italian quartet Syncage for a week or so and wondering the best way to introduce it in review, that aforementioned phrase seems the only appropriate way to open with.

Considering there’s only 4 of them (aided on more of the symphonic sounds by a string quartet), they run the whole gamut of sounds and styles (including the art rock of School, with its catchy riffs and angular lyrics). The only thing I can say they even vaguely remind me of is from the first time I saw Ritual in concert, and it’s not because of the sound of the band (as Syncage sound nothing like Ritual), but more the impact they made, as I had never heard anything like it before in my life, and believe me, I mean that as a compliment.

Having been together for the past ten years since they were teenagers, you can tell that the band have grown up together, as only musicians who have clicked and know each other as well as these 4 do can make this sort of intricate and exciting music.

From the wonderful sounds on Still Unaware, with some haunting violin pieces courtesy of Matteo Graziani (who also provides the retro Hammond sounds), they mix and match genres so adeptly, switching from free form jazz and into a bit of acoustic guitar and back again with aplomb, none of this is showing off, it’s just what the music demands.

I have to also mention the amazing vocals of Matteo Nicolin as well, as he has such a diverse range from a soaring falsetto to more subtle vocals. He treats his voice as another instrument to put into the mix and it’s this attitude that makes the vocal sound on this album unique and distinctive.

There is an excellent juxtaposition of light and dark on this album, evident on tracks like Skyline Shift, which has some amazing guitar work from Nicolin, whilst Matteo’s brother Riccardo is a superb drummer/percussionist. He helps to build the sound in tandem with Daniele Tarabini, who provides some superbly fluid bass lines, and helps flesh the sound out with his flute work.

Stones Can’t Handle Gravity is a fantastic piece that showcases the acoustic side of the band with flute and violin adding so much to the sound.

Every track on this album is superbly produced and put together, you can tell that they’ve really put their hearts and souls into this album. There are two epics on here. Edelweiss, clocking in at over 14 minutes, starts with some wonderful spoken word lyrics, creating the idea of a story rather than just a song, whilst the violin builds and builds with some amazing guitar work that heads into heavier territory. As long songs go, it’s more than just a song, it’s a musical journey that is well worth going on and I can imagine that live it’s pretty bloody epic.

The other epic that closes the album, Unlike There (at just over 9 minutes long), is a microcosm of everything that makes Syncage great, from some truly astonishing string sounds that flow through the track, to the combination of the drum and bass sounds as it flows and grows. Add in some brilliant guitar and keyboard work throughout and then those vocals, wow! had I mentioned how great a vocalist Matteo Nicolin is?

This is an incredibly intelligent, superbly performed and brilliantly realised debut album, from an assured, confident and fantastic new sound.

All credit to Syncage for pulling this amazing album together, and all credit to those Bad Elephants for having the vision to release something as groundbreaking as this.

(All band photography by Filippo Tommaso Catelan.)

Released May 5th 2017

Buy ‘Unlike Here’ from bandcamp

 

Review – Heresy – Prufrock – by James R Turner

American prog band Heresy have been inactive since the late 1980’s, and now they return with their 3rd album ‘Prufrock’, an adaptation of the T S Eliot poem, now, I’ll be honest here I am unfamiliar with both Heresy and Eliot’s’ work, whilst I know he also wrote The Wasteland, and he’s influenced a variety of different artists when it came to poetry I was always a Seamus Heaney or Simon Armitage reader, and yet, like the work of the Alan Parsons Project you don’t have to be familiar with the source material to enjoy this album.

Yes, there’s bound to be a comparison with both APP and indeed the very English prog sound of Looking Glass Lantern, who have made two highly accessible and intelligent adaptations of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. This is no bad thing, because when musical adaptations on literary themes work well, they work incredibly well, and Heresy hit the spot here, the music and lyrics combine to create an eminently listenable piece of music that flows beautifully.

The album is split into two main suites, The love song of J Alfred Prufrock pts 1 & 2, which are neatly choreographed song suites that segue beautifully, with the hook line, ‘In the room, the women come and go, talking ‘bout Michelangelo’, refrained throughout the whole album, and is a line that will stick with you all day, and with the core band expanded by such musical sounds as flute, trumpet, sax and violin the musical palette they create is expansive and never loses it focus or impact.

The vocals from Tony Garone are superb throughout, with one of those wonderfully warm voices that is at turns sympathetic and empathetic to the material that the band are creating, a heady mix of rock, symphonica, baroque and whatever else fits the bill, having been 30 years in the conception you can tell the band have crafted the album round the source work, rather than shoehorn the poem into some music, and it’s this attention to detail and care taken to present the poem as a whole that really makes this album stand out from the crowd, and the linking piece of Night Vigil that splits the main suites in two is a far heavier piece, with some ominous guitar and keyboard sounds (and a very Floydian feel) apparently it is a part of the poem that was lost, and only included in later editions published after Eliot’s death (kind of like the deluxe edition of the poem if you will) and has a touch of the Van Der Graaf Generators about it, with the sax sound and vocals.

There is beautiful piano and guitar work throughout this album, and anyone who says the idea of a concept album is dead should be locked in a room and made to listen to this, this sounds amazing, is superbly consistent throughout and whilst Heresy are American they have made one of the most English sounding albums for a while.

As a bonus on the album there’s a track from a Tony Garone solo album, and 6 tracks from their debut previously unavailable on CD before, wisely these have been added on to the end, as the style, unsurprisingly is different from ‘Prufrock’, and they are worth listening to, so you can see how Heresy have developed as writers and performers.

This is well made, intelligent and complete album that will happily sit on the shelf of anyone who enjoys literary progressive rock, and is happy to immerse themselves in the album for an hour or so, as this is one of those beautiful records where you need to switch off social media, ignore the cats, pop on the headphones and lose yourself in the music, and after all at the end of the day, what more could anyone want from a record?

Released 5th December 2016

Buy ‘Prufrock’ on CD or Download via Amazon or iTunes

 

 

Review – Golden Caves – Collision – by James R Turner

A few years ago I saw a band on tour with the Darkness called Do Me Bad Things, my brother, who is almost as good at finding music that I like as David Elliott recommended them to me. Their USP was 5 different vocalists, mixing a trio of female vocalists with soul and a metal vocalist from the ‘tramp shouting in a dustbin’ persuasion, they were so good and their musical range was so diverse it inspired me to buy the album.

After one album they disappeared without a trace, leaving one great album and bags of potential.

(Romy)

I mention them now because listening to ‘Collision’, the debut album by the insanely talented Dutch band Golden Caves (out on Freia and distributed over in the UK by those nice chaps at Bad Elephant) remind me of Do Me Bad Things, if not musically then vocally, and the kicker here is that instead of needing three killer female vocalists, they have just the one, the soulful and versatile Romy Ouwerkerk whose stunning work throughout this album brings these 9 songs to life.

Formed in 2013 at the Dutch University Codarts in Rotterdam, they have been building a huge following at home, and with songs as great as this on an album that’s been honed to perfection over the past 4 years, you can see why.

(Alex)

Proving that the future of contemporary prog is very much in the hands of the youth (like the UK’s Maschine, or Saul Blease) they take the template and have crafted 9 well written and performed prog songs, with no room for lengthy epics or deviations, none of these songs get much over the 5 minutes mark, proving that sometimes less is more.

This 5 piece band have instead of filling a CD because they can, have put their heart and soul into this record, with the songs leaving you wanting more instead of thinking ‘is it over yet?’ and includes reworkings of their singles, the superb My Demons Hunt, and the simply sublime Bring me to the Water.

(Elise)

When they slot together with tracks like Doctor’s Prescription, Mother and the excellent closing When the Rain Falls, you know that this is a band who have a lot to say musically and have the confidence and skills to bring it off.

There is a great mixture of heavier guitar from Alex Ouwehand, whilst the keyboard work from Elise Polman shines throughout, and the anchors of the band Erik Stein on drums and Tim Wensick on bass allows the fluidity of the guitar and keyboards to take off.

(Erik)

As I mentioned earlier it’s Romy on the vocals that is the real revelation, soulful, rocky and on all tracks highly emotive, she is another of the new generation of progressive female vocals like Verity White or Kim Seviour who has an instantly recognisable voice, and who is firmly putting the case that contemporary prog is as much a females game as any other genre.

(Tim)

This is a mature and striking debut album from a supremely talented young band, who, based on the skills shown here and the maturity on this record, have a lot more to give, and are more than capable of making a massive impact.

If you’d not guessed so far I love this record and would put it down as the debut album of the year so far.

Released 24th March 2017

Buy ‘Collision’ in the EU from FREIA Music

Golden Caves – COLLISION

Buy ‘Collision’ in the UK from FREIA Music UK (Bad Elephant)

 

Review – The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth – by James R. Turner

The Mute Gods: ‘Tardigrades will inherit the Earth’

I had to do some googling to find out what a Tardigrade was, upon first reveal of the albums title I thought Tardigrades were what I achieved in my A levels all those dim and distant years ago, and it was ‘great my time has come’.

Upon reverting to the nearly always accurate Wikipedia it turns out a Tardigrade is not a D in media Studies but an odd looking water dwelling eight legged micro animal, sometimes known as water bears or moss piglets, it appears that these animals can survive in extreme conditions that would kill everything else, hence the title, which suggests that long after we’ve gone and done our damage to the worlds ecosystem, these little guys (no more than 0.5mm in length) will still be here.

Dark stuff indeed from the Mute Gods on their second album.

Following on from 2014’s ‘Do Nothing til you hear From Me’, Nick Beggs, Roger King and Marco Minneman have gone into even darker territory than on their debut.

Here Beggs and co are full of anger and despair at the current global situation, and this is reflected in some heavy musical passages, angry and impassioned vocals from Beggs and a musical sound that veers from outright darkness to shades of lighter music, where the mix of almost progressive metal turns on it’s head to a more melodic sound.

Having worked together as part of the Steve Hackett band, Beggs and King found a musical rapport that comes to fruition in the Mute Gods, and adding Minneman, who Beggs worked with in the Steven Wilson band, you find a musical collective who are so in tune with each other that it drives the music on.

Instead of utilising guest musicians, this record is firmly focused on the diverse and multi faceted approach that the three members bring to the table, a contemporary progressive power trio if you will. However there is none of the pomp and circumstance that you’d get from an ELP, or the look at me battle for supremacy that destroyed Cream.

Instead this is all about the music, and more importantly all about the songs on here. Tackling both his trademark Chapman stick and guitars on this album, as well as the vocals, Beggs is firmly at the forefront on this record, stepping away from the sideman role he does so well into the role of frontman, which he carries off with style and real musical presence throughout this record, the sublime sound of his guitar and bass on tracks like The Dumbing of the Stupid is one of the defining sounds of this record.

Roger Kings keyboard, guitar work and production make this a sonically adventurous release, with some real beautiful musical peaks, this is not a record for the faint hearted by any stretch, if however you want your horizons broadening and your music and lyrics full of inconvenient truths, then this is for you.

Drumming powerhouse Marco Minneman is the driving force on this record, his mighty drum sound thundering through like the hammer of Thor, as tracks like the first single We Can’t Carry On demonstrate.

The heaviness is reined in on tracks like the Early Warning, which has a melodic feel to it, not dissimilar to Lifesigns debut (which Beggs was an integral part of).

The title track has an 80’s vibe to it, with a fantastic guitar line some classic synth sounds and great vocals by Beggs, this is probably the closest to a single on the album, and one which mixes Beggs pop and prog sensibilities to create a superb song. Highlight for me on the album has to be the wonderful The Singing Fish Batticaloa with its superb vocals, and the way it grows into a moving anthemic modern prog song, is sheer ecstasy for the ears.

This album pulls no punch when it comes to painting a picture of the state of the world currently, and there are some people out there (mainly on Facebook & twitter) who think that artists shouldn’t comment on what’s happening in the world, I say why not? Some of the greatest art and music has come from a time of trouble and darkness in the world, and there’s no point our musical heroes going all ostrich on us and ignoring the current global climate of hatred and fear.

This makes this album an uneasy listen, but when it’s wrapped up in such intense and well crafted music and a superb production that allows the songs to shine, this is something you have to hear, whether you like the message or not.

Released February 24th 2017

Buy ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth’ from Burning Shed’s Inside Out Store