Review – Bjørn Riis – Coming Home – by Progradar

Haunting and Melancholic are two words that can definitely be used to describe the songs that Norwegian musician Bjørn Riis has delivered on his last two solo releases, ‘Lullabies In A Car Crash’ and ‘Forever Comes To An End’. There is a fragile beauty and poignancy to Bjørn’s songwriting that gives it a captivating, hypnotic attraction.

Airbag co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist, Bjørn will release his new mini album titled ‘Coming Home’ next month on Karisma Records. His unique guitar playing has a centre role, with soaring leads and beautiful textures.

“I’ve always felt that the guitar is an extension of me and a more comfortable and natural way of expressing myself musically” – Bjørn explains.

“I’m really happy and proud of the vocals this time and the duet with me and (Norwegian singer) Sichelle on Drowning is very emotional” – Bjørn continues.

Lyrically, ‘Coming Home’ deals with the fear and insecurity of being forgotten by the people around you. You imagine all these dramatic scenes and wonder if you’ll ever be missed if something really was to happen.

‘Coming Home’ also features a newly recorded semi-acoustic version of the title track of Bjørn’s 2014 solo debut, ‘Lullabies in a Car Crash’ (Karisma Records). “Lullabies just fit right into the mood and theme of this album. It’s almost become a new song. It’s very honest and moving” – Bjørn explains. The track features Airbag and Bjørn Riis Band touring guitarist Ole Michael Bjørndal on lead guitar.

‘Coming Home’ is almost like a story where the scene is set by the brooding and darkly hued opening instrumental track Daybreak. A real slow burner, it takes a while to get moving with just a building sound that reminds you of a bleak and windswept vista before the deliberate, musing guitar fills the soundscape with a contemplative feel.

A sparse acoustic guitar washes over at the start of title track Coming Home, Bjørn’s slightly faltering vocal is full of emotion as this elegant track continues to gently lull you with its charms. A more laid back feel than the previous album emanates from every note and word as the music seems to meander towards an unseen destination. There’s a slight pause before Bjørn delivers a superb, note perfect guitar solo filled with passion and longing, one that soars high and free as a bird. As the song comes to a close I feel some kind of nostalgic yearning that I just can’t explain.

The wistful, contemplative tone continues with the fantastic Drowning, a song filled with feelings of loss and recrimination but one that still has a sense of wonder about it. The calm and serenity of the guitar and Bjørn’s vocal that open the track can’t shake an underlying aura of foreboding. Sichelle’s vocals add a fragile grace to the harmonies and the music gains added intensity, the guitar giving urgency and desperation to proceedings until it breaks like waves on immovable rocks. Sichelle takes us towards the end with a voice full of regret, the guitar adding a somber accompaniment as we come to a close.

Tonight’s The Night is a haunting (there you go, I told you!) instrumental that has you on the edge of your seat from the first note with its insistent piano and tense , ill at ease mood. There is no let up from beginning to end and I found myself visibly relaxing as the song came to an end.

The acoustic version of ‘Lullabies in a Car Crash’ unsurprisingly has a lighter tone to the other songs, a sepia-tinged piece of music underpinned by a wonderful acoustic guitar. The vocals are gossamer light giving the whole song a 70’s carefree spirit before a subtly powerful guitar solo gets under your skin and takes you to a place of utmost calm and reflection, without a care in the world. A remarkably honest reworking of the original track, it really is like a completely new song.

‘Coming Home’ feels like a very personal collection of songs, full of emotion, haunting and charismatic yet sparser and darker than Bjørn’s previous solo releases. Like all the best music, it needs to be listened to with little or no distractions to enjoy it in all its highly impressive glory. Bjørn Riis is one of those musicians who just gets better and better with each release, highly recommended.

Released 23rd February 2018

Pre-orders open soon at  Bjørn’s website below:

Recordings

 

 

Review – Transport Aerian – Therianthrope – by Progradar

The review of this new release from avant-garde/art rock musician Hamlet’s Transport Aerian project has been a very difficult one to write. Hamlet is not afraid of talking and writing about difficult subjects and, in the case of ‘Therianthrope’, expressing his thoughts through his music.

‘Therianthrope’ is described as an album whose themes are dedicated to the emotions of the mind, torn by different assets of mental illness in the context of quickly developing world on the brink of the war, social and economical catastrophe. In the other worlds, it explores a twisted, ugly side of anyone of us in the modern world.

Not exactly warm and cuddly then? However music has always been there to explore all kinds of emotions and themes and it is how it does this that really matters.

The PR informations goes on to say:

“Besides the conventional music pieces, ‘Therianthrope’ also features The Abstract Symphony, a set of songs and instrumental pieces based on blind improvisation by the team of guest musicians. Nobody knew what the other musician would play, as they were only given a theme to describe and photographs to emphasize the visual in the sound. Such experimental approach is a manifest of modernity, an information field that contains the similar artistic concepts and thus allows any music to be created out of idea, without other forms of direct physical or intellectual interaction.”

The mood is set by the dark opening track Smirking Sirens which has a grating rhythm and seems to feed on your nervous energy. The music is harsh and Hamlet’s vocals are as direct and accusatory as ever. This is the singular style that I have come to expect from this unique musician and it carries on with the next track Pitchfork Martyrs. There’s almost a funereal tone to the music, a dark but actually enjoyable dirge. I’m still on the fence with this album but it is beginning to grow on me, insinuating its darkened charms into my soul. Let You Never Perish and Destroy Me carry on with the obsidian, sombre mood. These are songs that are written to convey the depths of twisted, darkened human minds where depression and insanity are never far away but they do so in a captivating manner. You find yourself unable to turn away, almost like the old days of hiding behind the sofa but wanting to sneak a peak at the horror film showing on the TV. It is clever and intelligent songwriting that keeps you right in the middle of the story.

The Abstract Symphony sections follow, woven through the standard tracks, and this sees such talented musicians as Marco Ragni, Peter Matuchniak, Rachel Bauer and Darren Brush join Hamlet in improvised sections of music where none of the musicians knew what the other was playing. It is a really ingenious way of creating music and left me intrigued as to what they would come up with.

I : Information Field and II: Saturate really stretch the listener, this is not music that you can lay back and let wash over you, it demands your attention but is never anything less than an absorbing listen. You will return to this album time and time again and come away with different impressions of these tracks, thought provoking and stimulating, they really do ask questions of you that you may not even want to answer. September appears like a light in the darkness, a veil lifted and a mind rescued from obfuscation. Hamlet’s vocals are intertwined with the more dulcet tones of Rachel Bauer and give the track the feel of an oasis in a sea of darkness, pain and confusion. Stefan Boeykens lead guitar is superb, however the ever present fog of confusion is never far away…

III: Lovemeat is another journey into the creative minds of the musicians and has a soundtrack atmosphere to it, like a quirky independent movie where you never quite know what is happening, tension and surprises at every turn. Hamlet is joined solely by Darren Brush’s Chapman Stick for the enigmatic and Delphian feeling Eternal Guilt, a powerful foray into madness and insanity in a musical form. A painful and harrowing listen but one which adds candour and honesty and a piece of music that had me on the edge of my seat and holding my breath throughout. The slow burning guitar solo is genius.

IV: Poor Things Need ( A Common Interest) is another inventive slice of music that actually has a real laid back feel to it, almost a folk/roots music style. There’s still a fragility at the core, a feel that this is a rarely seen period of lucidity where a cry for help can be given and understood. Lions is beautifully melancholy and sombre, Hamlet’s vocal imparting a vulnerability that cries out for help. I find myself getting lost in the music and the lyrics, there’s no darkness here, just a raw and open candor and pain. Marco Ragni and Peter Mantuchniak add brillaint guitars that just help this song be as humanly honest as possible.

The last Abstract Symphony V: Immortals brings these great sections of music to a close with a real jazz infused feel. Layers of guitars, dulcimer, Chapman Stick and keyboards contribute to an abstract piece that, along with Rachel’s narration, connects with you at a very basic level, the music infusing itself into your very soul. This deeply passionate album comes to a close with Last Years of Peace, an atmospheric and involving experience that leaves you in a reflective and contemplative frame of mind. There’s an almost oriental note to the music with its mesmerising, hypnotic harmonies and I actually feel myself  relaxed and calm as it comes to a close.

‘Therianthrope’ is not intended to be an easy listening experience, it is a thought-provoking and sometimes actually quite raw and painful musical journey that should be consumed in one listen to understand and get the most from it. It is an intense and intensely satisfying record that proudly steps away from the expected to deliver one of 2017’s more engrossing and stimulating releases.

Released 17th November 2017

Order ‘Therianthrope’ from MRR here

 

 

Review – Believe – 7 Widows – by Progradar

Happy New Year to one and all and here is my first review of 2018. Believe is a Polish progressive rock band with a long history of line-up changes and beguiling, immersive music and the new album ‘7 Widows’ is no different.

The band formed in 2004 and 2017 sees only two of the original members still present.  Mirek Gil (guitar) and Przemek Zawadzki (bass) are joined on the new release by Łukasz Ociepa (vocals), Robert Qba Kubajek (drums) and Satomi Yasutanya (violin, keyboards).

I first heard Believe when I got a copy of the band’s 2013 album ‘The Warmest Sun In Winter’ and was immediately drawn in by the warm, welcoming sound and delightful vocals. It was at a time when Polish progressive rock bands were really coming to the fore, led by Riverside of course, but other artists like AnvisionLight CorporationOsada Vida and Votum (to name but a few) have really elevated the progressive acts from that country.

‘7Widows’ is the band’s first foray into concept albums and each song is a story of one widow parting with someone special. A set of seven sad songs, dealing with loss and pain, where no two tracks are the same. Intriguing then? I thought so, let’s immerse ourselves further…

The tracks are numbered I through to VII, leaning more towards chapters in a story than tracks on album and the opening song introduces that warm, neo-prog sound that seems to epitomise Polish prog nowadays. The lush, layered melodies are complemented by some stylish guitar playing and while this is a melancholy subject, Satomi Yasutanya’s violin adds some real sophistication to the song. Emotive vocals from new singer Łukasz Ociepa impart the sadness yet this is a really immersive tale that draws you in. The sublime music continues with II which has a sparser, more plaintive feel. Plaintive vocals with just a int of vulnerability work with the violin to give a slightly edgier tone, hinting more at anger and raw pain. Mirek Gil is an accomplished guitar player and he drives and directs the songs, aided and abetted by the great rhythm section of Przemek Zawadzki and Robert Qba Kubajek. The wonderful violin and guitar section really touches you on a basic, emotional level, we are listening to something special here.

The descent into the darker depths of sorrow carries on with the sorrowful, pensive tone that pervades every nook and cranny of III. Lukasz has such an expressive vocal and the way he opens up on the powerful chorus is pretty impressive. This track ebbs and flows like all true emotive journeys. The music turns much darker and sombre on the ominous IV with its powerful introduction, full of foreboding keyboards and a feeling of someone right on the edge. It opens up into what seems a questing journey, a search for answers to difficult questions. Believe seem to have really stepped their game up for this new album, intelligent songwriting and musicians at the peak of their powers.

A harder, edgier guitar led sound opens before the mournful violin takes over, backed by some clever drumming from Robert. The lush sound is stripped back once again to be replaced by something raw and sensitive, mirroring the feelings of loss and pain. This mood segues into VI, a song with a wistful and nostalgic atmosphere, the vocals being a counterpoint to Marek’s questioning guitar. A look back at a life now lost but perhaps with a feel of remembrance imbued by the violin along with the ever present regret and loss.

This impressive album closes with the towering VII, a song where all the feelings of loss, anger, regret and nostalgia come together in a display of raw musical power. The compelling introduction feels like a complete outpouring of grief and bereavement before the emotive and touching vocals add an honesty and sincerity to the song. A passionate tale of love lost and a heartbreaking parting that brings a lump to your throat.

After four years Believe have returned with a superlative and deeply engaging collection of incredibly expressive songs that tell of loss, love, pain and regret. This is a creative and perceptive album that captivates and enchants, you feel the raw sorrow and comprehend the emotions and that, my friends, is what truly great music can do.

Released 25th October 2017

Order ‘7Widows’ from Rock Serwis here

 

Review – The Winterlings – American Son – by Progradar

Music touches us, affects us and moves us every day. It doesn’t have to be up-beat cheerful music to make us happy and mournful, sorrowful songs won’t always make you sad. Music has a beauty and grace however it is sung and played.

I’ve been listening to the fourth album from American roots and folk duo The Winterlings and, it must be said, ‘American Son’ is not a release full of mirth and frivolity, it’s a collection of songs from the heart, delivered with honesty and sincerity and one that will move you on a most personal level.

Wolff Bowden grew up in a house on stilts, fifteen feet above a Florida swamp. In Wolff’s dreams it was always winter, stood beside a bonfire, singing to half-animal, half human beings called Winterlings. Two decades later they had come to symbolise life’s deepest callings and he abandoned medical school for visual art.

Around the same time Amanda Birdsall was working on a doctorate in psychology when she looked down to find her notebook full of song lyrics. Walking out of class, she grabbed her guitar and drove to Canada to work on organic farms in exchange for food and tiny rooms to write songs by candlelight.

After meeting at a Buddhist fire ritual, Wolff and Amanda drove from Florida to the Pacific Northwest where they soaked up seven years of rain to give birth to over fifty songs. Singing from the depths of the American wilderness, The Winterlings shine their literary lyrics on subjects ranging from trangender Civil War soldier Jenny Hodgers to a friend’s lung transplant…and the life story of a housefly.

‘American Son’ is an intense experience from start to finish, opening track The Ghost of Leonard resulted from Wolff being visited by the ghost of Leonard Cohen while deep in meditation and it is quite a dark and yet deeply moving song with Wolff’s deep vocals reminiscent of the great man himself. Mournful and fragile, accompanied by the ethereal beauty of the violin and acoustic guitar, it is incredibly poignant and left a rather large lump in my throat. Title track American Son is songwriting at its basic and very best with an addictive chorus and a feeling of regret running throughout. The sparse instrumentation is the backdrop on which Wolff’s distinctive vocal weaves its story, Amanda adding her more lustrous voice in a great harmony.

Gold has a feel of the Old West to it with the opening languid harmonica and Amanda’s vocal brings in a real 70’s folk feel. Wistful and nostalgic at heart, there’s an unhurried frankness to the song. The easygoing guitar brings your pulse rate down and a calmness and composure envelops your very being. There is a sombre grace to both Birthplace and The Dead, imbued by Wolff’s excellent voice and the basic grace of the music. Touching and sentimental, these songs really get to you on a personal level, I find myself stopping whatever it is I’m doing and just listening. They are captivating and bewitching and the ability of Wolff and Amanda to hold you in their spell is incredible.

There’s more of a lighthearted feel to Owl Mountain with it’s childlike charm and innocence. Amanda’s voice is a great counterpoint for Wolff’s more earnest and austere delivery and the sparsity of the instrumentation works perfectly. With a feeling of regret and loss, Puget Sound really tugs at your heartstrings with its raw heartache and yet it really touches you with its candid sincerity, you can’t help but become caught up in the story that is being laid out before you.

Sunspeech takes the allure of a simple acoustic guitar and Amanda’s wonderful vocal to give you a song that seems to be able to cleanse your soul. The plaintive strains of the harmonica add a real wistful, sepia tinged atmosphere to this absorbing piece of music and a touch of sadness fell over me when it came to a close. Wolff’s vocal has a rueful almost remorseful edge as he sings the opening lines of World To Change, there’s a feeling of restful change about the lyrics, “We won’t wait for the world to change…”. A plea to the world to change before it’s too late. That Was Alaska closes out the album on a thoughtful and reflective note and ,as the last note is played, I realise I’ve been at the centre of an utterly inspiring and satisfying musical journey.

With ‘American Son’ melancholy and wistfulness have never been so beautiful. A beguiling and entrancing musical journey through love, loss and regret where you feel every high and every low. The Winterlings have delivered a superb collection of songs that will stay with me for a very long time.

Released 1st November 2017 in the UK.

Order ‘American Son’ direct from The Winterlings store here

 

  

Review – The Novel Ideas – s/t – by Progradar

Ever since I met Iain Sloan and was introduced to the Americana of The Wynntown Marshals I have been hooked on that sound and the heartache and melancholia of love-and-loss that is at the heart of country-folk. Music that tugs at your heartstrings, there’s nothing more wonderfully emotive than a well played lap or pedal steel guitar in my opinion!

The next release from Loudon Temple at Bloody Great PR that I’m investigating falls slap bang in the middle of that territory, the self-titled release from Boston, Massachusetts country-folk quartet The Novel Ideas. Incredibly plaintive 4- part vocal harmonies and that blend of pedal steel, guitar, fiddle and organ which produces such a distinctive and American sound.

Four friends – Sarah Grella (vocals), Danny Hoshino (guitar, pedal steel, vocals), James Parkington (bass, vocals) and Daniel Radin (guitar, vocals) – who contrive to convey honesty and intimacy through their music. Capturing the renowned spirit of their live performance in recorded from was a challenge, but the result is a heartfelt representation of who The Novel Ideas are.

There’s a real feel of love and longing at the core of The Novel Ideas and it produces a sound that is utterly addictive. The vocal harmonies are at the entre of the band’s unique sound and they imbue everything with a dignified and refined grace. Wistful nostalgia and melancholy are at the heart of songs like opener I’m Not Waiting and the tone of the pedal steel guitar is full of longing and sentiment.

The great fiddle playing of Eva Walsh adds country polish to I’ll Try, a touching song that speaks of regret and loss and the vocal harmonies take centre stage on the pastoral Americana of Old Ways. This record is an immersive musical epxerience and you find yourself becoming more and more involved in the stories of small town America, the beauty and fragility of  Broken Glass is superb, a song that tugs at every single one of your heartstrings and will produce a lump in your throat with its ethereal grace.

Music that speaks of broken hearts and the ending of life’s journeys but that does so with sympathy and compassion, the mournful grace of Sarah Grella’s vocals really stands out on Lost On The Road but it is when the four-part vocal harmonies take centre stage that this refined quartet are at their absolute best. Take the wonderful The Blue Between Us, here the vocals are used as an extra instrument to give one of the best tracks on the album and Danny give sone of his best performances on the pedal steel, there’s something heartwarming about the music that The Novel Ideas create and while its themes might be regret and loss, there is always the hope that love will be our saviour.

The warmth and humility of the music shines through on Farm which has a more straightforward country sound to it, although elegantly polished, again Danny’s pedal steel stands out, this time accompanied by the sublime fiddle playing of Eva Walsh. Additional kudos must be given to the fantastic drumming and percussion of  Elena Bonomo and the piano and organ skills of John Waynelovich throughout the album. The calm unflustered grace of Dena is another standout track, the dignified, melancholic vocals accompanied by the captivating music that soars above you, its feels like a sad song but it is sadness tempered by real beauty.

Every song leaves its mark on your heart and your soul, Calling You Out  and Mountain are both incredibly heartfelt pieces of music that hit you on a basic emotional level, grace, beauty and elegance combined in a simple musical package. Incredibly accomplished musicians who can wonderful write songs of love, loss, grief and joy that interact with you and your emotions perfectly, the album closes with the simple brilliance of the spiritual I Was Not Around. It’s a bittersweet poignant song whose fragile grace is tempered by the feeling of loss and sorrow. An emotive track to close out an album of emotional highs and lows.

Such an emotional rollercoaster, The Novel Ideas have created a beautiful collection of songs that hit you hard on a basic emotional level. Incredible musicians as well as highly accomplished musicians, Americana and country-folk has never been more appealing.

Released 1st November 2017 in the UK.

Buy The Novel ideas direct from the band here

 

 

 

 

Review – The 4 Of Us – Sugar Island – by Progradar

Discovering new music is an incredible journey that has become an important part of my life. There is a massive seam of untapped material out there and I can mine just a little so when I get a message from a PR company I’ve never dealt with before, asking if I’d be interested in their releases, my curiosity is mightily piqued.

That message came from Loudon Temple of Bloody Great PR and, true to his word, a week later a large envelope arrived with a selection of new releases. The first one that I picked from the pile was from Northern Irish artist The 4 Of Us and their new release ‘Sugar Island’.

This is music I’ve never heard or heard of before so I am embarking an a real musical voyage of discovery. Formed by Newry-born brothers Brendan and Declan Murphy, they have developed a strong musical identity which has produced original and award winning recordings, as well as a large and loyal fan base.

The 4 Of Us shot to fame with their 1989 debut ‘Songs For The Tempted’ and, to date, the Murphy brothers have notched up an enviable catalogue of timeless songs, including 6 Top 20 Irish charting albums.

‘Sugar Island’ is their seventh studio release and explores the brothers’ early years growing up in Northern Ireland and includes tracks reflecting on their childhood, in and around a border town during the height of the troubles.

Mainly focusing on the trademark interplay of their acoustic guitars, the brothers have also worked with a few gifted musicians to fulfil their vision. Enda WalshSharon Vaughn, Peter McKinney and Yvonee Fahy all helped to bring this recording to life.

(Picture by Will Rolls)

I have to admit to being blown away from the very first song, pop/folk roots music which is played with consummate skill. Bird’s Eye View opens the autobiographical release with aplomb. There’s a wistful and nostalgic feel that runs throughout the album, the lyrics are incredibly perceptive as you would expect from two musicians who lived through the worst of the Northern Irish troubles. The pared back acoustic simplicity of the Murphy’s two guitars borders on genius.

The vocal harmonies are note perfect and add even more of  polished sheen to the superb music. There’s something incredibly compelling about the simplicity of the arrangements and their melodic accomplishment which often verges on American roots music. I was a big fan of Chris Stills (son of legend Steven) first solo album and these guys really remind me of the flair and intimacy of that release.

There seems to be rose-tinted memories of those early days as the whole album has a reel feelgood and sentimental aura to it. Highlights for this reviewer (as well as the opener) are the incredibly emotive Going South, the title track Sugar Island, the raw, sparse and touching Argenta and refined closer Hometown On The Border but there are no bad tracks on this elegant release.

‘Sugar Island’ is a collection of beautifully refined songs that tell the story of Declan and Brendan’s formative years where they grew up among adversity and a nation divided and at war and it feels like a privilege to be invited to relive it with them once again. Music full of longing, regret and yet an album that leaves you with hope in your heart.

Released 20th August 2017.

Buy ‘Sugar Island’ direct from The 4 Of Us here

 

Review – Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – Broken But Still Standing – By Progradar

A brooding, damaged cube, like something from The Borg of Star Trek fame, mysterious and enigmatic, a lone, shadowy figure walking towards it. I’ve long been a fan of great album art and the cover of the new album from UK Art/Prog rockers Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate is another one that really caught my eye.

Cryptic and original, like all the best album art, it really does invite you to wonder about the music behind it and knowing what this imaginative and inventive set of musicians are really capable of, I was very intrigued to find out more about ‘Broken But Still Standing’.

Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate are Malcolm Galloway, on his own, or with his colleagues Kathryn Thomas (flute), Mark Gatland (bass), Rudy Burrell (drums) and Ibon Bilboa (guitar). They are based in London, UK.

Malcolm and Mark have been playing together since they were at school. Malcolm and Kathryn are married. This album also includes spoken word and backing vocals from their children James and Ethan Galloway, and James co-wrote two of the tracks.

Their music combines progressive rock, classic rock, acoustic, blues, metal, folk, funk, minimalism, and electronica and often explores scientific and philosophical themes.

‘Broken But Still Standing’, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate’s third album, is a science/science-fiction themed concept album. It follows the story of human evolution, from LUCA, the last universal common ancestor of all current life on earth, via Lucy, one of the possible precursors of our species, to conflict and eventual symbiosis with artificial intelligences. The general theme of the album is that life has progressed by forming coalitions, whether between the primitive cells that engulfed each other to become the cell and the mitochondria (the power stations of the cell), between individuals to form communities, or between different forms of life in the future.

This band really know how to deliver a seriously complex and yet ultimately rewarding concept album, this is what I had to say about their previous release ‘When The Kill Code Fails’,

“I love it when new music lands on my desk with no fanfare or previous knowledge. Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate may have a brilliant name but they also produce excellent music. Sometimes progressive, sometimes more rock orientated but, overall, it is an enthralling listen.”

So, without any further ado, let’s dive in…

(Photo by Jaz Dhillon)

The opening instrumental Vent is dark and almost elemental in its low brooding delivery with the haunting flute making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and an apprehensive feeling seep into your mind. There’s a seamless segue into the deeply atmospheric Almost Familiar with its vocals that drip with passion and longing, ethereal flute and the achingly bluesy low-down guitar. Unashamedly progressive in its outlook, it’s a slow-burning piece of musical storytelling for dark nights and open fires. Kathryn’s emotive flute solo is a piece of genius and closes out the track to perfection. There’s an alien, science fiction tone to the next two tracks, Luca to Lucy opens with an uneasy, unerringly off-kilter soundscape before the music seems to creep in like an ancient dawning of time, all measured, deliberate and low-key. An exact and infallible life force that has only one motive, to exist. Lucy sees Kathryn’s flute take centre stage on this short piece, all mysterious and enigmatic with its late night jazz feel, asking questions of the listener.

There’s nostalgia in spades about Last Man On The Moon, a wistful, almost melancholy song that gets under your skin with its elegant music and heartfelt vocals, especially the excellent harmonies between the male and female voices on the captivating chorus. Thoughtful and yet somehow forlorn, it’s a great track with a wonderfully plaintive and meandering guitar solo that leads you on a reflective musical journey. Advancing On Snailback is a trance-like ambient instrumental that gets inside your head and mesmerises you with each well considered note, Serious, discerning and meditative, it leaves you lost in thought. That reverie is broken by the edgy, almost punky guitar, drums and bass of Anywhere, Malcolm’s vocal has an angsty tone to it and the whole song seems to have discordant, uneasy feel. A short, sharp shock after the more refined and gentle feel of the first few tracks. There’s a jazz lounge aura to the opening of One Day When before the vocals begin and the energy builds to another catchy chorus, to me there’s a real vibrancy and energy that has infiltrated the music now, an addictive and harder note more akin to modern punk and alternative rock.

I love the intoxicating ambience of I Fell In Love With A Mechanical Dragon, rock infused electronica with high octane keyboards and a vibrant guitar note that combine with the urgent vocals to give one of the grin inducing highlights of the album. It does feel slightly absurd singing the chorus out loud in the middle of Morrison’s but that’s what great music does to you! The most overtly heavy track on the album, Let Me Out is dark and deliciously dangerous in its outlook. The in-your-face riffs and impassioned vocals drive the song on towards the dissonant flute solo and special mention must go to the superb drums and funky bass that are the engine room of this song. More electronica that almost verges on drum and bass underpins Under The Skin with its clever use of female spoken vocals that almost break into rap. A really inventive piece of music that makes me nod in appreciation every time I listen to it. That electronic vibe really comes to the fore on the retro grooves of Lucid Assassin. A high energy song with some rather excellent synthesisers that work on a  hard working drum and bass foundation to give a special 80’s ‘laser show’ ambience.

Broken But Still Standing Till I Fall is another hard-edge, punk rock soaked track with a take no prisoners attitude. The vocals have attitude to them and the music just rocks, especially the dynamic and vivid guitar solo, another short sharp shock to the music system. The metaphorical lights are turned down low as we segue into the melodramatic All Alone Together, the heartfelt vocals give real poignance to the song and the music adds not a little tension to proceedings. Take some 70’s jazz funk, add some 90’s Happy Mondays Madchester vibe and you’ve got Host, one of the more upbeat songs on the album. The blues-rock imbued guitar solo is worth the price of entry on its own and the restless energy of the song soon finds itself manifested in your dancing feet. Transient Stars is an intelligent instrumental with a cinematic quality to it, you could imagine this as being part of the score for a high-brow, cerebral science fiction film. An enlightened piece of music that had me musing about all sorts of unfathomable things. Things come to a close with the astute progressive rock of Close My Eyes, dextrous musicians showcasing their skills and a contemplative vocal performance culminating in the simple but eminently memorable chorus. A cultured close to  what has been an engrossing musical experience.

‘Broken But Still Standing’ is a brilliantly perceptive and original work of art that enthralls with every listen. Taken as a whole it is an utterly immersive musical experience that will captivate and enlighten the listener, Hats Off Gentlemen Its Adequate has to be one of the most creative and innovative artists out there today.

Released 7th October 2017

Find links to order ‘Broken But Still Standing’ at the band’s website here:

 

 

 

Review – Iconic Eye – Into the Light – by Progradar

“I was ten when I heard the music that ended the first phase of my life and cast me hurtling into a new horizon. Drenched to the skin, I stood on Dunoon’s pier peering seawards through diagonal rain, looking for the ferry that would take me home. There, on the everwet west coast of Scotland, I heard it: like sonic scalpels, the sounds of electric guitars sliced through the dreich weather. My body hairs pricked up, each one a willing receiver for the Thunder-God grooves. To my young ears, the sound of these amplified guitars was angelic (although, with hindsight, I don’t suppose angels play Gibson guitars at ear-bleeding volume). A voice that suggested vocal chords of polished silver soared alongside razor-sharp overdriven riffs. I knew that I was hearing the future.”
― Mark Rice, Metallic Dreams

Good rock music has always appealed to me, not that bland soft rock rubbish but music with drive and ambition that rocks into town, blows everyone away and then leaves in a blaze of glory, THAT sort of rock music! Vibrant, heavy riffs, a powerful and dynamic rhythm section and gilt-edge vocals all combine to give a listening experience that is like a shot in the arm or a musical kick up the arse.

I spend so much time listening to, and writing about progressive and alternative rock that I rarely have time to listen to good rock music apart from when I’m running and I use it as a motivational force through the headphones. However, my friend Jane Gould joined UK rock band Iconic Eye last year and they have a new album out so it would be remiss of me to not spend a bit longer with ‘Into the Light’

Iconic Eye burst onto the rock scene in 2015 when they self-released their debut album, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’. They leapt straight onto Jake’s Stage at that years Download festival, then on to support the Treatment at Rockingham’s Pre-party in the same year and then to Hard Rock Hell (HRH) in March 2016. A truly remarkable start! Since then the band has seen many changes and has also been struck by tragedy. However, the band refused to give up and made the bold move to become female fronted with the addition of the amazing Jane Gould. This change has lifted the existing songs and created the right environment for the band to start writing again.

The album title says it all. It contains 5 of the bands favourite songs from ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’; re-worked with Jane and Robin Mitchard (the bands new youthful lead guitarist) to the fore. Together with harder guitars from Greg Dean and a more aggressive mix, this is classic Iconic Eye, updated!

Added to these existing songs are 6 new songs, mainly written in partnership between Dean and Gould, but also with Mitchard adding to the songwriting credits on two of the songs. On the new recordings you also have ex Max Bacon and Dante Fox bassist, Michael Dagnall and on drums, Adrian Scattergood. This is Iconic Eye as it is now, and at its best.

(Jane Gould)

The album opens with two properly hard rocking tracks, Am I The One and You Make It are both edgy, fast paced and in your face, basically hard rock as it bloody well should be! Jane’s vocals are powerful and dynamic and lead the rest of the band in a merry roller coaster ride across these two energetic openers. The guitar playing is slick and dextrous with a couple of smoking hot solos from Robin Mitchard thrown in for good measure. I love the chorus on You Make It which rapidly becomes an addictive earworm and Greg Dean’s keyboard add a lush touch of AOR magic, I’m hooked already!

(Robin Mitchard)

Those Tears Won’t Last adds a huge dose of melodic melodrama to the music, soulful and full of passion with driving riffs and compelling drums. I’m detecting a touch of the legendary Anneke Van Giersbergen to Jane’s vocals, they really are that good, silky smooth but imbued with a deep seated power and fervor. The solos are coming thick and fast, each one iridescent and hard-edged and giving these tracks proper drive and direction. Jane and the band show us a sultry side with the heavily soul infused Let It Rain Down. A sensuous piano joins the vocals at the opening before the accelerator pedal is pressed and the intensity increases with a forceful riff and those all-powerful drums. Another chorus that is just asking for you to sing along with it and the emotions are just set free with the delicious guitar that closes out the track.

(Greg Dean)

Get the lighters (or mobile phones) out ready, Black Country Lady is a moving and hauntingly beautiful ballad come anthem and one that leaves a big lump in your throat. The elegant guitar and Jane’s elegantly melancholic vocals are stylish and wistful in equal measure. This is definitely going to be a live favourite and the band have the necessary chops to carry this off in any venue. It’s as good, if not better, as anything you’ll hear in the charts and is topped off with another stunning piece of guitar work from Robin and Greg, backed ably by Adrian’s drums. A funky, bluesy guitar opens Better Place, a high energy filled track that definitely treads the blues rock path and does it with aplomb. The vocals take on an Alannah Myles hue showing Jane’s versatility and downright potency. A catchy chorus and suitably fiery solo complete this punchy track.

(Michael Dagnall)

A fast paced hard rocker Black Heart has the requisite heavy riffing, influential rhythm section and in your face vocals that take you back to the height of the 80’s peak of the genre. Greg gets inventive on the keyboards and I’m kind of reminded of a female fronted Magnum around the ‘Wings of Heaven’ period. Damn these guys can write some serious hooks and songs that become downright habit forming! Bluesy, soulful, dynamic, powerful, I’m running out of words to describe this compelling and captivating group of musicians and All She Needed just carries on the superlative music experience. The riffing guitars drive the song on at a breathless pace, a really electric and intense piece of music with superb vocals that flies headlong to its guitar solo inspired close.

(Adrian Scattergood)

The pace is notched back a bit on the AOR classic Thanks For The Memories, a nostalgic track with its contemplative vocals and reflective guitar tone. Another memorable chorus and polished solo just leave me shaking my head in disbelief at how good Iconic Eye are at what they do. Jane’s tastefully emotive vocal being the final layer of class and style on this refined song. Don’t Stop Me From Leaving has a simple sadness at its core, another anthemic song that will be a sure fire live hit. Jane’s poignant voice sings of a sorrow and heartbreak that may come and the music fits the mood perfectly with the plaintive keyboards and the wishful and reflective guitar solo. The last song on the album is the enigmatic Never Get Through The Light, a proper hard rock track with a heavy touch of AOR in the guitar , drums and vocals. A compelling piece of music that never lets up, keeping you on the edge of your seat, another standout chorus and some simply superb guitar playing close the album out in suitable style.

Iconic Eye should soon be a name on everyone’s lips, a byword for sumptuous hard rock stamped with their own unique style. An outrageously talented group of musicians with one of the greatest female vocalists I’ve heard in a long time, in ‘Into the Light’ they’ve produced a rock album of rare quality from beginning to end.

Released 4th November 2017

Order ‘Into the Light’ direct from Iconic Eye here

(Featured image by Samantha Lloyd)

 

 

 

Review – Misto – Helios – by Progradar

One thing I really like about working with independent musicians is the fact that I get to see how their musical projects develop from start to finish, often being the first to hear the end product or asked for my input as to how I think it is developing.

Last year Italian multi-instrumentalist Mirko Viscuso contacted me to ask if I’d review the debut release from his project Misto, a one man band based in Genoa, Italy. After different experiences with several local bands, Mirko decided to compose, record and produce his first solo album, ‘Infinite Mirrors’, featuring instrumental music inspired by personal experiences.

I was suitably impressed saying that, “…ultimately I feel relaxed and as one with the world as I listen to this beauteous offering. Trust me, you should do yourselves a favour and listen to it too.”

Out of the blue Mirko contacted me again asking me if I would review his second album, ‘Helios’, due to be released in November. I was intrigued to see what musical direction he had taken on this new record so it was a bit of a no-brainer really!

Calling himself a ‘One-man post rock instrumental project’, that’s what you got from the first album, chilled-out, laid back and relaxed but ‘Helios’ sees him blend that original style with something a bit heavier and more aggressive at times.

Opening track Buried Under Remote Lands has a repeated, chilled out guitar line reminiscent of the sound of Sanguine Hum, an addictive melody that runs throughout the song. The dynamic rhythm section adds some stylish drama to everything and you get the feel of floating on a cloud of elegant music that takes you away from the stress and worry of life in the fast lane. That darker edge is first heard on the rather frenetic and energetic tones of Polemic Guy Wants To Fight with its crashing guitar riffs and superb drum and bass rhythms. A surprise from start to finish, Mirko has really extended his musical horizons with this track, I really like it, the spirited close is genius!

Daffodils Crashing Into The Water returns to the wistful and nostalgic tone with its chiming guitars and dreamy atmosphere. A gentle musical journey through a world of calm collection and reflection. It’s one of those pieces of music that really lifts your spirit. The addition of the delightful violin playing of Giulia Ermirio adds an ethereal grace to what is already a graceful and charming piece of music.

(Giulia Ermirio)

A pensive and sombre track, Set Your Firearms Against The Sun builds up from solemn beginnings with its absorbing guitar and keyboard note into something elemental and primeval. The sound turns ominous with the restless riff and the questioning guitar note, like a soundtrack to a sci-fi film about an apocalyptical future. It really gets under your skin with its deliciously dark and uneasy feel, Mirko is really stretching his musical boundaries here!

Mirko says that title track Helios is the most ‘proggy’ song on the album and, to a certain extent, I’d have to agree. It begins as all relaxed and laid-back post rock that draws you into its winsome and captivating world, relaxed, chilled and without a care in the world. Music for hot, hazy summer days that never end, looking back on the good times and forgetting the bad. A vibrant riff opens up, giving a more intense mood and atmosphere but still charismatic and engaging before a more subdued and thoughtful aura falls over the music, a nostalgic feel of looking back at how life used to be. The gossamer-like guitar notes landing randomly on your aural receptors, it’s actually a very cathartic and soul-cleansing piece of music that sees your pulse rate drop and your mind clear. Twelve minutes of music that could make all psychiatrists redundant..

The final track is Time To Destroy My Life Capsule and the opening takes the more ambient route again, harmonious melodies leaving an ambience of soothing tranquility in the air. There’s a short period of reflective silence before a more insistent tone takes over, never dark but questing, more demanding and with a slight touch of that new found aggression. Everything comes full circle once again though as the serenity returns to see this track and the album to a close.

Mirko told me he was worried about the fact that the few who loved ‘Infinite Mirrors’ might be in some way confused about this more aggressive sound. I can happily attest to the fact that this is not the case, that edgier and sometimes darker feel has added another level of innovation to Mirko’s music and produced an album of many sophisticated layers that intrigues and delights with every note. A superb return from Misto indeed!

Release date to be announcedon Misto’s Facebook page in the next few days, keep checking below:

https://www.facebook.com/mistoband/

You can listen to ‘Infinite Mirrors’ at bandcamp here

 

 

Review – Geof Whitely Project – Time – by Progradar

He’s a prolific fellow that Arny Wheatley, the creative mind behind the Geof Whitely releases an astounding amount of new albums, surely the quality will have to dip at some point? Well it hasn’t since I got involved with reviewing the releases and December will see the latest record from this musical project see the light of day.

In a break from the norm ‘Time’ will only be available in CD format and exclusively from the website only in CD format and a limited edition of 300. In a further change to the standard format, this album is shorter and features only 6 tracks.

We start with the dark and atmospheric Deadly Alliance. That signature base sound is present and correct but, carrying on from the slight deviation we heard in ‘The Blessed & The Damned’, Arny adds some subtle nuances. The keyboards and resonating guitar add a real sombre note and serious tone, it’s a great direction to take. A tasteful piano introduces Stay before the yearning vocal joins in. A wistful and slightly melancholy song of hope  and one that sees yet another sonic string added to this talented musicians bow. Within the loose strictures of the recognisable Geof Whitely Project sound are now thrown some really interesting variations and it works very well.

Title track Time has a seasonal, festive feel to it as it begins with its bells and horns and exudes a feelgood aura. Arny’s vocal adds some seriousness and authority along with the powerful guitar and dynamic drums to replace this almost pastoral tone with something a bit more rock influenced. An effective and compelling piece of music, it holds your attention as it takes its measured strides along a vibrant musical journey. Sometimes sees that contemplative and thoughtful feel return, the vocals have a pensive edge and the keyboards give a wintry sheen to everything. A polished and reflective song that certainly left me reflecting on my past, there’s a real maturity to Arny’s songwriting that is pretty evident on tracks like this.

An elegant guitar and reflective keyboard open Runaway Express before a heavier guitar stirs things up. The emotive vocals grab you straight away with their really meaningful delivery and give the song a thoughtful and determined mood. The occasional lighter feel of Geof Whitely Project albums has been replaced by a more serious and sober intent which is highly evident on this cultured and stylish track. All too soon we come to the album closer Out of Touch and Arny throws another little curveball in with its Floyd-esque intro, there’s intelligence and some not inconsiderable subtlety in the songwriting on this album and it manifests itself perfectly on this track. Measured and brooding in delivery, both the music and the vocals have an earnest honesty to them and make for a compelling listening experience.

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ but, as Arny keeps showing us, that doesn’t mean you can’t make little improvements to every release to keep on improving your music without losing its original identity. I personally think ‘Time’ sees the Geof Whitely Project at the zenith of their creativity so far and am intrigued to see where Arny will go next!

Released 4th December 2017

‘Time’ will be exclusively available from the Geof Whitely Project website here

Listen to ‘Deadly Alliance’ here