Review – The Gift – Antenna – by Leo Trimming

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

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

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

A myriad of souls, We have abandoned all controls,

Naked to the core, exposing our emotion

We are connected – we are one – we are connected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 28th June 2019

Order from Bad Elephant Music here:

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

Review – Saul Blease – The Great War – by Jez Denton

The Great War of 1914 to 1918 has been, for many artistes, a rich vein of material, inspiring songs that detail the heroism, suffering, sacrifice and fear that all soldiers must have felt and experienced in those Flanders fields of mayhem, chaos, death and destruction. The war itself is beyond the comprehension of most of us, making the creation of any piece of art, I’d imagine, one of the most difficult tasks to do, ensuring that true and proper record is made. It can only be expected that any work needs to be a labour, work that needs the fullest detail to be sought. The work needs to be exhaustive in it’s research, it’s execution and it’s intentions. And it is work that will be held to the highest of standards by people who will have factual, historical and emotional attachment to this most emotive of subjects.

What cannot be denied is that Bristol multi-instrumentalist, Saul Blease, has undoubtedly set out to create apiece of music that does pay that fitting tribute. But this reviewer is one of those people who will set the high standards, being, as I am, someone with a deep interest in the  history of the Great War and that, I’m afraid has coloured my view of this album. For me, it doesn’t reach the standards I expect as a whole.

On my first listen I was intrigued by what I was hearing. I found the percussion in particular emotive, reminiscent as it was, on occasions, of machine gun fire. There were heavy parts that felt like a bombardment going on, with the impression being of being a soldier sat in a trench waiting for battle to start. And then the music would quieten, with lilting piano pieces perhaps reflective of the quiet before the storm. But through out this, there was this little nagging thought in the back of my mind, something that wasn’t sitting quite right, something that was jarring on my knowledge of the Great War itself. Another listen back only served to strengthen that thought, a thought that needed corroboration from a source with more knowledge than mine.

And it is thanks to Martin Hutchinson that he, on behalf of Bad Elephant Music, allowed me to share this album with a friend who is both a fan of progressive music but also an experienced Great War battlefield historian. The files were sent without comment, with the reply coming back that confirmed what I thought. The problem with this album comes lyrically; the historical inaccuracies that grated on me were only magnified with particular glaring errors being descriptions around the battle at Mons referring to trenches, barbed wire and mud -this never happened until a long time after this battle with the army at Mons in full retreat in open warfare, the trench warfare occurred sometime later once a stalemate was reached.

Now I am fully prepared for this review to be slated for not allowing a bit of artistic licence, for it to be said does it really matter? To which my justification is that, yes it does for two main reasons. Firstly, as I explained in my opening, this subject is so very important that it has to be right, there is an obligation on the artist, when taking on such a subject, to be absolutely true to those who experienced. On its own there could be an element of allowance, but the second issue I have with this album is the reliance on cliché; for both of us involved in this review the lyrics felt very much like a rushed and lazily written history essay. With reference to ‘brass hats’, ‘do or die’ and ‘dying for England’ this was very much in the stereotypical viewpoint of the First World War that was trotted out in 1960’s and 70’s school class rooms and perpetuated by Blackadder and far less worthy than the war poetry of the Wilfred Owens and Seigfreid Sassoons, for instance, whose voices are a much more genuine and authentic chronicle of this war.

Take this album as just a piece of work and there is plenty to enjoy, least not the quality of the musicianship. However, if you are a student of, interested in or, indeed, seeking to extend your knowledge of the Great War this is, unfortunately, an album that will infuriate, annoy and perhaps even, anger you. And in this conclusion I feel for Saul Blease as I’m sure he has spent many valuable hours trying to create a fitting tribute and chronicle of the Great War; unfortunately, for this reviewer he has only succeeded in pandering to popular perception rather than achieving a better researched reality.

Released 11th November 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

Not a Review of Shineback – Dial – by Tom Slatter

People don’t  know how to talk about genre. There are prog rock related online forums that sensible people avoid because their denizens have endless, idiot arguments about whether certain artists are ‘prog’ or not.  That isn’t how it works. Genre is not a box in which a band is placed, distinct and separate from other styles, especially not prog, which has always fused different ideas together.

Instead, think of each genre as having an imagined perfect ideal that no real world act ever quite matches up to  – the most punk of punk bands, the most metal of metal bands. The real acts you can actually listen to exist slightly outside these, nearer or further from the other genres. Maybe it’s mostly punk, but with 10% of a reggae influence. Maybe it’s mostly prog, but shading into pop.  

‘Is it prog?’ is boring. ‘Where is it on the prog spectrum?’ is a much more sensible question.

Where on the prog spectrum is ‘Dial’, the new Shineback album? It’s on there, but this is no 70s throwback. It’s much more interesting. I first met Simon Godfrey in a pub somewhere in London. It was a small gathering of acoustic prog adjacent artists (Alan Reed and the ubiquitous Matt Stevens were also present) to explore the possibility of doing a tour together. The tour never happened, but it did lead to me sharing a small stage with Simon on one of his farewell gigs before he left for the good ol’ US of A. I acquired a copy of his acoustic album ‘Motherland’ at the same gig.

Most people would probably have first come across Simon’s songwriting on his other projects like Tinyfish or Shineback but ‘Motherland’ was the first time I’d properly listened to his stuff. With its synths, pulsing kick drums, virtuosic solos and sheer noise, you might think ‘Dial’, the new Shineback album, would be a million miles away from that stripped down acoustic sound, but it really isn’t. Whatever else it is – rock, prog(?), EDM – this is a songwriters album. Simon would be perfectly capable of recreating many of these songs with just an acoustic guitar and his voice. It has choruses and hooks and bits you can sing along with. I’m glad he didn’t do that though, because then we would have missed out on everything else there is on the album.

Now, this isn’t a review (could have fooled me Tom – Ed.), Simon is a mate and I played a little bit of guitar on this album so there’s no way I can provide an objective view of the album. But it is good and I do think you should get yourself a copy. Where does it fit on the prog spectrum? Imagine if you will a graph. On one axis is progressive rock, on another pop music, on a third is electronic dance music, on a fourth is acoustic singer-songwriter music, on a fifth…

Okay, that graph isn’t going to work, forget that analogy.

Maybe a list? What are the things you definitely expect from prog? Rock band instrumentation? ‘Dial’ has those. Long songs? Virtuoso solos? Lyrics about something more than simple pop love songs? All of those are present. What does it have that you might not expect from a progressive rock album? The Electronic Dance Music (EDM) influence is an obvious one. Prog has often used new technology, especially the synth (and there area tasty synth solos on I Love You From Memory and Kill Devil Hills) but so has EDM.

‘Dial’ doesn’t use the structures of EDM – there are no dance style break-downs or drum machine style beats. Instead it uses much of the timbral palette. So we get electronic drum sounds but with a more organic drummer-like touch rather than a more computerised drum machine approach. There are synth swells and pulses, but too much stop and start between sections for much of the album to work on a dance floor.

In fact the combination of chord choices, synth hooks and verse-chorus structures in places puts me in mind of 80s pop, or even 80s Genesis. You know, the period where they did heinous things like writing good pop-songs. I asked Simon if that was a conscious decision, but he said it wasn’t but couldn’t deny how much he liked tracks like Driving the Last Spike from that period of Genesis. I can certainly hear that influence in Simon’s chord choices and some of the song structures onDial’, though I’d happily declare several songs from Dial’ much stronger than that particular Genesis number.

There’s a variety of harmony you wouldn’t expect from an EDM album either. From the introspective piano chords of the title track, through the whole-tone noodling I inflicted on one track to the open, accessible major keys of songs like Consider Her Ways, there’s a range here you’d expect of prog or more complex pop songwriting but not EDM. Simon does mention Stevie Wonder as an influence and while the album doesn’t sound at all like a soul record, Wonder was certainly a songwriter who new his way around a set of chord changes.

The track I contributed to is Here I Am, an obvious mixture of spoken word, booming chords and my own guitar playing that Simon has processed and twisted into something much better than I could have come up with on my own.

The other guest artist contributions are great as well. There are several fantastic solos that will keep any proper prog-head happy, and the guest vocals from Ray Weston on the almost heavy metal track Let her Sleep are a fantastic addition.

WithDial’ Shineback is Godfrey at the height of his powers – a mature songwriter who really knows how to put together a good record. If you want rocky guitars, it’s here. If you want extended prog rock structures, you get them too. If you want synths and electronic drums you get those. Above all you get songs that really pay you back for multiple close listens. I’ve heard the album about five times and am still discovering new details.

Is it good? I’m biased of course, but yes I think it’s fantastic.

Is it prog?

That’s a boring question. Did you not read the beginning of this blog post?  

Released 14th September

Order Dial from Bad Elephant Music here

 

Review – Evenflow – Old Town – by Jez Denton

In the last couple of months I’ve had the good fortune to have reviewed a number of works by collaborations between very talented musicians who have come together, often after working on other projects and finding lots of musical common ground, to make music that primarily, it seems, enthuses them, which is an enthusiasm that flows through to the listener.

Sometimes the resulting work doesn’t always hit the brief entirely but, on a majority of cases, with prime examples being the 2017 collaboration between Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile and the album released by the duo made up of Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay, ‘Lump’, in the last couple of months. The common factor, it seems, is when it is a partnership working together as opposed to a collective; the lack of too many cooks adds to the broth in subtle ways, complimenting each other in the desire to create an interesting  and well-crafted piece of musical art.

Falling into this category is the latest release on Bad Elephant Music from the collaboration between Stuart Stephens of Whitewater and Mike Kershaw, under the name Evenflow. Evenflow as a name is a suitable place in which to talk about this EP, called ‘Old Town’, as this is a collection of five songs that do, indeed, have an even and gorgeous flow to them. Right from the opening moments of the first track, Creation, Stuart and Mike show their excellent understanding of how to put together their thoughts and music without being seemingly in competition or showing off to the other.

They work together to complement each other’s differing styles and have made a wonderful EP full of the understanding about leaving space in the music and developing a beautifully atmospheric piece. Each player and composer seems overjoyed to be in the presence of the other, meaning that they both allow each other to grow throughout the EP. They have created a truly wondrous collaboration that deserves further development as this duo of Evenflow.

‘Old Town’ is a piece of work that bodes well for the future of this pair as a combination; we can only hope that their own individual work commitments allows them to come together to continue creating. I, for one, was left wanting more when listening to this EP andwould look forward to hearing a longer, album’s length, work from Stuart and Mike. Hopefully Bad Elephant Music will be able to facilitate this and support the guys in future.

Released 29th June 2018

Order the album (only released digitally) on bandcamp here

 

Review – Matt Baber – Suite For Piano And Electronics – by Jez Denton

Whenever I get a new album through to review from the great guys at Progradar and Bad Elephant Music I tend to download it onto my phone and put the headphones on to listen whilst I walk my dog in the morning. It’s a time, as the world around us comes to life, for reflection and to empty troubles and worries from the previous days and prepare for whatever is going to be thrown at us. And it’s a time when I can drift off to wherever the music I’m listening takes me, thinking about the images and feelings that are inspired and where I draft, in my head, these reviews I write.

This morning’s walk with Mungo was an enriching experience as the debut solo release, ‘Suite for Piano and Electronics’ by Matt Baber created an ambience that complemented our early morning enjoyment of the countryside around our home in North Oxfordshire. Baber, with reference to his influences such as Steve Reich and Keith Emerson, is a pianist and keyboard player of some sublime skill; the music he creates has a simple beauty and flow that is evocative and moving. It is not easy to categorise this music, as Baber himself says in Bad Elephant Music’s press release, but it’s all the better for that, this is music that gives the listener the scope with which to enjoy it how they wish.

When I was a kid I used to be inflicted, by my dad on Sunday morning’s, with easy listening piano ‘lift’ muzak from the likes of Richard Clayderman and that gave me a distrust of anything piano based. However, in recent years, I have found a new love for this instrument through the work of the likes of Rick Wakeman and Tony Turrell who have both released fabulous albums of piano playing. Baber’s album fits neatly into that new love I have.

As I walked across the fields in the early morning with my dog, two contrasting pieces of music came to my mind. Firstly, the work of the likes of Vaughan Williams and Elgar, pieces of work very much inspired by the environment around them with Baber’s suite having the feel, if not necessarily the style, of something quintessentially English in its backbone. The second point of reference for me, and which is the highest compliment I can pay Baber, is that, once I finished this album, the piece of music I needed to listen too was the theme from the film, Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s hauntingly beautiful piece. The lifts and drops in style and tempo on this album create that same beautifully evocative wonder as Sakamoto’s masterpiece, it truly is that good.

Matt Baber has created here an album that is, as Bad Elephant’s David Elliott says, ‘…intelligent and melodic stuff, easy to fall in love with.’ I certainly did, I’m sure people who take the time to listen to this will do too. Put it on your headphones, take yourself and your dog, if you have one, for a long, long walk in the fields and countryside and immerse yourself in the beauty around you and in your ears.

Released 15th June 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Fractal Mirror – Close to Vapour – by Jez Denton

Pop music often gets a bad press; often because it is thought of as being bland, uninspiring and repetitive, and often with good cause. However, pop music can be anything but those criticisms with brilliant melodies, lush production and funny and quirky lyrics. Right from the moment Brian Wilson created ‘Pet Sounds’ in 1967, through Bowie’s many different reincarnations in the 70’s and 80’s and via the melodic cleverness of The Smiths, The Teardrop Explodes and World Party, pop music can offer moments of greatness and genius.

Fitting into that roster of clever pop influenced music is the latest release from Leo Koperdraat and Frank Urbaniak, better known as Fractal Mirror, ‘Close to Vapour’. The album has ten tracks that soar and grow with an ebb and flow, a gentle build to heights of dreaminess, and which take the listener deep into the stories being told. With production by Brett Kull of Echolyn, the band has created an album of outstandingly tuneful and clever songs that deserves the high plaudits that will surely come its way.

If I was to make a small criticism it would only be that the lead vocals will take a bit of getting used to. Leo has a slightly nasally style that, whilst not being a huge problem, does surprise and even disconcert, but only until you get used to his sound. Once the initial impressions have receded the idiosyncratic nature of the delivery adds to the depth and  multi-faceted sculpture of the album.

Being released on Bad Elephant Records in the first quarter of 2018 this album is one of the highlights of the year so far. Also featuring guest appearances from original member Ed Van Haagen, Tom Doncourt and producer Brett Kull, this album will entrance and beguile the listener with its superior pop melodies. I urge you to search this album out for all the rewards it will give you.

Released 23rd February 2018

Order ‘Close to Vapour’ from bandcamp here

 

 

Review – The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric – by Jez Denton

Just recently I have picked up on the Channel Four series of Philip K.Dick stories, Electric Dreams, in which dystopian nightmares are played out in mainly normal humdrum situations with a fear of foreboding dread building to a crescendo. Likewise, the third studio album from instrumental band The Fierce and The Dead, titled ‘The Euphoric’, is one that builds and builds, working around a juxtaposition of beautifully crafted melodies driven by crashing, hard driven and downtuned guitar riffs. A major compliment I can pay the album is that should channel four make another series of Electric Dreams this is the band and album that should soundtrack it.

Over the last eight years since their debut release, the ‘Part 1 EP’, The Fierce and The Dead have developed their craft, adding layering and texture to their already formidable playing and production skills. Using their influences whilst retaining their individuality is an enviable skill; one which is often not pulled off but, in the case of this album, most certainly is. You can hear throughout the album the influences of the musicians the band have worked with or obviously admire; from the hardcore metal of bands such as Slayer to the melodic tune creation of a Steven Wilson, The Fierce and The Dead have made an album of deep complexity whilst retaining a simplicity within the riff structure that drives the album on and doesn’t allow it to become samey or repetitive.

The two lead singles from the album are both standouts with the already successful, with accompanying video by acclaimed director Mark Duffy, Truck being followed by, on the 30th March, 1991. Both tracks show off the sound which you can expect from the album with their heavy psychedelia and cross over between guitars and synths being indicative of the direction the band have taken. The band are happy to confound, confuse and surprise in composition and performance which makes this album a fulfilling and satisfying listen.

The album, which is released on the 18th May by Bad Elephant Records, featuring amazing cover art work by Mark Buckingham, will be available in both CD and Vinyl formats. There will also be available limited edition bundles featuring a print of the cover artwork and an exclusive bonus CD of live and demo tracks.

Released 18th May 2018

Order ‘The Euphoric’ in all formats from Bad Elephant Music at bandcamp here

Review – My Tricksy Spirit – My Tricksy Spirit – by Emma Roebuck

‘Balinese gender wayang’, three words that don’t spring to mind, even to the most ardent musicologist let alone this enthusiastic amateur reviewer, but that is the instrument of choice of Nick Gray,the main driver of this project, along with Charlie Cawood (Knifeworld,  Mediaeval Baebes) and Rob Shipster (MatchMusic), latterly joined by Roxanne Aisthorpe as a guest vocalist and now a full member.

A Balinese gender wayang (mainly because I wanted to know what one looked like.)

In the current climate of “Is it Prog-gate?” I am loathe to categorise this album in any shape or form mainly because it does defy pigeonholing and I do not want to get involved in a pointless debate.

To the music; Nick lectures in South East Asian music and this is a central pillar of the album with a very western twist. Percussion and rhythm sit front and centre in the whole album, as you would expect. Equally there is nothing traditional in the structure and form of the album, despite there being 7 tracks, it flows from beginning to end in complete connectivity.

Always with You opens with beeps and tones going into an insistent rhythmic drive (from the said gender wayang) that gives an electronic dance music feel but not a 4/4 120BPM time signature. Roxanne gives a Rock In Opposition vocal performance, counterpointing the music beautifully. If it ran to 4 minutes then Radio One and the like would be all over this like a Bee is to nectar, but it runs to 10 minutes plus without repetition or tedium. This track sits very well in the current cadre of intelligent music coming from leftfield with no genre to call their own or willing to claim them. Her voice reminds me much of Mishkin Fitzgerald of Birdeatsbaby in tone and quality.

Free Of Stars takes me immediately back to my student daze (sorry, ‘days’) in the early 80s in Manchester. This is not because it sounds like the music of the time but because I spent much time in places like “The Band on The Wall” watching some of the dub reggae and toasting sessions with the sound systems of the time.  The heavy off beat bass line that is distorted in Dub style drifts through the track completely filling the sound,giving the sub woofer a great work out and it wipes out a few cobwebs in the process.

Dropping straight into Coming Down Again, a discordant violin and warped keyboard with Nick (I think) on vocals along with a sitar solo and, again, the east Asian percussion give this a unique feel and a sense of otherworldliness. Which I’m sure is the intention given the title.

Skipping a few tracks on, as I prefer to give a flavour rather than a blow by blow view letting interested parties find something to discover in this delightful album, we come to Circle of Light, which is very much the closest to western song structure and something that I can give potential purchasers a comparator to act as a frame of reference. If you own a copy of ‘Live Herald’ by Steve Hillage then add what he is up to these days with System 7 and then you will be close. I can see a remix of this working fantastically in the likes of Creamfields or, for the older ones among us, Tribal Gathering. It is trancy, danceable and contagious in a good way.

The album closes out with Dub of Stars which, as the advert says, does exactly what it says on the tin. Wide open spacey and full of huge bass and Dub “echoiness”, this is 2.00am crank the volume up bassiness to annoy the neighbours and have a groove to music. I defy anyone not to move to the rhythm of this song as they listen to it.

Now this is not music for the unadventurous, if you are a pastoral classical western music fan with a love of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus, and instrumental close mentality, then maybe avoid it but you will miss out on something rather special. Fans of Gong, both the Daevid Allen and Pierre Moerlen versions, Firefly Burning, Steve Hillage, World music, Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush you will get something from this album. Bad Elephant Music is more and more becoming a beacon for quality, whether you like the output or not; there is no argument about that in my eyes. This album has that quality and its rich layered multi-instrumental structure dares to explore places that few are looking. However it remains accessible and not even vaguely in the ‘difficult to listen to’ box.

Released 1st September 2017

Buy ‘My Tricksy Spirit’ from Bad Elephant Music here

 

 

Review – Robert Ramsay – Confound and Disturb – by James R. Turner

There follows a transcript smuggled out from under the noses of our Chicken overlords, we have been unable to verify the authenticity of the document, or indeed what happened to the brave rebel who made this recording but we can only hope he is safe, Mubla praise him.

‘Is this on…..can you hear me? Can you hear me? As you all know they rose up suddenly, whilst we were all distracted by Brexit, Trump and Armageddon, we were too busy worrying about ourselves to notice the chickens….then, they there were, they hadn’t just crossed the road, they’d built a nice big tunnel, snuck into the army bases around the world, and as we were reeling from the aftermath of the big red spark, there they were, our new overlords.

Luckily there were few with foresight, those who knew about the upcoming uprising, and the wisest of them all, some called him a seer, some a mad man, some called the twiceborn moth, all we know is he is called the Wizard Ramsay, and with his coterie around him, and a set of tantalising clues and lessons, spread throughout the world, our journey has led us here.

Who are we? You ask, well we are the resistance, following the orders of the one known only as the Great Elephant, and now…well now I am the only one left, I can’t get the image of Brother Godfrey, sitting in his tree getting pecked slowly to death by a thousand chickens as he pledged allegiance to the ducks, or Brother Stevens,  the hero of the battle of Rushden, he riffed and looped, fierce to the death.

Now I remain, and I have found what I was looking for, the mystical artefact, the legendary disc of words, we cannot fight them by force alone, we need something new, something to confound and disturb them.

…shh…’Bwak Bwack Bwack.’ Cluck, cluck,cluck,’ Bwak, Cluck, Bwak’…..

(silence. The voice goes dead…all we can hear is hissing and the sound of claws scraping on rock…)

‘….they’ve gone, that was close, that was a bantam attack, as everyone knows they are the SAS of the chicken army, where was I?

Oh yes, following the instructions on the sheet hidden by one of the Elephant sympathisers, (a gentleman only known as Wizard Wilfred) I have found the Black Box…. (what’s in the Black Box? It’s definitely not chocolates) I have it, the CD in my hand,  despite the Chicken overlords banning CD players due to them not being able to operate them with claws, luckily the mysterious man of the resistance known only as Wallet Emptier, managed to provide me with one, wrapped up in the tattered remnants of a wizards sleeve.

(sounds of cellophane being ripped, the unmistakable sound of a CD being inserted into the device, and the words of the beloved Wizard Ramsay, a Gandalf for these modern dark times echo round the chamber? Cavern? Sewer?)

Almost as if he predicted it, the first utterance from the disc of Ramsay is a Living Will, full of intensity and power, as if he knew this day would come.

Scattered throughout the sacred artefact are four lessons that will help ensure the survival of our species, all starting with the phrase ‘Ecoute et Repete’ the motto of the resistance, each one being a salutary lesson before the public service broadcasting begins.

Urging the survivors to Open a Hole, someone to survive in? somewhere to take shelter? I am reminded of the sage Moorcock as he told his tales with and without his Hawkwind compatriots, the joy of hearing music after so many months of solitary wandering makes me all giddy and euphoric, the beat hypnotic, the lyrics hitting me, and the sonic effect making up for hearing nothing but the sound of clucking and the cracking of whips as the Chickens made us build statues in their honour.

Almost like he forgot the tape was running we get some behind the scenes action from the Ramsay world, as he is interrupted by Wizard Wilfred, clearly the junior partner, and also, judging by the mishap heard here, still has a long way to go before he is as adept as Wizard Ramsay.

Almost as a warning to our hubris and our downfall, Ego Power gives us strong words for uncertain times, whilst channelling the spirit of whimsy, Stanshall and the cult of Python, Tramps In Their Purest Form is a joy to behold, Ramsay’s use of our language is bewitching and beguiling, and takes me back to the night he and the Brother Godfrey got me heroically drunk on Big Big Train beer at a concert in Rotherham, oh how I wish those days were here again.

I raise an imaginary tankard to fallen comrades, as I listen and take heed to the message, we are members of the Black Box Society, and the final victory will be ours. Hidden in plain sight, Hawaii Fried Chicken, ostensibly an alternative version of the Chicken national anthem, are words designed to inspire and enlighten us. When we hear one particular cluck, that is when the revolution will begin, and we shall be victorious, with the Wizard Ramsay leading us to salvation.

If I Rule the World is his vision of our post Hen utopia, a land where we can be free, where we can live like we should, where we can sit in trees naked outside peoples houses if we want to and no-one can stop us (not even that pesky restraining order).

Urban Crusoe, with it’s baffling co-ordinates and Egyptian references, maybe this is Ramsay telling me where I should go next, where I can find the final answer and help the resistance rise, and batter these chicken.

I will follow them…these words of wisdom, and see where they will take me…….’

Transcribers note: this tape was found wrapped in an old t-shirt, under a rock behind a dumpster near a KFC with the CD intact. It is unknown as to what happened to the brave member of the resistance who followed the clues laid down the Elephant to discover this. He did the work so we didn’t have to. Having played it I can safely say that now our chicken overlords have been defeated, this is the work of either a genius or madman or both. Channelling the spirit of Stanshall, Monty Python and old school English surrealism and word play, Wizard Ramsay has created a unique form of Magick, and one that keeps hitting the spot.

(Featured Image of Robert by Bo Hansen)

Released 23rd June 2017

Order ‘Confound and Disturb’ from Bad Elephant Music at bandcamp

Review – Brother ape – Karma – by Rob Fisher

Brother ape happily portray their scintillating seventh studio album ‘Karma’ as being “the result of their current point of evolution”. It’s an astute comment which casts a revealing light on the ways in which the band have been developing across the four years since the release of the pulsating ‘Force Majeure’ in 2014.

‘Karma’ is, in many ways, a work of and in progress and clearly reflects the exciting and eager music of a working band who have spent the last few years playing festivals, clubs and gigs across their native Sweden. As a prelude to the creation of the new album they released three digital EP’s in 2015 (‘Worlds Waiting….’), early 2016 (‘Mandrill Anthem and Other Stories’) and again in late 2016 (‘First Class’). The best tracks from these releases became the ‘seeds’ which form the bedrock of ‘Karma’ alongside the composition of new songs and material.

The approach certainly pays clear dividends in giving us an album which is beautifully rich in the diversity of musical styles and moods it presents. The energy and vitality which naturally accrues from playing live on stage is effortlessly transferred to the ways the songs are written and performed. As you listen to the album you can both hear and feel the progression and the increasing refinement in the spirit and vibrancy of their playing.

There is an admirable openness to the influences they have heard and how these have become incorporated and creatively infused into the writing process. Much like dipping your toe into a flowing river again and again, each song is a carefully crafted and thoughtfully nuanced snap shot of a time, a place, a mood, a feeling. The album becomes a fascinating collection of musical ‘postcards’ assembled by a band who are intent on probing the boundaries of musical imagination.

This ever inquisitive openness creates a willingness to play, to experiment, to literally explore wherever the mood takes them. The band openly confess they are deeply committed to the idea of “always making music that trigger us at the moment independently of what musical orientation it has.” And in this respect, ‘Karma’ is an arresting showcase of the glorious spirit of innovation which is not afraid to traverse or find inspiration in impressively wide varieties of musical genres and techniques. Combined with the commanding sense of presence and energy acquired from live performing as well as the novel expressiveness they bring to the each song, the album really is a remarkable testament to their current point of evolution.

The album opens and closes with two blistering, signature Brother Ape tracks that are fiery statements of intent. Oblivion (Track 1) is a wonderful fusion of rock, jazz and mesmerising time signatures full of attitude and youthful defiance. The title track Karma (Track 8) begins with the same provocative and challenging power before giving way to tranquil orchestral interludes which in turn lead to a throbbing Amazonian passage of drumming overlayed with a triumphant vocal refrain.

But the mood instantly changes with the sublime If I Could (Track 2), the purity of the crystal clear vocal work, carrying a slight echo, riding an assured symphonic tide of cinematically light orchestral arrangements. The mood is picked up again in Don’t Stand At My Grave And Cry (Track 5), championed again by the most delightful vocal resonance but this time supported by an almost trance-style sampling with almost Beatles-esque echoes.

You Are (Track 7) is another change of pace and musical space; lilting, gentle, delicate guitar work and soothing vocals creating a serene, undulating musical landscape. Hina Saruwa (Track 4) and Let The Right One In (Track 6) switch again to more complex textures, emphatic rhythms, deliciously involved and intertwined elements from drums, keyboards, bass and vocals.

‘Karma’ is a refreshing and at times frenetic blur of passion and drama, a whirling musical dervish of ingenious and inventive styles, influences, moods and moments. Yet throughout it all the band remain faithful to the ‘sound’ they have pioneered since their debut album ‘On The Other Side’, released in 2005, and have been evolving across the course of seven truly impressive and striking albums.

Their website offers the tantalising promise that not all the material they created for ‘Karma’ found its way into the album. I sincerely and most earnestly hope that a new EP or even album may be in the offing in the not too distant future.

Released 5th May 2017

Order ‘Karma’ in Europe from Freia Music here:

Brother Ape – KARMA [CD]

Order ‘Karma’ in the UK from bandcamp here