David Rickinson’s first review for Progradar is the excellent ‘Late Cut’ by Twice Bitten……
I abandoned, to a large extent, Progressive Rock in favour of bands like Eurythmics and China Crisis and then, later on, Prefab Sprout and Deacon Blue. But then it was a strange time for music – all that weird electronic synthesiser stuff, and the New Romantics. Prog was hiding in a cupboard, licking its wounds.
It was the age of MTV – video didn’t only kill the radio star, it dressed him up in a pastel suit with the sleeves pushed up, buried him and then danced on his grave.
This is important, because it goes some way to explain why Twice Bitten never achieved any real success – they were terminally untrendy in a decade where style was much more important than substance.
Rog Patterson and Greg Smith met as philosophy students at Nottingham University. A shared love of 12-string guitars, a passion for real ale and a conspicuous absence of dress sense made it inevitable that they would form a band.
Somehow they combined their studies with playing hundreds of gigs around the country supporting bands in the Progressive Rock scene, but unsurprisingly commercial success eluded them and after nearly four years, a couple of independently-released cassette albums and a track on a compilation long player, they called it a day.
One of those cassette albums (1985’s ‘No Third Man’) makes up the bulk of this release – the 7 tracks of that album have been transferred from a cassette master tape into the binary world and cleaned up. I have to congratulate David Elliott for his efforts here – I think he has done a great job.
The album’s opening track, Kingdom of the Blind, sets out Twice Bitten’s “heavy wood” stall for all to hear – a combination of staccato strumming and delicate picking on 12 string guitars.
Rain stops Play is an instrumental led by some very tasteful bass playing
Two of the songs really stand out for me, Swallowsong and Blue Sky Century – A pair of lovely songs, one with the bass very prominent as a lead instrument and the other a particularly gorgeous song with long vocal phrases over a delicate backing of 12 string guitars.
West End – the closing track on the original album, at just over 10.5 minutes, is covered with phasing, flanging, fuzzing and probably all manner of other electrickery as it tells its dystopian tale of surviving in the ruins of London. I like a bit of dystopia!
Special mention must be made of the album’s final track, the epic Crocus Point. Recorded in 2015 (because it took 30 years to get the 12 string guitars to stay in tune long enough to record the whole song) and mixed superbly by Kevin Feazey of The Fierce and The Dead fame. For eight minutes we are treated to some great 12 string work, with lots of delicious suspended chords and a gentle vocal line, and then suddenly all hell breaks loose as the electricity is turned on for an extended solo of great swooping curves before gradually calming down and drifting gently off into the sunset.
One of the things which surprises me about this album is how well it fills the soundstage of my living room, even though it‘s only two blokes with guitars. There are no keyboards or drums, and it is all the better for it.
Despite being very firmly rooted in the 1970s and stylistically very reminiscent of Anthony Phillips-era Genesis and Nigel Mazlyn Jones’ classic album ‘Ship to Shore’, there is a timeless quality to these songs which I really like. I could have listened to, and enjoyed, this album at any point in my life, it’s a shame I didn’t discover Twice Bitten until 2015.
I’ve been affected by music all my life – I still get shivers down my spine when I hear the intros to “I want to hold your hand” and “She loves you”, just as I did as a 4 year old when I first heard them.
For the last couple of years I have consciously decided to listen to full albums without skipping tracks. It is how the artists put them together. Last year I managed 687 albums (422 different ones) by 198 different artists.
My biggest musical regret is deciding to buy a textbook at university in 1977, rather than spending the money on a ticket to see Yes at Stafford Bingley Hall.
I’ve worked in IT since 1978, starting as a trainee computer operator, where I used to amuse myself by singing albums such as T’he Lamb lies down on Broadway’ from start to finish to while away the hours.
I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to review this.
The only album I possess by Devin Townsend is ‘Ghost’ which is, I’ve learned atypical of his output. ‘Ghost’ is a beautiful ambient collection that drifts and soothes the soul.
First listen to this indicates that it is closer to that vibe than the rest of his output. The opening tracks have a driving percussive attack that is more skiffle than anything else. One thing that made me smile – my son came down from his room to complain as the bass on the opening track was making his bed vibrate! Now I was not playing it loud, it was late at night after all, but that‘s the sonic palette used here – subwoofer friendly bass to the front.
The voices are multi tracked and muffled, this adds a ghostly feel to the songs, layering atmosphere on top of the beat. Lonnie Donegan on acid, but in a good way. Track 2 puts me in mind of a male fronted Cocteau Twins or a less cerebral Dead Can Dance.
So far, I’m enjoying this a lot, it’s very me.
If I try to relate it to a more Prog centred audience, imagine the narrative from Hawkwind’s “Warrior On The Edge Of Time” with all its twisting harmonies and dense soundscape, but without any reference to Sword or Sorcery. The feeling of claustrophobia stays, the voices buried beneath the mix, I’m sure the lyrics are deep and meaningful, but they are a layer of sound here, echoing around as the guitars are strummed and a droning wind storm of orchestral force swamps the mix.
It’s muddy and dense, whether this is the intention of Mr Townsend or not, all I can say is listening to it for the first time through headphones (out of deference to my son) is immersive, perhaps too immersive as the music is second place to the low frequencies.
I’m wondering if it’s also a by product of new headphones (blue tooth) and the format that the files came through in – MPEG-4 Audio , not a format I’m familiar with, being a top end MP3 or WAV man myself.
So far, the album has been a chilled mix of acoustic sounds behind this constant hum of bass and echo.
Hello, still with me?
Well, I’ve been a naughty boy, and for the purposes of this review, I’ve burned the files to disc. I know, home taping is killing music, but the difference between the 5.1 speakers of the PC, headphones and now a proper Hi Fi for playing this album through is marked.
Through the Hi Fi, it takes on new life, the drone of the bass is gone, the tracks are lighter, still ambient with a background of hum, but it’s now peaceful, much more in line with ‘Ghost’, the vocals from Devin Townsend remind me of a French artist, another favourite of mine, Kid Loco. They’re husky and breathy, but measured, like Lou Reed singing a lullaby.
The warm mix is very Kid Loco too, in fact you could mix ‘Kill Your Darlings’ tracks with the tracks on this and they would complement each other nicely.
Perhaps that’s the best way to review, write down the albums that you’d use to make a mix tape / CD/ Flash Drive with the one under discussion. Everyone would suggest different musical companions, as we all arrive here via different routes. I’d add a smatter of Turin Brakes to the mix too as the gentle strumming acoustic guitars evoke their sound.
Hello world. It’s me again. I have a confession to make. On the third listen, I could resist no more and ordered the deluxe 2CD and DVD version.
Why, you ask, when you have the review copy?
Well, the first reason is , this is fabulous stuff, earworms that burrow through the headspaces and leave little bomblets of melody and tunes that nag away until you give in and put the CD on . The second reason, and this is just my personal stand, is that if I like this enough to say go buy it, it would be doubly hypocritical not to follow my own lead.
No musicians suffered as a consequence of this review. Quite the contrary, as the purchase will generate income and that hopefully the relationship between artist and listener can continue by virtue of upholding the tradition of paying for the pleasure.
So, in conclusion, if you’re partial to a (quiet) blast of Brian Eno, are moved by Sigur Ros, like melody, prefer music with space between the notes and are ready to embrace the sonic nuances here, and then take a trip with us, we don’t know where we are going, but we have the perfect soundtrack.
Progressive Rock, as it began in the late 60s (if you break it down into its component parts), arguably had key elements that were essential for it to be Prog. Skilled musicianship (if not virtuosity), an understanding of varied musical styles and the ability to distill it into your own identity and yet retain those obvious components in the music. These were, in the main, Jazz, folk, Classical, blues, soul and Rock, there are probably more but the essentials sit in there in the big 5 or 6 bands that broke through in the early 70s.
So onto UT New Trolls who have a history that goes back to the mid 60s and grew out of that very tradition. I won’t go into their long and hectic history but they have been around consistently since 1966 with splits and reunions dotted across the recording world.
The sound is very obviously from that period when you hear it. Hammond organ and Moog synths are heard throughout this album with a thick solid production. The album was recorded at the back end of 2015 in analog so I assume no computers or digital instruments were used in the studio apart from the actual recording equipment.
To the album then, as a whole piece it feels like a journey through the history of music and I know that was the aim of the band when the conceived the project. The Italians close connection with classical music and its history is very obvious in the first track Dies Israe (Day of Wrath), a haunting violin sat in front of a deep keyboard tone, ominous and threatening of things to come. Doom laden, it then jumps into a folk dance that I believe to be a Polka type rhythm in a truly insane change in tone of the track. This sets up the entire album to be filled with the unexpected and a delightful spirit. My translations may leave something to be desired but I am interpreting.
Cambiamente (Changes) is not a Black Sabbath cover but it rocks out as good as any can. It’s not prog metal but it is good rock in a progressive theme.
Io (I) is a ballad in a full on fist pumping passionate style that is worthy of any power pop band from the 80s or 90s, but without the 80s cold calculating production.
The epic Ostinato (determined) is classic prog track that many modern or classic bands would be proud to produce. It’s layered with experimental and melodic components that explore musical themes and is enough to fill an album from that one piece alone.
I’ve selected various tracks off the album as highlights and personal favourites but the 8 track album has something for every fan of progressive music. Do not let the fact that this is sung in Italian put you off, the lyrics ( of which I have no idea what they mean), on listening, become part of the music.
Musically, if you like Camel, Procul Harum, ELP , Yes,Early Genesis,Pink Floyd (Syd period) or Big Big Train, you will find something immediately familiar and reassuring for your aural delight.
As a friend who had listened to album before me stated, “It’s a bonkers album with so much variation to offer the listener”. I’d definitely put it in the ‘worth a punt’ box.
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” – Marcel Proust
Should we look to the past for inspiration when it comes to music? The whole point of progression is to move forward surely? To a certain extent, I would agree but we all sometimes like to listen to an album from those sepia tinged days gone by, don’t we?
Perhaps we use it as a point of reference, maybe it brings back great memories, I don’t know? Also, the flip side could be true, we might not have liked that music at the time but, as we have got older and matured, we now come to appreciate it more.
One of the bands I grew up with, and was a big fan of, was the British rockers Magnum. I always felt they had a bit of a progressive tinge to their music on tracks such as ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’, ‘How Far Jerusalem’, ‘Kingdom of Madness’ and the like.
The core of the band has always been main songwriter and guitarist Tony Clarkin and vocalist Bob Catley, whose dulcet tones must be one of the most recognisable in rock.
Their success peaked in the late 80’s and early 90’s with the albums ‘Vigilante’, ‘Wings of Heaven’ and ‘Good night L.A.’, records with more of a hard rock and metal approach. The band seemed to fade away, for me, after this until the release of ‘Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow’ in 2007, an excellent return to form and they have produced four classy albums since.
2015 sees the release of the latest chapter in Magnum’s long history, ‘Sacred Blood, Divine Lies’, delivered by the band’s now stable line up of Tony and Bob plus Mark Stanway (keyboards), Al Barrow (bass) and Harry James (Drums).
Tony Clarkin started working on the resounding new album even before ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’ crashed into the UK Album Chart at 38. Clarkin was inspired to write 25 new songs during and after the subsequent triumphant European tour, the most outstanding 13 of which were selected for ‘Sacred Blood, Divine Lies’.
Title track and opener Sacred Blood, Divine Lies sets the tone for the rest of the album, a really good, dynamic rock track. The first riff on the record is pulsating and driving and the drums hold everything in place, giving the rest of the band free rein to really rock out. Bob Catley’s vocals are as good as ever, the catchy chorus showing that his forty years plus at the front of the band has not seen the power of his voice wane a jot. This is a real ‘in your face’ rocking track and one which you can’t help bouncing along to, the ‘air guitar’ even came out for a dust off on Tony’s scorching solo. An impressive start to the album indeed, Tony goes as far as saying he thinks it will join the ranks of the great Magnum classics! The thundering riffs continue on Crazy Old Mothers but not before a more gentle piano led introduction. A slower paced track with a heartfelt vocal performance on the verse, the chorus drives on like a marching force and the whole track has a nostalgic feel. Mark Stanway’s piano playing gives a softer feel on the elegant verse but then Tony’s guitar hits you with a staccato riff on the chorus, all powered along by the superb rhythm section of Al and Harry. This couldn’t be anything other than a Magnum track with Bob’s trademark vocal key. Another great, if short, solo from Mr Clarkin and things are complete.
Tony Clarkin wrote Gypsey Queen after being inspired by a concert in St. Petersburg, a city which deeply impressed him with its unique atmosphere. This anthemic masterpiece begins with a mellow and laid back synth led intro, Bob’s vocal taking on a pleading tone before the drums kick in and the riff hoves into view, powerful and direct. The chorus is forceful and charismatic with a real addictive note and I’m hooked, a superb song gets better with another blistering solo from Tony’s guitar. One thing I’m noticing is their seems to be a real plethora of fiery guitar highlights building up as we move further into the album. An absolutely belting song and one that I am finding really hard to get out of my head but, when it is this good, why bother? Princess In Rags (the Cult) is another fast paced rocker that gets you up on your toes with its infectious riffing and energetic drums. The pulsating, edgy verses are highlighted by some great keyboards and then it opens up and flies off with the lively chorus, another welcome Magnum hallmark. This breathless song really does move at an electric pace as if it can’t be held back and the fluid solo is just as intense, a really full-on and red-blooded musical experience.
Now onto the first ballad-like track on the album, Ballads are another thing that Magnum excel at and Your Dreams Won’t Die is no exception. “To me, the title and lyrics have an almost religious depth,” says Clarkin of the song. “There’s a saying that somebody is not forgotten if their name is remembered.” The intro is slow and measured, lulling into a relaxed mood. Bob’s vocals begin emotive and sincere and the strings in the background give everything that poignant feel. The chorus is stylish and memorable and really moves you in only the way that a Magnum ballad can and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a really good rock ballad? A resounding riff-heavy introduction sets up Afraid of the Night, a song with really dramatic, almost operatic feel to it on the verse. A slow burning chorus opens into something really vivid and elemental. This track dances across your mind like a musical storyline, a clever and inventive track but one that doesn’t lose the power and dynamism of a proper rock epic.
A Forgotten Conversation has a subtle and understated introduction with Bob’s hushed vocals the highlight. The tone changes with the persistent drums, commanding guitar riff and stentorian vocals on the chorus and the interplay between the lighter verse and potent chorus works exceedingly well. Tony delivers one more trademark solo that really gets under your skin, another hard rocking addition to the album. The pulsating introduction to Quiet Rhapsody sets you up for the pounding riff that hits you like a ten ton weight, possibly the most assertive on the album. It spurs the track on with bulldozing force as each striking of the drum knocks you back in your seat. The chorus softens this slightly but only just, Bob’s voice has a forcible tone to it and you just get caught up in the irresistible force, one that is emphasised by yet one more superb solo.
Another elegant introduction opens Twelve Men Wise And Just, a haunting piano note adding to Bob’s great vocals before everything kicks off big style as the blue touch paper is lit. The pace increases tenfold and the energy and dynamism go off the scale. A track reminiscent of the great Magnum releases of the late 80’s, it wouldn’t have been out of place on ‘Wings of Heaven’. The whole song is captivating and addictive and I just found myself tapping my foot and singing along. A nicely judged harmonised section lets you get your breath back before the headlong rush begins again, another classic in the making. So to the final track on the album, Even Tony Clarkin was surprised by Don’t Cry Baby from the start, “Although I initially didn’t have a lyric, the melody kept going through my head, as well as the chorus with acoustic and e-guitars plus piano. We even kept the drums from the demo version because our drummer Harry James liked them so much. He said: “I love it the way it is. We shouldn’t change a thing about it”.” A really gracious track that begins with a warm and rounded vocal and rhythm section before the tempo increases and the vocals take on an unfeigned sincerity and passion that bleeds into the general feeling of the song. There is a superb piano section that makes the hairs on the nape of your neck stand up and you feel a little melancholy note rise in the vocals. Tony throws in some delicate, yet intense, guitar work and the song fades out to a close.
This is the sound of a band back at the peak of their powers, confident in their own ability. ‘Sacred Blood, Divine Lies’ takes me back to a time when Magnum were at the height of their popularity and should be a must for any fan of the band. Superb from start to finish, I take it Mr Clarkin has already started the next album and I, for one, can’t wait!
Two years after their release of ‘7’ back in 2013, Toxic Smile are back with new album ‘Farewell,’ which has a total of one track, yes you read it right, one track.
From your first glance of the album art, you are drawn in by the expressive and abstract style of brush strokes that give it a very emotive cover. However, to see that there is only one track, surely it must just be an EP? Then there’s how long the track lasts for… an epic 42 minutes. Toxic Smile took on a big task on writing an epic progressive track lasting for 42 minutes, it takes a lot of ingenuity, musicianship and a special amount of madness; they have combined all those traits, especially fantastic musicianship, to produce an epic journey melding styles and themes together.
Back in 2004 the band set to work on the classical project, which they then released in 2006, ‘……. in classic extension’. The opening of ‘Farewell’ straight away dictates the classical experience the band have had as the elegant sound of strings bows in to paint a tranquil scene before electric instruments are brought in and your sense of rhythm unravels.
A sense of pulse is a primary foundation for any piece of music because it provides drive and something you can tap your foot along to. Toxic Smile have realised this but chosen to ignore it at different moments during the progressive song. It’s almost as if there are 3 different time scales occurring as they all fall on different beats to each other, the drums have one beat and the synth sounds and bass guitar have different accented rhythms, it leaves you with an uncertain sense of what beat goes where. Although the sense of a strong rhythm from the audiences point of view is lost, it emphasises the skill the band have, to be able to keep different rhythmic lines occurring at the same time – fundamentally speaking – and then come to a regular rhythm where your foot can become mobile again.
Vocalist Larry B is not constantly relied upon to sing an extremely repetitive and superficial melodic line, which is very refreshing to hear – or not hear as the case may be. Vocal lines enter in stages and you can feel a shift in where the music is leading too. This, therefore, provides the emotive expression, in word form, of what they are trying to convey in the song.
Being such a long track, it would be expected, or at least hoped for, that the melodic material develops and changes, even remotely, in style; this is most definitely the case. Some style choices are surprising and, if written down on paper, could be shot down in flames. For instance, the combination of reggae and heavy rock seems an unlikely choice but Toxic Smile have made this odd idea work well.
The juxtaposition of distorted guitars and heavily pounding drums contrasts greatly with the chill of simple rhythms and melodies, with an off-beat accent for the reggae flavour. Nearer the end of the track the style heads in a completely unexpected direction into Funk town. The bass becomes more alive with energetic riffs and the guitar has distinct swirling sounds as the drums change rhythms, the styles couldn’t slide more seamlessly into each other, despite the initial unlikeliness of melding them.
Overall, this is a great album transporting you seamlessly to different emotions from the variation they have in their one epic track.
In this, his second album, Jack Arthurs follows ‘Only Dreams are True’ with ‘Treasure House’, building on the foundations of a strong debut solo album, growing as a songwriter and showing one man and an acoustic guitar are not something to avoided.
The test I set myself with any review is; ‘Can I listen to this several times in a row and still hear more after each play’. ‘Treasure House’ passes this test with distinction. I cannot comment on the CD packaging as, at the time of writing I haven’t got my copy, but the front cover shows a Turneresque view of BamburghCastle, an iconic vista from the North East coast of England.
The music is entrenched in that region in its influence and spirit. It is full of celebration and with tons of positivity throughout the songs and, yet, Jack portrays the intrinsic sadness that sits at the back of life in the North east at times. The character of the people in this part of the world shines through in songs like Hope and Soaring. There is a stoic character outside but with a quiet poetry in their hearts that is moved by the simplest of things.
The shortest song on the album Spirals, an instrumental, is fascinating in that it has so much space in the track and yet it fills the space well. Jack has obvious skill with the guitar but is not flash or pyrotechnic with it. I am drawn to make an obvious connection with Nick Drake and Roy Harper and this is very valid to some degree with the plaintive voice and the songs that look below the surface of life and examine the world in way only a singer song writer of this tradition can do.
I am not sure if he (Jack) recognises it but I also hear Alan Hull (he of Lindisfarne fame) in his solo guise. I saw Jack recently play some of these songs live and he feels and lives every note of the songs, they come from the heart in the purest form.
Jack is not frightened to let the music alone tell the story and that is a great strength in this case. You can listen to this album on many levels, a glass of wine to hand and the stereo on, and just let the music fill the void and find yourself in a contemplative mood, wishing to watch a sunset while sat on a North sea coast. It’s not background music, it would be almost rude to use it to fill silence, but I can see me putting it on when I get in from a night out to unwind and let the cares of the world drift away.
Bad Elephant Music have made a great signing here. The potential in Jack Arthurs’ writing is yet to be fully realised and I see much to come.
This kind of music is never out of fashion because it never really was in fashion but it crosses boundaries and borders of genres. Everybody, from someone who has heard an Ed Sheeran album to someone with a folk background, can find something to enjoy here.
If I’m being mischievous, I want to hear Jack play with a band and hear him rock out or fill out some of the songs. If he does or doesn’t, it won’t matte,r he can hold his head high, the so called difficult second album is not difficult to these ears.
Released 5th February 2016 via Bad Elephant Music.
“The music industry is a strange combination of having real and intangible assets: pop bands are brand names in themselves, and at a given stage in their careers their name alone can practically guarantee hit records.” – Richard Branson
So, is ‘Old Beardy’ right? To a certain extent, yes he is. You have probably gone out and bought an album, without hearing any of it, just because you know the band and like them. Their name imbues some sort of guarantee of quality, that you are pretty certain to be listening to a really good album. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule (in my case, the execrable ‘Van Halen III’) but this will ring true most times across the board.
Now, how many times have you looked up a band on Youtube, spotify or the like just because you liked the name of an artist you had never heard before? and, to flip it on its head, how many times have you ignored one because you hated their chosen moniker? We can be fickle when it comes to things like this and, because of our dislike of a simple rubric, we can be missing out on some rather excellent music.
No such chance with Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, that is one brilliant band name and made me want to listen to their music immediately. Thankfully, I was not disappointed!
(Photo by Emre Basala)
Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, a proggy, rocky, funky, defiant and sometimes poignant band from London, UK, is led by Malcolm Galloway, either on his own, or with his colleagues Kathryn Thomas (flute), Mark Gatland (bass), Rudy Burrell (drums) and Ibon Bilboa (guitar). Malcolm is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, and part-time neuropathologist and medical school lecturer.
Their songs so far have been about invisible disabilities, artificial intelligence, and stuff like that. Their first album, ‘Invisible’, was about Malcolm’s experience of invisible disability due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Malcolm is happy to be interviewed about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome to try to raise awareness of the condition.
“’When the Kill Code Fails’ is a fascinating expression of the angst and wonder of an AI as it learns to live. It’s science fiction rock: sometimes moody, sometimes serene, with a positive message – no AIs taking over the world here. If you ever wondered what music an AI would listen to, this is it.” – Dr Peter Bentley, Fellow and Honorary Reader in Computer Science at UCL.
(Photo by Jazz Dhillon)
Opener and title track When The Kill Code Fails begins in a spaced out fashion with an electronica infused introduction before the vocals begin, all hesitant and low key. This song introduces the AI character, Vic, and how he offers to help defeat a virus that could cripple the whole world. It is edgy with crashy guitars and a funky rhythm section but it is Malcolm’s striking vocals that carry everything along in his role as storyteller. Fast paced, rushing headlong to a potential global disaster, it keeps you on your toes and begins the album in a very dramatic manner. Broken Wave is a stylish instrumental that represents the nascent aspects of our AI character floating in and out of focus. It is like a slumbering giant, the electronica inspired music washing through your consciousness. You can almost touch the tendrils of the recombined DNA that drifts through this musically created world, it is quite eerie and spooky. A sombre guitar and drums open up Layers, a hard rock driven track that deals with the awakening of certain iterations of the AI, specifically Vic, the first one to act as if he believes he is alive. The punkish vocals really give the song impetus and the impressive bass playing gives an ominous feeling, all in an Iggy Pop style. Throw in an uber cool guitar solo and it just drips intelligence and class as it flies along with reckless abandon.
Another instrumental, Connections sees Vic exploring and developing via the internet. Again, it is really sci-fi inspired and quite dramatic and, to be honest, creepy and wouldn’t have been amiss on the soundtrack to Bladerunner, bringing images of a dystopian future. It feels like an awareness that is waiting for something, brooding, not in any hurry as it knows it has Millennia ahead of it. Now onto an in your face and rock orientated track. Head In A Jar, is a metaphorical song about how Vic feels he was brought into the world and his unhappiness. A harsh, staccato riff and siren like keyboards open the track before the irascible, excited vocals begin. This is angst ridden and just drips with a snarly discord. You can really feel the bitterness that is flowing form our character, he’s not very chipper at all. Link is an electronic instrumental, the AI is exploring more of the virtual world. This track has a real 80’s synth feel to it, almost Kraftwerk like in effect with its retro-futuristic note.
Vic is getting fed up with being repeatedly confused about what he is and that feel runs throughout the dark feeling Going Down. A really low down and rumbling riff spurs the whole song on, Malcolm gives his voice a touch of disquiet and disharmony and the real stylish touch is the flute of Kathryn Thomas that adds a tangible sense of dangerous gaiety. I Still Remember You is the longest track on the album and is real brooding, slow burner of a song. Vic gets a bit angsty that the person he thought he’d been married to for many years is actually a false memory created from stock photography images. He can intellectually accept that, but not emotionally. The low key vocal delivery and subtly haunting rhythm create a real melancholy atmosphere which is only slightly lifted by the impressive chorus. There is a real depth of feeling to the song, an underlying hopelessness that grabs at you and won’t let go in a real addictive manner. The balladic aura is only emphasised by the deeply moving guitar solo that comes alive towards the end. The slow fade at the close gives emphasis to Vic’s artificial memory of a person dissolving. We move on to Vic’s acceptance of what he is on My Clockwork Heart and his belief in the substrate independence of consciousness. Jangly guitars and an insistent drum beat open the track before it runs off like a really good rock track. There are real similarities with fellow Brit proggers Traffic Experiment and an overall feel of a pared back singer/songwriter vibe running throughout the song. The rather excellent guitar solo, provided by Iban, adds a final coat of gloss to what is a short but sweet track.
Freerunning is a darkly compelling instrumental, Vic is running free and exploring his abilities. It gives me a feeling of being followed, chased even, by an unseen and unknown force and is quite chilling. Solace, Vic has become aware of the threat to both the virtual and non-virtual world posed by the virus. He decides to do what he can to fight the virus. This song is a reflection on mortality and the lazy, soul filled guitar is a knowing back drop to our protagonist giving up his virtual room, and moving into a more more authentic and dangerous (but still virtual) reality. The vocals drip with a heartfelt emotion and this quite beautiful song leaves you just about drained. Powerfully stirring, it really does move you in many ways. GlassLithium, the final instrumental, Vic has had his virtual chains unlocked, and is out in the wider internet, dividing himself to attack the virus. He subdues the virus, although it can’t be completely destroyed everywhere and takes on the role of a protector, diffusely distributed across networks, watching out for a resurgent virus. This track could have been taken straight off the soundtrack to The Matrix and reminds me of Rob Dougan, sleek, smart and stylish. The undulating keyboards and swirls of sound emanating from the synths light up the way in your own imagination, beguling and mesmerising.
This inventive and intriguing musical release comes to a close with Alive, Vic has saved the real world from the effects of the virtual world being virus-ridden (hooray) and has come to terms with his identity. He is confident that he is both alive, and passionate about experiencing life. A jazzy and retro feeling song with a funky guitar riff and cheerful vocals it really does bring things full circle. The uplifting, fast-paced chorus takes you on an animated jaunt and the tight guitar work on the solo is a joy to behold. There are touches of early Who amid the classically elegant guitar work and it leaves you on quite a high as this charming record comes to a close.
I love it when new music lands on my desk with no fanfare or previous knowledge. Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate may have a brilliant name but they also produce excellent music. Sometimes progressive, sometimes more rock orientated but, overall, it is an enthralling listen.
Read the story behind Vic and The Kill Code at this link and it will add even more layers of enjoyment to your listening pleasure:
On the 13th of February UK progressive rockers The Gift will be be re-releasing their seminal first album ‘Awake and Dreaming’ to mark its 10th anniversary. The re-issue will feature stunning artwork by Brian Mitchell, thereby giving the album a new lease of life with the striking imagery. Initially the re-issue will be limited to 100 copies with an elegantly illustrated lyric booklet.
Despite the album being 10 years old, it’s as though it could have been released yesterday, the sound remaining fresh and the meaning remainsing true no matter how many times you listen to it. Frequent melodic variation, ambiguous tonalities and thought provoking lyrics; The Gift give you a real gift.
The re-issue is not the only exciting news that the band have, they have also announced an extended band line-up, including the return of original guitarist Leroy James. This couldn’t have come at a better time considering Leroy and lead vocalist Mike Morton deliberated greatly together in the writing of ‘Awake and Dreaming’.
Not only do they welcome the return of Leroy, The Gift also look forward to welcoming 2 new members to the band. This includes drummer Neil Hayman of KONCHORDAT a fellow prog band who are also signed to Bad Elephant Music. The band also welcome Gabriele Baldocci from Italy on keys who is a renowned concert pianist as well as a conductor and Professor of Piano at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London.
For those who want to listen to the mellow, yet sometimes eerie, sounds of The Gift beyond the headphones, they will be performing at The Boston Music Room in London for “An Evening of Bad Elephant Music” on the 13th February, the first day that the band perform in their new line-up. jh, Tom Slatter and Twice Bitten complete the line up of Bad Elephant artists performing.
Pre-order ‘Awake & Dreaming’, buy event tickets or the combined bundle at the links below:
One of the many benefits of living within “the era of Steven Wilson” is in addition to his seemingly bottomless pit of musical projects and his excellent remixing work he also has quite a knack for surrounding himself with top-drawer musicians.
The multi-talented Nick Beggs immediately made his presence felt in Steven’s solo band, not just with his bass and stick playing, but his excellent backing vocals. He provides the harmonic anchor in very much the same way that John Wesley did in Porcupine Tree. When I first heard about The Mute Gods project I was intrigued to hear him take on the main vocal duties himself and the results were even better than I anticipated.
To complete the lineup for The Mute Gods he brought along Marco Minneman, his rhythm section partner from Wilson’s band and also keyboardist/producer Roger King (Steve Hackett) as well as additional contributions from session drummers Nick D’Virgilio and Gary O’Toole.
“Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” isn’t an actual concept album, but it does have a loose thematic element to it. The topics include “hacktivists”, government surveillance, religious extremism, Internet trolls, general apathy and many other wonderful elements of life in the 21st century. But to his credit Beggs mostly wraps these heavy topics in wonderfully accessible, melodic pop/prog confections, allowing the messages to come across without beating you into submission with negativity.
On my first listen to this album I was really surprised by how infectious it was, a very accessible pop/rock sound delivered with the type of sophistication expected from the artists involved. It made me realize that it’s a shame “mainstream rock radio” doesn’t really exist any longer, because I think many of these tracks would sound great while cruising down the highway with the radio blaring.
The title track Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me sets the stage nicely. After an extended keyboard intro (that had me temporarily flashing back to the early 80s) the main driving rhythm kicks in, propelled forward by a muscular bass pulse. In an alternate reality I could see an arena full of people jumping up and down to this groove and singing along with the anthemic chorus. This track stuck in my head like glue from the very first listen. Is is prog? Well, I suppose that’s debatable, but I don’t hear very many “mainstream” rock acts that have the subtlety and musical chops displayed here.
Praying To A Mute God keeps the vibe upbeat with an even more pop-oriented approach but veers off for a little display of instrumental dexterity in the proggy mid-section. This approach is repeated elsewhere on the album, short moments of progressive stretching out used to punctuate otherwise fairly straightforward compositions. The song always remains the focus.
My favorite tracks on the album are a couple of progressive rock gems on the second half; the lovely and ethereal Strange Relationship and the exotic-tinged atmosphere of Swimming Horses. Two of the longer cuts they give the band a chance to stretch out both compositionally and instrumentally. Roger King’s tasteful keyboard choices are worth note on these songs; he uses a nice balance of vintage and modern sounds, always providing just the right tone the composition requires.
For contrast there are a few darker compositions on the album; Feed The Troll, Your Dark Ideas, the instrumental In The Crosshairs and Mavro Capelo. These tracks are a little heavier and a little more menacing, but are scattered throughout the tracklist so the mood never completely dominates. Of these the most successful is the deliciously dark and devious Feed The Troll, it’s menacing but playful at the same time, kind of like a cat toying with a mouse for a while before finishing it off. The only track that doesn’t quite work on the album is Your Dark Ideas; it comes off more silly than intense, but is partially redeemed by the instrumental mid-section and a particularly gonzo guitar solo.
Speaking of playful, there’s a track on here called Nightschool for Idiots (I’m pretty sure I was valedictorian). This song is the very definition of a grower. When I first heard the album I’ll admit it irritated me to no end, I just found it too sweet, too syrupy, too cute…but with each subsequent listen I liked it more and more and now it’s one of my favorites. This song and Father Daughter stand apart from the rest of the album and feel more self-contained. Father Daughter is exactly what it says it is, a duet between Beggs and his daughter Lula Beggs, the lyrics forming a dialogue. It’s a touching and unique track.
All in all The Mute Gods isn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was a very pleasant surprise nonetheless. I’m hoping we get a follow-up.
“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” – Martin Luther.
I have oft mentioned how I see myself as a modern day treasure hunter, searching the jewels of musical endeavor that would otherwise lay hidden due to the fickle nature of the modern music industry. However, I don’t do this alone, there are a lot of us Indiana Jones-a-likes out there and it is often thanks to these fellow musical pursuants that I will be introduced to another wonderful piece of music from a previously unheralded artist.
One fine and upstanding gentleman who I trade musical discoveries with is the Prog Guru™ himself David Elliott, founder of Bad Elephant Music and the Amazing Wilf of The European Perspective fame.
David pointed me in the direction of Berlin based progressive band Osta Love and their latest release ‘The Isle of Dogs’ and it was, yet another, excellent recommendation!
A quick visit to their website elicits the following information:
“Osta Love unite Rock with Jazz, Pop with Baroque, catchy hooks with complex rhythms and add just the right dose of melancholic dreamscape to form a unique sound that touches hearts and heads.
The band was founded by Tobias Geberth and Leon Ackermann as a studio project, after they left their hometown Heidelberg for Berlin in 2010. The two had met in school and had been playing music together since 2006. Soon the first songs were written, recorded and also performed with a live band. In 2013 they released their debut album ‘Good Morning Dystopia‘ that earned them some attention and many favourable reviews.
The line-up was completed when Oliver Nickel joined on bass and Marcel Sollorz on keys and vocals. Over the years Osta Love played live in almost every club in Berlin and played support shows for Boy & Bear and The Pineapple Thief.
Osta Love belief in the album as an artform and like to combine memorable songs with musical ambition and complexity, to form a cohesive listening experience that works on an emotional and on a cerebral level.”
For a progressive album ‘The Isle of Dogs’ is relatively short, coming in, as it does, at 43 minutes but it does have a 16 minute epic on there so that’s definitely heading in the right direction!
Album opener, and title track, The Isle of Dogs opens in a subdued manner before blossoming into a jaunty edged little number. The vocals have a haunting quality to them and the keyboards and drums give a real 70’s psychedelic edge at times. Throw in some rather excellent guitar work and it is a fine bit of nostalgia tinged progressive rock. There is a very finely worked sense of humour running throughout too, especially on the intricate instrumental session that would’nt be amiss on a Caravan album from the 60’s and 70’s. All in all a rather fine opening to the album. Down to the River has a more modern feel to it taking its pointers from Moon Safari, Mew and the like. Upbeat and cheery with cool and classy jazz infused keyboards making an appearance at regular intervals. Marcel’s vocals have a real feel of quality to them with an occasional halting tone and, once again, the guitar work is rather good.
The next track is one of my favourites, a really haunting little ditty that evokes so many different images in your mind. The Sea has an almost portentous opening before opening into a brilliant song that keeps you on edge with the eerie feeling harmony of the vocals and the persistent drumming and melancholy note of the keyboards and piano. A somber and wistful track from beginning to end, it has a bleak beauty deep in its heart, quite superb. Velvety smooth and super cool, Black Beacon Sound wouldn’t be out of place on any modern jazz album. It literally floats along with an air of nonchalance and aloofness and the Martin Taylor-esque guitar solo just oozes class. The vocals are subdued and sultry and the keyboards add another layer of sophistication to this elegantly refined and intelligent track.
A subtly building, haunting introduction heralds the prophetic Green Hills of Home. Marcel’s pensive vocal delivery adds a hushed reverence to the song and the gently undulating piano note gives it a strong gravitas. It grabs you and draws you into its sombre embrace. There is a stark grace that is the core of this humbling track, never more so than on the pleading guitar solo and the austere harmonies. Moonshine at Midnight begins with a low-key introduction before it breaks out into an upbeat track with a note of Franz Ferdinand. Inventive and knowing, it is a clever, complex song with a lively feel running throughout. The vocals are sometimes solemn and restrained and at other times buoyant and optimistic. The gifted keyboard playing is a particular highlight on this track.
Perhaps saving the best until last, the final track is the 16 minute majesty of Translucent Engineering. A delicate acoustic guitar introduces Marcel’s soft and fragile vocal, leaving you hanging on every word. There is a dreamlike feel to this opening part of the track, ethereal and rarefied. Gossamer like, it leaves you in hushed contemplation as it continues to play out before you, a ghostly synthesiser taking up the baton. There is a pause before things get a little more exciting and seriously progressive, a repeated note underlying a wandering guitar and laid back keyboards, quite a spaced out atmosphere in fact. The vocals join in again and lend an aura of 90’s neo-prog to proceedings, it’s all getting very interesting as the captivating guitar transfixes you. Onto the third part of the song and a subtle bass takes over, driving things along with an increased urgency before the guitar, once again, shoulders the burden and takes an uplifting route to your inner soul. Osta Love are extremely skilled in the construction of emotive music and they use every trick in the book on this epic track, the hairs on the back of your neck start to rise as it comes to a powerful conclusion with Marcel’s voice and the incredible guitar playing of Tobias Geberth adding that final layer of polish to a very impressive release.
It is discovering or being introduced to little gems of musical brilliance like this that really makes me smile. Music is one of the greatest treasures that our world possesses and, when it is as good as this, it is a treasure that the whole world should know about and have the chance to enjoy.