Mad as a badger poked by an exceedingly large stick or just willfully eclectic? Psychoyogi describe themselves as ‘Leftfield punk jazz’ and, after listening to their latest release ‘Accident Prone’ I can certainly subscribe some way to that definition.
There’s a whimsical wandering minstrel feel to the way the songs are delivered, not quite Canterbury prog, more that genres black sheep of the family.
“Psychoyogi’s music is a diverse mixture of instrumental colours, melodies, and words. The songs present social and political critique alongside personal moments and moods.”
Translated, the PR blurb means something along the lines of, it’s not quite like anything you’ve heard before and you will either get it, or not, depending on your personal propensity for songs that don’t adhere to the norm.
New Ways of Losing sees free-from jazz meet stubborn 70’s Prog complete with cape and flared trousers, title track Accident Prone sees The Dave Brubeck Quartet meet 70’s era King Crimson and Party For One is like Iggy Pop on weed and acid at the same time. There is never a dull moment throughout this innovative and captivating release, main man Chris Ramsing has a unique vocal style that blends spoken word with what is considered traditional as his lilting voice beguiles you.
‘Accident Prone’ is a forty minute musical journey through a warped but incredibly intelligent mind and you will be a changed person when you come out the other side after taking in the delights of songs such as Reasons To Pretend and Corporate Shoes with their knowing smiles and dry wit. Remember when you first started watching Lost? You may wonder what the hell is going on but you’ll be really enjoying yourself finding out.
Ah, that lovely sound of the letterbox clattering in the first days of every month as Stephen Skinner, bearded bassist of local cheeky chappies and erudite songsmiths Sleeperman, drops the latest instalment of the band’s monthly E.P. through, I never get tired of it.
August sees the band taking on a more thoughtful and mellow note with the lovely charms of Don’t Get Carried Away, a wonderfully nostalgic and wistful three minutes complete with John Hilton’s signature lyrics.
“The first memory I can remember, walking home in the dark of November…”
John’s vocals are contemplative and a touch melancholy and they seem to suit the mood of a dark winter month and the restrained guitar playing of Neil just adds a sombre and thoughtful note. I really like the lovely harmonised vocal on the chorus. It’s just a really nice track that brings back sepai tinged memories of a life gone by, Sleeperman really should be the next big thing.
Once again, the song is backed by an impressive ‘B’ side, this time a track that mirrors the tasteful, laid back appeal of the ‘A’ side (our younger readers may need to google that term).
Following on from 2016’s groundbreaking, internationally acclaimed ‘Pasar Klewer’, Indonesian icon and keyboard legend Dwiki Dharmawan has considerably upped the ante with his new album ‘Rumah Batu’ (The Stone House). Drawing from both his extensive jazz influences and rich cultural heritage, he is augmented by a stellar cast of players to deliver a mind-bending piece of work brimming with intricate and adventurous compositions.
There’s free-from jazz that really blows you away, fantastic traditional arrangements, haunting Indonesian vocals and music that stretches envelopes and ignores boundaries. Dwiki is unparalleled as a player, arranger and songwriter and his genius is such that you find yourself literally transported into his idea of what the musical universe should be like.
In places it is definitely not for the faint-hearted and will only give up its delights as a reward to your intensive listening and understanding of the culture from which this exhilarating musician takes his influence. The album chronicles its creation at the already infamous La Casa Murada. Situated in the tranquil, picturesque setting of the Catalonian wine region of Penedès, Spain, the recordings take on a definite life of their own.
‘Rumah Batu’ can be said to chronicle the continuing evolution and progression of jazz in the 21st Century, there’s definite elements of King Crimson style progressive rock in there too, you only have to listen to the Rumah Batu Suite in its entirety to understand that.
All in all, Dwiki Dharmawan has produced one of the most groundbreaking, innovative, but certainly perplexing at times, releases of 2018. It gets under your skin as it eclipses both progressive jazz and world music to be a relentlessly revealing listen.
Sometimes I just hanker for some music that lets me kick back, chill and let life move on around me while I take a rest from its trials and tribulations. Over the last couple of years it’s been roots and Americana music that’s provided my musical refuge the majority of the time and another release has arrived at Progradar Towers that could just fit the bill.
Gregory Page is a North London born Irish-Armenian performing songwriter. A third-generation musician, Page grew up surrounded by family members who performed and recorded traditional Irish music. His grandfather, Dave Page, was a master Uilleann piper whose early Parlophone recordings remain Gregory’s creative catalyst.
With its roots in Celtic and Americana music, some dry wit has described ‘A Wild Rose’ as aptly ‘Americeltic’ but he/she does have a point.
The promotional material goes on to say that ‘this album adds colour to a world that seems to have lost some of its shine…’ and ne’er has a truer word been said. There is darkness and light throughout the ten tracks that make up the album. The uplifting Americana of I’m Alive contrasts perfectly with the melancholy and wistful lap steel infused I Say Adios.
Take the Celtic warmth of the uplifting title track and the fragility of Born With The Shakes Inside, a sharp look at the intangible truth of the human condition. This album wears its heart on its sleeve, the forlorn melancholy of Funny Trickand Goodnight Jackreally hits home, taking you through the garden gate and back home again
Page has surrounded himself with an impressive cast of traditional musicians to deliver a truly flawless musical experience that leaves a warm feeling inside and hope where there maybe once was doubt and despair.
“A deep well of musical wonderment is laid before you to drink from at will…”
That’s what I said about Circuline’s sophomore release ‘Counterpoint’ and this highly impressive progressive rock act went on to enhance that with what was by all accounts an outstanding performance at the 13th International Rites of Spring Festival (RoSfest). Captured live, this 2016 show has been released as the live DVD/CD, Blu-Ray/CD or just good old plain CD – ‘Circuline – Circulive: :Majestik’.
“What do you get when you take two theatrical lead vocalists, a keyboard player from Juilliard, a jazz-rock genius on guitar, a bass player from Monster Island and a drummer with progressive rock in his DNA? The modern cinematic ProgRock band Circuline.”
That’s the band’s tagline and describes them band down to a tee, for the RoSfest performance regular members Andrew Colyer (keyboards), Natalie Brown and Billy Spillane (those two ‘theatrical’ vocalists) and Darin Brannon (drums) were joined by new guitarist Beledo, guest bassist Harold Skeete and special guest Joe Deninzon on electric violin.
The setlist is taken majorly from ‘Counterpoint’ and opens with (DVD only) a subtly building version of New Day before particularly dramatic and powerful performances of Who I Am and Return. These dynamic tracks are followed by a bombastically brilliant version of personal fave Forbidden Planet, a performance that raises the hairs on the back of my neck.
The well shot DVD draws you in and makes you feel as if you are part of the whole experience, you feel every riff from Beledo’s expressive guitar work and the energy that Skeete puts into his bass playing. The two lead vocalists are at their theatrical and melodramatic best, the harmonies seemingly soaring to the heights of The Majestic’s roof.
They expertly run through the ten minute brilliance of Hollow, Stereotypes and an especially vibrant version of Inception, including some seriously tasty guitar work. You can see why the performance was received enthusiastically, Skeete’s bass playing on America the Beautiful and Nautilus really gives added impetus and ‘snazz’ to the music and Colyer’s keyboards almost seem to have a life of their own as they drive everything on, all the musicians work together perfectly and seemlessly to deliver a polished and involving set.
Sat with my feet up watching the DVD at home gets me really absorbed in this spellbinding show, it’s not just a concert, it really is like going to the theatre to watch a musical extravaganza and Circuline really deliver that to the rapt audience. A mesmeric version of One Wish leads into a fantastic trio of closing tracks, the spellbinding Summit, a heartfelt rendition of Stay (Brown and Spillane virtually raise the roof on this one!) and this quite enthralling experience is brought to a close with the jazz/prog rock fusion inventiveness of Silence Revealed where Beledo is quite spectacularly let off the leash.
As live albums go this one has to be right up there with some of the recent best. Having excellent songs is a good start but to be able to translate those tracks into the live arena this well takes some real skill and Circuline have that in spades.
Here at Progradar Towers we are pleased to welcome Scott Evans of Encircled into the reviewing chair as he writes about How Far To Hitchin’s 2016 debut release ‘Easy Targets’.
The thing I love about music is that regardless how much you consume of it on a yearly basis there is still something left untapped that when you discover takes you back to all those wonderful memories of teenage years flicking through vinyl at independent record stores or your best friend saying you must listen to this whilst dropping the needle onto a new find…
How Far To Hitchin’s debut album ‘Easy Targets’ ,the music project of Paul Dews, is my current musical surprise and is enriched with that wonder of a new find. My route to discovery was the lazy scrolling of Facebook and then a sudden stop as an album cover liked by a couple of my like minded Facebook friends popped out , demanding attention, as many of my teenage album covers often did. The ‘Easy Target’ cover is a piece of art in itself that ticks that box of wanting to revisit and finding something new each time. Paul Dews himself did the artwork which gives you a hint of the genius that lies within the album itself.
Whilst this is not the first musical outing of Paul Dews, the blurb on his website would suggest this is the first album where production and composition were as important as each other , and you can tell. The production is first class, a constant of each song is how production is used as an additional instrument, it really is tremendous. The project is currently studio based and I can anticipate the difficulty of putting this into a live show (although I would love to see that) but, as The Beatles found out on ‘Sgt Peppers’, not thinking about how to perform something live gives you absolute freedom in the studio, Paul Dews has nailed this ethos.
Whilst mentioning the famous Beatles album, a comparison can be made in the very ‘Englishness’ of the ‘Easy Targets’ album. As each song unfolds so do the influences and lyrical content and it is so quintessentially English that again it fills you with a warm feeling and the temptation to accompany the album with a luke warm pint of cider. Other musicians credited on the album include E P Dulsaw on guitar, Wes Ladpu on Bass, Ade W Puls on Drums and Saul Pewd on keyboards; unless Paul spent a huge amount of time scouring the country for musicians whose names were made up of particular letters , I suspect this is very much a solo outing!
So onto the tracks. The album starts as it means to go on using great production techniques to grab your attention and ensure that you are listening as a voice spins around your head demanding you listen, Resistance Is Futileis a haunting track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on one of Bowie’s latest offerings, Paul Dews’ vocal phrasing is very Bowie like throughout the album. Lyrically it’s a call to arms to get off your backside and don’t accept the status quo. Our Friend Is In The Meadowis a beautiful follow up to the opener ,an almost childlike refrain builds to a memorable chorus and a gorgeous ebow guitar underpins a female spoken word section.
And then straight into Gladhander and 3 songs in you realise that pinning this album down to a particular genre is going to be difficult, and why even try, let’s enjoy its uniqueness. Like Mansun crashed a late 90s trance club, the lyrics attack persons unknown, the accompanying booklet art shows a five fingered snake and you get the impression of deceit and someone with style over substance. The lyrics throughout the album are quite scathing in places, in a very English way, sometimes hidden by beautiful melodies. The Peacocks Of Birkbyis a gentle song that sees Paul wishing “he could be like them, rising above it all”. Whilst Collateralgoes straight for the jugular lyrically like a post-apocalyptic rant , but ending with a wry smile of “at least the computer graphics looked cool” and, snap, we are in a completely different soundscape , very clever lyrics and vocal delivery make Push a charming song that twists and turns as fast as you can process it.
Grief Miningfor me is one of the stand-out tracks of the album, the Gabriel- esque track starts with a slow build but opens up in magnificent glory with some stunning guitar work, an attack on so called clairvoyants praying on the vulnerable, the closing vocal refrain of “…money in the bank” brings the track to a close. Brilliant stuff. Helplessfeels like an anthem for all those that have suffered with mental health issues, the lyrics read like a letter trying to express the difficulty of living with a condition and as the music blends with the lyrics in perfect unison it is hard not to get emotional, this really is a beautiful song.
Flowers From Burma is 80’s new wave material, scathing lyrics again but delivered in such a way that any malice is completely hidden. I’m going to use the very English card once more! A Blur sounding intro introduces us to some dubious neighbours fondly referred to as Shit Bags, such a great little track that certainly doffs its cap to ‘Park Life’ era Blur. Sick Little Monstersis back in Bowie territory, and addresses the disturbing fascination of viewing other people’s misery through media, criticising for “watching this poor man’s death..” and then closing with a plea to “do something, open your arms and catch him” and finally Secateurs, that feels like a memory of childhood , a melancholy close to the album but as beautiful as you are now used to with the album.
The influences are scattered throughout and there is no doubt that Paul Dews is a connoisseur of years of alternative pop music, but this is all delivered in such a unique way that comparisons are ultimately lazy. This really is a special album that demands repeat listens and stands as a nice reminder of why new artists deserve a listen, the rewards can be very fine indeed.
It appears I may have dropped the ball big style when it comes to Blackfield and I’m big enough to admit my mistakes, no matter how bad they are!
I always dismissed this collaboration between the legend that is Steven Wilson and Israeli songwriter and musician Aviv Geffen as not for me (yes, pretentious on my part, I know!), considering it monotonous and well, boring! How wrong can you be eh? After listening to this compilation from their five albums it dawned on me that they are actually really rather good!
‘The collaboration, extending from their self-titled debut in 2004 to their superb return with album V produced with Alan Parsons in 2017, has proven to be a prolific partnership for creating striking and affecting music.’
Erm, yes, the promotional material hits the proverbial nail smack bang on the head, it is extremely striking and very, very affecting. I could go on about all fifteen tracks on the album but I’ll just tell you the ones that really stand out for me. Opener Blackfield, the uber-smooth and emotive 1000 People, the energetic and dynamic Oxygen, my personal favourite How Was Your Ride with its surfeit of soul and oh so cool strings and vocals, From44 to 48, the heartfelt Faking, the pared back brilliance of Dissolving With the Night, honestly, as collections go, it really doesn’t get much better than this.
‘Perhaps the debut album’s Lasse Hoile cover art—a bottled elixir lurking in the gloomy shadows of an apothecary—signifies that Blackfield is a dark medicine to be administered through the listener’s ear.’
I don’t know who writes this promo stuff but, damn, they’re good and so is the music, perhaps Steven Wilson himself puts it best:
“Blackfield appealed to me because it was a chance to focus firmly on the art of the classic pop song with concise songs and strong melodies, harmonies, orchestration, and a very lush ‘golden’ production.”
If, like me, you have never thought Blackfield worthy of your attention then please, please heed my advice, get your hands on this new collection and enjoy every single note!
Formed in 1993 in Bremerhaven, Germany, Seasons of Time came together to make music influenced by their heroes: Pink Floyd, Marillion and Genesis. Through many band changes and two albums, 1997’s ‘Behind the Mirror’ and 2014’s ‘Closed Doors to Open Plains’, the group now consists of founding member Dirk Berger (vocals, bass, keyboards), Florian Wenzel (guitar) and Julian Hielscher (drums).
2018 sees the release of ‘Welcome to the Unknown’, a concept album that ultimately tells us to look at the really important things in life like satisfaction, health, respect and friendship and that, in an ever faster moving and hectic society, we should be satisfied with what we have.
It’s always interesting to hear a vocalist sing in a language that is not his natural one and Dirk’s intonation and pronunciation of English gives a definite teutonic edge to the vocals, something akin to Kraftwerk or RPWL. I know not everyone will appreciate it but, for me, it works really well with the general feel and tone of this release.
‘Welcome to the Unknown’ consists of six tracks and there’s plenty in there for the listener to appreciate and admire. Central to everything is Florian’s fluid guitar playing, impressive in so many ways.
Album opener Toward The Horizon has a darkly dystopian futuristic atmosphere to its slow building introduction, with the eloquent and descriptive guitar playing guiding Dirk’s elegant keyboards into the fray. A neo-progressive track that has the 80’s written all over it in everything except the 80’s woeful production values. The album draws you in with its intelligent lyrics and excellent musicianship, just check out Julian’s dynamic drumming. I must admit that it didn’t completely grab me until after I’d listened to it three or four times but isn’t that true of all the better releases?
I particularly liked Dreams of a Madman’s early Marillion influences with Dirk’s keyboards and Florian’s guitar combining perfectly to deliver a great progressive rock track and the emotive Joana’s towering guitar solo. This trio know how to draw you into their thoroughly enjoyable musical world and special mention must go to the really rather impressive and incredibly haunting closing track The Last Ship, a song that really got under my skin, an incredibly soulful and powerful instrumental.
When it comes to progressive rock Seasons of Time haven’t reinvented the wheel with ‘Welcome to the Unknown’ but, as the old adage goes, ‘if it ain’t broke then why fix it?’ There’s plenty here for any fan of the genre and the quality is such that you will not be disappointed.
The trouble with being a reviewer of the product that gets sent through by the guys at Progradar is that it is almost always of the very highest quality. Every now and then you get an album through that shines brightly, that’s brilliant from the first listen and that just blows you away. But, when that happens, sometimes other albums fade in comparison. And if an album doesn’t get you on first listen, with the sheer weight of great work out there, it will sometimes not get the attention it deserves.
Initially, seeing as I received it at the same time I received the amazing album, ‘3.2 The Rules Have Changed’, by Robert Berry and Keith Emerson, ‘The Persistence’, by Italian progressives Kingcrow, fell into that category of not grabbing me at first, not quite hitting the mark; it initially just didn’t have enough for me to quite want to give it a bit of extra attention. And, because I really am loathe writing a review if it’s not going to find anything constructive, I put it to the back of my mind. But something kept me coming back to it, nagging me to plug in my headphones, to give it another chance.
I’m so glad I did, as with more and more listens I began to really enjoy the luscious melodies that the band has created in this album. Still including their base and original heavy metal roots they have never the less explored, matured and developed their sound to become, as band member Diego Cafolla explains in the band’s press release, ‘a dark ambient, more modern vibe’ that fits beautifully with their existing heavy rock persona.
The Italian nation has always been at the forefront of the development of intelligent, melodic music, be that from the classical composers of old right up to the progressive rock of 1970’s bands such as Osanna and Area. With this album, Kingcrow have taken that legacy on, developed it and updated it whilst keeping true to their base heavy rock roots. It’s a difficult trick to do; undoubtedly new directions can sometimes confound or even upset existing fans. But in the case of ‘The Persistence’, as it was for me, the listener’s persistence will be rewarded by 10 lovingly crafted, gorgeously melodic and interesting songs that still have enough of a heavy metal bite to please the existing fan as they enter a journey of discovery with Kingcrow.
Time flies, this time last week I was home after a very pleasant trip to the launch party for Encircled’s new album ‘The Universal Mirth’, down in the deepest merging of the potteries’ ‘Five Towns’ so named by author Arnold Bennett (though it was actually six), in Stoke On Trent.
I had the great pleasure of reviewing their last outing, ‘The Monkey Jamboree’ and, if you have not heard it, treat yourself. May I recommend it is best listened to with the lights dimmed and a tipple of your choice in a cosy environment after a hard day at work.
A short balmy stroll from my less than salubrious lodgings and I found myself in front of a small shop (converted into a community project area) by the name of Pilgrims Pit. It hardly seemed big enough to swing a cat in but still managed to fit a plentifully stocked little bar in the corner, with welcome cool drinks.
Warmly met by bassist/keyboards (twiddly bits, errors and virtual drums) Scott Evans, I was introduced to the other band members; the genial Mark ‘Busby’ Burrows on vocals and favourite Fender plus acoustic and the ever cool Gareth ‘Gaz’ Evans playing a delicious custom guitar (I’m told he never smiles, but they lie). I was informed the place could actually take up to fifty people and though the band’s gear took up a fair area, around thirty to forty turned out for the night and it was good to meet some fellow passengers and some new faces.
Whilst the talent that is Peter Jones was unable to be there for his guest slots on some tracks, it was a lovely surprise to find they had support from the delightful Kym Hart who, whilst a very accomplished musician in her own right, had graciously given vocal assistance on the band’s new CD.
We were treated to a number of tracks from Kym’s two albums, the latest ‘A Way To Be’ (available at kymhart.bandcamp.com) and ‘Time in Mind’.
Kym also treated us to a track from the new album she is working on and cleverly slipped in a little Marillion passage from Lavender, to favourable response from the appreciative audience. I was surprised, whilst chatting to her, to find she has been doing this for over twenty years but, as so often is the case, she has never received the justified acclaim. Check her out, Kym deserves a wider audience.
Encircled then took the stage, or floor space at any rate. It’s amazing the amount of noise a small group of people can generate when encouraged by such a welcoming group of lads playing infectious music. The warmth for the band was palpable and every track on the set-list was greeted with expectant enthusiasm from the gathering before them, Busby observantly pointing out that, at one point, they were literally ‘encircled’ by the crowd.
Playing a set list made up from TMJ and TUM, they soon had everyone clapping and joining in, the music floating round the room, out of the open the door and down the street, serenading the revellers passing by, some glancing in curiosity or pausing for a while on the pavement outside to bask in the ambience. Inviting Kym up to swell the vocals on given tracks only enhanced the soothing sounds caressing our ears.
A great evening was had by all and it was a real privilege to finally meet the gentlemen behind these albums, you couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of lads who proved they can play it ‘live’. We need to see them in larger venues, come on promoters, don’t miss the opportunity.
A quick shout out to the lads who run the place and staunchly manned the bar for the evening with best wishes and success for future projects. Also a big thank you to Scott’s daughter Freya (the talent behind the cover design for TMJ) as she kindly manned the merch desk all evening.
And so to the new album ‘The Universal Mirth’.
If you read my review of TMJ, you will know how much I enjoyed it, a fine album that regularly takes a spin in our house and in the car:
For me TUM has a more assured footing and lifts the band to a higher podium.Exploring and expounding on the problems in modern society with technology, self image and perception, with the pressures modern living brings, temptations, dangers and the strains on individuals and relationships.
The first three tracks are loosely linked as are the last three, with two more ‘sandwiched’ between, bringing the total to eight meaty tracks which make up this aural feast.
From the hook laden chimes of the first bars, Log In: The Mystical Way whirls through your head warning the miracle is being taken away, demystifying the magic of life. The laid back keyboards and throbbing bass deceiving you, lulling you into a false sense of security whilst access to even your most personal secrets are slowly exposed.
Leading to The Obsession, with a heavier guitar intro, garnered from accessible systems and information available to anyone able to open and retrieve the details. Watched unknowingly, your every move scrutinised and followed, untraceable as the keyboards weep for your loss. Your weaknesses feeding the hidden admiration of those who see your fragilities caused by insecurities and the need to be loved and wanted. The desire to be more beautiful, the pressures of fame, leaving you vulnerable to prying eyes. You no longer have secrets, the information used to mould, persuade and control who you are and what you do.
But what if Past Timesare revealed, what do they unearth, what does it mean for your future? The acoustic guitar intro leads Mark to question if there is a sense of wonder left. Uncertainty, unsure of who to trust, darkest secrets revealed. Are you who you seem and will your past ever let you be who you would like to be, seeking to find someone who will accept you for who you are?
Can you hold down a relationship, what foundations are they built on? Does true love exist in today’s society, increasingly uneasy in the shallow pool of values, to form a bond between couples. If you can’t, you’ll find yourself saying This Is Goodbye. Empty promises, failure to live up to expectations as Gaz’s guitar riffs wave farewell, the laid back delivery wrong-footing you once more.
And once it’s over and gone, dare you trust again? Can you learn to love, have feelings, show your own? Or scarred by the experiences keep your emotions hidden, Smiling On The Inside, afraid to expose yourself for fear of rejection and disappointment. The prospect of being left alone as the keys drop notes like whispers behind your back. Can you face it and be strong enough to take on a relationship once more as the guitars gently mock you in the background?
The adulation craved, the need to be loved and wanted, enveloped in a Marillion and Genesis homage of guitars and keyboards on 22 Likes with the band’s influences rising to the surface. The restriction of being in the public eye, creation of a persona and the inability to be yourself around others.
This segues into track seven on a wave of Bill Nelson type guitar, drifting into a Floydian style passage as Kym’s extensive vocal range soars over the instruments to create a Fantastic Souvenir of breathtaking music.
A flute introduces the band finale as they reach to Log Out: The Universal Mirth, breaking away from it all, finding the strength to step out, moulding the lyrical and musical style of Fish era Marillion into their own sound, to tremendous effect. Peter Jones‘ guest keyboard solos burst like the petals of summer flowers opening to embrace the mood and flourish over Mark mourning they took the miracle away.
They haven’t, it’s just been recorded and presented in a digi-pak of sublime, melancholic wonder for us all to purchase, listen and revel in. Encircled have done it again, getting under my skin and sinking in to create a warming glow. This is another gem of an album from the band which sees them grow in musical stature and as soon as ‘The Universal Mirth’ finishes, I find myself wanting to play it again, as you may well do.
Time to cuddle on the sofa with the lights low, quality scotch in hand and press play/repeat.