Being a music reviewer has its ups and downs and the amount of music that you get sent to review can be a bit of both. I get concerned that, because I have such a large amount of new music to listen to, I will miss out on a hidden gem. It may go under my radar or I may just not have the time to listen to it.
There are some albums though that, when you have heard them for the first time, you won’t forget. They can immediately grab your attention or, like some of the best music I’ve heard, they can pique your interest and make you want to investigate, these I call the ‘slow-burners’.
I had become aware of a small but very charismatic record label from the USA, 10T Records, due to reviewing two artists who are on the label, Heliopolis and Box of Shamans and this led to me dipping into the music of one of the other acts on the label, 3RDegree.
I was sent their 2012 release ‘The Long Division’ and was suitably impressed by their traditional progressive rock style with a nice twist to it. Informed that the new album ‘Ones and Zeros (Vol. 1.)’ would be along in the near future, I sat back to await its arrival.
A quick biography of a band never does any harm in setting the scene so, here we go with 3RDegree……
Founded at the tail-end of 1990, 3RDegree formed when Robert James Pashman (vocalist,bassist, and keyboardist) found drummer Robert Durham and, by the next summer, added guitarist Pat Kliesch to the fold. They released their first album (actually a cassette) ‘The World in Which We Live’ in summer 1993.
The writing and recording of the follow up continued until 1995 when the band recruited vocalist and keyboardist George Dobbs. The CD ‘Human Interest Story’ was released in April 1996, unfortunately, due to the unforeseen pressures of the music scene, the band disbanded in 1997.
The original power trio got back together in 2005 and got Dobbs back on the scene two. Reunion concerts were played which saw Eric Pseja (guitar and backing vocals) join the band. Aaron Noble replaced Durham on the drums and the band found themselves working on two albums at the same time.
The guys decided to go with the political/apolitical focused songs in light of the approaching American election year. With its album cover and song list, the 2012 US election had a soundtrack, if anyone cared to listen to it, and its name was ‘The Long Division’.
2015 has seen the addition of Bryan Zeigler (lead guitar, backing vocals) to the band and the brand new album ‘Ones and Zeros (Vol. 1.)’ which is thematically linked around the issues of transhumanism, life extension, the singularity, and the ethics associated with the rapid progress of technology.
Time to get on with the review me thinks….
Hello World is a quick sixteen second computer generated voice over to set the scene of a future, somewhat dystopian, world. The album really gets going with The Gravity which has a really jazzy, upbeat feel to the introduction, the harmonised vocals are rather nice and the chugging bass line in the background drives all along before it. There seems to be a bit of a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek feel to the song, an irreverent note that hangs over the tune. A spaced out, laid back section gives pause before we go on a full 70’s progressive journey with lilting keyboards, smooth bass and eclectic guitars all adding to the Michael Moorcock feel. You are wafted along on a cloud of futuristic nostalgia (if that makes sense) before that really tasty harmonised vocal returns and forges off into the distance, accompanied by the great melody. The track closes out with a slightly alien, futuristic atmosphere engendered by the off kilter beat and harsher vocals. Watch out, Big Brother is watching you…
A really heavy and dynamic riff kicks down your door and introduces you to This Is The Future, this soon calms down and that really positive and optimistic edge returns. There is a real American Prog undertone to the music, hints of Echolyn and The Aaron Clift Experiment abound and it matches the subject matter perfectly. The class act is the harmonised vocals which lift everything well above the norm. The A.I. style voice over at first jars for this listener, a contrast to the organic feel of the rest of the music but, listen to them and they are an essential part of the storyline. There is a stylish segue into the next track Life where an elegant acoustic guitar takes up the refrain backed by rain drop like keyboard notes. The vocal begins in an earnest and heartfelt fashion, adding a degree of pathos to the whole track. A subtle, ethereal song with a touch of real class, simple yet with more depth than we can really appreciate, almost touching on anthemic qualities with the repeated chorus and acapella ending, another voice over adding to the underlying narrative.
Another light and airy introduction brings The Best & Brightest into the fold. Nearly venturing into the knitted cardigan sensibilities of easy listening before a funky guitar cuts through the schmaltz and brings it back into the world of progression. The vocals are cultured and the rhythm section is neat and precise but it is when the song goes a bit left-field that it is at its best even throwing in some smoky jazz stuff for good measure. Circuit Court begins with a serious 80’s synth heavy introduction and I’m thinking big hair and shoulder pads with the super smooth vocals and feisty bass line that just puts a smile on my face. There is a real feel of the decade that taste forgot running throughout this song, it is like a time machine has taken Earth, Wind and Fire to the future to remind people of what they are missing. Intentionally satirical or not, it doffs its metaphorical cap to the past with the swirling keyboard runs and sharp, staccato riffs. The brief solo really does make me smile with a sepia tinged, nostalgic hue.
With an immediately more serious feel to it, Life at Any Cost has a much more progressive feel to it while still having a really heavy jazz smokiness to the underbelly. Meditative and contemplative with a knowing sensibility underlying everything, it is a real slice of sophisticated music, the chorus feels quite world wise and debonair. The instrumental sections are complex and multifaceted and give a deliberate and purposefully meticulous contrast to the more salacious tone of the rest of the song, leading up to a forcefully compelling guitar solo that hits all the right notes. The whole track then opens up and morphs into a progressive rock standard, grabbing your attention all the more. Whilst not re-inventing the wheel, 3RDegree put their own, not insubstantial, stamp on proceedings. What it Means to be Human has that cultured, multi-layered class of previous tracks on the album yet has a more emotional vibe running through it. The multitude of harmonies give a real feeling of Queen to the vocals then added to a progressive base to give something quite unique and unusual. Really inventive and intelligent songwriting full of humour and wit blends with the refined music to deliver something that really gels on all levels.
An edgy musical introduction overlays that by now well versed synthesised robotic voice-over to begin We Regret to Inform You. A dominant instrumental section then follows with thunderous drumming, potent guitar work and a stylish bass line being led by stylistic keyboards. It all has the feel of an impromptu (if impressive) but tightly played musical jam session. When the vocals begin they have a decidedly straight forward tone, gone is the lush harmonising of before, making you sit up and take notice. The more serious tone runs to the end of the song, bringing the album and the allegorical storyline closer to the end. The final song on the album More Life sheds the synthetic feel and has a much more human aura to it. The vocals have feeling and passion in fact the whole track has a feel of rebirth, love and compassion about it. The refrain of the fourth track runs throughout and invests the music with a cathartic effect. the upwelling and outpouring of emotion feels almost real as it washes over you. It is like a musical chrysalis opening up and new life erupting out.
This album is one that may not resonate highly with you on first listen but, like all the best releases, give it time and invest something of yourself in it and it will return that investment many times over. These guys know how to take progressive rock and get a little more out of it to deliver something familiar and yet, at the same time, intriguingly different. 2015 continues to deliver some very high quality releases and 3RDegree have muscled their way well up that list.
“You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.” – Terence McKenna
Let me ask you a question, where does great music come from? Well, for me, it starts with an idea, to quote Sir Terry Pratchett, “a small inspiration particle”, that can then flower and grow into something more tangible. These ideas may take input from other people and morph slightly to be something similar and, yet at the same time, different.
Add layers to these ideas, music, lyrics etc. and you can then end up with a complete song. One song on its own does not a musical cornucopia make but, when a collection of songs can join together into one cohesive record, then you finally have something that people will love and will stand the test of time.
The skill is repeating this process more than once and coming up with something different every time. There doesn’t have to be a large divergence but enough to differentiate the works and show the listener that you have moved on and are using new and exciting concepts. Evolution here is key or musicians can stagnate and lose any momentum or goodwill.
So, to tie up my opening thoughts, recently I was asked if I’d like to listen to the new album from The Aaron Clift Experiment. I reviewed their first album, ‘Lonely Hills’ and said,
“Notable on first listen but, like all the best releases, delivering more and more on further plays, ‘Lonely Hills’ blooms into an album that should be in every music lovers collection.”
Have they taken that initial promise and built on it with new ideas and inspirations to deliver something new and exciting yet defined by their signature sound? First a quick band history….
Aaron Clift (vocals, Keyboards) began writing the songs that would appear on ‘Lonely Hills’ back in 2008. In 2009 he met the band’s drummer, Joe Resnick and they cut the demo with just piano, drums and vocals. Originally Aaron was going to release the music under his own name but, after hearing the demo he decided the songs needed a rock edge so he recruited Jim Ragland on guitar (Jim left in 2013 to be replaced by Eric Gutierrez) and Joe Green on bass. Now he had decided to work with a full band, he gave the project the moniker The Aaron Clift Experiment. Joe Green left in 2014 and Devin North now sits on bass duties.
I have to admit that I was expecting something special from these guys after the considerable promise shown in ‘Lonely Hills’ so the new album ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ would really have to shine.
Frontman Aaron Clift tells us about the concept behind the release,
“‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ is a concept album about duality: light vs. darkness, individual vs. group, hope vs. despair, etc. Songs in the first half of the album detail the conflict between these opposing forces, while the songs in second half of the album are a journey toward reconciling the extremes. The album culminates with ‘Bathed in Moonlight,’ a song about how humanity can learn to embrace its outer light and inner darkness and become one with both sides of its nature.”
Unlike the first album which was conceived and written solely by Aaron himself, ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ was mainly a collaborative project which the band believe has resulted in some of their strongest material yet.
Well blow me down, the first track on the album Kissed by the Sun hoves into view like a particularly well intentioned chariot of fire with guitar and violin blazing a stylish trail to cut through all before them and you immediately sit up and take notice. A subtle bass line and drum beat then anchor the song as a diverse guitar winds melodies around your mind. Aaron’s vocal begins, sinuous and notable, backed by the eloquent violin before breaking out on the dynamic chorus. Energetic and full of good will, this track vitalises you, running a musical current right through your nervous system. The powerful guitar riff, spirited piano and passionate violin really give it enormous substance, add in a really impassioned guitar solo and a funky break in the middle of the song with some great harmonies and a super smooth bass run and you have a rather impressive opening to the album. I’m getting a pastoral note with some american rock vibes going on here, as if Ben Folds Five reformed with members of Echolyn and spent a whole summer listening to the Big Big Train back catalogue and that feeling is only enforced by Locked, the second track has a much more laid back, stylistic edge to the opening. The vocals have a note of impassioned emotion to them. The whole rhythm section takes on a stylish jazz feel with the piano front and centre and it all feels like a journey though someones wavering emotional state. Highs and lows abound, the guitar solo has a real raw centre and scrapes your raw nerves to the bone. As the track closes out, it seems to take a thoughtful, pensive note as if looking back in a rueful manner. An intelligent, deep song that leaves a lasting impression on you.
A more discordant note opens Fragments of Sleep, counterbalanced by a repeated one note piano melody over which Aaron’s recognisable voice delivers the story. It is almost like you are having an interrupted night’s sleep with the rhythm and sound having a fuzzy, jarred edge to it, all sharp edges and yet its distinctive feel really resonates with me. Emotive words and a gently strummed guitar give it some pathos and the delicate violin adds poignancy as it it all comes to a profound close. Sinister and with a darker note to the introduction, Your Arms Hold Them to the Dark takes you on a journey through a world of perpetual twilight. The pace is determined and slow, the guitar riff crashes around you like a dissipating storm clashing with the drums, jolting and rasping against your senses. Deliciously malevolent and mischievous, there is a perverse pleasure to be had listening to this deep and intricate track. The staccato riffing and haunting keyboards add a melodramatic aura and Aaron’s menacing vocal adds the final layer of foreboding to this notable song.
That full-on feel of the first song returns with the rather energetic and uplifting introduction to Aoide Goddess of Song. With the distortion seemingly turned up to maximum and and insistent piano note hammering the point home, it is one hell of a pleasure ride around your mind. Things calm down for a moment as the vocals kick in with a layered keyboard note and balanced drum beat setting the tone for the verse but it isn’t long before that oriental sounding guitar note flies off again. This interplay continues throughout the song occasionally moving aside for the heartfelt, rousing chorus. There is an earthy core to the track, something primal and direct that drives it on and this erupts into the coruscating solo that fires straight through you leaving a blazing trail behind. You are left feeling fired up and invigorated, ready for anything. In a stark contrast to the previous track, The Last Oasis begins all sweetness and light, like a boat becalmed out on the ocean. The gentle, meandering piano is underscored by a subtle bass note and the introduction of the graceful violin adds an ethereal tactility to the song. The classical undertones to the music of The Aaron Clift Experiment are at their most evident here, the strings add a subtlety and grace that only orchestral instruments could. As the guitar and drums blend into the sound, the whole song takes on another persona and dimension, not losing that refined semblance but adding a dynamic backbone to the artful fare put before you. It is almost a surprise when the vocals begin, I was expecting this to be an instrumental but Aaron’s profoundly compassionate voice adds a further degree of gravitas to what is already a very sophisticated piece of music. The fundamental integrity and graciousness at the heart of the band’s music is at its zenith on this beautiful song.
At just over twelve minutes long Moonscape is the longest track on the album and begins with a military style drum beat at the back of Aaron’s vocal and a repeated keyboard note. You get a feeling of stasis as the repeated intro carries on in a pleasant manner but the anticipation is always rising. The drum beat carries on, overlaid by the sound of a child. This part of the song has a sun-kissed, hazy feel to it, like an early morning walk through a lush countryside. It ambles and meanders with no seeming destination in mind, lulling you along on a wave of good feeling. The guitar saunters on a journey of its own, nothing dictating where it must go next and you end up feeling like your are free of any earthly worries, any shackles are broken and your heart and soul are liberated from worry and strife. This is a track to kick back and relax too, one to listen to through headphones and with a long drink at your side as the delicately strummed guitar leads into an extended keyboard section with a slightly supernatural quality to it, almost an outer body experience. The repeated singing of the album title resonates within and without with a trance like feel and, as the song comes to a close with a harder edge guitar riff and Aaron’s vocalising, the trance is broken, leaving you peaceful and serene. The segue into Bathed in Moonlight is seamless and, once again, the band deliver an utterly serene experience. Aaron’s divine vocal, backed only by a refined, sublime keyboard has a moving quality to it. It lifts your soul and leaves you rapturous as the celestial music washes over you, the guitar bleeds emotion and fervour, leaving you in a sustained state of euphoria. There is nothing complicated happening here but, sometimes, the simplicity of music can be its greatest asset and the effortless musicianship on this track is a delight in itself. As the song, and the album as a whole, comes to a close, I feel a sense of closure, of something coming round full circle to a most satisfactory conclusion.
Ideas have blossomed and become something rather special on this album. That early promise of the music on ‘Lonely Hills’ has been expanded upon and ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ is a much more sophisticated and complete record as a result. Intricate and subtle yet with raw passion at its heart, it will cement The Aaron Clift Experiment as one of the most exciting and interesting bands currently writing and playing music today. I would advise you to go out and buy it as soon as it is released.
“And all that remained were The Fierce And The Dead…..”
(All pictures used are copyright The Chaos Engineers/Ashley Jones)
Who are The Fierce And The Dead ? Purveyors of ‘lovingly crafted noise’ and pioneers of what they call ‘Funny Music’, this cult band have just seen their latest, limited edition, E.P. ‘Magnet’ sell out before its release date on August 14th.
This instrumental quartet are as hot as it gets in the underground, small label and independent world at the moment and I wanted to find out more about them. Read on my friends to find out what makes them tick, a bit of their history and what music makes them sit up and take notice.
Let’s introduce the band first, we have (from left to right above) Steve Cleaton (guitar), Kev Feazey (bass), Stuart Marshall (drums) and Matt Stevens (guitar).
And now the fun begins………
Progradar – What was the evolution of the band, how did The Fierce And The Dead come to be?
Kev Feazey – We’ve all known each other since school days and eventually all ended up in London. Matt was recording his second album (I think) at my old studio and he had a track that we thought would sound good with bass and drums and decided to record it as a live improvised piece, however when I came to mix it I realised that the guitar had a very definite path through the piece. Editing it would have been like missing out a chapter from a book. Matt and myself decided this was too long for his album and it was an opportunity to put it out as a side project. It became ‘Part 1’, and the reception was such that we decided to try an album. We spent an afternoon putting together some rough outlines then went into the studio for two days. That became ‘If It Carries On Like This…..’. Once we determined there was enough meat on the bone to actually turn this into a band we started rehearsing to be able to play live and immediately realised that we needed a second guitarist. There was no debate that it should be Steve, so he came on board and we finally became a ‘proper’ band.
Steve Cleaton – Matt was in the midst of the beginning of his solo career, amassing a good deal of material that he felt might also sound good as part of a band set up. The first recollection I ever had of the name ‘The Fierce and the Dead’ was in a conversation with Matt in the bar side of the Oakley Arms (now a pet shop) on a Saturday night, after about 7 pints, in about 2005. Matt was demo-ing stuff with Kevin and a couple of other mates. He said that he’d heard I’d moved to London, and asked if I would be interested in possibly joining in the band at some later point. I obliged and said I would be delighted to participate. That was the last I heard of it though, until one Friday evening about 6 years later. That Friday evening I was jamming in Bethnal Green and, in the room next door, were Matt, Kev and Stuart having a run through of some material that was later to become the majority of the album ‘If It Carries On Like this……’. About a year later I got a call from one of the other three (I think it was Kev) asking if I’d like to join in a live incarnation of FATD. I was delighted to be given a chance to join in. It has been immense fun so far!!
Progradar – One thing that I have always been curious about, where did the name come from?
KF – Matt had thought it up quite a while before the band, but where it actually originated I don’t know. Matt’s fevered imagination I should guess.
Matt Stevens– I’ve had it for ages. It’s actually part of a longer phrase but I’m not going to tell you what that is. (I think you already may have Matt……)
SC – I think you’d have to ask Matt or Kev that.
Progradar – What came first, the band or the solo career?
KF – Stuart, Steve, Matt and myself had all been playing in bands with each other in different configurations over the years so I guess you could say the band evolved in a way. But Matt had been building up his solo thing for quite a few years before TFATD started.
SC – Matt’s solo career came before this band. But in fairness, the other three have played together in various guises for years before all this. I had also been watching them play together since I was old enough to get away with going to the aforementioned pub and getting served.
MS – The solo career came first out of necessity ’cause everyone else was off doing stuff, I just built things up online myself and did about a 100 gigs with just me and a guitar and a loop pedal. It became quite popular, so there was a bit of an audience for the band when we started.
Progradar – What were your main influences when you first started and who, if anyone, influences you now?
KF – As we all grew up together we share a lot of influences which is great. As kids (and now for that matter) we listened to stuff like Tortoise, Melvins, MahavishnuOrchestra, Black Flag, DJ Shadow, Mudhoney, Warp Records and loads of old school thrash metal so that was all relevant when we started. Nothing much has changed in terms of influences. We could fill a book with bands, new(ish) acts like Thundercat and Fuzz have definitely had an impact on us.
SC – Personally, I was fortunate enough to be born into a family that are all fairly musical in their own right. My Mum is a choral singer, my Dad played in bands in the 60s and my brother could pretty much do any style of music, I can’t actually remember not being surrounded by music. I used to play all my folks records as a very young boy. They’re stuff like Chicago Transit Authority , Crosby Stills, Nash and Young and all that. By my teens I was full on Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins all the way. Then I was a delicate young twenties Radioheadist, lately the other lads in the band have introduced me to stuff like the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I’m also a big fan of the band Tool and Guapo. There’s always loads of stuff around, you just have to have the time and the inclination to go and find it!! If only I had more time! Bloody time. I blame time for most things. It probably doesn’t even exist anyway. Bloody time…
MS – Mahavishnu (Orchestra), Husker Du, Carcass, KLF, Radiohead, all sorts. At the moment I like Vessels and Annihilation Time very much.
Progradar – What are the main differences between your solo career and being in a band and, do you enjoy doing one over the other?
MS – They’re different, I guess, at the moment I prefer to collaborate. I’m taking some time off from my solo stuff ’cause I want to focus on the band for the next couple of years, I’m really enjoying it and I think we have a really good album in us.
SC – My solo career began and ended with pretending to be Han Solo in the playground at infants school. It was short-lived, I didn’t like the thought of being frozen in that carbonite stuff, or whatever it was from the film. I prefer playing in the band to being 5 and being Han Solo, though to be honest, the majority of the other aspects of being 5 are probably preferable to modern life.
Progradar – Can you give us a quick introduction to the tracks on the album, where the ideas came from and what the titles mean etc.? and, where did the album title come from?
KF – Explain the titles? It’s no fun explaining everything. I prefer leaving them for people to make up their own definitions. Magnet In Your Face: We never intended to write a sub 2 minute track, but it just made sense. We tried adding sections or new parts but it all felt forced. The riff Matt brought in was really strong so didn’t really need much more. Palm Trees: This took quite a while to get right and went through several versions. We can’t help having quite a pop sensibility underneath it all and I think this track in particular shows that. Matt came in with the main riff and bass line and we all worked on it together to build it up without losing that melodic throughline and beat. We want people to dance to our music at the end of the day! Flint: This is one of the first tracks we wrote as a band and we’re still playing it live. I always felt that we didn’t start playing it in the right way until a year or so after we had recorded it for the first album. It’s been a live favourite of ours and keeps making the cut even in short sets so I felt we needed to bring it ‘up to date’ and record a better representation of how we play the track now. Part 6: The ‘Parts’ are our chance to experiment a bit more and a challenge to keep them all relevant to each other. They do all work if you listen through 1-6. This part is a call back to the electronic section of Part 1. Rehearsal Recordings: One of the biggest struggles when recording is to get the energy of performances across and we’ve become really proud of the organised chaos that our live shows have become. We thought it would be fun to put these live tracks on the e.p. to give a taste of that.
MS – Magnet In Your Face is about people who follow others around.
Progradar – You say that this EP is ‘more joyous and intense’, is this a natural progression of the band’s sound and will we see more on the new album?
KF – Yes definitely. One thing we’ve identified from watching our favourite bands live is when there is a sense of joy in the room. We want the music to give people a feeling of energy, but with enough substance to withstand repeated listening.
MS –It’s all about the happiness and the connection between the band and the audience.
SC – I certainly hope that we see more of ‘joyous and intense’ on the next release. Of course, we’ll have to see what happens when we work on ideas at band practice. Sometimes the mood that we are in as a collective group dictates what we sound like, I think that’s true of any band.
Progradar – The CD has sold spectacularly well, did this surprise you or is it indicative of the large fan base you have, particularly large for a cult band?
KF – We’ve been very lucky. We have some amazing fans who seem to get what we are doing and are prepared to go with us (so far). But I can honestly say that we hadn’t realised how many people had gotten into us in the gap between Spooky Action and this E.P. It really has taken us by surprise in a very good way.
SC – It surprised me, I am very pleased. We have worked pretty hard to build up a fan base though, and a lot of that is attributable to Matt working hard on the solo side of things too.
MS – In context it’s amazing, considering the sort of music we play.
Progradar – Does the relative success of a CD like this show that there is still a future for the medium in the music industry or will streaming a la Apple Music, Spotify etc. soon take over?
KF – The music industry has become a subsidiary of the tech industries. The ‘gatekeepers’ are the people creating the listening devices or programs. I’m reluctant to even guess what is going to happen, look what has changed in just the last five years! Mp3s seem to be on the way out as wi-fi becomes stronger and more prevalent. It’ll be interesting to see. I think people don’t realise that great music takes a lot of time and effort. Working two jobs and then trying to fit in one rehearsal a week does not make for a good creative mind set.
MS – It shows that the hardcore audience still like physical product but the mainstream probably ‘aint bothered.
Progradar – What is the story behind the ‘lyrics’ on ‘Palm Trees’?
KF –That would be telling….
SC – We felt the overwhelming urge to shout ‘Palm Trees!!’
MS – Don’t tell ’em Pike!!!
Progradar – (Said very ‘tongue in cheek’) Will this be the precursor to more lyrics appearing on The Fierce and the Dead releases in the future?
KF – My answer to the next question ties in with this….
SC – Our mantra is ‘anything is possible’.
MS – We’ll see….
Progradar – When you first started out did you make a definitive decision to be all instrumental?
KF – No, it was never discussed. We grew up listening to a lot of instrumental material so it’s never been a big deal whether something has a vocal or not. I genuinely never think of ourselves as an instrumental band, if it was appropriate then we’d definitely use vocals.
SC – I think that was the intention initially, but again, I wasn’t there from the very beginning, so I suppose you’d have to ask the other 3.
MS – No one calls Aphex Twin instrumental dance. Vocals are just another timbre.
Progradar – Does this make it easier or harder to write your material?
KF – I tend to write from the music up with most tracks I’ve been involved in so it’s never been a problem. Vocals are another instrument to be used or not. I understand that people sometimes need that voice to be able to anchor their selves and we try to make sure that we’re not being intentionally obtuse.
SC – I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier. I think it’s just different. Lyrics are often the focus of pieces of music, so without lyrics we have to create another way of giving the tunes direction. In the words of the great Maynard Kennan, ‘It’s the music that drives the emotion, the words just give it direction. If that wasn’t the case, people would be selling out spoken word tour all over the world, like they do with bands’. I must add though, I do absolutely love lyrics in most other instances!
MS – I think it forces you to make the music more interesting.
Progradar – You as a band are a close knit unit, do you write as one or individually?
KF – We tend to write all together in the rehearsal room. One of us will bring in a riff, some chords or sometimes just a concept and we’ll all get stuck into it.
SC – It’s a bit of a mix, usually though, Matt will arrive at practice with an idea, Kev goes to work on arranging the idea, and then Stuart and I drop in around that raw form of an idea and we go from there. That’s not always the case, but invariably that’s the way we work.
MS – I’ll bring in a bit, by the time it’s finished it sounds completely different. I like it ’cause I never would have made these sounds on my own, it’s very collaborative.
Progradar – Your music has a very distinctive sound, do you work towards this when mixing and producing and is it a drawn out process?
KF – Luckily we’re not virtuosos so we can’t make anything sound like anything other than us. We do a lot more preproduction now than we used to, we’ve come full circle and started sounding like what we originally intended. When you get out into the world as a band you become exposed to so many new ideas and we’ve become much more comfortable with filtering those sounds into something we can all get behind.
SC – : I think that, as is the case with any band really, we all have our own playing style and technique. But Kev does all of our production and engineering, and I think he knows so much about how other people make records, that he can take and leave what he wants from other peoples styles and combine those elements with his own practices to produce the end result.
MS – Mostly I’m just trying to re-create the guitar sounds Celtic Frost and Bob Mould had without anyone noticing.
Progradar – How long was the recording process for ‘Magnet’ from start to finish?
KF – We actually had two goes at recording. The first recordings felt rushed and did not have some of the arrangements that are now in place. Even though it cost us time and money it was decided that we had to do the material justice and start again. So, almost a year if you include that, but, in reality, about six months.
SC – To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. We tend to practice stuff up a great deal before we get down to the actual recording. Most of if was banged out in a couple of takes, but I don’t know how long the mixing took.
MS – Kev did a great job on this EP, we spent more time on it.
Progradar – The band’s live performances are extremely high energy and explosive with a raw feel, you have been described as one of the best live bands around today, do you enjoy doing the live shows and do you prefer that to recording in the studio?
KF – We’re very proud of our live shows now, the material is of a standard that we don’t need to over play. The recording process is completely different. I always aim to get a similar energy but they are two separate entities to me. I think we all enjoy the live experience more than recording though. Recording is great fun and is where most of the material is truly born, but with live you get adrenaline and that’s always good fun.
SC – I think we all enjoy all of it! We are all deeply in love with music on every level. That may sound a bit ‘Woodstock’, peace and love man’, but it’s the truth.
MS – I love playing, that’s what it’s all about.
Progradar – What’s next on the horizon for The Fierce and the Dead, I understand that next year will see a new album, any snippets on that?
KF – We’ve started writing but we are very committed to making something we all want to listen to first and foremost. Everything in our career to date has been about moving forward and we want to keep that artistic momentum.
SC – A moon landing. An album sometime next year is also in the pipeline. Some of said album has been written already.
MS – I have the rough direction and some of the music. I know where it’s going but I don’t know where the end is.
Progradar – Name three albums everyone should have in their collection.
KF – Stevie Wonder – ‘Innervisions’, Dead Kennedys – ‘Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables’, Mahavishnu Orchestra – ‘Inner Mounting Flame’.
SC – ‘Lateralus’ by Tool, ‘In Rainbows’ by Radiohead, ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ by Queens of the Stone Age.
MS – Vessels – ‘Dilate’, Celtic Frost – ‘Into The Pandemonium’, Sugar – ‘Copper Blue’.
Progradar – Matt, will you and Kev ever persuade Stuart and Steve to grow beards as good as yours?
KF – They can’t…..
SC – I am not into beards. I can do stubble, any longer than that and I start to get irritable with my own beard. It has been tried. I am not the only person to become irritated by my face, I hasten to add.
MS – I’m shaving mine off….
Progradar – Finally, anything you wish to add?
KF – Let’s start a cult. Who’s in?
SC – Wouldn’t it be great if all of the people of the world could just get along for once, and realise that we live in a delicately balanced system where everything relies on everything else? Just a thought.
So, there you have it, a thorough and extensive verbal workout with The Fierce And The Dead I hope you enjoyed the read and it has given an insight into one of the most exciting bands around at the moment.
You can order a digital copy and the ‘White’ CD version of ‘Magnet’ here:
Life is a journey long taken and, along the way, events will happen that will have differing impacts on you and the way you live that life. The world around us provides many things to aid you on that quest, things that may make the journey easier.
My life’s journey started nearly 48 years ago and has been one of numerous ups and many downs, the one thing that has been a constant is music. I have loved music from a very early age and it has aided my celebrations and comforted and consoled me in times of sadness and negativity.
For the last two years I have been fortunate to put down my thoughts about music in digital print form. For the first 18 months a served my apprenticeship at Lady Obscure Music Magazine, a sometimes steep learning curve where I was helped a hell of a lot my my fellow writers and editors.
Since February of this year I have been able (thanks to my friend David Elliott) to run my own website where this very review will be published, Progradar. I have often likened myself to a musical treasure hunter, searching in the more obscure areas of music for songs and albums that will surprise and delight and maybe become the soundtrack to someone else’s life.
The music I generally write about isn’t written for profit or acclaim, it is written from the heart because that particular artist had a dream or a need to put their music out there for everyone to hear. I find that this type of music has more originality and soul than anything you can hear in the mainstream arena, it makes you stop and think and can move me nearly to tears.
These artists deserve to be listened to by a much bigger audience and I hope that, in some little way, my words can contribute to their wider recognition.
So what new album inspired my soliloquy above? Well, social media is a place I will trawl for new music and it was on a well known site that I met Patric Farrell and learned of his musical project Built for the Future. I liked what Patric was telling me and, without further ado, an offer of review was given and accepted, the rest, as they say, is history…..
Built for the Future is a crossover prog/alternative band from San Antonio, Texas. The band consists of Patric Farrell (backing vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and programming.) and Kenny Bissett (lead vocals) and ‘Chasing Light’ is their debut album. The record also features Dave Peña and Chris Benjamin (guitars) and Imaya Farrell (violin, viola and cello).
The band combines the dynamics of progressive music with the accessibility of melodic songwriting to give far more emphasis on arrangement than dexterous shredding.
Built for the Future is influenced by Rush, Yes( the Rabin years) and latter day Genesis as well as Tears for Fears, The Fixx and, of course, The Beatles. Recent bands that are guiding lights also include Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings and Porcupine Tree.
Having known each other for 25 years, it wasn’t until 2013 that they got together musically when Patric asked Kenny to sing on one song from an album he was working on that the two connected. Once the result of the first few songs was realized, it was clear from that point on that this was going to be a productive relationship.
‘Chasing Light’ is the first complete release that either of them have been a part of in all their years of playing music and is the beginning a series of albums about a protagonist who is seeking to change life and worlds to find ‘light’.
Not holding anything back, Arrive is a most powerful opening track with an intro that smacks of ‘Live and Let Die’ by Wings, emotionally smouldering. The evocative vocal and delicate piano give a real feel of heartfelt hope and anticipation. The piano note hangs in the air before the song opens up with a compelling guitar arrangement, giving you a feeling of real connection with the music. The thumping riff that follows really hits you hard and pulls you along with a pure force of will as this elegant track runs to a quite impressive close, what a great start! More commercial but no less effective, Radiowave begins with a quite funky guitar and bass line driving the song along, the vocals have a sort of Beatles type of harmonising going on and the whole track begins to take on a whole Madchester vibe of the 1990’s, as if the Happy Mondays had unwittingly stumbled upon a new progressive sound. Happily shunting along at a steady pace, it has a real upbeat vibe with that expressive bass thumping along and a few fiery guitar breaks and intricate keyboard runs. Interest well and truly piqued!
An elegant guitar note introduces Lightchaser beforea jazzy 80’s synth inspired track then opens up before you. The vocals are deliberate and monotone and give it an early Ultravox feel of sharp suits and sharper moustaches. Being a child of the 80’s this track really connects with me, Kraftwerk synth notes and a real melancholy atmosphere spark memories long forgotten and a happy reverie. The feeling of pathos and poignance is really acute as you lose yourself and travel back three decades for five minutes. We stay in the immediate vicinity of that decade for Speed of the Climb which literally screams new romantics and Korg synthesizers right in your face. The drum note and edgy vocal are completely in fitting with the era and the bass notes could have come straight from the rule book of Mark King. Me? I’m having a whale of a time, this music sits perfectly in my purview, wonderfully judged and the song rises, with some impressive guitar work, to a full-on close.
Ominous and full of portent, Build for the Future opens with a real laconic feel. The keyboards and drum beat are measured and determined before Kenny’s restrained vocal adds another layer of intensity and complexity. Almost funereal in tempo yet very addictive to listen to, it almost seems like a lament for a time gone by and an unknown future, “Build for the future, break with the past….”. An intensely thoughtful and emblematic song with an enigmatic ending. Burning Daylight is another track with a more commercial feel to it and a rhythm section that could have come straight from an early Rush album. The laid back, monotone vocal adds a synthetic feel to the song and the irascible drums leave a mysterious note hanging over everything. The fine guitar play ties everything together to deliver a competent track that doesn’t quite live up to the high standard of what has gone before.
Guitar, drums and keys combine to deliver a 80’s synth tinged prog note to Walls, almost as if Patric and Kenny had spent the afternoon listening to New Order before writing this song. It has real sense of sophistication running through the centre, the creamy production values are much in evidence on this stylish track with a catchy chorus and modish beat which, added to the slick guitar riff that is heard in undertones is really quite inventive. A nod in a definitive progressive direction, Running Man is a homage to Canada’s finest prog pioneers with a bass line that Geddy would approve of and a complex and tricky drum beat. The expansive guitar note gives a really wide soundscape to the whole song and Kenny’s vocals fills that wide open space perfectly, the harmonies are pretty good too! The guitar break brings everything full circle and a fine track is made whole, addictive and transfixing with the baroque brilliance of the guitar solo which just leaves you slack-jawed in appreciation.
A quiet complex and striking introduction launches The Siren Will with a muted dirty guitar riff followed by a chiming guitar run and heavy bass note, think Muse and U2 merged and you’re on the right track. The vocal has that pared back yet incisive feel and you gradually feel yourself drawn into this capable and involving song. You can feel influences abounding everywhere but this band are moulding them into their very own, precise identity and it is one that really resonates with me on discerning tracks like this that leave you wanting to hear more. The polished, urbane guitar solo that closes out the song is a case in point, sheer quality. Seriously psychedelic and funky as you like, Staring at the Sun has a California dreaming kind of feel to the Hammond organ introduction before the vocals break out and we are off into RPWL territory, especially on the seriously addictive chorus. I really like the upbeat and inspirational feel to the song and you can’t help be uplifted onto a higher plane by the open hearted ambience it endues. The chugging riff, colourful keyboards and chanting vocal combine to cover everything with a filmy coat of the 1970’s (touched by a little of that Madchester vibe again) and leave you with a wide grin on your face.
A halting acoustic guitar opens Samsara and note of seriousness returns. Neo-prog in its origins but alternative rock in its delivery, it is a fast paced track that keeps you on your toes, the ever present urgent drum beat galvanising you into action. The impelling bass beat backs up the drums with a dynamic energy and the keyboards do add a slight tint of psychedelia to the mix. A good track that happens to be sandwiched between two great ones, it does seem to suffer for that. The way the track changes just after half way, becoming more imposing and forceful, gives it added gravitas and an energising injection, enough so that it still leaves its mark on you. Saving the best until last? That would be difficult on an album as impressive as this but lets see what the near thirteen minutes of The Great Escape delivers. The opening is quite profound as the track begins to tie the whole album together, influential and vitalising. There is a brooding ebulliance deep at the heart of the song as it continues to forge forcibly ahead before a well judged break delivers a lighter note and any ominous undertone is lifted. This is a track to envelop yourself in and let it wash over you, seeping into your deepest soul. Don’t resist, leave yourself open to the joy and beauty and you will be well rewarded. The song runs like an overview of what has gone before yet never becomes repetitive. Hope and freedom are the message here, a musical mantra for a better world. As it unfurls before you, the mosaic is opened and all becomes clear. An ardent guitar solo breaks loose and fires into the ether, illuminating all around and the final journey begins. I love the way this song plays out to the close, titillating and engrossing, you dare not leave and yet, as the song finally ends, you do feel an emptiness begin to open up inside you. Dear friend, it is up to you what you fill that void with…….
Damn, blast and buggeration, it has happened again, my own search for the moving and motivational has thrown up another diamond. ‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brighter than most I have heard this year.
Don’t be put off by the scary picture, that is actually me getting ready to tell you what albums have made my ‘Best of 2015’ list. These lists are always subjective and incredibly hard to compile. Let’s be honest, at the end of it all, it is only my opinion which can agree with or differ from, all it is meant to be is a guide to what music has really inspired me this year so far.
Firstly a self-imposed rule that I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases because, as you know, I attempt to be the Head of PR for this rather special record label and it could be seen as bias.
To be honest, all the BEM releases this year are as excellent as ever and would probably have made my list anyway so please do go to:
And check out this years releases from Audioplastik, jh, We Are Kin, Tom Slatter, Emmett Elvin and The Fierce and the Dead, superb, eclectic and downright brilliant.
Right, that’s the advertising out of the way now on with the main course…..
In no particular order, here are my top 15 releases so far for 2015.
Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise
Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.
The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether
A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!
The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age
Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.
Karnataka – Secrets of Angels
The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.
Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One
An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.
Hibernal – After the Winter
Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.
Transport Aerian – Darkblue
A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!
Echolyn – I Heard You Listening
Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America, sometimes a band can come very close to perfection with a new release and this album is as close to a must buy album as I’ve heard this year.
The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness
An excellentnew release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..
Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World
Let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.
Built for the Future – Chasing Light
All sorts of influences combine in this impressive melting pot to deliver a debut album of sheer beauty. I was so surprised by the quality and heartfelt emotion of this album, it is that good!
Maddison’s Thread – self-titled
Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.
Kingcrow – Eidos
Progressive metal that is more prog than metal. I will probably upset some people here but, to me, this is the thinking man’s Opeth, much more accessible and quite deeply, darkly moving.
Barock Project – Skyline
An unexpected highlight of the year so far, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!
Kinetic Element – Travelog
An album of ‘opulent ear candy’ featuring 5 tracks of classic progressive rock that harks back to the 70’s. Superb musicianship featuring everything from jazz basslines, intricate guitar work and soaring keyboards combine with delightful vocals to deliver something that every prog fan will like.
I chose not to include E.P’s but there have been a couple that have stood out for me this year so far Big Big Train’s ‘Wassail’ and Progoctopus’ ‘Transcendence’ are both excellent and well worth catching up on.
Like I have already said, lists like this are very subjective and other albums could have made it so here is a selection of ‘honourable mentions’ that have really struck a chord with me this year so far……
So there we have it, just over half of 2015 has passed and we have so much more new music to look forward to. Let me know your thoughts, there will be albums you expected and some you didn’t no doubt and I’ll see you at the beginning of 2016 for the year end awards!
Hello again my friends, I am back after being refreshed by a great holiday and am ready to rock and roll again. Having a week of ‘Heart FM’ brainwashing me was quite cathartic really, it gave me the chance to cleanse my musical palate with some chart music going back from the present day to up to 30 years ago (some very good, some very bad).
The effect of this daily diet of non-progressive music was to lift any jaded feeling I may ever get from having so much music rushing at me all the time and I can come back with a new appreciation of the music that I love to listen to, share and write about!
So, onwards and upwards with the latest review………
Charles Baudelaire once said, “In literature as in ethics, there is danger, as well as glory, in being subtle.”
I recently reviewed two albums by the Geof Whitely Project and found out the history……
The Geof Whitely Project was formed in 2011, it consists of Geof Whitely and special guest Musicians, the aim of the project is to put out original material in all types of musical formats from Prog Rock-Rock-Pop-Electronic-Instrumental.
All albums will contain a mix of such musical songs, there’s surely one that will appeal to everyone, thanks for visiting the site please feel free to email us, tell your friends…..!!!!”
Geof is actually the alter-ego of prolific musician Arny Wheatley who hails from Stoke-on-Trent and basically does just about everything on all the Geof Whitely Project releases.
The story behind the moniker is that ‘Geof Whitely’ was the name on something that came through Arny’s letter box once addressed wrong and he thought that it would make a good name, simple really!
A very prolific music maker, I concluded that…
“the music takes a deeper, more thoughtful route through your mind yet still retains a simplicity and a lack of over-complication at its core. It is perhaps more ‘music that seeps into your sub conscious’ than easy listening…….”
What I also found was that there were no major differences between the two releases, just subtle changes in style and tac, it was in no way detrimental but, if the next album had only subtle, minor changes, would this still be the case?
‘Circus of Horrors’ is due to be released on 31st October 2015, let’s see if there have been any major changes to the sound or whether the Geof Whitely Project has followed the ‘less is more’ mantra again?
Arny kindly sent me out the CD version of the new release and this had two bonus tracks on, is this the version to have? do they add anything, or should you stick with the download? read on and find out………
The first two tracks on the album are The Hunter and Burning Sky, you immediately get that smooth, precise vibe that was felt on the previous release ‘Supernatural Casualty’ with swathes of piano and keyboards, lush melodies and saxophone that just lulls you into a calm state of mind. Arny’s vocal takes a monotone, even route that is immediately recognisable, like some of the great 1980’s synth-pop bands. You feel that there is possibly a slight change to the previous sound, perhaps a bit more sophistication but it is still indicative of what has gone before and that laconic, laid back vibe remains.
For people who want full on, in your face music, you need to walk on by and look elsewhere, some may call this a bit one-dimensional and tame but, when you are in the mood, it really hits the spot and puts me in mind of Mike Kershaw and Fractal Mirror with its electronic edge. Baila Conmigo has a more upbeat tempo, catchy and pleasing on the ears as the guitar convolutes around the keyboard sound (very reminiscent of a clarinet), intertwining and mingling. It is a nice, uncomplicated instrumental that is almost a melodic amuse bouche, cleansing the musical palate.
Piano and string-like keyboards combine for a cultured note on the next couple of tracks. I’m Not Your Leader and Something’s Lurking see Arny putting more emphasis into his vocal, a more human note than before and it takes the songs nearly into ‘singer-songwriter’ territory. Pleasing and pleasant, the musical flexibility is a nice change from what has gone before on previous albums and shows a growth in the way that Arny puts warmth and soul into his composition and performance, yes it is no huge change but it is noticeable nonetheless. The former track is more moving and full of pathos where the latter has a real uplifting vibe with some rather tasty, fuzzy guitar work as well.
Downtown returns to that electronic feel that has been the more recognisable style of the Geof Whitely Project except this time it has a more excitable rhythm, a real jazz infused beat to it with the funky guitar note and sax. Perhaps the classiest track on the album, subtle nuances abound around the concise vocals and smooth instrumentation. I feel that I have definitely returned to the 80’s with the intro to Work of a Human Mind, the swathes of piano and keyboards wash over you and that monotone vocal returns to maximum effect. It has a sparse, laid back feel to it, precise and meticulous. Heartfelt and quite melodramatic, just like the best 1980’s synth-pop tracks were, throw in a riff that any of the guitarists from the period would be proud of and what more could you ask for?
Piano driven, combined with a punchy driven riff, From All Sides should really work but it leaves me feeling short changed, like it was added last minute. Perhaps it is because it lacks the distinction of the other tracks but, for me, this is one song that just doesn’t gel. Story Book sees Arny give his voice that added timbre and power to lift what could have been another ordinary song up to a higher level. On this track it is the vocal that is the star and the instrumentation is there as back up. When the haunting guitar breaks out it really adds a touch of added lustre and leaves me nodding my head in appreciation.
The final song on the digital version of the album is the title track Circus of Horrors and it begins with a creepy fairground ride intro. On this track Arny really goes progressive big style in quite a departure from the ‘safe’ sound that has gone before. An intricate and complicated intro is driven along by a thumping drum beat and pounding piano note to give a feel that is ‘Hammer House of Horrors’ to the core. The vocals begin quite macabre and dramatic and give quite a disturbing atmosphere to the song. Perhaps more deep and meaningful than some of the other tracks on the album, there is something pensive and doleful about the whole thing. Edgy and quite disturbing, it keeps you on the edge of your seat and gleefully nervous in its deliciously dark way.
So the CD version has two extra tracks and I am here my friends to tell you to buy it over the digital download for the two bonus songs are the biggest deviation from what the Geof Whitely Band has done before to date and in a very good way……..
Aurora Borealis does begin with the signature intro we have become accustomed to but soon expands into a different animal indeed, there is added depth to the sound as if it is opening into a much bigger soundscape. An instrumental with space rock pretensions that gets under your skin with its brilliant cello sound and meditative piano note, it leaves you with more questions than answers with its expansive note.
Finally we are given Timepeace, a song that you would swear was from a completely different record, it is really nothing like anything that has gone before. Deep, dark and meaningful with a vocal performance that drips sincerity and pathos, it has more akin with a melodic rock ballad. The guitar work is exceptional and just adds to the feeling of ‘where the f**k did this come from?’. ‘Subtle’ is definitely not a word you would use for the transformation on this track and I really like the direction that it goes in, wonder if Arny has an album of this more direct musical approach on the sidelines?
So ‘Circus of Horrors’ sees the Geof Whitely Project evolve again with little changes like what we have seen between previous albums. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ is the saying and, to a point, it still applies here. A very nice album but, if those two bonus tracks are indicative of what might come to fruition in the future, there is a hell of a lot more to come from this bountiful and creative musician.
It has been a long time since the Austin, Texas based progressive rock outfit The Aaron Clift Experiment released ‘Lonely Hills’, their acclaimed debut album, it was 2012 in fact.
Well, thanks be to god, this year will see the release of the long awaited follow up ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ and, believe me, it is well worth waiting for. I was really impressed with the guys debut effort but this release improves in all areas with its intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances.
Frontman Aaron tells us more,
“‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ is a concept album about duality: light vs. darkness, individual vs. group, hope vs. despair, etc. Songs in the first half of the album detail the conflict between these opposing forces, while the songs in second half of the album are a journey toward reconciling the extremes. The album culminates with ‘Bathed in Moonlight,’ a song about how humanity can learn to embrace its outer light and inner darkness and become one with both sides of its nature.”
With the release of the band’s second album, “Outer Light, Inner Darkness” in September 2015, The Aaron Clift Experiment continues to lead the way in fusing the sophistication and depth of classical music with the passion and raw power of rock and roll. What began as an idea of how to create music has now blossomed into a full-fledged experiment. The band invites you to join them in this experiment as they embark on their new path.
“Although The Aaron Clift Experiment started as my solo project, ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ marks the birth of ACE as a full-fledged band. Unlike the first album, in which I wrote all the songs and arrangements, the songwriting and arranging process for the second album was a largely collaborative process, with all of the band members contributing elements to the sound that makes the album our most diverse to date. One of the fun challenges of co-writing between me and my band mates is that we all have very distinct songwriting styles and music preferences. As a result, we all pushed each other to write outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes this could be disorienting process, but in the end, it helped us write our strongest songs to date. The song, ‘Aoide, Goddess of Song,’ was in a way my commentary on what it can be like to come up with brand new music.”
“Outer Light, Inner Darkness” will be released on September 18 with an album release show to be held on August 27 at Threadgill’s in Austin, Texas.
The Aaron Clift Experiment are:
Aaron Clift – Vocals/Keyboards Eric Gutierrez – Guitar Joe Resnick – Drums Devin North – Bass
I have come to the conclusion that pigeon-holing bands into certain categories or genres can often be more detrimental than advantageous to their continued popularity and success.
Where, in some circumstances, it will mean that the music will appeal to smaller cross section of the music loving public, in others it can lead to a mass exodus (Prog seems to be attaining this level of notoriety at the moment, for whatever reason).
Unfortunately, music lovers and journalists as a whole (and I include myself in this too) seem unable to talk or write about bands without shoehorning them into a particular classification. This is okay if that actual artist portrays themselves as being unashamedly of that ilk, however, in most cases, we need to broaden our brush strokes.
Gabriel is a collaboration between singer/songwriter Sally Elsey from London and guitarist and recording engineer Albert Vinasco from Buenos Aires. Together, Sally and Albert combine their highly melodic approaches to create music that is both sweet and powerful.
I have often heard them called a ‘Female-fronted Metal’ band but this is to shower them with faint praise, their music contains a lot more influences and nuances. ‘Unforgiven’ is the fifth album from the duo and has rock, progressive and metal hints all over it, time to immerse myself further….
First, and title, track Unforgiven has a Celtic, Latin feel tot he introduction with a bit of Gregorian chant thrown in. Symphonic in feel with the string sound and our first meeting with Sally’s mercurial vocal talents. Her voice has an operatic undertone to it, add this to the ominous sounding rhythm section and scurrilous guitar solo and you feel that you are in a melodramatic soundscape, quite intriguing. Within the Circle takes on a Gothic-metals style that has hints of Within Temptation allied to the powerful and expressive voice that Sally Elsey owns. Delving deeper into the track, you feel a depth of quality to the music and Albert gets to rock out on the guitar with this one with a spirited riff and high-tempo percussion. Haunting and melodic but with a heavier feel to it, it is really addictive and catchy.
A crack of thunder followed by a proper heavy metal riff and married with a thunderous drumbeat sees Two Worlds Collide hove into view. This song puts a smile on my face as you get a proper beast of a rhythm section combined with Sally’s decorous, if slightly menacing, vocal. The guitar runs and solo are quite grin inducing too, just a real good rock-out track with a late 70’s metal vibe to it. Here in You begins with a delicate string and piano combo before the breathless and precise vocal adds a sheen of panache to proceedings. This patina of calm doesn’t last for long before Sally takes on a sort of mischievous Kate Bush persona and Albert moves into full-on rock hero mode. The coruscating guitars and hectic rhythm delivers a high energy ride that leaves your head spinning at times before the track returns to its chilled out roots and comes to a gentle close.
With an intro that smacks of mid 70’s classic rock and Americana, Do You Believe has a further sense of depth to it. Sally Elsey delivers her cultured, almost operatic vocal and the crunching guitar interjects at certain points to give a theatrical feel to the song. With toes fleetingly dipped into 80’s metal and modern symphonic power-metal, it is an interesting melting pot of styles that keeps you guessing. The coruscating guitar solo has me damning my lack of luscious locks and reminiscing about denim. Taking the soothing qualities of all that’s best of Karnataka and adding their own spin on it, Shelter From the Rain is a classically tinged pop-rock song with strong folk and Celtic ties. Superb vocals and more dynamic and expressive guitar work leave you with a particularly polished taste in your mouth, this track appeals to all musical palates.
Now to the ‘prog-epic’ on the album, well not necessarily progressive but it surely takes it cues from that genre. Time Train is twelve minutes of intriguing music that beguiles and fascinates. The 80’s synth-pop style introduction with Sally’s incessant repeat of the title gives way to a piano and vocal that drips sincerity and bonhomie. Like musical building blocks, the track heightens the tension as it continues, the complexity swelling and the music taking hold of your senses. The guitar, drums and programming are compelling and deliver an intricate musical mosaic as a backdrop to the vocals and keyboards that are narrating the story. The guitar work smolders and simmers, low key yet dominant and potent, it delivers a sombre and pensive feel to this eloquent and passionate song, one that lingers long in your memory. House of Shadows takes Gabriel down a more mainstream route with its slight nod to pop/rock sensibilities. The gentle and ethereal keyboards match the charming vocals perfectly and the whole song has a feeling of goodwill to it even venturing into Mike Oldfield territory with the distinctive guitar sound. A track that leaves you in a calm and contented state of mind.
Soul Taker begins all mercurial and mysterious with haunting vocals and a lilting piano before breaking into another rock/metal power track. Heavily symphonic with a hard hitting riff and pugnacious drumming, it has to be doing my poor relation’s version of a headbanger again. Sally’s vocal has an edge to it, imbibing the song with a carefree attitude that is pure rock n’ roll. That feel runs through into Stone Cold Redeemer which immediately puts me in mind of Heart and ‘Barracuda’, a really deep and dangerous 1980’s guitar riff married to Sally’s singular vocals. Simple with a clean delivery, it makes no bones about what it is, another pure hard rock delight. The slightly off-kilter guitar solo is a breezy delight that grabs your attention and really hits home on this enjoyable romp.
The final track on the album, Meant to Be, finishes things off in a symphonic metal style. Like a lament, it has an almost mournful feel to it, the vocals subtle yet effective. The guitar solo is full of feeling and pathos and has a heavy hue of 80’s British heavy metal deep at its core. Another fine slab of hard rock with a strong whiff of symphonic metal served up for your delectation.
A classy blend of hard rock, metal and symphonic rock with its own core identity, Gabriel a massive sound for just two people. Pigeon-hole them if you dare, there is more going on with this musical collaboration than you could fit into any one box. Sally Elsey’s vocals are worth the entry fee alone but, with the excellent musical talent of Alex Vinasco at her side, you have something a little bit different and special.
“Better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact, than the richest without meaning…..” – John Ruskin.
At the heart of the music I love the most are storytellers and modern-day bards, musicians who can take all that life throws at them, good and bad, and put it in to song. Songs that can affect you deeply and stir up huge wellsprings of emotion. Joy, laughter, sadness and woe all hit deeply into our souls and take us on a journey into the world envisaged by these musical magicians.
Lightweight music has its place (maybe the gym or some other) but I prefer music that can teach me something or enhance a mood, even music that makes me feel sad or forlorn is still great music if that is what it intended. Maybe those of us who appreciate the finer music in life have a bigger capacity in our hearts, who knows?
One thing I do know is that there is no single style or genre of music that achieves this, it is a capacity of all music to move you deeply and leave a lasting impression on you. Certain types can have a higher propensity to musically enhance us just by their generic definition.
Folk music is all about telling stories and tales, generally local legends and characters are brought to life by these earthy musicians and the use of flues, violins and other instruments tends to lends it more originality. Folk and progressive rock tend to cross paths quite often and influences of both can be heard in the other (check out the Canterbury scene for an idea of what I mean).
In my role as a’musical treasure hunter’ I often unearth unexpected gems by the strangest means but, sometimes, just a recommendation from someone who I trust is enough to get me to listen to something new. This time it was Brendan Eyre (of Northlands and Riversea fame) who pointed me in the right direction.
Lee Maddison is an acoustic folk rock musician from Hartlepool in the North East of England and is releasing a self titled album under the pseudonym of Maddison’s Thread. I was intrigued by the excellent artwork (I do like a nice album cover) designed by local artist Amanda White (check out her artist’s page www.mandascat.com) and Brendan’s nod in the right direction sealed the deal.
When playing live Lee’s line up has him playing acoustic guitar and performing vocals, Stewart Hardy on fiddle, Nigel Spaven on bass and Michael Kitching on drums & percussion.
Joining Lee and his regular players on the album were a stellar cast of many whose contribution, in Lee’s words “far outweighed my contribution to their bank accounts..”
These additional musicians were Bob Garrington (acoustic and electric guitars), Shayne Fontayne (drums), Sue Ferris (flute and sax), Shona Kipling (accordion), Rachel Robinson (cello), Tony Davis (keyboards) and John Day (trombone on ‘A Crooked Mile Home’). Backing vocals were provided by Suzy Crawford and Rachel Gaffney.
(Image copyright Howy White, featured image also copyright Howy White)
A gentle if determined acoustic guitar introduces us to The Viking’s Daughter before Lee’s magical vocals invite us to listen to the story at hand. There is a timbre to his vocals that give them a serious honesty and a gravelly note that has hints of Dylan to it (well if Bob had bothered to take singing lessons that is). I find myself entranced by the lilting air to the song, the intriguing lyrics and the definitive folk mood it induces, especially when the fiddle and gentle backing vocals join. The short, enchanting fiddle solos leave me imagining I’m in a crowded bar in a tiny fishing village on the North East coast, party to something secretive and wonderful. As an opening track to entice you in further it is just about perfect. There is a more pensive feel to the guitar at the beginning of Where Eagles Fly, a more sombre atmosphere added to by Lee’s vocal that engenders a sparse beauty to all that is around it. When the chorus opens up with the stylish percussion and captivating backing vocals it adds a real feel of longing and hope, the flute is like a free spirit that eludes you, always out of reach. I feel a lump rising in my throat, a wistfulness pervading my thoughts as this enchanting song continues to entrance me. I really have the feeling we are listening to something special here.
Come the Springtime opens up with that hypnotic guitar note that has become signature now and then Lee starts singing and you really feel like spring is upon you. The vocals are more measured and precise, the chorus lively and addictive. This song is less weighty than what has preceded it but it feels in keeping with the whole premise of the track, flute and fiddle adding any necessary gravitas. It bumbles along as if it has not a care in the world, flitting and organic and really lightens the air and the mood, a short breath of fresh air that leaves your musical palate ready for what is to follow. Jaunty and immediately memorable, Making the Morning Last takes a small step away from the folk leanings and towards the mainstream. There is a breezy and carefree feel to the song, emphasised by Lee’s vocals and the percussion, which add a playful note to proceedings. The chorus is definitely a paid up member of the ‘sing-along’ society and the interjections of the stylish fiddle playing are quite sublime. A song that makes you want to jump up and dance, self-confident and dapper.
After the flippancy of the previous track things become slightly more serious again with Wonderful Day, the guitar has a fragility to it and Lee’s vocal begins with a purposefulness before opening up with an injection of levity. This track reminds me a bit of Seth Lakeman with a Northern contrast, it is pared back but the fiddle once again adds lustre and finesse and the counter-play with the accordion is just brilliant. I get the impression that Lee and his fellow musicians must put on quite a live experience, I will have to go find out for myself. The Country Song does exactly what it says on the tin, Lee’s vocal having an age-old timbre to it. This track has a touch of simple country rock to it but with a definite Britishness at its core, humorous and playful, it is like a serious version of The Wurzels with its metaphorical cap set at an impish angle.
Heading right back up mainstream road Don’t Care About Tomorrow is a catchy, high-tempo sing along that really gets under your skin and into your mind. The feel good factor is turned up to ten and smiles are obligatory. The backing vocals are stylish and harmonised and the piano and keyboards really add a grown up note. Folk takes an unapologetic back seat and the good times roll. Throw in a guitar solo and you can’t really ask for much more as Lee shows he is definitely not a one trick pony, Ed Sheeran eat your heart out! Hang on, what’s this? Have I just been transported to a smoke filled jazz joint? Night Circus is all Martin Taylor-esque guitars and funky rhythms as Lee swiftly shifts focus once again. The chorus and backing vocals have a real feel of original R&B to them, you know what? this guy has some real musical chops and, just to top it off, we have a smooth as caramel sax solo thrown in, outstanding! Intricate guitar work and super cool percussion just add to the effortless skill on show, the suave close to the track is just sublime.
On your first listen to Misty Morning Blues you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported across the Atlantic and into mid-town America. With a vocal style akin to John Denver and music that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Eagles album this is Americana inspired country rock that reminds me of Abel Ganz and that is no mean comparison. Enchanting yet heartfelt, there is a real depth of emotion at the heart of this genuinely sincere song, when the flute floats in it just adds the final part of this beguiling musical jigsaw. Honest to its core, One Day is a wistful, whimsical delight. The pared back to basics guitar is ethereal and bewitching and Lee’s vocal has a charming candor to it so you take everything at face value. Suave and sophisticated, when the percussion joins in, it has a real smooth jazz feel to it, a lightness of being that you feel is catching as your soul leaves your body to join the party. Without a worry in the world, you are just left to enjoy this unruffled delight.
Too soon we come to the final track on the album and a return to folk-focused beginnings, albeit with a country rock edge. The guitar and accordion focused introduction to A Crooked Mile Home has a solemn, melancholy note to it as if the subject is a weighty one. Lee gives his most grave vocal performance yet, all serious and mournful and you can’t help but become involved in the dignified and subdued atmosphere. The trombone and accordion add the required saturnine and sober edge to the yearning quality of the vocals. A starkly graceful song to close out this exquisite album.
Music often astounds me in the way that, when you think you’ve heard it all, something comes along to amaze and inspire you with its brilliance. I had never heard of Lee Maddison before that fateful day but this discovery is one of the best of recent years. Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.
For the majority of us our childhood was a place full of fond memories. They invoke sepia tinged images of innocence and happiness before the realities of the big bad world that is out there begin to sink in.
You know the saying, ‘regressed to their childhood’, when you no longer have a care in the world and the simplest things give you joy and bring a smile to your face.
I get that familiar warm glow begin to envelop me when I listen to certain albums or music, a feeling like a big hug, a freshly made bed or the smells of coffee and toast wafting across your nostrils. They may be simplistic ideals but they are the catalyst for complex emotions in your mind and soul.
There was one album recently that invoked these feelings intensely, Tiger Moth Tales’ debut release ‘Cocoon’. ‘Cocoon’ is a concept album on the subject of Childhood, and coming to terms with the loss of childhood. The journey goes through stages of Innocence, joy, imagination, stories, friendship, love, nature, nostalgia, grief, acceptance and rebirth.
There is a very interesting story behind Tiger Moth Tales and it goes something like this…..
Tiger Moth Tales is essentially the brain child of Nottinghamshire based musician and writer Peter Jones, who has been involved in the music industry performing around the UK and recording his own material since the late 90s.
(photo copyright Martin Reijman)
Pete, (35) was born on October 6th 1980. At fifteen months he lost his sight due to Retinoblastoma. From an early age he was into all things musical and at the age of four had his first piano. Peter composed from an early age, usually in the form of improvisations which he would capture on his cassette recorder.
He studied music and music technology and performed in bands singing and playing jazz, swing, rock and classical pieces. On leaving school in 1999 he formed the successful duo 2 to Go with friend and vocalist Emma Paine.
Over the next ten years they became one of the most successful duos on the circuit performing at clubs and corporate events around the UK and abroad. During that time they were finalists in the BBC’s Star For A Night in 2001 and ITV’s ‘The X Factor’ in 2004. They went on to appear in the National Arena X Factor Tour which followed in 2005.
in 2010 Pete had his first official album release with ‘Look At Me Now’. This self penned and produced album was a collection of songs from the previous 10 years, including different Genres but with an overall adult contemporary feel. ‘Look At Me Now’ enjoyed good sales online and also on the road, and the plan was to start work on a follow up album in a similar vein.
At the beginning of 2013, Pete started work on a new project. This took the form of a concept album, and it was the first progressive music he had written since he was a teenager. Throughout 2013 he continued to write and record new progressive music and by October 2013 ‘Cocoon’, the new album, was complete.
July 2015 sees the release of the much anticipated follow up to ‘Cocoon’, ‘Story Tellers Part One’……..
After seeing an internet challenge to conceive and record an album in the month of February 2015, Peter Jones was inspired to get back into the studio.
To record an album in 28 days was quite the challenge but armed with a vivid imagination and his childhood memories, Pete has written seven songs based on some of the classic children stories he listened to as a young boy.
He has put his unique twist to such classic tales as Sleeping Beauty, The PiedPiper of Hamelin and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and for those of you who like fantastic instrumentation and stunning vocal performances, look no further.
The introduction to Beauty Falls (Part one of Sleeping Beauty)is like a Disney trumpet overture played on keys and gives you an immediate impression of a playfulness and childish joy to the music before it opens up in a very similar vein to the opening credits of Red Dwarf (if you don’t believe me, go have another listen..), all low key pomp and circumstance. Then Peter’s intricate guitar playing leads you into the song along with some humorous keyboards. There is pantomime feel to this instrumental as it gallops along at a fair lick with all manner of amusing sound effects going off around you. Moments of clarity and fairy tale magic are interspersed among the jocularity and the intelligent songwriting of Peter Jones is already coming to the fore as everything comes to a more grown up, serious conclusion.
Maturity enters the fray with Story Tellers and the high jinks and fantasy are put on the back burner just for a short while. A subdued and sober piano note introduces the song before Peter’s earnest vocals begin, a voice that convey a real wide range of emotions, here it is thoughtful and intent. This song is all about the highs and lows of writing the stories and the lyrics convey those emotions perfectly. The music winds around your mind and your soul and envelops you in its embrace. There is a longevity to the story that will always outlive the writer and that adds a slight tone of sadness that can be felt in both the vocals and the music. The track then opens up with an extended keyboard run of increasing dexterity that lifts an melancholia and Peter adds a winsome tone to his vocals in a children’s TV style. This song is all about leaving an enduring legacy for those that follow and it closes having performed that task to a tee.
Beauty Sleeps (no surprise that this is part two of Sleeping Beauty) opens with a delicately strummed classical guitar full of grace and refinement. It has a finesse to it that befits a princess and her story and also shows off Peter Jones’ instrumental prowess, it may just be me but I get ‘Cavatina’ (the theme from Deer Hunter for the Luddites out there) running through my mind everytime I hear certain instrumental sections of this song, not a bad comparison I’d have thought. It holds you in a trance-like state as the simple beauty of the music washes over you, seeming to cleanse your musical soul with the elegance of the guitar and the charming flute note. This is no merely simple piece though, there is a complexity at the heart, it is just delivered in such a genial manner that you can take it in so easily. Overall it is uplifting and inspiring and leaves your soul soaring.
Right, that’s enough of the inspirational, the whimsical and the charming, where is the ‘batshit crazy’ I remember from ‘Cocoon’? Ah, here it is and aren’t we in for a treat. A Kids Tale is based on the story of Billy Goat Gruffyet with the wacky humour turned up to 11, I challenge you to listen to this track and not be smiling like an inane lunatic by the end. Box of frogs? It’s as mad as whole container load from the bleating in the background of the introduction and the irreverent instrumental run in right through the Benny Hill Theme inspired section to Peter’s regional accent infused vocal. Just imagine if Disney had employed SpikeMilligan and Michael Bentine to bring the story to film and you’ll have some idea of the off kilter humour that runs throughout it. The lyrics are inspired, “Hold on, you were about to bite my head off and now you’re lecturing me on morality….”, “Fair enough, on you go….”. Mad andtouched with a kind of insane genius that could only be English, this guy has definitely been out in the midday sun. There is a touch of music hall to the playing that runs throughout, especially the dancing piano, it is one of the most mirth filled, tongue in cheek songs I have heard in quite a while, the joyful singing of the three goats that closes out the song being a perfect ending.
The Quest for Beauty (Sleeping Beauty part three) brings us back to the more contemplative feel of the earlier tracks with a triumphant note to the introduction and Peter’s deadpan vocals that open up into a delightful chorus, did I say that this guy can really sing? This is a down-to-earth, astute musical fairytale where the hero must overcome arduous tasks to save the heroine and the music is sympathetic to that more grown up feel whilst never losing the magic that is the core to the best of these stories. The vibrant feel builds up as we come to the close of the latest chapter in the tale, more to follow…….
There is a dark humour at the core of The Piper, the introduction has all the markings of a dangerously funny musical like Sweeney Todd and is delivered in a fashion akin to Gilbert and Sullivan with overblown, pompous characters you can tell are heading for an ignominious downfall. Peter does all the different voices with aplomb, investing the Mayor and townsfolk with a farcical side and giving the piper of the title a sinister, darker edge that makes your skin crawl just a tiny bit. The lyrics are full of slapstick, absurd humour that works perfectly with the feel of the track, “You need to take stock, there’s a rat in my sock….!”, “Oh God no, it’s running up me trousers….”. There is a conveyor belt of whipcrackingly comical phrases that keep you laughing out loud. You feel a mysterious thrall take over the song when the piper arrives and whenever he speaks, a dangerous man who you shouldn’t cross. The track grips you for all of its near thirteen minute length and, despite the fact we know how the tale unfolds, you feel yourself holding your breath wondering what is going to happen next. That is the measure of the skill of a songwriting storyteller like Peter Jones, he puts you right in the middle of the story as if you were really there. A deliciously menacing track with a touch of the macabre to it, just remember how the Child Catcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ used to make you hold your breath and hide (and you loved it!) and you’ll know exactly what i mean.
The final part to the Sleeping Beauty saga closes out this superb album, Beauty Awakes starts with a jubilant and exulted instrumental section topped with touches of magical fairy dust that skips lightly across your mind leaving hints of playful abandon where ever it has been. Peter Jones finishes the song and album with the expected happy ending, his lyrics touching on the fact that we know the outcomes of these fairytales but we just cannot get enough of them, “The story will never end….”, indeed it won’t Peter my friend, not with musical maestros like you around….
Well, Peter Jones has delivered what is, to my ears, an album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1’, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood. Peter is one of the pre-eminent songwriters out there today and has given us a little piece of wonder to enjoy, roll on Part Two.