Review – Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight – Deluxe Edition Re-Release

Today sees Leo Trimming helping Progradar ‘catching up’ with the most recent deluxe edition re-release before the imminent deluxe edition of ‘Script for a Jester’s Tear’ in April!

Marillion’s great series of re-releases in Deluxe editions continues with ‘Afraid of Sunlight’, first released in 1995. This was the last album Marillion made for EMI, but what a way to bow out as it’s one of the highlights of their career. Indeed with the previous album , the magnificent and chilling ‘Brave’, the mid 90’s could be regarded  as one of the greatest peaks in their whole career… and yet it was born in a difficult period  for the band .

To put this album in context Marillion had been with EMI records since 1982 and had achieved considerable commercial success in the mid – late 80’s with  Fish, including a string of hit singles and albums around the world. The transition to new singer Steve Hogarth was inevitably quite tricky. Their first Hogarth era album , ‘Season’s End’, had been high in quality, but it had not really resulted in quite the commercial success for which EMI was hoping. Follow up album ‘Holidays in Eden’ , perhaps under pressure from the label, had clearly been intended to sound a little more mainstream and ‘pop’. However, Marillion simply were not having the same sort of chart success that they had enjoyed in the 80’s, and the pressure was mounting. What did Marillion do then? Perhaps typically for this band they did what they felt was true to them and did exactly what they wanted to do, not what others wanted of them. They withdrew to a French chateau studio and spent many months creating one of the artistic highlights of their career in the long form fully segued concept album ‘Brave’… one can only imagine what EMI thought when hearing a concept album, which was late and over budget, focusing on a strange tale of abuse and suicide – ‘Lavender’ and ‘Kayleigh’ it ain’t! 

By 1995 relations with EMI were very strained. In the excellent booklet packaging which houses this 4 CD & 1 Blu-Ray release, packed with great artwork and interesting pieces about the album, Hogarth reveals that their manager told them:

EMI didn’t want another record after ‘Brave’, but he’d persuaded them to do one more if we could do it quickly and cheaply and that was ‘Sunlight’ and that’s why we even wrote, partly in jest, on the sleeve, this album was ‘knocked out’…  I think it’s a great record, but after that we were gone.”

For an album that was apparently ‘knocked out’ in 3 months (which is remarkably brief in the context of their recording history) there is no sense when hearing it that it’s substandard or feels ‘rushed’. It seems at that point in their career whether an album took 18 months or 3 months Marillion could produce the goods. So what makes this an album revisiting or investing in 25 years later? 

Original Album Artwork

There will be two sorts of punters considering this album – those that have bought it previously and are interested in the musical ‘extras’, the remastered sound, and the packaging. There will be others who may be discovering Marillion belatedly, perhaps after the great success of their most recent 2016 album  ‘F.E.A.R.’, who may know nothing about this album and wonder whether it’s worth buying? 

The short answer is ‘YES’ – this album is simply one of the best albums the band have ever released. However, such punters may need a little more  information to help decide whether to invest so we will try to go through the album for new listeners. 

‘Gazpacho’ opens with sound clips of an MC introducing a World Heavyweight Boxing championship bout, and then a quote seemingly from John Lennon (but may actually be actor Bernard Hill who voiced Lennon for a documentary) ‘… I would find myself seeing hallucinatory images of my face changing and becoming cosmic and complete’. This immediately sets the scene for an album which touches on the destructive nature of stardom with references through the album to figures such as ‘Raging Bull’ Jake La Motta, Mike Tyson and O.J Simpson. This also reflects the struggles Hogarth was having in dealing with the trappings of being plunged right into the limelight as the front man with a successful Rock  band – before being called to sing for Marillion he has shared he had seriously been contemplating giving up music and becoming a milkman – quite a contrast and change in his life.

The track ‘Gazpacho’ darkly refers to stains on a Versace scarf, which may have been blood stains or ‘were they really just Gazpacho’. In a period in which blood stains were central to the notorious OJ Simpson murder case the reference is clear. This is a song which rides along on a fat juicy bass line from Pete Trewavas and a rock solid beat from Ian Moseley. Rothery takes up a sprightly melody on guitar and Mark Kelly’s keyboards fill out a surging, almost joyful theme – a strange contrast to the dark subject matter. Halfway through the song a darker force takes hold as the volume recedes to a strumming guitar initially and more sinister tones reflects the fall and anguish of the main ‘hero’.

Hogarth’s voice here is in spectacular form, rising and rising with emotion, before the song returns briefly to the theme and feel of the opening section. The extended conclusion to the song becomes more impressionistic with chiming guitars, staccato drums and garbled phrasing from Hogarth. Backed by Kelly’s keys the song fades away behind the news footage of the famous televised ‘slow chase’ of O.J Simpson’s car on the freeway… and that’s just the first song! Don’t worry – we  won’t go into such detail on all the songs, but it was worth focusing on the subtlety and imagination of a band contrasting musical and lyrical themes, gradually descending from the ‘glam’ of the opening section into much darker, denser themes reflecting the fall of the protagonist.

Cannibal Surf Babe is pure acid Beach Boys powered by a fantastic bass line (Trewavas appears to have been on fire on this album) and thumping drums (taken from the first take and never bettered, according to Moseley). Kelly’s playful, quirky keyboards spray psychedelic sounds all over the song, and you can hear exactly why the working title was ‘X Ray Jangly’ . The weirdness of The Beach Boys’ genius Brian Wilson permeates the bizarre lyrics (partly contributed by John Helmer who helped write the lyrics for the majority of the album) which Hogarth sings with maniacal glee: 

‘I was born in nineteen sixty weird, I’m your nightmare surfer babe, Mr. Wilson where’s your sandbox and your beard…’

The piece trails away with a subtle synth line, which had been part of a song called ‘Icon’ that did not make the album), with a French woman dreamily saying the concluding lyrics of the song in French. This segues into Beautiful, the only single released from the album, reaching number 29 in the UK charts. The album booklet reveals that this song was their response to a request from EMI label boss for them to do their own spin on a song like ‘Cry me a River’ (!!) – whatever the inspiration, it’s a lush, rolling rock ballad with a band in perfect sync creating a suitably ‘Beautiful’ song with touching lyrics, and a gorgeous Hammond organ from Kelly in the conclusion.

‘Afraid of Sunrise’ literally shimmers in plaintively like some sort of mirage in an understated manner with Rothery’s acoustic guitar, subtle bass and very light drumming beneath a soft synth line. Hogarth sings with great delicacy but feeling over this lovely setting. It’s easy to hear why the working title for this song was ‘Joni Mitchell’. Surreal lyrics are open to interpretation but could refer to a journey and the feelings of a driver anticipating a downfall when the next day dawns. The ‘Day-Glo Jesus on the dash’ line led to a disagreement in the band about the original album artwork.

Carl Glover had prepared the startling ‘Day-Glo Jesus’ image, which Hogarth wanted as the cover, but this was vetoed by the rest of the band, fearing it may present them as a Christian rock band. Well, it seems the band have finally seen the wisdom of Hogarth’s judgement and this re-release features the ‘Day-Glo Jesus’ in glorious technicolour as the cover image, replacing the peculiar ‘Angel Boy’ image hurriedly used for the original cover. Another curiosity about this song is that in essence it has the same musical roots as Afraid of Sunlight. The band had created both versions, and were considering cutting one. They had even considered trying to merge them together, but in the end they made the wise decision to retain them both separately as they have undoubted quality in either manifestation.

Ill-fated British water speed hero of the 1960’s, Donald Campbell, inspired one of the highlights of the album, the evocative ‘Out of this World.’ This song is deceptively complex with three distinct phases touching on this tragedy from the emotional perspective of Campbell’s wife watching on as her speed obsessed husband  killed himself pursuing his dream. Hogarth’s vague childhood memories of this famous accident are transformed from a straight narrative in to a piece revealing mixed emotions for the on looking wife. Reportedly Campbell and his wife were virtually estranged by the time of the accident such was the division caused by his obsession for speed.

The song seemingly slowly emerges from the deep with subtle guitar chimes and drums over a watery synth backing leading into Hogarth’s mournful vocals. The second phase of the piece comes after the lines ‘At such speeds, things fly’ as the song surfaces with a majestic airborne guitar solo from Rothery. ‘Out of this World’ settles its trajectory with plaintive lyrics filled with pain, Hogarth’s soulful vocals intoning ‘Only Love with Turn you Round’ repeatedly (inspired from a line in ‘Brave’ album song ‘Runaway’). This presages the third tragic phase with contemporary speech clips stating ‘Complete accident, I’m afraid…’  over a baleful synth wash acting as a stark canvas for Hogarth’s final pure elegiac vocals and there is a real sense of sinking into the depths.

It’s a remarkable and deceptively complex song showing Marillion’s ability to look at a subject from interesting and emotion filled angles – in the hands of lesser artists this would have been a straight narrative about a famous accident, but this piece transcends that story, imbued with pain and feeling. Somewhat amazingly it was hearing this song which inspired marine engineer Bill Smith to organize the project to raise the ‘Bluebird’ vessel from the depths of Coniston Water in 2001, and led to Hogarth singing the song at Donald Campbell’s funeral – peculiar what art can inspire sometimes.What can I say about ‘Afraid of Sunlight’? It’s undoubtedly one of the best songs the band have ever produced. It oozes with class and depth of feeling.

An eerie guitar line intros a haunting piano and a gentle drum pattern and soft bass… and then Steve Hogarth sings with such resonance and delicacy. It’s a truly heart breaking beginning. The meaning is obscure, but may be about the conflicted feelings of a couple unable to tell the truth to each other. They are together but in pain, perhaps lying in bed fearing what will happen in the morning – the possible implication that in the morning one of them drives away from the other… well, that’s one interpretation but great art can be interpreted in different and many different personal ways by the recipient.

The tempo and power rises magnificently with Trewavas’ bass line pulling it all together with the impactful, memorable chorus, before briefly receding again with a more reflective passage. The chorus returns and the song becomes darker and more bitter, Hogarth’s vocals reaching a great crescendo ‘It’s a matter of time’. Mark Kelly’s rising keyboards take on the melody fluidly, whilst underpinning it all along is Moseley’s rock solid rhythm.

Rothery unusually is not to the fore on this song largely but he then adds another emotional level with a subtle guitar line interweaving the emotional musical maelstrom… and then bereft the song falls to it’s knees with a coda that is drenched with feeling. Kelly’s delicate piano and synth perfectly framing Hogarth’s crystalline and ultimately falsetto vocal. I may not know exactly what it literally means but I can certainly feel so much hearing the highs and lows of this stunning song.

‘Beyond You’ is a song which showcases the significant impact producer Dave Meegan had on Marillion’s material as he recorded their sessions and jams, and helped the band build on those moments to form great songs. Meegan felt the song had a sort of Motown vibe so after the sonorous and restrained opening synth led section he suggested a Phil Spector type ‘Wall of Sound’ feel, which erupts in the refrain ‘If I was a child…’. Moseley’s echoing resonant drums swing and pizzicato keyboard strings take us right back to Detroit, before the song sinks back into Hogarth’s heartfelt tones.

The finale returns us to Spector territory featuring a fine slide guitar floating above the main melody before the whole thing fades away sadly. This is an intensely personal lyric for the singer reflecting turmoil in his own private life to the extent that he felt unable to sing it for years… it is also the song I struggled to get my head around for years with it’s juxtaposition between the clearly very emotional lyric and the almost jaunty refrains, until I realised the connection with Motown. We all know Motown artists were the masters at contrasting heartbreak with upbeat music so it fits.

This remarkable album concludes with the startling opening guitar and synth fanfare chords of the momentous ‘King’  before a melange of various voice clips about fallen heroes, particularly Elvis, Lennon and most notably Kurt Cobain who committed suicide in 1994. Marillion were the first band to play after his suicide on the Munich stage where Nirvana played their final show, which inspired the band to write this sonic and emotional powerhouse of a song. Rothery’s guitar sets up the melody supported by softly jangling percussion and understated keyboard, underpinned as ever with Trewavas finely judged bass.

Hogarth sensitively sings about the ruinous effects of fame: ‘To be cursed with your Dreams’. The song almost literally explodes with the whole band titanically pounding out the main rhythm and Kelly’s synth eerily writhes above the melee. After a brief respite the song descends in to a disturbing and dark spiral with a wildly discordant guitar from Rothery tortuously screaming out pain. The lynch pin keyboards of Kelly return gently under Hogarth’s fragile words leading into some weirdly distorted spidery guitar. The tension and power gradually rises as Hogarth bellows out the inner pain of the main protagonist. Kelly’s building keyboards leads a headlong crash for the whole band in a chaotic, deafening conclusion which sounds absolutely MASSIVE! Tragedy never sounded so powerful…

… hopefully that will help convince new listeners to ‘catch up’ with one of the finest rock albums of the 1990’s (and was named one of the ‘Recordings of the Year’ by ‘Q’ music magazine in 1995).

What about those that already have this album? Is it worth shelling out for it again?

Well, the short answer (again!) is YES!

The presentation of this album alone is worth getting it again, housed in an impressive book design with beautiful artwork images from graphic designer Carl Glover and fascinating insights in to the album and it’s creation in the accompanying various essays, including one from Bill Smith about his search for the ‘Bluebird’ inspired by ‘Out of this World.’  

Musically, the package includes the original 1995 Dave Meegan mix. Michael Hunter has remixed this deluxe edition version, but in all honesty I am hard pressed to identify any startling differences from Meegan’s original mix. This is testament to Meegan’s original fine production work, acting as ‘Marillion’s George Martin’ in pulling it all together and making it sound wonderful. ‘Out of this World’ is probably the song in which there is the most notable changes to the original – Hunter’s mix brings out different elements – it’s a fine mix, but ‘different’ rather than ‘better’. For an album recorded with decent 1990’s musical technology there is not quite the same scope for sonic improvements heard more clearly in modern remasters and remixes of earlier vintage 1970’s albums by other artists. Nevertheless, Hunter has done a fine job on the latest version.

This re-release also features the complete performance from the ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ tour show at the Ahoy in the Netherlands in 1995. Some of these songs have previously been released on their swansong EMI album, the live double album ‘Made Again’ released in 1996, which mixed songs from a few tours. It is great to hear this whole concert which features fine renditions of 5 of the 8 ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ songs, particularly an enormous sounding ‘King’, as well as the ‘Icon’ intro in to ‘Beautiful’. It is also interesting to hear Hogarth pulling off excellent interpretations of 7 songs from the ‘Fish era’. However, my personal highlights are the ever resplendent ‘Easter’, and the suite of songs drawn from the ‘Brave’ album, especially Kelly’s stunning organ work on ‘Hard as Love’ with the whole band locked and loaded, thundering along magnificently – let’s face it, you cannot go wrong with Marillion live!

The Blu-ray with this package features  beautifully produced surround sound 5.1 versions, which displays Hunter’s skill as a producer but underlies the imagination and skill of a band who can so perfectly combine delicate emotion with passages of great drama and power. If you have the technology the 5.1 version alone is also worth getting this edition.

Additionally this disc has bonus tracks originally available on the 1999 remaster. Whilst the main album is one of the band’s highlights it has to be said that these bonus tracks are somewhat lacking in quality, and include 2 earlier versions of ‘Beautiful’ with other titles. ‘Mirage’ has some interest and the acoustic demo of ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ is rather a gem, but on the whole these extra tracks are hardly essential. Similarly, the ‘Jams and Early Versions’ are curiosities which lay bare the creative processes as the band jams new ideas for Dave Meegan to capture. They are raw pieces and are interesting to hear, but it is doubtful that anyone apart from ‘Uber Fans’ will ever listen to these tracks more than a couple of times at most… but as we know Marillion are not short of ‘Uber Fans’!! 

Conversely, what is of far more interest on the Blu-ray is the 45 minute documentary film which features all the band members with fascinating insights in to how the band felt at the time when recording this album. What is clear is the unshakeable faith Marillion had in themselves as artists, even if their label were losing faith in them. History has shown that Marillion were right to retain that faith as they survived some dark days in the later 90’s to virtually create the crowd funding model and thrive. More crucially they continued to make high class albums borne out of their innate self-confidence, musical imagination and artistic integrity. The mid-90’s period produced  two of their finest ever albums… and this special set presents ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ perfectly.

TRACK LISTING:

CD One – Afraid of Sunlight  (2019 Michael Hunter Re-Mix)

  1. Gazpacho
  2. Cannibal Surf Babe
  3. Beautiful
  4. Afraid of Sunrise
  5. Out of this World
  6. Afraid of Sunlight
  7. Beyond You
  8. King

CD Two – Afraid of Sunlight  (Dave Meegan Original Mix 1995 Mix)

(Same Track Listing as CD One)

CD Three – Live at the Ahoy, Rotterdam  (29th September 1995) (Part 1)

  1. Intro  (Skater’s Waltz
  2. Incommunicado
  3. Hooks in You
  4. Gazpacho
  5. Icon
  6. Beautiful
  7. Hotel Hobbies
  8. White Russian
  9. Easter
  10. Mad
  11. The Opium Den
  12. Hard as Love
  13. The Hollow Man

CD Four – Live at the Ahoy, Rotterdam  (29th September 1995) (Part 2)

  1. Kayleigh
  2. Lavender
  3. Afraid of Sunlight
  4. Cannibal Surf Babe
  5. Cover My Eyes
  6. Slainte Mhath
  7. King
  8. Splintering Heart
  9. No-One Can
  10. The Great Escape
  11. Uninvited Guest
  12. Garden Party

Blu-Ray Disc

 Afraid of Sunlight (2019 Michael Hunter Remix) – 5.1 Audio Version:

  • Same Track listing as CD 

Afraid of Sunlight  (Jams & Early Versions):

  • Ascending Synth Groove
  • Velvet Lawn
  • Building Guitar
  • Band of Gold
  • Gazpacho  (Early Version)
  • Surfer Bass
  • Cannibal Surf  (Early Version)
  • Beautiful  (Early Version)
  • KD Lang
  • Out of this World (Early Version)
  • Afraid of Sunlight (Early Version)
  • Beyond You  (Early Version)
  • Crunchy Guitar Idea
  • Deep Purple Vibe
  • Watery Guitar
  • King (Early Version)
  • Happy Accidents

Documentary Film – Afraid of Sunlight  (Approv 45 Mins)

Promo Film – Beautiful

1999 Remaster Bonus Tracks

  • Icon
  • Live Forever
  • Second Chance
  • Beyond You  (Demo)
  • Cannibal Surf Babe
  • Out of this World
  • Bass Frenzy
  • Mirages  (Demo)
  • Afraid of Sunlight  (Acoustic Demo)

MUSICIANS:

Steve Rothery  –  Guitars 

Pete Trewavas  –  Bass 

Steve Hogarth – Voice

Mark Kelly  –  Keyboards

Ian Moseley  –  Drums & Percussion 

With:

Hannah Stobart  –  Backing Vocals on ‘Beautiful’

Wendy Paige & Barbara Lezmy  –  Backing Vocals on ‘Cannibal Surf Babe’

THANKS

Progradar would like to thank Fraser Marshall of the website: 

‘Marillion – Explanations of Song Elements’  for his permission to refer to his blog about some of the background to the songs. 

Other information is available at:

http://marillionations.blogspot.com/

Review – Nova Cascade – A Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows – by Leo Trimming

What exactly  is ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’?

According to Wikipedia (and who could doubt that source of information!) ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’  is a website created by John Koenig that defines neologisms (that’s new words and phrases to you and me) which are designed to define emotions for which we do not yet have a descriptive term. When you hear this new album by Nova Cascade you can sense why they might decide to use that phrase to name their album. Previously describing themselves as ‘Ambient Progressive Rock’, on their promising but minimalist debut album Above All Else, Nova Cascade have developed that blueprint further with more defined pieces. but there is still an overriding sense of  fragility and dreamlike visions which are hard to define.

Nova Cascade have now moved on from their peculiar origins in an online gaming chatroom out of which artists shared musical ideas, and now present a more fully formed and mature album. The sparse, organic feel which characterised ‘Above All Else’ now gives way to a more lush and layered approach but at heart they retain their more ambient and impressionistic style, with some echoes of later Talk Talk. The gorgeous cover artwork by Charlie Bramald places us in a warm, shimmering and comfortable candle-lit library, and the music conveys a sense we are sat in the glow of candle light as we hear these lush sounds which contain contrasting stories of light and darkness.

Dave Hilborne appears to lead this project with his distinctive light, breathy vocalisation and subtle synth laden soundscapes, such as the opening instrumental Unwavering. There is also a slightly harder edge on some songs, such as the bitter Rabbit Hole (with echoes of later Peter Gabriel) which features quite a percussive programmed edge and pointed lines about deceit:

‘This illusion you expertly weave,

Let’s take a trip to the far side,

Descend in a rabbit hole of deceit.’

However, even such perspectives are coated in fairly lush production with no sharp edges. Echo and Narcissus flows languidly in on a bed of keyboards and softly programmed percussion. Hilborne’s delicate vocals reflect the disappearing fragility of the legendary Echo as she wasted away until only her voice remained. Once again rather tortured lyrics are conveyed in swathes of restrained, rather gentle instrumentation, particularly the evocative violin of Eric Bouillette. Such agony rarely sounded so delicate:

And, oh, that stench in the air is your hate

Just leave me be with what’s left of my fractured soul

Nova Cascade seem to like touching on sinister or negative subjects in rather pastoral ways, such as the instrumental Apophis, which may refer to an Egyptian Pharaoh or  an ancient Egyptian ‘chaotic being’ until you read the sleeves and note one small line: ‘All Eyes to the Sky in 2029…’ a quick internet search reveals that Apophis is a sizeable ‘near Earth’ Asteroid that in 2004 was thought to have a distinct possibility of striking Earth catastrophically in 2029. Readers will be pleased to hear that after re-calculations this possibility has now been deemed Zero! Nevertheless, it gives Nova Cascade the excuse to compose a suitably spacey soundscape, enhanced by Charlie Bramald’s stellar flute, which is then transformed with some more ominous synth throbs before floating off in to space again.

In contrast the nostalgic Plasticine and Paint touchingly conjures up idyllic visions  and memories of childhood with Bramald’s subtle flute underlining the sense of pastoral reminiscence in a rather beautiful piece. In their previous album ‘Above All Else’ there was a sense of it being a rather ‘home made’ or even a ‘demo’ type album, which it’s organic and intuitive approach to capturing sound enhanced. Nova Cascade seem to have moved on from that rather lo-fi or sparse feel but have not lost that essence of fragility and dream like quality.

The centrepiece to the whole album is the decidedly more ambitious extended instrumental ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ which features the Blue Man Group drummer David Anania (indeed the album sound overall would have benefited from more use of a live drummer than programmed percussion.) It is interesting that in the sleeve notes in relation to this song Dave Hilborne has quoted a few ‘neologisms’ for hard to describe feelings, presumably from the aforementioned Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, including:

‘Sonder’ – The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own

‘Kenopsia’ – The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet

Not only are those great new words I will try to use in the right context in future, but somehow the music in this imaginative and evocative piece of work conveys those intangible and almost impossible to define feelings. Hilborne paints the main canvas on keyboards alongside the ever present deft bassist Dave Fick, especially in the second half when Anania’s drums have more impact. Eric Bouillette chimes in with a subtle Steve Rothery like guitar solo in the closing stages in the most ‘progressive’ track on the album.

Nova Cascade quote the now sadly deceased Mark Hollis of Talk Talk in their sleeve notes;:

‘Before you play two notes, learn how to play one note, y’know? And don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it’.

Such a quote tells us where Nova Cascade are coming from, and conveys their philosophy in where they want to go. This album is certainly no ‘Spirit of Eden’ by Talk Talk (and to be fair what else is? – it’s an all time classic!) but you can tell that would have been an influence, especially in the vocals. Guitars, piano, bass and guitars weave together melodically. There are times when it is beguiling and beautiful – there are other times for this listener when I just want something a little more of substance to hold on to as you drift in an ocean of ethereal , vague subtlety.  Nevertheless, ‘A Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’  is certainly a very significant step up from ‘Above All Else’ . This album would appeal to lovers of delicate, ambient soundscapes and softly pastoral sounds and images, and I have a sense that the ethereal and talented Nova Cascade will show even more development of their distinctive sound and style in the future…

… now I just need to find a word that can convey that hard to define that feeling?

Released 9th September 2019

Order from bandcamp:

https://novacascade.bandcamp.com/album/a-dictionary-of-obscure-sorrows

Review – IQ – Resistance – By Leo Trimming

We live in contentious and dark times so maybe it’s not surprising that IQ’s latest album ‘Resistance’ has a real sense of titanic struggles, whether they are internal conflicts or global issues, as the band create a tidal wave of dense and dramatic music. If you thought 2014’s brilliant ‘The Road of Bones’ was dark then prepare yourself for the stygian shades that colour this epic double album. IQ have not held back in this release immersing themselves deeply in to gothic depths with intense and yet captivating music.

‘A Missile’ plunges us almost literally right in to the album as a descending drone and falling electronic pulse thrusts us in to a thunderous maelstrom of drums, bass and keyboards – it just sounds absolutely MASSIVE! Pete Nicholls sings powerfully, riding this ballistic Missile of a song with great skill and feeling – this feels like someone expelling their soul in to the void:

‘What I thought could save me was artificial, Raking across my nerves and taking possession…

…There is no Faith can be sustained,

No Original Sin to blame, Now I know…’

Neil Durant spices up the keyboards with weird, distorted synths. Paul Cook is simply outstanding on drums as he drives this absolute panzer of a song onwards.

What Peter Nicholls sings about exactly is always open to interpretation, but he has a tremendous ability to evoke images and feelings through poetic words and obscure phrases – you don’t know exactly but you can certainly draw a sense of the emotions that inspired his lyrics. When you listen to IQ each time a whole new line or phrase can just jump out and hit a nerve in ways you had not noticed the last time you listened. Such a thought also brings me to a conclusion I have drawn about IQ albums.

For this review I had to put up some ‘Resistance’ (yeah, I know, corny) to the Progradar editor who was gently suggesting I should try to complete the review in a few days prior to the album launch gig on September 7th. A listener needs to ‘live’ with an IQ album for a little while, and then they usually reveal their hidden gems. Some of my most favourite IQ songs and albums have not always ‘clicked’ with me initially, but with a little time I ‘get’ it and I appreciate the quality and depth of the material.

That has been the case with ‘Resistance’ for me, and it was well worth immersing myself in the album. The interlinked songs ‘Rise’ and ‘Stay Down’ did not hit me immediately but now I feel awed by their skilful blending of light and dark, Rise commencing with loud foreboding chords like some sort of epic sci-fi landscape, as depicted on the striking and rather beautiful cover by Tony Lythgoe. ‘Rise’ segues in to ‘Stay Down’ which echoes the previous throbbing chords and melody of ‘Rise’ with a simple piano line under Nicholls’ sorrowful voice.  Pizzicato keyboard notes and cello sounds carry the song on gently but the tension rises with guitar and the sound of ticking clocks. This remarkable song then almost literally falls off a cliff with a massive landslide of keyboards, bass, drums and guitars as Nicholls appears to rail against a breakdown:

If I don’t make success out of real life,  Nothing doing

Fall Back, break out, inside, can’t see, can drown

Shut up while I stay down, The less I can handle

The more I can blame on my breakdown

This is dark and very powerful stuff both musically and lyrically, and one has to wonder what Pete Nicholls and Mike Holmes were feeling when they wrote this album. It feels like this release may have been a cathartic expulsion of emotions.

‘Shallow Bay’ is a more straightforward rock piece with an elegiac feel and gives Michael Holmes a perfect showcase for a fluid, emotive guitar solo over a titanic organ for the conclusion. The intensity decreases significantly for the beautiful ‘If Anything’, demonstrating that IQ know that darkness needs to be contrasted with light and hope. With an opening slightly reminiscent of a song by The Cars, Nicholls’ warm vocals lays out lovely images over delicately picked Spanish guitar:

‘Not anyone could take my Heart, And send it soaring so high,

Far above the setting Sun we’d fly’

Tim Esau’s deftly played gentle bass and Paul Cook’s subtle drums and percussion perfectly underpin this gentle piece, demonstrating that it’s not all about power. However, just when we’re settling down in to a soft blanket of a song an ominous drone echoing The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’ presages the clanging chords heard previously in ‘Rise’ and a Hammer Horror like organ from Neil Durant segues us in to the weird carnival sounds of the  outstanding epic ‘For Another Lifetime’. This peculiar opening evokes the feel of a Ghost Story, especially as the opening sequence eerily slows down and the vocals become distorted and then a classic IQ passage of guitars, drums, bass and keyboards, reminiscent of ‘Sacred Song’ from 2004’s ‘Dark Matter’, builds the tension ominously. This tension breaks with the sound of thunder and a wave of sound breaks over us like a storm breaking – it’s just bloody exciting and stirring stuff! I love IQ moments like this when they really let loose with keyboards and guitars intertwining perfectly whilst ‘Cookie’ and Tim Esau drive the Leviathan on powerfully. Nicholls seems to be screaming in to a Hurricane;

‘And if there’s no Resistance, What am I Fighting For?

An unsung renegade evading radar, And if there’s no existence to worship and adore

A lethal chemistry invades, as dark as war’

The darkness seems to recede as Durant’s piano breaks through the clouds like sunshine, introducing a more optimistic sounding guitar line from Holmes, which soars upwards and Nicholls sings emotionally ‘And this is where I will stay, Holding on, Holding on, Holding on…’

For Another Lifetime is destined to become another much loved IQ classic epic song. No other band does it quite like them. Indeed, this album is unmistakably ‘IQ’ – they have a successful formula and they use it with great skill on this album. Sure they turn up the ‘Darkness’ button way up (and the ‘Mellotron’ effect… possibly a little too much at times?)… but the fundamental sound and feel is IQ all the way. They really do not need to experiment when they sound this good.

The second part of this double album is populated with two epic pieces, ‘The Great Spirit Way’ and ‘Fallout’.  This review will not go into great detail about these pieces – some things the listener needs to explore with a largely blank page. The Great Spirit Way is an intense piece which hardly lets up for it’s whole 20 minute plus duration, and features Neil Durant’s enormous organ sounds in abundance. Michael Holmes has shared that what was largely inspiring his music writing for this album was his feelings about the climate emergency, and the complacency towards this global threat. He suggested that groups like ‘Extinction Rebellion’ were the ‘Resistance’ against this issue, and perhaps Nicholls’ lyrics in this piece echo those concerns (but who knows when it comes to Peter’s words?!):

‘All the misfits in the world sure to change it

Though they’ve tried rearranging, Good for Bad,

Still the Mad King Reigns’

Fire and Security is a track that follows the familiar IQ template. It’s fine but not outstanding on the album… it’s difficult to stand out on a disc with two 20 minute epics! However, the other shorter song on disc 2 Perfect Space does succeed in making it’s mark. It is interesting to note in the credits that this is the one song on which it appears Neil Durant took the lead role in writing the music. His keyboard sounds are remarkable on this piece, ranging from a gentle ambient opening to an almost dirty sounding organ which bubbles and spits like lava in an incendiary guitar / organ duel in the middle which returns in the dramatic closing sequence.

The epic Fallout draws this saga to an end… it’s full of light and shade, soft and loud, drama and emotion – it’s a classic piece of IQ imagining, almost impossible to convey in words. The piano does make a welcome longer appearance in this piece – it does feel a little bit like powerful organs and keyboards somewhat dominate at times in this album so a gentle piano is a welcome lightening of mood. But that’s the point – IQ wanted to conjure up atmospheres imbued with gothic darkness with dense soundscapes so they chose instruments more suited to that feel.

1993… 1997… 2000… 2004… 2009… 2014… and now 2019. IQ albums since the 1990’s only appear about every 4 to 5 years. In the world of Progressive Rock music they are truly special events as this is one of the truly great bands of the last 35+ years… does this one match up to that fine heritage? Having ‘lived’ with it a little while I feel that it can honourably take it’s place in their fine canon of music. It’s not perfect – it’s difficult fully sustaining a double album (and perhaps the organ / mellotron sounds can be a little dominant?) , but there’s no weak tracks… and let’s face it even a weak IQ track is better than many band’s best tracks – this is IQ after all – the Crème de la Crème of modern progressive rock.

IQ have produced another fine album of imaginative progressive rock with exemplary musicianship and poetic lyricism – it’s just what they do, and they do it so well. It could be another 4 or 5 years until the next one so immerse yourself in this dense, dark epic world and join the Resistance!

Tracklist:

CD 1:

  1. A Missile
  2. Rise
  3. Stay Down
  4. Alampandria
  5. Shallow Bay
  6. If Anything
  7. For Another Lifetime

CD 2:

  1. The Great Spirit Way
  2. Fire and Security
  3. Perfect Space
  4. Fallout

MUSICIANS

Paul Cook  –  Drums & Percussion

Michael Holmes  –  Electric & Acoustic Guitars

Tim Esau – Bass & Bass Pedals

Peter Nicholls  –  Vocals & Backing Vocals

Neil Durrant  –  Keyboards

Released 27th September 2019

Order direct from the IQ online store:

https://www.iq-hq.co.uk/shop/

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 – Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part Two – by Leo Trimming

The mercurial Pete Jones seems to have an exhaustible supply of musical ideas at present. Fresh after playing with Camel on a triumphant tour of Europe ending at the Royal Albert Hall, and not long after his last fine Tiger Moth Tales album ‘The Depths of Winter’, Peter Jones returns with the second instalment of his Story Tellers project.  Based on Fairy tales and Children’s stories this is an album of pure whimsy and diverse, entertaining music. Listeners need to check in their more cynical tendencies at the door if they enter this world – this is definitely for the young, and for the young at heart. However, do not be deceived – this is not a collection of simplistic childish nursery rhymes. Pete Jones has skillfully framed these tales in a range of musical styles, intuitively threading elements of pathos, comedy and adventure through the songs.

The opening song Best Friend feels like the opening of a Fairy Tale book with gentle piano notes giving way to some orchestration and Renaissance style acoustic guitars. The catchy, positive lyrics tell of close friends in Jones’ lovely baritone, one of the finest voices in modern progressive rock music. A Hackett-esque guitar line and tinkling keys interlude segues us from this sunlit world into different territory both narratively and musically in Kai’s Journey. Chiming guitars and a tripping, dancing synth evokes the journey perfectly in musical form. An eerie almost jazzy cornet from long time friend and collaborator, Mark Wardle, presages chilling vocoder effects of a sinister snow queen, voiced rather maniacally by Pete’s usually lovely wife Kim! This is an atmospheric and evocative rock instrumental, and the influence of Steve Hackett (one of Pete Jones all time heroes) is strong on this piece, and that is a GOOD thing – indeed, there are distinct echoes of Hackett’s own exploration of children’s tales in his own classic Please Don’t Touch throughout this album.

The delightful diversity of this album is most borne on the next two songs, both masterpieces of whimsical musical imagination in their own very different ways. Toad of Toad Hall is a playful, infectious tune which bounces along mischievously as Jones’ keyboards skips joyfully and eccentrically through this musical vignette. This song also demonstrates Peter Jones’ great ability to sing and talk in distinctive character voices, and his inimitable puckish laugh is absolutely perfect for the character of  Toad of Toad Hall – this is just great fun. In contrast, not a word is spoken in the much more sedate Hundred Acre Wood, but so much is said in different ways. A lovely ambling clarinet tune over gentle piano keys simply conjures up the image of Winnie Pooh and his friends walking in Hundred Acre Wood by instruments alone – close your eyes and you are there.

Eternity takes the album in a very different direction as Peter Jones duets on a lush ballad with his old singing partner Emma Friend whose own lovely voice complements the Mothster’s perfectly… but then he throws in a short soaring guitar solo midway through the song as the duo take flight vocally. I always felt that the fate of The Boy Who Cried Wolf was rather cruel, and it seems Peter Jones agrees as he has produced a rather sombre take on his rather dramatic tale. This more ambitious song admittedly took more time to grow on me as it is not as immediate as some of the other tracks. He uses a range of guitar tones to convey the story, moving from the fear of the wolf attack through to anguish and finally a rather mournful conclusion.

‘Story Tellers part one’ featured the comical A Kid’s Tale, which is surpassed on this instalment with the comic masterpiece of Three Little Pigs, starting with some humourous ‘false starts’. The consistently funny and witty lyrics genuinely made me laugh out loud at one point… and how often can you say that about an album! Played in intentionally childlike or music hall style this song brims with humour and funny voices – kids would love it… I certainly did!

The ghosts of Trick of the Tail / Wind and Wuthering era haunt the instrumental epic of The Palace as Hackett-like guitars  and Tony Banks-like keys thread right through the piece like a stick of Genesis Rock. Peter Jones makes no secret of his love for any era of Genesis, and the influence that legendary band has on his more ‘Prog’ like offerings is there for everyone to hear, and for many that is why they love his material. For such listeners this will be a highlight on the album and Jones’ skills as a fine guitarist and keyboard player pulls it off with aplomb. After such drama Jones soothes us with a touching tale of the Match Girl over a simple piano backing and a melancholic melodica. This song particularly show cases Peter Jones’ lovely voice, emotively singing this poignant tale.

The story book closes with swelling orchestration and electric guitar solo as The Mothster and Emma Friend briefly reprise Best Friends. You can almost see the credits rolling like the end of some Disney-esque animation… and that’s not said in a sneering manner – Disney have done some great adaptations of Fairy Tales!

This album is a real step up from ‘Story Tellers Part One’, which has not been quite as popular or as revered as other Tiger Moth Tales releases. It had some highlights such as the title song and A Kids Tale, but the rapidity in which it was recorded (there was a challenge to make an album in one month!) did mean it seemed to lack some of the depth and quality associated with his other fine albums. To be fair it was always meant as a more lightweight offering. In this second instalment there is still the sense spontaneity that Jones is looking for in this type of project, but he does it more successfully and subtly on this occasion.

‘Story Tellers Part Two’ is an entertaining album, and it does exactly what it says on the tin – it tells stories wonderfully well.  There’s laughs, tears and adventure… all played with skill and touch in a great range of different musical styles. Categorizing it is impossible, to be honest – it’s not deep or symbolic, just great fun.

If you’ve got young kids or grandchildren then get it and play them some of it (especially Three Little Pigs)… or if you feel like a kid yourself and you just need some escapism just play it to yourself –it may help you live Happily Ever After!

Released 18th October 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Valdez – This – by Leo Trimming

When first hearing about Valdez, a new band based in Philadephia, featuring Simon Godfrey (ex-Tinyfish and Shineback) and Echolyn bassist, Tom Hyatt, I made some initially lazy assumptions about it’s probable sound. I was wrong. Please check in your assumptions at the door because this is an album a long way away from Echolyn or Tinyfish. Simon Godfrey moved to America in 2014 when he married an American, and his personal journey has further stretched his musical horizons in an already wide ranging career encompassing Prog rock, acoustic songs and the electronically drenched unique rock of Shineback. When he met Tom Hyatt in Philadelphia they immediately hit it off and started jamming, then deciding to form Valdez (the name taken from a former band of keyboardist Joe Cardillo from the 1970’s.) Teaming up with the excellent electric keyboardist from Cool Blue, Cardillo, and drummer Scott Miller, Godfrey and Hyatt have produced with Valdez an eclectic and warm album, lovingly steeped in the sounds and textures of classic instruments.

The range of different styles is interesting but one thread that goes through them all is the sense of a solid, well written song. These are not sonic soundscapes of epic proportions, rather vignettes in engaging songs of sometimes wry observations of life around them. This is perhaps most acutely demonstrated in Thirteen, a song which opens with a subtle reference to the opening lines of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in which in early April the clocks ‘struck thirteen’. The song gives us pithy observations about how our societies have come to be in their current political messes, and this is all served up in waves of ‘bubblegum pop’ as Godfrey has described it. There’s a real 70’s vibe to this catchy song with excellent electric piano, reminiscent of Billy Joel.

Godfrey has explained the thinking behind the band as having a real focus on the song, whether  ‘it’s a short song, a long song or a mad, complex one. As long as it’s good we’ll grab it with both hands and spin it until we’re dizzy’, which very much comes over, especially in Thirteen. Similarly, opening song Black Eyed Susans chimes in with all the swagger and attitude of a Joe Jackson song, which is a GOOD thing!

The diversity and skill of Valdez is exemplified by the melancholic and evocative take on dementia in Sally Won’t Remember. This emotional but not mawkish song successfully conveys the debilitating slowness and sheer psychological effort associated with caring for someone with dementia. Like Godfrey this listener has experienced the sad decline of a parent with dementia, and this song echoes those feelings, but even in their dementia strangely our parents indirectly teach us about life and caring.

The stand out track on the album is the title track This, which apparently refers to ‘the world of wonder right in front of us which we forget, simply because we see it every day’. Opening intriguingly with the sound of a wurlitzer and a chiming piano, it then rises like a sun as acoustic guitar and percussion join in to then be filled out with bass and keyboards… and then it settles back in to the song with Godfrey’s distinctive and emotive voice leading us to a swelling killer chorus. This lovely song rolls along memorably and then takes a breath before a pulsing bass introduces us to a resonant final section with great multi-layered harmony vocals as it rises to a crescendo. In some ways this listener would have liked to hear a few more songs of this nature, but only because it was so bloody good!

No Stone Unturned is a more bluesy number, Godfrey sounds like George Michael vocally at times (which is no bad thing), but the real star of this number is the excellent keyboard work of Cardillo. Godfrey has shared that the whole band really thinks that the majority of the best music came out of the instruments made famous in the 60’s and 70’s. Consequently they have used a range of classic keyboards, such as the Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, upright pianos, classic acoustic and electric guitars, recorded through old amps, and this is particularly evident on the warm, lush, atmospheric sounds of No Stone Unturned and Little Keys. Not every song works for this reviewer (take a bow Spite House) but this is an engaging album that will draw you in.

On ‘This’, there is a real sense of looking back affectionately but not slavishly to the past, as evoked by Mark Buckingham’s striking artwork of a 1950’s style woman swinging on a balloon. This is an album of fairly stripped back but well played and constructed songs. Godfrey has also shared that this album, produced by Hyatt’s legendary band mate in Echolyn, Brett Kull, was recorded without sequencing and as miked up to make it as live as possible. Such loving attention to vintage recording techniques combined with classic equipment clearly  influenced the whole atmosphere of the album, and it particularly pays off in the strong final duo of segued songs, Colorado and Smile for the CameraColorado, written by Cardillo, has an enchanting rolling and melodic intro and evokes the free open space of that state, with some beautiful bass by Hyatt. An ambient, feedbacking interlude connects us to the beguiling Smile for the Camera, which floats in with a delicately picked acoustic guitar, with echoes of classic Supertramp’s heyday. This extended song takes a jazzier turn with peculiar sounds and a twisting synth solo… it seems that Godfrey and Hyatt couldn’t quite contain all their ‘Proggier’ impulses for a whole album! However, this is a brief diversion before this piece takes another turn into the beautiful blissed out harmony vocals reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash, possibly with the help of Kull who added vocals and guitar alongside his production duties. Nevertheless, ultimately this is a Valdez song because the song then concludes eerily and possibly a little darkly with the last line ‘Smile for the Camera’ .

Valdez have created an interesting album, which crosses various genres and combines the myriad talents of the band in an engaging mix of sounds and songs. It’s not particularly ground-breaking or innovative, and was never intended to be so – but if you’re looking for some well written and well performed songs in classic style  with warmth, with and spirit ‘This’ could be it!

Released 19th May 2017

Order ‘This’ in the UK, Europe & ROW (excluding USA) from Bandcamp here

Order ‘This’ in the USA from bandcamp here

 

Review – Bjørn Riis – Forever Comes To An End – by Leo Trimming

An Airbag is a device designed to save your life or reduce injury in the event of a collision.

Can music save your life? Who knows?

But life does does bring us in to collisions with all sorts of unexpected events and we try to find ways to survive or at least lessen the impacts. From the sound and themes of Bjørn Riis’ second solo album, ‘Forever Comes to an End’ , it does seem evident that perhaps life has been impacting upon him deeply, reflected in an emotional release. Emotion is not a word usually associated with the sweeping, glacial Floydian soundscapes so beloved of Airbag, but Bjørn Riis has successfully created a more personalised album, infused with fragile feelings and delicate melodies alongside his trademark architectural sonic structures.

Bjørn Riis is the main songwriter and lead guitarist of the Norwegian Progressive rock band, Airbag, and that background is very apparent in the style of this album, although title track Forever Comes to an End does open the album in furious and heavy fashion, exploding into action immediately with Henrik Fossum of Airbag pounding out insistent driving drums. The theme of broken relationships and loss, with musings on the tension between Love and Hate are starkly focused upon in this crunching number

‘Fear, Do you Fear, Do you feel the hate…. But I’m scared to let you go out of my life…’

Bjørn Riis contrasts the darker hard riffing passages, reminiscent of Sabbath’s Toni Iommi, with occasional lighter, less intense shafts of musical sunlight, framing impassioned pleas to stay. Vocally Riis delivers this song, and the whole album, with a sense of  beautiful melancholy and yearning. This is powerful stuff in more ways than one. The brief bleak interlude soundscape of Absence atmospherically takes us to the emotive shores of The Waves, seguing with Ocean sounds as Riis intones mournfully :

‘I’ve been down for too long, I almost drowned,

There was darkness all around and it pulled me down to the deep’

In The Waves there is a fragility and emotional intensity in Riis’ voice, akin to Tim Bowness of No-Man, which gives this album a sense of honest emotion and humanity, born from personal experiences, and moves parts of this album away from the now predictable trademark Floyd style so successfully produced by Airbag on their albums. The Waves wistfully fades as the tide of the song recedes with echoes of the cinematic soundscapes of Thomas Newman film scores.

Instrumental Getaway slowly builds and builds, with layers of guitars across a sweeping canvas on synths, until a break of echoing keys and percussion is glided over by an icy guitar line. The driving rock theme returns with added wah-wah guitar, outstanding drums and riffs that more than hint at Porcupine Tree, that all add up to quite a thrilling ride. Calm shimmers with delicate beauty with a simple piano motif and acoustic guitars over lain with flute sounding keys, and then the whole piece eventually drifts away in to the distance, virtually acting as a beautiful introduction into Winter, the centrepiece of the whole album.

A gentle opening adorned with lilting acoustic guitar, over lain with subtle, tasteful  electric guitar dashes in the vein of Marillion’s Steve Rothery, express the contradictory emotional forces of resentment and forgiving, hate and love…

“Now she’s gone, but I still want her here, She stole my heart and she turned it into stone…”

This remarkable piece develops with increasing intensity as Riis builds with beautiful musical textures and Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum adds a female delicacy to the vocals, alongside Riis. The inevitable Gilmour like soaring lead guitar parts are used sparingly but effectively. Riis’ guitar is the main ‘voice’ in Winter as he uses it intuitively to emotionally express probably what words sometimes cannot say about broken relationships. A lovely bass line with uncanny echoes of Porcupine Tree’s classic ‘Dark Matter’ underpins the gradual elegiac disintegration of this great song.

A simple but touching piano melody by Simen Valldal Johannessen introduces Riis’ finely judged emotional vocal in the  final heart-breaking song Where Are You Now. Flute like keyboards float over a gradually building theme before Riis emotively illustrates this emotional song with a glistening, gliding guitar solo. The song and album finishes as Riis’ fragile vocals lead to the simple stark beauty of the opening piano motif. Heart break seldom sounds so beautiful.

There will be inevitable comparisons by some to later Pink Floyd, and fans of that band will find much to admire and touch them in this album. Sonically the production is perfect – this drips with feeling and atmosphere. Some of the songs would also not sound out of place on an Airbag album, which is inevitable considering Riis’ main role in that band. However, there is much more to ‘Forever Comes to an End’ than a Floyd pastiche or just an Airbag album by another name. Riis has really put his heart on the line on this release and such emotion exudes from the imaginative music and heartfelt lyrics on this intensely personal album.

Will this album save your life?

Very probably not, but like an Airbag ‘Forever Comes to an End’ may very well stop you getting a headache (!!) and  will certainly help you deal with the collisions and impacts of what life throws at us.

(Photos of Bjørn by Anita Stostad)

Released 19th May 2017

Order ‘Forever Comes To An End direct from the artist (Europe)

Order ‘Forever Comes To AN End from Burning Shed (UK)

Review – Lonely Robot – The Big Dream – by Leo Trimming

‘To go to sleep and never wake up… to be simply not there forever and ever…

… That’s such a curious thought… that’s such a curious thought’

These spoken musings of an unidentified philosopher about sleep and death permeate the instrumental cinematic opening sequence Prologue (Deep Sleep) of Lonely Robot’s second album ‘The Big Dream’, and atmospherically sets the scene for an album which considers our mortality. Lonely Robot is a solo project from John Mitchell, renowned as guitarist, producer and vocalist with bands such as Frost*, Arena, It Bites and Kino. ‘The Big Dream’ is more reminiscent of Kino than It Bites, but such is the excellent quality and imagination of the ‘Lonely Robot’ project Mitchell has arguably now created material which surpasses the achievements of his time with either of those bands. Following on from Lonely Robot’s impressive 2015 debut ‘Please Come Home’, which featured a range of guest artists, in ‘The Big Dream’ John Mitchell takes on all the vocal, guitar and keyboard duties to great effect, alongside his Frost* band mate Craig Blundell on drums.

‘The Big Dream’ once again showcases Mitchell’s strong song writing and distinctive fine guitar style, but also shows his excellent keyboard work throughout this musically dynamic album. Whilst this is an album of ‘Big Ideas’ it is largely expressed in a series of accessible and polished rock songs, alongside some more progressive cinematic passages. For John Mitchell the song is key and whilst he undoubtedly has the musical chops he is not about indulgent technique, preferring songs punctuated with memorable hooks and riding along on waves of melodic progressive rock, such as the ‘earworm’ song Sigma and it’s heroic sounding refrain.

Similarly to ‘Please Come Home’, once again the album has a science fiction context – not a concept album as such, but with recurring themes and featuring the central character of ‘The Astronaut’. However, whilst the previous album was largely associated with Space it appears in ‘The Big Dream’ The Astronaut wakes from a cryogenic sleep in a strange woodland. There are peculiar hints of a space age Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with the gentle pastoral prog pop of Floral Green, featuring some delightful vocal dexterity from Mitchell, presumably supported by Kim Seviour (ex-Touchstone) on backing vocals. A short expressive guitar solo over sensitive keyboards skilfully  illustrates this delicate number… sometimes less really is more.

In contrast Everglow blasts in like some sort of sci-fi movie spectacular with powerful, driving guitars intertwining with sparkling, pulsing keyboards, whilst Craig Blundell provides a remarkable drumming masterclass to drive this impressive highlight of the album along… oh, and Mitchell throws in yet another short but golden guitar solo before we rejoin the thunderous refrain and heavy curtain of sound that introduced the song. If that’s not enough we then segue into the lighter, dreamy and appropriately shimmering False Lights, in which Blundell initially shows a much more subtle side on percussion, before it builds in intensity and then recedes in echoes. Symbolic, is rather insistent, perhaps lacking some of the subtlety and in my view somewhat interrupting the flow of the cinematic sweep of the latter half of the album, but it’s still a trademark Mitchell finely honed rock song… which is no bad thing!

In 2016 John Mitchell released under his own name an E.P. called ‘The Nostalgia Factory’, featuring four cover songs (which is well worth seeking out). ‘The Nostalgia Factory’ included a fine version of the Phil Collins song Take Me Home and it sounds as if The Divine Art of Being has distinct echoes of that great anthem… which is a good thing! John Mitchell certainly knows how to pen a song with great melody and choruses that resound around your brain like The Divine Art of Being, a song which also highlights the great quality of his voice, perfectly suited to his pitch and intonation.

The Big Dream feels like the finale of the album and projects us into spacey, epic Floydian territory, reminiscent of A Godless Sea on ‘Please Come Home’. The Big Dream is widescreen in nature with a wall of grandiose, cosmic keyboards echoing the intro of ‘Awakenings’ over which a wonderful high pitched guitar swoops eerily. This is spectacular stuff which feels like a film soundtrack. As this evocative track closes the philosopher returns with his spoken musings on death and sleep and then in a direct link back to ‘Please Come Home’ we hear the strangely heartbreaking lines:

‘Please Come Home Lonely Robot, Your Heart is Beautiful, Programmed to Receive, We Miss You now Lonely Robot, Ever so Beautiful’

After the drama of The Big Dream there is a sense of release and optimism as the coda song Hello World Goodbye is like musical sunlight breaking through the clouds. A piano plays a simple melody before Mitchell’s almost whispered soft vocals resonate with optimism, beautifully backed by Kim Seviour, and Mitchell pours a lovely soaring, rippling but subtle guitar solo over the conclusion. Epilogue (Sea Beams), with it’s title hinting at the tragic replicant Roy Batty from ‘Bladerunner’ (the ultimate Lonely Robot?) is a delicate ending, feeling like the end credits for a movie. The elegiac whistle like sounds underline the nautical but cosmic connection and underlines the emotion at the core of this remarkable album. John Mitchell has released a remarkable album which subtly conveys meaning and depth with accessible and finely written songs.

The juxtaposition of machine and emotion in the ‘Lonely Robot’ project is peculiarly touching, and one wonders if many of us lead similarly robotic, regimented lives, not knowing how to escape or truly express our inner feelings…

‘…That’s such a curious thought…’

Released 28th April 2017

Order ‘The Big Dream’ from InsideOut Music

 

 

Review – Kaprekar’s Constant – Fate Outsmarts Desire – by Leo Trimming

6174 – there you go, 6174 apparently is virtually always the Answer using Kaprekar’s Constant, which may lead some to ask what is the Question? … and what does it have to do with a new Kent based Progressive Rock band, featuring David Jackson, once of veteran ‘Prog’ greats Van Der Graaf Generator? Who knows?

‘Fate Outsmarts Desire’ is their interesting and rather impressive debut album, written and largely played by multi-instrumentalists Al Nicholson and Nick Jefferson, who formed this project in 2015. Why they have the rather peculiar band name is rather a mystery but research shows that ‘Kaprekar’s Constant’ is a number theorem devised in 1946 by an Indian mathematician in which the answer is virtually always the number 6174 in no more than 7 steps… all rather mystifying but you can google it as well if you’re really interested!

Strange as it may seem, the choice of the band name indicates that this is a group with an interest in enigmatic curiosities and history, which imbues the atmosphere of this album.

The stark and memorable opening lines of this album:

“Your band of scrotes and their dredging boats robbed the shingle from under our feet…”

make an immediate statement that this is a work steeped in atmospheric historical narrative. Hors D’Oeuvre effectively acts as a promising overture for the album, referencing elements of the longer pieces to come, and David Jackson evokes slight hints of A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers by VDGG with his distinctive droning sax sounds.

Perhaps the strongest and most memorable composition on the album is the elegiac Hallsands, (but I may be biased as I live very close to that beautiful but tragic location!) A fine song based on the true story of the negligent environmental disaster visited upon a South Devon village by rapacious developers who stripped a shingle bank protecting the village to provide material to build the docks at Devonport in Plymouth. This led to the eventual collapse of the whole of Hallsands village in to the sea in 1917 – perhaps a lesson for modern times and it’s exploitation of the environment. The music is suitably nautical and evocative of a simple seaside community falling victim to thoughtless dredgers. Paul Gunn provides some thankfully brief narration interludes, but the main impact is conveyed by the folk tinged fine vocals of Bill Jefferson, conveying more than a little anger and bitterness. Acoustic guitars with whistles and flutes conjure up the simple seaside community, ultimately destroyed by

arrogant lies… the beach went to Devonport, the houses went to the sea”.

Epic in length and evocative in nature, Hallsands holds the attention and touches the emotions with skillfully composed music which very successfully conveys the images atmospherically. Contrasting simple acoustic passages, reminiscent of Jethro Tull in some ways, with more discordant storm driven percussive sections, Hallsands is one of the main highlights of this album, successfully describing a captivating and instructive story in our recent history.

Real US police radio conversations introduce and underpin the remarkable Four-Faced Liar. Inspired by much more recent events, the story of the capture of the Boston Marathon bombers is conveyed in a fine lilting melodic rock song, sung perfectly by Bill Jefferson, backed colourfully with some well judged keyboards and string sounds. The events are described from the perspective of the Clock of the Boston Custom House, called the Four Faced Liar locally as none of the clock faces tell the same time. Maybe that is a metaphor for the different perspectives on how one story can be reported, or may just be an interesting local detail for a band that evidently likes idiosyncratic stories from reality. The relative brevity but excellence of this song is a reminder for progressive rock bands that sometimes ‘less is more’.

Pearl of the Lake features Dorie Jackson (daughter of David Jackson) on some lovely vocals in a much shorter and simpler song, relying purely upon the strength of the melody and the lyrics to express itself.

Dorie Jackson takes lead vocals for the epic concluding piece, Houdini – King of Cards, based on the renowned escapologist. A possibly over extended first lyrical section sets the scene before giving way to an instrumental passage, combining keyboards and saxes possibly conveying the peculiar atmospheres of séances. Houdini was very skeptical of tricksters in his life time, but wondered if he could effectively ‘cheat death’ by communicating with his wife Bess after his death. They agreed on a very personal message between them that he would try to communicate from beyond the grave. Bess started the tradition of spiritualism sessions to see if her husband, the man who could escape from any jail, managed to escape death. For 10 years after his death Bess organized these sessions without receiving a sign from her husband, and then ceased them convinced that even he could not cheat death. The closing melodic section is sung beautifully by Dorie Jackson over a slowly building backing, with her father adding some effective woodwind. The apparently real archive spoken parts from that era are interlaced with this song, and add an eerie and authentic element to the narrative.

In contrast album opener Bluebird demonstrates for me just how NOT to use spoken parts!

Based on the story of Sir Malcolm Campbell and other high speed motoring pioneers Bluebird is introduced and constantly punctuated by short explanatory spoken parts by Paul Gunn, which are clearly delivered in a tone intended to sound contemporary to the story… but have the unfortunate effect of sounding like the rather pompous Harry Enfield comedic character ‘Mr Cholmondley-Warner’. The music is melodic progressive rock imaginatively expressing the events, including the dramatic journey of the car ‘Babs’ along Pendine Sands in Pembrokeshire. A restrained but expressive guitar carries the middle section, alongside Jackson’s saxes and flutes. This is an ambitious song of nearly 18 minutes full of some finely played music, but one has to wonder whether there was enough narrative to justify such an epic treatment. Just when you think it’s over Gunn’s voice pops up to let us know the story was moving to the next stage. This is a clumsy device which for me distracted from the music – it felt like I was looking at a lovely painting in a gallery and then suddenly a tour guide stands in front of it telling me what I am seeing, but now cannot see because the guide is in front explaining it to me! The whole song feels episodic and rather a history lecture, which is a pity as there is some good music on this piece. Perhaps this new band needed to rely less upon the ‘Basil Exposition’ type interludes and really trust much more in the imaginative power of their music.

However, it would be grossly unfair to focus on this flaw, (which explains why the first song on the album appears at the end of the review), rather than commend Kaprekar’s Constant on what is undoubtedly a very promising and good debut album.

They are clearly talented musicians and singers with a mission to entertain and inform with fascinating stories and melodic rock songs. Their historical narrative songs are clearly in the same territory as the eminent band Big Big Train, but let’s not forget that a band such as Big Big Train took quite some years to mature and develop in to their current excellence. If Kaprekar’s Constant continue to develop their evident melodic sensibilities and further hone their songwriting craft they have the potential to offer much more to Progressive Rock. To think that this is a debut album is remarkable…

… now what was the question again?

Whatever, 6174 is the answer.

Released 10th March 2017 via Uranium Club

Buy ‘Fate Outsmarts Desire’ from Uranium Cub on bandcamp

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Leo Trimming’s Top 10

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Robin Armstrong’s multi-instrumental ability would be nothing without the excellent song writing and fascinating concept of this outstanding album. Undoubtedly, Album of the Year for me, from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

(I’ve put Cosmograf as my Album of the year… the rest are in no particular order… they’re all great albums.)

Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

‘This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.’

Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

Marillion – F.E.A.R

This is a remarkable release from the Prog veterans that rightly propelled them back to wider prominence with an album full of anger and insight in to the state of the world, with the dominance and influence of the ‘super rich’. Of course, none of those political thoughts or feelings would count for anything in an album without outstanding music – Marillion have conveyed their message with powerful rock passages and also subtle melody. Three epic songs with ambitious scope are clearly modern and truly ‘Progressive’ without lazily resting on ‘Prog’ tropes.  A late contender for album of the year, but who would guess that well over 30 years in to their career that Marillion would pull off an album that truly has something to say about today’s world with such impact and sensitivity, and really mean something.  Beautiful at times, dramatic at other times… thought provoking throughout.

The Gift – Why The Sea Is Salt

Let’s get straight to the point – ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a truly exceptional album, and deserves to propel The Gift in to the higher echelons of current British Progressive Rock Music. Simple as that – it really is that outstanding. Very few albums indeed have the potential to attain the status of a potential ‘classic’ album, which will live long in the memory like ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. This is a work which greatly appeals to the heart and mind in equal measures, and similarly beguiles and stimulates in its beauty and drama. The Gift have skilfully and  beautifully draw upon a variety of influences, inspirations and ideas and artfully crafted them into an imaginative and enjoyable musical experience that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. Just brilliant.

What more could one want from an album?!

Paradigm Shift – Becoming Aware

This is an outstanding album musically and lyrically, with this young band fusing elements of heavy rock, psychedelia, rap, politics and progressive rock tropes in an intoxicating mix.

Paradigm Shift create finely played music based on well known influences with a largely retro feel. It is refreshing to see a new, younger band on the progressive rock scene willing to inject a political but not overwhelming edge to their songs on this very promising debut album, addressing such issues with vigour and passion.

What remains to be seen is whether Paradigm Shift can sustain this very impressive early showing, and how they develop and absorb other influences in the modern progressive music scene. However, with this album I think many progressive rock fans will definitely be ‘Becoming Aware’ of this promising young band.

TILT – Hinterland

TILT have delivered a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done. It is a clever mix of styles with some subdued, complicated sections weaving between the more straightforward rock themes and gives TILT their own definite sense of identity. This is a talented group of musicians who are at the top of their game and it shows.

Yorkston,Thorne and Khan – Everything Sacred

Finally, and completely out of ‘left field’ for me after seeing them at a festival.

What do you get when you combine a talented Scottish folk singer-songwriter, (James Yorkston) with a reknowned double bass jazz player (Jon Thorne) and finally an award winning Sarangi player and classical singer from New Delhi ( Suhail Yusuf Khan)?

You get an album of beguiling beauty, heart breaking emotion and diverse sounds, blending styles and cultures in a fascinating mix. Listen to songs like ‘Broken Wave’ and ‘Everything Sacred’ and try not to dab the corner of your eye. At other times you are drawn in to hypnotic Indian rhythms with hints of folk, and always played with such delicacy and skill.

Is it ‘Prog’? Of course it bloody isn’t!

But what is more ‘Progressive’ than skilfully and intuitively blending musical and cultural influences to create something so new and so beautiful? Go on… challenge yourself – it’s a great album.