Review – Blank Manuskript – The Waiting Soldier – by Gary Morley

The wallet emptier’s influence reached through time and space to deliver a veiled threat.

“I’ll send you a CD if you review it within a week.”

As I’ve been away from the typewriter for a while, I accepted the challenge and tonight the CD was sat waiting for me to take my first lesson. The CD itself offers no clue as to the contents.

Remember the fun Led Zeppelin had with their 4th album – no name, no catalogue number, no clue as to the wonders inside the sleeve? Well, as I listened to the opening track, a veritable funky mix of Ozric Tentacles and Gong, I examined the sleeve for clues.

The band may or may not be called Blank Manuskript.

The Cd may or may not be called ‘The Waiting Soldier’.

The band may or may not be German (they are Austrian – Ed.)

The first track, as I said is wittily called The Introduction and it does just that. It opens to an unfurling synth sound that put me in mind of Leftfield before a crisp drum sound and a very Gilmour guitar tone – the track then throws a flute in the mix and proceeds power this along at a cracking pace. The guitar, flute and drums with the synth burbling behind it all hones my comparative glands – Ozric Tentacles! Then the vocalist forces his way in, and the track dynamic changes to a menacing almost punk feeling, with some great synth playing to further blur the genre comparisons.

The slide guitar playing is beautiful and the vocals are another layer on top – Punk Floyd?

Public Enemy is next, starting with picked electric guitar, and mellotron , all good Prog styling , with powerful riffs and drumming alternating with the plucked guitar, almost classical in places. Remember Nirvana and that grunge cliché of quiet, loud, quiet that was prevalent? Well this is the sonic equivalent, as we are taken off into several rooms at speed during the first 3 minutes of this track, finishing in a funky clavinet sound on top of all the guitar and drums.

But as I’m learning with this album, the tracks twist and turn, reshaping themselves as they progress. The vocalist appears, sounding quite cross about something or other, not at all happy about having his dreams take away.

Kites To Sky is a slower, more thoughtful piece with some fine guitar blasting over a brass section. A certain south coast Rock ensemble have got a lot to answer regarding filling the soundscape with Brass! The child like vocals ad a nice juxtaposition and fit the slightly dark dreaming vibe.

Dreamlike is not a description that would apply to Doubts with its forceful angular guitar and honking saxophone. This calliope of sound is best described as Madness playing Hawkwind at a Gilbert and Sullivan convention! The wide choice of instrumentation the band employ adds a slightly menacing surreal feel to this track, as glockenspiel and flute carry the tune ever onwards, before falling over the cliff edge of the end of the track.

Next up, haunting strings and a bell slowly ringing introduce The Night , the sparse musical poem slips around the ears as the strings give way to a sustained keyboard sound, very atmospheric and serves as a perfect table for the guitar to build the framework that the spoken words of the narration are spread out for the trombone to examine. This is my favourite track so far. Pink Floyd meet Nightmares on Wax with Groove Armada providing the bridge into a hauntingly beautiful synth solo, again very Rick Wright in terms of the amount of emotion in the playing. The vocals appear, and the Floyd comparisons are justified as the track continues, the keyboards swelling and dominating the climax

The vocals are almost another layer of instrumentation as they are lost deep in the mix as the track concludes.

Conclusion seems to have too many words for the tune and some frantic guitar strumming. The opening rant gives way to a fine walking bass, with guitar and drums that appears, then disappears just as rapidly. More words tumbling out but at a more regular speed now. This album has a very retro feel to the instrumentation, with a Hammond swirling away here, driving the song onwards to the saxophone and Hammond duet middle part. Almost jazz blues here, a late night jam session at Ronnie Scott’s between Dick Parry and Jon Lord with some fine drumming, more Cozy Powell than Bill Bruford , but the drummer knows his way around the kit, with some nice flourishes in the background as the sax and organ battle it out.

The track then segues into Cloud via a sustained organ chord, creating an eerie, almost Hammer House of horror mood. The Saxophone now swoops and pecks menacingly at the layers of keyboards, and they film soundtrack seems to be indicating a threat to the hero / heroine whose voice is buried beneath these layers. So now we get disembodied voices, a choir of demons and those long-sustained chords are menacing enough without them. The scene fades to black, no climatic ending here, but a hiatus before a piano and snare drum return as a coda, almost disconnected from the rest of the piece. This is a short album, just shy of 40 minutes, but it is full of big sounds, ideas by the bucket and some fine musicianship.

I am going to invent a genre for it as peopled like to know which box to put things in, so sit down, pour a lass of a dark red liquid (wine preferably) and immerse yourself in the strange and slightly disturbing world here. Cinematic Post Gothic Prog. That sums it up.

Right, I’m going to listen again. It’s worth it.

I described this as “Punk Floyd” and that sums up this album nicely. Check it out. Because you’re worth it too.

Released 27th July 2015

Contact the band on Facebook to order the CD

Featured image by Paul Sprinz.

 

Review – I AM The Manic Whale – Gathering The Waters – by Gary Morley

A Review in 3 acts

Act 1 – the setting of the scene

Here In deepest Berkshire, not much seems to happen, or is not in the public domain until after the fact.

George Michael lived down the road from us, we didn’t know until after his sad departure. All his good deeds then became public knowledge. His success enabled him to fund people and causes as he saw fit, quietly and without the media spotlight glare.

A true Rock star attitude.

Ian Paice lived around here and, in a previous life, I got to know him whilst he purchased video games for his kids. Another unassuming Rock N Roll Legend living his life in full view here.

Jimmy Page passed me and my kids in a shop, I wished him a good afternoon and we went on our way. “Who was That Dad?” asked the eldest. “That, daughter dear is a god. A rock star. “He’s not, he’s just an old man!”. Ah. The perception of youth!

He’s renowned for searching out bargains at the local record fair, again, quiet, unassuming, living his life amongst us mere mortals.

We now have new gods amongst us. Prog Gods! Local boys make good!

After the great Prog explosion of the 80’s and 90’s that gave us 12th Night, Pure Reason Revolution and then Arena, this little corner of the shires has now again performed above its weight, we are now proud to claim The Room, *Frost (well John M anyway) and now I Am The Manic Whale as our home town heroes, even though in keeping with the invisibility cloaks gifted to musicians around here, the members can walk around, getting on with their non-musical lives.

Which is not to say this is an underwhelming album. Far from it. There are hooks galore, guitars are riffed on, keyboards pounded, drums thumped, and the final mix has had the magic of Rob Aubrey sprinkled on it.

After the sheer unthrottled joy of hearing their debut (I think it was one of my first pieces of scribble translated by the Wallet emptier!) I waited for the rest of the Universe to catch on.

And waited.

Then I waited a bit more for the 2nd output. I pledged to fund it, as I had the first. And it’s now arrived, resplendent in excellent art that deserves a vinyl release just to show off the art! Mr. Plane Groovy, one for your shopping list, not only for the cover but also the tunes locked inside.

Act 2 – the tunes

The album opens with big bouncy guitar riffs and keyboards – They’ve gone all Deep Purple on me. The vocals kick in and the 2-part harmony lead is back to IATMW territory. Vocals are clean, and the lyric is enunciated clearly, the subject however is a first for me.

This tale of The Man With Many Faces (no, not a politically satirical barb) unfurls like his “fourteen-foot scarf” would. The opening verses paint him as an avenging devil, to be hidden from and avoided at all costs. Musically, this is deep into the furrow ploughed by It Bites, that wonderful mix of Pop and Prog they exemplified, the harmony vocals add to the layers of this sonic package.

The song unfurls with some nice guitar and keyboard touches, and the story takes a darker turn as we learn more of this fearsome enemy, who “If you strike him down with all your hate, He comes right back up looking great”.

As some antipodean disgraced paint pusher once remarked “can you tell who it is yet?” Live, I can see a gleeful audience pogoing away to the middle eight, it’s very Calling All The Heroes. Not many prog bands make your feet tap and your body want to move, but his track does.

Is that enough for those that need to know to ask that most dreaded question – “Is it Pr…”

ENOUGH?!

Sorry. It’s music, I like it. End of classification and rant. Back to the plot and the twist. The narrator, hiding from this One-man extinction plan, is a member of that race of mobile pepper pots that terrified a generation, of kids hiding behind the sofa.Yup. The time traveler as seen through the eyes of those he opposes.

The ordinary low-level megalomaniac, going about their task of exterminating all life that infest the universe, warning it’s offspring to fear that scarf wielding face changer. Dalek Prog – a whole new genre is formed in this one track. The guitar solo at the climax pulls us out from that particular reality and we arrive back on Planet Earth for the 2nd track, The Milgram Experiment.

Prog songs based on historical events and people have proved popular over the years. Genesis gave us Driving The Last Spike about Brunel and the Railways, Big Big Train gave us songs about forgers, Big Big Trains (😊) , even Todd Rundgren threw in the epic Hiroshima, one of the slew of anti-nuclear war songs that the paranoid cold war years spawned .

Scientists as a subject matter are rarer creatures. Cold Play gave us a generic subject, Hawkwind immortalized Einstein as “a rather handsome fellow that no one ever called Al”.

The subject here is less photogenic than Uncle Albert, but his thinking had an equally profound effect on people. Stanley Milgram carried out psychological tests in the early ‘60’s, he was “interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person.” (thanks Wikipedia!)

I had read about this years ago; the track takes us through the testing and the dilemma it exposes in each of those involved. There are some great harmony vocals here, not quite the polished perfection of Moon Safari, but heading in that direction. The multi-tracked guitar solo evokes early Queen, as do those layers of vocals.

Two tracks in, a great opening salvo where we get inside the head of the scourges of a particular universe and their fear and then get to contemplate the effects of blindly obeying orders like good sheeple . No love songs, no dragons, steam punks or dystopian nightmares yet.

Track 3 is equally distant from those staples. The Lifeboatmen is another epic Historical piece, this time with a more nautical theme, more in keeping with the band’s name! Opening with a haunting ambient intro, what sounds like an amalgamation of Yes (Jon Anderson era and peak codpiece era Jethro Tull) paint us a vivid picture of the eponymous heroes.

We are pulled out on the rip tide of some lovely keyboard and flute, rolling with the waves as the coastal life takes center stage. The song changes tempo with the advent of the storm warning – we are off out into the choppy waves, out to assist a ship in distress. The evocation of the storm and waves crashing around the lifeboat is well constructed and the sea shanty style vocals paint a picture of the bravery of those volunteers as they go about their mission.

If you enjoyed the tale of Winkie the super hero pigeon told by David Longdon and BBT, then this track will be just the thing for you. Swirling rhythms, tasty guitar and keys all combine to stunning effect, with the change in tempo adding emphasis to the amazing feat told in the song- 40 men and a dog saved off the coast of Cromar in 1941. We then get a lovely closing guitar piece, the instrumentation and lyricism of which warms the cockles of many an old Camel fan. Flute and keyboards play us out, the coda serving to poignantly return the volunteers to their normal lives, superheroes in plain sight.

Next up is a proper Prog epic – Strandbeest. A proper Prog track, it’s in 2 parts, an instrumental celebrating the strange beast illustrated on the cover and throughout the digipack. Created by a Dutch artist, Theo Jansen, the strandbeest is part sculpture, part animal, part robot. Desolate in their beauty, they roam the beach powered by the elements.

The track tells their story, it has Yes style multiple voices, creating a vivid mental image of the beast as it moves, the band stretch out and get almost funky in places. Yes playing alongside Frank Zappa was my original scribble – The climatic guitar solo takes a shine from Mr. Gilmour, cutting through the mix and driving on, building up to a grand finale. Live, I can imagine this is the guitarist’s big piece, head back, shapes thrown as he solos away, the drums and chorus joining for a fabulous ending that makes you want to go back and play it all again.

Across the first 4 tracks, The Whale have captivated me with some great instrumentation, interesting lyrics and intelligent subjects. Considering this is only their second album, I am amazed at the sheer musical joy captured here. The interplay between the instruments in I’ll Interlude You In A Minute  is as good as that from bands with decades of experience who are road tested and slick professionals

Stand Up is a different beast, another epic multi part track, staring with a semi-acoustic, almost jazzy piece, it’s more “traditional “70’s style in structure, a bit Supertramp or Yes in places. Lyrically though, this is very contemporary. Under the layers of multi- tracked vocals and acoustic guitars lies much anger and resentment about the state of the world we find ourselves living in.

It’s not about left or right, black or white, in or out as someone should say. It’s about being involved.Written by John Murphy, these 4 acts are a modern protest song. The call to arms lyric is suggesting it’s time that we “Stand Up”, think for ourselves, not blindly swallow the agenda we are fed.

“Rain”, act 2 questions the approach of the media, stirring up division and resentment for whatever reason. “Your Holy War”, act 3, is a stinging rebuke of fundamentalism, the fallacy of “ lives paid in service due to a god that we never knew” Act 4 offers a ray of hope, a coming together a rebranding of the hippy ideals so that If we do work at it, “We can build a world for everyone”.

Naïve? Possibly, but it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

The last track takes this theme and expands on it. One (Hopeful song) is a fitting album finale, the themes from the previous tracks are woven into a song of hope.

Act 3 – The Conclusion

This track shows just how much The Whale have assimilated the last 50 years of music, they’ve managed to take the glorious almost classical vocal layering that made Yes so ethereal, add in some fine instrumental techniques, some great guitar riffs and keyboard flourishes and write songs, proper songs that lift the spirit, make you think and tap your feet, all at the same time.

If you liked It Bites, have explored the wonders of the Unitopia / United Progressive Fraternity collaborations and have a desire to listen with both ears, then you could do far worse than allow this whale to captivate you with its song. The musicianship, production and sheer breadth of subject matter make this a “proper” old school Progressive Rock album.

We could discourse about the state of the music industry today, bemoan the fact that major labels are all run by Reality TV obsessed ‘Celebrity as product’, faceless corporate drones who care for nothing but the bottom line of a balance sheet, OR we could encourage those listeners to live a little, look beyond HMV and Amazon, persuade them that the choppy waters of the ocean of talent out there is worth dipping a toe or two in. Spread the word, Good music is out there, it’s just obstructed by that mountain of albums of bad karaoke put out by the cynical for the gullible.

(All band photos by CCCOB Photography)

Released 30th October 2017

Buy ‘Gathering The Waters’ from bandcamp

Review – Trojan Horse – Fukushima Surfer Boys – by Gary Morley

The task set by the wallet emptier was a simple one (which befits me, a simple man)

Write a review of Trojan Horse’s new pile of songs in a week or…

The implied threat of Sundry Sociopathic Pachyderms arriving “For A Quiet Word“ was implied rather than over stated.

So here we go, a live listening party, courtesy of Trojan Horse’s ‘Fukishima Surfer Boys’.

And over-stated the opening track, GRAD isn’t: a few choice chords and an aura of menace (not to mention the sound of a drum kit being assaulted in the background!)

Track 2, The Ebb C/W Solotron (no, I don’t know what it means either!) Big minor chords summon us further into the Fukishima Surfer Social Club, the decor is a mix of King Crimson shabby chic contrasting with Leftfield Ambience – some beat friendly keyboard layers during the second track sent little waves of peace and chilled harmony across the room, the full 10-minute tour of the club passes by in a pleasant haze of keyboard driven chilled pleasure with flashes of guitar flavoured by Zappa and Hillage dotted in the mix, alongside keyboard bursts that could come from either ensemble . All this is underpinned by a rhythm section comprised 2 parts Kraftwerk to 1-part Yellow Magic Orchestra and 1-part Dr Avalanche.

This We like.

Track 3, How You Gonna Get By?, is a bright and shiny duet between a pair of Android barkeepers vying for your drink order. Barbot #1 (arbitrary classification for ease of translation) serves up a cocktail of the Human League Synth sounds and New Wave vocals. pithy and punchy. Barbot#2 chips in every now and then with best harmony vocals that add a Sparks/Talking heads flavour to the drinks. Then the ghost of Kate Bush floats over the ice machine and the cocktail is twisted again, before a phone call distracts me from the final pouring of the cocktail.

Track 4, Herbie Hancock, seems to be produced by the drummer, or the rest of the band forgot to start with him, as the first minute of sampled and acoustic drums sets up for some funky instrumental film music piece, very Buck Dharma in tone, just without the squealing guitar or reference to giant lizards destroying Tokyo. Again, a hint of Kraftwerk as it all goes a bit autobahn at the end.

Zappa is the first name that comes to mind with track 5, The Modern Apothecary, imagine an English Zappa fronting a Prog Madness. Scoring a Spaghetti Western shoot- out. In a tricky time-signature. With a Gothic tinged vocal and an Eastern melody hidden by the guitar. The tune twists and winds around itself, with all manner of studio trickery thrown in. at some stage during the track, Madness have been transmuted into King Crimson. Eclectic indeed.

Next up, The Castle Of… starts off with brooding synths and plaintive voice accompanied by acoustic guitar, but the sonic architecture of the track lulls you into a false sense of anticipation. No huge epic, instead the track jumps into the next, I Wanna See My Daddy, which boasts a thumping drum sound, layers of electronica and a sad refrain of the title winding through it all. The voices are mixed low down at the beginning, then come charging in all Beach Boys harmony in the middle.

Pure Reason Revolution popped into my head at this point, and it’s an apt comparison as TH mix it up, bringing esoteric electronic sounds to the fore, UVB-76 coming on all Brian Eno meets Aphex Twin ambient before fading gracefully into the title track. Which has beautiful sinuous bassline, very Karn-esque in execution. The only criticism I can level is that the vocals are thin here, too high pitched for me, this could be the results of a life lived exposed to Tom Waits, David Sylvian and the like.

The track itself bubbles and flows on before segueing into The Wooden Wall, another association pops up in my head here – David Bowie, more specifically, side 2 of Low, those wonderful instrumentals that captivated me and opened my ears to all manner of electronic goodies, from the previously mention Kraftwerk and Y.M.O. to Tangerine Dream, Tim Blake, Future Sound Of London, This Mortal Coil and more.

All of these memories are triggered by this album. It’s a concept album without any lyrical link. The tracks flow and fit together well, leading you deeper into the world of the Trojans. It’s all very “New Wave” rather than “Punk” if you get my drift. Junk 1 certainly sets out this claim, with a guitar sound very reminiscent of Carlos Alomar’s amazing opening to “Station to Station” and big electronic drums that triggered the “Low” reference.

I’m amazed at the inventiveness and daring shown here, these Trojans are certainly not afraid to push envelopes, The Shapes is an exercise in studio trickery, with a narrator being bounced around the speakers whilst it appears that the Tardis is suffering from indigestion behind him. Either that or this is Vogon poetry set to Vogon music, which seems to take reference to early Depeche Mode and Jean Michel Jarre. The hypnotic beat and washes of keyboards take over and the track constantly changes, gathering depth as it goes.

The album closer, Monodaddy starts off in Granddaddy territory, with a reappearance of the “I Wanna See My Daddy” hook, but this time with a big beat and a sweeping musical backing .. glorious overdubbed harmony vocals floating in and out of the mix.

I’ve got to be honest here, I wrote this as I listened for the first time and once again, Bad Elephant Music have pulled the hat out of the Rabbit and have gifted me with an album that reflects my eclectic musical views. If there is a lack of Prog references in my scribbles, then that is how I related to the songs on offer here.If any of the bands mentioned in this review trigger a memory from you too, then you too should give this a listen or two.

Once again, the Curse Of Bad Elephant strikes as I’m going to end up buying this, then checking out their back catalogue.

Memo to self – negotiate a discount with the Boss Elephant!

Released 13th October 2017

Order ‘Fukushima Surfer Boys’ from bandcamp

 

 

 

Review – Andy Summers – Triboluminescence – by Gary Morley

The following fragment of my review was recovered from the hard drive of my (now deceased) PC. This new shining Windows 10 machine is sleek, slim and functional, but does it like Prog?

One way to find out – Mr Andy Summers, if you please :-

TRIBOLUMINESCENCE is actually a scientific word that means creating light from dark, which I believe is a great metaphor for any creative act and, especially, music.”

These words from the press release accompanying these tracks are perfect for encapsulating the feelings evoked listening to these 9 instrumentals. As I listened for the first time, I decided to be a grown-up reviewer and scribble notes as I listened, almost word association, but musical links rather than words. I then realised that even I can’t read my writing!

Anyway. I persuaded a lonely spider to decipher my scrawl and add his views. I then read the press release where a lot of technical information about capos, guitar tunings and stuff to please guitar nerd’s lives. I’m not a musician, but my ears know a few, so my impressions of this album are set out below.

One caveat – If you subscribe to the view that Prog is all about bands from the seventies singing epics, or modern bands recreating those seventies bands, then this album might cause you to break out in hives. There are complex drum patterns, guitars noodle away and tracks last more than 4 minutes.

The most “PROG” of them is the opener, if Anything which has a lovely, mellow Pink Floyd vibe to it, more “Shine On” than “Roxanne” if you like. Summers’ guitar soars over a bubbling brook of synths. The fluidity of the guitar also caused my brain to think of Funkadelic’s masterclass in evocative slow sustained emotional guitar, “Maggot Brain”.

A great start and I’m a happy listener as this ticks my boxes – it sends goose bumps up and down my arms as I listen.

The second offering, the title track Triboluminescence , has some great percussion and a bass line that conjures up an image of Mick Karn and Ryuichi Sakamoto jamming with Mr Summers on this track. It has a nice Eastern vibe to it and flows along like a Japanese Zen garden stream full of enlightened carp. The little guitar motifs grow and as they weave in and out of the mix like those fish surfacing between the water lilies of percussion, I’m drawn into the soundscape of this Zen garden. Eddie Hazel* is a point of reference once again, with the sustained flow of guitar throughout this track, a continual stream of notes flowing from the dexterous fingers of the guitarist.

*Eddie Hazel – legendary Lead guitarist of Funkadelic. George Clinton, whilst allegedly under the influence of yellow acid, famously told him to play “As If he’d heard his mother had just died”! That 10-minute improvisation went down in history and there are echoes of it in the guitar lines on this album.

By now, we are deep into Jazz territory, with track 3 sounding like Miles Davis and the groove is strong in this one. After that, there is a series of 1’s and 0’s. lots of them. In a random pattern. This means something. I know it does. What? I’m not sure. I will dig out the download of the album and see if it can translate them for me.

Ok, plan Z. instead of scribbling as I listen, let’s be scientific and type.

This is a one shot live as I listen review, all similarities are mine, they may not work for you, but that says more about the way my head links things than is healthy outside of a couch and a Psychiatry session!

AdinkraMiles Davis as I said before. There is that vibe in a muted trumpet behind the beat, but the dominating instrument here is a drum, or rather a percussive type of instrument as it crashes and bangs high enough in the mix to overpower the delicate instrumentation. There’s a hypnotic melody played on sampled guitar that sounds like a clarinet, a trumpet and all float and glide up to the 3rd minute. Then a huge bass drum drags the rhythm off in a reggae direction. It’s almost a dub piece now, but he guitar motif is now African and fragmenting, little drips of notes falling from the branches of the jazz tree. Then it breaks down again, this time returning to the Miles Davis theme, but with the guitar scribbling all over the margins.

Prog? who knows ? more to the point, does it matter? If I said it was post bebop fragmented jazz tinged progressive post rock, would it still sound as sweet?

Track 4 , Elephant Bird, continues what is becoming a world tour, with discordant brass over a shimmering gamelan style guitar tune that ebbs and flows , with  a very Middle eastern feel to it, especially the later part where an electric guitar arrives straight from the tubular bells album, sustained and octave shifting like a heat haze in a desert, the almost frippertronic backing adding to the Egyptian feel.

In fact, that sense of King Crimson déjà vu strikes again on the next track, Shadyland, which is all Robert Fripp and Steve Hillage looping around a laid back Bill Laswell bass and cymbals pattern. The repetitive guitar parts are deceptively simple, but layered and combining with the bass part create a jungle scene of aural beauty , with birds calling from the trees at dusk and the wind stirring above us in the canopy.

Haunted Dolls is all Zappa and freaky, next up, Gigantopithecus has that off kilter drum sound again, it’s not as if Andy Summers doesn’t know any drummers and had to rely on a couple of pots and a cardboard box is it? There is more of the subdued Fripp riffing in the background again, this is more reminiscent of “3 of a Perfect Pair” era KC, where thy attempt to out “Talking Head” David Byrne. The track wouldn’t be out of place on “Speaking In Tongues” or “Fear Of Music”, except it lacks Byrne’s literate lyrics.

Pukul Bunye Bunye follows on swiftly, another piece that thumps away whilst a guitar almost fumbles its way through the tune. Again, the percussion dominates , with the guitar acting as a counterpoint to the complex patterns being bashed out here. It gets louder and more frantic, with big tub thumper drums and big open chord guitars taking over before leaving this wonderful middle piece of a pair of spiralling guitars, slowly unwinding the tune and rearranging it before the drums pick up the new beat and all concerned fall off the stage.

Finally, Garden of the Sea invites us to view the fishes whilst contemplating the sheer sensuality of a cello playing slowly over the little sampled guitar chirrups as the waves slowly cause the seaweed forest to ebb and flow The track is slow and gentle, the sounds drift along gracefully with the guitar parts seeming to bunch up together and spill over each other, a shoal of notes swimming in the kelp forest whilst the cello evokes the tides, ebbing and flowing all around us.

The whole of the album is an exercise in shapes and textures, the antithesis to all those “Guitarist’s guitarist” albums which rely on someone rehashing bits of classical music either very loudly or at hyper speed, or both. Mr Summers is having a ball here, indulging himself in textures and sound patterns rather than simple song, and the album is stronger because of this experimentation.

Would I buy it? Hmm. Tricky. It’s very pleasant to listen to, and by its instrumental nature, would be ideal dinner party music, or music to study to.

It’s not bland wallpaper music though and if it was on in the background, I’d find myself stopping to listen as the little hooks and splashes worm their way in. When I’m in an ambient sort of Brian Eno / Future Sound of London / The Orb sort of mood, then this would fit in nicely.

In fact, I could create Spotify playlist of all the bands and tracks that my head associated with this album as I played it, but that would take another couple of hours and Martin is already chasing me for this piece! So, if you fancy a blast of ambient noise, then this would be a good way to spend an hour.

Released 24th March 2017

Buy from Cargo Records at the link below:

Andy Summers 'Triboluminescence'

 

 

Live Review – Lonely Robot – The Big Dream Album Launch by Gary Morley

The following was scribbled on my phone as I watched from the vantage of the Merch Desk’s Forward command post (thanks to Brigadier Nellie Pitts).

It’s a good crowd of people with hair that time forgot… I’m jealous. My locks decided to leave me years ago, sacrificed to the trinity of job, mortgage and respectability. A plethora of tour t shirts…  Yes, sundry variations on a theme of keep calm and prog /play on.

I can report that Nellie doing a brisk trade in robot paraphernalia
everyone seems to know each other and the atmosphere is good, a smell of anticipation in the air. I’m amazed that my hometown has all these like minded people.

Where do they hide? Why don’t I know anyone?  Is the Lonely Robot me?
Perhaps Mr Mitchell and his crew will enlighten me. It will be an experience, seeing him on stage rather than nodding in passing as we orbit around Reading.

Sub 89 is filling up nicely and the band are on stage…

And they’re off, a quartet of songs from the debut album setting their stall out with panache and style. John Mitchell’s on stage banter is honed to a fine precision.

Craig Blundell on drums – he’s not shit!”, being the first bon mot to raise a groaning cheer…

And the robot appeals to all,  as can be seen from the Reading wildlife grooving to the first new song,  a slow burn with gorgeous guitar and a hypnotic vocal.

More banter, Ian Holmes, on bongos…”, then it’s their theme song, Lonely Robot, with its chiming guitars and thunderous drums… Some fine piano over that hypnotic drone, a robot’s soul exposed as a dark broody labyrinth of noise .

John is on fine form, singing with vigour and passion, then peeling off intricate guitar parts casually,the way only a true expert can. Equal parts Peter Gabriel and Chris Martin, he has a distinctive voice, suited to Prog or Pop.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Robot, they mix rock, prog and pop into a swirling mix that, like a black hole, draws you ever deeper in. There are flashes of Porcupine Tree guitar, those thunderous drums, a solid bass rumbling throughout and keyboards that fill out the few spaces left.

John now introduces his special guest, Kim Seviour to perform a track. Much more pop and upbeat, their voices fit and the music steams on. The hook line, “don’t forget me”, is an instant earworm and the song gets heavier until the middle 8 breaks down to a heartbeat drum pattern with some fine synth layers draped over it.

There is a commonality in Mr M’s work, from The Urbane through Arena and It Bites to The Robot clan, a melodic core, songs that burrow and charm in equal measure, vocal harmony as important as the instrument. “Are we copies” demonstrated that, with the impassioned vocals equal to the guitars.

We are then treated to a lighters in the air moment, as the next track floats over us, building the castle of sound, the voice and guitar increasingly emotive and the crowd rapt in attention, following the melody and swaying with the chorus. It was a beautiful moment. And finally, a vocal tour de force, Mr Mitchell and keyboards drifting weightlessly across our event horizon before Mr “Not Shit” thunders and bashes a drum piece, more demolition job than drum solo. He hits as hard as John Bonham and the electronic percussion effects add to the Bonham groove.

We are then warned that we are getting a velociraptor riff, a T- Rex, according to it’s creator  , and the next track does just that, guitars roaring and snarling to a climactic finish.

Now for a short personal interlude, fellow passenger, Jane Armstrong has retreated from the front to recuperate and berates me for looking nothing like my Facebook avatar!  It’s loud but very clear here at the merch desk, the band are in full flight now, and what a band they are, jamming away, first the keyboards taking the lead then John and his cybernetic guitar scything through the mix.

We then are treated to another of the new tracks, Sigma, which is all Nirvana approved quiet/ loud /quiet and another earworm chorus, great keyboards and stun guitar, in fact a fitting end to a great set.

So, there it was. The 4th Law of Robotics – “Thou shall Enjoy the sounds emanating from the Robot Clan , even if you know no-one, are run down and in need of a battery charge”.

After that set, my life meter was reading full again and I slipped off into the night, clutching a copy of the new CD that Nellie insisted I purchase as, “It’s alright and they’re OK people …”

Far be it from me to question the wisdom of a Prog Queen, but sat here listening to the CD, you know what? She had erred on the side of caution. It’s a great CD, well worth investing in.

I know, I was that Lonely Robot.

Order ‘The Big Dream’ from Nellie Pitts at The Merch Desk

 

 

 

Review – Barock Project – Detachment – by Gary Morley

I discovered the talented Italian band The Barock Project after Nellie Pitts recommended their album ‘Skyline’ to me.

I took a gamble and sent her a postal order (or was it a cheque?). Anyway, the sound of young Mediterranean youth playing their hearts out soon won me over. They then upped the ante with an excellent live album, ‘Vivo‘. Live, they were even stronger, with some real power to their collective elbows.

They’ve now returned with their new album and it’s another quantum leap forward.

The old school vibe of the ‘Skyline’ project has been toughened up, the band are now firing on all six cylinders, and if the automotive metaphor was to be stretched to burst, this is a pole position worthy band ready to accelerate away from the pack.

I reviewed this after listening to it and conversing with a friend of the band as I listened, she was able to answer questions as they popped into my head-Amazing thing, technology.

Listening to Luca’s amazing piano playing, typing a query as I listen and someone hundreds of miles away answers it, the ultimate footnotes to the album. A new angle here, an interactive listening session

One example being my comments about that piano playing:-

Me: “he’s certainly versatile, from rippling flurries of classical notes to almost jazz chords

And traces of Jools Holland piano on The The’s “Uncertain Smile”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dz50N2_tCCg&feature=youtu.be&t=3m24s

My “source” – “Oh he’s amazing, classically trained, you can tell, he’s a real pianist, not a computer geek who prods keys”.

I’ve listened again and the depth of musicality is being uncovered.

Track 3, Happy To See has a pure Jon Lord Hammond solo that is pitched perfectly before the guitars slice through with a very Steve Luthaker tight controlled solo with a hint of Francis Dunnery in the note bending climax

There are hints of the “not singing in my native tongue” in the closing part of the song, but the vocals are still enunciated beautifully and the instrumental canvas is a pleasure to lose yourself in.

My source filled me in on this too.

Luca, who writes, plays keyboards and produced the album also sang on all the tracks as in a Spinal Tap type “gardening accident” the band lost their vocalist and front man during the recording of this album.

In the best Prog tradition, following in the footsteps of that short bloke from Genesis and that American drummer with the Italian name that now plays with the quintessential British Prog band, he stepped up, and knocked off an albums worth of vocal, as you do.

There is another vocalist on the album too, a Mr P. Jones, Esq. that many of you know from his appearances fronting the lovely Tiger Moth Tales and the noisier Red Bazaar.

All these multi talented people, gathered together on one album, the sum is even greater than the parts.

I must confess to “assisting” with the lyrics of one track, but my involvement was very peripheral, merely a view of the lyrics written out in English, I was happy to be of some use as the lyrical flow presented here is a credit to Luca’s resolve to “get it right” and sing in a natural way using a second language so yet another string to his bow!

One Day starts with some neo classical guitar figures, before switching to a 12 string sound, a real “classic Prog” vibe here, my initial point of reference was BJH, there is that element of lush pastoral beauty to the melody , the classical piano underpinning adds to the “feel”.

It’s the classical background that comes over here, with a splash of flute bouncing across harpsichord and yes, it does go a bit Jethro Tull in the middle eight, but in a good way.

Secret Therapy starts with Tablas and fast acoustic guitar runs, along with a grand piano, in fact the more you listen, the more instrumentation you find in the mix.

Production is lush and warm, none of that awful tinny drum heavy sound that blights much modern rock, no here we have a soundscape constructed by someone whose palette expands beyond drums, pro tools and auto tune.

Rescue Me is very poppy with a catchy little riff.

It Bites almost, or should I be referencing Frost* now?

I could go on, but the beauty of this album is that it encapsulates you in it’s own universe completely.

You want to listen all the way from start to finish without skipping a track.

There are some beautiful guitar parts too, nothing too flashy or show boating, but they flow organically with the songs, they’re not bolted on or shoehorned in as is the case with some material.

There’s some melodic underpinning of the songs from Francesco on bass that enables the instrumentation to spread out and fill the room.

I get the feeling that this album was made by a band of friends in a room all at the same time, the old school way.

The way Bob Dylan and the Band recorded the basement tapes – music made for the joy of making music together. Like that album, we are privileged that the creators wish us to share their world.

Released 20th March 2017

Buy ‘Detachment’ direct from the band.

 

 

Review – The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream – By Gary Morley

Everyone has an opinion. Either carefully constructed after reading up, researching and questioning all and sundry, or shot from the hip in nanoseconds without further thought of the ramifications of the snowball as it grows.

Neal Morse. Opinions on him are as many and verbose as is his output. Unlike his output, they are binary : either the “God” thing does it for you or it doesn’t..

Well I’m not going anywhere with that construct. I’m going to review the music. And there’s a lot of it on this album. ‘The Similitude Of A Dream’ is 2 CDs worth.

I was lucky enough to get a pre release mp3 file and listened with a view to scribbling a couple of pithy one liners about style over substance, myth or mistake etc, but then the hooks in the piece caught me.

Dragged me back into the musical world of Morse and his musical fellow travellers – Mike Portnoy, Eric Gillette ( fab guitar work here) the bass of Randy George, a fine partner in crime for the much maligned Portnoy and Bill Hubauer provides  keyboards to a fine standard.

A world class band of brothers who ooze musical chops at every point, but in an understated manner.

I described the album to a friend as “A Musical symphony without the W****y ELP bits.

It has a theme that runs through and it matters not that this theme is based on a 17th Century fable. It’s as relevant as dragons, small furry creatures or starships when it comes to telling a tale.

If you loved ‘Snow’, a high-water mark in Spock’s Beard back catalogue as far as I was concerned, are familiar with Transatlantic’s epic widescreen albums and like a good melody , then this album will float your boat and tick all the boxes.

It’s epic in sound as well, great instrumentation link the themes as they get expanded and revisited across the 2 discs.

The similarity to ‘Snow’ is that once again, we have a protagonist who feels separated from all around, and sets out on a voyage of exploration.. I think? Or it’s a bad trip brought on by the dodgy narcotics offered to him in” Draw the Line”

Oops, got distracted listening again….

Where was I? Oh yes. In a (wisely) unpublished review of Dream Theater’s ‘The Astonishing’, I made reference to ALW doing prog or DT doing musical theatre, with the results as horrible as expected.

This is the opposite, an album that is a musical   in a direct, song based way, no dodgy narrative clunkers or strange interludes here, just a collection of songs that fit thematically and musically. Oh – apparently it’s referred to as a Concept album.

People like musical hooks to hang things on, for this, dust off the Genesis “Trick of the Tail” hook for the vibe in “The Ways of a Fool”. Add in Queen too for these are the first vocal harmonies to elicit them since Jellyfish popped up in the 90’s.

Then there are some very Beatles approved strings , a flash of Banksian keyboard prowess and some very Queen guitar before those harmonies kick in again. This track is rapidly becoming a firm favourite here.

The first CD builds to the climax of “Breath Of Angels”, which is the most overtly religious track , hardly surprising when you listen to the lyric, but the angel voices in harmony layered behind Neal as he exhorts us to the City Of Light… A New Jerusalem anyone?

CD 2 doesn’t let go either. Unlike my CD player which refused to give up CD 2 3 times… is this a sign?

Anyway, we rock off at full speed with a keyboard flurry that Jon Lord would be proud of in “Slave to Your Mind”, then we have an appearance of a saxophone in “Shortcut To Salvation”, a west coast vibe to this one, a vocal tour de force from Mr M.

Nice piano too.

This album is shaping up to be a contender for best of the year lists…

Then the crash out with their inner Zeppelin with the monster riff of “The Man In The Iron Cage”, it might be a Zeppelin riff ,but the vocals are pure Morse – no pastiche of Percy Plant here, Neal has a very individual voice and it makes him stand out in an army of clone vocalists raised to believe that karaoke is the way to sing.

Big keyboards again: Purple Zeppelin .This is  joy to my old ears. The guitar solo slides in, all flash and stylish restraint, linking to a gentle vocal and acoustic piece about God and faith and breaking out of self inflicted limitations – all very new age, but remember this is based on a 17th century tome, so new age is as fresh today as it ever was… Before the band crash back in with the hook laden choruses. If I was a singer, I’d be singing along… and rocking out with my air guitar, Gibson Les Paul of course.

The Neal Morse Band have a way with a tune, they sprinkle their own stardust on the tunes here. Thematically linked to the story, the songs follow the narration or rather are the narration as there’s no cod theatrical voice over needed. Listening again, it’s the natural flow of the words and harmonies that impress.

Not only have they got me contemplating life’s metaphysical journey and the pitfalls therein, they’ve also got me wanting to read the words to better follow the twists and turns they guide us through.

CD2 builds from the charging stomp of ‘Iron Mask’ to a contemplative piece with fretless bass and strings, a mellow little piece called “Sloth” which leads into one of  those “Oh So Neal” songs – all campfire acoustic guitars and sing along tune a pleasant reminder of “Wind At My Back” from ‘Snow’, here titled “Freedom Song”.

The clever use of the upbeat music to convey the joy of the protagonist unburdening himself of the burdens stopping him is simple and effective.

You get the old time gospel hoe down distilled into a song full of hope and optimism.

Appalachian mountain Prog anyone?

We then get the big finale. The crowd are warmed up by “The Freedom Song” / “I’m Running”, featuring some fabulous bass dexterity and a nod to Phil Collins big band tub thumping full spectrum production with the kitchen sink relegated to 3rd sax…

Another gentle nod to Genesis and Bank’s contribution in the piano intro to “The Mask” which veneers on the pastiche such that I was expecting Romeo to lock up his basement flat and join the journeyman…

This nasty little voice in my head is playing spot the Genesis reference now. “Confrontation” intro had me thinking ‘Eleventh Earl of Mar’, don’t know why as couldn’t hum it to win a pint, so where that popped up is anyone’s guess.

Most Un- Abacabish is the instrumental breakdown which sounds like the you tube cat got not only the Theremin but the rest of the instruments too.

‘Back to the City of Destruction’ qualifies as the most depressing hook line to any song ever, but the Deep Purple Hammond flurry after it erases such piffling triviality to a foot note.

We are into big bold grand piano chords and time changes now, classic “American” Prog where technical flash breaks free from pious restraint and madness ensues as they fight over the direction of the piece, aptly called “The Battle”, the piano and keyboard here are fantastic, a bit ELP in bombast in places, a bit Benny Hill in others (listen – you’ll know what I mean).

Sadly it means rather than the cataclysmic battle of Armageddon, it comes over more Ernie the fastest milkman for me, but it’s a small price to pay for the joy of the piece.

The climax, “Broken Sky / Long day“, delivers everything you want for the finale.

Heartfelt vocals over subdued instruments that builds , you can tell that the end (of the song) is coming, and your heart lifts as the song unfolds  it’s wings, shakes them free and prepares to soar.

And soar it does with a lovely keyboard flurry and full Morse the Evangelist vocals, with a guitar part that didn’t trigger Genesis associations …

No it’s doesn’t sound like comfortably numb….

Sorry, that little cynical voice appeared again. Ignore itt. The most iconic of guitar solos will obviously echo through space and time…

Better that than the Jonas Brother‘s attempt…

The sums of the parts with this piece greatly outweigh a few “borrows” here and there.

I loved it and I’m neither A born again American or An American Born Again.

The production, songs, package and playing on this are all woven together to create a modern classic, for once the praise surrounding this project undersells it, it is that good.

All band pictures courtesy of Robert Smith

Released 11th November 2016

Buy ‘The Similitude Of A Dream’ from Radiant Records

 

 

 

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Gary Morley’s Top 10 With Statistics

I was supposed to have compiled a list of my top 10 ( I Think it was) albums of the year to be added to the sum worth of Progradar’s scribbling…

But I got sidetracked, applied work head and started an analysis what I’d bought and the statistics it presented me with. I blame being off sick with ‘flu or a cold as my wife insisted! J

So, an introduction is the formal way of working.

Set out the aims and objectives of this presentation.

Provide the data capture information etc.

Well ,all the CD’s were released in 2016 and purchased by my good self using either a credit card, PayPal or cash in a variety of transactions, involving human interaction, human to machine and machine to machine interfaces.

For statistical purposes, all are treated as “sales”.

Total number of “sales” of 2016 releases to the subject (me) was recorded at 159 units.[1]

These 159 units form the basis of our data extrapolation

Analysis and a breakdown into the main music food groups took place and we cross checked our data with the standard sources (A mate on Facebook, Wikipedia, a man at a bus stop and the local feline)

We then carried out advance statistical sampling and came to the following conclusions:

1 I spent far too much money on CD’s …again! Good job Wifey doesn’t read this J

2 I keep finding new bands and artists to listen to. This is a self defeating sub routine, s the more I listen too, the more get added to the library, so the more follow up CD’s and back catalogue CDs come under scrutiny, so the limited finances are spread across an increasing collecting field. Rationalisation will have to be implemented and decisions, tough decisions will have to be made in regards to future funding shortfalls.

3 I’m a sucker for a pretty cover. There are a number of “wild card” CDs here that have no discernible links to the others, they were chosen purely on a whim as I liked the look of the cover. To avoid embarrassment to both creator and listener, these will not be separated from the data and will be treated as equal contributors to the sum of all musical knowledge.

[1]  Unit – a physical Compact disc, either as an individual or as a multi unit (known as a “box set”)

Breaking down into the 9 detailed groups, we see that Prog is the most voracious in terms of numbers, accounting for 30% of my “spend”

Generic “Rock came a close second, at 28% , with Blues taking the final podium position with a sterling take of 20%. Specialist genres spilt the remaining funds between them with Soul and Ambient / Dance taking 14% each – a merger there could reap dividends next year.

That was the gross figures; there was no taste bias or cultural drift applied.

No additional “worth” was assigned to individual persons or products.[1]

The second part of our research was to “rank” the releases in order of “enjoyment” and “appreciation.

We pored over the raw data and assigned arbitrary plusses and minuses to each, factoring in musical dexterity, lyrical relevance, aura of cool, instrumental prowess, humalongabilty, ability to raise goose bumps, and “star Quality”

[2] For our research purposes, all “units” are assigned an equal cost, regardless of actual cost. This is to remove smugness bias and inferred value capping

The top 50 were assembled and separated from the 2016 subject group and were reassessed using the “Wallet emptier matrix”

Results were then sense checked and subjected to a “blind “listen to confirm that there were no tactical substitutions or last minute reappraisals.

And the top ten were dusted off , polished and are here for your pleasure.

In reverse order:-

10 – iamthemorning – Lighthouse

Glacial Russian Prog duo take everyone by surprise , this is a thing of beauty , genre defying and a Prog album that you can play to your non prog friends ( you do have them , don’t you? )

Beauty in both voice and spirit with a beast of a piano player, play it loud and get lost in their world.

9 – Joe Bonamassa – Live At The Greek

Yes, I know, Progradar writes about Prog. My ears listen to all sorts, this is my top ten of the year, and a lot of great music passed through my ears to get here.

Joe pays tribute to the 3 Kings of the Blues as only he can. By assembling a crackingly good live band, rehearsing them and then letting them loose in a concert environment. Where the joy and blues magic is captured by Kevin Shirley for us to enjoy, and I for one did. Highlight – the good vibes shining through the whole project and a full horn section powered blues band.

8 – Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

The first one in my list that I reviewed, so I can happily put this here. Hawkwind sound reenergised here, no more rehashing their own past, instead a thought provoking and relevant concept album about modern life, based on a story written 75 years ago. Fired up, rocking away, an album that thoroughly deserves the accolades it has received this last year.

7 – William White – Open Country

Switzerland, land of many things, but Rastafarian hotbed home of politically charged soulful reggae in the personable Mr W is not top of most people’s lists. In fact, after chocolate, mountain views and tax evasion, most people couldn’t provide much more of a picture of Southern European Alpine lining until Toblerone changed the shape of a chocolate bar- then every pub “expert” trotted out a variety of half facts, none of which prepare you for the sheer charm of this album. A double, one side is a fine collection of politically charged songs that anyone familiar with Ben Harper or Michael Franti would approve of .CD 2 is where the top 10 votes pile in. Live, William and his band are downright funky! Superb playing in front of a lucky crowd elevates this album into the top 10. Just listen to “Soul Rider” and defy your legs not to get all funky on yo’ Ass!

6 – The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream

I’ve reviewed this, but you won’t know that yet, as review is still being written. This is a Prog fan’s dream Prog album. Concept album – tick, double album in fantastic artwork – tick. Musicianship bordering on the fretwankery – tick.

Songs – oh yes , it has more tunes that an entire karaoke bar in Kyoto on a wet Wednesday ( traditionally the optimum time and place for karaoke )

Deep Purple collide with Genesis , listen to Queen and Led Zeppelin , all get kidnapped by God fearing Christian fundamentalists with an overzealous approach to redemption . All that and more wrapped up in the Prog Concept album of the year. It’s another exciting chapter in Morse’s book of tunes, not a radical departure from Spock’s Beard / Transatlantic output but still head and shoulders above many of the releases from the “big boys” this year.

5 – Big Big Train – A Stone’s Throw From The Line

To capture that rarest of events, a Big Big Train live concert required an engineer of skill and dexterity: Rob Aubrey proves that he is both with this album. Recorded last August in front of a, shall we put it politely, “devoted” “slightly biased” crowd ( I plead guilty to attending the first night) you can relive the experience in glorious Technicolor on the blu- ray  released earlier this year. But the release of the entire set as a 2CD set is the icing on the cake. Stripped of the need to spot faces in the audience, here you focus on the sound made on that stage. A glorious, very “English” sound too, but in an inclusive melting pot of traditional folklore , contemporary urban life and a celebration of the common man.

Listening now, with 2016 fading into the night, it heralds a better place than the one we are in now. Our heroes were still with us, we were united as a people, hoping for better times and reflecting on the past, not with rose tinted glasses, but the lenses of modern technology and science.
One modern “myth” is that the death of David Bowie in January started the slow unravelling of the space time continuum that played out in 2016, ?I think that without the white heat of beauty this event generated, things would have been worse. Not quite sure how, but we are still here, I’m writing this, and if my theory is correct, the chance of someone reading this far is greater because of the subject within.

Just listen to the glory that is / was “East Coast Racer”.

4 – Colin James – Blue Highways

Colin James made this album for me… Or so it felt when I saw that he’d done an album of his favourite blues tracks, a sort of musicians mix tape. On here are 13 reasons why he is the greatest Canadian guitar player / singer out there. Greater than the God, Neil Young by virtue of the fact Colin plays the blues and is therefore probably human whereas Young is almost certainly not  .

Over the years I’ve followed James from a hot shot hyped up “future of the blues” gunslinger period through his “Big Band” period where he made Jools Holland sound like a school music project, to his dabbling with funk and soul up to his 25th anniversary celebration live album, always a bit of a secret pleasure for me, until this album cracked it for him. From full blown funky band to solo acoustic, all facets of his talent are here , impeccably produced ,an album that just oozes class.

3 – Skye & Ross – Skye/Ross

Morcheeba were the band that turned my head onto contemporary UK music , post rave. I’ve always loved soul and funk, but the rave scene and the endless splintering of genres across the spectrum meant that a lot of good stuff passed me by at the time. However. Watching “the White Room” TV show back in the day , 2 bands caught my ears . One was Kula Shaker with their retake of psychaedelia , the other wasn’t so much of a band , I heard this stunning slide blues guitar over a wash of samples and rhythm duelling with an angel. Looked up and there were 2 geezers and an angel! My first experience of the genius of Morcheeba. I tracked down their debut album and started a musical journey that continues to this day. Through line up fluctuations, fame and fortune, downsizing and fallow years, I persevered, collecting their albums, solo material and those of other bands they turned me onto. The whole “trip hop” fashion scene produced some great musicians, all of which now form part of my musical DNA – Banco De Gaia , Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation, Desert Dwellers, Shpongle, Ott, Dreadzone  , The Orb and Leftfield, all these unfolded from that first Morcheeba experience) .

So my excitement was piqued when I saw that 2/3 of the original line-up were promising a return to their roots. Not a rehash of old material nor old demos but new material! I paid my money ( a pledge music adventure) and waited.

That wait was worth it, 10 tracks of class and beauty, a “proper “ album of 2 sides , all killer , no filler as the clichés states. These are perfect “pop” songs with sparse instrumentation that allows Skye’s voice to pour like honey from the speakers. No showboating guitar fretwankery drowning everything, just well crafted songs played and sang to the benefit of the listener.

2 – Banco De Gaia – The Ninth of Nine Hearts

Coming from a very Rock centered youth, my musical tastes expanded rapidly as I was exposed to new sounds. My youth was spent emulating Friends elder siblings, declaring allegiance to the Gods of Rock – Free, Deep Purple and  Led Zeppelin were our local pantheon, I added Pink Floyd, Santana, Queen , Bad Company and more by the time punk exploded in our area.

XTC were our hometown band , we al rushed out and bought the 3D Ep, placed it on the communal stereo… and half got up and left after 2 chords!

Through the punk years and the new romantic desert afterwards, we were student, learning about life , love and David Bowie.

Employment beckoned it’s fickle finger and I followed my ears. Discovering Reggae, Soul, Funk, Jazz, African , “Electro”( hip hop ) , Acid House, and so on.

Throughout ll of these expansions, the one thing that linked the music that became part of me was melody. I love a good tune, no matter what label is put on it. Through the new romantics I discovered early electronic pioneers, the post punk movement produced This Mortal Coil for me to love , We Banco De Gaia latest album sits firmly in that melodic bag. It’s not “dance “music, it’s not “Electronica” , neither is it folk or classical. IT sits at the centre of a web with strands linking all of these . Pat Metheny group influences the vibe, as does Psych dub via hallucinogen style rhythms and synth use. It’s very trippy, but not in a 4 to the floor house / euro beat manner.

The only album that springs to mind as I listen is Jakata Visions with it’s up beat up-tempo tracks. Much of 9/hearts is a slow unfolding of layers of beautiful sound, sculpted to lose yourself in. Time is outside this album. Listen on headphones and the world around you fades and you are on a trip Toby Marks has constructed for you to enjoy. A rollercoaster between your ears, one I loved riding time and time again.

Listen to “Burn the Witch” and tell me that’s not “Progressive”!Isten to the Sax and synth on “the Princess and The Skygoat” – Pink Floyd meet Sly n Robbie . Bliss, sheer aural bliss.

1 – Prince – 4Ever

It took me months to accept that he had died. The cornerstones of my musical DNA took a battering in 2016. Losing Lemmy in December last year was a shock, he was an old festival warrior that wifey was friends with. David Bowie went out inder his own terms, leaving behind a final “great” album , Blackstar that I cannot listen to without getting the feeling that it’s an elaborate joke on his part. He knew that he next journey for him was imminent so left us with an enigmatic, dense jazz puzzle , guaranteed to sort  the men from the boys as it were.

Come April,  I get home from work, sit with a green tea and turn on my PC. Before it’s even on, my phone explodes with friends asking how I feel, that it’s a joke. Not a joke. Not true . can’t be… Life sucks., Raging friends “FUCK FUCK FUCK NO NO.

The greatest musician It was my pleasure to see, hear or be aware of had died.

The world has not been the same since. Prince was my world in many ways for the last 30 years, my family and friends were aware that I devoted hours listening to, talking about and sharing music produced, composed, arranged and played by this man.

IT took his death for them to see the genius.

His notoriously robust removal of unapproved live footage from the internet meant that most people saw the skills I (and my virtual family) had been banging on about.

Guitar players- this guy could eat them all for lunch (except, as a strict vegan, no animals were harmed in the playing of his guitars)

He was a master musician, able to play any instrument, ant style, at any time.

Not in a look at me techno-wank speed guitar ego boost, but in a very understated but forceful way. Live, when he let rip, you stood there, jaw dropped, staring. And he knew it. Impish smile as he solo’d furiously during the secret 3rd Eye Girl gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 3 hours of high octane funk n roll guitar melting fun that I’ll always remember.

He controlled that stage, the others following his lead as he took the band (and us) with him on his trip.

Then there are the songs. Throw away ditties, ballads, songs he gave away, songs people didn’t realise he’d been involved with, let alone written…

Kiss, Sign O The Times, Purple Rain, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, Raspberry Beret, Nothing Compares 2 U. I could carry on listing them, but I think you get the picture painted here.

So 4ever is the first posthumous Prince album, and a corker it is too. Planned by him as a career overview, it contains all the hits, a smattering of rare edits and, for the hard core faithful, an official release of “Moonbeam Levels” at long last.

His vault contains much material unreleased, unheard and unreleased, how much of it gets released depends on the lawyers, but I’ll be there, in line saying take my money, I want that live album, and that one, that box set too.

Live the man was untouchable. In 40 years of gig attendance, he was the apex performer. Better than Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, better than Stevie Ray Vaughan at Reading, better even than Marillion in the Brunel rooms Amphitheatre in Swindon, where I watched them stun a crowd from the relative safety of my DJ booth.

No, there could only be one album of the year, one artist of the year and this is that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – The Far Meadow – Given The Impossible – by Gary Morley

the-far-meadow-given-the-impossible

A challenge from the wallet emptier…

I’m to listen to a new release on Naughty Pachyderm’s imprint, write a review and post it off all before David “The Progmeister” Elliot realises I’ve been listening through the keyhole of his prog vault.

So I sneaked into Elephant HQ, snuck under the wallet emptier’s detection wet string and tin can alarm system, negotiated Tom Slatter’s tentacle armour, carelessly strewn about the floor. Through a door located beneath the might piles of CD’s awaiting re-homing, I step into a bright and sunny place, the Far Meadows.

And that folks is where our story really begins.

The press release for The Far Meadow’s ‘Given The Impossible’ helpfully tells me that the members of this band were in other bands before. The band claim to enjoy leek knotting, Icicle archery and banana pushing. I may have snatched a look at the unfinished article as banana pushing? Seems a bit farfetched to this progboy, but I’m here to listen to the noise they make, not comment on what they do when not making noise.

So , The Far Meadow – First impressions are that it’s a refined, gentle place where musicians meet to construct songs with verses and choruses, middles, beginnings and ends. They construct them in the traditional manner, with some lovely keyboard, flute and guitar flourishes between them.

The singer has a very pure soprano voice, all crystal and fine wine, whereas I’m more partial to an earthy red wine in an odd glass voice. But this voice is all pure elven tones,  a departure from my preferred dwarvish blues gravel throat singers that have lived a full life . If you play the “sound like” game, then it’s more Juliette Reagan than Marianne Faithfull, more Christina Booth than Beth Hart. But it works.

Marguerita Alexandrou has a nice tone, a clear and unfaltering delivery and an interesting quality to her inflection that gives extra character to the material. The high notes are dealt with in her stride without any of that ghastly X factor wobble that seems to be used to stretch every utterance into a poly syllabic outburst.

logo

Here we have a singer in tune, on the beat and singing that compliments the band behind her. That’s another good thing. The album sounds like the entire band were involved with the final mix.

As the Elephant team were  kind enough to supply lyrics, I can finally do a proper grown up review and tell you that on this album, you learn about Wedding day nerves, Cracking the Enigma code, the facile nature of ambition, overcoming fear, a warning that technology cannot replace real engineers and more. OR I’ve misread the whole pile and it is actually a concept album about pan dimensional celestial flying nymphs… again.

So, modern themes for a modern Prog band to sing about. And they do sing. And they play. And they harmonise. And put in excellent little instrumental flourishes.

The songs sound like they are fully formed, not a collection of ideas and clever twiddly bits bolted together. As with all bands, the tipping point for me is would I enjoy them live?

The answer to this is YES.

I want to hear the dynamic shift and synth solo in the middle of Dinosaurs performed through a concert P.A. The Guitar solo after it will be a foot on monitor moment, adulation from the crowd driving the guitarist on through the solo. The keyboard and guitar parts are crying out for dry ice, big lights and a frenzied crowd…

Himalaya Flashmob cracks on , a rocky little ensemble after the Prog work out in Dinosaurs.

Lots of angular guitar riffs and angst filled vocals to start off, this is “The Epic” on the CD, a treatise on the vapid rewards of overachievement, A thoroughly modern disease, the overachiever’s bucket list route to enlightenment.

The track blasts off into It Bites land with some more great keyboard: guitar interplay before breaking through the clouds to a peaceful single guitar then instruments and ethereal voices paint the picture of the climbing of a mountain.

The protagonist seeks fulfilment through overachievement, joins the queue for the top, gets a wake up shot as finally they realise just how small they are, ego or no ego.

Do they learn from this? See the error of their ways and return a better person? The story is left at the point of enlightenment for us to decide. Not a cliff hanger, although, stuck at the top of a mountain struck by a sense of your own insignificance could be said to be the ultimate cliff hanger!

resonance

There is some great instrumental prowess here, but no sense of grandstanding. The music flows around you as you drift off in an enlightened cloud of Prog bliss. The final track, The Seamless Shirt starts all rock guitar and thundering drums, with a Zappa / Miles Davis Electric band vibe, the drumming is metallic rather than metal, then suddenly switches to a folk staple, not the first time this particular song has been shoehorned into an alien landscape .

The Stone Roses co-opted it on their debut album. Some pair of American folk singers adopted it too, back in the pre- streaming era.

Scarborough Fair gets dragged into the middle of this song, twisted to fit the narrative, we then flip back to the funky percussive tale of broken trust and dashed hope. a relationship in the making and unmaking of the shirt.

Again we get a guitar solo, this time , as I mentioned Frank, this references Steve Vai, with a lovely lyrical solo, the final instrumental section is a beautiful piano and drum piece, very Herbie Hancock in tone that stretches and bridges to the final verse.

Then, all too soon it’s over. 45 minutes of musical delights that is more progressive, more dextrous and more interesting than I deserved. Another fine wallet emptying collection for the ever expanding Bad Elephant stable.  I really need to negotiate a discount as this reviewing is getting expensive.

I know  I am lucky to get he pre-release mp3, but nothing beats the delight of owning the actual finished product. Be it vinyl or CD, it’s a thing of solidity in a fluid world.

‘Given The Impossible’ is that too, and like a good curry , it matures with time. I’ve listened constantly now for 4 or 5 plays. There are nuances and passages of beauty that my ears are enjoying navigating along. The more I listen the more it connects in my head to It Bites and Francis Dunnery’s lyrical guitar parts .

The naughty pachyderm has done it again, an excellent release.

Released 4th November 2016

Buy ‘Given The Impossible’ from Bad Elephant Music on bandcamp

Review – Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze – by Gary Morley

cover

I have a love hate relationship with post rock. It depends on the weather I think.

Someday a gumbo mix of old Black Sabbath riffs, Bauhaus vocal growls and thundering Bonham influenced drums hits that spot. Other days the “everything louder than everything else” mantra grates and I want a simple clean palate of sound.

Crippled Black Phoenix (CBP) take pride of place in my collection as the only stoner/ Rock/ post rock band that I like. Their albums are dense, complex affairs, their live shows are powerful multimedia events and the band themselves look as if they’ve been auditioning  for the part of the  Swedish Biker gang in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” series. I will confess now, I loved their version of Echoes that came out last year, it was a deserving cover that took the original off into new directions whilst retaining the musical core. I liked it so much that I tracked down both versions, sad…

On their latest album, ‘Bronze’, CBP tick all the boxes for my Post Rock checklist. There are all of the above and one crucial factor often missing from albums today, a sense of theatre and dynamic.

We all know the quite / loud/ quiet / shouty formula for songs. Post rock goes for a calculus derivative of that with fractural loud / loud/ full throated roar.

bronze

I described CBP as Pink Floyd’s Echoes played by Black Sabbath.

There is that underlying melodic core to their songs that Pink Floyd use, alongside the power and menace injected by the Heavy Rock Sabbath influenced riffs and drums.

Track 5, Champions of Disturbance (Pt 1&2) for example , at the 4 minute mark goes off on a boogie that is equal parts Run Like Hell and Paranoid. It shouldn’t work but it does. I want to turn the amp up to eleven and introduce the whole street to this glorious noise.

This is all things a great rock album should be: Loud, full of power and menace, but with glorious tunes and riffs that make you want to play air guitar to.

There are subtle touches hidden among the noise too, great little Rock n roll piano at the end of that track, some nice snatches of dialogue interspersed among the songs, even a brass section at one point.

There are thumping drums, great guitar parts that layer and build and build to a point of almost obscene climatic release.

Some bands make the most awesome racket and are let down by the singer. Too clean, too growly, too weak, too OTT. No such issues here, every track has a vocal that works, from quiet reflective musings to the powerful rockier numbers, Daniel Änghede and Belinda Kordic sing with passion and skill throughout.

I’m listening for the 4th time now and I’m enjoying the nuances unfolding.

band-2

Some lovely drum and guitar on track 7, Turn To Stone, remind me of the middle of “stranglehold” by Ted Nugent, where he scrapes his plectrum down the strings before ripping a glorious solo, the superb guest vocals are supplied by Arvid Jonsson.

Nugent is a dick, politically as far as I am concerned, but that track is sublime. CBP tap into that feeling here, this is rock music, big rock music.

I don’t know what the tracks are called (Ed. – don’t worry, I’ve helped you there…), but it matters not as it’s the “feel” I meant to convey.

This album is progressive and retro in equal measures. CBP are determined to forge their own path, if that path needs a detour into a forest of gothic beauty, as in track 8, Scared and Alone, where celestial distorted sounds underpin Belinda Kordic’s vocal before a Big Country type guitar leads us out onto the path, then they go there without fear and we wander along with them, out into a clearing  where Justin Greave’s guitar makes with the Pink Floyd inspired playing  before we stare back into that gothic forest again , mournfully now as Robert Holm’s Brass Section appears, not to soothe but to twist and snipe alongside the angry and menacing vocal. The sweet forest is now a threatening black mass of trees blocking out the light, but hope is at hand as the celestial sounds returns and this gothic musical journey ends.

If you liked The Mission, the Sisters of Mercy, Classic Pink Floyd and a bit of good old Black Country riffage, then this is for you.

I’m sure that there are bands out there that are “heavier”, more technical in their approach to playing, but this is, to me, what a “Rock Band” should be doing.

tracklist

The dynamic of the album, even in preview mp3 quality, is impressive. Cranked up it sounds great. There are lovely little piano pieces before the drums explode and fill the spaces. The guitars are in places shoegazingly monotone, as the songs unfurl they gain in definition, the soundscape broadens to encompass keyboards and layers of drone , all mixed, all ebbing and flowing in the mix. The songs are allowed to stretch and run to over 5 or 6 minutes, but without getting dull.

My Grandfather would approve of this album as there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

My review file had 10 tracks, running for just over an hour. It’s an hour well spent.

There is a deluxe version of the album that has2 extra tracks. I have ordered it , although the  double clear vinyl album version looks tempting . Whichever version, it will be a thing of dark beauty, a proper “rock” album for the modern age.

Released 4th November 2016

Pre-Order ‘Bronze’ from Season of Mist