Review – Hibernal – Beyond

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”

J.K.Rowling

Hibernal is a sci-fi post-rock project created by Brisbane native and author Mark R. Healy where, along with long term musical partner in crime Rowan Salt, Mark interweaves sci-fi stories with instrumental music to tell a compelling storyline that unfolds throughout the course of the album. The aim is to take the listener on an atmospheric, immersive and thought-provoking journey with every production.

I have become an avid fan of Mark’s work and it is always an occasion filled with great anticipation when a new Hibernal album is announced.

‘Beyond’ is the fifth release from this accomplished musician and storyteller and, in my opinion, is his best release yet.

“It was meant to be a routine mission. A crew of two sent to investigate an anomaly in the Rigel system at the foot of Orion.”

Using the excellent voice talents of long time collaborators Scott Gentle and Faleena Hopkins, we are told a twisting tale of two people who pass through a void in space and find a sinister and mind blowing world on the other side.

I am not going to spoil the story by writing an in depth review of the album but, suffice to say, it is one of Mark’s most engrossing and spine-tingling tales yet..

“As I watch, a pale blue star seems to throb and grow larger. With each pulse, shafts of azure light illuminate around it like the strands of a spider’s web. I can’t decide if it’s beautiful or terrifying. Then the moment passes, and the murk drifts overhead, obscuring my view.”

Hibernal albums are amazing cinematic soundscapes that have you on the edge of your seat, you feel invested in the characters and your heart is in your mouth waiting to hear what is going to happen next, the music adding an incredibly detailed and suspenseful accompaniment to the absorbing and compelling narrative.

I’d liken Mark’s work to an audiobook with musical backing, these are works that need to be listened to in one sitting, from beginning to end. I played ‘Beyond’ in full for the first time on one of my daily runs and soon found myself totally immersed in the story and itching to find out what was going to happen with Blake and Aven next, with music like this it truly doesn’t get much better than that.

“You can’t leave me. We’re in this together, Blake. Right to the end.”

‘Beyond’ is another tour de force from the undoubted master of cinematic storytelling. It is an enthralling and utterly gripping piece of work that holds your attention from its fascinating start, through its intriguing plot and right until the chilling end.

Mark R. Healy, my friend, you have done it again and this time it is your very best release yet!

Released 20th January 2020.

Order ‘Beyond’ from bandcamp here:

https://hibernal.bandcamp.com/album/beyond

Archive Review – Abel Ganz – Abel Ganz from 2014

We have spoken a lot recently about great albums from the last decade and I announced that Progradar’s choice was Big Big Train’s English Electric – Full Power but there was also an album that was a very, very close runner up and I still love it to this day.

I have a very close emotional connection to the album through the band and they have become great friends of mine. So here is my review of Able Ganz’s incredible self-titled release from 2014, kindly reproduced with the permission of Lady Obscure Music Magazine where it was first published.

When I first started to formulate this review my intention was to base it around the announcement of the so called ‘new’ Pink Floyd album and how we should really be encouraging new music and not collections of old material left metaphorically laying around on the studio floor, given a new coat of looking at and then released to the expectant public, no matter how honourable the intentions.

Instead I am going to concentrate on the music on this new album and how it has totally enraptured me and reinvigorated my sometimes jaded view of the music industry in these modern times. I have often talked about how music has made my more complete, how it has helped me through difficult situations and, sometimes, how it can just be so damn good and life affirming.

You should all know by know how I view mainstream chart music with more than a modicum of displeasure. Corporate crap to appease the masses and increase the bank balances of the music executives with no creativity or soul in any way, shape or form. Then, occasionally unexpectedly, an absolute gem of an album that contains the artist’s heart and soul will come along, one that will have taken a long time to come to fruition.

Music like this is what gets me out of bed in a morning, music that I have to wax lyrical about and spread the word to as many people as possible. To this reviewer, the music industry, at the sharp end, has lost its soul and its understanding that it is there for people to enjoy and to make these people’s lives a better place to be. Now it is just a vast, money making machine, bloated and pointless. It is these smaller, independent artists and labels that hold the true meaning and the future of the music industry.

I have been aware of the Scottish band Abel Ganz for quite a while and heard the odd track that has quite impressed me. However, it is this latest release, self-titled, that has really caught my attention.

First, a quick catch up.

 After a very lengthy hiatus Abel Ganz re-emerged in 2006 with the release ‘Back from the Zone’ – a compilation of 1980s material plus two, new recordings. Original members Hew Montgomery and Hugh Carter were joined on this release by long-time collaborator and drummer Denis Smith.

A brand new album ‘Shooting Albatross’quickly followed in 2008 on the band’s own, newly created record label and was very well received internationally. New, full time members Davie Mitchell (lead guitar), Mick Macfarlane (lead vocals, guitar), and Stevie Donnelly (bass) came on board to complete this album and flesh out the band’s reinvigorated line up with Denis Smith taking on major recording and production duties for the band as well as filling the drum stool.

After two years of gigging and promoting ‘Shooting Albatross’the band began making preparations to record their next album. Shortly after work began, Hew Montgomery made the decision that the time had come for him to pursue solo interests and so bowed out. He was replaced by virtuoso Jack Webb (keyboards) who had contributed to ‘Shooting Albatross’as a session musician. Nine months later as recording had only just begun in earnest Hugh Carter also retired from the band for geographical reasons.

With work on new album freshly started the decision was made to carry on write and record new album with the blessing and encouragement of Montgomery and Carter. With all parts of the album virtually completed and mixing sessions begun the role of keyboards player changed hands once again with new full time member Stephen Lightbody joining the band.

Entitled simply ‘Abel Ganz’ the new album makes a deliberate effort to take in new influences and mix them with the old. A genuine attempt has been made to try new things and explore potential new directions. In short – to try and ‘progress’.

Many guest musicians appear on the new album but the band are particularly proud and excited to have worked with the legendary Jerry Donahue and Malcolm Jones [of Scottish folk-rock band Runrig] on the track ‘Thank you’.

Delusions of Grandeur is a delightful introductory piece to the album with oboe, violins and violas accompanying the piano to almost freshen your musical palate ready for the main event. What follows next, the five-part Obsolescence is as good a piece of music as I’ve heard all year. Starting with Part i Sunrise, which is truly captivating, it has an ethereal mix of acoustic guitar, piano, recorder and effortlessly harmonised vocals, almost religious in its delivery. It gently segues into Pt ii Evening which increases the tempo but retains the innocent wonderment of what has gone before. There is a gentle folk edge to the song and it just fills me with an effortless flow of good feeling, truly enchanting, the steel guitar being a touch of genius. A feeling of urgency pervades all as Pt iii Close Your Eyes begins. This part of the piece has more of a mainstream progressive style to it, bass heavy with clever drumbeats. The delectable swathes and swirling drops of Hammond organ are an added nod to the seventies prog stalwarts. What is becoming increasingly clear is the quality of Macfarlane’s vocals. He truly has an impressive voice. The different time changes and signatures lead you on a musical journey that entertains at every turn. A flute that flitters around like a dancing bird is the entrancing introduction to Pt iv The Dream. It has a slow and measured rhythm that entices you into its musical web and holds you transfixed. You are treated to an aural cornucopia of flutes, guitars, tubular bells, double bass and church organ that builds up to an almighty conclusion to this amazing musical delight, Pt v Dawn. This instrumental finale has a depth of feeling that strikes into your psychological core to an emotional extent. The soaring guitar bleeds empathy as it reaches heights of feeling and fervour, a solo full of passion and ecstasy.

Take a moment to get your breath back after that musical extravaganza and then let the graceful and divine calm of Spring wash over you in a cathartic fashion. On this track Macfarlane shows his prowess with the acoustic guitar. The low hum of crickets calling is accompanied by a mellow acoustic guitar and a great brass section on Recuerdos. A soft vocal full of emotion adds a serious note to this amiable song. It is as you get this far into the album you realise the number of differing musical styles that the band can intertwine with aplomb. It doesn’t detract from any enjoyment of the album. In fact it just adds another layer of delight to it. Heartland begins with the muted sound of children playing before a very oriental sounding note emanates from the keyboard. Vocals on this song are provided by Joy Dunlop and the band takes another ninety degree musical turn as keyboards and programmed percussion deliver a sound not unlike an ambient dance track. It is tranquil, calming and subdued despite coming straight out of left field. There is a smidgeon of Celtic folk song to it but you are never quite able to grasp it fully as it lies just out of earshot. It is different and intriguing, yet very good.

End of Rain is another instrumental track that is like a tropical storm envisioned musically. It is full of highs and lows, powerful yet, sometimes, a calming influence. It is due to the bands undeniable skill that it stops short of just being an ambient background track yet, for this listener at least, it is the weakest track on the album. Maybe an experiment with a different musical direction that wasn’t entirely required. Just to prove they really do know how to mix several unlikely musical styles and make them work Abel Ganz deliver Country with aplomb on Thank You. I think this is a brilliant song and I don’t even like Country! It delivers its heart warming message in several different languages yet never loses focus or direction. The vocals are full of feeling and affection and the accordion and steel guitar add a layer of gloss to the whole track. It is captivating, full of charm and leaves a feeling of wellbeing and content wherever it goes.  Mick Macfarlane takes the lead with the acoustic guitar once more on the instrumental A Portion of Noodles. Another dip into the well of folk influenced music, it dances across your aural receptors with a featherlight footprint. Ghostlike and almost intangible, it is beguiling and mesmerising.

Fourteen minutes of musical delectation now follows in the form of Unconditional. Initially sounding as if it comes from the American heartland and the pen of Springsteen or the combined talents of The Eagles, it delves deeper into our collective musical knowledge to deliver on all counts. You don’t have to wait too long before some free form jazz is let off the leash. Muted trumpet played with alacrity and a lilting piano note take the lead and you soon feel you are in a smoky jazz lounge in New Orleans drinking bourbon and feeling at one with the music. The slightly discordant note of the keyboards that follows takes you down a more experimental route whilst keeping that jazz/fusion edge. The whole song encourages you to sit down and unwind, let the sounds wash over you and take you away from the stress of everyday life. Throw in some flashes of scorching guitar that Joe Satriani would be proud of and things are just about perfect. Hints of blues, jazz and progressive rock infuse to create something quite exceptional on this song, it is another musical delight that deserves wider recognition. The song comes around full circle to smoothly meet up again with the classy feel of the introduction and you know you’ve just heard something special. To close out the album you are treated to The Drowning. A luscious brass arrangement lends added gravitas to Macfarlane’s husky and soulful vocal. It has a wistful, if not downright melancholic feel to it but is extremely charming in its own way. The flugelhorn solo is a thing of dignity and style and adds to the aura of longing and loss.

I have just listened to a musical composition that goes further than just pleasing the senses. It is full of beauty and grace and manages to combine musical styles that are quite disparate and deliver a musical release that beguiles, bewitches and enthrals. This is music that will stand the test of time and could become a legacy for this superb band. Abel Ganz has delivered what is bound to become a highlight of this already impressive musical year, I implore you to go henceforth and purchase this musical marvel!

Released July 8th, 2014.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

https://abelganz.bandcamp.com/album/abel-ganz

Progradar Albums Of The Year 2019

This list is just an opinion, my opinion. These are the albums (and one E.P.) that resonated most with me in the fine music year of 2019.They are not in any particular order apart from my top album of the year…

Big Big Train – Grand Tour

Not an immediate favourite but an excellent grower that slowly insinuated itself into my affections. Big Big Train are very, very good at what they do and the songwriting and production values are on point as ever.

no-man – Love You To Bits

I have no idea what Steven (Wilson) and Tim (Bowness) 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!

Bruce Soord – All This Will Be Yours

Lushly produced by Soord himself and lovingly mastered by fellow The Pineapple Thief member Steve Kitch, All This Will Be Yours is a cultured gem of a record that has created music as a definitive art form. Born from the joy of bringing life into the world and the pain that Soord sees in the privation and hardship of his hometown, this is an album that will linger long in the memory.

Exploring Birdsong – The Thing With Feathers

‘The Thing With Feathers‘ is an utterly absorbing twenty-one minutes of music and delivers an undoubted new talent onto the music scene. Serene and graceful yet with a deep intelligence running throughout, I haven’t been this excited about a new artist in a very, very long time.

Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean

Bent Knee have knocked me sideways with this new release, You Know What They Mean is a collection of amazing musical journeys, some of them seemingly fraught with danger and all of them apparently from minds that seem to exist in an alternate reality to most people. Utterly mad at times and utterly magnificent at others, it has certainly changed my perspective and deserves to be on the awards list at the end of the year. Just one thing, who, exactly, are They?

Franck Carducci – The Answer

The Answer leaves a huge grin on my face, a highly enjoyable cornucopia of musical delights taking you on an amazing journey through 70’s progressive rock, hard rock, funk and pure rock and roll. Containing some utter Carducci gems, this album just keeps getting better and better with every listen and is by far Franck’s most cohesive and impressive work yet.

Human Pyramids – Power Pose

I think Paul and the rest of Human Pyramids have given us what is possibly the most playful, captivating, bewitching and beguiling album of 2019, it’s like a celebration of all that is good in this world delivered wrapped up for you to open on Christmas Day (Yes, that is the release date!). By golly, we really must all have been very good this year…

Afenginn – Klingra

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.

Rise – Strangers

Music truly is the literature of the heart when it comes to releases like ‘Strangers’, this album is truly a work of musical art created by one of the most avant-garde folk songwriters currently alive. Each track has layers of texture that are almost primeval in nature, each is a living and breathing entity that will take each listener on their own personal journey. I suggest you get your hands on a copy and see where this incredible record takes you.

League Of Lights – In The In Between

What League of Lights have done is written a wonderful homage to the synth-pop highs of the late 80’s and early 90’s and brought it bang up to date for a modern musical world. For me it is chock full of nostalgia and is a wonderful and involving listening experience. Another highlight in a year that is beginning to produce quite a few but don’t take my word for it, go out and buy it and see for yourself!

Rise Twain – Rise Twain

Rise Twain have delivered one of the most impressive debut albums I have heard in quite a long time. The fragile beauty will touch you and the profound depth will move you like nothing else, if you only listen to one new album this year then I implore you to make it this one.

Izz – Don’t Panic

IZZ have returned with what should become an American progressive rock classic. Don’t Panic brings classic prog rock bang up to date for the 21st century and should cement this musical collective as one of the pre-eminent bands of the genre at this moment in time and for many years to come.

Bjørn Riis – A Storm Is Coming

I’m a huge fan of Bjørn Riis and “A Storm Is Coming” has just emphasized what a huge musical talent this man is. Six songs of loss, love and human relations that everyone can relate to make this an album that touches you on a personal level and one that is already one of the year’s outstanding releases.

cosmograf – Mind Over Depth

“Mind Over Depth” is another impressive offering from the talented Mr Armstrong under the Cosmograf moniker and the lack of a narrative proves no detriment at all. Powerful, cinematic and enigmatic, all the plaudits this release is garnering are richly deserved and will hopefully attract a new audience to Robin’s music.

And so we come to the album that has stood the test of time and really deserved the ‘Album of the Year’ gong from me…

Moron Police – A Boat On The Sea

I honestly cannot remember having this much fun listening to a record in a very long time, there’s an utter freedom to the songs and the music, an almost childlike immunity to the cares of the world. With everything that is happening in the so-called civilized world today, we could all do with a dose of the magical Moron Police in our life so do yourselves a favor and buy this album, you will never regret it!

So that wraps up 2019 but 2020 is already looking like another year of stellar releases. This list is as subjective as they come and it is just my opinion, see you on the other side for more of the same…

Review – Moon Halo – Chroma

Artwork by Ed Unitsky

“Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” Jean Paul Friedrich Richter

From musicnotes.com

Moon Halo’s debut album ‘Chroma’ comes from the creative minds of… Iain Jennings (Mostly Autumn)on keyboards, Marc Atkinson (Riversea) vocals and David Clements (Riversea) bass. With Alex Chromarty (ex-Mostly Autumn/Riversea) drums and Martin Ledger (Heather Findlay Band) on guitars. Guest Appearances from Anne-Marie Helder, Olivia Sparnenn-Josh, Janine Atkinson, Tammy Pawson and Micky Gibson.

One of the things I love about music is that when you think you’ve heard the best release of the year, another album comes along and knocks your conclusions right off the mantelpiece. Music should be ever evolving and changing that’s why, in my honest opinion, all great music is naturally progressive at heart.

I think what we want, and get, from music changes as we get older and change ourselves. I was a New Romantic in the 80’s and then became a Metalhead and Hard Rocker in the 90’s before blues and Prog Rock took my fancy into the new Millenium. I’ve listened to so much music over the years, some I have loved and some has disappointed me at a basic level.

Therefore, I can honestly say, it doesn’t matter what genre it is, good music will always be welcomed in my house.

Now I won’t hide the fact that Marc Atkinson is good friend of mine, he even sang at my 50th Birthday. I have followed him from his solo days through the wonderful Riversea and now bang up to date with Moon Halo and he has one of the greatest voices I have ever had the privilege of listening to.

Marc has got together with some like minded musical souls in Iain Jennings and David Clements and they have created a new musical project that is somewhat different to what they’ve all been involved in before.

‘Chroma’ is thirteen songs of perfectly crafted music with the honeyed tones of Marc’s vocals laid elegantly over the top. There is a focused energy and vibe to the album, an electrical charge that you feel flowing though you form the first track to the last.

The Web opens the record with a thoughtful and intensive feel, stylish and polished and you get the first taste of Martin Ledger‘s hefty prowess on the guitar, it soon becomes a signature throughout the album. Iain Jennings slick keyboard skills give Seize The Day a jazzy, funked up vibe that’s enhanced by the excellent backing vocals and edgy riffing. Croma is a wistful, sombre instrumental full of dignity and grace, I’m already finding that it doesn’t take long to get drawn into this rather tasty release and we’re only three songs in!

The heartfelt beauty of The Veil tugs at your heartstrings, Marc gives a vocal performance full of pain and sorrow and the guitar solo is just magnificent. There’s a an immediacy and bang up to date aura to the hard edged and rocky Parachute, a song that could grace the setlist of a Bryan Adams gig and one that puts a big grin on your face. Somebody Save Us is refined and stylish, full of lush layers of smmooth as you like music and overlaid by the, once-again, excellent vocals.

Moon Halo give us a brilliant rendition of modern R&B with the polished What’s Your Name, a song you find yourself quite happily dancing and singing along to as David Clements’ funky bass lines and Ledger’s pin sharp guitar drive it along. Stirring and soulful, Seventh Heaven is one of my favourite tracks on the album. There’s a tenderness to the vocals and an impassioned feel to the way the music is delivered. A moment of contemplation takes you as you listen to the plaintive backing vocals and dreamlike guitar, such a powerfully nostalgic song. 80’s dynamic keyboards open the brash, strident feeling Let Me Out, a track that adds bluster with it’s slap-bass rhythm and Kraftwerk-esque solo, hang on, who let Level 42 in the building?

The vibrant Awoken wouldn’t be amiss on one of Marc’s solo releases and then we are led into the final trio of songs by the epic feeling Across The Dark Divide, a refined, tasteful piece of music that has vitality and soul deep at its core. This feeling of individuality and substance flows into Rise Up, another modern soul and R&B track that wears its vivacity like the quintessential sharp suit.

All good things must come to an end and ‘Chroma’ is closed out by the superb Don’t Let It End Like This. At times tender and graceful, at others powerful and monumental, it is one of those songs that stands out as soon as you hear it. Mesmerising and anthemic, it certainly provides a perfect ending to the album and the guitar heavy play out is just inspired.

I love music for how it can surprise you, lift you up and seem to make the world a better place to be and it’s albums like ‘Chroma’ that continue to feed my passion. Moon Halo have painstakingly crafted and lovingly delivered a true musical work of art and one that immediately lifts your mood and salves your soul, you should buy this record as your world will be a better place for having it.

Released 13th January 2020

Order from bandcamp here:

https://moonhalomusic.bandcamp.com/releases

Review – Human Pyramids – Power Pose

“Music is an outburst of the soul.” ― Frederick Delius

I absolutely adored the second album from Human Pyramids, the cinematic, orchestral supergroup from Glasgow, Scotland. Released in 2017, ‘Home’ was uplifting, inspiring and a salve to the soul, all delivered with a touch of fun and humour in one undeniably wonderful package.

So I was definitely a happy bunny when I received an email about a follow up to that bundle of joy. Led by Composer/Producer Paul Russell, ‘Power Pose’ features musicians from Axes, Suicide Bid, Admiral Fallow, Scottish Ballet and Puff Uproar.

Their third album was recorded all over Scotland, London and Berlin. With luscious strings, rousing horns, shimmering woodwinds and bubbling synths, the album expands upon their trademark euphoric sound from the first 2 records which have sound-tracked countless TV shows, documentaries and films. The album was mastered by Joe Lambert (Dirty Projectors / Animal Collective) in Jersey City.

Paul Russell

A musical experience like no other, Human Pyramids give us instrumental music that appears to come from a world where children’s TV could provide the soundtrack to life, an innocent joy abounds throughout the the twelve engaging and compelling tracks, opener 4000 Miles using strings and brass to wondrous effect. Like a glorious sunrise rising on a virtuous, unblemished world, it lifts your heart and makes your soul soar.

There’s playfulness and candour in the pared back delight of tracks like Volcano and Treacle and pomposity and fun in the catchy drive of Boxing Day. I always felt there was a childlike awe at the heart of ‘Home’ and that perception continues with the excellent Confetti and in the staccato strings of Hospital Radio.

‘Power Pose’ sees the collective deliver more maturity without losing the spontaneous touch inherent on the previous album. The enchanting and captivating music continues through Memory Map, the off- kilter, sometime country blues aura of Wisdom Teeth and Hanlon’s Razor and culminates in the incredible fun-filled high energy brass of the funky The Mighty Atom and the more laid back final track Trouble.

I think Paul and the rest of Human Pyramids have given us what is possibly the most playful, captivating, bewitching and beguiling album of 2019, it’s like a celebration of all that is good in this world delivered wrapped up for you to open on Christmas Day (Yes, that is the release date!). By golly, we really must all have been very good this year…

Released 25th December 2019

Pre-order, and listen to 4000 Miles, from the link below:

https://humanpyramids.bandcamp.com/album/power-pose

Review – Dreaming Madmen – Ashes of a Diary

Dreaming Madmen is a Progressive Rock duo formed by two Lebanese brothers Mathew & Christopher Aboujaoude in their home studio in their hometown Deir El Harf, Lebanon and based in Austin, TX.

They began their musical careers at the young ages of 7 and 9. Mathew starting out with keyboards, then picking up the electric guitar at the age 9, and playing bass guitar as well. Christopher starting out with saxophone at the age of 9, bass & drums at the age of 14, and moving on to keyboards as well, at a later stage.

They are greatly influenced by Pink Floyd, Rush, Yes, Porcupine Tree, King Crimson and the band’s sound revolves around the Progressive Rock/Progressive Metal/Art Rock milieu.

The band released its debut LP ‘Ashes of a Diary’ on September 14, 2019. It is a concept album that delves into the psyche of an elderly man, who discovers an old journal of his, filled with writings detailing a life of pain, obsession, love, hatred and regret.

If you like your progressive rock in a mesmerising and hypnotic style then you need look no further than these hugely talented brothers. Scintillating guitar work abounds throughout the album with solos reminiscent of the great David Gilmour but they are part of the structure of the music which is intelligent and thought provoking.

The wonderful, dreamlike music leaves tendrils of perception touching your mind as the elegant guitar and keyboard solos trace a creative path across your soul. There’s a pleading, plaintive quality to the soulful vocals that take you on this often harrowing journey.

Stand out tracks like Your Possessor and the gently drifting Lock Thyself have a surreal and hypnagogic quality that leaves a lasting impression on you even as they fade away. The heavier soul of Enigma drives along with irrepressible force, keyboards and guitar firing away in unison and the album closes with the best Porcupine Tree track that Steven Wilson never wrote. Final Page is utterly captivating, the vocals heart-wrenchingly beautiful in their delivery and epitomising the fantastic songwriting skills that Mathew and Christopher have. The guitar solo is delightfully exquisite and had me in raptures, as elegant and graceful as they come.

I can’t be effusive enough about how good this album really is, for a debut release it is pretty astounding. The highest praise I can give it is that I’m pretty sure that Mr Wilson himself would have been happy to have released it. Beguiling and enthralling, ‘Ashes Of A Diary’ sees Dreaming Madmen enter the scene on an absolute high.

Released September 14 2019.

Download the alum at the link below:

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/dreamingmadmen

Review – Exploring Birdsong – The Thing With Feathers

‘Rarely are new groups as exciting, talented or unique as Exploring Birdsong, the piano-led guitarless trio from Liverpool who have announced their signing to German independent label Long Branch Records.

Having recently graduated from Liverpool’s Institute of Performing Arts, the young group have already caught the eyes Prog Magazine, Kerrang! Magazine, Kerrang! Radio and Classic Rock Magazine as well as achieved two Progressive Music Awards nominations in 2019. Having only released two singles at this point, Exploring Birdsong have been hand-picked to support Sleep Token, toured with proggers Godsticks, caught the attention of Florence and the Machine, and performed at HRH Prog. Unplaceable for the most part, the band bring to mind elements of Steven WilsonKate Bush, RushSleep Token, and Agent Fresco.

The young trio are comprised of drummer Matt Harrison, bassist and keyboardist Jonny Knight (capable of playing both instruments simultaneously), and topped by keyboardist and vocalist Lynsey Ward‘s stunning, otherworldly vocals.’

Some mighty impressive PR writing there but, having seen and spoken to this talented trio at HRH Prog in 2018, I know there is some substance to the claims.

The EP is broadly speaking a concept release, centred on the Seamus Heaney poem ‘Bye Child’ and the story of Kevin Halfpenny, one of the most bizarre cases of child cruelty ever recorded. This is mirrored in the EP title and cover art, with broken backbones becoming broken wings. The title itself also references Emily Dickinson’s “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers” poem, which itself is a call-back to the music found within. Good and evil are never too far from each other and you may never really fully be able to have one without the other.

These three met at University and started writing some of the material on the EP not long after and a direct result of that is a massive feeling of maturity to the music, a profundity you hear running throughout tracks such as The River and The Baptism.

There is power and deep emotion in the music, given release by the expert playing of Matt and Jonny, the keyboards and drums syncing perfectly to produce a veritable wall of sound on the more compelling pieces and yet being exquisitely ethereal and sublime where needed.

Lynsey’s vocals are utterly captivating, she has a voice that is porcelain smooth and yet seems to have endless depths of emotion, passion and empathy, almost operatic in places. You can just lose yourself to the enveloping welcoming embrace and warmth of songs like the incredibly elegant The Downpour.

The Thing With Feathers‘ is an utterly absorbing twenty-one minutes of music and delivers an undoubted new talent onto the music scene. Serene and graceful yet with a deep intelligence running throughout, I haven’t been this excited about a new artist in a very, very long time.

Released 29th November 2019

Order the EP from the link below:

https://exploringbirdsong.bandcamp.com/album/the-thing-with-feathers

Review – Franck Carducci – The Answer

“Music is life itself. What would this world be without good music? No matter what kind it is.” Louis Armstrong.

Sage words from the great Satchmo himself, music is the most life affirming thing there is, it can console you when you are sad and lift you up to the heavens when you are happy, it compliments your moods and makes the world a better place to live in.

French musician Franck Carducci creates music that puts a huge smile on your face, it rocks and it rolls with passion, intensity and not a little humour and The Franck Carducci Band are one of the most incredible propositions in a live setting.

I got to know Franck from his second album, the fantastic Torn Apart, and have been eagerly awaiting the follow up for a few years now.

Finally, here is The Answer and I have been privileged to have this release as my musical companion for quite a while now so do feel I am duly qualified to give my impressions

The CD contains six tracks along with four bonus cuts and sets a fire up your derriere from the first song to the last…

Picture by Jaak Gebeelen

The album opens with Franck in his classic rock persona on the lengthy (Love is) The Answer, like Led Zeppelin got lost in the studio and gatecrashed a Yes recording session. Eight minutes of swirling Hammond organ and mellotron from Olivier Castan combined with some dextrous guitar playing and even some Didgeridoo (yes you read that right!) to leave you with a big slice of pomp and circumstance done in the inimitable way that only Franck can do.

Slave To Rock and Roll is a fantastic hard rock track that puts a huge grin on your face, Christophe Obadia and Steve Marsala trading funky riffs around that ever so cool Hammond sound with Franck’s great vocals aided and abetted by Mary Reynaud’s silken backing. Everything is held together by the powerhouse drumming of Antonino Reina and the wonderful bass from the master himself, throw in a superb solo and it’s damn near perfect.

You, dear listener, then get treated to two songs that can only be described as progressive rock but prog rock that has that particular Carducci tinge to it. Superstar is as 70’s prog as they come, wondrous stories being weaved before your very eyes with Mary’s silken vocals adding an almost elfin feel to things. Wistful and yet with a knowing look as it opens up into something much more compelling and dynamic, an absolute aural treat. The After Effect is much more direct and vibrant, a ying to the previous track’s yang if you like, and feels like a hell for leather, breakneck ride at times (a hugely enjoyable one though!). I get the distinct feeling that the band are having an absolute blast while making this album, the energy and vitality are palpable.

A beautiful piano led composition, The Game of Life lets everyone take a breather after the brilliantly hectic start. Richard Vecchi‘s ivory tinkling and the elegant trumpet playing of Thierry Seneau add to the composed vocal performance that Franck delivers to give a song that oozes class and style.

This album is sounding like Franck has taken Led Zeppelin and Gentle Giant and thrown a bit of Genesis and Jimi Hendrix in the mix too and that is rubber stamped by the brilliant Asylum, a fantastic eleven minutes of progressive rock, hard rock, funk and soul that rocks like a b*tch from beginning to end with the excellent Jimmy Pallagrosi (drums) and Fabrice Dutour (guitar) adding their undoubted chops to the mix. It seriously doesn’t get better than this!

The four bonus track add to the already impressive six songs that make up the main body of this release. The Road to Nowhere is an acoustic sing-along that will undoubtedly become a live favourite and Beautiful Night is a wistful, nostalgic tune that will see the lighters (or mobile phones) come out at live shows. The album then closes out with radio cuts of the first two tracks that end everything rather nicely.

The Answer leaves a huge grin on my face, a highly enjoyable cornucopia of musical delights taking you on an amazing journey through 70’s progressive rock, hard rock, funk and pure rock and roll. Containing some utter Carducci gems, this album just keeps getting better and better with every listen and is by far Franck’s most cohesive and impressive work yet.

Released 28th November 2019

Pre-order from The Merch Desk here:

https://themerchdesk.com/index.php?route=product%2Fproduct&path=87_229&product_id=884&fbclid=IwAR1b6AWFiqFPeTjVYcpLGEgR2Om-4uGGfgdxkRrviak1cspfntqdGijYZi4

Review – no-man – Love You To Bits

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!

Released 22nd November 2019.

Pre-order from the link below:

https://no-man.lnk.to/LoveYouToBitsSo

Review – Nova Cascade – A Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows – by Leo Trimming

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?

Released 9th September 2019

Order from bandcamp:

https://novacascade.bandcamp.com/album/a-dictionary-of-obscure-sorrows