Review – Acqua Fragile – A New Chant – by James R. Turner

They may be a new name to you, they certainly were to me, but Italy’s Acqua Fragile were originally active between 1971 & 1975, and vocalist Bernardo Lanzetti joined PFM for their ‘Chocolate Kings’ and ‘Jet Lag’ albums, leaving in 1977.

The catalyst for this reunion record came when Bernardo celebrated his career with his Vox 40 concert, and the revived band consists of Bernardo Lanzetti (vocals, animoog, guitars) Pierro Canavera (drums/percussion/backing vocals) and Franz Dodi (electric bass), as well as guest musicians like Jonathon Mover (on opener My Forte) drummer Alexander Mori (son of original keyboard player Maurizio Mori) as well as members of the Acqua Fragile Project, a collaboration put together by Franz Dodi of younger musicians playing the original music of Acqua Fragile.

You wait a while for some bands to get on with the ‘difficult’ third album, but it’s taken these guys over 40 years!

Joking aside, the musicians have worked hard in Italy, and Bernardo is a well known name on the progressive scene, having worked with Mangala Vallis amongst others, and with new blood in the group like collaborator Alex Giallombardo, who provides guitars, vocals and keyboards this blends the best of traditional Acqua Fragile with new sounds and contemporary production values.

This blending of old and new is probably exemplified by the track Wear Your Car Proudly, which was a track the band used to perform in the 70’s, which had never been recorded. The music was intact, with some driving guitar and bass, and wonderfully squelchy mid 70’s synth sounds, (it’s also reminiscent of the neo-prog sound of the early 80’s) yet the lyrics had gone, no trace, so Bernardo’s friend came up with some new lyrics, and hey presto, a wonderfully eclectic song all about motor racing. It’s in the Italian blood, and the passion comes across in this song.

They have even recorded a track in Italian, Tu Per Lei (You for Her) with some wonderfully emotive vocals from Bernardo, and a great electric guitar solo, and it’s true that Italian is a beautiful and emotive language, I don’t know exactly what’s being sung about, but it sounds fantastic.

In fact that’s a good word to use to describe this album, fantastic, I always admire musicians who can write in their second language, and their English is probably better than mine (I am also probably a little jealous as I am no linguist, cunning or otherwise) and to flit between their native tongue and English, is wonderful.

The Drowning meanwhile utilises the lyric skills of Nick Clabburn, who paints a wonderful picture, for Bernardo to fill with his rich vocals.

Meanwhile Rain Drops is a poem, by the legendary Pete Sinfield, that Bernardo loved so much he wanted to adapt, he even explained how he got permission from the elusive Mr Sinfield to include this on the album (in the interview elsewhere on Progradar that I did with him) and the orchestral, almost Oldfieldesque accompaniment works perfectly in drawing the nuances out of the lyrics, and Sinfield’s imagery is both wonderful and very emotive, again showing Bernardo’s voice off to the full.

The core band here sound relaxed and enjoying each others company, whilst the self-explanatory All Rise is a fab rockier number, showing the band kicking up a storm, in a nod to the live arena, a self confessed first encore track, utilising the traditional courtroom phrase to great effect, and providing the energy and power that every good encore needs.

The mood slows a little, with the lovely acoustic How Come, where Bernardo’s vocals continue to shine, and his personal and moving lyrics work in this stripped back environment, providing a brief period of reflection prior to the closing power of the albums title track.

A New Chant see’s Bernardo projecting his voice in an operatic finale, the music and lyrics working together, a beautiful merging of sound, topping off what is, to these ears an excellent record.

It’s great to see that bands can reform after a long period of time, pull together in the studio and rediscover the old magic, this is Acqua Fragile reborn for the 21st century, and is worth a listen. I really enjoyed it.

Released 13th October 2017

Order ‘A New Chant’ from Cherry Red Records here:

A NEW CHANTAcqua Fragile

Review – Tonochrome – A Map In Fragments – by Emma Roebuck

Tonochrome are a London based art rock quintet whose grunge aesthetic is peppered with jazz harmony, contemporary classical influences, Andean sounds and pop hooks. A coming together of opposites, of texture and colour, of the acoustic and the synthetic, Tonochrome are a joyful reminder of what music can be when you just don’t give a damn about convention.”

Their own publicity from the website speaks volumes and Tonochrome have been making noises in the capital for a short time now with some very positive press. They have an interesting take on music and draw from any muse that feels right, plundering from across the board from world music to blatant pop and seem to believe nothing is off the table. The music draws from the melancholy end with melody at its core and Andres Razzini’s voice has a definite quality to it that slots into that downbeat shoegaze, indie feel.

12 tracks, no epics just solid song writing but definitely not verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle-eight, verse, chorus, fade …

Border Crossing is just what it sounds like – a narrative of refugees and the loss of life and human rights. The use of understated percussion and violin sounds along with an open guitar where space is left in abundance until the build up of tension drops into a driving riff adds to a measured pace that reflects the cold way the politicians have used the refugee crisis to their own ends. Disputed Area definitely channels Sigur Ros with its use of melody and space. This again has a current affairs storyline with an awareness of what is happening in the world. What stands out here on this track for me is the use of percussion and rhythm or actually a lack of a driving beat, Jack Painting playing an open game, layering textures of sound.

Humbled & Broken is faster paced and up beat and, for me, connects Charlie Cawood’s influence and Knifeworld into the band. The keyboards play a big role with a Latin American rhythm and phased electric piano. The Three interludes that are spread through the album act as punctuation and have the feel of a jam session that helps the flow of the album from one space to the next. They highlight the talent on display and are so understated with it.

Conformity comes under examination with Just Like Us, the use of the string section and wah wah guitar sound has harmonic overtones that can be heard through much of Knifeworld’s material. Kilometre Zero reflects the power a solo voice and piano can carry with a string section adding an eerie back drop in the final third. Truly spine tingling in its tone and feeling, this is a hidden gem in the album.

I don’t do track by track reviews, I normally just want to give the music fan an idea of what they are buying and then let them decide but I cannot finish without mentioning The Gates. This stands out head and shoulders for me personally, the structure, the composition and the sheer quality show a maturity and restraint that others should take note of and learn from. It is melancholy concentrated into one piece of music.

I refuse to brand this outfit as Prog, but it is truly progressive in its nature. The Delinquent Pachyderm has a real stand out album here. If you are going to start a new year with a bang this is it! Tonochrome sit on the fringes of shoegaze/ alternative/indie in a very real way. I reckon with some luck and a little mainstream coverage (Radio 6 are you listening), they could shatter the glass ceiling that is blocking much of the good music around right now.

Released 2nd February 2018

Order ‘A Map In Fragments’ from bandcamp here:

 

Review – Perfect Beings – Vier – by James R Turner

Now, I like listening to bands I have never heard of before, because I like discovering new music, new sounds, and if you review something from a band you have never heard of, I find you are coming to the music from a fresh perspective, not being clouded by opinions of previous records or previous sounds.

I’ve been listening to ‘Vier’ for the past few weeks on my commute to work, headphones on; the sights of Bristol (Clifton Suspension Bridge, Ashton Gate, The Floating Harbour) have all been sound tracked by this, the 3rd album by Perfect Beings.

Based in Los Angeles, the bands consists of Johannes Luley on guitar and bass, Ryan Hurtgen on vocal and piano, Jesse Nason on keyboards and Sean Reinart on drums the band have had a few personnel changes since their last album ‘II’ in 2015.

This latest album is epic in both its scope and it’s performance, being split into 4 symphonic musical parts.

Guedra (18:23) The Golden Arc (16:47) Vibrational (18:17) and Anunnaki (18:42) makes this album their ‘Topographic Oceans’ a rather expansive symphonic CD or, in old money, a double vinyl set (with each side being a song suite, just how the traditionalists like it!)

After losing their original bassist Luley stepped up to the mark contributing both bass and guitar to this album, which will make it interesting if they ever do tour it, as, whilst he is one of the most interesting guitarists working currently (comparable to a Luke Machin or a Matt Stevens), he’ll need to be an octopus to recreate the intricate guitar and bass sounds on here.

There is a lot for music fans to admire on this record from the lush multilayered harmonies that open the record with A New Pyramid, to the sort of instrumental prowess that runs throughout the record.

Luley’s sound has grown and matured, with elements from his two solo albums finding their way into the compositional melting pot here, which stretches and pushes the Perfect Beings’ sound out of bog standard prog territory and into something that bounces gleefully through time signatures, across genres, through the past 50 years of prog and even through the different movements of the record as themes from previous songs appear in the closing suite of Annuki.

The rest of the band seem just as energised as they diffuse the spirit of classical prog sounds through their own musical filter as the sounds of Guedra lead you into The Golden Arc, which is a more symphonic piece of work, with the piano, keyboards and guitar building up, this is not something that is in your face and immediate, these 4 differing musical facets of the band are like a musical game of pass the parcel.

Every time the music stops and you press play to resume the album, another layer is revealed until slowly you get the musical present that is ‘Vier’.

Hurtgen has a unique vocal sound, and use of multilayering and certain effects again remind in places of the style of Jon Anderson and early Yes, whilst some of the song titles have dropped straight out of the I-spy book of prog, things like A New Pyramid or The Blue Lake of Understanding are much better songs than their titles would suggest, whilst The Persimmon Tree on title alone brings to mind a local newspaper headline about house builders and a protected woodland, and yet it’s a rather good song on the album. In fact the shorter songs on here work just as well (if not better) than some of the longer ones, and in the way of song cycles I like the fact that snippets of riffs and musical themes echo across the album, creating a coherent whole. The closing Everything’s Falling Apart is a superbly crisp almost pop song, with some sublime lyrics and musical performances.

Hurtgen’s work on keyboards mixes perfectly with the sound of Luley’s guitar and Nason’s keyboards swathe the album with superb sonic textures and beautiful musical moments, more Rick Wright than Wakeman, his musical skills add to the sound and are a part of the bigger picture.

In fact that’s one thing that stands out about this album, when you have a band like Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer, for instance, filled with egos bigger than their talents, you do end up with songs that are nothing more than a glorified solo to pacify and massage those egos. This is one of those albums that are the total opposite, there are some amazing musical sections but on this album the magic happens because the entire band are there pulling together, on the same page, and whilst these are mighty musical talents all the egos are left at the studio door.

There is a lot to like about this album, and there is also a lot of album here for you to like, and the band suggest you turn off and immerse yourself in this record, which is a great thing to do with headphones and a long commute.

A lot of other people have been raving about this record and already proclaiming it album of the year. Now that’s a bold statement to make in January, and yes, there is so much to like and admire about this record, from it’s immersive production to the astounding musical ability on display here, but calling it album of the year is as premature as calling January the best month of 2018. It’s a fascinating and interesting listen with plenty going on musically, and lots of themes that prog fans will love. However to me this is not an album to love, more one to admire. For it’s musical ambition, it’s scope and it’s depth.

Released 19th January 2018

Order ‘Vier’ direct from the band:

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