It’s not often that I am gobsmacked by a new release but the new album from no-man, the Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness project, left me quite a bit dumb-founded on first listen.
Like some strange symbiosis of 80’s pop, 90’s dance music and noughties prog, Love You To Bits wasn’t what I was expecting from prog’s standard bearer – Wilson – and the master of cool – Bowness…
The new album, the first studio release in eleven years consists of two connected five-part pieces (Love You To Bits and Love You To Pieces), was twenty-five years in the making and lyrically chronicles the aftermath of a relationship from different perspectives.
Adam Holzman, David Kollar, Ash Soan, Pete Morgan and the Dave Desmond Brass Quintet guest. Produced by no-man, the album was mixed by Bruno Ellingham and mastered by Matt Colton.
Steven Wilson has been very successful at re-inventing progressive rock over recent years and, with his long-term partner in crime Mr Bowness, it appears that they have decided to re-invent what would be considered ‘pop’ music to most ears.
And, to my utmost astonishment, it actually bloody works (I make no apologies for the expletive, I was that surprised!). Using the velvety, comforting tones of Tim’s excellent vocals over an EDM/electronica inspired back-beat is just genius. There’s a vibrancy that is absent from a lot of today’s music, be it pop, progressive or whatever, it just leaves a huge grin on my face.
This inventive and entertaining album never fails to surprise at every turn with elements of pulsating fusion and a wistful and poignant ambience interspersed with crashing guitars and edgy drumbeats.
I have no idea what Steven and Tim were on when they came up with the idea for this pulsating masterpiece but, by golly, can they please give some to the rest of what is becoming a very moribund music scene.
Love You To Bits is a utterly fascinating and overwhelmingly entertaining musical adventure with superb dynamism and a diversity rarely seen in the strictures of conventional music.
Just do yourselves a favour and go and buy it, you will not regret it!
“The expansive soundscape driven into their third offering blows the gates wide open with a wealth of captivating melodic prog rock tracks, delivered with a quintessentially British level of class and sincerity despite the very serious and thought-provoking undertones etched into the music.”
You’ve got to love a bit of PR blurb (well I do, because I used to write it!) and this gem, delivered with the latest release from UK based sextet The Room, certainly does capture the imagination.
On the subject of the album’s title, The Room comment that the concept of being ‘Caught By The Machine’ directly relates to the feeling one experiences when the state, a job, a relationship or even a drug begins to control their every living moment. It is a reflection on many aspects of the modern world, for better or worse.
Formed in 2010 by Andy Rowe along with Martin Wilson and Steve Anderson from neo-prog rock band Grey Lady Down, The Room never fail to deliver an outstanding performance – both in the studio and in a live environment.
I am going nowhere near the age old “Is it Prog?” debate with this review, I am judging everything on its own merits, after all it doesn’t matter what genre you may or may not think it sits in. There’s a simple question that needs to be asked, is it any good?
Well Martin Wilson’s vocals are on top form throughout, he has a commanding and powerful vocal style that really demands attention, the fact that is is very melodic just adds to the exciting mix. The addition of Eric Bouillette’s guitar, along with band stalwart Steve Anderson, adds a harder rock edge and some very impressive solos and the rhythm section of Chris York and Andy Rowe is as impressive and dependable as ever. April 2018 saw the departure of keyboardist Steve Checkley and the arrival of new keys maestro Mark Dixon who has fitted in seamlessly.
‘Caught By The Machine’ is a very tightly created collection of ten songs that have been crafted meticulously to the last detail (the Production by prog legend John Mitchell is particularly notable), excellent songwriting giving us gems like opener Bodies on the Road, The Golden Ones and Vanished. Tracks that flow perfectly from beginning to end with catchy chorus and exemplary musicianship.
The Room have created their own distinctive sound from debut release ‘Open Fire’ through to the sophomore album ‘Beyond the Gates of Bedlam’ and that continues on the latest release but here it has matured and become something very classy indeed. Driving guitars, swirling keyboards, a dynamic rhythm section and Wilson’s urgent vocals creating highs of the likes of Run, Drowning In Sound and my particular favourite: It’s Not My Home.
The reggae guitar infused Broken seems a little out of place to me but, other wise, there are no low points in this memorable album. I got to the end of the darkly delicious final track Bloodstream and just pressed play again.
‘Caught By The Machine’ shows a band who are evolving into a major player. Inventive, impressive and superbly crafted, the simple answer is yes, it is very good indeed…
YES, one of the most innovative of all prog-rock bands, and true legends of the genre, have announced a 8-date UK tour for May and June of 2020. The Album Series 2020 Tour will feature their 1974 Relayer album in its entirety together with a selection of other classic YES favourites. An extensive European tour will be announced soon.
This tour follows their 2018 highly successful #YES50 Anniversary tour and again features the line-up of Steve Howe (guitars), Alan White (drums), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Billy Sherwood (bass guitar and backing vocals), Jon Davison (vocals) and Jay Schellen (additional drums and percussion).
The show will comprise two sets by the band with full production and a high definition video wall. The first will feature favourite classic tracks from YES’ extensive catalogue. The second will feature Relayer, the seventh studio album by YES, and one of the band’s most distinctive. Relayer marked a slight change in direction as Patrick Moraz replaced Rick Wakeman on keyboards bringing an edgier, avant-garde feel to the album. This was perfect for the opening track Gates Of Delirium, almost 22minutes in length, with its battle scene featuring the keyboard of Moraz and Steve Howe’s guitar. The battle gives way to the beautiful closing ballad Soon, a prayer for peace and hope.
The album continues with Sound Chaser, a prog-rock-jazz fusion experiment heavily influenced by Moraz’s style and To Be Over, a calm and gentle conclusion to the album, based on a melody by Steve Howe. Released in late 1974 on Atlantic Records, Relayer continued YES’ success reaching number 4 in the UK album chart and number 5 in the US Billboard chart.
“We are really looking forward to playing ALL of the Relayer album” says Steve Howe. “Having premiered The Gates Of Delirium this year, we continue by expanding our Album Series with all the tracks: The Gates Of Delirium, Sound Chaser and To Be Over.” Howe goes on to say: “During the first half of the evening we’ll be performing a refined selection from Yes’ enormous 50 year + repertoire. See you there!”
Alan White comments: “I always enjoy coming home to England so I’m especially looking forward to Yes’ upcoming “Album Series 2020” tour. “Relayer” I believe, is one of the most creative and interesting musical compilations in the bands repertoire. Challenging and extremely enjoyable to play, I’m happy to be bringing this music back to live stages throughout Europe. I hope all who attend our shows will enjoy these cuts as much as we like performing them for our audiences.”
UK dates are as follows: Tuesday 26 May Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Wednesday 27 May Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
Friday 29 May York Barbican
Saturday 30 May Gateshead The Sage
Sunday 31 May Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Tuesday 2 June Birmingham Symphony Hall
Wednesday 3 June Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Friday 5 June London Royal Albert Hall
Tickets go onsale at 10.00am Friday 11th October and are available from: 24hr Ticket Hotline: 0844 249 2222 bookingsdirect.com Meet & Greet packages available, for info go to yesworld.com Showtime is 8pm. Roger Dean will attend every show on the UK and European dates, and will have an exhibition of his iconic art, will be available to chat with fans front of house and sign merch, plus will be in the VIP meet and greets.
Formed in 1968 by Jon Anderson and the late, and much-missed, Chris Squire, YES have been one of the most innovative, influential and best-loved bands in rock music history. Their 1970s albums The Yes Album, Fragile, Close To The Edge, Yessongs (a triple live album set), Tales From Topographic Oceans, Relayer and Going For The One were ground-breaking in musical style and content. Their music also became synonymous with artist Roger Dean whose distinctive YES logo design and artwork adorned the lavish gatefold presentation sleeves of many YES albums.With sales of over 50 million records, the Grammy-award winning YES were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2017 where they performed Roundabout from the album Fragile and the FM radio-friendly Owner Of A Lonely Heart from the 1985 album 90125.
What exactly is ‘A
Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’?
According to Wikipedia (and who could doubt that source of information!) ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ is a website created by John Koenig that defines neologisms (that’s new words and phrases to you and me) which are designed to define emotions for which we do not yet have a descriptive term. When you hear this new album by Nova Cascade you can sense why they might decide to use that phrase to name their album. Previously describing themselves as ‘Ambient Progressive Rock’, on their promising but minimalist debut album Above All Else, Nova Cascade have developed that blueprint further with more defined pieces. but there is still an overriding sense of fragility and dreamlike visions which are hard to define.
Nova Cascade have now moved on from their peculiar origins in an online gaming chatroom out of which artists shared musical ideas, and now present a more fully formed and mature album. The sparse, organic feel which characterised ‘Above All Else’ now gives way to a more lush and layered approach but at heart they retain their more ambient and impressionistic style, with some echoes of later Talk Talk. The gorgeous cover artwork by Charlie Bramald places us in a warm, shimmering and comfortable candle-lit library, and the music conveys a sense we are sat in the glow of candle light as we hear these lush sounds which contain contrasting stories of light and darkness.
Dave Hilborne appears to lead this project with his distinctive light, breathy vocalisation and subtle synth laden soundscapes, such as the opening instrumental Unwavering. There is also a slightly harder edge on some songs, such as the bitter Rabbit Hole (with echoes of later Peter Gabriel) which features quite a percussive programmed edge and pointed lines about deceit:
‘This illusion you expertly weave,
Let’s take a trip to the far side,
Descend in a rabbit hole of deceit.’
However, even such perspectives are coated in fairly lush production with no sharp edges. Echo and Narcissus flows languidly in on a bed of keyboards and softly programmed percussion. Hilborne’s delicate vocals reflect the disappearing fragility of the legendary Echo as she wasted away until only her voice remained. Once again rather tortured lyrics are conveyed in swathes of restrained, rather gentle instrumentation, particularly the evocative violin of Eric Bouillette. Such agony rarely sounded so delicate:
And, oh, that stench in the air is your hate
Just leave me be with what’s left of my fractured soul
Nova Cascade seem to like touching on sinister or negative subjects in rather pastoral ways, such as the instrumental Apophis, which may refer to an Egyptian Pharaoh or an ancient Egyptian ‘chaotic being’ until you read the sleeves and note one small line: ‘All Eyes to the Sky in 2029…’ a quick internet search reveals that Apophis is a sizeable ‘near Earth’ Asteroid that in 2004 was thought to have a distinct possibility of striking Earth catastrophically in 2029. Readers will be pleased to hear that after re-calculations this possibility has now been deemed Zero! Nevertheless, it gives Nova Cascade the excuse to compose a suitably spacey soundscape, enhanced by Charlie Bramald’s stellar flute, which is then transformed with some more ominous synth throbs before floating off in to space again.
In contrast the nostalgic Plasticine and Paint touchingly conjures up idyllic visions and memories of childhood with Bramald’s subtle flute underlining the sense of pastoral reminiscence in a rather beautiful piece. In their previous album ‘Above All Else’ there was a sense of it being a rather ‘home made’ or even a ‘demo’ type album, which it’s organic and intuitive approach to capturing sound enhanced. Nova Cascade seem to have moved on from that rather lo-fi or sparse feel but have not lost that essence of fragility and dream like quality.
The centrepiece to the whole album is the decidedly more ambitious extended instrumental ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ which features the Blue Man Group drummer David Anania (indeed the album sound overall would have benefited from more use of a live drummer than programmed percussion.) It is interesting that in the sleeve notes in relation to this song Dave Hilborne has quoted a few ‘neologisms’ for hard to describe feelings, presumably from the aforementioned Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, including:
‘Sonder’ – The realization that each random
passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own
‘Kenopsia’ – The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a
place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet
Not only are those great new words I will try to use in the right context in future, but somehow the music in this imaginative and evocative piece of work conveys those intangible and almost impossible to define feelings. Hilborne paints the main canvas on keyboards alongside the ever present deft bassist Dave Fick, especially in the second half when Anania’s drums have more impact. Eric Bouillette chimes in with a subtle Steve Rothery like guitar solo in the closing stages in the most ‘progressive’ track on the album.
Nova Cascade quote the now sadly deceased Mark Hollis of Talk Talk in their sleeve notes;:
‘Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note,
y’know? And don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it’.
Such a quote tells us where Nova Cascade are coming from, and conveys their philosophy in where they want to go. This album is certainly no ‘Spirit of Eden’ by Talk Talk (and to be fair what else is? – it’s an all time classic!) but you can tell that would have been an influence, especially in the vocals. Guitars, piano, bass and guitars weave together melodically. There are times when it is beguiling and beautiful – there are other times for this listener when I just want something a little more of substance to hold on to as you drift in an ocean of ethereal , vague subtlety. Nevertheless, ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ is certainly a very significant step up from ‘Above All Else’ . This album would appeal to lovers of delicate, ambient soundscapes and softly pastoral sounds and images, and I have a sense that the ethereal and talented Nova Cascade will show even more development of their distinctive sound and style in the future…
… now I just need to find a word that can convey that hard to define that feeling?
Afenginn, which means “intoxication and strength” in old norse, is Danish composer and musician, Kim Rafael Nyberg, one of the leading neo-folk, post-classical voices in Scandinavia.
Having toured all over Europe, Australia and the US and performed at numerous festivals, concert halls and venues, Nyberg’s deeply ambitious, orchestrated compositions are based on his seemingly mercurial creative impulses with a strong DIY underpinning, with each of his previous bodies of work being a clear departure from the last. Obvious comparisons would be Hauschka, Goldmund, Jonny Greenwood and Dustin O’Halloran.
“Klingra (circle in Faroese) is one of my more delicate and introspective pieces that leans one degree further into the neo-classical realm. I’ve been working with the theme of circles/cycles to inspire both the way the music is composed and the story within the poetry”, says Nyberg.
With a sound palette of two pianos, a string quartet (The Danish String Quartet), pedal steel guitar, synth bass and two drummers supporting the haunting vocals of Ólavur Jákupsson (Yann Tiersen), the music is incredibly intense, both emotionally and dynamically.
It speaks of stark landscapes, too big for the human mind to comprehend, almost pagan and primeval, of the land and with millennia of history coursing through every note and word. It is a powerful and cinematic soundscape on which Nyberg layers his palette of beautiful and ethereal pieces of music.
So exquisite is the music that it is almost painful to behold in its minimalistic glory, the norse melancholy drawing you into its intricate web of gradually building emotive tension. The highlights are many but Vitin (the lighthouse) leaves an emotional mark on you that lingers long after the mournful strings fade away to just be a lingering memory.
Any of these wondrous compositions could be used as a dark cinematic soundtrack, the fragility and contemplative feel leaves you thoughtful and almost overwhelmed by empathy, I have not heard anything quite like this in a very long while. Ólavur’s deeply moving vocals are the perfect foil for the wistful and winsome grace of the music and will move you to your very soul.
Music for long winter evenings in the company of someone you love, ‘Klingra’ will make time stand still as you listen to every nuance and subtlety, it is an incredibly involving experience that I believe everyone should enjoy at least once.