Having formed in Spring 2017 Nova Cascade have done remarkable work to get themselves known in prog circles quite quickly. With their debut album ‘Above All Else’ they have hit the ground running. Nova Cascade are made up of musicians from 3 different countries, Dave Hilborne (Vocals, Synths) Dave Fick (Bass) , Alessio Proietti (Guitars) , Heather Leslie (Violin), Charles Bramald (Flute) and David Anania (Drums). The road to this album is a story in itself, with different recording methods,including a phone, some very credible guest appearances and the swapping of files to get to the finished product. The band blurb will tell you that this album was recorded on a budget and the production is very homemade, but this should not distract in anyway as what you get is good raw performances and feel.
Let’s start with the artwork, the rather fetching and beautiful cover artwork was designed and drawn by one of my favourite geniuses Paul Dews of How Far To Hitchin fame. This gets the ‘Above All Else’ experience off to a good start, the illustration matches the feel of the album well. This is then added to with some great photography from Brooke Smith.
So onto the album, at 37 minutes, this is perfect for the style and feel of the album. I am not sure if there is a genre of prog call ambient prog , but if there was not there is now! At the right time and moment this is a wonderful relaxed album to chill out to. Designed to be played as a whole, each track effortlessly blends with the next to form a dreamy mixture of music. Mainly instrumental the album is punctuated with vocals, and when they do arrive the best comparison I can give is Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis , which given the ambient feel of the album works well.
The title track Above All Else opens the album and a fine track it is one of the vocal tracks the track sets the scene for the ambient feel, the instruments blend and weave together for a very nice feel. Continuum follows and introduces the drums, this really is a nice track, again lots going on which can be appreciated more on headphones. The tracks are very short (in the prog world) which sometime leaves you wanting more but that is no bad thing, just hit play again.Prophecyhas a Marillion type guitar led feel to the song, at the time of writing my favourite on the album. Hurtledbrings back vocals and the Talk Talk reference would be appropriate for this track. LO-FI, Epiphany, One Hundred & FourteenandImago all continue the ambient feel very synth heavy and all pretty glorious again a listen on headphones does it justice as sounds work their way around your head, the piano on One Hundred & Fourteen deserves their own mention. This is a great section of the album that lets you drift off. Swept Awayis the penultimate vocal track and is a more guitar drums and,in particular, bass guitar led track, probably the most upbeat track of the album but still fits in well with the overall feel of the album. The final instrumental is Icarus, maybe because the name of the track puts something in your head but the sweeping synths and melodies do feel like they would accompany flying. And finally we finish the album with one of the standout tracks Wilted, the vocals arriving just at the end delivered just right to end the journey.
‘Above All Else’ is a great debut album that will put Nova Cascade on the prog map so to speak, yes there are times when the production could be better but it never distracts and to the majority they would neither notice or care as the music outweighs this. Very interesting to see/hear what comes next.
Released 10th September 2018 on download/8th October 2018 on CD.
For those unfamiliar with Napier’s Bones, they are a Uk based prog rock duo made up of Gordon Midgley, lyric writer and musician extraordinaire and Vocalist Nathan Jon Tillett, who also provides artwork to the albums. ‘Monuments’ is the band’s fifth album and continues in the vein of traditional prog rock with very story based songs.
Gordon has been teasing the album and songs for a few months now, giving real insight into the production and guitars/effects used, so some parts of the album are already familiar but don’t worry there is plenty more to explore.
Opening track Standing Childe is a 23 minute 9 part opus that tells the tale of Childe, a warrior trying to live up to the reputation of his father, even with the knowledge that it would ultimately lead to his death. The cover artwork features Childe’s Cross in Dartmoor said to be the resting place of Childe The Hunter, inspiration for this epic tale. This is classic prog rock story telling and is layered with glorious moments. A good test for me on the longer prog rock tracks is ‘does it feel like a 20 minute plus track, or does it pass quickly due to your enjoyment and investment in the track?’ I can safely say that Standing Childe holds your attention well! There is enough solid instrumentation, lyrical content and epic moments to keep you hooked. From the opening instrumental section, The Childe, which features some great guitar and synth work , it flows seamlessly into Mark Well which introduce the protagonist of the story and gravelly vocals over lush acoustic guitars gives a very Gabriel era Genesis feel, which is no bad thing. And into for me the best section of the song Born To This Duty, absolutelyglorious combination of acoustic guitars and mellotron type synth a great companion to the previous section and again very Genesis in feel , this is great prog rock. Like Never Before keeps us on track and lifts the tempo of the song with a cracking guitar solo from Gordon M , delivered with a warm 70s feel. Very nice. A sudden stop and new guitar riff changes the feel of the song, When Horizon Meets The Sky yet again features a great guitar synth mash up with catchy hooks being thrown out by Gordon with apparent ease. Part 6, Fate Will Do As It Must, for me falls into the leave them wanting more category, it is a really great section that could have been twice as long, but alas the story must continue and we are now over halfway. Today It Ends has more of a Pink Floyd feel, and we are still firmly in classic prog territory. Vocals are delivered dreamingly over a much layered musical track (A must listen on headphones section), Not Enough and Behold The Childe finish our tale , again great acoustic guitars, another solid guitar solo and layers of synths give an epic finish. Nathan’s vocal delivery over this section is particularly good as he takes on the perspective of Childe who has done his best to save himself from death but ultimately fails. And we are finished track one! Worth the cost of the album alone, a fan of prog rock you would be hard pushed not to get a lot of enjoyment from this track.
Mirabilis continues where track one left off in feel , a song about the alchemist Roger Bacon who tries to create artificial life and and wisdom believing that achieving this would connect home with the divine, he ultimately fails. Whilst the album is not a concept album, there is a running theme throughout of people trying to be more than they are, trying to leave a lasting legacy on history, in some ways they fail yet do leave their mark in history, just not the way they expected.
Waters Darkdraws its inspiration from a Yorkshire legend around wanting to turn back time, a beautiful plucked acoustic guitar leads the song surrounded by other haunting guitar with a more upbeat folky chorus. Free to Choose keeps us firmly in deep prog waters, starting almost like a Yes song both in feel and production. From Gordon’s notes the song is about bohemian painter Robert Lenkiewicz whilst rejected by the art establishment, he went on start his own colony of outsiders based in Plymouth and found a different way of showing of his art. All the songs on the album can be linked to legends and historical figures and, like Big Big Train or a good Dan Brown novel, the subject matter is well researched and explored.
The Heightsfinishes off the album a song around missed opportunity and chances, bought on themselves by a life of daring and drugs , based around the sad life of Branwell Bronte. A quite catchy song, I found myself having the chorus going around my head for some days. The sound of the sea and a fading backwards guitar bring the album to a close.
Gordon and Nathan have delivered Napier’s Bones’ most satisfying album to date, an album that ticks many of the prog rock genre boxes with some great musicianship and lyrical content. Oh how I would love to see Standing Childe played live with a full band, maybe one day…
Here at Progradar Towers we are pleased to welcome Scott Evans of Encircled into the reviewing chair as he writes about How Far To Hitchin’s 2016 debut release ‘Easy Targets’.
The thing I love about music is that regardless how much you consume of it on a yearly basis there is still something left untapped that when you discover takes you back to all those wonderful memories of teenage years flicking through vinyl at independent record stores or your best friend saying you must listen to this whilst dropping the needle onto a new find…
How Far To Hitchin’s debut album ‘Easy Targets’ ,the music project of Paul Dews, is my current musical surprise and is enriched with that wonder of a new find. My route to discovery was the lazy scrolling of Facebook and then a sudden stop as an album cover liked by a couple of my like minded Facebook friends popped out , demanding attention, as many of my teenage album covers often did. The ‘Easy Target’ cover is a piece of art in itself that ticks that box of wanting to revisit and finding something new each time. Paul Dews himself did the artwork which gives you a hint of the genius that lies within the album itself.
Whilst this is not the first musical outing of Paul Dews, the blurb on his website would suggest this is the first album where production and composition were as important as each other , and you can tell. The production is first class, a constant of each song is how production is used as an additional instrument, it really is tremendous. The project is currently studio based and I can anticipate the difficulty of putting this into a live show (although I would love to see that) but, as The Beatles found out on ‘Sgt Peppers’, not thinking about how to perform something live gives you absolute freedom in the studio, Paul Dews has nailed this ethos.
Whilst mentioning the famous Beatles album, a comparison can be made in the very ‘Englishness’ of the ‘Easy Targets’ album. As each song unfolds so do the influences and lyrical content and it is so quintessentially English that again it fills you with a warm feeling and the temptation to accompany the album with a luke warm pint of cider. Other musicians credited on the album include E P Dulsaw on guitar, Wes Ladpu on Bass, Ade W Puls on Drums and Saul Pewd on keyboards; unless Paul spent a huge amount of time scouring the country for musicians whose names were made up of particular letters , I suspect this is very much a solo outing!
So onto the tracks. The album starts as it means to go on using great production techniques to grab your attention and ensure that you are listening as a voice spins around your head demanding you listen, Resistance Is Futileis a haunting track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on one of Bowie’s latest offerings, Paul Dews’ vocal phrasing is very Bowie like throughout the album. Lyrically it’s a call to arms to get off your backside and don’t accept the status quo. Our Friend Is In The Meadowis a beautiful follow up to the opener ,an almost childlike refrain builds to a memorable chorus and a gorgeous ebow guitar underpins a female spoken word section.
And then straight into Gladhander and 3 songs in you realise that pinning this album down to a particular genre is going to be difficult, and why even try, let’s enjoy its uniqueness. Like Mansun crashed a late 90s trance club, the lyrics attack persons unknown, the accompanying booklet art shows a five fingered snake and you get the impression of deceit and someone with style over substance. The lyrics throughout the album are quite scathing in places, in a very English way, sometimes hidden by beautiful melodies. The Peacocks Of Birkbyis a gentle song that sees Paul wishing “he could be like them, rising above it all”. Whilst Collateralgoes straight for the jugular lyrically like a post-apocalyptic rant , but ending with a wry smile of “at least the computer graphics looked cool” and, snap, we are in a completely different soundscape , very clever lyrics and vocal delivery make Push a charming song that twists and turns as fast as you can process it.
Grief Miningfor me is one of the stand-out tracks of the album, the Gabriel- esque track starts with a slow build but opens up in magnificent glory with some stunning guitar work, an attack on so called clairvoyants praying on the vulnerable, the closing vocal refrain of “…money in the bank” brings the track to a close. Brilliant stuff. Helplessfeels like an anthem for all those that have suffered with mental health issues, the lyrics read like a letter trying to express the difficulty of living with a condition and as the music blends with the lyrics in perfect unison it is hard not to get emotional, this really is a beautiful song.
Flowers From Burma is 80’s new wave material, scathing lyrics again but delivered in such a way that any malice is completely hidden. I’m going to use the very English card once more! A Blur sounding intro introduces us to some dubious neighbours fondly referred to as Shit Bags, such a great little track that certainly doffs its cap to ‘Park Life’ era Blur. Sick Little Monstersis back in Bowie territory, and addresses the disturbing fascination of viewing other people’s misery through media, criticising for “watching this poor man’s death..” and then closing with a plea to “do something, open your arms and catch him” and finally Secateurs, that feels like a memory of childhood , a melancholy close to the album but as beautiful as you are now used to with the album.
The influences are scattered throughout and there is no doubt that Paul Dews is a connoisseur of years of alternative pop music, but this is all delivered in such a unique way that comparisons are ultimately lazy. This really is a special album that demands repeat listens and stands as a nice reminder of why new artists deserve a listen, the rewards can be very fine indeed.
Time flies, this time last week I was home after a very pleasant trip to the launch party for Encircled’s new album ‘The Universal Mirth’, down in the deepest merging of the potteries’ ‘Five Towns’ so named by author Arnold Bennett (though it was actually six), in Stoke On Trent.
I had the great pleasure of reviewing their last outing, ‘The Monkey Jamboree’ and, if you have not heard it, treat yourself. May I recommend it is best listened to with the lights dimmed and a tipple of your choice in a cosy environment after a hard day at work.
A short balmy stroll from my less than salubrious lodgings and I found myself in front of a small shop (converted into a community project area) by the name of Pilgrims Pit. It hardly seemed big enough to swing a cat in but still managed to fit a plentifully stocked little bar in the corner, with welcome cool drinks.
Warmly met by bassist/keyboards (twiddly bits, errors and virtual drums) Scott Evans, I was introduced to the other band members; the genial Mark ‘Busby’ Burrows on vocals and favourite Fender plus acoustic and the ever cool Gareth ‘Gaz’ Evans playing a delicious custom guitar (I’m told he never smiles, but they lie). I was informed the place could actually take up to fifty people and though the band’s gear took up a fair area, around thirty to forty turned out for the night and it was good to meet some fellow passengers and some new faces.
Whilst the talent that is Peter Jones was unable to be there for his guest slots on some tracks, it was a lovely surprise to find they had support from the delightful Kym Hart who, whilst a very accomplished musician in her own right, had graciously given vocal assistance on the band’s new CD.
We were treated to a number of tracks from Kym’s two albums, the latest ‘A Way To Be’ (available at kymhart.bandcamp.com) and ‘Time in Mind’.
Kym also treated us to a track from the new album she is working on and cleverly slipped in a little Marillion passage from Lavender, to favourable response from the appreciative audience. I was surprised, whilst chatting to her, to find she has been doing this for over twenty years but, as so often is the case, she has never received the justified acclaim. Check her out, Kym deserves a wider audience.
Encircled then took the stage, or floor space at any rate. It’s amazing the amount of noise a small group of people can generate when encouraged by such a welcoming group of lads playing infectious music. The warmth for the band was palpable and every track on the set-list was greeted with expectant enthusiasm from the gathering before them, Busby observantly pointing out that, at one point, they were literally ‘encircled’ by the crowd.
Playing a set list made up from TMJ and TUM, they soon had everyone clapping and joining in, the music floating round the room, out of the open the door and down the street, serenading the revellers passing by, some glancing in curiosity or pausing for a while on the pavement outside to bask in the ambience. Inviting Kym up to swell the vocals on given tracks only enhanced the soothing sounds caressing our ears.
A great evening was had by all and it was a real privilege to finally meet the gentlemen behind these albums, you couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of lads who proved they can play it ‘live’. We need to see them in larger venues, come on promoters, don’t miss the opportunity.
A quick shout out to the lads who run the place and staunchly manned the bar for the evening with best wishes and success for future projects. Also a big thank you to Scott’s daughter Freya (the talent behind the cover design for TMJ) as she kindly manned the merch desk all evening.
And so to the new album ‘The Universal Mirth’.
If you read my review of TMJ, you will know how much I enjoyed it, a fine album that regularly takes a spin in our house and in the car:
For me TUM has a more assured footing and lifts the band to a higher podium.Exploring and expounding on the problems in modern society with technology, self image and perception, with the pressures modern living brings, temptations, dangers and the strains on individuals and relationships.
The first three tracks are loosely linked as are the last three, with two more ‘sandwiched’ between, bringing the total to eight meaty tracks which make up this aural feast.
From the hook laden chimes of the first bars, Log In: The Mystical Way whirls through your head warning the miracle is being taken away, demystifying the magic of life. The laid back keyboards and throbbing bass deceiving you, lulling you into a false sense of security whilst access to even your most personal secrets are slowly exposed.
Leading to The Obsession, with a heavier guitar intro, garnered from accessible systems and information available to anyone able to open and retrieve the details. Watched unknowingly, your every move scrutinised and followed, untraceable as the keyboards weep for your loss. Your weaknesses feeding the hidden admiration of those who see your fragilities caused by insecurities and the need to be loved and wanted. The desire to be more beautiful, the pressures of fame, leaving you vulnerable to prying eyes. You no longer have secrets, the information used to mould, persuade and control who you are and what you do.
But what if Past Timesare revealed, what do they unearth, what does it mean for your future? The acoustic guitar intro leads Mark to question if there is a sense of wonder left. Uncertainty, unsure of who to trust, darkest secrets revealed. Are you who you seem and will your past ever let you be who you would like to be, seeking to find someone who will accept you for who you are?
Can you hold down a relationship, what foundations are they built on? Does true love exist in today’s society, increasingly uneasy in the shallow pool of values, to form a bond between couples. If you can’t, you’ll find yourself saying This Is Goodbye. Empty promises, failure to live up to expectations as Gaz’s guitar riffs wave farewell, the laid back delivery wrong-footing you once more.
And once it’s over and gone, dare you trust again? Can you learn to love, have feelings, show your own? Or scarred by the experiences keep your emotions hidden, Smiling On The Inside, afraid to expose yourself for fear of rejection and disappointment. The prospect of being left alone as the keys drop notes like whispers behind your back. Can you face it and be strong enough to take on a relationship once more as the guitars gently mock you in the background?
The adulation craved, the need to be loved and wanted, enveloped in a Marillion and Genesis homage of guitars and keyboards on 22 Likes with the band’s influences rising to the surface. The restriction of being in the public eye, creation of a persona and the inability to be yourself around others.
This segues into track seven on a wave of Bill Nelson type guitar, drifting into a Floydian style passage as Kym’s extensive vocal range soars over the instruments to create a Fantastic Souvenir of breathtaking music.
A flute introduces the band finale as they reach to Log Out: The Universal Mirth, breaking away from it all, finding the strength to step out, moulding the lyrical and musical style of Fish era Marillion into their own sound, to tremendous effect. Peter Jones‘ guest keyboard solos burst like the petals of summer flowers opening to embrace the mood and flourish over Mark mourning they took the miracle away.
They haven’t, it’s just been recorded and presented in a digi-pak of sublime, melancholic wonder for us all to purchase, listen and revel in. Encircled have done it again, getting under my skin and sinking in to create a warming glow. This is another gem of an album from the band which sees them grow in musical stature and as soon as ‘The Universal Mirth’ finishes, I find myself wanting to play it again, as you may well do.
Time to cuddle on the sofa with the lights low, quality scotch in hand and press play/repeat.
Midlands prog rockers Encircled will release ‘The Universal Mirth’ on August 4th.
‘The Universal Mirth’ is their third album, a follow up to the bands critically acclaimed 2017 album ‘The Monkey Jamboree’.
“We have gone a bit darker on this album”, says Bass/keyboard player Scott Evans. “The music came first and we had a lot written whilst we were promoting the last album, it maintains some of the song writing elements of ‘The Monkey Jamboree’ that people latched onto but more complex and layered. Busby (vocalist – Mark ‘Busby’ Burrows) has taken his lyric writing to a new level and really explored darker themes, all relevant to today’s cyber security paranoid nation”
Guesting on the album is Prog legend Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Red Bazar, Camel). “Pete contributed a 3 minute keyboard solo on the closing 13 minute track Log Out that is one of the finest things I have ever heard, a goose bumps moment for the band”, says Scott.
It’s always nice to be appreciated for things you do, to be recognised for contributions you make. So I felt quite chuffed when Scott Evans of the band Encircled contacted me direct and asked would I consider doing a lead review of their new upcoming album ‘The Monkey Jamboree’. The initial elation then moved to trepidation as I realised the band had entrusted their blood, sweat and tears to my hands (I’ll wash them afterwards) and what if I didn’t like it or thought it couldn’t match their previous output? Ah, the heavy weight of responsibility.
Scott sent me the files including the cover (from the talented fingers of Freya Evans) which immediately struck me that it could have been a cave painting featured in Planet of the Apes, with See no Evil, Speak no Evil and Hear no Evil adorning the front. I mentioned this to Scott and he explained “It’s a little nod to us being deliberately ignorant in our music to all that is going on in the world, like the anti ‘FEAR‘, (Marillion‘s latest delicious release and castigation of the human race), which on listening to the CD bears similarities at times in the style of music.
For those that don’t know the band are:
Mark Busby Burrows – Vocals and Guitar
Gareth Evans – Lead Guitars
Scott Evans – Bass/Keyboards/Programming
Stuart Picken – Drums
With Backing Vocals and Flute from Kym Hart.
This is not an album to rock out to and you will not get whiplash from throwing shapes with your waist length hair (ignoring the balding patch on top), in fact it’s the perfect antidote to this time of year as the weather worsens, the nights close in and the temperature drops. Grab yourself a large glass of red or in my case a good couple of fingers of single malt from the bottle on the table and close the shutters on the windows. Stoke the open fire in the hearth, dim the lighting and curl up on the sofa with a blanket. Slip the CD in the Hi-Fi and press play……
The short, understated title track soothes you in with Mark’s warm vocals as you take a large sip of the amber nectar and feel the glow as it slides down your throat. The gentle vocal harmonising between Mark and Kym relaxes you further into the cushions, the song trailing away on a lingering note.
Echoing notes intro and the guitar and vocals convince you this is ‘Alphabetically Possible’, in the second track that has more than a whiff of the lighter side of John Dexter Jones and Jump. Your toes will tap under the blanket to the beat of Stuart’s drums, as the shadows formed by the fire flutter on the ceiling above your swaying head. Listen to Gareth’s first solo, joined with Scott’s keys whilst you refill the emptied glass.
Close your eyes and ponder on the ‘Complexity’and pace of life as you sink another shot. Decisions to make, he (or she) who hesitates…overrun, overlooked, forgotten, lost. The highs and lows, make the most of the good times as there’s always someone to take your place, on this really smooth track with some great laid back guitar work from Gareth.
Grab yourself another snifter, a glance at the fire sees the flames dance as the foot tapping starts again to ‘Stereochrome’s‘ funky little rhythm. Ruminate on the fact some people thrive on the modern pressures of life to the extent they can’t live without them, but not you at the moment. Recline and revel in the OMD like keyboard solo from Scott sliding into a Dr Who soundscape and ending on another fine guitar solo.
You begin to find the warmth of the whisky and heat from the fire quite soporific, lulled by the piano keys, make the most of this moment, this ‘Magic Hour’. Enjoy the soothing sounds of Rothery type fretwork, the gentle pulse of Stuart’s drums and Scott’s bass. Make the most of what you have now as everything must end, but maybe not until……
‘Tomorrow’ on the penultimate track which, after a few brief strummed chords, raises you from the reverie with a little more upbeat musing on the delicacy of relationships. Should we cling on or hold too close to be singed by the spluttering flames of a needy relationship? Treading on eggshells, will it fall apart acrimoniously and can we not stay friends? Just a little sip.
You wake to find the room dark, only faint embers glow in the hearth and the temperature has cooled. Your head is filled with cotton wool as you survey the empty tumbler alongside the discharged bottle and try to piece together your thoughts on ‘A Life Shy of Perfection’. You rise, stretch then quell the remains of last night’s fire. Fold the blanket as you ponder what you have lost and how direction-less you have become. Make your way across the room and open the shutters on the grey streaked clouds of the winter morning as the last chords of acoustic guitar prod you to face the day ahead.
You pick up the glass and bottle then make your way from the room switching off the dimmed lighting and try ‘Chasing the Ghost’ in your fogged brain as you make your way along the hall. Pale, milky light drifts in through the glass panes of the front door casting a faint shadow ahead of you as you retreat toward the kitchen and the tune builds. Your bare feet drop the step into the kitchen, slapping on the chilled tiles. The shock makes you shake yourself in an attempt to disengage the monkey swinging from the branches of your brain. The bottle is discarded in the recycling bin and the glass shunted next to the pile of dishes by the sink from the day before. You’ll wash them later, no time now. You pause briefly to look out at the sodden leaf smothered garden before turning to retrace your steps down the hall and up the stairs for a shower as the last song nears the end in a duet of piano complemented by Kym’s flute. You close the bathroom door as the album ends on a single tintinnabulation. Time to get going.
This is not an album to break new ground nor will it have you dancing round the room. Tempo rarely breaking above a sway, it’s a slice of sublime relaxation, to kick off your shoes and relax to. It will keep me company on many a dark winter’s night and should it take your fancy as the tipple of choice, drink well of it’s smoothly distilled texture and feel the glow inside.
I’d like to thank Scott and the band for entrusting me with their latest blend and raise a glass to toast them, on an album well refined and produced by Shaun Lowe.