Review – The Room – Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam – by Emma Roebuck

Due to be released on 20th November 2015 by Bad Elephant Music, the new album from The Room – ‘Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam’ is reviewed by our own Emma Roebuck.

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The first thing I have to own up to is that I like The Room and am promoting one of the forthcoming tour dates.

I came late to these guys and bought ‘Open Fire’ on a whim, I immediately regretted not buying it earlier.

On first play, ‘Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam’ is the natural successor to ‘Open Fire’ in content, style and the music. It has all the hallmarks of song structure, melody and lyrics that made me like them in the first place.

The prog credentials are still there, 5 tracks coming in at over 6 minutes and this allows the musical ability of the band to come through in spades and the rest are not lacking for being shorter.

It has a better feel and production as well as being far more confident a product than ‘Open Fire’, there is a definite ‘levelling up’ on this album.

Although not a concept album there is a theme to it.  Life, love, and power, and how it affects people. Martin Wilson’s vocals add to the distinctive sound, filling the songs with passion in his delivery.  The guitar work from Steve Anderson is rich and varied but not overpowering, his ability shining through on such tracks as Masquerade and the Hunter.

Andy Rowe (bass) and Chris York (drums) provide a really solid foundation throughout the whole album, giving this very varied release a consistency worthy of the songs. Steve Checkley’s keyboards fill the music with light and shade, combining well with Anderson’s guitar on The Book, a song about the manipulation of faith by the powers that be for their own ends.

Even the more or less straight rockers on the album like Splinter are complex enough for the average prog fan. The high point for me is Bedlam, a ‘Post-apocalyptic view of life and how the fabric of life can easily break down when law and order is no longer effective’. This track is going to be a classic, 20 minutes of pure prog condensed down into 5.

Looking at this as an overall product, if you like a well contrasted songs with melodic variety at the progressive of the music market then, this is the album for you, if you want metal, dissonance or Canterbury, this is not it. For fans and listeners of  Frost*, Jump or their ilk, I reckon your money would not be wasted .

Released 20th November 2015 through Bad Elephant Music.

Pre-orders opening very soon, please keep an eye out for details.

Pre-order CDs from The Merch Desk

Download from Bad Elephant Musc

You can listen to Carrie, the first single from the album, at the link below:

Listen to Carrie

 

 

Review – The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

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“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.” – Terence McKenna

Let me ask you a question, where does great music come from? Well, for me, it starts with an idea, to quote Sir Terry Pratchett“a small inspiration particle”, that can then flower and grow into something more tangible. These ideas may take input from other people and morph slightly to be something similar and, yet at the same time, different.

Add layers to these ideas, music, lyrics etc. and you can then end up with a complete song. One song on its own does not a musical cornucopia make but, when a collection of songs can join together into one cohesive record, then you finally have something that people will love and will stand the test of time.

The skill is repeating this process more than once and coming up with something different every time. There doesn’t have to be a large divergence but enough to differentiate the works and show the listener that you have moved on and are using new and exciting concepts. Evolution here is key or musicians can stagnate and lose any momentum or goodwill.

So, to tie up my opening thoughts, recently I was asked if I’d like to listen to the new album from The Aaron Clift Experiment. I reviewed their first album, ‘Lonely Hills’ and said,

“Notable on first listen but, like all the best releases, delivering more and more on further plays, ‘Lonely Hills’ blooms into an album that should be in every music lovers collection.”

Have they taken that initial promise and built on it with new ideas and inspirations to deliver something new and exciting yet defined by their signature sound? First a quick band history….

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Aaron Clift (vocals, Keyboards) began writing the songs that would appear on ‘Lonely Hills’ back in 2008. In 2009 he met the band’s drummer, Joe Resnick and they cut the demo with just piano, drums and vocals. Originally Aaron was going to release the music under his own name but, after hearing the demo he decided the songs needed a rock edge so he recruited Jim Ragland on guitar (Jim left in 2013 to be replaced by Eric Gutierrez) and Joe Green on bass. Now he had decided to work with a full band, he gave the project the moniker The Aaron Clift Experiment. Joe Green left in 2014 and  Devin North now sits on bass duties.

I have to admit that I was expecting something special from these guys after the considerable promise shown in ‘Lonely Hills’ so the new album ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ would really have to shine.

Frontman Aaron Clift tells us about the concept behind the release,

“‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ is a concept album about duality: light vs. darkness, individual vs. group, hope vs. despair, etc. Songs in the first half of the album detail the conflict between these opposing forces, while the songs in second half of the album are a journey toward reconciling the extremes. The album culminates with ‘Bathed in Moonlight,’ a song about how humanity can learn to embrace its outer light and inner darkness and become one with both sides of its nature.”

Unlike the first album which was conceived and written solely by Aaron himself, ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ was mainly a collaborative project which the band believe has resulted in some of their strongest material yet.

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Well blow me down, the first track on the album Kissed by the Sun hoves into view like a particularly well intentioned chariot of fire with guitar and violin blazing a stylish trail to cut through all before them and you immediately sit up and take notice. A subtle bass line and drum beat then anchor the song as a diverse guitar winds melodies around your mind. Aaron’s vocal begins, sinuous and notable, backed by the eloquent violin before breaking out on the dynamic chorus. Energetic and full of good will, this track vitalises you, running a musical current right through your nervous system. The powerful guitar riff, spirited piano and passionate violin really give it enormous substance, add in a really impassioned guitar solo and a funky break in the middle of the song with some great harmonies and a super smooth bass run and you have a rather impressive opening to the album. I’m getting a pastoral note with some american rock vibes going on here, as if Ben Folds Five reformed with members of Echolyn and spent a whole summer listening to the Big Big Train back catalogue and that feeling is only enforced by Locked, the second track has a much more laid back, stylistic edge to the opening. The vocals have a note of impassioned emotion to them. The whole rhythm section takes on a stylish jazz feel with the piano front and centre and it all feels like a journey though someones wavering emotional state. Highs and lows abound, the guitar solo has a real raw centre and scrapes your raw nerves to the bone. As the track closes out, it seems to take a thoughtful, pensive note as if looking back in a rueful manner. An intelligent, deep song that leaves a lasting impression on you.

A more discordant note opens Fragments of Sleep, counterbalanced by a repeated one note piano melody over which Aaron’s recognisable voice delivers the story. It is almost like you are having an interrupted night’s sleep with the rhythm and sound having a fuzzy, jarred edge to it, all sharp edges and yet its distinctive feel really resonates with me. Emotive words and a gently strummed guitar give it some pathos and the delicate violin adds poignancy as it it all comes to a profound close. Sinister and with a darker note to the introduction, Your Arms Hold Them to the Dark takes you on a journey through a world of perpetual twilight. The pace is determined and slow, the guitar riff crashes around you like a dissipating storm clashing with the drums, jolting and rasping against your senses. Deliciously malevolent and mischievous, there is a perverse pleasure to be had listening to this deep and intricate track. The staccato riffing and haunting keyboards add a melodramatic aura and Aaron’s menacing vocal adds the final layer of foreboding to this notable song.

That full-on feel of the first song returns with the rather energetic and uplifting introduction to Aoide Goddess of Song. With the distortion seemingly turned up to maximum and and insistent piano note hammering the point home, it is one hell of a pleasure ride around your mind. Things calm down for a moment as the vocals kick in with a layered keyboard note and balanced drum beat setting the tone for the verse but it isn’t long before that oriental sounding guitar note flies off again. This interplay continues throughout the song occasionally moving aside for the heartfelt, rousing chorus. There is an earthy core to the track, something primal and direct that drives it on and this erupts into the coruscating solo that fires straight through you leaving a blazing trail behind. You are left feeling fired up and invigorated, ready for anything. In a stark contrast to the previous track, The Last Oasis begins all sweetness and light, like a boat becalmed out on the ocean. The gentle, meandering piano is underscored by a subtle bass note and the introduction of the graceful violin adds an ethereal tactility to the song. The classical undertones to the music of  The Aaron Clift Experiment are at their most evident here, the strings add a subtlety and grace that only orchestral instruments could. As the guitar and drums blend into the sound, the whole song takes on another persona and dimension, not losing that refined semblance but adding a dynamic backbone to the artful fare put before you. It is almost a surprise when the vocals begin, I was expecting this to be an instrumental but Aaron’s profoundly compassionate voice adds a further degree of gravitas to what is already a very sophisticated piece of music. The fundamental integrity and graciousness at the heart of the band’s music is at its zenith on this beautiful song.

At just over twelve minutes long Moonscape is the longest track on the album and begins with a military style drum beat at the back of Aaron’s vocal and a repeated keyboard note. You get a feeling of stasis as the repeated intro carries on in a pleasant manner but the anticipation is always rising. The drum beat carries on, overlaid by the sound of a child. This part of the song has a sun-kissed, hazy feel to it, like an early morning walk through a lush countryside. It ambles and meanders with no seeming destination in mind, lulling you along on a wave of good feeling. The guitar saunters on a journey of its own, nothing dictating where it must go next and you end up feeling like your are free of any earthly worries, any shackles are broken and your heart and soul are liberated from worry and strife. This is a track to kick back and relax too, one to listen to through headphones and with a long drink at your side as the delicately strummed guitar leads into an extended keyboard section with a slightly supernatural quality to it, almost an outer body experience. The repeated singing of the album title resonates within and without with a trance like feel and, as the song comes to a close with a harder edge guitar riff and Aaron’s vocalising, the trance is broken, leaving you peaceful and serene. The segue into Bathed in Moonlight is seamless and, once again, the band deliver an utterly serene experience. Aaron’s divine vocal, backed only by a refined, sublime keyboard has a moving quality to it. It lifts your soul and leaves you rapturous as the celestial music washes over you, the guitar bleeds emotion and fervour, leaving you in a sustained state of euphoria. There is nothing complicated happening here but, sometimes, the simplicity of music can be its greatest asset and the effortless musicianship on this track is a delight in itself. As the song, and the album as a whole, comes to a close, I feel a sense of closure, of something coming round full circle to a most satisfactory conclusion.

Ideas have blossomed and become something rather special on this album. That early promise of the music on ‘Lonely Hills’ has been expanded upon and ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ is a much more sophisticated and complete record as a result. Intricate and subtle yet with raw passion at its heart, it will cement The Aaron Clift Experiment as one of the most exciting and interesting bands currently writing and playing music today. I would advise you to go out and buy it as soon as it is released.

Releases 18th September 2015

Pre-order direct from the band at their website here

 

 

A Soundtrack for the Current Generation – An interview with The Fierce And The Dead

“And all that remained were The Fierce And The Dead…..”

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(All pictures used are copyright The Chaos Engineers/Ashley Jones)

Who are The Fierce And The Dead ? Purveyors of ‘lovingly crafted noise’ and pioneers of what they call ‘Funny Music’, this cult band have just seen their latest, limited edition, E.P. ‘Magnet’ sell out before its release date on August 14th.

This instrumental quartet are as hot as it gets in the underground, small label and independent world at the moment and I wanted to find out more about them. Read on my friends to find out what makes them tick, a bit of their history and what music makes them sit up and take notice.

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Let’s introduce the band first, we have (from left to right above) Steve Cleaton (guitar), Kev Feazey (bass), Stuart Marshall (drums) and Matt Stevens (guitar).

And now the fun begins………

Progradar – What was the evolution of the band, how did The Fierce And The Dead come to be?

Kev Feazey – We’ve all known each other since school days and eventually all ended up in London. Matt was recording his second album (I think) at my old studio and he had a track that we thought would sound good with bass and drums and decided to record it as a live improvised piece, however when I came to mix it I realised that the guitar had a very definite path through the piece. Editing it would have been like missing out a chapter from a book. Matt and myself decided this was too long for his album and it was an opportunity to put it out as a side project. It became ‘Part 1’, and the reception was such that we decided to try an album. We spent an afternoon putting together some rough outlines then went into the studio for two days. That became ‘If It Carries On Like This…..’. Once we determined there was enough meat on the bone to actually turn this into a band we started rehearsing to be able to play live and immediately realised that we needed a second guitarist. There was no debate that it should be Steve, so he came on board and we finally became a ‘proper’ band.

Steve Cleaton – Matt was in the midst of the beginning of his solo career, amassing a good deal of material that he felt might also sound good as part of a band set up. The first recollection I ever had of the name ‘The Fierce and the Dead’ was in a conversation with Matt in the bar side of the Oakley Arms (now a pet shop) on a Saturday night, after about 7 pints, in about 2005. Matt was demo-ing stuff with Kevin and a couple of other mates. He said that he’d heard I’d moved to London, and asked if I would be interested in possibly joining in the band at some later point. I obliged and said I would be delighted to participate. That was the last I heard of it though, until one Friday evening about 6 years later. That Friday evening I was jamming in Bethnal Green and, in the room next door, were Matt, Kev and Stuart having a run through of some material that was later to become the majority of the album ‘If It Carries On Like this……’. About a year later I got a call from one of the other three (I think it was Kev) asking if I’d like to join in a live incarnation of FATD. I was delighted to be given a chance to join in. It has been immense fun so far!!

Progradar – One thing that I have always been curious about, where did the name come from?

KF – Matt had thought it up quite a while before the band, but where it actually originated I don’t know. Matt’s fevered imagination I should guess.

Matt Stevens – I’ve had it for ages. It’s actually part of a longer phrase but I’m not going to tell you what that is. (I think you already may have Matt……)

SC – I think you’d have to ask Matt or Kev that.

Progradar – What came first, the band or the solo career?

KF – Stuart, Steve, Matt and myself had all been playing in bands with each other in different configurations over the years so I guess you could say the band evolved in a way. But Matt had been building up his solo thing for quite a few years before TFATD started.

SC – Matt’s solo career came before this band. But in fairness, the other three have played together in various guises for years before all this. I had also been watching them play together since I was old enough to get away with going to the aforementioned pub and getting served.

MS – The solo career came first out of necessity ’cause everyone else was off doing stuff, I just built things up online myself and did about a 100 gigs with just me and a guitar and a loop pedal. It became quite popular, so there was a bit of an audience for the band when we started.

Progradar – What were your main influences when you first started and who, if anyone, influences you now?

KF – As we all grew up together we share a lot of influences which is great. As kids (and now for that matter) we listened to stuff like Tortoise, Melvins, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Black Flag, DJ Shadow, Mudhoney, Warp Records and loads of old school thrash metal so that was all relevant when we started. Nothing much has changed in terms of influences. We could fill a book with bands, new(ish) acts like Thundercat and Fuzz have definitely had an impact on us. 

SC – Personally, I was fortunate enough to be born into a family that are all fairly musical in their own right. My Mum is a choral singer, my Dad played in bands in the 60s and my brother could pretty much do any style of music, I can’t actually remember not being surrounded by music. I used to play all my folks records as a very young boy. They’re stuff like Chicago Transit Authority , Crosby Stills, Nash and Young and all that. By my teens I was full on Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins all the way. Then I was a delicate young twenties Radioheadist, lately the other lads in the band have introduced me to stuff like the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I’m also a big fan of the band Tool and Guapo. There’s always loads of stuff around, you just have to have the time and the inclination to go and find it!! If only I had more time! Bloody time. I blame time for most things. It probably doesn’t even exist anyway. Bloody time…

MS – Mahavishnu (Orchestra), Husker Du, Carcass, KLF, Radiohead, all sorts. At the moment I like Vessels and Annihilation Time very much.

Progradar – What are the main differences between your solo career and being in a band and, do you enjoy doing one over the other?

MS – They’re different, I guess, at the moment I prefer to collaborate. I’m taking some time off from my solo stuff ’cause I want to focus on the band for the next couple of years, I’m really enjoying it and I think we have a really good album in us.

SC – My solo career began and ended with pretending to be Han Solo in the playground at infants school. It was short-lived, I didn’t like the thought of being frozen in that carbonite stuff, or whatever it was from the film. I prefer playing in the band to being 5 and being Han Solo, though to be honest, the majority of the other aspects of being 5 are probably preferable to modern life.

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Progradar – Can you give us a quick introduction to the tracks on the album, where the ideas came from and what the titles mean etc.? and, where did the album title come from?

KF – Explain the titles? It’s no fun explaining everything. I prefer leaving them for people to make up their own definitions.
Magnet In Your Face: We never intended to write a sub 2 minute track, but it just made sense. We tried adding sections or new parts but it all felt forced. The riff Matt brought in was really strong so didn’t really need much more.
Palm Trees: This took quite a while to get right and went through several versions. We can’t help having quite a pop sensibility underneath it all and I think this track in particular shows that. Matt came in with the main riff and bass line and we all worked on it together to build it up without losing that melodic throughline and beat. We want people to dance to our music at the end of the day!
Flint: This is one of the first tracks we wrote as a band and we’re still playing it live. I always felt that we didn’t start playing it in the right way until a year or so after we had recorded it for the first album. It’s been a live favourite of ours and keeps making the cut even in short sets so I felt we needed to bring it ‘up to date’ and record a better representation of how we play the track now.
Part 6: The ‘Parts’ are our chance to experiment a bit more and a challenge to keep them all relevant to each other. They do all work if you listen through 1-6. This part is a call back to the electronic section of Part 1.
Rehearsal Recordings: One of the biggest struggles when recording is to get the energy of performances across and we’ve become really proud of the organised chaos that our live shows have become. We thought it would be fun to put these live tracks on the e.p. to give a taste of that.

MS – Magnet In Your Face is about people who follow others around.

Progradar – You say that this EP is ‘more joyous and intense’, is this a natural progression of the band’s sound and will we see more on the new album?

KF – Yes definitely. One thing we’ve identified from watching our favourite bands live is when there is a sense of joy in the room. We want the music to give people a feeling of energy, but with enough substance to withstand repeated listening.

MS  It’s all about the happiness and the connection between the band and the audience.

SC – I certainly hope that we see more of ‘joyous and intense’ on the next release. Of course, we’ll have to see what happens when we work on ideas at band practice. Sometimes the mood that we are in as a collective group dictates what we sound like, I think that’s true of any band.

Progradar – The CD has sold spectacularly well, did this surprise you or is it indicative of the large fan base you have, particularly large for a cult band?

KF – We’ve been very lucky. We have some amazing fans who seem to get what we are doing and are prepared to go with us (so far). But I can honestly say that we hadn’t realised how many people had gotten into us in the gap between Spooky Action and this E.P. It really has taken us by surprise in a very good way.

SC – It surprised me, I am very pleased. We have worked pretty hard to build up a fan base though, and a lot of that is attributable to Matt working hard on the solo side of things too.

MS  – In context it’s amazing, considering the sort of music we play.

Progradar – Does the relative success of a CD like this show that there is still a future for the medium in the music industry or will streaming a la Apple Music, Spotify etc. soon take over?

KF – The music industry has become a subsidiary of the tech industries. The ‘gatekeepers’ are the people creating the listening devices or programs. I’m reluctant to even guess what is going to happen, look what has changed in just the last five years! Mp3s seem to be on the way out as wi-fi becomes stronger and more prevalent. It’ll be interesting to see. I think people don’t realise that great music takes a lot of time and effort. Working two jobs and then trying to fit in one rehearsal a week does not make for a good creative mind set.

MS – It shows that the hardcore audience still like physical product but the mainstream probably ‘aint bothered.

Progradar – What is the story behind the ‘lyrics’ on ‘Palm Trees’?

KF  That would be telling….

SC – We felt the overwhelming urge to shout ‘Palm Trees!!’

MS – Don’t tell ’em Pike!!!

Progradar – (Said very ‘tongue in cheek’) Will this be the precursor to more lyrics appearing on The Fierce and the Dead releases in the future?

KF – My answer to the next question ties in with this….

SC – Our mantra is ‘anything is possible’.

MS – We’ll see….

Progradar – When you first started out did you make a definitive decision to be all instrumental?

KF – No, it was never discussed. We grew up listening to a lot of instrumental material so it’s never been a big deal whether something has a vocal or not. I genuinely never think of ourselves as an instrumental band, if it was appropriate then we’d definitely use vocals.

SC – I think that was the intention initially, but again, I wasn’t there from the very beginning, so I suppose you’d have to ask the other 3.

MS – No one calls Aphex Twin instrumental dance. Vocals are just another timbre.

Progradar – Does this make it easier or harder to write your material?

KF – I tend to write from the music up with most tracks I’ve been involved in so it’s never been a problem. Vocals are another instrument to be used or not. I understand that people sometimes need that voice to be able to anchor their selves and we try to make sure that we’re not being intentionally obtuse.

SC – I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier. I think it’s just different. Lyrics are often the focus of pieces of music, so without lyrics we have to create another way of giving the tunes direction. In the words of the great Maynard Kennan, ‘It’s the music that drives the emotion, the words just give it direction. If that wasn’t the case, people would be selling out spoken word tour all over the world, like they do with bands’. I must add though, I do absolutely love lyrics in most other instances!

MS – I think it forces you to make the music more interesting. 

Progradar – You as a band are a close knit unit, do you write as one or individually?

KF – We tend to write all together in the rehearsal room. One of us will bring in a riff, some chords or sometimes just a concept and we’ll all get stuck into it.

SC – It’s a bit of a mix, usually though, Matt will arrive at practice with an idea, Kev goes to work on arranging the idea, and then Stuart and I drop in around that raw form of an idea and we go from there. That’s not always the case, but invariably that’s the way we work.

MS – I’ll bring in a bit, by the time it’s finished it sounds completely different. I like it ’cause I never would have made these sounds on my own, it’s very collaborative.

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Progradar – Your music has a very distinctive sound, do you work towards this when mixing and producing and is it a drawn out process?

KF – Luckily we’re not virtuosos so we can’t make anything sound like anything other than us. We do a lot more preproduction now than we used to, we’ve come full circle and started sounding like what we originally intended. When you get out into the world as a band you become exposed to so many new ideas and we’ve become much more comfortable with filtering those sounds into something we can all get behind.

SC – : I think that, as is the case with any band really, we all have our own playing style and technique. But Kev does all of our production and engineering, and I think he knows so much about how other people make records, that he can take and leave what he wants from other peoples styles and combine those elements with his own practices to produce the end result.

MS – Mostly I’m just trying to re-create the guitar sounds Celtic Frost and Bob Mould had without anyone noticing. 

Progradar – How long was the recording process for ‘Magnet’ from start to finish?

KF – We actually had two goes at recording. The first recordings felt rushed and did not have some of the arrangements that are now in place. Even though it cost us time and money it was decided that we had to do the material justice and start again. So, almost a year if you include that, but, in reality, about six months.

SC – To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. We tend to practice stuff up a great deal before we get down to the actual recording. Most of if was banged out in a couple of takes, but I don’t know how long the mixing took.

MS – Kev did a great job on this EP, we spent more time on it.

Progradar – The band’s live performances are extremely high energy and explosive with a raw feel, you have been described as one of the best live bands around today, do you enjoy doing the live shows and do you prefer that to recording in the studio?

KF – We’re very proud of our live shows now, the material is of a standard that we don’t need to over play. The recording process is completely different. I always aim to get a similar energy but they are two separate entities to me. I think we all enjoy the live experience more than recording though. Recording is great fun and is where most of the material is truly born, but with live you get adrenaline and that’s always good fun.

SC – I think we all enjoy all of it! We are all deeply in love with music on every level. That may sound a bit ‘Woodstock’, peace and love man’, but it’s the truth.

MS – I love playing, that’s what it’s all about. 

Progradar – What’s next on the horizon for The Fierce and the Dead, I understand that next year will see a new album, any snippets on that?

KF – We’ve started writing but we are very committed to making something we all want to listen to first and foremost. Everything in our career to date has been about moving forward and we want to keep that artistic momentum.

SC – A moon landing. An album sometime next year is also in the pipeline. Some of said album has been written already.

MS – I have the rough direction and some of the music. I know where it’s going but I don’t know where the end is. 

Progradar – Name three albums everyone should have in their collection.

KF – Stevie Wonder – ‘Innervisions’, Dead Kennedys – ‘Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables’, Mahavishnu Orchestra – ‘Inner Mounting Flame’.

SC – ‘Lateralus’ by Tool, ‘In Rainbows’ by Radiohead, ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ by Queens of the Stone Age.

MS – Vessels – ‘Dilate’, Celtic Frost – ‘Into The Pandemonium’, Sugar – ‘Copper Blue’. 

Progradar – Matt, will you and Kev ever persuade Stuart and Steve to grow beards as good as yours?

KF – They can’t…..

SC – I am not into beards. I can do stubble, any longer than that and I start to get irritable with my own beard. It has been tried. I am not the only person to become irritated by my face, I hasten to add.

MS – I’m shaving mine off….

Progradar – Finally,  anything you wish to add?

KF – Let’s start a cult. Who’s in?

SC – Wouldn’t it be great if all of the people of the world could just get along for once, and realise that we live in a delicately balanced system where everything relies on everything else? Just a thought.

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So, there you have it, a thorough and extensive verbal workout with The Fierce And The Dead I hope you enjoyed the read and it has given an insight into one of the most exciting bands around at the moment.

You can order a digital copy and the ‘White’ CD version of ‘Magnet’ here:

The Fierce And The Dead – Magnet

Checkout the band’s website here:

www.fierceandthedead.com

dark band

Review – Built for the Future – Chasing Light

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Life is a journey long taken and, along the way, events will happen that will have differing impacts on you and the way you live that life. The world around us provides many things to aid you on that quest, things that may make the journey easier.

My life’s journey started nearly 48 years ago and has been one of numerous ups and many downs, the one thing that has been a constant is music. I have loved music from a very early age and it has aided my celebrations and comforted and consoled me in times of sadness and negativity.

For the last two years I have been fortunate to put down my thoughts about music in digital print form. For the first 18 months a served my apprenticeship at Lady Obscure Music Magazine, a sometimes steep learning curve where I was helped a hell of a lot my my fellow writers and editors.

Since February of this year I have been able (thanks to my friend David Elliott) to run my own website where this very review will be published, Progradar. I have often likened myself to a musical treasure hunter, searching in the more obscure areas of music for songs and albums that will surprise and delight and maybe become the soundtrack to someone else’s life.

The music I generally write about isn’t written for profit or acclaim, it is written from the heart because that particular artist had a dream or a need to put their music out there for everyone to hear. I find that this type of music has more originality and soul than anything you can hear in the mainstream arena, it makes you stop and think and can move me nearly to tears.

These artists deserve to be listened to by a much bigger audience and I hope that, in some little way, my words can contribute to their wider recognition.

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So what new album inspired my soliloquy above? Well, social media is a place I will trawl for new music and it was on a well known site that I met Patric Farrell and learned of his musical project Built for the Future. I liked what Patric was telling me and, without further ado, an offer of  review was given and accepted, the rest, as they say, is history…..

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Built for the Future is a crossover prog/alternative band from San Antonio, Texas. The band consists of Patric Farrell (backing vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and programming.) and Kenny Bissett (lead vocals) and ‘Chasing Light’ is their debut album. The record also features Dave Peña and Chris Benjamin (guitars) and Imaya Farrell (violin, viola and cello).

The band combines the dynamics of progressive music with the accessibility of melodic songwriting to give far more emphasis on arrangement than dexterous shredding.

Built for the Future is influenced by Rush, Yes( the Rabin years) and latter day Genesis as well as Tears for Fears, The Fixx and, of course, The Beatles. Recent bands that are guiding lights also include Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings and Porcupine Tree.

Having known each other for 25 years, it wasn’t until 2013 that they got together musically when Patric asked Kenny to sing on one song from an album he was working on that the two connected. Once the result of the first few songs was realized, it was clear from that point on that this was going to be a productive relationship.

‘Chasing Light’ is the first complete release that either of them have been a part of in all their years of playing music and is the beginning a series of albums about a protagonist who is seeking to change life and worlds to find ‘light’.

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Not holding anything back, Arrive is a most powerful opening track with an intro that smacks of ‘Live and Let Die’ by Wings, emotionally smouldering. The evocative vocal and delicate piano give a real feel of heartfelt hope and anticipation. The piano note hangs in the air before the song opens up with a compelling guitar arrangement, giving you a feeling of real connection with the music. The thumping riff that follows really hits you hard and pulls you along with a pure force of will as this elegant track runs to a quite impressive close, what a great start! More commercial but no less effective, Radiowave begins with a quite funky guitar and bass line driving the song along, the vocals have a sort of Beatles type of harmonising going on and the whole track begins to take on a whole Madchester vibe of the 1990’s, as if the Happy Mondays had unwittingly stumbled upon a new progressive sound. Happily shunting along at a steady pace, it has a real upbeat vibe with that expressive bass thumping along and a few fiery guitar breaks and intricate keyboard runs. Interest well and truly piqued!

An elegant guitar note introduces Lightchaser before a jazzy 80’s synth inspired track then opens up before you. The vocals are deliberate and monotone and give it an early Ultravox feel of sharp suits and sharper moustaches. Being a child of the 80’s this track really connects with me, Kraftwerk synth notes and a real melancholy atmosphere spark memories long forgotten and a happy reverie. The feeling of pathos and poignance is really acute as you lose yourself and travel back three decades for five minutes. We stay in the immediate vicinity of that decade for Speed of the Climb which literally screams new romantics and Korg synthesizers right in your face. The drum note and edgy vocal are completely in fitting with the era and the bass notes could have come straight from the rule book of Mark King. Me? I’m having a whale of a time, this music sits perfectly in my purview, wonderfully judged and the song rises, with some impressive guitar work, to a full-on close.

Ominous and full of portent, Build for the Future opens with a real laconic feel. The keyboards and drum beat are measured and determined before Kenny’s restrained vocal adds another layer of intensity and complexity. Almost funereal in tempo yet very addictive to listen to, it almost seems like a lament for a time gone by and an unknown future, “Build for the future, break with the past….”. An intensely thoughtful and emblematic song with an enigmatic ending. Burning Daylight is another track with a more commercial feel to it and a rhythm section that could have come straight from an early Rush album. The laid back, monotone vocal adds a synthetic feel to the song and the irascible drums leave a mysterious note hanging over everything. The fine guitar play ties everything together to deliver a competent track that doesn’t quite live up to the high standard of what has gone before.

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Guitar, drums and keys combine to deliver a 80’s synth tinged prog note to Walls, almost as if Patric and Kenny had spent the afternoon listening to New Order before writing this song. It has real sense of sophistication running through the centre, the creamy production values are much in evidence on this stylish track with a catchy chorus and modish beat which, added to the slick guitar riff that is heard in undertones is really quite inventive. A nod in a definitive progressive direction, Running Man is a homage to Canada’s finest prog pioneers with a bass line that Geddy would approve of and a complex and tricky drum beat. The expansive guitar note gives a really wide soundscape to the whole song and Kenny’s vocals fills that wide open space perfectly, the harmonies are pretty good too! The guitar break brings everything full circle and a fine track is made whole, addictive and transfixing with the baroque brilliance of the guitar solo which just leaves you slack-jawed in appreciation.

A quiet complex and striking introduction launches The Siren Will with a muted dirty guitar riff followed by a chiming guitar run and heavy bass note, think Muse and U2 merged and you’re on the right track. The vocal has that pared back yet incisive feel and you gradually feel yourself drawn into this capable and involving song. You can feel influences abounding everywhere but this band are moulding them into their very own, precise identity and it is one that really resonates with me on discerning tracks like this that leave you wanting to hear more. The polished, urbane guitar solo that closes out the song is a case in point, sheer quality. Seriously psychedelic and funky as you like, Staring at the Sun has a California dreaming kind of feel to the Hammond organ introduction before the vocals break out and we are off into RPWL territory, especially on the seriously addictive chorus. I really like the upbeat and inspirational feel to the song and you can’t help be uplifted onto a higher plane by the open hearted ambience it endues. The chugging riff, colourful keyboards and chanting vocal combine to cover everything with a filmy coat of  the 1970’s (touched by a little of that Madchester vibe again) and leave you with a wide grin on your face.

A halting acoustic guitar opens Samsara and note of seriousness returns. Neo-prog in its origins but alternative rock in its delivery, it is a fast paced track that keeps you on your toes, the ever present urgent drum beat galvanising you into action. The impelling bass beat backs up the drums with a dynamic energy and the keyboards do add a slight tint of psychedelia to the mix. A good track that happens to be sandwiched between two great ones, it does seem to suffer for that. The way the track changes just after half way, becoming more imposing and forceful, gives it added gravitas and an energising injection, enough so that it still leaves its mark on you. Saving the best until last? That would be difficult on an album as impressive as this but lets see what the near thirteen minutes of The Great Escape delivers. The opening is quite profound as the track begins to tie the whole album together, influential and vitalising. There is a brooding ebulliance deep at the heart of the song as it continues to forge forcibly ahead before a well judged break delivers a lighter note and any ominous undertone is lifted. This is a track to envelop yourself in and let it wash over you, seeping into your deepest soul. Don’t resist, leave yourself open to the joy and beauty and you will be well rewarded. The song runs like an overview of what has gone before yet never becomes repetitive. Hope and freedom are the message here, a musical mantra for a better world. As it unfurls before you, the mosaic is opened and all becomes clear. An ardent guitar solo breaks loose and fires into the ether, illuminating all around and the final journey begins. I love the way this song plays out to the close, titillating and engrossing, you dare not leave and yet, as the song finally ends, you do feel an emptiness begin to open up inside you. Dear friend, it is up to you what you fill that void with…….

Damn, blast and buggeration, it has happened again, my own search for the moving and motivational has thrown up another diamond. ‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brighter than most I have heard this year.

Released 28th July 2015 (digital)

Buy Chasing Light from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progradar’s – ‘Best of 2015 So Far’ – Edition

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Don’t be put off by the scary picture, that is actually me getting ready to tell you what albums have made my ‘Best of 2015’ list. These lists are always subjective and incredibly hard to compile. Let’s be honest, at the end of it all, it is only my opinion which can agree with or differ from, all it is meant to be is a guide to what music has really inspired me this year so far.

Firstly a self-imposed rule that I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases because, as you know, I attempt to be the Head of PR for this rather special record label and it could be seen as bias.

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To be honest, all the BEM releases this year are as excellent as ever and would probably have made my list anyway so please do go to:

The BEM bandcamp site

And check out this years releases from Audioplastik, jh, We Are Kin, Tom Slatter, Emmett Elvin and The Fierce and the Dead, superb, eclectic and downright brilliant.

Right, that’s the advertising out of the way now on with the main course…..

In no particular order, here are my top 15 releases so far for 2015.

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Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

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The Tangent –  A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

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The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

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Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

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Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

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Hibernal – After the Winter

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

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Transport Aerian – Darkblue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

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Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America, sometimes a band can come very close to perfection with a new release and this album is as close to a must buy album as I’ve heard this year.

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The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

An excellent new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

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Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

Let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

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Built for the Future – Chasing Light

All sorts of influences combine in this impressive melting pot to deliver a debut album of sheer beauty. I was so surprised by the quality and heartfelt emotion of this album, it is that good!

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Maddison’s Thread – self-titled

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

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Kingcrow – Eidos

Progressive metal that is more prog than metal. I will probably upset some people here but, to me, this is the thinking man’s Opeth, much more accessible and quite deeply, darkly moving.

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Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year so far, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!

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Kinetic Element – Travelog

An album of ‘opulent ear candy’ featuring 5 tracks of classic progressive rock that harks back to the 70’s. Superb musicianship featuring everything from jazz basslines, intricate guitar work and soaring keyboards combine with delightful vocals to deliver something that every prog fan will like.

I chose not to include E.P’s but there have been a couple that have stood out for me this year so far Big Big Train’s ‘Wassail’ and Progoctopus’ ‘Transcendence’ are both excellent and well worth catching up on.

Like I have already said, lists like this are very subjective and other albums could have made it so here is a selection of ‘honourable mentions’ that have really struck a chord with me this year so far……

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So there we have it, just over half of 2015 has passed and we have so much more new music to look forward to. Let me know your thoughts, there will be albums you expected and some you didn’t no doubt and I’ll see you at the beginning of 2016 for the year end awards!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Geof Whitely Project – Circus of Horrors

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Hello again my friends, I am back after being refreshed by a great holiday and am ready to rock and roll again. Having a week of ‘Heart FM’ brainwashing me was quite cathartic really, it gave me the chance to cleanse my musical palate with some chart music going back from the present day to up to 30 years ago (some very good, some very bad).

The effect of this daily diet of non-progressive music was to lift any jaded feeling I may ever get from having so much music rushing at me all the time and I can come back with a new appreciation of the music that I love to listen to, share and write about!

So, onwards and upwards with the latest review………

Charles Baudelaire once said, “In literature as in ethics, there is danger, as well as glory, in being subtle.”

I recently reviewed two albums by the Geof Whitely Project and found out the history……

The Geof Whitely Project was formed in 2011, it consists of Geof Whitely and special guest Musicians, the aim of the project is to put out original material in all types of musical formats from Prog Rock-Rock-Pop-Electronic-Instrumental.

All albums will contain a mix of such musical songs, there’s surely one that will appeal to everyone, thanks for visiting the site please feel free to email us, tell your friends…..!!!!”

Geof is actually the alter-ego of prolific musician Arny Wheatley who hails from Stoke-on-Trent and basically does just about everything on all the Geof Whitely Project releases.

The story behind the moniker is that ‘Geof Whitely’ was the name on something that came through Arny’s letter box once addressed wrong and he thought that it would make a good name, simple really!

A very prolific music maker, I concluded that…

“the music takes a deeper, more thoughtful route through your mind yet still retains a simplicity and a lack of over-complication at its core. It is perhaps more ‘music that seeps into your sub conscious’ than easy listening…….”

What I also found was that there were no major differences between the two releases, just subtle changes in style and tac, it was in no way detrimental but, if the next album had only subtle, minor changes, would this still be the case?

‘Circus of Horrors’ is due to be released on 31st October 2015, let’s see if there have been any major changes to the sound or whether the Geof Whitely Project has followed the ‘less is more’ mantra again?

Arny kindly sent me out the CD version of the new release and this had two bonus tracks on, is this the version to have? do they add anything, or should you stick with the download? read on and find out………

The first two tracks on the album are The Hunter and Burning Sky, you immediately get that smooth, precise vibe that was felt on the previous release ‘Supernatural Casualty’ with swathes of piano and keyboards, lush melodies and saxophone that just lulls you into a calm state of mind. Arny’s vocal takes a monotone, even route that is immediately recognisable, like some of the great 1980’s synth-pop bands. You feel that there is possibly a slight change to the previous sound, perhaps a bit more sophistication but it is still indicative of what has gone before and that laconic, laid back vibe remains.

For people who want full on, in your face music, you need to walk on by and look elsewhere, some may call this a bit one-dimensional and tame but, when you are in the mood, it really hits the spot and puts me in mind of Mike Kershaw and Fractal Mirror with its electronic edge. Baila Conmigo has a more upbeat tempo, catchy and pleasing on the ears as the guitar convolutes around the keyboard sound (very reminiscent of a clarinet), intertwining and mingling. It is a nice, uncomplicated instrumental that is almost a melodic amuse bouche, cleansing the musical palate.

Piano and string-like keyboards combine for a cultured note on the next couple of tracks. I’m Not Your Leader and Something’s Lurking see Arny putting more emphasis into his vocal, a more human note than before and it takes the songs nearly into ‘singer-songwriter’ territory. Pleasing and pleasant, the musical flexibility is a nice change from what has gone before on previous albums and shows a growth in the way that Arny puts warmth and soul into his composition  and performance, yes it is no huge change but it is noticeable nonetheless. The former track is more moving and full of pathos where the latter has a real uplifting vibe with some rather tasty, fuzzy guitar work as well.

Downtown returns to that electronic feel that has been the more recognisable style of the Geof Whitely Project except this time it has a more excitable rhythm, a real jazz infused beat to it with the funky guitar note and sax. Perhaps the classiest track on the album, subtle nuances abound around the concise vocals and smooth instrumentation. I feel that I have definitely returned to the 80’s with the intro to Work of a Human Mind, the swathes of piano and keyboards wash over you and that monotone vocal returns to maximum effect. It has a sparse, laid back feel to it, precise and meticulous. Heartfelt and quite melodramatic, just like the best 1980’s synth-pop tracks were, throw in a riff that any of the guitarists from the period would be proud of and what more could you ask for?

Piano driven, combined with a punchy driven riff, From All Sides should really work but it leaves me feeling short changed, like it was added last minute. Perhaps it is because it lacks the distinction of the other tracks but, for me, this is one song that just doesn’t gel. Story Book sees Arny give his voice that added timbre and power to lift what could have been another ordinary song up to a higher level. On this track it is the vocal that is the star and the instrumentation is there as back up. When the haunting guitar breaks out it really adds a touch of added lustre and leaves me nodding my head in appreciation.

The final song on the digital version of the album is the title track Circus of Horrors and it begins with a creepy fairground ride intro. On this track Arny really goes progressive big style in quite a departure from the ‘safe’ sound that has gone before. An intricate and complicated intro is driven along by a thumping drum beat and pounding piano note to give a feel that is ‘Hammer House of Horrors’ to the core. The vocals begin quite macabre and dramatic and give quite a disturbing atmosphere to the song. Perhaps more deep and meaningful than some of the other tracks on the album, there is something pensive and doleful about the whole thing. Edgy and quite disturbing, it keeps you on the edge of your seat and gleefully nervous in its deliciously dark way.

So the CD version has two extra tracks and I am here my friends to tell you to buy it over the digital download for the two bonus songs are the biggest deviation from what the Geof Whitely Band has done before to date and in a very good way……..

Aurora Borealis does begin with the signature intro we have become accustomed to but soon expands into a different animal indeed, there is added depth to the sound as if it is opening into a much bigger soundscape. An instrumental with space rock pretensions that gets under your skin with its brilliant cello sound and meditative piano note, it leaves you with more questions than answers with its expansive note.

Finally we are given Timepeace, a song that you would swear was from a completely different record, it is really nothing like anything that has gone before. Deep, dark and meaningful with a vocal performance that drips sincerity and pathos, it has more akin with a melodic rock ballad. The guitar work is exceptional and just adds to the feeling of ‘where the f**k did this come from?’. ‘Subtle’ is definitely not a word you would use for the transformation on this track and I really like the direction that it goes in, wonder if Arny has an album of this more direct musical approach on the sidelines?

So ‘Circus of Horrors’ sees the Geof Whitely Project evolve again with little changes like what we have seen between previous albums. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ is the saying and, to a point, it still applies here. A very nice album but, if those two bonus tracks are indicative of what might come to fruition in the future, there is a hell of a lot more to come from this bountiful and creative musician.

Releases on 31st October 2015

Order the digital version from bandcamp

Order CD direct from the GWP website

 

 

Weekly Wallet Emptier – 30th July 2015

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The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

Following on from 2012’s ‘Lonely Hills’ was always going to be a big thing for this Texan band but, no need to worry, The Aaron Clift Experiment have returned with a rather excellent new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you.

An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

Releases September 18th 2015

Full review to follow.

Stand out track – Kissed by the Sun

Hell, it is that new that there are no clips or videos and you can’t even pre-order it yet but keep your eyes peeled for the news as it arrives!

Here is a video from ‘Lonely Hills’ to keep you sated in the mean time…..

 

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3RDegree – Ones & Zeros Volume 1

A progressive rock concept album about the singularity, futurist issues, ability enhancements, life prolonging and the Ultra A.I., sounds a bit deep doesn’t it? Don’t worry, this fine progressive rock band from New Jersey infuse it with excellent songwriting, delightful musical interludes and some power playing to deliver rather a sophisticated brew.

Like all good music, you will only get what you put in but, invest some serious quality time with this release and you will be well rewarded.

Releases on August 18th 2015

Full review to follow.

Stand out track – Life At Any Cost

Purchase Ones & Zeros Volume 1 from 10t Records

Check out ‘You’re Fooling Yourselves’ from the album ‘The Long Division’ :

 

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Kinetic Element – Travelog

This Richmond, Virginia band’s follow up to 2009’s ‘Powered By Light’ has been described as ‘opulent ear candy’ and features 5 tracks of classic progressive rock that harks back to the 70’s. Superb musicianship featuring everything from jazz basslines, intricate guitar work and soaring keyboards combine with delightful vocals to deliver something that every prog fan will like.

Released 1st June 2015.

Full review to follow.

Stand out track – War Song

Buy Travelog from MRR

 

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Built For The Future – Chasing Light

The debut album from this San Antonio, Texas band is quite a cornucopia of styles that works well across a diverse selection of songs. Classic progressive sounds combine with melodic songwriting to deliver music that really wants you to dig deeper and explore further.

Influenced by bands such as Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings and Porcupine Tree, the album ‘Chasing Light’ is the beginning a series of albums about a protaganist who is seeking to change life and worlds and find ‘light’.

Released July 28th 2015

Full review to follow.

Stand out track – The Great Escape

Buy Chasing Light from bandcamp

 

Blast from the past……

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Shadowlight – Twilight Canvas

This intriguing band from St. Albans release ‘Twilight Canvas’ in 2012. a collection of unique songs that emotionally engage, but extend beyond generic rock song-writing; they combine driving metal guitar riffs and leads with delicate classical and acoustic instrumentation, peruse wide-ranging rhythmic experiments and boast layered harmony vocals with memorable hooks – all set against otherworldly, evocative atmospheres. A rich mix, showcasing great musicianship, but without wandering into abstraction.

 

Released 23rd October 2012.

Stand out track – Winter

Buy Twilight Canvas direct from the band

 

 

 

 

Review – Maddison’s Thread – Maddison’s Thread

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“Better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact, than the richest without meaning…..”  – John Ruskin.

At the heart of the music I love the most are storytellers and modern-day bards, musicians who can take all that life throws at them, good and bad, and put it in to song. Songs that can affect you deeply and stir up huge wellsprings of emotion. Joy, laughter, sadness and woe all hit deeply into our souls and take us on a journey into the world envisaged by these musical magicians.

Lightweight music has its place (maybe the gym or some other) but I prefer music that can teach me something or enhance a mood, even music that makes me feel sad or forlorn is still great music if that is what it intended. Maybe those of us who appreciate the finer music in life have a bigger capacity in our hearts, who knows?

One thing I do know is that there is no single style or genre of music that achieves this, it is a capacity of all music to move you deeply and leave a lasting impression on you. Certain types can have a higher propensity to musically enhance us just by their generic definition.

Folk music is all about telling stories and tales, generally local legends and characters are brought to life by these earthy musicians and the use of flues, violins and other instruments tends to lends it more originality. Folk and progressive rock tend to cross paths quite often and influences of both can be heard in the other (check out the Canterbury scene for an idea of what I mean).

In my role as a’musical treasure hunter’ I often unearth unexpected gems by the strangest means but, sometimes, just a recommendation from someone who I trust is enough to get me to listen to something new. This time it was Brendan Eyre (of Northlands and Riversea fame) who pointed me in the right direction.

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Lee Maddison is an acoustic folk rock musician from Hartlepool in the North East of England and is releasing a self titled album under the pseudonym of Maddison’s Thread. I was intrigued by the excellent artwork (I do like a nice album cover) designed by local artist Amanda White (check out her artist’s page www.mandascat.com) and Brendan’s nod in the right direction sealed the deal.

When playing live Lee’s line up has him playing acoustic guitar and performing vocals, Stewart Hardy on fiddle, Nigel Spaven on bass and Michael Kitching on drums & percussion.

Joining Lee and his regular players on the album were a stellar cast of many whose contribution, in Lee’s words “far outweighed my contribution to their bank accounts..”

These additional musicians were Bob Garrington (acoustic and electric guitars), Shayne Fontayne (drums), Sue Ferris (flute and sax), Shona Kipling (accordion), Rachel Robinson (cello), Tony Davis (keyboards) and John Day (trombone on ‘A Crooked Mile Home’). Backing vocals were provided by Suzy Crawford and Rachel Gaffney.

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(Image copyright Howy White, featured image also copyright Howy White)

A gentle if determined acoustic guitar introduces us to The Viking’s Daughter before Lee’s magical vocals invite us to listen to the story at hand. There is a timbre to his vocals that give them a serious honesty and a gravelly note that has hints of Dylan to it (well if Bob had bothered to take singing lessons that is). I find myself entranced by the lilting air to the song, the intriguing lyrics and the definitive folk mood it induces, especially when the fiddle and gentle backing vocals join. The short, enchanting fiddle solos leave me imagining I’m in a crowded bar in a tiny fishing village on the North East coast, party to something secretive and  wonderful. As an opening track to entice you in further it is just about perfect. There is a more pensive feel to the guitar at the beginning of Where Eagles Fly, a more sombre atmosphere added to by Lee’s vocal that engenders a sparse beauty to all that is around it. When the chorus opens up with the stylish percussion and captivating backing vocals it adds a real feel of longing and hope, the flute is like a free spirit that eludes you, always out of reach. I feel a lump rising in my throat, a wistfulness pervading my thoughts as this enchanting song continues to entrance me. I really have the feeling we are listening to something special here.

Come the Springtime opens up with that hypnotic guitar note that has become signature now and then Lee starts singing and you really feel like spring is upon you. The vocals are more measured and precise, the chorus lively and addictive. This song is less weighty than what has preceded it but it feels in keeping with the whole premise of the track, flute and fiddle adding any necessary gravitas. It bumbles along as if it has not a care in the world, flitting and organic and really lightens the air and the mood, a short breath of fresh air that leaves your musical palate ready for what is to follow. Jaunty and immediately memorable, Making the Morning Last takes a small step away from the folk leanings and towards the mainstream. There is a breezy and carefree feel to the song, emphasised by Lee’s vocals and the percussion, which add a playful note to proceedings. The chorus is definitely a paid up member of the ‘sing-along’ society and the interjections of the stylish fiddle playing are quite sublime. A song that makes you want to jump up and dance, self-confident and dapper.

After the flippancy of the previous track things become slightly more serious again with Wonderful Day, the guitar has a fragility to it and Lee’s vocal begins with a purposefulness before opening up with an injection of levity. This track reminds me a bit of Seth Lakeman with a Northern contrast, it is pared back but the fiddle once again adds lustre and finesse and the counter-play with the accordion is just brilliant. I get the impression that Lee and his fellow musicians must put on quite a live experience, I will have to go find out for myself. The Country Song does exactly what it says on the tin, Lee’s vocal having an age-old timbre to it. This track has a touch of simple country rock to it but with a definite Britishness at its core, humorous and playful, it is like a serious version of The Wurzels with its metaphorical cap set at an impish angle.

Heading right back up mainstream road Don’t Care About Tomorrow is a catchy, high-tempo sing along that really gets under your skin and into your mind. The feel good factor is turned up to ten and smiles are obligatory. The backing vocals are stylish and harmonised and the piano and keyboards really add a grown up note. Folk takes an unapologetic back seat and the good times roll. Throw in a guitar solo and you can’t really ask for much more as Lee shows he is definitely not a one trick pony, Ed Sheeran eat your heart out! Hang on, what’s this? Have I just been transported to a smoke filled jazz joint? Night Circus is all Martin Taylor-esque guitars and funky rhythms as Lee swiftly shifts focus once again. The chorus and backing vocals have a real feel of original R&B to them, you know what? this guy has some real musical chops and, just to top it off, we have a smooth as caramel sax solo thrown in, outstanding! Intricate guitar work and super cool percussion just add to the effortless skill on show, the suave close to the track is just sublime.

On your first listen to Misty Morning Blues you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported across the Atlantic and into mid-town America. With a vocal style akin to John Denver and music that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Eagles album this is Americana inspired country rock that reminds me of Abel Ganz and that is no mean comparison. Enchanting yet heartfelt, there is a real depth of emotion at the heart of this genuinely sincere song, when the flute floats in it just adds the final part of this beguiling musical jigsaw. Honest to its core, One Day is a wistful, whimsical delight. The pared back to basics guitar is ethereal and bewitching and Lee’s vocal has a charming candor to it so you take everything at face value. Suave and sophisticated, when the percussion joins in, it has a real smooth jazz feel to it, a lightness of being that you feel is catching as your soul leaves your body to join the party. Without a worry in the world, you are just left to enjoy this unruffled delight.

Too soon we come to the final track on the album and a return to folk-focused beginnings, albeit with a country rock edge. The guitar and accordion focused introduction to A Crooked Mile Home has a solemn, melancholy note to it as if the subject is a weighty one. Lee gives his most grave vocal performance yet, all serious and mournful and you can’t help but become involved in the dignified and subdued atmosphere. The trombone and accordion add the required saturnine and sober edge to the yearning quality of the vocals. A starkly graceful song to close out this exquisite album.

Music often astounds me in the way that, when you think you’ve heard it all, something comes along to amaze and inspire you with its brilliance. I had never heard of Lee Maddison before that fateful day but this discovery is one of the best of recent years. Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Releases on 4th August 2015

Buy Maddison’s Thread from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fierce and the Dead release promo video for ‘Magnet in Your Head’ (includes pre-order details for ‘Magnet’ E.P.)

To whet your appetite for the forthcoming new E.P. ‘Magnet’, here’s a live version of the first track from the E.P. – ‘Magnet in Your Face’ recorded during rehearsals at The New Empowering Church. Filmed by Ashley Jones for The Chaos Engineers.

‘Magnet’ is the cult North London instrumentalists The Fierce And The Dead’s first new material in two years and is released this August via Bad Elephant Music. The critically acclaimed band’s new EP features 6 songs including 3 new tracks, a re-recording of the song Flint from the band’s first album and 2 songs recorded live in rehearsal (one of these is a bonus on the CD). The EP is released on the 14th of August, the week before TFATD play the Arctangent festival alongside acts including Dillinger Escape Plan, 65daysofstatic and Deerhoof.

“I think this EP represents a different sound for us, it’s important to keep moving forward. It more joyous and intense with bigger riffs and more of an electronic feel.” says Dead guitarist Matt Stevens. Bassist & Producer Kevin Feazey continues “We’re doing what we want to do. Full circle. Back to sounding like the bands we grew up with, from Nuclear Assault to Boards of Canada. Every record we’ve put out has had it’s own character and story, with different sounds and a different reality for each”.

The band are currently in the process of recording their third studio album for release next year and are playing a few select live dates and festivals. Drummer Stuart Marshall describes the new material as “f****** terrifying”.

You can listen to the first song from the EP and pre-order it from the BEM sales page:

Pre-order Magnet here

 

 

Review – jh – Morning Sun

I must ad mit to a vested interest in this release as my alter-ego is PR Chief for Bad Elephant Music, the label that the album was released on but this is a fair review and not biased in any way (your Honour) so please sit back and enjoy.

jh

To me Music is more than a mere soundtrack, it has become a part of my life. Music is a treasure that I seek out at any given opportunity.

“A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”  – Leopold Stokowski

That is one of my favourite quotes because I don’t like to live my life in silence, I fill every pause and every gap in my whole being with the joy of music and one of my favourite things is finding an artist whose work I have never had the pleasure of hearing before. It is like hidden treasure that is unearthed and unveiled in all its glory, to wash over you and become part of your life.

I have to ask the question of where this artist or musician has been all my life, why have I not heard their music before? But I cannot berate myself in any way, I just need to enjoy the fact that I now can appreciate that music in my life every day. The musician in question this time is the mercurial jh, a solo artist from London. jh is the nom de guerre of Jon Hunt, he writes, arranges, performs and mixes all his material himself, with the exception of some of the drums.

It is impossible to describe jh’s music in a nutshell, as the only ethos he has is to make exactly the music he wants with no regard to commercial thought. This makes him extremely difficult to market, but more importantly his integrity remains intact. His albums hearken back to the spirit of the ‘album’ as being an artform in itself, jh’s music is eclectic, honest, and quintessentially English. His recordings are startlingly honest pieces of work that reveal more and more on each listen.

There have been three previous albums, all of which have been self-released, 2008’s ‘Truth and Bullshit’, 2011’s ‘Wanderlust’ and 2013’s ‘So Much Promise’.

2015 has seen jh link up with the eclectic record label Bad Elephant Music to release a fourteen track compilation of his most iconic tracks to date. ‘Morning Sun’ will be released to an expectant public on March 16th and Jon took a minute to talk about the record and his link up with BEM.

“Morning Sun is a 14-track, 77-minute retrospective of my three albums to date (Truth & Bullshit (2008), Wanderlust (2011) and So Much Promise (2013)). I have tried to showcase all aspects and styles of my music, and sequence it all in a coherent way.

I have had some complaints and sarcastic comments regarding songs I have left off at the expense of some of those included, but this will always happen with compilations unless you burn yourself a personal CD!

I’m very happy with it, and I thank David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music for letting me have free rein to choose the tracks myself. It’s great to be working with BEM, as they have such an array of talent, and everyone involved with the label from the CEO to the acts absolutely lives and breathes music.

The fact that David and Co. enjoy and understand mine is a great feeling, as you don’t usually associate this kind of affinity with the term ‘Record Label’! I’m looking forward to a long and rewarding partnership.”

Enough talking, time to immerse myself in this labour of love……

jh3

The first song Next Time begins with a welcoming introduction that takes you straight into Jon’s distinctive vocals, like Billy Bragg with a personality transplant. This slightly lilting and melancholic track is definitive of that singer/ songwriter style song with expressive and clever lyrics and a velvety touch to the music. The earnest vocal delivery and classy guitar add a touch of elegance to the hometown feel. I Wanna Spend my Summer With a Rich Girl flies into view like The Beatles chased by Blur in a fiery coach and horses. It doesn’t just make your ears prick up as hit them with a taser! The jangly guitar note and wide boy vocals are instantly catchy and it runs along at a rollicking pace with a huge grin on its face. Jon takes some of the better elements of Britpop and melds them to his own recipe to produce a song that couldn’t come from anywhere but England, the chorus is a work of genius. Originally part of the 40 minute London Road Suite on ‘Wanderlust’ the next track London Road gives a hint of the more progressive and expressive side to jh. The song begins with a measured and meaningful introduction, a gentle piano and Jon’s wistful vocal invoking in you a nostalgic and pensive state of mind. When the strings join in it brings a lump up in my throat, I get the feeling it is a nod to sepia tinted past where life, whilst being hard, was much more simplistic. As the track builds up and gets into its stride your mind opens to the poetic vista that the music hints at. A painfully beautiful song that leaves you with a sense of loss as it comes to a close.

The off-beat ending to the previous song is a perfect introduction to Lucy’s Party and you are transported to the pop sensibilities of the 1980’s. More highbrow than some of the nonsensical fare from that decade, there is inventiveness to this track and it has more than a hint of mischief to it. The vocals are delivered in a style more akin to spoken word and the clever use of the drum machine adds that feel of big hair and bigger collars that the decade that taste forgot will always imbue. Wartime Spirit is a song that has an intimacy to its core, one man and his guitar playing to a rapt audience. The pared back acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals draw you in and, when it opens out and blossoms with the clever drum sound, you nod in silent appreciation, a serious yet approachable track with honesty deep at its heart. Quirky from the start Fort Dunlop has an off-kilter and slightly chaotic feel to it as it messes with your head. The initial instrumental seems to be deliberately obtuse and out there with a drum beat that seems set to random, it is a cacophony of noise that imparts a delicious agony to your eardrums. There is a feel of a David Lynch film soundtrack going on here as it moves into an electronic jazz vibe unlike any other track on the album, you are kept guessing at every turn with this song ,it is not for the faint hearted but you get out of it what you put in.

A nod to Pop-Punk with its grungy, reverb heavy guitar and antsy vocals In Ascension is raw and earthy and a short, sharp punch to the kidneys. Almost like a musical palate cleanser after the intensity of the previous two tracks, it holds nothing back and is a riotous alternative to the sophistication elsewhere. An ethereal track with a hint of discord hidden behind the beauteous exterior Angels begins with a subdue gentility and an apprehension that leaves you holding your breath, almost unable to move. The subtle use of a distorted guitar leaves a trail of dissonance to be followed on this intelligent and idiosyncratic piece of music. As the tension builds and the vocals take a digitised note the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise. There is such expressionism deep at the coal face of this music, it is captivating and holds you rapt in attention as it plays with your sensibilities. After the haunting, fierce aura of the previous track I’ll See You Tomorrow in a Different Light has a delicate fragility and refinement to it. Subtle instrumentation and an earnest vocal with an emotional catch combine as the song glides in like a breath of fresh air. Another composition solidly in the singer/songwriter style, I love its underlying simplicity and modesty. Taking the social commentary of a Paul Weller and imbuing it with a guitar note reminiscent of 60’s pop, it takes you on a sun-kissed musical journey that leaves a touch of joy in your soul.

What comes next is simply jaw-dropping, taking the progressive-rock mantle and running with it full tilt, Making Tea is Freedom requires you to take eighteen minutes out of your day, sit down, put the headphones on and forget about everything else. When I first heard this multi-faceted track, I just played it straight back again, it’s that good, jh takes all of his influences and puts them into one big melting pot. There is the social commentary of Billy Bragg and Paul Weller, the alternative style of Talk Talk, the Britpop feel of Blur and the progressive tendencies of Porcupine Tree and Genesis but, that is all they are, influences, Jon takes them into himself and gives them some a part of his own soul to deliver a monumental musical epic that shakes you down to your roots. An acoustic guitar that seems more than three-dimensional takes the helm and drives the early part of the song on its fateful route. A hesitant and understated vocal provides the narration, leading you to a crossroads where you wonder what direction you will be taken in next. A flamenco hued guitar grabs your attention and roots you to the spot before your world is turned upside down. A guitar note that has a sinister undertone creeps into your psyche and makes your skin crawl a little, in an enjoyable manner. The middle part of the track is an instrumental smorgasbord of ideas all held together by that distinctive, raw-edged guitar note and transfixes you in its full on glare. The piquant musical onslaught continues unabated, running through your very soul before it breaks onto your aural receptors and you are left empty as the musical landscape turns bleaker. In your mind, an open, blasted vista appears before you, waiting to be populated by the music as you focus on that sound hailing from the distance. The drama comes full circle as Jon’s powerful vocal leads the final moments of euphoria and his superb guitar playing brings this monumental track to a close. A full on rock track as heavy as they come, like a wall of sound pressing you against your chair, The Sky is Breaking is BIG in every sense. A demonstrative vocal allied with a crunching guitar note and a huge drum sound fill every silence and shout from the rooftops on this enjoyable romp. Reminiscent of The Who at their pomp but with Jon’s distinctive touches, it is one of my favourite tracks on the album, especially that notable guitar sound that has an unending depth to it. Your ears are left with a not unpleasant ringing sound in them as it comes to a triumphal close. Collapse has an anecdotal feel to it, a tender, heartfelt vocal accompanying the ever present acoustic guitar that has rapidly become synonymous with this intriguing artist. With an integrity that comes deep from his heart, it is powerful and soul stirring.

Something’s Happening Here sees Jon take his guitar and enjoy himself again, another fast paced escapade that carries you in its wake, kicking and screaming as you try and rein it in. However, there is a seriousness deep down that surfaces now and again, an antidote to the frivolous feel, one that would be sure to be a live favourite with its sing-along chorus and high energy delivery. This superb collection of songs has to, unfortunately, come to a close at some point and the final track is aptly called The End. It does have feeling of finality to it, amongst the gentle fragility and sorrowful note of the vocals. The whole song is contemplative and forlorn and plucks at the heartstrings with the feelings of loss and yearning that it engenders in your heart and soul. A sublime and rarefied track that brings to mind 10CC and I’m Not in Love and leaves you glad to have listened to it but sad that it is over.

This is a compilation of songs that are thoughtful and thought provoking from a musician who is comfortable in his own skin and has found his own niche. Eclectic, quirky and off-beat jh may be but, overall, there is something rather clever and intelligent at the core of it all. Distinctly English and proud of it and one of the best singer/songwriters at play today, you could do hell of a lot worse than invest in this release.

Released 16th March 2015

Buy Morning Sun from bandcamp