Review – Lazuli – Nos âmes saoules – by Kevin Thompson

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Bonjour mes amis et bienvenue à un examen de la très merveilleuse bande la plus récente de libération de LAZULI. Il est si bon de vous de prendre le temps de lire cet éloge de leur nouvel album ‘Nos âmes saoules’.

Enough of my schoolboy French, I hope any misinterpretation doesn’t offend.

Hello my friends and welcome to a review of the quite marvelous band LAZULI’s latest release. It is so good of you to take the time to read this praisee of their new album ‘Nos âmes saoules’.

I’d like to start by ignoring the band and thank a couple of people without whom I might never have heard of our French import. Firstly the lovely Nellie Pitts (The Merch Desk), if not for her efforts in bringing the band to these shores, they may have passed me by. Secondly the big man that is Derek William Dick, for inviting these fine gentlemen to support him on his last tour.

I have to admit I saw them live before I bought any of the band’s output and what a revelation. The band did split in 2009, thankfully, some of the original members continued and recruited new musicians to form the current, extremely talented bunch who recorded this latest offering.

Mesdames et Messieurs puis-je vous présenter, sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen may I present to you:

Claude Leonetti (Leode), Gederic Byar  (Guitar), Romain Thorel (Keyboards and French Horn), Vincent Barnavol (Drums and Marimba) and Dominique Leonetti (Vocals and Guitar).

Band live

Now to the meat of the matter, or tofu for any vegetarians among us, the album, ‘Our Souls Drunk’, sorry, ‘Nos âmes saoules’…….

Le Temps Est À La Rage: (Time is to rage)

Starting with slow, melancholy piano and Dominique’s distinctive vocals on this, the first and longest track of the album, may to newcomers, not seem the best way to start. But, keep faith you will be rewarded as the tone changes to a brighter key, picks up tempo into a swaying melody and the band’s familiar ‘musical box’ melodies drift in. Muted guitar throbs in the background then the rest join the fray as the track builds to finally burst out into some wonderful ‘Floyd’ style soloing..

Le lierre: (The Ivy)

Romain’s flourishing keyboards open proceedings and, for me, this is the track on which Dominique’s vocals really excel as he hits the highs from a whispering start. Now, it’s at this point I have to confess that, unless I am watching them, I sometime’s find it hard to distinguish who’s taking the lead between Claude and his wonderful Leode and the soaring guitar of Gederic, but, when a band plays this well who cares? I find this really uplifting and feel this would sit very well as part of a film soundtrack.

By now my pitiful knowledge of the French language is lost and in the emotion of the music I have somehow forgotten this is not being sung in English, this only seems to enhance the experience, and so on to track three…

Vita est circus: (Vita is circus)

Roll Up, Roll Up, listen to the show. A veritable ‘whirlwind’ of instruments, including acoustic guitar and vocals, as we waltz through the verses and a chorus vaguely reminiscent of Yes, round and round we go in circles to the circus style rhythms, Gederic’s rocket of a guitar solo spacing out, leave you pleasantly dizzy,  as the tune echoes away from us.

Fanfare lente: (Slow wind)

A lovely musical interlude, the shortest track on the album, with Romain demonstrating his skills on the french horn (well it wouldn’t be an English tuba, would it?), is the band’s entry for the next Hovis advert. This wouldn’t be out of place on a Big Big Train release. It floats slowly past you, as a brass band would, and disappears toward the horizon, drifting into the distance.

Chaussures À Nos Pieds: (Shoes at our feet)

This is a slightly more serious sounding track, with Vincent’s marimba taking the lead in alongside the vocals. Again the rythms swirl, round and round, rising and dipping, in and out the track turns, tripping into a funky groove until guitar and leode cut in and speed up into a fine piece of shredding/soloing to climax abruptly as if the needle were lifted from the disk.

Band in train

Le Mar Du Passé: (The march of the past)

Pulsing keyboards beep and fizzle, this could be mistaken for the start of a Riverside track. At times, there is a hint of Peter Gabriel in the composition, whispered vocal passages burst into passionate choruses with a doomish guitar. It all ends with just the vocals, pleading.

Le Labour D’un Surin: (Plowing a Superintendent)

Static, sound effects, a heartbeat rythm and background dialogue slither along in dark corners, finishing in an eerie scream on this creepy little instrumental passage that leads to…

Les sutures: (The sutures)

Breathless vocals and music which could have been used as the soundtrack to the current ‘Vikings’ TV series, drifting instrumentation woven with a sense of  ambient dread, adding menacing guitar and a little middle eastern flavour, conjuring visions of a passing caravanerserie of the doomed, toward it’s finale.

Nos âmes saoules: (Our souls drunk)

Drifting, dreamy keyboards from Romain and ‘theramin’ type ribbons of music, (Mercury Rev anyone?),  interlace with Dominique’s vocals, all of this in ambient patterns, until you find yourself sinking into the music and becalmed.

Which leads us along this journey to the last but by no means least track….

Un Oiel Jeté Par La Fenêtre: (A look thrown out the window)

Oh look! A balloon floating by on the gentle breeze, conjured by a wonderful piano refrain. It bobs, it weaves and dances gently away as we look wistfully on wishing we could follow.

And there we have it, not an album to be technically examined , but a wondrous tale of which you can be part. Lay back and revel in the versatile elegance of the wizards, LAZULI.

Released 20th January 2016

Buy ‘Nos âmes saoules’ from The Merch Desk

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Review – Proud Peasant – Cosmic Sound – by Progradar

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So, what do you do in-between albums? Chill out for a bit? develop a side project? release a solo album? or none of the the previous?

Well, if you’re cinematic instrumental progressive rock band Proud Peasant you release a limited-edition 7″ vinyl EP that consists of cover versions of Eloy and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and, why not?

Released on the acclaimed UK vinyl-only label Fruits de Mer Records, ‘Cosmic Sound’ will be released on April 6th and, ahead of that release, my friend, and band member, Xander Rapstine, gave me the chance to hear what it’s all about.

Buffalo

Austin, Texas band (actually, more of a collective), Proud Peasant are described as being cinematic and pastoral instrumental progressive rock, the soundtrack to sublime dreams and wicked nightmares, they released their debut album ‘Flight’ in 2014 and I wrote these words about it;

“In places Flight is quite an exhausting listening experience as lots of differing musical styles vie for your attention and, in some parts it is just too much, almost turning you off.  I suspect that the band is taking it for granted that you have a certain level of intelligence whilst listening to their music. It is convoluted, enlightened and creative but not for the faint hearted. In fact, occasionally, it is too clever for its own good. That should not detract from the fact that Proud Peasant have produced a very good album that captivates throughout and I await their next release with not a little anticipation.”

Well, the anticipation of a new, full-length release will have to wait a little longer as Xander has told me that Proud Peasant won’t start recording the new album until April at the earliest and will be looking at a late 2016/Early 2017 release date.

Never mind, I’m intrigued by this new ‘covers’ EP and it’s trippy cover art so let’s dive straight in at the deep end and see what’s going on in Austin, Texas….

Voyager

The first track on this mini-EP is a cover of Daybreak, a bonus track on the 1973 album ‘Inside’ from Eloy and it opens with some rather furious percussion and a fuzzy, funky guitar riff that basically just knocks you off your feet in a ‘WTF was that’ sort of moment. The low down and dirty guitars really give this a feel of 70’s rock with a stoner edge to it. I love the intricate and undulating guitar work that leads you on a fantastical musical journey through your mind. I’m not advocating the use of illegal ( or even legal) highs here but this music is utterly spaced out and way out there in the cosmos, that feeling only enhanced by the psychedelic keyboards. A short, sharp jab to the solar plexus by flower power infused musicians.

Saturn, Lord Of The Ring/Mercury, Winged Messenger was originally recorded by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band for the 1973 album ‘Solar Fire’ and is given the full retro treatment here. A subdued sci-fi opening that could have come straight from the 70’s jars your nerves with its angular notes and intonation, the silky bass and stylish drums adding serious gravitas to the sound. I’m thinking flares, long hair and straggly beards here as the laid back music washed over you. Everything glides to a halt before a spooky guitar and wondrous noises emanate from the speakers, anxious and experimental in tone and feel, what’s coming next? you wonder as the song seems to be building up to something ominous. What you get is hectic and frantic rush to the end of the track, the fuzzy riff and staccato guitar dragging you along with reckless abandon. Frenzied and frenetic it gives you no pause for breath before coming to a tumultuous close.

Proud Peasant take their signature wide-screen cinematic approach to two classic 70’s tracks and the result is rather good indeed. A mad, turbulent and yet utterly immersive ten minutes of self-indulgent fun and worth every penny!

Released 6th April 2016

Buy ‘Cosmic Sound’ from fruits de mer records

Review – Body English – Stories of Earth – by Progradar

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It’s funny how you discover new music, a recommendation from a friend, a snippet on the radio, a video posted on social media, the list is never ending. I tend to find that the best endorsements come from people who appreciate the same music as I do.

So, first, a little background story, stay with me, it won’t take long….

Fine upstanding citizen, music reviewer and a friend of mine, Phil Lively, introduced me to the music of Josh Goldberg, Chapman Stick specialist and a superb musician. I reviewed Josh’s solo work and came to be friends with him over social media.

Through this concord, I recently received, and reviewed, the debut piece of work from his band GEPH and got to talking to Josh about other musical projects. His next recommendation was ‘Stories of Earth’ by Body English, a musical project of Clint Degan and one in which Josh was now involved, although he didn’t play on this particular release.

Well, what can I say, one listen and I was hooked, a real ball of nervous, upbeat musical energy with a freshness that has to be heard to be believed and the rest, as they say, is history, here we are at the review…..

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Album opener Kiss Them, begins with a really summery and upbeat guitar riff that just gets you tapping your foot to the rhythm before Clint’s vocals join in. He has a very distinctive voice with clipped enunciation and I think it works perfectly with the sharp and incisive music. This is feel-good music at its best, it will put a smile on your face from the first resonating note. The intricate drumming fits perfectly well with the relatively pared back sound on this track and the beautiful guitar runs just add another layer of class. There is a more emotive feel to You Were Something Else, from the effusive opening you can feel a more serious tone. The piano and heartfelt vocal deliver empathy and sentiment which builds up until the graceful violin adds the final touch. I get a real feeling of a hometown finesse to the music. Take some Ben Folds Five, add in some of The Tea Party and garnish with The Twenty Committee and you’ll have some idea of the rather excellent sound of Clint’s creation. The dashes of organ and strings adds a real feeling of lazy Sunday afternoons and a hint of almost ecclesiastical polish. A slightly off-kilter guitar solo leads in another softly delivered vocal section, underpinned by some more compassionate piano playing. I don’t know why but, I get a real sense of 70’s rock about this track, albeit updated to modern times with the excellent production. Prose and Poetry is just that, a rhythmical literary piece intelligently set to music. The halting vocals and delicate music that open the track keep you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what is coming. There is a build up of tension as the song unfolds before you, Clint’s voice increasing with passion before an elaborate and convoluted instrumental section impresses with musical chops. The song then carries on with that slightly dense  musical delivery, the vocals being the centrepiece and the music providing excellent support, a clever piece of musical theatre.

Apple Head

Next, a most raucous track that has real country music undertones and some jazz pointers too, I Don’t Want To Be A Housewife (for Someone Else’s Family) seems to bound along with a relentless and infectious energy, the slightly manic drumbeat a case in part. Strings, saxophone, piano and guitar all combine to deliver something almost vaudevillian with tongue firmly in cheek. Clint’s vocals are impish and full of mischief. The song flies along breathlessly, dragging you along in its wake, thoroughly enjoying the ride. The impressive fiddle adds an electric-folk edge, there’s so much going on here that it could easily become an untidy mess but the skill of the musicians keeps it flowing, laughing its maniacal little head off. Once you’ve calmed down from the fun and frolics of the previous track, Do It Slowly is an acerbic, wistful love story. It begins all slow paced and solemn with a deferential drumbeat underscoring a melancholic, powerfully harsh guitar. A remorseful and unfeigned vocal from Clint delivers the sad story to the listening audience, the forceful guitar interjections adding to the sorrowful atmosphere. A compelling track of love and loss delivered in Body English’s own inimitable style, leaves you with a lump in your throat. Americana influenced with lap-steel sounding guitar and vibrant piano, Rock n’ Roll Will Save You is short and sweet but still leaves its own mark on proceedings. A vibrant, fast-paced little song that wears its heart on its sleeve, it has a sanguine tone of hope and, yet, the slightly grating solo adds a little edge to the pleasantries. The run out to the close is quite inspiring.

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Sound Asleep takes Clint’s tentative and tender vocal as its focal point, opening with a laid back tone before the brass lifts the pace slightly. It seems to be treading water, letting the vocals take the lead, the drums holding pace perfectly. Perhaps the most lightweight track on the album in stature before opening up with a theatrical, almost cinematic guitar and brass instrumental section. A more serious overtone muscles in, edgy and nervous, trying to stay in the background but giving an anxious tone to the vocal. I love the funky almost ‘movie soundtrack’ feel to the repeated instrumental section and the guitar solo could have come direct from a 70’s Bond theme, a really clever song. So onto the last, and longest track and one with a title to match its 10 minute plus running time, The Humour in the Heart of the Old Grey Mountain begins with a real spooky sci-fi tone, all ominous and inspirational. A laid back and low key guitar then takes over before the vocals begin, soft and gentle, accompanied by an unadorned piano. Profound and sincere, Clint delivers his most open and honest performance on the album. A song that draws you in and leaves you caught on every word and note, the expressive songwriting and rousing music lending a spring to your step and pride in your heart. This track that has theatrical overtones then seems to segue into a progressive overture full of pomp and circumstance and one that fills you with joie de vivre and hope. Insistent, dynamic drumming is the foundation on which this labyrinthine section is built on, all the other instruments then taking their place in the greater scheme of things and lending a cinematic tone. As the song, and the album, reaches its final chapter, we return to the almost pastoral beginnings and Clint’s hope-filled voice leads us to the close, accompanied by that contemplative piano.

I love it when I find really good music by chance, this album is a breath of fresh air compared to the glut of incoming music that I have heard recently that all sounds the same. Yes, it might not appeal to everyone but, I for one love it. Give it a chance and there is a high possibility it could be brightening your day anytime soon….

Released May 13th 2016

Buy Stories of Earth from Body English’s bandcamp page

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – MINDTECH – Edge of the World – by Progradar

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What, to you, is the heartbeat of a good band? What, if it was ripped out, would make them a pale shadow of what came before? If you replace the lead guitarist would that really make a huge difference? I don’t know. But, if you bring in a new lead singer, that can give you a totally different ambience.

I mean, look at bands like Van Halen and Marillion, when Dave Lee Roth and Fish, respectively, departed, you were left with something that was similar yet never the same again.

I bring this up because I recently received the latest promo from Norwegian progressive-metal act MINDTECH and they have a new vocalist. Now, I loved their debut album which was heavy and intense and yet had an intrinsic intelligence at its core, would this change of personel be for the better or, hopefully not, the worse?

Mindtech-4

 

MINDTECH was formed in 2007 by guitar player and songwriter Thor-Axel Eriksen. He recruited drummer Ole Devold, bass player Øystein Moe and
keyboard player Lasse Finbråten, a 3 track demo was released (under the moniker “Beyond Flames”).

2008 marked the live debut of the band, now called MINDTECH, with the addition of guitar player Thomas Hansvoll. The band started to work on their debut album, a process that seemed to be taking a long time, however, with the introduction of guitarist Marius Belseth in 2012, the spark was suddenly
back, and they started the work on finishing the album ‘Elements of Warfare’.

October 11th 2013 was the debut album’s release date, but their concert at the release party marked the end of singer Aslak Johnsen’s era in the band. He was only supposed to lay down vocals on demo versions of the songs, but ended up doing the full album.

Via Withem’s guitar player Øyvind V.Larsen, they got in touch with Mathias Molund Indergård, a great singer with a versatile musical background. He fit the band perfectly, the work on finishing songs for an EP started immediately, and the first single, Lost In A Dream, was released digitally on September 1st, 2015 and single no 2; Black Heart, was released January 22nd, 2016.

Mindtech-11

The first, and title, track Edge of the World opens with an ominous synthesiser and guitar introduction, gradually building the tension before it opens into a huge riff, reminiscent of the first album. All powerful and in your face, there follows a short staccato burst of guitar before we hit the accelerator and set off. When the vocals first enter, there is more than a hint of symphonic metal about them, Mathias has a great rock voice, more cultured than Aslak’s, which had definitive edgier delivery. He has nuances of heartfelt remorse in the slow parts and a thunderous intonation when the fuse is lit. Throw in a fiery guitar solo and you have a great stat to the E.P. There’s nothing new here but it is done with a stylish edge.

Black Heart, the second single release, begins with an immediate crunching riff and restless synth note. The vocals kick in with Mathias hitting some very high notes indeed, his voice is definitely more melodic in its delivery, especially on the really polished chorus. The band seem to have taken a conscious decision to move away from the industrial feel of the first album, yes it is progressive-metal in nature but there is a much more cultured feel to everything from the keyboards to the rather impressive drumming. The excellent guitar playing of Eriksen and Belseth is another highlight with a superb solo delivered towards the end of this track. However it’s the really expressive vocals of Mathias Molund Indergård that have lifted everything to another level.

A really gentle guitar and ethereal keyboard tone open up The Quest. Here Mathias gets to show us the softer side of his voice and personality, his vocal delivery is soft and cultured before the guitars liberate another dynamic riff to accompany a more forceful vocal expression. There seems to be a darker side to the track as it continues with the guitar becoming more abrasive, this is lifted by the elegant chorus. A really sophisticated song with a depth of meaning that is hidden at first.

MT LOGO NY

Lost In A Dream was the first single, released digitally and it has a more harder feel right from the start, twin duelling guitars and frenzied drumming giving it an urgent feel. This track is pure progressive metal and the vocals follow that genre-given lead, I hear touches of early James LaBrie (Dream Theater) and Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus) to them. The guitars of Thor-Axel and Marius are finally let of the leash on this impressive track with some incredibly fiery licks and a magnificent solo really highlighting their undoubted talents. Where the first three tracks had a slight feeling of restraint to them, Lost In A Dream pulls no punches at all.

The final track on this oh-too short E.P. is Misery ( that’s the title, not my opinion!) which opens with another fine riff which underpins some rather superior guitar work and notable drumming, as fine an intro to a prog/symphonic metal track as you are likely to hear this year. Mathias’ voice takes in an earnest, almost forlorn timbre and lays the serious foundations that the song is built on. The progressive riffing mirrors the sombre feel that runs throughout and there are some more admirable twin-guitar solos, licks and heavy riffage from the axe-men. The close out to the track is pure progressive-metal exhibitionism but, who cares when it’s this good, there’s even a Rush-a-like guitar part that just made me smile.

So, what can we glean from this new vocalist-inspired MINDTECH? Well, one thing for certain is I enjoyed every second of this prog-metal romp and wished it had been longer. Mathias Molund Indergård has added another dimension to this already exciting band and I’m impatient to hear more. If you like your progressive-metal with a symphonic touch then you’ll love this!

Released 12th February 2016.

Buy Edge of the World from iTunes

Review – Flicker Rate – self-titled – by Progradar

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Mention the Sussex coastal town of Hastings and what comes to mind? Well, there was 1066 and the great battle I suppose but I had to dig deeper to find out much more….

“Historically, Hastings can claim fame from the Battle of Hastings, and later because it became one of the medieval Cinque Ports. Hastings was, for centuries, an important fishing port; although nowadays less important, it still has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in Europe. The town became a popular spot for ‘taking the waters’ (therapeutic bathing in the sea) in the 1760s, and then, with the coming of the railway, a seaside resort.”

More recently, well for me at least, it has been for the music of John Bassett (he of KingBathmat and Arcade Messiah fame) so, when I was approached by a young gentleman called Spencer Bassett about his musical project Flicker Rate, I put two and two together and actually came up with four for once!

Yes, young Spencer is actually the son of the celebrated Hastings’ musician John, could we be looking at a chip of the old block? Had some of his musical pizzazz worn off on his offspring? I was very interested to find out…

Spencer 2

Flicker Rate is a instrumental atmospheric post/math rock based solo project formed by 16 year old multi-instrumentalist, Spencer Bassett, all music is mixed and mastered produced and composed by Spencer Bassett.”

So says the bandcamp site where you can purchase the eponymous 4-track debut E.P. and it sounded very interesting so it was time to dive in and see what we had in store for us…

The first track is Valhalla and it starts in a very ominous frame of mind with low down guitars and stylish drumming imparting a vision of a post-apocalyptic landscape with a pensive aftertaste. The music seems to dance caustically across your synapses leaving  a sharp jolt with every note. Yes, there are paternal hints but this young man definitely stamps his own style on proceedings. A first-rate introduction to the post-rock/progressive instrumental musings of Spencer Bassett.

Evident adds a definitive harder edge to proceedings with an opening riff that can fell giants and decimate mountains. A slow paced, ponderous leviathan of a track that seems to pulverize your organs with every beat and, you know what, I’m loving it! Call me a musical masochist if you must but the sheer ferocity and weight of the music just blows me away in the best sense of the word. It powers in to the realm of chaos towards the end and becomes a monstrous, malevolent thing of wonder, this guy has the musical chops way beyond his tender years.

Two minutes of intense musical virtuosity, that is what you get from Small Sun with a chugging riff and persistent drum beat that literally drag you along in their impressive wake. The track opens up with a further edgy riff that hits you with its metronomic fluency and the whole song just exudes class from the first note all the way through its too short one minute and fifty-five minute running time.

The most relaxing track and a great way to close out this mini-musical fest is Elusive Rain. A really classy strummed riff overlays some intricate and stylish drumming. At the heart of it all is a plaintive guitar note that seems to be crying out for attention. the gentle feel is blown away by a huge riff that appears, stage left, like a sonic tidal wave and lifts this sonerous smorgasbord onto a higher plane. Music that seems to tear through your very fabric of being to leave  lasting reminder of what has gone before.

Wow, I’m left in stunned silence by that twelve minutes of seriously impressive music. It is one of those E.Ps where you will simply keep pressing play to listen to it again. I’ll pull no punches, John Bassett’s influence is there, no denying it, in fact, what John himself had to say was,

“…..the boys done well, i’ve given him a few tips, especially with promoting himself, other than that i’ve pretty much left him to it.”

What Spencer has done though is mould it into his own creation and it is something of which he should be very proud. Keep an eye out for Flicker Rate, this is a musical project that is definitely going places.

Released 14th February 2016

Buy Flicker Rate from bandcamp

Forest

Interview with Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter (reproduced with kind permission of Jeff Milo)

Matthew - Sam Holt

This is a complete transcript of an article featured in The Ferndale Friends, reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Jeff Milo.

All photos are by Graham Stead and Sam Holt.

Words by Jeff Milo

There is a distinct relationship between artist and audience, bands and listeners. There is an opportunity to instill inspiration, to offer escape, to alter preconceptions. That power and that connection are the biggest reasons local singer/keyboardist/producer Matthew Parmenter has contnued to write, record and publish music for almost 30 years, now, as both a solo artist and, notably, as the frontman for the symphonic-prog band Discipline.

“Any musical offering is an act of faith”, said Parmenter. “It is always rewarding to hear fellow humans say they found something palliative or profound in the work.”

Discipline - Graham Stead

(Discipline 2015)

Back before the World Wide Web dominated the distribution, consumption and business mode of recorded musical art, Discipline formed in 1987 in a Royal Oak high school. The band features Jon Preston Bouda on guitar, Matthew Kennedy on bass, Paul Dzendzel on drums and Parmenter on vocals and keyboards.

“We dabbled a bit with Punk while in high school,” recalls Parmenter, “but it didn’t take.” They excavated treasures from Sam’s Jams (formerly where Rosie’s now operates) and Flipside (up in Clawson), including seminal prog-rock records that the late 80’s mainstream radio stations were ignoring, like Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson and more.

“Doing ‘art-rock’ in Detroit made us feel a bit like a lone-wolf around town,” recalls Parmenter. But they kept at it, developing a mailing list, with actual snail-mail and allying with comparable prog-stylists in the region like Hope Orchestra and Granfalloon. In fact, it was another local goup, Tiles, who showed Discipline a lot of support over the years. Tiles’ guitarist Chris Herin eventually took the spot of Jon Preston Bouda on guitar.

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Discipline have evolved over the decades, through several records released through their own label Strung Out Records, a beautiful blend of operatic-pop, post-punk theatre and a baroque-tinged electronic ambience, primarily experimenting with a genre known as progressive-rock (or prog-rock). Some of their compositions spanned 15 minutes or longer, particularly on their dazzling 1997 odyssey ‘Unfolded Like Staircase’.

“As a songwriter,” Parmenter said, “I have become less inclined to embark on epics. I rarely write songs running more than 15 minutes any more, and 25 minutes is right out. I am still drawn to create a narrative space that exposes some particular observed tension and which, ideally, reaches an emotional summit.”

Matthew 2 - Sam Holt

On stage, Discipline embody this captivating, Morpheus-ian grace in blending psychedelic performance art with elements of classical, jazz and Brit-pop. Parmenter points to The Beatles, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel as influences for the more rock and pop sides of Discipline, while also including jazz and classical icons like Miles DavisThelonius MonkIgor Stravisnky and Béla Bartok. The experimental rock of Van der Graaf Generator was a notable influential touchstone.

“In live performance, we have learned to allow, and even to foster, a sort of intentional imperfection,” said Parmenter, “Not to say that we ever played perfectly. Rather, in the early days accuracy and being precise seemed more important. Later on, rough edges and spontaneity came to matter more. Then the performances started to breathe, get human, have soul. Too much polish…can become boring.”

Go online and you’ll find various zines, blogs and sites devoted to ‘prog’ music sending substantial love towards Detroit’s Discipline. There is truly a galaxy full of bands edging their own nuanced composites of this genre, with acknowledged pioneers such as Yes, King Crimson and Genesis.

“If progressive rock were an iceberg, most people would recognise it only by the tip they can see sticking out of the water,” Parmenter observes.

Discipline are finishing up a new album while Parmenter celebrates the release of his third solo album ‘All Our Yesterdays’ (through Bad Elephant Music) on March 11th.

US and Canada Pre-orders of ‘All Our Yesterdays’

UK and Europe Pre-order of ‘All Our Yesterdays’

All Our Yesterdays cover

 

Review – Geof Whitely Project – Malice In Wonderland – by Emma Roebuck

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These guys are prodigious in their output. Most bands produce an album roughly every year, the Geof Whitely Project (GWP) have set themselves the onerous task of releasing 3 albums by the summer of 2016.

‘Malice In Wonderland’ sounds nothing like the other three albums of the same name be it Paice Ashton Lord, Nazareth or, heaven forbid, Snoop Doggy Dogg.

This album has the hallmark that I recognise as the GWP ‘sound’: melancholy melody and structure. The heavy keyboard sound running throughout the album is reminiscent of the mid 80’s Alan Parson Project. The album opens with an instrumental, Who Are You, that deceives the listener into a false sense of security that it will be a pleasant listen with a drink of wine or beer with friends! This could be true but there is a deception here.

The second track Preflight, I guarantee you will think, “Where have I heard that before.” I will say one thing, there is a haunting reminder of the ‘Tales from the Unexpected’ theme in its feel. There is more variety in ‘Malice’ than ‘Circus of Horrors’, the last album by GWP which I reviewed. They have rocked out much more but also experimented with thematic electronic music. Caterpillahh has such electronic feel to it with a very melodic Jean Michel Jarre tone and spirit.  The title track rocks out, stretching the performance but with some restraint, death metal it isn’t but there is a rocker in there kicking to get out!

The album, as you imagine, has Alice in Wonderland taken to the dark side as its concept. There is no journey through the looking glass or down a rabbit hole as such, but snippets from the Lewis Carroll classic remain. GWP have gone deeper and darker and are nearer a Tim Burton Movie in style rather than the Disney variation.

The last two tracks, Hungry Ghost and Remain the Same, could easily be singles for me and, with airplay, crossover into the mainstream. My favourite track though, Sleep Thief , is unlike the rest of the album. Its heart is really dark and sinister. Neil Gaimans’ Sandman could very easily have been the inspiration for this track.

I still think that GWP should let the shackles go and rip out a real rocker but the album is a GWP product and, to continue to produce this kind of consistency and standard, is no mean feat.

If you like your music melodic and structured Geof Whitely Project’s  ‘Malice In Wonderland’ delivers. The diversity of music has room a-plenty for this kind of release.

Released 1st August 2016

Pre-order from the Geof Whitely Project web-site

Review – David Longdon and The Magic Club – Wild River – by Progradar

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I’m what you might call a music completist. You know the sort of person I mean, I begin to really appreciate a band or artist’s music so I have to seek out and devour all their output, be it studio or live albums or DVD/Blue-Rays of live performances, I have to listen to, and have, them all.

To me, it’s a worthy endeavor, whether you start with the first release and follow that particular artist all the way to the present day, like Dream Theater for me (the jury is out on ‘The Astonishing’ at the moment though..) or you hear a latest album and work your way back through their discography, this was how I got into Big Big Train (‘English Electric Full Power’).

Whichever way round, I get a certain satisfaction out of investigating all of a musician or band’s achievements and I will often unearth a gem I didn’t previously know about.

Bringing Big Big Train back into the discussion, it was an earlier solo album from lead vocalist David Longdon that was the next part of my musical education with this celebrated English pastoral progressive rock band.

I used my ‘musical treasure hunter’ skills and the ‘X’ marked the spot when I uncovered ‘Wild River’ by David Longdon and The Magic Club.

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David initially played in a band with school friends Simon Withers and Ian White under the name Greenhouse. It was this experience that would be the inspiration for the Big Big Train song ‘Make Some Noise.’

Throughout his twenties David played in the Nottingham based band O’ Strange Passion and eventually The Gifthorse. The style of these bands included acoustic based music with art rock tendencies. He ended up being signed to Rondor Music UK (Publishing house for A&M records – The Police, Joe Jackson, The Carpenters, Supertramp) as a songwriter with a development deal.

David is also a long term member of the Louis Philippe band, playing on the Jackie Girl (1996) album, where he met both Danny Manners and also Dave Gregory who he would later introduce to Big Big Train.

It was in the final days of The Gifthorse that David was invited to audition as a potential replacement for Phil Collins as lead singer in Genesis. He survived the auditioning process and worked from May to November 1996 on recordings that would become the Calling All Stations album. They were also working with Stiltskin vocalist Ray Wilson at the same time. Eventually they decided which one out of the two would get the job.

David  sings lead vocals on two tracks (‘Ray of Hope’ and ‘Endgame’) on Martin Orford’s The Old Road album (2008) which led to David Meeting Rob Aubrey who in turn introduced David to Greg and Andy of Big Big Train and the rest, they say, is history!

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‘Wild River’ was released in 2004 and I’m still struggling to believe I had never heard even one note up until about a month ago. It was recorded by David Longdon and an inpressive group of musicians collectively know as ‘The Magic Club’, too many here to list but a certain Dave Gregory does appear in the (very) small print…..

The album notes credit David with ‘Vocals, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, mandolin, keyboards, flute, percussion and wrist watch’ so, there you go, a man of many talents obviously.

The opening track Always begins with a delightful acoustic introduction before David’s vocals begin in a slightly wistful manner and Andy Lymn’s stylish drums seem to take a life on of their own. It is a decidedly upbeat song, even if you take into account the slight melancholy aftertaste, dictated by the excellent viola and violin of Beth NobleLee Horsley’s strident Hammond organ gives it an edge and David has voice like honey, it just seems to soothe any irritable bone in your body and it lifts this song above the merely good to become something memorable. One you will find yourself humming in the shower as the harmonies of the chorus imprint themselves permanently on your brain. Honey Trap is another track with an uplifting feel to it, almost modern folk in appeal. The musicians work together seamlessly to produce a musical tapestry across which the elegant vocals of David Longdon can paint a wonderful tune. The strings seem more potent and upfront on this song, providing the perfect counterpoint for the vocal harmonies, especially the dulcet tones of the harp. I just feel as if I’m being carried along an a mellifluous sound wave of pure joy. There’s a timeless feel to the music and feel of longevity and this is emphasised even more by the delightful mandolin that stands out in the intro to Mandy. David’s vocal takes on a more narrative tone in places and the whole song has a touch of traditional folk running through it. The Hammond seems to be in the background, almost as if it is directing proceedings. The softer edge of the first two tracks is replaced by a more definitive note and  the occasional lapse into a near reggae beat just adds real colour to proceedings. A real foot-tapping, hand-clapping classic that would be at home in a traditional rural public house where much ale has been drunk and many tales have been sung.

Spectral Mornings

(Photo courtesy of Angus Prune)

Beginning with a more apprehensive note, the guitar having a more aggressive feel and the violin a cutting note, About Time appears to be a more serious tune. David carries on with the more narrative vocal on the verse and the whole song has a more mature note to it. The chorus sees that reggae riff appear and the vocals deliver a heartfelt rendition. The flute, harp and mellotron all work overtime in the background to give the required gravitas and really add to the darker complexity of this interesting track. I like listening to music that demands your full attention and this is a song that is definitely of that ilk. Dim the lights and let it wash over you as you discover more and more sophisticated nuances. Mandolin, mandola and double bass kick off Vertigo with an unambiguous folk atmosphere and this is only emphasised by the use of the Irish bodhran. That softer timbre returns to David’s vocals, emotive and slightly mournful, it is a song that plucks at your heartstrings with its open and honest feel. Beth Noble’s backing vocals have a delicate fragility and the clashing guitar solo really does hit you hard on this darkest feeling track on the album so far. I really enjoyed the whole pared back feel that let’s the vocals shine through and I’ve always been a sucker for a great double bass. The next track is far and away the most impassioned and sentimental song on this release. Simple in composition  yet beautifully ethereal in its delivery, Loving & Giving is a thing of uncomplicated beauty. David Longdon’s voice is the instrument that holds sway over your emotions, adorned simply with acoustic guitar, double bass and the exquisite strings that add a humble fragility. Jane Upton adds her alluring vocals to this most charming track, the harmonies are a thing of wonder. A tear of joy and hope may have been wiped away and I needed a moment to compose myself after it came to a natural close.

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Wild River is a tribute to David’s father, Eric, who died in 1994 and, to me, is a real slow burning blues-rock track. It opens, already beginning to build an atmosphere, with a gentle guitar and David’s ominous sounding vocal. Powerful, expressive and soulful, it is almost a lament. The Hammond organ sits there, just in the background, orchestrating this compelling and touching song. The impassioned vocal delivery is asserted even more on the chorus. The Greasley Singers choir add another layer of finesse, it is an undoubted highlight of this most impressive album and when the intense violin solo is delivered, it is like a weighty presence on your soul, this whole track just bleeds sentiment and sorrow, the impassioned guitar solo (from Michael Brown) and rousing drums are incredible, and you just feel emotionally spent when it comes to its dramatic close. Edgy guitar and fluent harmonica open up the defiantly rocky This House, bluesy, funky and jazz infused with equal measure, it really drives hard and fast. The staccato guitar playing and Les Eastham’s brilliant harmonica are the real highlights of this track and, with David adding a fervent, stirring vocal, it is literally on fire and uber-cool. There is a feeling of a sentient presence awakening at the beginning of In Essence, superb atmospheric guitar work from Michael Brown again, before things open up with dancing vocals and intricate instrumentation. A song that takes the soul route to your mind. Edgy guitar work, stylish bass play and elaborate drumming provide the backdrop on which David gives a sleek and polished vocal performance. A song for the discerning listener and another one that asks for your full and undivided attention.

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It’s all about the strings and keeping it simple, Joely is a delightful little ode. It begins with some really fetching string work in combination with the precise vocal enunciation of Mr Longdon and needs nothing more to deliver a rather charming song that is beguiling because of its skillful simplicity. It almost moves into Americana and country territory in places before it closes with the sublime poem ‘The Heart of Winter’, written and recited by Jerry Hope. Powerfully delivered, it takes you into a heightened sense of consciousness that leaves the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. The simple introduction to Falling Down has an impatient feel imbued by the drums and bass before the strings join in and the vocals overlay everything with a velvet touch. Gentle and benign it continues until we reach the chorus where everything opens up into another well crafted piece of songwriting. I feel I’ve been led by the hand on a fantastic musical journey with a multitude of amazing musicians that come together as one rather than any of them standing above the others. The mellotron is there but you don’t notice it, the guitars add substance but without overpowering anything and , above all, is the stunning vocal performance of David Longdon. Sentimental and rousing, this song is another reason to make sure you listen to this album without daily life intruding. The final track on this stunning album is On To The Headland and it is a fitting close. This song sees David and his guitar in a reflective mood and it is this restrained and simple delivery that really seems to impact on you. I sit back and let this guileless track just touch my senses and leave me at ease and at one with the world.

It may be over ten years since ‘Wild River’ was released but it doesn’t seem to have aged a day and can stand comparison with any of contemporary music that has been released recently. There is an uncluttered and uncomplicated honesty at the core of the music and this is all brought into vivid focus by David Longdon’s utterly unique and incomparable voice. If, like I was, you have yet to experience it then please search this album out immediately!

Released 2004

Buy ‘Wild River’ from the Big Big Train webstore

Review – N.y.X – The News – by Shawn Dudley

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“and now for something completely different….” 

One of the primary criticisms of the modern “Prog” movement is how few bands are truly experimenting and pushing boundaries and moving the music into uncharted waters. While I don’t personally subscribe to that (very subjective) viewpoint, I can understand how listeners that lean more toward experimental and avant-garde musical forms could be disappointed by the tendency to reverentially look backward instead of boldly reaching forward…and outward.

Those listeners should do themselves a favor and experience ‘The News’, the sophomore album from Italian prog/art rock collective N.y.X..  It’s a daring and inventive journey that takes a plethora of influences and combines them into a unique sonic experience that will surely delight (or utterly confound) depending on the listener.

Walter F. Nyx (vocals, guitar, bass, electronica), Danilo A. Pannico (drums, percussion, piano, organ, marimba, electronica) and Klod (guitar, vocals) have crafted a group that is unafraid to experiment, to push outward, to challenge perceptions. Assigning a genre label to their music seems counterintuitive; let’s just say it’s progressive in the literal definition.

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‘The News’ begins with the instrumental Restless Slumber (At The Break Of Dawn), sounds of a city filtering thru the early morning, stirring the restless sleeper awake to face the day. The piece is built off an electronic foundation of loops and synth washes with Cuban jazz pianist Ivan Napoles Bridon adding some McCoy Tyner-influenced improvisation over the top. It has a dreamlike quality with the clear ringing sound of the acoustic piano creating a natural juxtaposition with the electronic underpinning, the piece builds to a crescendo and then tapers off before the sound of an alarm clock shatters that early morning calm and thrusts you headlong into the insanity of….

Groundhog Day (Wakening, Dressing, Starting Up…). This piece captures that near-manic state of being where you’ve gotten up too late and are forced to rush around the apartment in a frenzy, amped on adrenaline but not fully awake enough to focus it effectively. Basically, every morning for me. The arrangement is just as chaotic as that experience implies, a near-cacophony of instrumental elements and stylistic influences layered together into a massive wall of sound with the vocal line more spoken than sung providing narration. If you’re looking for calm and soothing…look elsewhere. Musically there’s a discernable influence from the Discipline-era King Crimson band, which makes perfect sense considering the guest appearance on our next chapter….

A Sarcastic Portrait (Editorial, Home and Foreign) continues the busy intensity; a driving and chaotic electronic drum track provides the underpinning for guest Adrian Belew (King Crimson) to paint his distinctive and playfully gonzo guitar over the top.  The vocal line on this track simultaneously reminds me of the chaotic Indiscipline (from ‘Discipline’) and Devo.  Yes, Devo.  About the midway point a calm enters the proceedings, the arrangement slowly winds itself down and from the quiet the sounds of marimba, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and synth emerge.  This ebb and flow is indicative of the entire album, the moments of intensity cooled down by more pastoral passages and then using that false sense of security to jolt the listener into the next movement.   There’s an almost playful quality to it all.

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Discord (Domestic Policies) is the most straight-ahead composition on the album. Primarily acoustic-guitar driven, it’s a charming art-rock number that gives a nod to the psychedelic while still retaining modernism thru the underlying rhythmic pulse. The guitar solo is a particular highlight, including a gorgeous harmony section that really caught my attention.

The Paper (Titles & Subtitles) is a minimalist instrumental piece in two movements. A simple single-note piano figure and orchestral pad provide the foundation for the first section and then a multitude of instrumental colorations are layered on top. The second section is sparser, the piano figure here replaced by a bass guitar line with washes of synth and barely audible narration bubbling just below the surface. There is a cinematic quality to this piece and it kept conjuring up images of a nighttime urban cityscape in my mind.

Keeping the soundtrack vibe going, Oscillations Du Chaos – Part III mixes in the sounds of an analog typewriter into the arrangement along with piano, tuned tympani, loops, snippets of dialogue and a variety of other elements to create the soundtrack for a virtual newspaper office. It also functions as the instrumental intro to the album-closing epic of…

The Daily Dark Delerium. This nearly 13-minute piece is the summation of everything that has come before, a chaotic, turbulent storm of an arrangement that leaves you drained yet satiated at its conclusion. Guest Trey Gunn adds his distinctive Warr Guitar to the instrumental stew.

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This album isn’t for everyone, it’s not easy-listening, it does require some patience and some effort to fully appreciate.  I myself listened to the album for a month before I felt I had grasped it sufficiently to write about.  It was worth the effort.

There’s a joyous feeling that comes from finding music that’s nearly impossible to describe, especially in a musical landscape that often seems more concerned with cataloging artists into neat little stylistic boxes instead of just listening and experiencing them. I applaud N.y.X for being difficult, for being challenging, for being unafraid to experiment…for being progressive.

Released 26th Feb 2016 via Bad Elephant Music

Pre-order digital from BEM’s bandcamp page

Pre-order the CD from Burning Shed

 

 

 

Review – GEPH – self-titled – by Progradar

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I’ve seen the Chapman Stick mentioned quite a few times and always wondered what it was so, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the review, here is a description of this musical instrument.

The Chapman Stick (The Stick) is an electric musical instrument devised by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. A member of the guitar family, the Chapman Stick usually has ten or twelve individually tuned strings and has been used on music recordings to play bass lines, melody lines, chords, or textures. Designed as a fully polyphonic chordal instrument, it can also cover several of these musical parts simultaneously.

So, there you go, my first introduction to The Stick was via fellow journalist (and stick player) Phil Lively who introduced me to a musician called Josh Goldberg, an experienced player of The Stick. Josh’s Afro Circus project released an album called ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, which I reviewed and came to this conclusion:

“I do like it when new music turns up unexpectedly. To be fair, there can as many duff releases as good ones but the anticipation is quite addictive. With nothing to prove and nothing expected of it, it can be quite refreshing and, when it is a sagacious as ‘Journey to the Centre of the Ear’, quite enlightening too. This record is innovative music for the mind and not for the faint hearted but, get to the core of what is on offer, and you will be well rewarded.”

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(pic by Jen Desrosiers Photography)

Josh is also a member of the progressive jazz metal trio GEPH, who release their first, self-titled album, on 29th March 2016.

 GEPH is an instrumental progressive jazz metal trio riding the very cutting edge of contemporary music. With Josh and John Tyler Kent on Chapman Stick, and Josh Merhar on drums, the three of them sound as big as a five-piece, and work to expand the modern conceptions of arranging and composing in a heavy, intense and still succinctly musical format.

 There’s quite a sci-fi theme running through the album, overpopulation and colonising the stars feature heavily. To aide in this goal, scientists look to find the graviton, the hypothetical particle that mediates the behaviour of gravity. Miniturisation is the key apparently, it all sounds complicated and adventurous and you can read more at the bands bandcamp page (where you can also buy the album), the link can be found at the end of the article!

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Album opener, The Trouble With Doorways takes the sci-fi theme and runs with it for the intro before opening up into a mad free for all acid jazz type musical blitz. It takes on another persona, quite atmospheric and on edge, dancing across your mind before turning into a seriously intricate type of jazz-metal fusion. Chaotic and rampageous, it doesn’t give you chance to settle. Things eventually calm down a bit with a holding pattern around Josh Merler’s maniacally clever drumming before the Stick guys deliver a cool piece of playing to take the track out to a close. Splinter begins quite sagacious and insightful, the elaborate playing runs along at quite a pace yet never loses its structure. Animated and spirited, it runs a repeated theme which sticks in your head and refuses to leave, the music just seems to trip along, all kept in check by Josh’s adept drum work. This is instrumental progressive music at its most highbrow, you really concentrate on what you are listening to and let it paint metaphorical pictures across your psyche, a kind of storytelling that doesn’t need words.
The sci-fi persona comes to the fore in the brief meanderings of Yocto with a repeated sound effect that nags at you before it turns into a gentle exploration of the mind, gently probing at your cerebral cortex, the three expert musicians working as one as it segues into the nervous energy of I Am The Lamp That Stomps with its frenetic opening. Things take on a more even temper and a edgy jazz touch with perplexingly quick interplay between the two Stick aficionados. This is some seriously enigmatic music and you just end up being drawn into its esoteric embrace, imagining fingers flying up and down these sophisticated instruments. The funky drums are always there, the glue holding everything in place, especially when the Chapman players go rogue and off up some byzantine alley with some utterly monstrous playing that your mind struggles to keep up with.
Mawhktarr Da’ario (Live at the Record Company) is the most overtly jazz influenced track on the album and really does give you the impression of being in some seriously trendy jazz club listening to jazz impresarios going hell for leather with their jazz/metal and prog infusion. It has elements of darkly delicious anticipation running through it, the band all combining to give an atmosphere of expectation and premonition with an almost alien edge to it. It’s ‘hide behind the sofa’ stuff as it takes on a grungy, industrial feel. Every now and again a lightness manages to bleed through and give it a more cherry feel. The playing on this track is really, really good and I found myself nodding in quiet appreciation of the skill of these young musicians. There is also a cerebral quality running throughout the album, this is not music for easy gratification, it asks for, and requires, intense listening to get every iota from it, take the plunge and you will not regret it. Plank is just under two minutes of fuzzy, unconventional music delivered with a metronomic accuracy. Uptight, it leaves you feeling uneasy and it builds to a critical conclusion. So we move straight into the final track on the album, the uber-cool Manifest Destiny’s Child. With a knowing superiority at its core it fires along at a precise lick. Distinctive in its ambiguity, it manifests a higher power and infinite intelligence as the musicians deliver ferocious likcs and riffs, melded with quieter moments of self-reflection. The quality of playing becomes almost ridiculously impressive and convoluted but still rewards your dedication.
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The Chapman Stick is an instrument that is so flexible it can produce a multitude of sounds and, when utilised with the skill of these impressive musicians, is a mighty thing to behold. Aided and abetted by the excellent drums, you end up with a really intense and powerful listening experience that makes you think and it is all the better for it. GEPH is a band worth watching as they really should be going places!
Released 29th March 2016