Review – The Sea Within – The Sea Within – by Jez Denton

The idea of a Supergroup is a funny thing. A gathering of very talented and creative musicians get together to pool their ideas to create something, they hope, that is absolutely amazing. Sometimes that happens, bands like Cream or The Travelling Wilburys spring to mid for a start; however, often what ends up being created is an album that is somewhat written almost by committee, something that inhibits the creative process because of the sheer amount of creativity that is thrown at the project. And unfortunately, for me, the new album from the collective known as The Sea Within, being released on the 22nd June 2018, falls into the latter category.

The roster of acts that the members of the band have worked with, including Steven Wilson, Yes, and Steve Hackett, obviously shows that these guys are hugely talented and, indeed, this is proven by the playing on the album and accompanying 4 track E.P. There are some fantastically gorgeous moments recorded, the sub E.L.O. / Supertramp vibe on the first half of the 14 minute epic Broken Cord is sublime. But here also is the problem; this song would be a perfect six to seven minute progressive pop tune, it’s a shame they felt the need to include a huge swathe of jazz improv. showing off onto it.

This is a fault repeated on a few of the songs, it’s like someone in the band came to the studio with something they were desperate to have included with the production team including it where they could instead of asking the pertinent questions, does it add to the tune, does it fit, is it needed?

In 1832, JMW Turner, at The Royal Exhibition, upstaged his great rival John Constable, by adding to his great painting Helvoetsluys, a small smudge of orange paint. Just that, something very small and insignificant on the face of it, but hugely significant in the bigger picture. Turner understood the principle of less is more, he had the ability to recognise when something was finished. He didn’t need to keep on adding, he just knew that what he had created was good, brilliantly, jaw-droppingly amazing.

A little bit of this level of self-awareness would have been something which would have improved The Sea Within immensely. They have created a very, very good, maybe even great album here; it’s just that I don’t think they realised they had, they couldn’t stop; if they were Turner they wouldn’t have stopped at a little orange splash, they’d potentially have taken a spray can to the canvas and covered the painting in orange.

Ironically, though, the four track E.P. proves that The Sea Within have got that awareness; maybe because of the format it is recorded on helped, but these four tracks, The Roaring Silence, Where Are You Going, Time and Denise are focused, unfussy and spell-blindingly good – a really enjoyable 28 minutes or so of driving, clever and immense progressive pop rock.

For me, if I was the producer, I would have taken all the superfluous showy off bits out of the album, lost a couple of weaker tracks and included the E.P. in the album itself. Perhaps it’s a project one of the erstwhile musicians, Steven Wilson perhaps, could get their teeth into – turning this reasonable and worthy album by very talented musicians into the potentially great one that is hidden in it. For the listener it is a worthwhile listen, but I’m convinced it could be, and should be, so much more with a helluva a lot less on it.

Released 22nd June 2018

Order The Sea Within here

Review – Gazpacho – Soyuz – by Jez Denton

I am by no means a huge fan of progressive rock, there are bits I like, some I don’t, some I find clever and some I find completely over the top and pretentious beyond words. However, I do like to try new stuff, or at least new to me, and when it comes from an act that I’ve heard lots about from friends and acquaintances I’ll certainly give it a good go.

So when I was sent through the new album, released this week, from Norwegian alt-rock experimentalists, Gazpacho, I started listening with great expectation, having heard the name mentioned a few times by people whose thoughts on music I respect.

What I love most about hearing new music is picking up on the references that shape that music, and this album, ‘Soyuz’, is rammed full of great influences that have shaped the sound, whilst not diluting the bands own distinctive voice. It is an album shaped by the experiences of this band growing up in a period of huge political uncertainty, the Cold War, in a country very close to the borders of that conflict.

The sphere of influence that the USSR held over the countries of Northern and Eastern Europe have led to the music on this album having a sinister and dark, perhaps even fearful sound, a sense of foreboding. Across this the band tell stories such as that, in the first single, Soyuz One, of the doomed space mission by the Russians where cosmonaut, Colonel Vladimir Komorav, died; the first in-flight fatality in the history of space flight. The way the stories are told are engaging; making parts of this album seem like a pretty cool history lesson.

Musically the band are very adept at creating clever melodies and tunes, that, in common with many of their contemporaries, wash over the listener, enveloping them in the senses they try to create. However, the band are also more than happy to throw in the odd curve ball, a contrasting surprise. The ending of Soyuz One, for instance, which is a beautiful piece of piano music, is something Vaughan Williams would, no doubt,  have been proud of.

The album has a number of these little vignettes through out, it’s as if the guys have visited Cecil Sharp House and had a go through some traditional English folk tunes with which to enhance the sound of the album. With a bit of folk fiddle or a pastoral piano piece thrown in the album has, in places, the feel of a Fairport Convention album with production by Brian Eno.

This is an album of superior tunes, interesting and engaging subject matter and a brooding Nordic sound that will both appeal to fans of progressive music whilst also be surprising enough to make the album stand out amongst contemporaries and attract new devotees. The band have created a fine work that works of many levels. A mighty fine effort that will reward the listener over multiple listens.

Released 18th May 2018

Order Soyuz here

Review – Year of the Kite – With Sparks Flying – by Jez Denton

It is this reviewer’s belief that the only worthwhile type of music is miserable music. Indeed I believe I can make a case for almost any song being miserable; ‘Happy Birthday’ for example, a song that heralds a descent into the void of encroaching years, bodies failing and falling apart before eventual and unavoidable death. It is, therefore, no surprise that the sub-genres I most enjoy, and the ones that make up my music collections are ones like Blues, Grunge and Goth Rock. I love to listen to maudlin murder folk ballads, songs about unrequited or lost love. You can’t beat a sad song, as, to paraphrase Bernie Taupin, they say so much. Who’d prefer to dance, when you can wallow in the misery of a Nick Drake lament?

The debut album, ‘With Sparks Flying’, by Year of the Kite, released last week on Diversion Records, is an album that starts with a grungy slowcore bluesy slice of total miserablist beauty. Reminiscent of the great Mark Lanagan, Wild Blood, Wild Light, sets a mood of dreamy nihilism, with a dirge like vocal growling over a down tempo backing that has a druggy sense of impending doom, a descent into madness and horror. A lo-fi scream of abject despair all wrapped up by a hypnotic accompaniment. Like Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’, it’s a song that hints at terrors seen or unseen, ones that can neither be unheard or forgotten.

The first half of the album continues in this vein, songs that give voice to a whole range of uncomfortable emotions. It takes the listener on a journey into places that challenge, that are frightening and which leave the listener raw and exposed to feelings that, whilst scary and disturbing, are also very rewarding. Which is a slight shame as the second half of the album doesn’t quite keep its foot on that emotional pedal, with later songs drifting off on a dreamy tangent. That’s not to say they are not good songs, far from it, as musically Year Of The Kite are a very talented bunch whom have spent the eighteen months recording this album, perfecting, as they have, their sound and production. It’s just that I really, really, really loved the first 5 or 6 tracks and wanted so much more despair and misery! Weird I know!

What can be said is that ‘With Sparks Flying’ is a really very good debut. There are moments of greatness that will fulfill the darkest recesses of any deep and miserable music soul. There are also moments of exceptional potential and plenty to say that this band will have a success with this album and any future work they produce. Not far off being a miserablist masterpiece.

Released 27th April 2018

Order ‘With Sparks Flying’ from Diversion Records here

Review – Tangerine Dream – Quantum Gate & Quantum Key – by Jez Denton

In 2015 German Electronica visionary and leader of the band Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese, died, two years before the band celebrated its 50th anniversary. However, Froese had elected as his successor as leader of the band Thorsten Quaseschning who, along with Frose’s wife, Bianca Acquaye and other members Hoshiko Yamane and Ulrich Schnauss, have continued to work as the band. The result of this work is the album released as ‘Quantum Gate’ which was released in September 2017.

In line with Froese’s vision the album has now been re-released with the edition of the earlier ‘Quantum Key E.P.’ as a two volume edition. The release continues and develops Froese’s and the bands traditional and trademark sound, featuring sequence-driven electronica  to bring to the listener atmospheric moods that envelop and wash over them; taking them on a journey of aural exploration.

When I was very young, during the white heat of space exploration of the early 1970’s, through the films we saw of moon exploration, the space lab and unmanned journeys to Mars and further planets I was taken to the London Planetarium. I remember being awe inspired by the opening up of the mysteries of the universe as stars and constellations were lit up all soundscaped by futuristic music that seemed somewhat other-worldly. Listening to these two pieces of art, took me back to that time of wonder, evocative as it is of quantum physics and exploration.

The music has a kaleidoscopic quality to it, the sounds washing over you in waves, as visions of colours and shapes are suggested to the listener. It is clever music that, despite its lofty scientific ambitions. still does work on a level of just being able to listen as a piece of wonderfully crafted and melodic tunes. It is music that’s leads the listener into rooms of opened perception, whilst challenging preconceived ideas of realities. It is a fitting tribute to Edgar Froese’s vision for Tangerine Dream whilst ensuring the band can move on and forwards with its founders aims and desires at the forefront.

Released 20th April 2018

Order ‘Quantum Gate/Qauntum Key’ from Burning Shed here

Featured image by Jim Rakete.

Review – TRYO – Antología Eléctrica – by Jez Denton

I know very little about the country of Chile other than to say, geographically, that it is a country of huge contrasts, bordered as it is by mountains to one side, the sea to the other and stretching from rain forest in the north, through the most arid desert to the southernmost tip where South America is closest to Antarctica with all the inhospitability associated with it. It seems to me, even in these days of a shrinking world, a mystery, a secluded and cut off outpost on the edge of the world. An enigma of a country.

Musically, I know even less about Chile so it was with great anticipation that I picked up ‘Antologia Electrica’ by the Chilean Progressive Jazz Rock Fusion band, Tyro. This album is an anthology of the bands 30 year career covering their formation in 1987 up to the present day, and which links into an anniversary tour which the band will be undertaking. It would be, for me, a voyage into the unknown, and a journey to be undertaken over the development of a sound over three decades.

Firstly, right from the opening track, you understand that the band is made up of a number of very talented and impressive musicians. Space is given to all players to showcase their instruments and their playing abilities. But for me, this is where I struggled with the album. A great friend of mine once said, when I was trying to convince him of the merits of jazz music, that ‘it’s all well and good, yes they are great musicians and all, but why can’t they play the same song at the same time?’ And to me, listening to the tracks on this album, this makes great sense. The bass in particular, whilst expertly played, tends to overpower the melodies and doesn’t compliment at all. That’s not to say it is without merit, it’s just to this reviewer’s ears it becomes too discordant.

However, I have always found when listening to music in languages I do not understand that the voice becomes more of an instrument, an aid to the melody. This is one of the high spots of this anthology as the songs with vocals on do work wonderfully well as less emphasis seems to be given to a variety of solos. The lyrics themselves, when translated into English, are evocative and emotive with a Zen like acknowledgement of our world, community and ecological surroundings and really add to the heights that the music tries to reach.

Overall, if you like your music to be challenging you’ll enjoy this anthology. And if you do so enjoy this I can imagine a deeper journey into their back catalogue to invest in the albums from their career showcased here will only reward you, especially if you are a lover of a bass guitar being played trickily and predominant in the mix. For me, I enjoyed listening too and finding out about this band, but for me it just didn’t quite hit the spot, perhaps like the country of Chile, it remains an enigma to me; although it did remind me to dig out some Jazz and Latin American music, perhaps more to my tastes.

Released 5th March 2018

Review – Reformat – The Singularity – by Jez Denton

Many years ago, in the days before the Internet, I spent quite some time searching out a live album of German prog-rock pioneers Tangerine Dream performing in the awesome modern cathedral in Coventry. It is an immense album that you can feel filling the wondrous large spaces of Sir Basil Spence’s architectural masterpiece, with waves of sonic excellence washing over the listener.

I have been sent, by the excellent judges of talent at Bad Elephant Music, the debut album by English electronic rock bad Reformat called ‘The Singularity’. Head of BEM Sales and Marketing, Martin Hutchinson, sent it to me with the simple words that it is pretty awesome, with which I have to agree. From the moment I first clicked onto the opening track, Kosmos, I was brought right back to that Tangerine Dream album, and how this album would equally fill an amazing modern space such as Coventry Cathedral or perhaps the Turbine Hall at The Tate Modern.

The band and album evolved from a collection of songs written by main man Luke Pajak which were brought together and produced by Luke’s friend Russ Russell (Napalm Death/The Haunted) with drums and electronics being supplied by Jay Russell. Originally created and shelved in the early 2010’s, a drunken night resulted in the songs being revisited and developed further with the end product being the culmination of many years hard work and experimentation in making a sonically challenging journey into the unknown and exciting.

Immersing yourself into this album becomes an almost quasi-religious act albeit one with a heavy dose of mind screw. The build can confuse, question and indeed disturb but in a way that offers endless opportunity to enjoy a combination of themed riffs, electronic melodies and openings of perception. As Pajak comments himself, ‘…go as deep as they’re willing to go. See you down the rabbit hole.’ Certainly, on listening to this album a grin like the Cheshire Cat’s will be seen on many a listeners face.

Released 20th April 2018.

Order ‘The Singularity’ from bandcamp here

 

 

Review – Fractal Mirror – Close to Vapour – by Jez Denton

Pop music often gets a bad press; often because it is thought of as being bland, uninspiring and repetitive, and often with good cause. However, pop music can be anything but those criticisms with brilliant melodies, lush production and funny and quirky lyrics. Right from the moment Brian Wilson created ‘Pet Sounds’ in 1967, through Bowie’s many different reincarnations in the 70’s and 80’s and via the melodic cleverness of The Smiths, The Teardrop Explodes and World Party, pop music can offer moments of greatness and genius.

Fitting into that roster of clever pop influenced music is the latest release from Leo Koperdraat and Frank Urbaniak, better known as Fractal Mirror, ‘Close to Vapour’. The album has ten tracks that soar and grow with an ebb and flow, a gentle build to heights of dreaminess, and which take the listener deep into the stories being told. With production by Brett Kull of Echolyn, the band has created an album of outstandingly tuneful and clever songs that deserves the high plaudits that will surely come its way.

If I was to make a small criticism it would only be that the lead vocals will take a bit of getting used to. Leo has a slightly nasally style that, whilst not being a huge problem, does surprise and even disconcert, but only until you get used to his sound. Once the initial impressions have receded the idiosyncratic nature of the delivery adds to the depth and  multi-faceted sculpture of the album.

Being released on Bad Elephant Records in the first quarter of 2018 this album is one of the highlights of the year so far. Also featuring guest appearances from original member Ed Van Haagen, Tom Doncourt and producer Brett Kull, this album will entrance and beguile the listener with its superior pop melodies. I urge you to search this album out for all the rewards it will give you.

Released 23rd February 2018

Order ‘Close to Vapour’ from bandcamp here

 

 

Review – The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric – by Jez Denton

Just recently I have picked up on the Channel Four series of Philip K.Dick stories, Electric Dreams, in which dystopian nightmares are played out in mainly normal humdrum situations with a fear of foreboding dread building to a crescendo. Likewise, the third studio album from instrumental band The Fierce and The Dead, titled ‘The Euphoric’, is one that builds and builds, working around a juxtaposition of beautifully crafted melodies driven by crashing, hard driven and downtuned guitar riffs. A major compliment I can pay the album is that should channel four make another series of Electric Dreams this is the band and album that should soundtrack it.

Over the last eight years since their debut release, the ‘Part 1 EP’, The Fierce and The Dead have developed their craft, adding layering and texture to their already formidable playing and production skills. Using their influences whilst retaining their individuality is an enviable skill; one which is often not pulled off but, in the case of this album, most certainly is. You can hear throughout the album the influences of the musicians the band have worked with or obviously admire; from the hardcore metal of bands such as Slayer to the melodic tune creation of a Steven Wilson, The Fierce and The Dead have made an album of deep complexity whilst retaining a simplicity within the riff structure that drives the album on and doesn’t allow it to become samey or repetitive.

The two lead singles from the album are both standouts with the already successful, with accompanying video by acclaimed director Mark Duffy, Truck being followed by, on the 30th March, 1991. Both tracks show off the sound which you can expect from the album with their heavy psychedelia and cross over between guitars and synths being indicative of the direction the band have taken. The band are happy to confound, confuse and surprise in composition and performance which makes this album a fulfilling and satisfying listen.

The album, which is released on the 18th May by Bad Elephant Records, featuring amazing cover art work by Mark Buckingham, will be available in both CD and Vinyl formats. There will also be available limited edition bundles featuring a print of the cover artwork and an exclusive bonus CD of live and demo tracks.

Released 18th May 2018

Order ‘The Euphoric’ in all formats from Bad Elephant Music at bandcamp here