It is this reviewer’s belief that the only worthwhile type of music is miserable music. Indeed I believe I can make a case for almost any song being miserable; ‘Happy Birthday’ for example, a song that heralds a descent into the void of encroaching years, bodies failing and falling apart before eventual and unavoidable death. It is, therefore, no surprise that the sub-genres I most enjoy, and the ones that make up my music collections are ones like Blues, Grunge and Goth Rock. I love to listen to maudlin murder folk ballads, songs about unrequited or lost love. You can’t beat a sad song, as, to paraphrase Bernie Taupin, they say so much. Who’d prefer to dance, when you can wallow in the misery of a Nick Drake lament?
The debut album, ‘With Sparks Flying’, by Year of the Kite, released last week on Diversion Records, is an album that starts with a grungy slowcore bluesy slice of total miserablist beauty. Reminiscent of the great Mark Lanagan, Wild Blood, Wild Light, sets a mood of dreamy nihilism, with a dirge like vocal growling over a down tempo backing that has a druggy sense of impending doom, a descent into madness and horror. A lo-fi scream of abject despair all wrapped up by a hypnotic accompaniment. Like Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’, it’s a song that hints at terrors seen or unseen, ones that can neither be unheard or forgotten.
The first half of the album continues in this vein, songs that give voice to a whole range of uncomfortable emotions. It takes the listener on a journey into places that challenge, that are frightening and which leave the listener raw and exposed to feelings that, whilst scary and disturbing, are also very rewarding. Which is a slight shame as the second half of the album doesn’t quite keep its foot on that emotional pedal, with later songs drifting off on a dreamy tangent. That’s not to say they are not good songs, far from it, as musically Year Of The Kite are a very talented bunch whom have spent the eighteen months recording this album, perfecting, as they have, their sound and production. It’s just that I really, really, really loved the first 5 or 6 tracks and wanted so much more despair and misery! Weird I know!
What can be said is that ‘With Sparks Flying’ is a really very good debut. There are moments of greatness that will fulfill the darkest recesses of any deep and miserable music soul. There are also moments of exceptional potential and plenty to say that this band will have a success with this album and any future work they produce. Not far off being a miserablist masterpiece.
In 2015 German Electronica visionary and leader of the band Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese, died, two years before the band celebrated its 50th anniversary. However, Froese had elected as his successor as leader of the band Thorsten Quaseschning who, along with Frose’s wife, Bianca Acquaye and other members Hoshiko Yamane and Ulrich Schnauss, have continued to work as the band. The result of this work is the album released as ‘Quantum Gate’ which was released in September 2017.
In line with Froese’s vision the album has now been re-released with the edition of the earlier ‘Quantum Key E.P.’ as a two volume edition. The release continues and develops Froese’s and the bands traditional and trademark sound, featuring sequence-driven electronica to bring to the listener atmospheric moods that envelop and wash over them; taking them on a journey of aural exploration.
When I was very young, during the white heat of space exploration of the early 1970’s, through the films we saw of moon exploration, the space lab and unmanned journeys to Mars and further planets I was taken to the London Planetarium. I remember being awe inspired by the opening up of the mysteries of the universe as stars and constellations were lit up all soundscaped by futuristic music that seemed somewhat other-worldly. Listening to these two pieces of art, took me back to that time of wonder, evocative as it is of quantum physics and exploration.
The music has a kaleidoscopic quality to it, the sounds washing over you in waves, as visions of colours and shapes are suggested to the listener. It is clever music that, despite its lofty scientific ambitions. still does work on a level of just being able to listen as a piece of wonderfully crafted and melodic tunes. It is music that’s leads the listener into rooms of opened perception, whilst challenging preconceived ideas of realities. It is a fitting tribute to Edgar Froese’s vision for Tangerine Dream whilst ensuring the band can move on and forwards with its founders aims and desires at the forefront.
“Some people have lives; some people have music.”
― John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Music is what makes my life complete, it fills the holes and spaces in time and I honestly couldn’t be without it. Some music is so compelling that it can take over your life, pausing you in a moment in time, not caring or worrying about anything else and the elfin, ethereal vocals of Talitha Rise (better known as Jo Beth Young) definitely belong in that category.
Following on from the beautiful EP ‘Blue’, Jo is releasing her debut full length album ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ on June 1st. It is a release full of captivating, wistful songs wound around themes of isolation and abandonment.
Ten stripped back creations full of emotions, sometimes dark and despairing and often passionate and full of desire, this is a sentimental and uplifting soundscape that leads, through sacrifice and estrangement, to hope and optimism.
Jo Beth Young has a sublime and refined voice that has a haunting aura and reminds me of an early Kate Bush or Tori Amos and it is her most potent weapon. When added to the intelligent, captivating lyrics it gives wonderful songs. ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ was recorded in many locations from living rooms and kitchen tables in Devon to a beautiful manor house in Sussex.
“I like to think this has given them some real sense of isolation, even when the tracks are very big.” Jo says, “I wanted them to feel like a personal and intimate conversation between myself and the listener.”
That is exactly what you get. Listening to this enchanting record, you feel like you are cocooned by the music and living in your own, private performance of the songs, very intimate indeed.
There’s a who’s who of guest perfomers including Juldeh Camara, Peter Yates, Arnulf Linder and Rory McFarlane and everything is complemented to perfection by long time collaborator Martyn Barker.
The nostalgic wonder of songs like Valley and Incantation and the Clannad-like River leaves you mesmerised and lost in time and space in your own mind. The profound imagery comes to life in your head as you listen to the soulful music and beguiling vocals, these songs are written for the pure joy of music and you feel a surge of love rise up in your heart and soul as you hear every bewitching note.
There’s a stark elegance and charm to songs like Orchid House and the stunning Chapel Bell, an honest melancholy that filters through and captures you in its embrace and you feel every emotion and affectation.
Every song on the album is a mesmerising moment in time but my personal favourite is the utterly wonderful The Lake, a spellbinding song that lingers long in the memory after it comes to a fascinating close.
I’ve been waiting for this new album for a long time and have not been disappointed by what Talitha Rise has composed, it comes to a close with Twisted Tree and the haunting Lifeboat,two more exceptional and captivating pieces that complete the amazing musical tapestry.
In my humble opinion everybody needs music to complete their life, to give you a reason to get up every morning and go out to work and Talitha Rise has delivered one of those perfect moments in time, an album of songs of such rare quality, delivered by the most wonderful voice, that stands out like a ray of light in the darkening world that increasingly surrounds us. My music loving friends it just doesn’t get any better than this!
There’s some powerhouse artists that have come out of Canada, Rush and Bryan Adams immediately come to mind, but it’s not known as a hotbed of emerging talent on the whole.
Last year I reviewed an EP full of intelligent and complex ‘heavy-prog’ songs that showed a huge amount of promise from four piece Canadian band Slyde. They have taken the four tracks of ‘Back Again’ and added six new songs to create their first full-length offering ‘Awakening’ and also added ‘The’ to the front of their name.
The new tracks are the first six on this impressive release, Nathan Da Silva’s soaring riffs and Sarah Westbrook’s dynamic keyboards dominate the band’s edgy and high energy sound with the energetic and potent rhythm section of Brendan Soares (drums) and Alberto Campuzano (bass) providing the up-tempo drive. This potent brew is topped off with Nathan’s distinctive vocals (comparisons with Geddy Lee are indeed merited) to deliver some quality melodic prog-rock that brings to mind bands like the aforementioned Rush along with Haken, Coheed and Cambria and Circa Survive.
The short intro of Awaken leads you into a powerful collection of tracks that have this forceful and charismatic feel and a seemingly boundless supply of high octane energy that carries you along on a wave of compelling and vitalising music.
You want a catchy, addictive chorus? The Slyde tick that box, thunderous riffing? yep, that too, coruscating guitar solos? of course! There’s nothing that this highly impressive collection of musicians seem to have left out of their locker.
Highlights of the new tracks, for me, are title track Awakening and So Blind but every song is a compact ball of progressive magnetism and captivate with equal force and hearing the final four tracks that made up ‘Back Again’ brings a huge grin to my face, remembering what I enjoyed about them in the first place, Fading and Divide especially.
The Slyde have returned with one of the year’s more idiosyncratic and left-field releases and, once again, they deliver a thunderously powerful and yet thought provoking collection of songs with an aggressive and weighty edge but never forgetting that melody is king, highly impressive.
Since Robert took some time out of the ‘day job’ to release his first homage to Mike Oldfield back in 2014, his own little sub-genre has grown, with two full length sequels (‘Sanctuary II’ in 2016) as well as numerous EPs including variations on David Bedford and his own alternative take on the Doctor Who theme tune. Now Sanctuary III (funnily enough the third in the ‘Sanctuary’ series) is here, available as ever in 5.1 and on vinyl, in a very nice cover indeed.
Rob has taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy to this album, with, as per the first two (and indeed Mike Oldfield’s first three) albums, being a full-length song-suite parts 1 & 2, both emulating the Oldfield approach, which worked so well on ‘Sanctuary’.
Rob has worked with Oldfield collaborators Simon Phillips, Les Penning, ‘Tubular Bells’ producers Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth and on vocals with Angharad Brinn and Synergy Vocals.
Now I am a massive Mike Oldfield fan, and I would argue that its harder to find a greater run of albums than that encompassing ‘Tubular Bells’, ‘Hergest Ridge’, ‘Ommadawn’, ‘Incantations’ and ‘Platinum‘, and, as with previous ‘Sanctuary’ releases Rob wears his Oldfield inspiration on his sleeve. This is as well as showing off his amazing instrumental prowess as a multi-instrumentalist, playing all the instruments bar recorders and pipes, which are contributed by Les Penning and Troy Donockley respectively.
The themes throughout are standard Oldfield fare with plenty of soaring guitar and repetitive, charming themes that slowly build and grow and, to Rob’s credit, he has widened the palette somewhat on this album. There is an excellent vocal piece at the start and an interesting diversion into folk themed parts via the twangy guitar of The Shadows at one point.
However, there is a touch of an over reliance on the nonsense female vocals that are almost ‘Ommadawn’ but miss out the emotional resonance of that piece and also of the vocoder vocals that sound like they escaped from Five MilesOut. These are familiar Oldfield tropes and ultimately trap the music into being a facsimile. Which is a shame, as if Rob threw out the Oldfieldisms, he could create some truly wonderful original music, instead of pretending it’s 1974 all over again.
That’s fine for a nostalgia trip but I would always return to the original rather than an imitation.
More interesting is the Moonsinger Suite, ChimpanA Remix which, whilst referring to the main Oldfield touchpoints, at least brings it up to date, being more reminiscent of ‘Songs of Distant Earth’ or ‘Tubular Bells III’ (so only 20 years out this time, getting closer!).
The Tom Newman remix on the second disc is also superfluous, being not quite different enough to the original to warrant being included here. Things like that are best suited for anniversary editions or special editions rather than the standard release, as it all gets a bit too samey after a while and you lose where you are at.
If you reading this are Mike Oldfield fans and wonder whether ‘Sanctuary III’ is worth a punt then, well, sadly not. Like I said, I really like Rob’s work, his musicianship and craft and skills are never in doubt and I really want to love this album, I absolutely enjoyed the first one as a piece of nostalgic entertainment. However it seems to me that Rob, whilst putting together an excellent facsimile of an early Mike Oldfield album, has drifted into tribute band territory. The music is good, the performances outstanding but it seemed to me that the Doctor Who theme tune a la Oldfield was an idea too far and ‘Sanctuary III’, whilst being well made, just doesn’t hit the spot.
It doesn’t give you the goose bumps that the opening riff to ‘Tubular Bells’ does, it doesn’t send the shiver down the spine that the closing finale to ‘Hergest Ridge Part 1’ does, and it doesn’t conjure up a sense of wonder like ‘Ommadawn’. Somewhere online I have seen people claiming that this is even better than Mike Oldfield or at least, that it’s better than the albums Mike makes these days. I doubt Rob was thinking of usurping his hero in that way, and ‘Sanctuary III’ doesn’t. It is the musical equivalent of a Big Mac meal, it satisfies at the time because it’s easy and familiar but, in the end, after ten minutes you’re hungry again and want a steak.
After listening to this all I want to do is grab ‘Hergest Ridge’ or ‘Return to Ommadawn’ in 5.1, bang up the volume and lose myself in the pastoral waves as they wash over me.
I would much rather wait and spend my hard earneds on the forthcoming ChimpanA album, as that debut is probably the best thing Rob has done outside of Magenta, being fresh, clever, original and contemporary.
The dictionary defines Sanctuary as ‘a refuge or safety from pursuit, persecution or other danger’ and this is definitely a refuge in the past, ultimately this music sits in a very safe place indeed.
‘Sanctuary III’ is fine as a nostalgia led piece but when there are so many interesting contemporary instrumental bands out there like Agusa or Zombie Picnic, revisiting music from 40 years ago isn’t pushing the boundaries, it’s more like a cup of tea and a pair of slippers, and a musical cul de sac.
Beautiful… an overused word in record reviews. But I think I’m going to start off with that one word. Beautiful.
Their website tells you that Midas Fall; “Combine elements of electronica, post-rock and alternative rock with progressive and gothic undertones” and also that; “Scottish duo Midas Fall have carved a distinctive and captivating sound, creating taut, shimmering soundscapes”
Post-rock can be a funny old genre to enjoy. Sometimes ponderous, overly serious and always brooding… preferably with an apocalyptic ending to the song.
Long, mainly instrumental pieces with the need to build and build and end in a crescendo of… well, something anyway. I’ve long enjoyed bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mt Zion, alongside bands like God Is An Astronaut and Secret Machines but sometimes it gets a little samey.
This album, though, seems more shimmering, goth beauty than post rock. As if The Sisters of Mercy had taken a chill pill, made an album with Liz Fraser and replaced most of the guitars with an aching violin. Beautifully produced, it really benefits from an eyes closed, near dark, undisturbed, loud listen to (doesn’t everything).
Opener Bruise Pusher is a nice start but leads to the title track – Evaporate. Imagine the vocal beauty of Christina Booth or Heather Findlay, with a Cocteau Twins shimmer set against a gentle, insistent violin, piano and drum backdrop that ebbs and flows. I kept listening to this track… so beautiful (there’s that word again).
A number of the tracks start in a similar vein but then build and build as layers of guitar and distortion get added to create a gorgeous sonic wall of sound until the end comes, a kind of emotional release from the journey.
InSunny Landscapes…Chuckle Trousers himself couldn’t make a track sound less like its title. Again the vocals entrance; “I watched you fall, watched you wither, watched you wander”, Elizabeth Heaton sings as the violin gently breaks your heart again.
It all ends with Howling at the Clouds… now If Alcest quietened down a bit and made a record with Kate Bush…
What can I say? I wasn’t particularly aware of Midas Falls before this review – now I have much of what they have released and I particularly love this record. If beautiful, Gothic, shimmering and haunting loveliness is your thing, you must buy it. Like I said, quite beautiful.
Following on from his hugely successful UK tour earlier this year where he performed songs from Mansun’sAttack Of The Grey Lantern,Paul Draper has confirmed that in September 2018 he will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the release of Mansun’s second album SIX, by performing tracks from the iconic album at this year’s Festival Number 6 (www.festivalnumber6.com ) in Portmeirion, Wales.
Paul has also announced that he’ll be playing a warm up show ahead of the festival at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, and a chance for fans to hear a preview of the songs from SIX, performed by Paul, solo, for the first time – Paul comments “It’s a really exciting challenge to be playing tracks from the Six album for the first time as a solo artist on the 20th Anniversary of the album’s release, really looking forward to this at Festival No.6 and the special warm up show at Trades Club, Hebden Bridge beforehand.’”
6th September – Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
6-9tth September – Festival Number 6 – Portmeirion
Kscope, who released Draper’s high anticipated debut solo album Spooky Action last year have acquired the rights to Mansun’s back catalogue. The ground-breaking label will roll out a reissue campaign over eighteen months that will cover the band’s entire history and enhance their reputation as one of the most iconic and innovative bands of the 90s.
The campaign begins on 8th June with the release of Attack of theGreyLantern (1997) and will be followed by Six (1998), Little Kix (2000) and the compilation Kleptomania (2004). The Kscope reissues will bring these classic records into the modern age by delving into a treasure trove of previously unreleased audio and visual material while fully remastering the original recordings for 5.1 and deluxe 180gm vinyl.
The new starfish64 album “TheFuture In Reverse” will be released digitally on 2018-05-18. It will be available through Bandcamp, iTunes and several other download services. For physical formats the band have just started a crowdfunding campaign to realize a proper release on CD and, if possible, also on Vinyl.
“The Future In Reverse” is the most ambitious and diverse album in the band’s history. It goes from catchy pop-influenced tunes to spacey psychedelic epics and also includes a long-form suite in classic progressive rock style. As 90 minutes worth of material have been recorded during the sessions, it will be followed by a sister-album entitled “The Present Upside-Down” later this year.
The Tracklisting is as follows:
• Yesterdays Favourite Smile
• Tomorrow In Dark Water
• Determination(a.Mankind, b. At Lightspeed, c. Infinite Space)
• Charting An Abyss(a.Recurring Dreams, b. Framework, c. Dominos, d. At Peace)
Running time approx. 46 min.
Yesterday’s Favorite Smilehas beenreleased as a video on Youtube:
Progressive Rock music is a funny thing. Often pretentious, up its own arse, quite frankly snobby and elitist. Almost like you have to be super clever to get it, the musical equivalent of Jeremy Paxman asking a contestant from an old Polytechnic a question about thermo-nuclear physics on University Challenge, with an obvious sneer because they don’t go to an Oxbridge college. In short, their seriousness can make them seem ridiculous and open to much mirth.
However, every now and then you come across a band that who have a sense of humour, who are self-aware and who can create great music whilst not taking things too seriously. One for whom progressive music doesn’t have to be dour and only for a niche, but can be entertaining, fun and welcoming whilst retaining all its virtuoso playing and performing.
With a name like Spock’s Beard no one could accuse this Californian band of being dour or elitist. Their music has always been both clever and accessible; something that they’ve continued to achieve on their new album, being released on the 25th May, ‘Noise Floor’. The album is full of what singer/guitarist, Ted Leonard, describes as ‘crazy prog,’ whilst also working on making the songs ‘more immediate.’
And for sure, they’ve achieved it with this collection of smashing tunes featuring beautifully played instruments; both trusted old friends plus new orchestral additions of strings and horns. Spock’s Beard have been developing their sound and style for over twenty years now and find themselves at a point where they can take time to develop and create their music which results in this album being released at a point when all members were in agreement that it was the best work they could put out there.
With all members of the band writing and recording demo’s independently before bringing them together to be worked on collectively in production, there is a great sense of exceptional quality being produced over quantity for the quantities sake. The album itself, and accompanying E.P, displays its influences with pride; the hints of 1970’s prog such as Yes, Genesis and Supertramp, influences that have led to songs of majestic beauty such as the wonderful Bulletproofthat appears on the ‘Cutting Room Floor’ E.P.
It is fair to say that the album isn’t without flaws; the jazz instrumental of Box of Spiders jars slightly, but it doesn’t diminish from what is an accomplished and melodic journey through the slightly crazy world of Spock’s Beard. Die-hard fans will find more than enough typical output to allow them to enjoy the musical development that this album represents. And those for whom this will be their first exposure to the band will find plenty to enjoy and will also spark interest in finding out more of the bands back catalogue.
“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.