Review – The Aaron Clift Experiment – If All Goes Wrong – by Progradar

“Intricate and subtle yet with raw passion at its heart, The Aaron Clift Experiment is one of the most exciting and interesting bands currently writing and playing music today.”

Now, I said those words about The Aaron Clift Experiment’s debut album from 2012, ‘Lonely Hills’ and the band went from strength to strength with their impressive follow up, 2015’s ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ that increased the quota of high energy hard rock based progressive music.

2018 sees these Austin, Texas natives deliver their third album, ‘If All Goes Wrong’ and, after the increasing promise of the first two albums, it was one I was very much looking forward to hearing for the first time…

Formed in 2012 as the solo project of Aaron Clift, the band has since blossomed into a powerful live group.  The group’s multi-faceted sound is an innovative blend of classic rock, modern rock, and classical all anchored by the band’s dedication to high-quality songwriting and musicianship.

Its last two albums, 2012’s ‘Lonely Hills’ and 2015’s ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ were critically-acclaimed progressive rock achievements, landing on several year-end best album lists.  In 2017, the band had a star-making performance at RosFest, one of the largest progressive rock festivals in the world.

The core members are Aaron Clift – Vocals/Keyboards, Devin North – Bass and Tim Smith – Drums and Percussion and the new album sees contributions from some of the top guitarists in Austin, Van Wilks (a Texas blues and rock icon), Arielle (a student of Brian May of Queen and collaborator of legendary guitarist, Eric Johnson), and Dave North (of Austin psych rockers, The Cuckoos).

What I’ve always found with, and loved about, The Aaron Clift Experiment is the rock element to their music, varying from hard rock to a very fluent blues guitar style, it gives them a quite unique sound and added to Aaron’s husky and raw vocal delivery, you wouldn’t mistake them for anyone else.

The first two songs on this new release, Faith and Last Crash are full of that harder edged riffing guitar and dynamic drums that combine to give a high energy delivery. Where the former is upbeat, the latter has a darker hue to it, Faith taking cues from many almost balls-out rockers. You immediately get into the band’s mindset and groove with this really invigorating, raw feeling song. Last Crash subtly builds up the tension with some excellent synth and bass guitar work before a driving riff and high octane drums give it that impending feel of apprehension. Aaron delivers an immediate vocal, impassioned and edgy and the squirreling guitar breaks really add some zeal and animation to the organised chaos.

The band take on a more pastoral and progressive style for  Absent Lovers, a delightfully wistful opening blossoms into a compelling tour-de-force that ebbs and flows irresistibly throughout. The organic synth sound adds a real 70’s aura that blends perfectly with vocal harmonies and potent guitars to take you on an enthralling musical journey. Remember Ben Folds ? The truly addictive vibes of Better Off Before certainly remind me of that piano heavy, almost pop-prog sound. It’s a real feelgood sounding song with a a not particularly upbeat subject. A Brian May-esque guitar sound and the energetic rhythm section give it real polish and gloss and make it one of my favourite songs on the album.

Funky guitars, swirling keyboards and high-tempo drums all combine to give us the jazz-fusion intro to another grin inducing track. Castle In The Sky takes what I would call the signature Aaron Clift Experiment sound and adds even more zest and vivacity to deliver a high energy song full of catchy hooks and intricate melodies and one that showcases the musician’s skills perfectly. Have you ever wondered what would happen if Aaron Clift met King Crimson and they jammed together? Well, wonder no more for Savage In A Fancy suit will give you the definitive answer to that (never asked) question. An almost disorganised, chaotic frenzy of riffs and caustic Hammond Organ notes entwined with staccato drumming and a discordant bassline. It shouldn’t work really but it does and what a thoroughly enjoyably manic track it is.

Returning to the elegant and nostalgic pastoral tones, Dream Within a Dream is The Aaron Clift Experiment at their progressive best. Melancholic undertones give a pensive and sombre atmosphere to this impressive song. The music has an anticipatory feel and Aaron’s vocal almost pleads into the microphone. An intelligent and immersive eight minutes of music that hits the highs but also has an underlying seriousness that makes you take in every nuance and subtlety, oh and the guitar solo that closes out the song is pure genius! Fiery, edgy and with an almost pop-punk feel to it, Wild Hunters is an aggressive, lively and spirited track that fills a hell of a lot into its sub three minute running time. It’s almost like it rocks up, slaps you in the face, kicks you in the knee and then disappears into the distance laughing manically.

The final track on the album is a wonderful piece of music that just oozes class, warmth and emotion. Title track If All Goes Wrong really gets under your skin with its mournful vocal and elegant string-like synths. There’s a beauty to be found in its sorrowful and forlorn quality, the guitar solo just bleeds a melancholy passion that proves there is allurement even in sadness, it is a fantastic finish to the album.

‘If All Goes Wrong’ sees this impressive ‘Prog Ensemble’ rise to even higher heights. I’ve been a fan of The Aaron Clift Experiment since I heard their first album nearly six years ago and, like a fine wine, they just mature and get better and better as time goes on. They’ve enriched and diversified their already impressive songwriting and musical skills to make them one of the most impressive progressive acts currently on the scene.

Released 4th May 2018

If All Goes Wrong Pre-order Campaign

 

Review – Shadowlight – Stars Above The City – by Progradar

A little known fact is that UK based alternative rock band Shadowlight are the main reason you are now reading this review on a website called Progradar. I liked their 2012 release ‘Twilight Canvas’ that much that I really (and I mean REALLY) pushed it on social media as well as creating some Youtube videos for the tracks. All this really whetted my appetite to take my amateur music journalism a step further. This new album has been a long time coming and I was eagerly awaiting its arrival.

Suffice to say I have not been disappointed in any way, shape or form. James Hodkinson (guitar, vocals), Mark Wilson (keyboards, vocals) and Ed Williamson-Brown (bass) have delivered in spades and I must now have listened to ‘Stars Above The City’ over twenty times and it hasn’t lost any of its wonderful lustre.

This album is chock full of edgy, sharp-suited alternative rock with a thoughtful intelligence. Clever riffs with more than a touch of heaviness and some soaring guitar solos are joined by the traditional swirling Hammond keyboard sound to deliver insightful, intelligent and enjoyable music with a tip of the hat to such luminaries as Riverside and Porcupine Tree.

There’s a lovely nostalgic nod to ‘Twilight Canvas’ in the opening intro Adrenaline Bomb before the album gets going properly with the thumping riffs of Gravity. This new album is still full of what made the last one (and the ‘Winter’ EP) so good, especially the expertly harmonised vocals, but there’s a much heavier feel and a maturity to the band’s sound with its added complexity, dynamic, sharp-edge riffing and cool as you like solo.

The trio of Summerfade, Dusseldorf and Stars Above The City take the signature Shadowlight sound and mould and evolve it into something that is still connected but now has a sophisticated and perceptive intelligence and I could listen to that sound all day long. Captivating choruses and addictive melodies are key to this new direction but there’s also a grittiness and edginess to James Hodkinson’s guitar sound that gives it something else, the guitar led intro to the title track is a great example of this.

Things just keep getting better with November and Fractured, two songs that really showcase the superb keyboard skills of Mark Wilson, his ability to switch from the heights of swirling Hammond organs to the subtleties of a beautiful piano note is delightful. You find yourself being enveloped by the music, it’s soothing and involving qualities are prime to you feeling part of the album rather than a spectator.

The final song on the album, Unending, sees the band deliver their most progressive piece of music yet, coming in at just under twelves minutes of complex and intricate music with meaningful vocals and a pensive thoughtful feel. A contemplative and introspective work that holds your attention throughout and one where each of the musicians comes to the fore to deliver an outstanding song that, to me, is Shadowlight’s best yet and a worthy ending to this stellar album.

I know you could say I’m a bit prejudiced but this new album from Shadowlight is everything I hoped it would be and so much more as well. They say if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it but, what the band have done with ‘Stars Above The City’ is take what made ‘Twilight Canvas’ such a great debut album and enhance it in subtle ways to deliver a real progression of their music and something which can hold its head high in this crowded world of new music that we live in today.

Rating – 93/100

Released 7th April 2018

Download from all the usual suspects:

 

 

 

Single Review – Sleeperman – Keeley Really – by Progradar

Like a never ending musical production line staffed with working class heroes from the 50’s and 60’s, those folks at Chippy Records have released the fourth Sleeperman single of 2018 and, once again, it is a humour filled triumph of social commentary and the lives that normal people lead.

“Aged eight she was going to join the ballet, at 16 she went to Spain and shared a chalet, at 24 she’s got three kids from men she didn’t marry.”

The witty and pithy lyrics in Keeley Really seem to come from a well that never seems to run dry and the jovial, traditional music delivery adds a real down to earth feel to everything that these talented guys touch. John Hilton’s vocal delivery is almost spoken as well as sung and it adds a narrative feel to the song. Neil Scott’s jangly guitar sound echoes with hues of 50’s rock n’ roll with its Duane Eddy twang and Steve Skinner and Phil Sharp are the perfectly chilled rhythm section that glue everything together.

“She reads them stories every night, she brings her kids up right. Her shoulders tattooed with their names; Diesel, Magaluf and James.”

These guys just seem to get how I feel about music spot on every time, a real soundtrack for my generation.

As ever, with their faux 45rpm style, there’s a B-side and The Places That We Knew Before Are Not Those Places Anymore shows a more melancholy side to the band and the songwriting.

“Remember swimming naked in the ship canal because we’d seen it in a film…”

It’s a sepia tinged wistful look back at younger days when anything seemed possible and any ambition was attainable. As the saying goes, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be but the bitter sweet lyrics and music are delivered just about perfectly.

Sleeperman have done it again, this is becoming a series that is as addictive as anything that Sky, Amazon or Netflix can deliver and, if you haven’t already, come join us on this incredible ride.

Released 4th April 2018

Check the band’s Facebook page for how to get your hands on the single in CD and digital form here

Single Review – Sleeper Man – Loyalty – by Progradar

“…if I’m lost, I’m on my phone, you can always find me, Tesco’s have a read on how much lager I will need to unwind me..”

The lyrical genius of Sleeperman once again brings a smile to this tired old hack’s face. Sharp, canny and incisive lyrics are becoming a real U.S.P of this clever band which, along with music that always hits the spot, are making them a highlight of this musical year for me. The third single release of 2018 is Loyalty and the guys once again tweek a winning formula by giving a little bit of eastern promise to their sound.

To quote the band, “NEIL’S SITAR INFLUENCED GUITAR MOTIF IS AN (ARRANGED) MARRIAGE WITH JOHN’S LYRICAL TRIBUTE TO THE BARD IN A TALE OF SUPERMARKETS AND PERSONAL IDENTITY. “

That Indian influenced guitar motif is incredibly catchy becoming an earworm and one that gives additional polish to what is already a very impressive song. I’m probably not the only one who actually rewinds the song so that they can listen to the witty and pithy lyrics which, combined with the excellent bass of Steve and Phil’s elegant drumming, advance the coda of Sleeperman further on up this involving musical road.

The B-Side Peace of Mind and a Good Night’s Sleep compliments Loyalty perfectly, you must take the time to get immersed in these musical storytelling gems, independent music seems to be forever fighting a rearguard action against the corporate bullshit that abounds in the music industry of late but, with bands like Sleeperman giving us intelligent music with stories that we can relate to on a personal level, long may that fight continue.

Released 4th March 2018

Check out the band’s Facebook page for how to get your hands on the CD single

Download Loyalty digitally on iTunes

Review – Zombie Picnic – Rise of a New Ideology – by Progradar

Let’s get something straight from the off, there are no zombies and (unfortunately for the hungry ones out there) no sign of any picnic of any variety but, what this striking album cover does contain is a very intriguing and involving six tracks of mainly instrumental music.

There seems to be a real clamour for that instrumental album with ‘snippets of archival voice recordings’ at the moment. Take Public Service Broadcasting and Nordic Giants for starters, and I’m a fully paid up member of the appreciation society!

Now Northern Ireland’s Zombie Picnic return with their second album and this time around the post-rock progressive four-piece presents six connected instrumental tracks spanning the two sides of this new LP. Combining a vast array of progressive musical influences with snippets of archival voice recordings (there you go, told you!) from thinkers and futurists of past and present, ‘Rise of a New Ideology’ delves into some dark and ambiguous places.

What we get is six pieces of thoughtful, intelligent music that really get you involved in this album. Opener Democracy Cannot Survive, with its slow burning, dark and sombre feel, starts things as they mean to go on. The contemplative, methodical rhythm section really gives focus to this song and the wispy, spaced out guitars take you on a magical mystery tour. It is nine minutes of mesmerising, metronomic music that draws you in to its earnest embrace. They See Science As Dangerous has a real west coast feel to it with the more psychedelic guitars and edgy drumming, where the previous track was all softness and rounded edges there’s a sharper, more blunt feel to the music on this song. Pugnacious, punky and in your face, yet with a 70’s feel, it is a well thought out piece of music. DEFCON is as laid back and chilled as they come. Nostalgia is there in droves and it has a lazy and hazy summer feel to it, life is good! It opens up into quicker paced, more insistent track with some stylish guitar playing but it never loses that twinkle in its eye or that skip in its step.

There seems to be almost a sea-change as we come to track four where the spaced out, ambient sound takes a sharp ninety degree turn and becomes a lot more alt-rock and punky. Life-Support Systems sees an urgent, jangly guitar note take over and the rhythm section seems to press the fast forward button. It’s a clever contrast in styles and gives the album added impetus. There are a few lulls thrown in to give some context and the guitar playing really does go up a notch, they’re a really talented bunch these guys. See Beyond sees the band take another chill pill and give us another luscious and relaxed track where life seems to move at a much more easygoing pace and becomes nonchalant and spontaneous. The music takes on a breezy feel in places but there is always that feelgood undercurrent. Bang! That’s the hit to the auditory senses that the raging intro to Anger in Storage (Denial Will Follow) gives you, a violent mini-storm of angry music that blows you away. There is a calming of the storm but that uneasy, restless feel remains and you’re never far away from a Nirvana-like blast of guitars and drums to lull you out of any false sense of security you may have built up. An impassioned and cleverly indignant end to what has been an intense whirlwind thirty seven minutes of music.

I’m a big fan of music that takes me in a new direction and gives me a little something that I haven’t had before. The exemplary musicianship and well-crafted songs on ‘Rise of a New Ideology’ take an acknowledged genre and take it to the next level. Zombie Picnic are a band who are going places very quickly, just don’t expect rotting flesh and sausage rolls along the way… 

Released 9th March 2018

Order ‘Rise of a New Ideology’ from bandcamp here

Review – John Holden – Capture Light – by Progradar

Life never stands still, the world rotates on its axis at around 1000mph (it’s less as you get North but you get my drift!) and day becomes night. The years pass quicker, or so it seems, and the sheer volume of music that is released gets bigger and bigger all the time.

Because of this it is impossible for me to hear every new release that would perhaps pique my musical curiosity and it pains me to think that I will have missed some gems as the clock keeps ticking. However, I can console myself with the wonderful releases that I do get to hear and enjoy.

I’ve been talking to John Holden about his great musical collaboration ‘Capture Light’ for well over a year now and I was honoured to be one of the first to receive the completed article a couple of months ago. I have listened to it multiple times and now feel ready to write my review…

Over two years in the making, an immersive and evolving album opens with the Joe Payne sung track Tears From The Sun. A symphonic and operatic tour-de-force featuring Oliver Wakeman’s keyboards, it has a feel of where The Enid could be now if they hadn’t imploded. After a quelled opening the bombast begins with multi-layered instrumentation before Joe’s distinctive vocal gives the track life and shape. As opening tracks go, this really does take some beating with John’s great music being complimented by his and Elizabeth Buckley’s fine lyrical accomplishment. A complex musical mosaic that keeps your rapt attention all the way through, Joe is on fine form and gives the song a flamboyant drama.

Crimson Sky takes a more symphonic rock oriented route with Julie Gater’s vocal giving it a Celtic rock infused tone. Hard edged and heavier, there’s a feel of early Karnataka to my ears. The powerful music is complimented perfectly by Julie’s dulcet tones, especially on the catchy chorus. Listen out for the superb guitar solo from Billy Sherwood (yes, THE Billy Sherwood) which adds a real sheen of class to what is already a pretty impressive song. I’m already beginning to love the diversity that John has brought to this album and we’re only two tracks in!

John proves he can tell a great story with the excellent title track, full of drama and intrigue, you’ll have to buy the CD to get the whole story but the musical journey is an engrossing and compelling one that will hold your attention throughout and I had to read the credits twice to realise it was Joe Payne who was performing the fantastic vocals again, this guy is pure talent. Oliver Wakeman’s elegant piano playing once again graces the song and adds real pathos to what is already a dramatic and emotional piece of music and let’s not forget Oliver Day’s stylish guitar, lute and mandolin. Let’s be fair, music has forever been about telling stories and John Holden is already proving to be very adept at it. Capture Light will be one of the most enjoyable and absorbing history lessons you’ll ever have…

A choral mantra that could fit a Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical, Ancient of Days is an uplifting track that just seems to bring a ray of sunshine along with it with it’s tribal feeling music and the great vocals of Jean Pageau, ably backed by Lee-Anne Beecher and Marc Atkinson. I could quite imagine this song being part of something like Lion King or Joseph with its great theatrical feel. A real shout out must go to Emily Dolan Davies whose skill on the drum kit is utterly evident here.

A song all about Jesse Owens and THAT race in Berlin, One Race is possibly the most progressive track on the album while not being that progressive (if that makes sense?). Joe Payne delivers another consummate vocal performance and the harmonised parts with Max Read give a real Celtic overtone, in fact the whole track reminds me of Clannad or Enya in places. It’s another well crafted song with a great storyline that works brilliantly along with the rest of the tracks on the album and the guitar playing just gives added impetus to the sensation of running along with the narrative.

Now onto the one track that I didn’t click with straightaway, Dreamcatching seemed a bit trite and twee to me on first listen, not quite gelling with the other songs on the album. Trying to explain the legend behind dreamcatchers using spoken word, song and music, this piece of music will either captivate or alienate in my opinion. Repeated listens have led me to appreciate it a lot more, while not actually loving it like I do the majority of the other songs. What does work very well though is the lovely flute and sax work from the ubiquitous Peter Jones who does a good job of adding whimsy and warmth as well as backing vocals along with Julie Gater.

London Grammar, that’s what I thought when I heard the first ultra-cool strains from No Man’s Land with it’s jazzy backdrop to Julie Gater’s silky smooth vocals. A song for lazy days in hazy summers, its chilled and easygoing vibe seems to seep into your very being. The feel good atmosphere seems to infuse every instrument, Gary O’Toole’s polished drum playing and Oliver Wakeman’s relaxed piano and keyboards are the height of sophistication.

A dreamy and contemplative song, Seaglass Hearts is full of longing and the vocals give pause with their elegant reminiscing. A nice interplay between the voices of Peter Jones and Julie Gater give a modern folk feel to the track, one full of wonder and playfulness along with Peter’s soulful sax playing. A sentimental ending to the album, enforced by the sparse piano that fades us out to a close.

A captivating journey through the mystical and historical, ‘Capture Light’ is an accessible, melodic tour-de-force that reveals more of its hidden depths with each listen. John Holden has collected an impressive group of musicians and given us a release that could well be a highlight of the year already.

Released 23rd March 2018

Pre-order ‘Capture Light’ on digital from bandcamp here

Pre-orders for the CD will be available from John Holden’s website soon at this link

Single Review – Sleeperman – You Would Not Be Seen Dead In A Shirt Like That – by Progradar

So, the Sleeperman singles production line has released the second of their ‘new single every month’ releases and I have the pleasure of reviewing it.

This time the East Yorkshire quartet seem to have taken a chill pill with new track ‘You Would Not Be Seen Dead In A Shirt Like That’ and ‘B’ side ‘Black Ice’.

The CD single comes in the usual faux 45rpm vinyl 7″ packaging which is becoming a really nice touch but, much as I’m a sucker for great packaging and album covers, it’s the music that is ‘inside’ that counts!

As is becoming patently obvious with Sleeperman it’s not just the well crafted music that counts, it is also the clever, pithy and pertinent lyrics that make their songs stand out and the wistful, nostalgic grace of ‘You Would Not Be Seen Dead In A Shirt Like That’ is no exception. John Hilton’s wonderfully laconic and laid back vocal delivery once again delivers wry observations that make you smile, his occasionally sardonic voice is a perfect fit for the roots and alt-country inspired guitar playing of Neil Scott and makes the song a wonderfully laid back three minutes of near empathetic perfection.

“The saddest thing I ever saw was an old man alone in the light from a corner shop, his coat was too big, he was crying into his cupped hands…”

The ‘B’ side ‘Black Ice’ is a bit of a departure for the band and takes a different musical direction to what they delivered before. The repetitive, urgent and yet low key guitar intro give a feeling of hesitancy and John’s vocal has a pleading tone. It’s another intelligent three minutes that grabs your attention and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Pared back and minimalist, it almost ghosts across your senses and leaves you in a state of calm bewilderment.

They’re a clever lot Sleeperman and what they are doing is taking us back to the great era of music when the anticipation of newly released singles was almost too much to bear. Not only that, they are delivering on that anticipation big style, this is music for the music lover, music to cherish and not the usual throw away rubbish that seems to assault the charts nowadays. I take my hat off to them and long may it continue!

Released 4th February 2018

Get ‘You Would Not Be Seen Dead In A Shirt Like That’ from iTunes here

Review – Geof Whitely Project – Sempiternal – by Progradar

‘Prolific’ is a word that I have to use when you talk about album releases from the Geof Whitely Project. The man behind this musical phenomenon, Arny Wheatley, has released a bewildering number of albums over the last few years and it is a testament to his songwriting that they have remained high calibre with no loss in quality or content.

So, imagine the shock when it was announced that ‘Sempiternal’ would be the only album release from the Geof Whitely Project in 2018? Well, if it is going to be the solitary one, it had better be good eh?

Arny always seems to give some a little different but without straying too far from his so far successful formula and the new release is no exception, delivering powerful and brooding tracks like opener Stir of Echoes. It’s perhaps the most dark and serious track on the album and it really hits a nerve with me, lengthy at over nine minutes, there is no wasted space and every note has meaning. There’s a lifting of the obfuscation with Hidden Depths but not the serious overtones, a really mature piece of music where Arny’s thoughtful vocals work their usual magic. The signature keys and guitar sound all add to the mix to give another melancholy and yet contemplative track. A wistful and reflective two minutes follows with the measured instrumental delights of Isolation. Like a calm oasis, it mops your fevered brow before you carry on further on your musical exploration.

Low End Distortion has a slow burning intro before an aggressive riff takes over and gives it a seriously edgy feel. This is a real departure from the signature sound, a more hard rock infused track that Arny pulls off really well. That driving riff is the key to the song, powered on by the effective and dynamic rhythm section. Arny takes the vocal duties in his stride as usual and you are left with one of the best Geof Whitely Project tracks I’ve had the pleasure to listen to. A stirring and involving song, Overseer is measured and studied, the sax style keyboards are a real delight and instill a real grace and calmness to the music. This is a track with real passion at its core and Arny’s sparse vocal delivers that with aplomb. Another fast paced, rockier piece, Fairground Distraction even gets my foot tapping to the beat. I like this edgier, more vibrant direction that Arny takes on these tracks, giving them a dynamic and energetic flow that you really engage with.

There’s a lovely piano tinged opening to the emotive Momentary Lapse and its steady,measured pace does remind you of a certain Pink Floyd in places, Arny’s voice even sounding David Gilmour like (that could just be me though!). It is a moving and poignant sounding piece of music that once again shows that Arny is at the top of his game here, just check out the instrumental section around two thirds of the way through and you’ll know what I mean. A powerfully inspiring song that I really like. Ooh another guitar riff! The Voice isn’t as in your face as the earlier, harder tracks but has a great opening that includes a forceful riff and potent rhythm section that imbue it with authority and stature. The verses have a more reflective feel to them but the chorus is significant and substantial and the juxtaposition between the two works exceedingly well. The final track on the album is On a Strange Tide and it has feel of Floyd to its opening again, a bit ‘Shine On..’ with its mysterious and moody synth sound that builds slowly. A wistful and nostalgic song that has a hint of melancholy running through it. Arny’s voice is reflective and musing and the music has a touch of longing at its centre. Swirling synths and brooding guitars abound and there’s a weighty and significant atmosphere that builds all around. A serious and meaningful track to close out this impressive album.

Well, if ‘Sempiternal’ is the Geof Whitely Project’s only album release of this calendar year then Arny has delivered what is, in my opinion, far and away the best GWP record so far. High praise that may sound like but it is worth every word. A more expansive and harder sound combined with some excellent songwriting, one not to be missed.

Released 26th March 2018

Order ‘Sempiternal’ from the Geof Whitely Project

Review – Gleb Kolyadin – s/t – by Progradar

I suppose, like me, the music you listen to depends on the mood you are in? Uptempo, fast-paced music for workouts or when you are in a really energetic mood or perhaps the chilled out, more relaxing music for a quiet night in and then there is that album that sits a bit on the fence, it has the higher cadence but also the easygoing, even emotive tracks that make it a great listen.

I was lucky enough to receive the promo for Gleb Kolyadin’s (pianist and co-songwriter of Iamthemorning) self-titled solo release and was intrigued to find out whether it would be more of his day job or a change from the norm that would head in other directions. Along that journey I have had the pleasure to become engrossed in what is a wonderful musical adventure…

The record features a staggering who’s-who of performers, including: Gavin Harrison (King Crimson Porcupine Tree) on drums; Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson) on bass; Theo Travis (Robert Fripp / Porcupine Tree / Steven Wilson) on flute and saxophone; the unmistakable voice and lyrics of Steve Hogarth (Marillion) alongside Mick Moss (Antimatter); and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) on additional keys.

The album is a collaborative piece with each musician recording their own parts separately, starting with Gleb recording himself on grand piano in Moscow Winter-Spring 2017 at the famed Mosfilm studio. The album was mixed and engineered by Vlad Avy, who also previously worked on the two Iamthemorning records.

There’s a wonderful freshness and freedom to the music that Gleb delivers, whether it is the instrumental tracks where his piano playing is key or the vocal tracks where intimate stories are weaved by the collaborative voices of Mick Moss and Steve Hogarth. The near-frantic tempo of opener Insight is a case in point with Gleb’s dextrous digits flying over the ivories to give a breathtaking demonstration of his skill. The accompanying musicians add a veneer of sheer class, Theo’s sax really stands out and you could imagine yourself standing to applaud as it comes to a close. There’s a humble feel to the opening of Astral Architecture, the gentle piano is hushed in comparison giving an ethereal grace to the song. Mick Moss adds a subtle authority as his vocals begin, full of feeling yet with an undercurrent of melancholy, they draw you into there intimate embrace and you willingly follow. A fantastical aura settles over the song as the vocals take on a more passionate note and the classical strings add gravitas, a powerfully emotive track. The elegant notes of White Dawn wouldn’t be out of place in a piano recital, oozing class and panache, it’s a short interlude that could be termed a musical amuse-bouche and it leaves a lovely feeling on the aural palate.

The theme continues but at a much faster tempo as we segue into Kaleidoscope, a track that lives up to its name as you are taken through a huge spectrum of musical wonder by Gleb’s incredible skill and artistry. Tatiana Dubovaya’s haunting vocals give an air of mystery and intrigue but it is a piece of music that fairly skips along without a care in the world and you gladly join the ride as Theo Travis’ flute takes up the reins to take us to a breathtaking close. The momentum slows a little for the captivating charm of Eidolon to beguile and enchant before the slightly discordant notes of Into the Void carry on the recurring musical theme, quite insistent and incessant in their delivery. Again, this is classical music given over to a mass audience with the added skill and expertise of modern day, real world musicians added into the mix to create something quite unique. The unrelenting timbre is carried over to The Room but you always feel the performers are totally in control of proceedings. A note of seriousness has entered the music in places, the happy-go-lucky quality taking a step into the shadows without leaving altogether, Theo’s sax playing adding a gritty feeling of ‘out there’ jazz playing to the furious piano that closes out the track.

There’s a wistful, darker aura that descends around Confluence, a dreamlike and wistful opening seems to be meandering to nowhere in particular with is deliberately slow tempo and Steve Hogarth’s hushed spoken word vocal barely heard in the background. It’s a wistful, contemplative tapestry on which a beautifully mournful soundscape is created. The music has a thoughtful and reflective ambience as it dances gently across your aural synapses and belies its ten minute plus length. This song is a testament to Gleb’s creativity as it twists and turns to gather pace before applying the brakes, always demanding your attention, an introspective piece of music that leaves a lasting impression on your mind. Constellation The Bell is a moving song that has a barely hidden fragility behind the impressive piano playing, an eloquent and expressive three minutes that leaves a hollow feeling behind. There’s a grandiose and ebullient impression to the short lived Echo Sigh Strand, a track where Gleb’s piano playing seems to emanate from his very being to come alive and it crackles with electricity, powerful and exciting.

Penrose Stairs carries on the pomp and circumstance with added theatrics, a vibrant and imposing track aided and abetted by Gleb’s stellar accompanying cast of musicians. However, it is the intricacies of his skillful piano playing that is always at the core of these songs. The involving complexities of the elaborate Storyteller take on a slightly menacing tone as Jordan Rudess’ instantly recognisable keyboard skills take over, it’s quite a thrilling joyride from beginning to end. All good things must come to an end and the dulcet tones of Steve Hogarth herald the closing track on the album The Best of Days. A fantastically nostalgic song where Gleb and Steve work together perfectly to deliver a sentimental track that tugs at the heartstrings. It’s hard for me to put my finger on it but there’s just something about this song that really works and, to my ears, it is near musical perfection.

I met Gleb at this year’s Summer’s End festival and he is a quiet, polite and very unassuming man, perhaps it is through his creative side and his music that he can really express himself. This self-titled solo debut is pretty much a work of art where the undoubted piano playing skills of this virtuoso musician are complemented by some of the most prominent musicians around to give us something quite wonderful and ultimately rewarding and something which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Released 23rd February 2018

Order ‘Gleb Kolyadin’ from Burning Shed here

 

Review – Sills & Smith – Maps-Burned or Lost – by Progradar

“Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.”
― Frank Zappa, Real Frank Zappa Book

I think Mr Zappa hits the nail very much on the head with that quote, life can become very monotonous without something to lift it and that something, for a lot of people, is music.

Now it’s well known that I’m not a fan of the repetitive modern music that makes up the charts nowadays but, if that is what people listen to to make the drudgery of modern life better then who am I to tell them what to listen to?

For me, and many others, it is the well crafted song, the collection of perfect notes that resonate with me and put a smile on my face or help me get through difficult times in my life.

I was introduced to Canadian band Sills & Smith, a project of singer/songwriters Jeremy Sills and Frank Smith, a couple of years ago by their previous release ‘Echoes in Time’ and was immediately hooked. Since thenFrank has kept me updated on the progress of their sixth album ‘Maps – Burned or Lost’ which was released on the first day of the new year.

Recorded by famed producer Phillip Victor Bova, it is described as ‘an epic musical journey, with 14 songs and close to 70 minutes of music that careens between pastoral folk, to trippy rock to progressive rock.’

‘Maps – Burned or Lost’ sees Jeremy and Frank take the next step in their musical evolution and this new collection of 14 delightfully involving songs takes you on a wonderfully engaging musical journey. There’s the slow burning quality of album opener On The Edge, quite an indictment of  the world we live in with its scathing, pithy lyrics and edgy guitar work, the solo just drips scorn and disdain. Frank’s deep and distinctive vocal is as good as ever on this clever track, a superb start to proceedings. There’s a melancholy grace to Kings with its deliberate opening and Frank’s sombre vocal delivery. A song with perhaps a lofty self-important tone, a nostalgic take on days gone by, Jeremy’s lighter vocal is a well judged contrast and the music is just sublime. Frank and Jeremy have surrounded themselves with a stellar cast of musicians that lend the whole album an air of class and sophistication. A Freight Train is a mournful bluesy feeling piece of music, slow burning, calculated and thoughtful with a moody hammond organ providing a layer of gravitas and solemnity. There’s a soulful core to the music and the vocals that seem to bleed a touch of despair and despondency, a properly moving song.

A wonderful song from start to finish, the wistful folk feel to Maps gives it a timeless grace from the humble vocals to the superb unpretentious chorus. This is music written so that every note, every word has its place and is as important as any other, it is storytelling of the highest calibre and it moves me on a most personal level. That carefree, easygoing atmosphere seeps into Waves, a song where the introduction just seems to take you to a place of warmth and love. The chorus is as light as a feather, the music has a charm and grace that leaves you spellbound. Frank’s contemplative vocal opens No Measuring, a thoughtful song with a plaintive, slightly sad feel to it. There’s almost a hushed aura to the music with the elegant piano and the toned down drums. Contemplative and pensive with a flighty flute playing, it leaves me in an introspective frame of mind.

The elegant mandolin that opens Take Care joins with Jeremy’s vocal to give a feel of fragility and beauty and the harmony with Frank adds even more intangible charm. A pared back and willfully sparse song that implores you to take care of yourself with a rarefied dignity. A proper country feel pervades the opening of The Offer and Frank even has a touch of Johnny Cash to his voice, deep and meaningful, it’s a great counterpoint tot he lightness and elegance of the chorus and the slow steady pace of the track lulls you into a place of calm and reflection. Now onto possibly the most upbeat and funky song on the album, there’s a feelgood atmosphere to Grave Fascination with its edgy guitar and offbeat drums that really gives you a lift. Nothing flashy or garish, just a great song that is delivered with confidence and bravado and has you tapping your feet and nodding your head in unison with the beat.

The excellent singer/songwriter vibe returns on Wash Away, Frank’s voice leading the contrite, almost regretful song with the music underpinning the song in a respectful manner. Again, the pared back quality adds to the track, especially on the great guitar work. Alternative and indie in its delivery, Miss Us is a song with an acerbic edge, especially on the biting lyrics. I love the tightly performed guitar solo and the rhythm section that runs throughout the track. This song is a real release of pent up energy with its almost punky, staccato emphasis and it works brilliantly. Mercy begins with a dreamlike atmosphere touched with a feel of melancholy, especially when Frank’s vocal begins. There’s a forlorn mood that settles on the song, a pensive and sombre mood that never breaks right to the close.

Window Through Her Mind is another example of the songwriting skills of Frank and Jeremy. The wonderfully ethereal music is paired with superb vocals again telling a story of nostalgia and remorse, one that demands your attention and draws you in to sit enthralled as it plays out before you. All good things must come to an end and ‘Maps – Burned or Lost’ closes with At The End of The Day an allegorical tale of life as it is today. The graceful and harmonious music and telling lyrics seep into your very soul, I can imagine myself listening to this song with a glass of red wine in my hand, contemplating life, the universe and everything. It’s not a demanding listen but it is one that does require your attention.

Frank Smith and Jeremy Sills have delivered their most profound musical work yet, ‘Maps – Burned or Lost’ is a wonderfully involving collection of songs about love, life and loss that is very relevant in this turbulent world we live in today. You can lose yourself in the well wrought words and the excellent music and come out of the other side in a much better place than you started and that’s what I want from my music.

Released 1st January 2018

Order ‘Maps – Burned or Lost’ from bandcamp here