Review – Trojan Horse – Fukushima Surfer Boys – by Gary Morley

The task set by the wallet emptier was a simple one (which befits me, a simple man)

Write a review of Trojan Horse’s new pile of songs in a week or…

The implied threat of Sundry Sociopathic Pachyderms arriving “For A Quiet Word“ was implied rather than over stated.

So here we go, a live listening party, courtesy of Trojan Horse’s ‘Fukishima Surfer Boys’.

And over-stated the opening track, GRAD isn’t: a few choice chords and an aura of menace (not to mention the sound of a drum kit being assaulted in the background!)

Track 2, The Ebb C/W Solotron (no, I don’t know what it means either!) Big minor chords summon us further into the Fukishima Surfer Social Club, the decor is a mix of King Crimson shabby chic contrasting with Leftfield Ambience – some beat friendly keyboard layers during the second track sent little waves of peace and chilled harmony across the room, the full 10-minute tour of the club passes by in a pleasant haze of keyboard driven chilled pleasure with flashes of guitar flavoured by Zappa and Hillage dotted in the mix, alongside keyboard bursts that could come from either ensemble . All this is underpinned by a rhythm section comprised 2 parts Kraftwerk to 1-part Yellow Magic Orchestra and 1-part Dr Avalanche.

This We like.

Track 3, How You Gonna Get By?, is a bright and shiny duet between a pair of Android barkeepers vying for your drink order. Barbot #1 (arbitrary classification for ease of translation) serves up a cocktail of the Human League Synth sounds and New Wave vocals. pithy and punchy. Barbot#2 chips in every now and then with best harmony vocals that add a Sparks/Talking heads flavour to the drinks. Then the ghost of Kate Bush floats over the ice machine and the cocktail is twisted again, before a phone call distracts me from the final pouring of the cocktail.

Track 4, Herbie Hancock, seems to be produced by the drummer, or the rest of the band forgot to start with him, as the first minute of sampled and acoustic drums sets up for some funky instrumental film music piece, very Buck Dharma in tone, just without the squealing guitar or reference to giant lizards destroying Tokyo. Again, a hint of Kraftwerk as it all goes a bit autobahn at the end.

Zappa is the first name that comes to mind with track 5, The Modern Apothecary, imagine an English Zappa fronting a Prog Madness. Scoring a Spaghetti Western shoot- out. In a tricky time-signature. With a Gothic tinged vocal and an Eastern melody hidden by the guitar. The tune twists and winds around itself, with all manner of studio trickery thrown in. at some stage during the track, Madness have been transmuted into King Crimson. Eclectic indeed.

Next up, The Castle Of… starts off with brooding synths and plaintive voice accompanied by acoustic guitar, but the sonic architecture of the track lulls you into a false sense of anticipation. No huge epic, instead the track jumps into the next, I Wanna See My Daddy, which boasts a thumping drum sound, layers of electronica and a sad refrain of the title winding through it all. The voices are mixed low down at the beginning, then come charging in all Beach Boys harmony in the middle.

Pure Reason Revolution popped into my head at this point, and it’s an apt comparison as TH mix it up, bringing esoteric electronic sounds to the fore, UVB-76 coming on all Brian Eno meets Aphex Twin ambient before fading gracefully into the title track. Which has beautiful sinuous bassline, very Karn-esque in execution. The only criticism I can level is that the vocals are thin here, too high pitched for me, this could be the results of a life lived exposed to Tom Waits, David Sylvian and the like.

The track itself bubbles and flows on before segueing into The Wooden Wall, another association pops up in my head here – David Bowie, more specifically, side 2 of Low, those wonderful instrumentals that captivated me and opened my ears to all manner of electronic goodies, from the previously mention Kraftwerk and Y.M.O. to Tangerine Dream, Tim Blake, Future Sound Of London, This Mortal Coil and more.

All of these memories are triggered by this album. It’s a concept album without any lyrical link. The tracks flow and fit together well, leading you deeper into the world of the Trojans. It’s all very “New Wave” rather than “Punk” if you get my drift. Junk 1 certainly sets out this claim, with a guitar sound very reminiscent of Carlos Alomar’s amazing opening to “Station to Station” and big electronic drums that triggered the “Low” reference.

I’m amazed at the inventiveness and daring shown here, these Trojans are certainly not afraid to push envelopes, The Shapes is an exercise in studio trickery, with a narrator being bounced around the speakers whilst it appears that the Tardis is suffering from indigestion behind him. Either that or this is Vogon poetry set to Vogon music, which seems to take reference to early Depeche Mode and Jean Michel Jarre. The hypnotic beat and washes of keyboards take over and the track constantly changes, gathering depth as it goes.

The album closer, Monodaddy starts off in Granddaddy territory, with a reappearance of the “I Wanna See My Daddy” hook, but this time with a big beat and a sweeping musical backing .. glorious overdubbed harmony vocals floating in and out of the mix.

I’ve got to be honest here, I wrote this as I listened for the first time and once again, Bad Elephant Music have pulled the hat out of the Rabbit and have gifted me with an album that reflects my eclectic musical views. If there is a lack of Prog references in my scribbles, then that is how I related to the songs on offer here.If any of the bands mentioned in this review trigger a memory from you too, then you too should give this a listen or two.

Once again, the Curse Of Bad Elephant strikes as I’m going to end up buying this, then checking out their back catalogue.

Memo to self – negotiate a discount with the Boss Elephant!

Released 13th October 2017

Order ‘Fukushima Surfer Boys’ from bandcamp

 

 

 

Review – Whitewater – Universal Medium – by Emma Roebuck

We move into the autumn and the new releases are starting to roll in for the new season after a fairly quiet summer.  The Naughty Pachyderm is no exception to this seasonal pattern. I expect a whole raft of new and exciting music from all corners in the coming weeks.

The first on my list for autumn is this new album from Whitewater‘Universal Medium’. Whitewater is the brainchild of singer and multi-instrumentalist Stuart Stephens and percussionist and programmer Paul Powell. I am going to be honest and say until this landed in my inbox I knew nothing of the guys and what they did but this their second album after the debut ‘Obscured By The Sun’ in March 2015. In many ways this is a good thing as I had zero expectations of the music or the sound they were aiming for when making their music.

My initial thoughts on first listening were that of a fine use of melody and sound to construct a soundscape from the keyboard which is very atmospheric, building layer by layer to the core of the pieces. This is very obvious in the first tack Light of Day evoking a sunrise drawing in an insistent bass line that drives into the vocals. Everything is understated on the track which brings a level of intensity inversely proportionate to the music. It has a tension to it which tells the story of the song, of the way we hide ourselves behind layers of emotions.

Seconds Fade Away is in two parts, again an atmospheric short keyboard driven piece accompanied by acoustic guitar. It is an apparently simple introduction but has a strength in its simplicity going straight into part two which is the meat of the song, an unhurried examination of the race of life as each second of our lives fades away. The irony of the unhurried approach offsetting the speed of life could be the hidden message to savour life as we wander though the days, weeks and years blindly. You cannot fault the skill and writing of the construction the music but personally I would like to have the guitar higher in the mix when the solo hits at the end.

Onto a very electronic music based Filtered Images which reminds me of the late 70s Tangerine Dream both in tone and quality but it also collides with mid period Porcupine Tree about halfway through. Call it a collision of 70s and 90s in a 21st century setting. At 9:33 minutes I would love to see it longer with greater exploration of the themes but it keeps the attention throughout the instrumental track with variations in atmosphere and tone.

Fallen has a guest vocal on it in the form of Mike Kershaw, a fellow Pachyderm artist. The addition of Mike introduces a sinister layer to the track’ the theme of failure and the impact of failure on the Fallen of the song. The guitar has a huge part to play in this track with a superb solo which is both restrained yet exuberant. It has great atmosphere and draws the listener into the music.

Moon Pulls Pt 1 to 4 is an epic piece that runs just short of 14 minutes long, again with Mike on guest vocals and is the strongest track on the album from my listening. It is a love song, one using gravity and the orbit of the moon and its affect as a metaphor for the emotional turmoil of that dread emotion. Musically it pulls together the guys as a whole and is as complete a way to show what they can do as a band as any other track. It has the layered keyboards and it is not an insipid traditional song to the woes of love but a sincere exploration of the feelings.

I rarely talk about all the tracks on an album I review but give a flavour of the album and try to leave the buyer a reason to find out about the rest. This release is no exception as all 9 tracks have much to offer any listener who cares to spend their money on this release.

I will say this, ‘Universal Medium’ is album that from play one is instantly familiar but also stands repeated plays as you plummet the depths of the construction of the music and the many layers the guys have put into the album. There is no thrash or pastoral sound to Whitewater, they are measured and careful which is reflected in the intensity of the music, yet it can be played on a superficial level in the background and still break through to the listener. For fans of classic Floyd, Electronica, Porcupine Tree there is much to gain from this album. I am off to find the rest of the back catalogue and check it out.

released 22nd September 2017

Order ‘Universal Medium’ from bandcamp here

 

 

 

Seconds fade Away” is in two parts again an atmospheric short keyboard driven piece accompanied by acoustic guitar it is an apparently simple introduction but has a strength in its simplicity going straight into part two which is the meat of the song which is an unhurried examination of the race of life as each second of our lives fades away. The irony of the unhurried approach offsetting the speed of life could be the hidden message to savour life as we wander though the days, weeks and years blindly.  You cannot fault the skill and writing of the construction the music but personally I would like to have the guitar higher in the mix when the solo hits at the end.

 

STEVEN WILSON announces THIRD ROYAL ALBERT HALL SHOW and single NOWHERE NOW

Steven Wilson has announced details of a third and final show at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall in 2018. He plays the venue on Thursday March 29th – his two previously announced shows there are sold out. Steven Wilson’s 2018 UK tour dates are:

Thu 15th Mar                      Warwick Arts Centre

Sat 17th Mar                       Belfast Mandela Hall

Mon 19th Mar                    Dublin Olympia Theatre

Wed 21st Mar                     Cardiff St David’s Hall

Thu 22nd Mar                      Birmingham Symphony Hall

Sat 24th Mar                        Glasgow Clyde Auditorium

Sun 25th Mar                      Gateshead Sage 1

Tue 27th Mar                      London Royal Albert Hall (sold out)

Weds 28th Mar                 London Royal Albert Hall (sold out)

Thu 29th Mar                      London Royal Albert Hall (NEW DATE)

Sat 31st Mar                        Manchester Bridgewater Hall (sold out)

Sun 1st Apr                          Manchester Bridgewater Hall

Tickets for the new show go on sale at 9am Friday 22nd September. The last remaining tickets for the other shows are available from usual agents.

Prior to the tour, Steven releases another track and brand new video. One of the many highlights of Steven’s recently released fifth album To The BoneNowhere Now is a gloriously soaring paean to the joys of everyday escapism. The video for the track was shot on location at and around Atacama Large Millimeter Array (Alma) in Chile – the world famous, high altitude radio telescope array. The video was directed and edited by Steven’s long time visual collaborator Lasse Hoile.

Steven’s fifth album To The Bone (Caroline International) was released to massive acclaim in August. Quotes from some of the reviews:

Resolutely independent… the most successful British artist you’ve never heard of The Telegraph

A near perfect balance… flash & flamboyant with lovingly crafted big tunes Mojo 4*

An inimitable rabbit-hole of psychedelia Planet Rock, 5*

Lush and ambitious… insistently melodic Uncut

Wonderfully executed… pop brilliance” Q 4*

The album we’ve been waiting for Steven Wilson to make… marries intelligence and ability with straightforward popular music with progressive overtones… astonishing” Record Collector 4*

A fervent and meticulous tribute to the very notion of the song itself… Steven Wilson is consciously rehabilitating an approach to pop music that, let’s face it, is long overdue a widespread revival. And, as with everything else, he does it better than most” Prog (album of the month)

“To The Bone features squalls of furious guitars and occasional shifting time signatures… it’s artful, sophisticated pop-rock, channelling the favourites of his youth: Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring, Peter Gabriel’s So, and Tears For Fears’ Sowing The Seeds of Love” The Guardian

His best and most complete solo album yet Classic Rock 4*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 12th June 2017

Buy ‘Variations On Themes By David Bedford’ from bandcamp

Main feature image of Robert Reed by Howard Rankin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All band photographs by Maartje Dekker.

Released 16th June 2017

Buy ‘Nomad’ from FREIA Music UK

Buy ‘Nomad’ in Europe from FREIA Music:

Sky Architect – NOMAD

Review – Kaipa – Children of the Sounds – by Roy Hunter

Legendary Swedish progressive rockers Kaipa, led by mastermind Hans Lundin, have announced the release of their new studio album ‘Children of the Sounds’ for 22nd September 2017. The band’s 13th album, and 8th since the act were reborn in 2002, this album features the line-up of Lundin, accompanied by Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry), Morgan Ågren (Karmakanic), Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, Karmakanic), Patrik Lundström (Ritual) & Aleena Gibson, plus a guest appearance from violinist Elin Rubinsztein.

This album is a thing of great beauty, and if you know the extended catalogue of the band, it sits right at the top!! Since Per Nilsson replaced Roine Stolt from the 2007 album ‘Angling Feelings’, there has been subtle change to the style of music. Always melodic, with great interplay between Nilsson’s sometimes frenetic guitar, Reingold’s bass and Lundin’s keys.

Just 5 tracks on here, the opening title track, Children Of The Sounds, sets off with swapped female/male vocal leads interspersed with Nilsson’s piquant guitar floating over all. The rhythm section drive the music along for 11 minutes, and not one minute of this is filler. Aleena Gibson’s voice is an acquired taste I’ll admit, but I can’t imagine anybody else singing her parts!

Track 2 is a 17 minute epic composition that builds right from the off. On The Edge of New Horizons is a lovely long-form work that Kaipa is noted for. Just when you think it is over, Lundin brings in a new melody or revamps an earlier one. Excellent.

The 3rd track Like A Serpentine does what it says on the tin. Beautiful melodies again and great vocal harmonies, Lundin himself taking the lead. Nilsson excels yet again!! The rhythm section to be so understated carries the tune along very sweetly. The violin places yet another layer overall.

The Shadowy Sunlight, track 4, is the shortest at just under 7 minutes. Beautiful folky violin with some fascinating guitar/keyboards interplay here. Multiple key-changes as the tune ascends to a heady climax – the subtle shift from minor to major really awaken a longing for resolution and finally Nilsson delivers! But I wonder why it finished so soon?

The last track What’s Behind The Fields, opens with a feeling of déjà vu… Have we heard this before? Indeed the track develops into a showcase for all the great features of this band:- harmony vocals and instrumental wizardry of the highest calibre!!

Released 22nd September 2017

Buy ‘Children of the Sounds’ from InsideOut

 

Review – The Wynntown Marshals – After All These Years – by Progradar

“The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they can add up to the story of a life.”
― Rob Sheffield, Love Is a Mix Tape

Not quite an ‘old mix tape’, ‘After All These Years’ marks a decade of The Wynntown Marshals, Scotland’s masters of Americana. Three studio albums into the Wynntown Marshals’ career, the band mark that decade together with the release of a this new collection of classic Marshal’s tracks. Primarily a retrospective look back at some of the recorded highlights of the past ten years, this specially-priced 16-track collection also includes 3 new, previously unreleased tracks which set the scene for the next chapter in the band’s history.

Following their self-finaced EP in 2008, the band’s debut long player ‘Westerner’ was released in 2010, following some line-up changes 2013’s ‘Long Haul’ was seen as a big step forward for The Wynntown Marshals. I found out about the band through lead and pedal steel guitar guru Iain Sloan just in time for the release of ‘The End of the Golden Age’ in 2015.

2017 sees the line up of Sloan and original frontman (and principle songwriter) Keith Benzie, Richie Noble (keyboards) and the new rhythm section of Simon Walker (drums) and bassist David Mckee.

The lyrics are never throwaway, the subject matter often obscure. World-weary yet uplifting melodies are channelled by strident guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies, offset by beautiful keyboard parts and driven by a rock-solid rhythm section. Once referred to as ‘the masters of mid-tempo’, the band can also deftly turn their hand to heart-warming, uplifting power pop.

I got to know Iain through his playing with legendary Scots proggers Abel Ganz and it was during one of our numerous chats about music that he told me about The Wynntown Marshals. I’d never listened to much Americana before but was soon hooked on the band’s superb melodies and excellent songwriting.

‘After All These Years’ has something for just about anyone, allowing you to dip your toe into the band’s back catalogue while also showcasing three previously unreleased tracks for fans old and new. Take the laconic, bittersweet Low Country Comedown, an ode to life on the road, with its dynamic guitars and melancholy vocals combined with the swathes of Hammond organ and occasional heartrending pleas from the steel guitar. It’s a diamond of a song that really tugs at your heartstrings and opens this retrospective on a real high. The first of the unreleased tracks Your Time is another wistful tune that reflects the passing of time in a relationship. The organ that plays away in the background adds huge amounts of atmosphere in combination with the thoughtful guitars and Benzie’s contemplative vocal, a classic Marshals tune if ever you heard one. Keith says this about the song,

“Your Time’ is about wanting more time from/ with your partner when life/ kids get in the way! The verses chart (loosely) Fiona and I’s relationship with references to our honeymoon and both kids (and my preferred plane seat number).” 

One of the most complete tracks from ‘The End of the Golden Age’ Red Clay Hill is Americana at its absolute concentrated best. Benzie’s tribute to the shale bings of West Lothian is a charmingly nostalgic song replete with powerful guitars and rhythm section and that achingly sentimental sound of Sloan’s steel guitar. One of the more traditional country music feeling tracks, The Burning Blue is told from the perspective of a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain. Keith’s voice has a real good ol’ boy tone to it and combine brilliantly with Leigh Hammond’s harmony vocal and the jangling guitars just scream Grand Old Opry at you. A country song about the Battle of Britain might seems at odds but it really works and the catchy chorus has you singing along every time.

The laid-back synth-led vibes of Being Lazy show a more chilled out side to The Marshals, Keith’s mellow vocals and the easygoing instrumentation transport you back to lazy, hazy summer days when you’re just busy doing nothing. Canada ramps up the tempo once more with a raucous jangling guitar sound and insistent rhythm section giving impetus to Benzie’s pure Americana vocal delivery. More Americana tinged pop, it is a fast paced slice of musical cool. Ballad of Jayne was the answer to a New Jersey-based record label’s 2008 request to submit a song for a ‘Hair Metal’ tribute album. A smoky barroom reinterpretation of L.A. Guns tribute to Jayne Mansfield with Benzie’s husky vocal and Sloan’s steel guitar the main players, as a Hair Metal-lite track, it really hits the spot. Listen out for the excellent string-bending guitar solo which is a highlight. A particular crowd favourite of the band’s live set, Tide is a sprawling West Coast tinged track with hints of psychedelia and surfer dude cool. The wandering guitars and carefree vocals add layers of calm insouciance to a song that wouldn’t have been out of place at the original Woodstock.

My personal favourite, and second unreleased song, among sixteen wonderful tracks is the hauntingly beautiful Odessa where Keith’s heartfelt emotive vocals and Iain’s touchingly affective guitar deliver near perfection. Noble’s calming keyboards and the delicately balanced rhythm section just add to the wonderful ambience. I asked Iain if he could find out the story behind the song and Keith said,

“Ah, where do I begin? Nothing too cerebral if I’m honest – I’d always felt ‘Odessa’ was a romantic sounding place, so I did a bit of research then used it as a backdrop to a slightly mysterious and sad tale of unrequited love.”

The Marshals have always written songs with a story, songs based on historical facts and one of the earliest examples is 11:15, taken from the band’s debut EP. It tells the tale of the greatest flood in modern UK history which took place in rural Aberdeenshire in 1829 and is a true epic. Keith trades vocals with the harmonies of Leigh Hammond once again on this two-part track, the first part sets up the suspense with its slow, deliberate pace before there’s a pause and guitar, drums, bass and keyboards are let loose Almost a modern folk infused piece of Americana, it really does showcase the band’s many talents consummately. We move straight into the live staple and classic Marshals song End of the Golden Age with its addictive chorus and sublime musicianship. If some one asked me to pick a song that typifies the band’s brand of Americana I wouldn’t hesitate in choosing this captivating hook laden piece of brilliance with its superb vocal harmonies and distinguished guitar work. After the splendour of the previous track, the stripped back acoustic guitars, piano and strings of Curtain Call are a polar opposite. A tragic tale of a suicidal Victorian conjuror, its plaintive, subdued and sorrowful feel is emphasised by the thoughtful vocals that leave you in a contemplative and reflective state of mind.

A wondrously dreamy and meditative piece of music that transports you to the high sierra of California and its national parks, Thunder in the Valley is a song that just transports you to a place of pastoral calm. Let the music wash over you taking the stress of everyday life away and just enjoy the peace and quiet while you can. This is music that makes the whole world slow down and lets you live life at a pace to suit you, the vocals are composed and serene and the guitars are restrained and impassive, just a wonderfully relaxing song to listen to. The languidly poignant tale of the first captive orca, Moby Doll is a tragic and touching song that really does hit you hard. You can feel the emotion, first in Keith’s vocals and then in the steel guitar and swirling organ as it works its way into your soul, the instrumental close out is pure genius and holds you transfixed. Possibly the only Americana song about a captive albino Gorilla, Snowflake takes The Marshals back down the pure country route with its soft-shoe shuffle and jangling guitars. An uptempo track with some great vocal harmonies and a Duane Eddy guitar tone, it’s another song that hits home perfectly. The last and third and final unreleased song on the album is Different Drug, the reworking of an early EP track. Subtle piano and the cultured rhythm section lend a sophistication that signature Marshals sound that the band have honed over the last 10 years. Benzie’s distinctive voice delivers the lyrics perfectly and the keyboards and guitar drive this elegant track to its fantastic extended close.

‘After All These Years’ is a glorious celebration of 10 years of one of Scotland’s best exports and the so called ‘masters of mid-tempo’. For the fans that have lived the journey with The Wynntown Marshals it is a nostalgic retrospective containing all the highlights of a stellar career to date and for those that are new to the band it is a reminder of what they have missed so far. Here’s to the next ten years with this incredible band…

Released 1st September 2017

Buy ‘After All These Years’ from bandcamp

Featured image by Carol Graham Photography.

 

 

Review – Guy Andrews – Tåke – by Kevin Thompson

Guy Andrews says he was drawn to write his latest album ‘Tåke’ (Norwegian for mist/fog), when his return flight from Norway was cancelled due to fog, leaving him with time to explore Bergen, the city where he was staying. He walked up a small mountain to the top revealing a stunning view of Norway’s fjords, in such stark contrast to where he was living at the time that it inspired ideas of layered textures, revealing aural landscapes.

With only two tracks on the album containing vocals, collaborations with renowned musician Alev Lenz, this mostly instrumental captures heavy atmospheres and layers of influences with ghost like rhythms that rise and fall like ripples in a stone struck pond.

The haunting violins and soft vocals from Alev toy with your emotions on The Clearing, synthesised sounds wrapping round you like a damp sea fret, a succubus to drag you into the depths of despair, until she disappears leaving you lost and disorientated.

A synthesised echo creeps out of the mist toward you from a John Carpenter lair, whilst looping guitars circle like dark minions waiting to do it’s bidding on Trails. Brief glimpses as they burst toward you and fade again enhancing the feeling of panic, guitars cutting in to hold them at bay and building in tempo. It all slows and drifts away like gossamer threads of a dissipating fog, burned off by the rising sun.

Heart pumping percussive notes and guitar chimes drive you up the Fjell (The modern Norwegian translation being ‘Mountain’), pulling you higher to survey the landscape before you. Taking in the municipality west of Bergen, (which has also adopted the name) of a group of small islands  surrounded by fjords. Seguing into a modern dance beat that increases the impetus, there is a short breather with just guitar chords before the sound surrounds you again in a euphoric climax.

The online video available for the next track, It Cannot Surface, matches the music perfectly. The deep, dark rumbles of the menacing armada of clouds advancing across the fields, engulfing the landscape and swallowing the light in it’s pitch black maw. Seemingly unstoppable, the sheer terror of nature revealed in all it’s glory as they move toward a wind farm in the distance, the turbines dwarfed by the enormity of the approaching storm, vanes spinning furiously and appearing to lean into the battle, they are consumed like ants. Bolts of lightning pierce the landscape like javelins as the clouds roll furiously, clashing against the light. Hay bales like motionless sentries at their posts, are unable to join the fray against an unassailable foe. Fulgurations of lightning are buried in the dense nebulous blanket, trailing tendrils of rainstorms as they pass overhead unabated, the music fading on a hopeful band of light in the distance. I don’t think I have ever felt such intensity and drama all squeezed into a couple of minutes music, before. It’s epic in the enormity of it’s scope and my favourite track on the album.

Alev joins Guy again to display their Feelings over the remnants of the receding storm, interspersed with bursts of kinetic energy and mourning strings, the petrichor infused ozone permeating the refreshed orchestration.

Surveying the damage and flooding from the storm leaves you with the helpless realisation that, There Was Nothing You Could Have Done, under the weight of droning notes and fluttering instrumentation.

In the aftermath, the turmoil of feelings Buried Within dissipate and the guitars issue in a renewed vigour to carry you through what needs to be done. A calmness oversees your actions and a determination of heavy riffs replaces the ferment.

The Clearing Reprise of piano refrain and washes of strings, shows you promise of a new dawn, free from turbulence, to end with renewed hope as the album is brought gently to a close.

Guy Andrews throws varying influences into this melting pot of an album, which plays like a soundtrack. Tåke is orchestral in it’s arrangement, veering from ambient to dance, even flashes of metal, which Guy works into a triumph of musical nature. This is a darkly beautiful album, with a recommendation you listen in an unlit room whilst in repose and undisturbed, letting it drift over you to wash the chaos of your day away.

Released 22nd September 2017

Buy ‘Tåke’ from bandcamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 14th July 2017

Buy ‘Decades’ from the official webstore here

 

Review – My Tricksy Spirit – My Tricksy Spirit – by Emma Roebuck

‘Balinese gender wayang’, three words that don’t spring to mind, even to the most ardent musicologist let alone this enthusiastic amateur reviewer, but that is the instrument of choice of Nick Gray,the main driver of this project, along with Charlie Cawood (Knifeworld,  Mediaeval Baebes) and Rob Shipster (MatchMusic), latterly joined by Roxanne Aisthorpe as a guest vocalist and now a full member.

A Balinese gender wayang (mainly because I wanted to know what one looked like.)

In the current climate of “Is it Prog-gate?” I am loathe to categorise this album in any shape or form mainly because it does defy pigeonholing and I do not want to get involved in a pointless debate.

To the music; Nick lectures in South East Asian music and this is a central pillar of the album with a very western twist. Percussion and rhythm sit front and centre in the whole album, as you would expect. Equally there is nothing traditional in the structure and form of the album, despite there being 7 tracks, it flows from beginning to end in complete connectivity.

Always with You opens with beeps and tones going into an insistent rhythmic drive (from the said gender wayang) that gives an electronic dance music feel but not a 4/4 120BPM time signature. Roxanne gives a Rock In Opposition vocal performance, counterpointing the music beautifully. If it ran to 4 minutes then Radio One and the like would be all over this like a Bee is to nectar, but it runs to 10 minutes plus without repetition or tedium. This track sits very well in the current cadre of intelligent music coming from leftfield with no genre to call their own or willing to claim them. Her voice reminds me much of Mishkin Fitzgerald of Birdeatsbaby in tone and quality.

Free Of Stars takes me immediately back to my student daze (sorry, ‘days’) in the early 80s in Manchester. This is not because it sounds like the music of the time but because I spent much time in places like “The Band on The Wall” watching some of the dub reggae and toasting sessions with the sound systems of the time.  The heavy off beat bass line that is distorted in Dub style drifts through the track completely filling the sound,giving the sub woofer a great work out and it wipes out a few cobwebs in the process.

Dropping straight into Coming Down Again, a discordant violin and warped keyboard with Nick (I think) on vocals along with a sitar solo and, again, the east Asian percussion give this a unique feel and a sense of otherworldliness. Which I’m sure is the intention given the title.

Skipping a few tracks on, as I prefer to give a flavour rather than a blow by blow view letting interested parties find something to discover in this delightful album, we come to Circle of Light, which is very much the closest to western song structure and something that I can give potential purchasers a comparator to act as a frame of reference. If you own a copy of ‘Live Herald’ by Steve Hillage then add what he is up to these days with System 7 and then you will be close. I can see a remix of this working fantastically in the likes of Creamfields or, for the older ones among us, Tribal Gathering. It is trancy, danceable and contagious in a good way.

The album closes out with Dub of Stars which, as the advert says, does exactly what it says on the tin. Wide open spacey and full of huge bass and Dub “echoiness”, this is 2.00am crank the volume up bassiness to annoy the neighbours and have a groove to music. I defy anyone not to move to the rhythm of this song as they listen to it.

Now this is not music for the unadventurous, if you are a pastoral classical western music fan with a love of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus, and instrumental close mentality, then maybe avoid it but you will miss out on something rather special. Fans of Gong, both the Daevid Allen and Pierre Moerlen versions, Firefly Burning, Steve Hillage, World music, Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush you will get something from this album. Bad Elephant Music is more and more becoming a beacon for quality, whether you like the output or not; there is no argument about that in my eyes. This album has that quality and its rich layered multi-instrumental structure dares to explore places that few are looking. However it remains accessible and not even vaguely in the ‘difficult to listen to’ box.

Released 1st September 2017

Buy ‘My Tricksy Spirit’ from Bad Elephant Music here