Review – The Gift – Antenna – by Leo Trimming

Antenna, the diverse fourth album from The Gift signals a significant change in direction and style for this London based band, driven by a fresh and accessible impetus. In a recent interview Mike Morton of The Gift summarised their new album as focusing on the ‘Difficulty of being Human’, and added that it was about ‘communication missing the mark’ which he encapsulated in the metaphor ‘Broken Plugs and Sockets’.

This is an ambitious and brave project, leaving behind their previous leanings towards more ornate ‘prog’ sounds so one has to ask did they succeed in the communication hitting the mark and connecting?

What is very clear right from the start is that this is a band that has chosen not to stand still or remain in a comfort zone. We are Connected is a striking opening song, with slight echoes of INXS, riding on an insistent guitar riff and threaded throughout with a popping synth backing, indicative of the subject of electronic obsession with social media. Mike Morton sounds angry as he spits out:

A myriad of souls, We have abandoned all controls,

Naked to the core, exposing our emotion

We are connected – we are one – we are connected

The songwriter, David Lloyd, explained in the same TPA interview :

‘It’s about the way in which people have sold their soul to social media… the way people can be damaged or manipulated without really realising it, just through participating in it. It’s got a corrupting side to it.’

This opening is important as a cracking introduction to the album but also as a very clear marker that this is The Gift like you’ve never really heard them before, and they have moved a long way from the expansive and mythically influenced previous album ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. If that album’s lush oil painting like artwork by Mark Buckingham reflected their epic musical canvasses of ornate, multi-layered passages, then Antenna’s more angular, ‘Metropolis’ film graphic based artwork by Brian Mitchell is indicative of the new album’s more direct but carefully constructed contemporary songs. For instance, there is an impressively flowing but understated guitar solo by David Lloyd in We are Connected, but whereas previously it may have been more lengthy and elaborate, on Antenna it is brief but consequently stands out all the more on a song filled with memorable hooks and straightforward lyrics.

The Gift are blessed with a combination of four songwriters in Mike Morton, David Lloyd, Gabriele Baldocci and Leroy James, who all bring something different to the table. Long Time Dead is a song which has appeared occasionally in The Gift’s live set in recent times and this ‘road testing’ has probably helped hone it into an outstanding song. Song writer Leroy James evokes a Wild West atmosphere with a Spaghetti Western type harmonica intro and then we are transported by atmospheric distorted wah wah guitar sounds. Evocatively played ensemble playing conveys a swagger befitting the feel of the song. Gabriele Baldocci even struts into the musical saloon with a dash of bar room piano. Morton carries the ‘carpe diem’ no regrets message of the song perfectly:

So come now raise your head – you’re a long time dead

Love the life you’ve led – you’re a long time dead

In contrast the following song Snowfall exemplifies the differing aspects that characterise The Gift. Over a delicate piano backing which brings to mind images of softly falling snow Morton touchingly sings about a lost relationship. Lyrically and melodically this is simply heart-breaking, and it is imbued with pure emotion and truth. Similarly, the instrumental piece Hand in Hand, the title of which echoes a Snowfall lyric, is also a thing of lovely subtlety, featuring guitarist Lloyd alongside bassist Stef Dickers, showing his versatility on acoustic guitar.

Snowfall and Hand in Hand bookend the far more angular piece Far Stranger, with a staccato, robotic feel appropriate for its subject matter of synthetic humans, with references to ‘Rachel and Roy’ (of the film ‘Bladerunner’) and ‘Pinocchio’. This song does not fully connect for this reviewer – it feels like a song which The Gift would have expanded upon in previous albums to convey the full story, but to me here it sounds like rather a lot of ideas and narrative squeezed in to a shorter piece. This is disappointing as it’s a fascinating theme, possibly fitting an earlier abandoned idea for the album title about being ‘Almost Human but not quite’, and the song and theme may have benefited from a more ambitious, expansive setting. On Far Stranger it is almost as if The Gift were caught between two stools in their transition from their previous ‘proggier’ style into a more succinct approach.

As if to underline that thought the extended piece Changeling is altogether more successful in conveying a narrative as it tells the story of the rise and fall of a politician corrupted by power in three distinct phases, which could easily be separate songs in themselves. This treatment gives the music and narrative time to develop and breath… but this is no extravagant, lush 70’s style ‘prog’ extravaganza. The sparse synth and programmed percussion of opening section A Saviour’s Shoes echoes 80’s era Japan (surely a good thing) with a finely judged vocal from Morton introducing a politician starting out with sincere intentions.  This fascinating opening descends in to much darker territory on the much more ‘rock’ oriented The Shadow Behind part with Neil Hayman in spectacular form on powerful and precise drumming alongside Dickers’ deft use of bass in the driving sections or more contemplative passages. Baldocci throws in a great twisting synth solo to convey the insidious effect ambition has upon the politician’s initial integrity. This outstanding piece then takes a definite ‘left turn’ in the closing Finest Hour section which is a pure glam rock stomp with Morton, acting out the fall of the politician in to total corruption, at his most dramatically camp on vocals and Lloyd and James on great form on guitars. The Gift premiered this section as a stand-alone song at the Fusion Festival in March and it went down a storm with the crowd, getting them to their feet. Curiously, it could be argued that this nearly ten minute piece demonstrates that The Gift remain  very much in the mainstream ‘Prog’ world, but trust me, you won’t think that when you hear it. It’s an interesting melding of different musical styles not normally associated with classic rock tropes, skilfully moulded in to a song cycle conveying the changes of the main character.

Perhaps as a ‘palate cleanser’ after such an extended and thematically dark piece The Gift follow it up with the optimistic rock/pop of Back to Eden, which rolls along brightly. This is in stark contrast to When you are old, with words by poet W.B Yeats. This slow and sombre piece of reminiscence and regret has hints of ‘Low’ era Bowie – some may love it’s melancholic atmosphere,  some may find it a rather depressing drone… but one has to wonder about it’s sequencing directly after the remarkably rocking Wild Roses.

The highlight of Antenna for this reviewer is definitely Wild Roses, which announces itself with ‘Art of Noise’ like synth effects and percussion before plunging straight in to pure Thin Lizzy territory. Leroy James and David Lloyd really rock out on the guitars and Dickers and Hayman thunder along brilliantly in the rhythm section, whilst Baldocci throws in occasional keyboard stabs and synth runs… but the real surprise is Mike Morton’s vocals – he really throws himself in to a powerful ‘Rock’ vocal, with more than a little resemblance to Phil Lynott! The Gift truly excel in a live setting and one can only imagine just how much they will rock the audiences when they pull that one out of the drawer.

Antenna concludes appropriately with Closer about relationships, which commences with bright jangling guitars over a cool bass line and Hayman in almost funky form on drums in the Where all Roads Divide section. However, for this reviewer curiously for an album which focuses so much on connection this is a song which does feel a little disconnected as that opening section quite suddenly jars in to the rocking instrumental Out of Reach section with synth and guitar soloing. It almost feels like The Gift felt compelled to pull out some ‘Prog Stops’ before the end of the album. As a section alone it sounds fine, but it did not flow naturally from the first part. Similarly, after a significant pause the emotional Closer finale does not flow on from the previous passage. Nevertheless, as a piece in itself Closer impressively builds and builds with delicately picked, almost bluegrass guitar, organ and then a lovely fluid piano. A lyrical soaring guitar solo elevates the piece to even greater heights as Morton proclaims:

If our journeys ever synchronize, Let’s be thankful for whatever, Brings our Universe together

We can be Closer…. Closer…. We can be Closer

On this album Closer feels ironically a little disjointed but as a live piece it may mature, and the excellent closing section will certainly stir the soul.

Well, as asked earlier, did The Gift succeed in communicating and connecting?

For this reviewer the answer is a qualified ‘Yes’.

There are some truly outstanding pieces on this album, but for me some songs did not quite hit the mark or fully connect. In essence some of the ‘plugs’ did not seem to quite fit some of the ‘plugs’. In truth The Gift were never a ‘full-on’ ornate ‘Prog’ band, and each album had more accessible, less musically ambitious and unashamedly ‘catchy’ pieces alongside their epic forays. However, the clear main direction was down well-trodden progressive rock paths, and with classic songs like The Willows they really did it so well. In contrast Antenna feels like a band trying to break out of what may have started to feel like a pigeon-holing musical straightjacket. There may also be a sense of liberation for the wide range of song writing talent within the band, which has added a wholly different and fascinating range of musical colours to their spectrum. The great qualities that marked out The Gift previously are still there in the DNA of their material but maybe inevitably this album does have the feel of a ‘Transition’ album. Sometimes in a transition process older ways of doing things do not always sit comfortably together with new paths. However, that is not a bad thing – transition means growth and ‘progression’ in the true sense of the word. The Gift should be commended for having had the balls to significantly change their sound – as Morton said in a recent interview that change may ‘piss some people off and disappoint’ but ‘that’s just the way it is…’ It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.

The hope is that their previous fans remember the core of what made The Gift worth following before and remain on board, whilst the undoubted high quality of the different range of largely more accessible songs on this album also justifiably attracts other new fans who like … well just rock music, whatever the label.

Antenna sends out a strong signal from The Gift – they do not stand still so leave your preconceptions at the door, open your minds and explore their changing world.

Released 28th June 2019

Order from Bad Elephant Music here:

https://thegiftuk.bandcamp.com/album/antenna

2018’s Top 10 Albums – Part 2 – James R Turner’s Picks

Blimey, as we hurtle towards the season finale of 2018, with 2019 ready and waiting in the wings, it’s that time of year for an arbitrary jog through some of the albums that have made my year. Lists being lists these, of course, are totally personal. My Christmas list, for instance, looks nothing like Lord Progradar’s (being mostly filled with 5.1 box sets and socks, whilst Lord Progradar probably wants more vinyl and lycra shorts).

There have been plenty of albums that were close to getting into this list and, of course, the top ten could easily become a top twenty or thirty and before you know it I’d have run out of space and, indeed, time. I am also, of course, unable to include any BEM albums in here, as that would be a big old conflict of interest, and we don’t want that to colour any perception you may have.

Instead here’s my top ten, albums that have resonated withme this year, and albums that have made the commute so much better.

The Pineapple Thief – Dissolution

I have seen these fine chaps, led by the brilliant Bruce Soord, a couple of times here at Bristol, having really got into them with their ‘Magnolia’ album. For their last album ‘Your Wilderness’, they were joined by an up and coming drummer, a chap called Gavin Harrison, you might have heard of him?

Luckily he decided to hang around and join the band for ‘Dissolution’, which, as I said earlier in the year, is the sound of a band reborn and energised and whilst the album has its dark moments and bleak lyrics, musically it is one of the best they have made, and like all the best albums, flows perfectly.

No dipping in and out of tracks here, this is a journey, musically and lyrically and Bruce again has shown why The Pineapple Thief are one of the finest bands out there, and one who you must see live.

The Pineapple Thief – Far Below


http://www.kscopemusic.com/artists/thepineapplethief/

She Makes War – Brace For Impact

Matt Stevens pointed me in the direction of Bristol multi-instrumentalist and performer Laura Kidd, who I’ve been lucky enough to see perform at Bristol’s legendary Harbour fest, as well as at iconic venues like the Louisiana and the Thekla, and she always knows how to put on a show.

This, like her last album ‘Direction of Travel’ was funded by Laura’s fan family on pledge music and is, simply, her finest album yet.

Laura has no big label backing and everything she does is pushing the boundaries of DIY music making for the better. It’s a testament to her creativity and focused vision that she inspires so many fans to join heron her musical journey.

From the autobiographical rock of London Bites to the haunting beauty of Then The Quiet Came, Laura as a songwriter, evolves with each album she makes. The opening single, the crunching rock of Devastate Me being a statement of intent, as well as a fantastic album opener.

If you haven’t heard She Makes War then I suggest you bookmark this article here, nip off to her Bandcamp page where she still has copies of the ‘Brace for Impact’ vinyl available, have a listen, and if you like what you hear (and I guarantee you will), you can amend your Christmas list!

She Makes War – Devastate Me


https://shemakeswar.bandcamp.com/album/brace-for-impact


Zombie Picnic – Rise of a New Ideology

There has been some fantastic instrumental music released this year, with Irish post prog band Zombie Picnic being one of the names at the forefront of this ever expanding genre.

From mixing science fiction with dystopia and big meatyriffs and then adding technically adept and quirky art rock stylings, this 4 piece (JimGriffin and Dave Tobin on guitar, Brendan Miller (drums) & Brian Fitzgerald(Bass)) really know how to build intricate and intelligent rock pieces.

From the opening 9 minute Democracy Cannot Survive (oh how prescient that title is) to the closing three minute Anger in Storage (Denial Will Follow), this is intelligent, progressive instrumental rock at it’s finest and one that would sit happily in any collection that includes such bands as The Fierce and the Dead.

Zombie Picnic – Anger In Storage


https://zombiepicnic1.bandcamp.com/album/rise-of-a-new-ideology


The Sevateem – The Caves

OK, so this is niche, in fact you could dive deeper and say it’s certainly beyond niche but, bear with me. It’s a brilliant record and concept.

Named after a tribe in the 1977 Tom Baker Dr Who serial The Face of the Evil, The Sevateem are Christian Erickson and Janey Winterbauer and this album was influenced by the 1984 Peter Davison regeneration story The Caves of Androzani (arguably the highpoint of 1980’s Dr Who – but I’ll leave that for another place, or another time) and is a fantastic space opera, mixing rock, ballads, electronica and musical tropes that could easily have fallen off the back of a radiophonic workshop.

Taking exquisite care not to breach copyright, this is pitched perfectly with the right balance of nods to our intrepid time travelling hero, big musical numbers, and a fantastic reinterpretation of aclassic story.

Available online from The Sevateem Bandcamp site, all proceeds from this go to the charity Doctors Without Frontiers as well.

From being curious about what it sounded like to getting absorbed in the sheer musical skill and smart song writing and performances on here, this has ended up as one of my albums of the year. I absolutely love it.

The Sevateem – Anywhere in the Universe

https://thesevateem.bandcamp.com/album/the-caves


North Atlantic Oscillation – Grind Show

The latest release from post rock trio North Atlantic Oscillation, sees the band continue to build on their well honed mix of rock and electronica. Opening with the wonderful Low Earth Orbit, this see’s more crossover from Sam Healy’s Sand project into the NAO sound, which is no bad thing. Healy’s vocals are superb and are part of the hypnotic mix.

Stand out tracks for me are the closing trio of Sequoia, Fernweh (a mesmerising 7 minutes of haunting beauty) and the closing Kcenrebbur where, like so much of NAO’s work, the music teases and builds.

This is an album that gets better with each listen as you get more and more from the music and it draws you in with it’s hypnotic and cyclical sound. There’s no band out there sounding like NAO, it’s always a delight to get a new album from these guys. 

North Atlantic Oscillation – Sirens

https://www.musicglue.com/northatlanticoscillation/


Jet Black Sea – The Overview Effect

Prior to reviewing this album, I had never heard any Jet Black Sea, however I am now an absolute convert, this record has been on constant rotation since I first got it.

Bold, epic and not afraid to push their musical boundaries, this album’s title track ebbs and flows, builds and climbs, crossing multiple genres and sounds, from ambient soundscapes to works that would nestle in any record collection alongside No-Man or even Mike Oldfield. I am reminded of Mike’s early 90’s ambient electronica albums, like ‘Songs of Distant Earth’, in approach if not in sound.

The two musicians here are immensely talented individuals and they bounce ideas off each other to create a vast, beautiful and all-encompassing sound, one that is the musical equivalent of a big hug.

This is the sort of music that the album format was invented for, big and yet surprisingly intimate, not afraid to push big ideas in a beautiful way. The track builds and builds, with some sublime vocals from O’Shaughnessy, whilst the musicians weave intricate musical webs that pull you in and keep you hooked.

With only three tracks on here to play with, this is asprogressive as anything out there, and is well worth your time and money.

Jet Black Sea – Home (E.D.L)

https://jetblacksea.bandcamp.com/album/the-overview-effect

Talitha Rise – An Abandoned Orchid House

Reviewed elsewhere on this site by the esteemed Lord Progradar, this is one of the warmest and most beautiful albums I have had the pleasure to hear this year. I got the album on a download to review, landing in my inbox with nary a Bing.

I always think that albums of this magnificence when they arrive should come with a bang, like We Are Kin’s Pandora a few years ago,which had the same effect.

This new album from someone I’d never heard of, blew me away.

Listening to this album was a revelation and took me back to the mid 90’s. As a bit of history, I loved, and still love, music with bags of guitar and filled with testosterone, nowt wrong with that but then I discovered Tori Amos, who opened my ears to a new kind of music.

That feeling runs rife through this amazing album, as Jo-Beth is one of the finest songwriter’s I have come across in the last few years, from songs like the wonderful Lifeboat or the nearest we get to a title track, the atmospheric and haunting Orchid House, with its wonderful violin counterpoint to Jo-Beth’s vocals, which define the word ethereal.

This is musical beauty operating on another level, and her innate sense of music, and her wonderfully evocative lyrics, on tracks like Hungry Ghost or Bloodfox, are ripe in imagery and the sonic tapestry weaved around her words is a joy to behold.

My stand out track on an album full of beauty is the amazing River which, with its wonderful chorus and driving rhythm, encapsulates the beauty in this album.The lyrical beauty married with the musical accompaniment makes this one of the songs of the years, and Jo-Beth’s vocals are the icing on this musical cake.

This one that I keep returning to, time after time, and let me tell you, albums don’t get much better than this.

Talitha Rise – Chapel Bell

https://www.talitharise.com/


Regal Worm – Pig Views

I love Jarrod Gosling’s work, from his artwork for Tim Bowness, his Cobalt Chapel project, I, Monster and Regal Worm he covers more bases musically and artistically than many other artists can manage. He is a 21stcentury renaissance man and, on ‘Pig Views’, the third Regal Worm album he’s made a masterpiece.

This new addition to the family, with its stunning artwork and availability as a pink double vinyl set, looks very smart indeed, art work, of course, is by the man himself.

Among Jarrod’s musical arsenal are items like Mellotrons, Hammond Organs, Rickenbacker basses, Mandolins, Lap steel guitars and many others. This mix of instrumentation, particularly the sax and flute, give this a very English sound, reminiscent of Canterbury scene bands. Throw in Jarrod’s love of jazz and psych, and his rock sensibilities, all of this combines to create a unique musical delight.

As a musician Jarrod has always done something different and interesting with every release and this is no different, whilst there are hints of the styles that dominate Cobalt Chapel and I, Monster, Regal Worm is its own different musical entity, one that draws you in with some of the most innovative and eclectic sounds I have heard on record all year.

Regal Worn – Pig Views Trailer
https://regalworm.bandcamp.com/album/pig-views



Southern Empire – Civilisation

This one is getting into a lot of these lists, absolutely no doubt of the fact that Southern Empire have toured the pants off it in the UK, making new friends and winning converts to the cause. Their spellbinding and stage stealing set at HRH Prog in November brought them to my attention, having never heard them before.

This is their second album and starts with the wonderfully progtatstically titled Goliath’s Moon, a song I know that polarises opinion. However, having seen them perform it live, with frontman Danny Lopresto in fine form, it’s a fab opener to an album filled with wonderful music.

These 4 tracks, yup 4 tracks, are the finest sound of contemporary progressive music lasting over 70 minutes. There’s plenty to love about this album from the wonderful epic tracks Cries for the Lonely and Crossroads and the keyboard and vocal work of Sean Timms, who formed this band after Unitopia folded. The guitars of Danny and Cam Blokland work so well together and the sound is fleshed out by the sterling Brody Green on drums and Jez Martin on bass and vocals.

The harmony vocals are a core part of their unique sound and they mix rock, metal and prog into an amazing sound and, in Danny they have an irrepressible and charming frontman.

The guys put on a show and have made a belter of an album and, if it wasn’t for seeing them at HRH, this album would probably have completely passed me by. So well done chaps, a late entry into my top ten, but well worth it.

Southern Empire – Goliath’s Moon

https://www.gep.co.uk/store/southern-empire-c-1_5/southern-empire-civilisation-p-32.html


Thumpermonkey – Make Me Young, etc.

After a long hiatus, Thumpermonkey released their latest album this year, an epic eclectic album about the upcoming apocalypse.

Now Thumpermonkey cannot be filed under easy listening and that suits me fine, they fit into a nice niche of the musical world where Gong collide with The Cardiacs and Knifeworld (or at least in my head they should do) and create something new out of the explosion.

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 stuck out so much this year from the crop of albums by its sheer otherness, it’s innate musical skills and of course the fact it’s bloody good. Thumpermonkey successfully 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).

It is still an exciting and eclectic album, and whilst it’s not one you can listen to in the background, it’s an album that is (rightfully so) demanding of your time and attention, time and attention well spent.

Thumpermonkey – Veldt

https://thumpermonkey.bandcamp.com/album/make-me-young-etc


All that’s left for me to do now is wish you a Happy Christmas, glorious New Year and hope that I’ve not got this up too late to influence your Christmas lists (mind you, if you get Christmas money – head over to Bandcamp on Xmas day, buy direct from the artists and have excitin music to listen to over the Chrimbo Limbo). I would like to wish all of you loyal Progradar readers a Happy New Year as well, and I will see you on the other side.

2018’s Top Ten Albums – Part 1 – Progradar’s Picks

So, it’s that time of year where us journos pick our top albums of the year. It’s been another stellar year for new releases and there have been some absolutely wonderful albums that have crossed our paths here at Progradar.

Both myself and James R. Turner will give you our selections and we are starting with mine. The first nine can be taken in any order but the final album is my definitive top release of 2018!

Haken – Vector

The prog-metal trend setters returned with their most visceral and intense offering yet. Just over 40 minutes of powerful, bruising music with a definitive melodic edge that saw Ross Jennings at his powerful best as a vocalist. 

Not everyone’s cup of tea but to most ears, mine included, Haken delivered one of the sonic experiences of the year!

Haken – Puzzle Box

Order the album here: https://haken.lnk.to/Vector

Kingcrow – The Persistence

The masters of Italian prog-metal released their most complete album yet. 10 lovingly crafted compositions of raw, unfiltered emotion that took the band’s bass, heavy roots and built on that foundation to deliver a stand out release of maturity and gravitas.

Kingcrow explored 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.

Kingcrow – The Persistence


https://lasersedge.bandcamp.com/album/the-persistence

Riversea – The Tide

The long awaited second album from Riversea, the on/off musical project of my good friends Marc Atkinson and Brendan Eyre.

There’s been some good music released this year already and also some utterly outstanding albums and ‘The Tide’ definitely falls into the latter category. Marc and Brendan have lovingly crafted twelve pieces of music that come together to create a release of beauty and refinement and one that will stay in your heart for a very long time. It’s not just music, this is something that is actually life-affirming and I can’t give it higher praise than that.

Riversea – Shine


http://riversea-band.com/?page_id=129

Talitha Rise – An Abandoned Orchard House

Following on from the beautiful EP ‘Blue’, Talitha Rise released her debut full length album ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ on June 1st. It is a release full of captivating, wistful songs wound around themes of isolation and abandonment.

In my humble opinion everybody needs music to complete their life, to give you a reason to get up every morning and go out to work and Talitha Rise has delivered one of those perfect moments in time, an album of songs of such rare quality, delivered by the most wonderful voice, that stands out like a ray of light in the darkening world that increasingly surrounds us. My music loving friends it just doesn’t get any better than this!

Talitha Rise – The Lake


https://www.talitharise.com/store.html
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be

Well, what can I say, it really does take something special to get me waxing lyrical about a new release nowadays but ‘Courage To Be’ is one of those rare albums that excites and inspires from the first listen but that will also have the longevity to keep you listening to it in many months to come. Virtuoso musicianship along with intelligent, involving songwriting, Lux Terminus have surely seen the light of the tunnel with this utterly captivating release.

Lux Terminus – Electrocommunion

https://luxterminus.bandcamp.com/releases

Riverside – Wasteland

One cannot truly appreciate the light unless one has first walked in the dark. We talk of the light at the end of the tunnel, you see this through the dark and it is the ultimate goal, you must, however, travel through the dark to reach the light.

Simply put ‘Wasteland’ is two things, a triumph of the light over the dark and a fitting tribute to Piotr Grudziński (Riverside’s guitarist who died suddenly). A compelling and engrossing musical journey through darkness, grief and loss to emerge into the light. A spiritual catharsis that sees a new chapter in the life of Riverside and puts them back at the forefront where they truly belong.

Riverside – Vale Of Tears


https://burningshed.com/tag/Riverside
Glass Hammer – Chronomonaut

Albums like ‘Chronomonaut’ are the reason why I love music so much and it has become part of my life. It sees a band I love unafraid to take a relatively new direction, organically progressive if you like. While not completely straying from their roots, Glass Hammer have taken a path less trodden and delivered what is, without a doubt, their best album yet and a fantastic new direction of power, precision and downright soul.

Glass Hammer – Melancholy Holiday


http://glasshammer.com/official-store/
The Tangent – Proxy

‘Proxy’ is a joyous celebration of music, done in The Tangent’sinimitable style. It’s an album that truly bears repeated listens, I’m sure Andy has left little chestnuts and references in there for people to pick up on. What we’re hearing is a true progression of the band’s sound that, while keeping what has always made them who they are, now resonates even more clearly with the world we live in. Music to make you think and music to lift your soul, what more can you ask for?

The Tangent – A Case Of Misplaced Optimism


https://www.thetangent.org/
Oak – False Memory Archive

I have loved music for many years, it has been with me through the highs and the lows  and my life would not be complete without it. My life is now also complete with this incredible album from Oak. Albums like ‘False Memory Archive’ are the reason that music was created in the first place, they bring peace to your soul and joy and love to your heart and the world is a better place for them. I cannot give any higher praise than that.

Oak – We, the Drowned


https://oakinoslo.bandcamp.com/album/false-memory-archive

And so to what is my number one, favourite album of 2018. I don’t think it will come as any surprise to most of you that I have gone with this incredible release…

Southern Empire – Civilisation

Truly cementing themseleves as Progressive Rock’s Kings of Pomp and Circumstance, Southern Empire returned with their sophomore release. Four songs that are brim full of emotion, joy and pizzazz, all delivered with true Antipodean swagger, verve and joie de vivre.

‘Civilisation’ was one of the early contenders for album of the year for me, one first listen it was a tremendous release that hit all the right notes and finally saw joy and elation return to the creation of music. It’s as close to a must buy as anything else I’ve heard this year so far. Right, that’s it, I’m off for another listen…

The band cemented their place at the top of my list with an incredible live performance as this year’s HRH Prog in North Wales, proving that they are even better live than on record. They brought the tracks to life and added another dimension.

Southern Empire are very worthy winners of my album of the year award and are already working on album 3. I, for one, just cannot wait!

Southern Empire – Goliath’s Moon


https://www.gep.co.uk/store/southern-empire-c-1_5/southern-empire-civilisation-p-32.html

So that’s my choices, please keep an eye out for James’ selection which will be up shortly!

Review – Lazleitt – On The Brink – by Progradar

Lazleitt is an eclectic progressive rock musical project conceived by Washington, DC songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Alex Lazcano, in collaboration with drummer Jorge Cortes Cuyas, flautist John Pomeroy, and special guests.

Lazleitt’s debut album ‘On The Brink’ consists of one long epic track clocking in at thirty seven minutes and twelve seconds, seamlessly divided in thirteen movements. The track runs the gamut in styles, dynamics, mood, tempo, time signatures, and key changes. The album was written, arranged, and produced by Alex, with drum arrangements written and recorded by Jorge. The album is the result of stream-of-consciousness writing, resulting in one continuous piece of music with recurring themes and motifs. Cuyas’ input was crucial determining the direction of the music, written and arranged by Alex. The album features guitar virtuoso Eric Gillette on lead guitar, who also mixed and mastered it.

You could be forgiven for thinking ‘oh god, not another progressive rock concept album’, as that can often strike fear into the heart of any listener but, take away some of the more self-indulgent elements and you have a nicely constructed and performed piece of music that never outstays its welcome.

Alex’s vocals suit the mood of the music being dark and forthright and Eric Gilette is a virtuoso as ever with his occasionally outrageously complex guitar playing. The best way to listen to this album is as one thirty seven minute piece and let all the thirteen different movements take their natural flow, then it all makes perfect sense. When Pomeroy’s flute joins in you get a folk, almost medieval, edge to the music and that adds yet another intriguing facet.

It is a musical work that requires, and deserves, extended listening, to understand all the complexities and, when you do, you will be rewarded richly. Cuyas’ drums bear particular mention for there intensity and skill, they add real depth and solidity to the music but it’s the way that everything gels together to create this intriguing whole that fascinates me the most so, like all the best albums, you are always coming back for more.

‘On The Brink’ is not for the faint hearted. I’m not saying it’s an album aimed more at musicians but, in my opinion, it’s musical theatre for those that love complexity and albums that make you think deeper about everything, including yourself.

Released 31st August 2018.

Order from this link here

Review – Damanek – In Flight – by Progradar

“Who hears music, feels his solitude Peopled at once.”
― Robert Browning, The complete poetical works of Browning

Damn, 2018 has been a stellar year for some great new releases and another one has found its way to Progradar Towers!

Damanek are a sort of Prog Rock supergroup formed by fellow Yorkshireman Guy Manning (vocals, keyboards, percussion, guitars, bass), Marek Arnold (saxes and seaboard), Dan Mash (bass) and Sean Timms (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals & additional programming). This talented quarted is joined by a plethora of stellar musicians including Antonio Vittozzi, Luke Machin and Tzan Nico on guitar and Brody Thomas Green on drums.

Described as ‘a genre-defying collection of sophisticated songs..’, ‘In Flight’ is the follow up to 2017’s well received ‘On Track’. Once again Sean Timms’ sleek production adds to the overall sense of quality and class.

There’s a shiver of anticipation running through me as the opening notes of Ragusa break out, there’s already a feeling of class and quality shining through. Guy has one of those voices that speaks to you through and beyond the music, a familiar cultured tone that puts you at ease immediately. The music itself is impressively stylish and smooth and just adds to the feeling of sophistication. The guest guitarists add even more sparkle and inspiration, this is going to be one enjoyable journey. Oooh, jazzy piano and percussion, the opening to Skyboat is joyful and upbeat and, as the track opens up with gusto, we are sent on a rollocking musical ride. Funky guitar and edgy percussion, along with an ever so cool hammond organ, add to the feel-good factor and the grin spreading across your face. This is music at its inspiring best and music that brings joy to your soul.

The Crawler opens with a deliciously dark melody and feel, a mature and sophisticated aura permeates the song with Guy’s distinguished vocal adding layers of class. The captivating chorus with its elegant sax sends shivers down your spine. Sean’s production can be felt most here, giving us a stand out piece of music on what is becoming an evidently impressive album. There’s a levity to Moon Catcher, a lightness of soul and featherlight touch to the music. The sparsity of the production and laid back approach to the vocals, along with the meandering sax, leaves a whimsical feel, a really classy piece of music.

Catchy, addictive and upbeat from the first note, The Crossing is a jazz-infused delight, the carefree tinkling of the ivories a particular highlight. Add in some more of the impressive sax and Guy’s vocals and you are onto a winner. The 3 part epic Big Eastern closes the album, taking the listener on an emotive journey from East to West: from the poorest rural lands of China to the West Coast of the USA. Grand in conception, and inspired in execution, it’s a journey that you become deeply involved in and one that takes you across the whole galaxy of progressive music, visiting every nuance on its way. At just shy of thirty minutes it is a true epic but never outstays its welcome, every note and every word is there for a reason and that reason is to give the listener the best and most joyous experience ever when it comes to music.

‘In Flight’ is an album I haven’t remotely got bored of, even after multiple listens. A compelling, engaging and stimulating listening experience that leaves you high on music and life. Every absorbing minute of music is a minute that will bring a smile to your face. This year there have been some fantastic releases, releases that are finally bringing the joy back to music and Damanek’s ‘In Flight’ should be considered up there with the best of them.

Released 5th October 2018

Buy In Flight from GEP here

Listen to ‘Ragusa’ from ‘In Flight’ here

 

Review – Sleeperman – Don’t Get Carried Away E.P. – by Progradar

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).

“There you are…”

Review – Orions Belte – Mint – by Jez Denton

‘The sweat drips, slowly, incessantly from every pore. The heat stifles thought, inhibiting the dancing of your fingers over the battered typewriter that sits, mocking your inabilities to process the copy you have to wire straight away. You should be documenting the circus that surrounds you; instead you have become immersed in the madness, a willing participant in the debauchery of stinking, easy and accessible sins of the city you find yourself in. You need to sort your shit out, to straighten up and do what your being paid for. But the bottle of expensive cognac in front of you is alluring, its what you need, just a small snifter, you know – just enough to take off the edge, to calm the tremors, to bring you down from the hallucinations.

But it doesn’t. It just adds to the madness and paranoia, its strengthens your psycho-paralysis, its only serves to heighten the desire for the chemical of choice, all of which is readily available out there on the street, in the clubs, where the girls dance in the shadows and where you can fall into the safe zone of blissful oblivion. The hit is going to take you somewhere coddled, in a fog of dreamy who gives a fuck, a place that you desire with all your heart and soul, somewhere away from the pressures you’re being put under, a place that appears to welcome you with open arms…only that it always stay just out of reach. It mocks you and then it challenges you; you need to take more, to become more daring, to give less of a fuck than you already do.

And all the while, you can hear music. A soundtrack to your insanity. Music that is comforting yet disconcerting in equal measure. There are loops of beautiful psychedelic melody that cocoon you, that cover you, that have a soporific effect on you. But yet there is something not quite right. It’s hard to really judge but its as if you are playing a vinyl album that’s playing at 31rpm. Like the belt has stretched or a too heavy weight has been put on the stylus arm, and its ever so slightly screwing with your psyche.’

Orions Belte, the Norwegian musical inventors, have created an album, ‘Mint’, that invokes the alcoholic and druggie writings of a Hunter S.Thompson if he were to have found himself in the Philipines in 1971 when Joe Frazier, the subject of the fourth track, fought and beat the returning Muhammed Ali in the Thriller in Manila, The Fight of the Century. This is an album that plays like a film of that time, with all the kitsch cool of a beautifully hedonistic lifestyle. Bluesey guitar riffs float throughout the album heightening the dreamy nature that could easily develop into something more disconcerting, maybe even frightening. This album wires itself into your mind and plays games with it. It takes you on a trip somewhere amazing, that challenges your perceptions and that is exceptional in both its concept and creation. This is an album in which to lose yourself, but be careful – be prepared to go places in the deep recesses that perhaps should remain unexplored.

Released 17th August 2018

‘Mint’ will be released by Jansen records, check out the artists page here

 

Review – Galasphere 347 – s/t – by Roy Hunter

I’m old enough to remember that way back in
the 1960’s I loved a children’s program called
“Space Patrol”… The main characters flew
around the Solar System in a craft called the
Galasphere 347… And there ends any
similarity with this grand musical offering
from a new Anglo-Scandinavian band!!

The combined members of MotorpsychoWhite Willow and Änglagård (Ketil Vestrum Einarsen, Jacob Holm-Lupo & Mattias Olsson), along with Stephen
Bennett, have come up with a trio of super-melodic tracks here…

Track #1 – The Voice of Beauty Drowned (10:43) kicks us off quietly and
builds into a tour de force of symphonic prog beauty!! The “beauty”
here was never drowned… The mixture of harmonic vocals, guitars and
keyboards I find very uplifting – all held together with a melodic bass
line and measured drumming. KVE’s flute soars and searches out
tuneful heights, together with the “prog” ingredients of key-changes,
time changes, we have a special piece of music that I’m sure will be a
benchmark others will seek to emulate!

Track #2 – The Fallen Angel (15:35) Perfection!! A relaxed beginning with
an overlay of chiming guitars and soothing keys… The lyrics narrate a
tale of loss and woe but aren’t depressing in any way… “Reach out”
they urge us and yes, the proggy formula of guitar and keys do just
that!! The inclusion of a sublime piece of brass sets the tune off to a tee!
More virtuoso key work interspersed with harmonies from this talented
gathering of musicians brings this longest track to a fantastic finish!

Track #3 – Barbarella’s Lover (15:18) A ballad of heartbreak and elation
together? “Passion always gets us in the end…” The tried, tested and
perfected combination of excellent musicianship, song-writing, and
delivery leave us wanting more!

I hope this is only the first of many more recordings to come from
Galasphere 347

This album, only in my possession for a few hours, has already
become a contender for my album of the year!!!

Released 20th July 2018

Pre-order the album from Karisma Records here:

Galasphere 347

Also available from bandcamp here

Review – Thorsten Quaeschning – Cargo (OST) – by Jez Denton

Reviewing a soundtrack album without having seen it in the context of the film it supports is an unusual process. How can you judge whether it is successful or not in achieving what the music sets out to do? It could be an amazing work, but not fit the film; or the opposite could be true, it could be awful music but fit the film fantastically. And indeed, taking the view of a filmmaker commissioning a soundtrack, how do you know whether a musician or composer will be able to support your work? How do you choose who will do that job for you the best?

Over the years there have been many artists, composers and musicians who’ve been able to work with filmmakers to create wondrous soundtracks that add to, compliment and help tell the stories in the films they accompany. At the time of the Oscar’s I wrote a blog on my own website:

Ten Movie Themes

about ten great movie soundtracks from the likes of Eric Coates, John Williams, Ryhuchi Sakamoto and Hans Zimmer who, over the years, have created some of the most iconic movie soundtracks of all time. To that list I should also have added German Electronic Techno-prog masters Tangerine Dream who, since their inception in 1970, have, along with their own original work, created soundtracks for films as diverse as The Sorcerer and Risky Business. Since original leader Edgar Froese’s death in 2015 the band has been led by Froese’s anointed successor Thorsten Quaeschning who was commissioned to write and perform the score for the new film Cargo.

Cargo, as described by writer and director James Dylan, is a taut thriller that tells a bleak but compelling story of a man trapped in a shipping container with just a mobile phone and 24 hours in which to raise ten million dollars to save his life. And though I haven’t yet seen the film, Quaeschning’s soundtrack does develop and soundtrack the emotions I’d expect the main character, played by Ron Thompson, to go through. Loneliness, despair, franticness, dashed hope and determination are all feelings that are explored by the minimalistic music created.

There is a sense of time slipping away slowly, a claustrophobic quality of being suffocated by the environment, around the main protagonist. This is a soundtrack that builds and builds, that reaches crescendo’s of hope only for those feelings to slip away in soft tumbles of quiet introspection. With knowing the premise of the story listening to this soundtrack allows the listener to imagine the story being told; like when I read a book I imagine which actor I’d choose to play the characters I’m reading about this album helped me build a picture of the visuals I’ll see when I do eventually watch the film.

As a fan of Tangerine Dream, as those of you who saw my review of their recent ‘Quantum Gate / Quantum Key’ album, the continuation of Edgar Froese’s vision by Quaeschning is work I really rate and this album is a fantastic continuation of that great legacy. But is that enough when judging it as a soundtrack album? For me the only question is, “Does listening to this album make me want to watch the film?” To which the answer is a resounding yes; I just hope the film can live up to the high expectations this fabulous work has given me.

Released 4th May 2018

Order the album from Amazon here

RIVERSIDE – Sign new deal with InsideOutMusic; Announce new studio album and European tour!

Progressive Rock masters RIVERSIDE have just signed a new deal with longtime partners InsideOutMusic and are pleased to announce their upcoming seventh studio album “Wasteland” as well as its corresponding first European tour for October/November.

RIVERSIDE checked in with the following words:

Well, we’re back in the game! We’re happy to tell you that our seventh album will be called “Waste7and” (Wasteland) and will be released at the end of September this year. It will be our first album recorded as a trio. Our music has become more serious and more mature, so get ready for a manly and emotional album. “Waste7and” is going to be a really accomplished one. It combines the emotional character of the first two and the production maturity of the latest two releases. If everything goes according to plan (as we’re still recording), the new Riverside album will simply d e s t r o y you 🙂

Also this year we’re going on the “Wasteland 2018 Tour” to promote the new album. Below you will find a list of the cities we’re going to visit in the autumn of 2018. Tickets go on sale this Friday, June 1st. More info soon!“

In regards to the extended co-operation via a new deal between RIVERSIDE and InsideOutMusic, Thomas Waber, label manager/A&R international InsideOutMusic, checked in with the following comment:

“We have been working with Riverside for a long time now and there is a lot of personal history. The InsideOutMusic family would be very different without them, so I am extremely pleased that the family is staying together. We all miss Piotr dearly, but i am looking forward to this new chapter. You are still with us, Grudzień!”

Here is a list of the upcoming shows by RIVERSIDE announced so far:

RIVERSIDE – Festivals 2018/2019:
21.06.2018 Konin (Poland) – Progressive Evening
23.06.2018 Valkenburg (The Netherlands) – Midsummer Prog Festival
13.07.2018 St. Goarshausen (Germany) – Night Of The Prog Festival XIII
04.-09.02.2019 Tampa to Key West & Cozumel – Cruise To The Edge

RIVERSIDE – “Wasteland 2018 Tour”:
12.10.2018 Gdansk (Poland) – B90
13.10.2018 Poznan (Poland) – Tama
14.10.2018 Wroclaw (Poland) – A2
16.10.2018 Katowice (Poland) – Miasto Ogrodów
17.10.2018 Lódz (Poland) – Magnetofon
18.10.2018 Torun (Poland) – Od Nowa
20.10.2018 Kraków (Poland) – Studio
21.10.2018 Warszawa (Poland) – Hala Kolo
30.10.2018 Berlin (Germany) – Kesselshaus
31.10.2018 Schorndorf (Germany) – Manufaktur
03.11.2018 Lisbon (Portugal) – LAV
04.11.2018 Madrid (Spain) – MON LIVE
05.11.2018 Barcelona (Spain) – Salamandra 1
06.11.2018 Lyon (France) – CCO
07.11.2018 Paris (France) – La Machine
09.11.2018 Manchester (UK) – Academy 2
10.11.2018 London (UK) – The Electric Ballroom
11.11.2018 Sint Niklaas (Belgium) – Casino
12.11.2018 Utrecht (The Netherlands) – Tivoli Vredenburg
14.11.2018 Hamburg (Germany) – Markthalle
15.11.2018 Oberhausen (Germany) – Turbinenhalle 2
16.11.2018 Pratteln (Switzerland) – Z-7
17.11.2018 Neunkirchen (Germany) – Gloomaar festival
More dates to follow soon…

RIVERSIDE had previously announced guitarist Maciej Meller to complete the band’s line-up for shows after taking a longer break from any live performances due to the tragic passing of founding member and guitarist Piotr Grudziński on February 21st, 2016.

Look out for more news on RIVERSIDE in the coming weeks…