I’ve seen the Chapman Stick mentioned quite a few times and always wondered what it was so, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the review, here is a description of this musical instrument.
The Chapman Stick (The Stick) is an electric musical instrument devised by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s. A member of the guitar family, the Chapman Stick usually has ten or twelve individually tuned strings and has been used on music recordings to play bass lines, melody lines, chords, or textures. Designed as a fully polyphonic chordal instrument, it can also cover several of these musical parts simultaneously.
So, there you go, my first introduction to The Stick was via fellow journalist (and stick player) Phil Lively who introduced me to a musician called Josh Goldberg, an experienced player of The Stick. Josh’s Afro Circus project released an album called ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, which I reviewed and came to this conclusion:
“I do like it when new music turns up unexpectedly. To be fair, there can as many duff releases as good ones but the anticipation is quite addictive. With nothing to prove and nothing expected of it, it can be quite refreshing and, when it is a sagacious as ‘Journey to the Centre of the Ear’, quite enlightening too. This record is innovative music for the mind and not for the faint hearted but, get to the core of what is on offer, and you will be well rewarded.”
Josh is also a member of the progressive jazz metal trio GEPH, who release their first, self-titled album, on 29th March 2016.
GEPH is an instrumental progressive jazz metal trio riding the very cutting edge of contemporary music. With Josh and John Tyler Kent on Chapman Stick, and Josh Merhar on drums, the three of them sound as big as a five-piece, and work to expand the modern conceptions of arranging and composing in a heavy, intense and still succinctly musical format.
There’s quite a sci-fi theme running through the album, overpopulation and colonising the stars feature heavily. To aide in this goal, scientists look to find the graviton, the hypothetical particle that mediates the behaviour of gravity. Miniturisation is the key apparently, it all sounds complicated and adventurous and you can read more at the bands bandcamp page (where you can also buy the album), the link can be found at the end of the article!
Album opener, The Trouble With Doorways takes the sci-fi theme and runs with it for the intro before opening up into a mad free for all acid jazz type musical blitz. It takes on another persona, quite atmospheric and on edge, dancing across your mind before turning into a seriously intricate type of jazz-metal fusion. Chaotic and rampageous, it doesn’t give you chance to settle. Things eventually calm down a bit with a holding pattern around Josh Merler’s maniacally clever drumming before the Stick guys deliver a cool piece of playing to take the track out to a close. Splinter begins quite sagacious and insightful, the elaborate playing runs along at quite a pace yet never loses its structure. Animated and spirited, it runs a repeated theme which sticks in your head and refuses to leave, the music just seems to trip along, all kept in check by Josh’s adept drum work. This is instrumental progressive music at its most highbrow, you really concentrate on what you are listening to and let it paint metaphorical pictures across your psyche, a kind of storytelling that doesn’t need words.
The sci-fi persona comes to the fore in the brief meanderings of Yocto with a repeated sound effect that nags at you before it turns into a gentle exploration of the mind, gently probing at your cerebral cortex, the three expert musicians working as one as it segues into the nervous energy of I Am The Lamp That Stomps with its frenetic opening. Things take on a more even temper and a edgy jazz touch with perplexingly quick interplay between the two Stick aficionados. This is some seriously enigmatic music and you just end up being drawn into its esoteric embrace, imagining fingers flying up and down these sophisticated instruments. The funky drums are always there, the glue holding everything in place, especially when the Chapman players go rogue and off up some byzantine alley with some utterly monstrous playing that your mind struggles to keep up with.
Mawhktarr Da’ario (Live at the Record Company) is the most overtly jazz influenced track on the album and really does give you the impression of being in some seriously trendy jazz club listening to jazz impresarios going hell for leather with their jazz/metal and prog infusion. It has elements of darkly delicious anticipation running through it, the band all combining to give an atmosphere of expectation and premonition with an almost alien edge to it. It’s ‘hide behind the sofa’ stuff as it takes on a grungy, industrial feel. Every now and again a lightness manages to bleed through and give it a more cherry feel. The playing on this track is really, really good and I found myself nodding in quiet appreciation of the skill of these young musicians. There is also a cerebral quality running throughout the album, this is not music for easy gratification, it asks for, and requires, intense listening to get every iota from it, take the plunge and you will not regret it. Plank is just under two minutes of fuzzy, unconventional music delivered with a metronomic accuracy. Uptight, it leaves you feeling uneasy and it builds to a critical conclusion. So we move straight into the final track on the album, the uber-cool Manifest Destiny’s Child. With a knowing superiority at its core it fires along at a precise lick. Distinctive in its ambiguity, it manifests a higher power and infinite intelligence as the musicians deliver ferocious likcs and riffs, melded with quieter moments of self-reflection. The quality of playing becomes almost ridiculously impressive and convoluted but still rewards your dedication.
The Chapman Stick is an instrument that is so flexible it can produce a multitude of sounds and, when utilised with the skill of these impressive musicians, is a mighty thing to behold. Aided and abetted by the excellent drums, you end up with a really intense and powerful listening experience that makes you think and it is all the better for it. GEPH is a band worth watching as they really should be going places!
There was a time, many moons ago, when bands spent days, weeks and even months together in a studio sweating over their latest collection of songs, honing the compositions together to produce the best sound they could with the available technology and their collective skills. In more recent years a new phenomenon has arisen of albums put together without the band having to be in the same room or even the same continent! Vly’s ‘I/ (Time)’ is such a product.
The brainchild of former Crippled Black Phoenix guitarist Karl Demata, the band is made up of his former band-mate Chris Heilmann on bass, Keith Gladysz on vocals, Elisa Montaldo on keys and Mattias Olsson on drums, making it a truly international ensemble, drawing from the UK, US, Italy & Sweden.
The music is deeply rooted in classic prog with more contemporary elements surfacing throughout the mix. The opener, ‘Circles’ has a strong Radiohead or Riverside vibe for me to begin with, with shades of Pink Floyd coming out in the guitar solo. That Floyd influence comes across in ‘Time’ – the title track, I suppose – but with a touch of Bowie and even The Beatles in there. This is a bigger sound, building to a stirring crescendo, before segueing into ‘Time Elapsed’, an electronic ambient interlude.
‘Headache’ begins with a jazzy bass, and the song itself puts me in mind of Hogarth-era Marillion. It is more of a ‘song’ in its structure than the earlier tracks to me. ‘Out of the Maze’ is darker tune, rockier and riff-driven: in contrast ‘Hypnotic’ is just that – slower, quite mesmeric with good overlapping counterpoint.
‘Time Remembered’ is a gentle solo piano interlude – quite beautiful in its simplicity. ‘Silver Beaches’ is the first of a trio of tunes in triple time, an acoustic song with staccato strings, airy vocals and Hammond organ that builds towards the end of the song. It puts me in mind of Steven Wilson, but more cheerful.
‘Message in Water’ begins heavier, but soon settles into a gentle 6/8 rhythm, with some nice bluesy slide guitar near the end. ‘Dark Days’ has a good riffy start, with vocals that evoke in turn Al Stewart, Tom Petty and David Bowie (to me anyhow).
‘Perfect Place’, the longest song of the set at 8:36, wears its Floyd influences clearly on its sleeve (in the way that the bands Freedom to Glide and Airbag do – there are clear similarities between the two here), even in its more ‘experimental’ passages in the final third of the track that are more ‘Meddle’ than ‘Division Bell’. ‘The album concludes with ‘Time Forgotten’, a gentle ambient piece that draws you in before letting you go.
If your preference is for music which evokes the classic era of Progressive rock, then there is much in this offering to satisfy, but you will also be challenged. The musicianship is exemplary throughout. Having heard very little of Demata’s work with CBP I can’t comment as to how it compares, but this is a very worthwhile project.
Calgary boys Diatessaron intend to put prog back on the map, but somehow I don’t think Calgary will get into Prog any time soon, or at all. There have been many great progressive bands reigning from Canada including the mighty Rush, not that I needed to tell you that, but they should be mentioned all the same.
Other bands such as FM, Bend Sinister and Saga also come from Canada but, in Calgary, prog bands are harder to come by. That is one reason why Diatessaron stand out from the crowd.
They’ve been on the scene since 2007 where guitarist Darren Young and vocalist Simon TJ initially formed the band at the time when they were still at the University of Calgary studying music. Through a previous jazz band that Darren was in, he recruited Carl Janzen as lead guitarist and Stephan Bots as drummer. Erik (bass) eventually got called in by Darren as they were colleagues in the University of Calgary orchestra.
All the members have a musical background which is a given, but what makes that even better is that they all have different experiences. All of the known styles that each member has contributes to a wild mix up of genres which is unique and downright odd sometimes but works fantastically.
Released in 2010, Diatessaron created their second album ‘Monument’ which they have now recorded live for tired moon Music at the Monnow Valley studios in Wales after their performance at Bloodstock in 2015.
As stated by the band themselves, “Diatessaron is like classical music, only a fuck of a lot louder.” I couldn’t agree more, their album ‘Monument’ is a rock symphony spanning over 40 minutes with 5 movements. It is electrified classical music. Yes, you may not have an orchestra, but a band is an orchestra in its own right and Diatessaron definitely have all the melodic elements of a symphony.
Being a live recording it is hard to identify where one song ends and another begins and this shows a good use of linking each ‘movement’ either lyrically, which could often be the case, or with similar riffs. Also, by being a concept album, linking each song is very important no matter how confusing the lyrics may seem.
“Sweet time to build an atom bomb from memory of an Openhiemer tree.” A phrase which keeps returning and ,yet, still makes no sense no matter how many times you’ve heard it. However it definitely sets the scene. Simon TJ is an eccentric story teller, spitting out words very rapidly,which almost sounds unstable because of the compound rhythm that is accompanying him, in other words the rhythm is just plain odd and difficult.
Simon reminds me of Ian Anderson in the way he portrays his story, he is just missing a flute and fails to do a flamingo impression. You can hear Simon take on different personas as the music progresses from heavily portraying different emotions and, with the use of falsetto, he can easily come across as different characters. He takes on a state of “strange duality” which is painted brilliantly in the music as lighter riffs change to becoming more forceful, the bass drum becomes more prominent and, in general, everything sounds more aggressive as Simon gains a harsher tone to his voice.
Of course, the lyrics are a very large part in telling a very dramatic story but, the instrumental work is also extraordinary. Looking at each part on a combined scale, each musician contributes equally so they sound as one unit, but they can also appear to be separate as well. To elaborate further, each instrument can be heard separately when they play their different rhythmic and melodic parts but, when they all have the same rhythm, the drive of the music increases, otherwise you become very lost.
To be able to achieve different rhythmic ideas simultaneously is very difficult, especially when you need to be back in time with each other at a later stage, however, they do a fantastic job. I’m surprised they don’t get lost themselves with the colossal amount of odd times signatures they use, 7, 11 who knows how many beats there are in a bar; yep, they’re prog alright.
On an individual scale, each and member offers great skill on their chosen instrument, a personal flair shining through. The influence of jazz is evident for lead guitarist Carl Janzen, from sublime soulful solos often with hints of bluesy ideas sliding from one note to the next making any dissonance seem gorgeous.
Bassist Erik and guitarist Darren provide strong rhythmic foundations and deliver some beautiful harmonies between them, even some brief bass solos are sneaked in for a moment of glory which Erik deserves. Darren gives some smooth jazz style chords, sweet like honey for the ears.
To tie it all together Stephen provides the backbone with strong, and at times dense, rhythms but can vary between styles seamlessly. An almost ‘hard rock come metal’ pulse with prominent bass drum and a focus on low toms can change instantly to a swung beat with an increased use of cymbals and a softer edge.
Hearing this colossal album live is a different experience and emphasises the musicianship each band member possesses.
“Life in the fast lane, surely make you lose your mind Life in the fast lane..”
Those words are taken from the Eagles’ track Life in the Fast Lane, particularly poignant due to the untimely recent death of Glen Frey, one of the original songwriters.
I was only saying to a friend the other day that January had literally flown by and that life in general was moving way too fast, the years seemingly flashing past in the blink of an eye.
We don’t take enough time to just relax and chill nowadays. It is almost illegal to just take time to yourself and enjoy the moment rather than be rushing around filling that time with something that appears to be important (and quite possibly isn’t).
Perhaps the late Sir Terry Pratchett put it best when he said, “This isn’t life in the fast lane, it’s life in the oncoming traffic.”
So, what can you do to move out of that ‘fast lane’ ? For me, my own retreat away from the rigors and, sometimes, horrors of modern life is music. Music can whisk me away to another place, a place of calm solitude where I can reflect on things and see life slow down to a much more manageable pace.
Don’t get me wrong, when I’m hitting the gym I want something fast paced and upbeat but, when I’m at home and in a reflective mood, I want something that will match that state of mind, preferably with a glass of something old and red and alcoholic to complement it……
I am here today to let you know if Tony Patterson’s latest solo effort, ‘Equations of Meaning’ fits the bill as an accompaniment to that contemplative atmosphere.
Tony Patterson is a solo artist/musician from the North East of England. Probably best known as the singer with the UK Genesis tribute act ReGenesis, he has also recorded four previous solo albums as well as working for TV and short film.
His most recent work, ‘Northlands’, is a collaboration with fellow North-East musician Brendan Eyre (Riversea) and features guests including Steve Hackett and Nick Magnus.
I reviewed ‘Northlands’ and had this to say about this sublime release, “A totally bewitching musical experience that transports you to another place, Northlands has touched my soul in such a way that I will never be the same again.
I am left with a feeling of solemnity and grace, as if I am in a place where all is well with the world and I can come to no harm.”
The first thing that grabs you about ‘Equations of Meaning’ is the superb artwork and photography, also a highlight of ‘Northlands’. This comes as no surprise as both were done by the talented Howard White and is featured throughout this review. I’ve often stated in the past that I am a sucker for excellent album art and this is no let-down.
The album opens with the elegant instrumental track Ghosts. A quite delightful piece of music that leaves you in mind of elysian fields with the gentle acoustic guitar and ethereal keyboards. A really pensive guitar note then takes up the reins, thoughtful, intent and precise as it dances across your mind. A really meditative opening to the record.
‘All alone, chilled to the bone
Still your warmth flows through me
All around, beckoning sound
Though your ears can’t hear me…’
Nick Magnus adds his programming skills to The Magdalene Fields, a track that opens with a really delicate introduction before Tony’s gentle vocal takes centre stage. A song that seems to meander along, there is no fast lane in operation here, time is taken to relax and the ghostly aura puts you in a state of grace. The heavenly chorus is quite sublime in its subtle delivery. My mind is an open book and is waiting for these celestial notes to leave their imprint, totally at ease. Fred Arlington’s sax is an utter delight, velvety smooth and relaxing.
‘Young Billy takes his life and he throws it
For a silly dream he has that would
somehow find a way…’
Each Day a Colour (A Dreamer’s Dream) sees Magnus take on occasional keyboard duties alongside Patterson and is another exquisite track. The opening section is dreamlike and graceful before an acoustic guitar lifts the musing aura and the vocals smoothly segue in and give a jaunty air to proceedings. There is a soothing and reassuring tone to Tony’s voice that gives it a really hypnotic air. Nick Magnus then delivers a superb slow burning, passionate guitar solo that is mesmeric and calmative at the same time, a real piece of magic to end the track with.
‘Ship sets out for sail today
Cast away, Cast away
Waking Dawn will show the way
Cast away, Cast away….’
Cast Away may be short but it is exceedingly sweet and gossamer like in its delivery. The tender guitar and haunting vocals give an almost surreal ambience, tranquil and soothing. It has a real calming effect, my heart rate dropping considerably. listen to this with headphones on and you will lose yourself in its benign embrace.
The Angel and The Dreamer
i) Vision ii) Journey iii) Reprise
This track is a more intricate instrumental with vocal embellishments provided by the luscious voice of Siobhan Magnus in addition to Tony Patterson. The first part, Vision, is full of eastern promise and a brooding longing hidden in the background, quite earnest in its delivery as the vocals are used as another instrument adding layers of intensity. Journey sees a return to the creamy, polished feel of the earlier tracks, Fred Arlington returning to lay down some jazzy horn to the track as it becomes effortlessly cool. Doug Melbourne adds the class of a the mopho synth as we move towards Reprise and a return the mysterious east.
‘Look to the sky
I’m not feeling this ground
See all the world
Something happening here..’
The intro to Beneath a Perfect Sky builds up steadily, becoming a methodical, repetitive backdrop to Tony’s melancholy vocal. The measured delivery of this track is extremely reassuring and relaxing as it washes over your psyche in its metronomic style. A beautiful lilting piano and choral voices leave you in blissful repose as this restrained piece of music continues to soothe your soul, the wonderful horn playing of Fred Arlington that closes out the song is just the icing on the metaphorical cake.
‘I saw your picture on your wall
Sent you a message, did you read it at all?
Just let me tell you, I like your style
Give me your attention, let me
stay for a while…’
I heard a clip of Sycophant when Tony put a teaser video up and, knowing he is a big fan, I asked him if it was his homage to James Bond, I’m sure John Barry would give a knowing nod as the introduction begins. It really is classy as the strings begin before it heads off in a more funky direction with the edgy keyboards. Tony delivers the vocals in his slick style and they really make this track the epitome of cool. The repeated use of the string and keyboard motif just adds to the feeling that you are in the middle of an EON Productions movie. Andy Gray’s fiery and yet cultured guitar solo adds another sheen of gloss to what is a rather excellent song and one that has one foot firmly in the mainstream. An homage to Bond? I’d like to think so and a song that could grace any of the movies.
And When the Sky Was Opened is another transcendental instrumental track that has a whimsical, almost insubstantial feel to it as it ghosts its way across your aural synapses, a musical Amuse-bouche perhaps.
‘There’s a fire that burns within my soul
And it drives me on towards my goal
There’s a burning fire that’s in my eyes
There’s a place that I don’t recognise…’
The rarefied air returns with Pilgrim, another urbane and congenial track that flows gently across the airwaves. Tony’s vocal is a bit more insistent but it reined back by the calming feel of the piano and keyboards. Fred Arlington’s horn makes a welcome return, just adding to the unhurried repose that this song engenders. Lay back, relax and let the harmonious charms of Fred’s sax free your mind and your soul.
Tony’s long time writing partner and friend Brendan Eyre co-wrote the piano based instrumental As The Lights Go Out and it is a little gem of a song. Brendan’s piano has an unseen depth to it that grabs your heart and soul and pulls you in, it is so beautiful it almost brings tears of joy, tinged with a small hint of nostalgic sadness.
‘Look at me
Time was never on my side
You and me
Survived the turning of the tides…’
All good things must come to an end and The Kindest Eyes is the final track on this wonderful album. A cultured acoustic guitar opens the song before Tony’s voice lifts your mind and takes you on a bewitching and whimsical musical journey. This track was written for Tony’s wife Angela and he admitted to me that it took a lot of courage to write. Well, I for one am glad he did, it is utterly stunning and just leaves a huge smile on your face. Nick Magnus, once again, provides the programming and the superb slide guitar and highly emotive guitar solo delivered by the outrageously talented Adrian Jones just lift it to another level. I would hate to pick one song above any of the others but this was the one that moved me most emotionally. The way the song closes out, fading to an enchanting acoustic guitar, just leaves you struck dumb.
Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.
“Meditation is a very slow and painful process. It is indeed the practice of death yet a celebration of life.” – Ronald P. Vincent, 1947
This quote is printed on the inside gatefold of “Nucleus” and is, essentially, the mission statement singer/guitarist/songwriter Magnus Pelander follows for the fifth Witchcraft album. It’s a heavy, hypnotic, trippy musical journey brimming with atmosphere and worship of the almighty guitar riff.
Pelander originally formed Witchcraft solely for the purpose of recording a Pentagram cover for a Bobby Leibling tribute album. That single track immediately caught the attention of Lee Dorian (Cathedral, Napalm Death) who signed them to his label Rise Above and whisked them off to record their debut full-length album.
That eponymous release, recorded in analog in a basement studio using only vintage gear was a glorious concoction. Sounding more like a long-lost album from 1972 than a current album from 2004 it captured my imagination immediately.
It sounded authentic; the songwriting having just the right flavor for that musical era and unlike many retro groups that pick a single point of influence it was obvious that Pelander had a wide and varied appreciation for music from the late 60s and early 70s.
They would record two more fine albums using the same analog template; “Firewood” from 2005 and the very proggy “The Alchemist” from 2007; both highly recommended. Then the band went dormant for 5 years, reappearing with “Legend” in 2012 with only Pelander and bassist Ola Henriksson remaining from the earlier lineup.
“Legend” was a departure from their prior albums as the vintage approach was dropped in favor of a very modern, punchy sound. In addition Magnus decided to put down the guitar to concentrate solely on vocals and hired a dual-guitar tandem. It was a very good album, but personally seemed to be lacking some of the atmosphere of the earlier Witchcraft releases and Magnus’ guitar playing was sorely missed.
Thankfully he decided to pick up the guitar again and has reconfigured Witchcraft as a power trio for the first time in their career with new members T. Anger (bass) and Rage Widerberg (drums) holding down the rhythm section chairs. (Anger and Rage, that can’t be a coincidence)
The opening track Malstroem begins with a cool little arrangement fake-out; a lovely acoustic guitar and flute introduction leads to a driving little staccato riff that gives the impression the song is going to increase in speed and intensity but, when the expected massive riff comes, the tempo drops in half. It’s a great little moment that feels like the floor just vanished below your feet and you have a split second to contemplate that prior to plummeting downward into the abyss.
The title of this track is apt, it’s a roiling concoction; Pelander’s grinding guitar (which would get Tony Iommi’s seal of approval I’m sure) intermingles with sci-fi tinged pipe organ and acoustic guitar stabs propelled by the lumbering brontosaurus groove of the rhythm section.
Pelander uses the simplicity of the arrangement to his advantage, the dirge-like gate providing the perfect foundation for his impassioned vocals. I sampled a lot of retro bands from Sweden during the late ‘00s and Witchcraft really stood out primarily because of his voice. You can hear echoes of Roky Erickson, Jim Morrison, Marc Bolan and the aforementioned Bobby Leibling in addition to the expected Ozzy references. “Nucleus” is his finest performance to date.
The punchy Theory Of Consequence is the shortest track here, clocking in at just under 3 minutes it’s a fun little rocker in the Uriah Heep mode. The advance single The Outcast is more reminiscent of the earlier Witchcraft albums, the first half of the song an uptempo flute-driven rocker and then settling into more of a Zeppelin-meets-Wishbone Ash laidback jam for the second half. These two songs add some variety in tempo to the proceedings, which for the most part is slow and deliberate.
My favorite track on the album is the bluesy Helpless, it has attitude to spare with Magnus building the intensity to full jet engine roar by the conclusion. The guitar solo on this song is killer, I just love the Gibson + Orange Amplifier sound.
The remainder of “Nucleus” consists of a balance of shorter mid-tempo doomy rockers like the excellent An Exorcism of Doubts (very much a Black Sabbath homage) and the extended progressive excursions of the title track and album-closer Breakdown.
These longer pieces will probably either delight or infuriate depending on the listener. There are certain musical styles that seem to reach their full potential through repetition; funk grooves get funkier the longer you ride them, psychedelia needs space to weave its spell and doom riffs seem to get heavier the longer you play them.
Pelander approaches these tracks like meditative mantras, allowing them to stretch and build slowly, combined they equal 30 minutes of the running time.
The title track is the most “prog” song on the album and the addition of cello and female backing vocals really enhance the atmosphere. The arrangement ebbs and flows going from the quiet and pastoral to the aggressive and edgy, it’s an enticing journey. The only real problem is it just goes on a little too long, a slow 30-second fadeout around the 10-minute mark would have worked in its favor.
Breakdown is the better of the two epics and is a great way to close out the album (although the addition of a bonus track tacked on the end kind of negates that a little bit). The song is a dirge constructed in two contrasting segments. The opening half is built on a single clean-toned guitar pattern that repeats and is reminiscent of the more recent albums from the Portland-based band Earth. The second half is pure menace, malevolent and crushing with the Magnus sounding particularly unhinged with his most extroverted vocal performance of the album. It’s an intense journey.
As a whole “Nucleus” is the most experimental and searching album Witchcraft has done to date. It’s quite the left turn from the rather straightforward approach of “Legend” and personally I applaud the decision to defy expectations. It’s an intense, ballsy record and one that I recommend to adventurous listeners…and worshippers of “the riff”.
I’ve always been a sucker for great progressive instrumental album and a fan of great bass playing so, when I heard about Endless Tapes’ first full-length release ‘Brilliant Waves’, I knew there was a good chance I was going to be seriously interested.
I just love the way that instrumental music leaves your own imagination to fill in where vocals would have before. That’s not to say that these aren’t complete releases in the first place that are missing something, no, it just leaves my imagination free to interpret what the musicians have presented before me.
Endless Tapes is a collaboration between bassist and composer Colin Edwin (PorcupineTree/Metallic Taste of Blood/Twinscapes/O.R.k etc) and drummer/multi instrumentalist Alessandro “Petrol” Pedretti.
Setting out their plan for an immersive and engaging album, early 2014 saw Endless Tapes “road test” their nascent material over a series of well received live dates in Italy with the duo expanded to a full live four piece band in conjunction with stunning visualsby video artist Danilo Di Prizio.
Consequently debut album Brilliant Waves, expands on their previously released eponymous EP, showcasing a kaleidoscopic collection of instrumentals inspired by the patterns in commonplace urban geometry and the recurring, cyclic themes in seemingly ordinary everyday surroundings.
Opener and title track Brilliant Waves is a delightfully ethereal track that trips along without a care in the world. The gentle tinkle of the somewhat randomly placed piano notes leaves a feeling of intelligent, yet alien, curiosity in your mind. Its unhurried grace and calm demeanour let the subtle tension build gradually, yet the purity and innocence leave you in state of harmonious grace. Terminal 1 is more direct and agitated from the first note, the strident bass and discordant drums leaving you slightly on edge. It has a science fiction feel to the grating vocal and guitar note and keeps you in a slightly nervous frame of mind.
Another reflective and insightful introduction opens up Il Guardiano, the delicately strummed acoustic guitar leads your mind on a serene journey, the hushed vocal adding an idyllic feel. An alien, astringent note roughly pushes everything aside as it takes on a denser, more muscular feel. A sinister note makes your skin crawl in a deliciously creepy way. Hypnotic and mesmerising it powers on to a captivating conclusion. In keeping with the track title, Saturn has a real out of this world tone to it. The repeated guitar note and relatively off-cadenced anodyne drumbeat keep in a state of flux. A slightly uneasy, otherworldly vibe runs throughout, lulling you into a perceived state of mind. On the surface it is soporifically alluring but, underneath, some thing strange and incongruous lurks.
Bass Collapse is deep, complex and transcendental. The bass feels like it has hidden layers and labyrinthine depths to it with its ponderous, unhurried delivery. The notes seem to lay heavy on your mind, elaborate and compounded. It is not a track for the faint of heart, there is no light in its delivery, it is dark and convoluted and all the better for it. Immersive, slightly dissonant and a tad antagonistic, Possible Mission is another track that feels like it has hidden depths, there is some feeling of density to the music. Serious and sombre with an intelligence deep at its core, it appeals to the contemplative and thoughtful among music lovers and gives more with each repeated listen.
Private begins in an introspective fashion, mood music with a cinematic depth. It inspires a reflective and thoughtful state of mind, one in which you may be pondering the nature of the whole universe, such is the crucial and weighty tone. Stylish bass and drums with a spaced out synth note leave a melancholy air touched with sentiment and warmth. The closing track on the album Last Days invokes a feel of wistful yearning yet with an uneasy tone just below the surface. Trading uncertainty and a slight note of pessimism with optimistic guitar notes, it leaves a reflective trail across your soul. I found myself thinking of far eastern shores, the warm sun falling on my body but knowing that, soon, I would have to leave it all behind, the sad side of nostalgic memories.
An extremely well constructed and immersive soundscape that requires your full concentration to enjoy it to the full. It is an album that has hidden depths and you discover something new every time you listen to it.
So, can you really get an idea of how good a band are from an E.P. with just two tracks on it? That is what we are here to find out today.
Glasgow’s Field of Vision’s ‘The Vicissitudes of Life’ E.P. runs out at a grand total of sixteen minutes and forty-five seconds across its two songs and I wanted to know if that short musical interlude can give me an idea of what the band are all about.
But, first, a little history……
Field of Vision was born in 1988 in a rehearsal studio in Glasgow’s West End.
After a brief spell in Glasgow prog band Abel Ganz, singer Martin Haggarty advertised for musicians, and found himself in a rehearsal room with keyboard player Graham Holley, who brought his friend, drummer David McDonald. Immediately striking up a rapport, the vocalist, keyboardist & drummer set about finding two other kindred spirits to make up Field of Vision.
In 1989, the fledgling 5 piece entered Glasgow’s Pet Sounds studios to record their debut ‘Lessons In Predictability’, and the more ambitious ‘How Are Things In Moscow Anyway?’.
Fast forward through lineup changes, wives, children etc until 2008, when the original 3 got together again, with a view to working together. Due to work commitments and other misdemeanours, the serious business of making music did not recommence until early 2013 when work started on the forthcoming EP, ‘The Vicissitudes of Life’, which was eventually released on the 24th November 2014.
Bloody hell, where did Rush suddenly appear from? The introduction to Sand is all edgy keyboards and staccato guitar riffs supported by some energetic drumming and could have come from ‘Hemispheres’ quite easily. Martin’s vocals kick in and his earnest, almost yearning delivery fits in perfectly with the excellent music. This is seriously polished stuff, the production, mastering etc. are top notch, only adding to the Power Trio comparisons. A touch of class is added by the elegant backing vocals of Holly Blair and I am already impressed. A polished progressive rock track with a powerful under current of hard rock that holds it all together, the ever present dynamics of Martin and Holly’s vocal interplay adding a refined depth. That is not all, however, step in David Porter with an intricate, searching guitar solo and another layer of class is added to this already stylish song.
There is a more 80’s neo-progressive feel to the opening of If Tomorrow Comes. The introduction even feels like a more mainstream rock track before the stylish, echoing guitar and persistent bass bring us back into a more progressive arena. I get a feel of early ‘Hogarth-era’ Marillion but with Haggarty and Blair’s vocals giving this track its own definitive identity. Soul-searching and emotive, it seems to be building up to a musical outpouring. The swirling keyboards add a real lustre to the background and that excellent and tasteful production comes to the fore once more. An intricate keyboard interlude precedes a cool jazz infused section that is seriously laid back and chilled before segue into a smart keyboard solo that Rick Wakeman would have been proud off. The vocals then take centre stage as Holly and Martin give a neat and soulful interplay, brooding and seriously passionate, the intense guitar work adding a real edginess to it. You almost find yourself holding your breath as this seriously earnest song fires at all your emotions and plays out with a deep felt lament.
Wow, that was seriously emotive, moving, stirring and, above all, impressive stuff. A two track E.P. that really is worth a listen and, as a forerunner of things to come, should see the band take a big step towards success.
I first became aware of the Geof Whitely Project (GWP) after a recent contact through my show on ProgzillaRadio and I am always keen to hear new acts and artists. They very kindly sent me ‘Circus Of Horrors’ to try out. The GWP have produced a huge quantity of material in their short musical existence and Geofs’ head must be exploding with ideas constantly to produce so much material and, yet, it’s all of a high standard of composition and structure from my oh so brief experience of the product.
Musically I would place them in the same category of Alan Parsons Project,Supertramp and the Electric Light Orchestra. Melody is king in the album as is the song. There is no doubt as to the standard of musicianship on all of the tracks but it never swamps or dominates the music. The album is consistent with no filler but a persistent track after track of high quality songs that sit close to the pop/rock end of the Prog market.
The album drops straight into the Title track Circus Of Horrors that immediately moves across time signatures and moods evoking a sinister soundscape of a child’s nightmare. The theme of transformation and change through strife and pain shout from the melancholic understatement.
The Hunter is dominated by the piano and bass and has a beautiful saxophone laid over the music. It reminds me of the kind of things that Dave Gilmour has produced in his last couple of solo albums. There is no plagiarism in it just the spirit of those albums.
Baila Conmingo is an offbeat track that is almost a dance instrumental piece that shows off the production excellently.
Work of a Human Mind is another stand out track massive in content and sound. It examines the human condition and the endless search for a reason for existence.
The closer Story Book is another self examination of humanity from the perspective of expectation of others and how we view ourselves in retrospect. The Guitar dominates this track stating a musical a counterpoint to the lyrics.
From the perspective as a lover of music it is an album that is worth owning. It doesn’t challenge the musical world or break new ground but I don’t believe that to be the intention of the project. I would like to hear the next albums show the rockier side that, in some of the tracks, seems to be fighting to get out. It would add more variation into the music and maybe push GWP into a broader audience. They do what they do very well and I would like to see it grow and develop.
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.