Radio Silence, the second single from upcoming album ‘Strangers’ is a bitter/sweet and raw account of being cut out or ghosted and alludes to some gut wrenching references, such as a woman whose parachute is cut by her husband, a biblical scapegoat and the dark fate of the lifeboat keepers of Small’s Lighthouse.
R I S E (aka Jo Beth Young) is an English songwriter whose relentlessly authentic songs and mesmeric voice cut deep into the fabric of human frailty with a visionary sound swaying hypnotically between dream folk and progressive grit; at times dark but always beautiful.
Since the release of her debut album ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ in 2018 (under the longer moniker of Talitha Rise) she has been gathering international acclaim and support from BBC 6, BBC Introducing Devon, and the legendary ECHOES Radio in the USA who made her the number 1 album of the year 2018.
Establishing her unique sound early on in Ireland cutting her teeth on the folk circuit, she returned to the UK and met her long-term collaborator Martyn Barker (Shriekback, Goldfrapp, Robert Plant) and caught the attention of Chris Difford (Squeeze) who sang on her debut EP Blue.
Rise’s haunting and mesmerising vocal is the mainstay and backbone of this incredibly moving track. The ethereal and waif-like voice has you completely enthralled in this bitter-sweet tale and the raw, pared back music is a perfect accompaniment.
There’s a painfully wistful overtone to the whole song, it’s beauty wrought from a tender agony and one that cuts deep to the bone. As the track comes to a close you are left almost bereft but with an urge to hear more, testimony to the wonderful art of the songwriter.
“Radio Silence A new kind of violence. Who took the leaves out of the trees? A consequence you cannot believe is radio silence. A special kind of violence. A consequence you can defend. Betrayal of your only friend.”
Raw, painful but beautifully mesmerising, Rise once again shows that she is a serious talent and one that the world is waking up to and taking notice of…
As most of you will know, I’ve taken a back seat for the last six months when it has come to reviewing albums. Now, while I may occasionally step back into the ring and write a full review, going forward I will be recommending a few albums with , hopefully, a few well chosen and pithy words of description.
I am starting with a round dozen of albums new to me over the previous six months or so and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have…
Released on April 26th, Descender, the sophomore album from Puerto Rican prog-metallers Avandra, is an incredibly mature and complex record full of thunderous riffs, intelligent vocals and catchy hooks. In a genre well known for formality, this act with the most humble of beginnings have unleashed something truly different and special and with an impact similar to prog metal legends Dream Theater’s own career defining second album Images and Words.
A Tower Of Clocks is the long awaited second album from multi award-winning UK progressive rock band This Winter Machine. Almost 2 years in the making, this new release has the band tackling universal themes such as time, loss and identity within a loose conceptual framework.
With a feel of early Genesis and Fish era Marillion, the band haven’t strayed too far from the accepted progressive rock path but this album has been created flawlessly and with obvious affection and the musicianship on show is second to none. The impressive songwriting weaves captivating tales that draw the listener into the story and keep them there as willing companions on a spectacular musical journey.
I liked it that much that I bought the vinyl…
Released 24th June 2019
Our Destiny is the brainchild of Vikram Shankar (keyboardist of American progressive bands Redemption and Lux Terminus), whose piano playing on Awakening is paired with the angelic vocals of his partner Lauren Nolan. Awakening showcases the duo’s unique synthesis of genres and stylistic approaches, with emotive progressive rock married to pop, singer-songwriter, alternative and electronic flavors.
Vikram is a multi-talented musician of considerable skill and he shows his lighter side on this most graceful of recordings. A collection of ethereal, wistful songs that lend themselves to Lauren’s spectacular vocals perfectly. In a world full of chaos and anger, this wonderful record delivers some calm, elegance and decorum. An injection of peace into your soul, truly breathtaking.
Released 21st June 2019
None Other is a prog rock power trio from Volos, Greece who have released three albums since 2012. The brainchild of Spyros Charmanis, this eponymous third album is a sometimes brutal voyage that leaves no mountain unmoved and no stone unturned in its compelling forty minute running time.
Thunderous guitar and monstrous bass combine with the mighty drums and authoritarian vocals to deliver an addictive aural assault. Not for the faint of heart but a truly forceful piece of music that is definitely worth your time and attention.
Released 6th May 2019
“Jesus Christ – The Exorcist” is a monumental project in Neal Morse’s already impressive discography. A Progressive Rock Opera 10 years in the making, it was written and produced by Morse and includes performances by Neal and an all-star cast of vocalists and musicians. Featuring about two hours of music that encompass all the spectrums and genres Neal Morse is known for, the album will, of course, tell the Story of Stories.
Now I know Neal’s religious leanings do put a lot of people off but if you can get past that and just listen to the incredible music then you will be privy to an incredible musical journey full of wonderful pomposity, amazing songs and just incredible musicianship. Whatever you say about the man, he is one incredible musician and storyteller and this Rock Opera is a remarkable and thoroughly enjoyable roller coaster ride.
Released 14th June 2019
Yes, I know, it’s not exactly progressive rock but then that’s not all I listen to anyway. Western Stars is a wonderful album and one that everyone should have in their collection, it is that good! Forget the fact that it’s a Bruce Springsteen record, that really is irrelevant here, what it is is a truly memorable collection of beautiful songs that show a calm and reflective side to The Boss.
Take the title track, you will not hear a more captivating four and a half minutes of music this year, believe me. Chasing Wild Horses, Moonlight Motel, Stones and more, thirteen tracks of perfect Americana and country music that some are calling Springsteen’s best release in years. Now I can’t comment on that but I can tell you that it is currently my album of the year and it will take something incredible to move it from that spot, a truly special release.
Released 14th June 2019
Fragments of the 5th Element is Magic Pie’s long awaited 5th album, made up from 5 tracks showcasing the band’s very diverse influences. On this record, they have tried to steer clear of the sterile perfection which modern prog bands have a tendency to get caught up in – and have gone for a slightly more unpolished sound, a bit rough in the edges. A little more ‘bite’.
From the incredibly infectious and upbeat opening salvo of The Man Who Had It All to the mighty bombast of the epic twenty three minute album closer The HedonistMagic Pie have delivered joyous symphonic prog perfection. Epic, energetic melodic and sometimes heavy prog rock with splendid vocal harmonies and great musicianship, this album has it all!
Released 30th August 2019
Norrie McCulloch is a singer-songwriter and award-winning visual artist originally from Ayrshire he currently lives and works out of of Stirling, Scotland. McCulloch’s songs are a tangle up of folk, indie and country influences that manage to stay true to his Scottish roots, equating to a style that offers a welcome touch of originality.
Compass is this talented musician’s fourth full length album and builds on his unique blend of Caledonian Americana with exquisite songwriting, plaintive, heartfelt vocals and pared back instruments to deliver his most fulfilling and accomplished release yet. There’s a simple, stark beauty to these tracks, a feeling of a heart laid bare, a truly emotive collection of tunes that leave you emotionally spent.
Released 31st May 2019
“Oceans of Thought” was originally called “The Merchant of Eternal Youth” but during the time of the recordings Marcohad some personal problems and was a little depressed. So the songs, the cover but above all the lyrics, have undergone a change because the music comes from what he has inside his mind and soul.
“So this album talks about the difficulties that life sometimes brings us, but also talks about how to try to overcome them. It’s a record that I care a lot about because it talks a lot about me.”
I’ve always been a big fan of this outrageously talented musician who delivers some intelligent and thought provoking progressive rock with an undertone of eastern promise. Care is lavished on every aspect of the recording and Marco enlists the help of some highly talented individuals to deliver his most intense and complete album yet, a thoroughly engrossing achievement that rewards your complete attention.
Check out Open My Arms with Norwegian guitar maestro Bjørn Riis, a contender for song of the year.
Released 21st June 2019
Living Dangerously is the band’s second release, coming six years after the first and is described as a “Sonic cocktail on the rocks blending equal parts classic, progressive jazz and blues and cheekily spiking with whatever they found lurking at the back of the cupboard…”
There’s bits of King Crimson, bits of Van Der Graff Generator and a whole lot of intelligent, sharp-suited songwriting that has gone into this album and its stays just on right side of being too clever for itself. Broken Parachute craft some impressive tunes on this release and its another album that requires a lot of you time and attention to completely reward but, trust me, it is worth the effort. The blues soaked guitar and jazz infused keyboards are utter works of art and are worth the entry prize alone.
Released 31st May 2019
How do you follow the monumental three disc wonder that was Gandalf’s Fist’s 2016 epic The Clockwork Fable? With a two disc prologue, that’s how!
The Clockwork Prologue is the first release for Gandalf’s Fist as a six-piece and returns the listener once more to the dark and steamy city of Cogtopolis, a city beneath the surface, the once safe shelter for post-apocalyptic mankind, now a microcosmos following its own crude laws, rules and religions.
I called The Clockwork Fable, “A mesmerising musical masterpiece epic in scope and utterly breathtaking in its delivery” and this companion piece takes what the first release gave us and adds to it with the bands’ singular flair for drama, theatre and the spectacular. The stellar cast of voice actors, including Mark Benton and Bill Fellows, return to give a familiar feel to proceedings but its the musical talents of the band and the ever impressive vocals of Keri Farish that are the real draw.
The Clockwork Prologue isn’t meant to reinvent the wheel, it is meant to add to the wonderment of the original album and Gandalf’s Fist have delivered that in spades.
Released 1st July 2019
A Sky Full of Stars For A Roof is Djam Karet’s 19th album. The group was formed back in 1984, and this is a celebration of the band’s 35 years together.
Combining analog and modular synthesizers with numerous acoustic instruments from around the world, Djam Karet is exploring new territory on this psychedelic journey of discovery. Harmonium, dilruba, mbira, udu and other exotic instruments, help bring a warm vibe to this highly melodic and visionary work. Swirling electronic soundscapes expand to reveal new acoustic environments of exotic goodness.
With an almost spiritual feel to the intricate music, this collection of tunes has a raw feel, almost primeval, literally music that has come from the Earth. This band always produce thought provoking pieces that take the listener out of any comfort zone and take them on an intensely melodic musical crusade and A Sky Full of Stars For A Roof is surely the pinnacle of what Djam Karet have been producing together over all of their 35 years as a band.
Released 15th April 2019
So, there you have it. The first in a relatively regular feature on my recommendations. See you soon for the next Progradar Recommends!!
Antique Lands: OER Live at ArcTanGent is the first official release of new material since Only Echoes Remain’s 2017 debut The Exigent, and features several live versions of new songs that will eventually feature on the band’s sophomore studio album (due next year), as well as a powerful version of Exigent ‘fan-favourite’ Aurora.
Guitarist Arran Oakes told me, “The significance for us is that, being the first official release since the album, it’s a big statement for us since we think we’ve evolved quite a lot musically/compositionally since writing the Exigent over 2016/17. If the Exigent was more post-rock with some prog tinges, our new material is a lot more progressive, with much more elements of post-metal and math-rock, while still retaining those signature OER moments of reflection and euphoria that does tend to come with post-rock. I don’t think we’d call ourselves a post-rock band any more though, definitely more contemporary prog with post-metal influences.”
Following on from the sweeping, monstrous soundscapes and riffs of The Exigent, the new material shows an increasing maturity from this intelligent, thought provoking band.
With as many crushing guitars and riffs as moments of blissful euphoria, the new material demonstrates that OER have picked up the baton from their debut album The Exigent and truly run with it, honing their sound to a tighter, more progressive and more explosive peak.
Their sound on this record is a welcome evolution from the more traditional post-rock of The Exigent, now being far more in-your-face and compositionally diverse – contemporary prog with more than a little post-metal thrown in for good measure, while still retaining those moments of calm melodic euphoria from their post-rock roots.
That’s not to take away from an utterly blistering live version of perennial favourite Aurora which literally raises the roof but the brooding genius of recent single Monolith certainly showcases their sophisticated development, along with the dark and delicious I Am Ozymandias and the pulsating, hard-edged post-rock of Eclipse, another song that fans are sure to take to their hearts.
It all augurs well for Only Echoes Remain’s forthcoming second album, due in 2020. It’s certainly a release I am really looking forward to!
The Great War of 1914 to 1918 has been, for many artistes, a rich vein of material, inspiring songs that detail the heroism, suffering, sacrifice and fear that all soldiers must have felt and experienced in those Flanders fields of mayhem, chaos, death and destruction. The war itself is beyond the comprehension of most of us, making the creation of any piece of art, I’d imagine, one of the most difficult tasks to do, ensuring that true and proper record is made. It can only be expected that any work needs to be a labour, work that needs the fullest detail to be sought. The work needs to be exhaustive in it’s research, it’s execution and it’s intentions. And it is work that will be held to the highest of standards by people who will have factual, historical and emotional attachment to this most emotive of subjects.
What cannot be denied is that Bristol multi-instrumentalist, Saul Blease, has undoubtedly set out to create apiece of music that does pay that fitting tribute. But this reviewer is one of those people who will set the high standards, being, as I am, someone with a deep interest in the history of the Great War and that, I’m afraid has coloured my view of this album. For me, it doesn’t reach the standards I expect as a whole.
On my first listen I was intrigued by what I was hearing. I found the percussion in particular emotive, reminiscent as it was, on occasions, of machine gun fire. There were heavy parts that felt like a bombardment going on, with the impression being of being a soldier sat in a trench waiting for battle to start. And then the music would quieten, with lilting piano pieces perhaps reflective of the quiet before the storm. But through out this, there was this little nagging thought in the back of my mind, something that wasn’t sitting quite right, something that was jarring on my knowledge of the Great War itself. Another listen back only served to strengthen that thought, a thought that needed corroboration from a source with more knowledge than mine.
And it is thanks to Martin Hutchinson that he, on behalf of Bad Elephant Music, allowed me to share this album with a friend who is both a fan of progressive music but also an experienced Great War battlefield historian. The files were sent without comment, with the reply coming back that confirmed what I thought. The problem with this album comes lyrically; the historical inaccuracies that grated on me were only magnified with particular glaring errors being descriptions around the battle at Mons referring to trenches, barbed wire and mud -this never happened until a long time after this battle with the army at Mons in full retreat in open warfare, the trench warfare occurred sometime later once a stalemate was reached.
Now I am fully prepared for this review to be slated for not allowing a bit of artistic licence, for it to be said does it really matter? To which my justification is that, yes it does for two main reasons. Firstly, as I explained in my opening, this subject is so very important that it has to be right, there is an obligation on the artist, when taking on such a subject, to be absolutely true to those who experienced. On its own there could be an element of allowance, but the second issue I have with this album is the reliance on cliché; for both of us involved in this review the lyrics felt very much like a rushed and lazily written history essay. With reference to ‘brass hats’, ‘do or die’ and ‘dying for England’ this was very much in the stereotypical viewpoint of the First World War that was trotted out in 1960’s and 70’s school class rooms and perpetuated by Blackadder and far less worthy than the war poetry of the Wilfred Owens and Seigfreid Sassoons, for instance, whose voices are a much more genuine and authentic chronicle of this war.
Take this album as just a piece of work and there is plenty to enjoy, least not the quality of the musicianship. However, if you are a student of, interested in or, indeed, seeking to extend your knowledge of the Great War this is, unfortunately, an album that will infuriate, annoy and perhaps even, anger you. And in this conclusion I feel for Saul Blease as I’m sure he has spent many valuable hours trying to create a fitting tribute and chronicle of the Great War; unfortunately, for this reviewer he has only succeeded in pandering to popular perception rather than achieving a better researched reality.
The compilation career retrospective is an unusual beast, filling many different roles for many different types of fans. To the die-hard fan it serves a purpose of giving an insight into the work the artist believes most in, what they are proudest of. To others its an easy to go to listen of a favourite band; great for reminding them of albums to immerse into later. And then for others, it serves as a great introduction into a band, and maybe inspiring them to delve deeper into a catalogue.
And for ‘Internal Landscapes’, the retrospective of the last ten years by Liverpool band, Anathema, I fall into the latter category having never really listened to the band myself. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why this is; Anathema are a band that a lot of people whose taste in music I admire and trust rate very highly indeed. So when I saw that the guys on the Big Big Train forum were making some noise about this release, well the opportunity to dive in was hard to resist.
And so, thanks to Martin Hutchinson, my Anathema cherry has well and truly been popped. And I’m glad it has been, with this compilation of music from their latter career from 2008 to the present day, including releases from the albums ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’, ‘Weather Systems’, ‘Distant Satellites’ and ‘The Optimist’, being one that has whetted my appetite for more from this band.
What I particularly like about this release is that it is in no way self-indulgent; for too many bands the temptation to throw too much at a compilation is hard to resist. CD’s are filled with more and more tracks, demos and outtakes, near on whole albums in some cases. Anathema have, though, restricted themselves with just 13 tracks giving that exemplary taster of what the last ten years have been about for them. Leaving someone like me, the new introductee, wanting more; a desire that can only be sated by diving into those albums this release supports, and for the already devoted, well I can only see them inspired to revisit those favourite pieces.
There is lots to enjoy about this album and the music of Anathema. Lyrically I found it sometimes a little clichéd, though not to the detriment of the whole enjoyment (but then I am always looking for lyrics to reach some pretty exacting standards). But, the real highlight for me is the music, the harmony between instruments and voices with the real star, for me, being the beautiful piano pieces that underpin the majority of the work produced here. The whole feeling is one of great subtlety, light and shade and beautiful melody and one that will inspire me to find more out about Anathema.
This hour long journey of dynamic and melodic music was inspired by the great sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson’s book of the same name. ‘Red Mars’ is loosely based on the adventures of the characters in the book, and the myriad of trials they face as they ultimately seek independence from their corporate overlords back on Earth.
Principal songwriter Mike Bridge says about the album “Red Mars started out as a collection of instrumental tunes written for a four piece still centred around events from Robinson’s book, but I was so inspired to further connect them up that I began extending the tunes and writing lyrics. There are moments of darkness and wonder alike as characters secretly share their feelings with the listener amid the turmoil of the events going on on Mars.”
The style of music has inspirations from not only the classic progressive acts that are obvious to a seasoned listener (Genesis, Magma and The Flower Kings to name a few), but more broadly from folky artists such as Loreena McKennit and the more traditional hard rock style of Magnum.
Well that press release has certainly set the bar high. My good friend Leo Koperdraat of Fractal Mirror pointed Viriditas my may and the rest, as they say, is history…
You can approach this album happy in the knowledge that you don’t have to have read the book that it is based on to thoroughly enjoy what is an involving and baroque musical adventure.
The three vocalists, Mike Waters, Julie Kvaerndrup and Hannah Bridge introduce a dramatic and theatrical feel that envelops everything from the opening title track Red Mars. The music is incredibly cinematic in scope and delivery, giving a real rock opera vibe. Listening to The Killing and Ares, fans of Bent Knee and Circuline will understand exactly where I’m coming from when I say it is progressive in the true sense of the word with Guitarists David Stanton and Thomas Williams adding proper pomp and circumstance to Khalia and Blood On The Airwaves and also a confidence that is well deserved.
Yes, there’s classic prog influences but the hard rocking guitars and driving rhythm section definitely add some hard rock kudos to the whole album. Mike Bridge’s stylish bass playing and John Wills dynamic drums power everything along with a high energy tempo that is really infectious, especially on the epic primeval force that is the twenty-minute prog-fest of We See Red. This is a song that will really put a smile on your face, the playing is tight and precise but there’s also a real high voltage intensity and vitality that runs throughout.
The album comes to a close with the mysterious tones of Beyond The Reach Of Fools, a track that could have come from a David Bowie led Genesis and Flower Kings collaboration (just stay with me, it would work, honest!). There’s some might fine guitar work and a spaced out, chilled and almost psychedelic edginess to the song and it just works brilliantly.
What a thoroughly enjoyable nostalgic sci-fi blast that was, an album that wears its heart on its sleeve and a group of musicians that fit together perfectly. The best thing about it is that Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a trilogy so you know there’s got to be two more instalments coming our way and I can’t wait!
Dean Watson is a multi-instrumentalist from Toronto in Canada and, until he reached out to me, I have to confess that I had not heard any of his music before.
I am now exceedingly grateful that he did!
‘Track of Days’ is Dean’s fifth album of prog-fusion music and contains the 51 minute epic title track. To be fair apart from the short introductory track Updown Waltz, the whole album is the title track.
And what a track it is, sumptuous progressive rock fused with some extremely stylish jazz, a complete instrumental tour-de-force that takes you on a wonderfully involving musical journey with nods to the likes of Keith Emerson, Happy The Man, Pat Metheny, UK, Bruford, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant and a whole gamut of others.
All instruments, programming, writing, mixing and mastering are done by Dean and he is an incredibly talented individual. It’s often said that you should listen to an album in one sitting and with ‘Track of Days’, that is a must, it is meant to be treated as one long piece and you will get the most from it if you do follow that advice.
It flows and segues from one act to the next, the musical ingenuity and complexity fusing and melding to create an intoxicating musical tapestry. For me it is the keyboards and synthesisers that are Dean’s piece-de-resistance and the comparisons with Emerson are earned. They come alive in his hands and give an energy and life force to the music that gives it a vibrancy all of its own.
The best compliment I can give to an album new to me is if I immediately press play again as soon as I have listened to it for the first time and with this album I did that not once but at least three times, it really is that good.
I’ll certainly be seeing where this accomplished musician goes next, with inventiveness like this then the sky is surely the limit!
‘Make Me Young, etc.’ is Thumpermonkey’s first full length release for a while, the elusive and eclectic quartet announced their musical return last year with the stonking ‘Electricity EP’ (check out the review at the link at the end) and since then they have performed a barnstorming set at this years Eppyfest in Cheltenham (where their unique brand of music went down a storm), mixing their older material and new stuff created a vibrant and room rocking kind of set.
I mention Eppyfest because it was all thanks to Ian Fairholm that I saw them back in 2014 in Stroud, where their inventive and complex musical prowess, their emotive and powerful set and their sheer innate musicianship drew me in. Off I strolled at the end of the day with the two CDs on offer, 2010’s ‘We Bake Our Bread Beneath her Holy Fire’ and 2012’s ‘Sleep Furiously’.
Both albums are as eclectic and eccentric as the band are live and I am fully aware that the kind of sonic origami that Thumpermonkey creates is very much a marmite sound, you either love it and enjoy them or it passes you by. That is fine, not everyone likes the same thing, and I wouldn’t expect you to change your mind only 200 words into this review.
However, as a reviewer who gets quite a lot of stuff sent to me from various places to listen to, I would rather receive one album like this than half a dozen generic middle of the road, let’s make an album that sounds like 1974 Yes or 1976 Genesis because we’re prog and it’s what we do, if I want Yes circa ’74, I will go put ‘Relayer’ on.
This isn’t the sort of record that you can put on in the background. Very much like their live show, Thumpermonkey request you pay attention, and from the get-go, the opening salvo of Veldt, they grab the attention, and pull you right in.
The overriding theme of the album is an impending apocalypse (in this instance based around an asteroid hitting the planet), which, based on the way things are going in the wider world, may not be far off the mark, particularly when we seem to have world leaders who think that Threads was a manifesto and not a warning.
This flows throughout the music here, and the four piece manage to create some truly expansive widescreen sounds, with the beautiful interlude of Buttersunfitting between two wonderfully intense pieces of music, Figstorm and the intense and brooding Deckchair for Your Ghost.
The way the Michael Woodman’s vocals soar and glide through the music is a joy to behold, and they are treated as much as an instrument as his powerful guitar work, mix in Rael Jones fluid keyboard and guitar work, add the drumming powerhouse that is Ben Wren (who can flit between the soft and the heavy at the drop of a (hi) hat) and Sam Warren’s bass, that is as much of a lead instrument as Woodman’s guitar, then you have one of the most inventive musical quartets around at the moment, fitting into that area of music that is occupied by bands like Knifeworld or The Fierce and the Dead. Thumpermonkey are very much their own musical genre.
The title track builds and climbs to it’s crescendo, where the mantra ‘Take this useless sadness and throw it away’ acts not just as the climactic coda, but also an instruction, a life hack if you will, something that resonates with you long after the song has faded.
They mix widescreen cinemascope sounds, with big riffs, piano sound to die for, and an overarching concept that never feels forced or shoehorned into.
Very much like the best films and plays, the narrative drives and unfolds across these 7 tracks and it is an album that rewards, nay demands, repeat listening (luckily, I’ve been enjoying it on the commute to work through my headphones, so I am there, immersed in their world and sound).
This year has seen a strong bunch of albums from artists like Regal Worm or The Tangent, who have looked at musical boundaries and decided to ignore all of them, and this is one of those albums.
It sounds like nothing else out there, other than Thumpermonkey, and it’s a sign of how right this album is that now, as us reviewers are starting to think arbitrarily about those pesky ‘best of’ lists that people like so much, that I can say for a fact that Thumpermonkey, with the ‘Make me Young, etc’ have released one of the best albums of 2018, and it was well worth the wait.
The mercurial Pete Jones seems to have an exhaustible supply of musical ideas at present. Fresh after playing with Camel on a triumphant tour of Europe ending at the Royal Albert Hall, and not long after his last fine Tiger Moth Tales album ‘The Depths of Winter’, Peter Jones returns with the second instalment of his Story Tellers project. Based on Fairy tales and Children’s stories this is an album of pure whimsy and diverse, entertaining music. Listeners need to check in their more cynical tendencies at the door if they enter this world – this is definitely for the young, and for the young at heart. However, do not be deceived – this is not a collection of simplistic childish nursery rhymes. Pete Jones has skillfully framed these tales in a range of musical styles, intuitively threading elements of pathos, comedy and adventure through the songs.
The opening song Best Friend feels like the opening of a Fairy Tale book with gentle piano notes giving way to some orchestration and Renaissance style acoustic guitars. The catchy, positive lyrics tell of close friends in Jones’ lovely baritone, one of the finest voices in modern progressive rock music. A Hackett-esque guitar line and tinkling keys interlude segues us from this sunlit world into different territory both narratively and musically in Kai’s Journey. Chiming guitars and a tripping, dancing synth evokes the journey perfectly in musical form. An eerie almost jazzy cornet from long time friend and collaborator, Mark Wardle, presages chilling vocoder effects of a sinister snow queen, voiced rather maniacally by Pete’s usually lovely wife Kim! This is an atmospheric and evocative rock instrumental, and the influence of Steve Hackett (one of Pete Jones all time heroes) is strong on this piece, and that is a GOOD thing – indeed, there are distinct echoes of Hackett’s own exploration of children’s tales in his own classic Please Don’t Touch throughout this album.
The delightful diversity of this album is most borne on the next two songs, both masterpieces of whimsical musical imagination in their own very different ways. Toad of Toad Hall is a playful, infectious tune which bounces along mischievously as Jones’ keyboards skips joyfully and eccentrically through this musical vignette. This song also demonstrates Peter Jones’ great ability to sing and talk in distinctive character voices, and his inimitable puckish laugh is absolutely perfect for the character of Toad of Toad Hall – this is just great fun. In contrast, not a word is spoken in the much more sedate Hundred Acre Wood, but so much is said in different ways. A lovely ambling clarinet tune over gentle piano keys simply conjures up the image of Winnie Pooh and his friends walking in Hundred Acre Wood by instruments alone – close your eyes and you are there.
Eternitytakes the album in a very different direction as Peter Jones duets on a lush ballad with his old singing partner Emma Friend whose own lovely voice complements the Mothster’s perfectly… but then he throws in a short soaring guitar solo midway through the song as the duo take flight vocally. I always felt that the fate of The Boy Who Cried Wolf was rather cruel, and it seems Peter Jones agrees as he has produced a rather sombre take on his rather dramatic tale. This more ambitious song admittedly took more time to grow on me as it is not as immediate as some of the other tracks. He uses a range of guitar tones to convey the story, moving from the fear of the wolf attack through to anguish and finally a rather mournful conclusion.
‘Story Tellers part one’ featured the comical A Kid’s Tale, which is surpassed on this instalment with the comic masterpiece of Three Little Pigs, starting with some humourous ‘false starts’. The consistently funny and witty lyrics genuinely made me laugh out loud at one point… and how often can you say that about an album! Played in intentionally childlike or music hall style this song brims with humour and funny voices – kids would love it… I certainly did!
The ghosts of Trick of the Tail / Wind and Wuthering era haunt the instrumental epic of The Palace as Hackett-like guitars and Tony Banks-like keys thread right through the piece like a stick of Genesis Rock. Peter Jones makes no secret of his love for any era of Genesis, and the influence that legendary band has on his more ‘Prog’ like offerings is there for everyone to hear, and for many that is why they love his material. For such listeners this will be a highlight on the album and Jones’ skills as a fine guitarist and keyboard player pulls it off with aplomb. After such drama Jones soothes us with a touching tale of the Match Girl over a simple piano backing and a melancholic melodica. This song particularly show cases Peter Jones’ lovely voice, emotively singing this poignant tale.
The story book closes with swelling orchestration and electric guitar solo as The Mothster and Emma Friend briefly reprise Best Friends. You can almost see the credits rolling like the end of some Disney-esque animation… and that’s not said in a sneering manner – Disney have done some great adaptations of Fairy Tales!
This album is a real step up from ‘Story Tellers Part One’, which has not been quite as popular or as revered as other Tiger Moth Tales releases. It had some highlights such as the title song and A Kids Tale, but the rapidity in which it was recorded (there was a challenge to make an album in one month!) did mean it seemed to lack some of the depth and quality associated with his other fine albums. To be fair it was always meant as a more lightweight offering. In this second instalment there is still the sense spontaneity that Jones is looking for in this type of project, but he does it more successfully and subtly on this occasion.
‘Story Tellers Part Two’ is an entertaining album, and it does exactly what it says on the tin – it tells stories wonderfully well. There’s laughs, tears and adventure… all played with skill and touch in a great range of different musical styles. Categorizing it is impossible, to be honest – it’s not deep or symbolic, just great fun.
If you’ve got young kids or grandchildren then get it and play them some of it (especially Three Little Pigs)… or if you feel like a kid yourself and you just need some escapism just play it to yourself –it may help you live Happily Ever After!
Those perfect proponents of incisive social comment coated with a liberal dose of whimsical nostalgia, Sleeperman, return with September’s single (okay, I know, check the date but life gets in the way you know!), the imaginatively titled Cheddar Baguette.
Damn, these guys are good, this gentle meandering track really does get hold of you heart with its sepia tinged memories. Neil’s elegant guitar has just the right touch of thoughtful longing and the harmonised chorus is a delight.
“You had on your green canvas jeans and you were eating a cheddar baguette, I was wearing suede boots and a beret, they’re are things we’d all rather forget, but straight from the off we had things in common, you’re Dad drove a Ford Escort and so did mine…”
There’s only Sleeperman that can turn such simple lyrics into something so moving. This song is a sentimental daydream down memory lane and, for those of us of a certain age, a love song that will surely touch an emotional chord.
“I fell for you, I’ve fallen for for, I’ll fall for you as long as I breathe air…”
Utterly wonderful and, for me, the best single yet!
This time, the ‘B’ side is an, erm, alternative version…
Available from all the usual digital suspects and retro CD from the band contactable at their Facebook page: