Beautiful You –  Matthew Mayer (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0482259365_10Sitting somewhere between classic piano balladry and ambient mood music, Beautiful You is an album of chilled, calming and wholly beautify instrumental pieces. Music is normally written about on sites such as this for what it is actually doing, the mechanics and the musical make up, the references and where it fits in the musical canon. This album foregoes any such academic approaches and the only thing that needs to be discussed is the affect that the music has on the listener, which, after all, is the purest of reasons for making music in the first place.

Cascading progressions of notes are finely balanced by space and anticipation, plaintive yet powerful refrains and confident yet minimal motifs drive the various tracks, tracks built out of classic grandeur, out of timeless grace, from ethereal composition and the understanding that fewer, more carefully selected sonic building blocks are always the best approach.

And so with often so little music actually taking place, with the music merely framing silence, it is the beauty of the world around us that we are actually listening too and Matthew Mayer is content just to underline its presence and add gentle colour and clever shading to this already beguiling canvas. All of this means that when he does make a point of saying something musically it feels like the most powerful and potent of expressions.

 

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Asylum –  Sianna Lyons (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

0008079122_350They say that the largest part of communication is non-verbal, through body language and context. The same can be said about music, if done well, you can convey meaning and emotion through the music itself, talk to the listener in a more primal, basic way, heart to heart, soul to soul with no need for anything as limiting, blunt or direct as mere words. And that is an idea which lies at the heart of Sianna Lyons new collection of songs, Asylum. 

Many of the songs lyrical content use more transient and opaque forms of communication, the private language of idioglossia, disembodied spoken word, of vocals used as an instrument, of wordless forms, of feeling, leaving the combination of the music itself and this secret and emotive expression to work its magic. And if that sounds as if this is all some ambient dreamscape, some fey delicacy it is so much more than that. The starting point is Sianna’s dynamic and impressive vocal range, songs such as Illusions showing the extent of it to perfection.

Where The Godless Pray, a song that predicted the dark times we are now finding ourselves in is the only one to feature universal language but it is bathed in such ethereality that the words shimmer and chime rather than converse and also feature 13 year old daughter Kiera Gonzalez Lyons, now heading out to embrace her own musical career. The title track rounds things off in a soaring crescendo, all dark drama and dynamic interplays.

And of course the vocals only land so impressively because of the music which drives them along, a masterclass in scoring and sitting somewhere between a film sound track and a Celtic odyssey, between ancient voices and future sounds, between space and atmosphere, anticipation and musical weight.

It is a stunning record, one that skirts a number of reference points, Enya, Clannad, Vangelis, the much overlooked Celtus, tipping its hat in reverence to all but maintaining enough distance and originality to be allowed to stand alongside those musical greats rather than merely follow them. Majestic, graceful, powerful, unique, it isn’t often that something this wonderful graces my reviewing desk. Day well and truly made.

Outermost Edge –  Alex Stolze (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a4086302413_10Outermost Edge is a collection of songs which sees contemporary classical music heading into experimental jazz territory and takes the form of sonic creations which happens as much between the notes and in the breaths between the lyrics as in the more conventional sonic communications.  There is a wonderful minimalism and deft composition at work here, every beat, every pass of the violin bow, every poetic line, has been honed and whittled to provide the most impact with the least presence. It’s an art which often seems missing in the bombastic and showboating of the modern musical world.

If opening salvo Black Drops wanders the same off-kilter modern classical pathways as the likes of Karl-Heinz Stockhauser and the desolate musical spaces of Philip Glass, it is followed by the sultry, jazz tones of Serves All Loss a piece which seems to conjure black and white noir-ish cinematics and European sophistication. And it is between these two extremes that the album makes its way, adding hints of electronica, sounds gathered from various world music and neighbouring genres  but always used to create cool understatement and beguiling sounds.

But even within these parameters boundaries are pushed and rules flaunted. Silence in Between comes at you like a scratched 78 rpm record, creating off-beat jumps and glitches as part of its own sonic personality, Andalusia is a sweeping, distant sounding summation of exotic climes and Way Out is a strange blend of whimsical calypso and lilting pop rhythms somewhat at odds with its apocalyptic lyrical nature.

Outermost Edge is an exercise in virtuosity reduced to its minimal requirements, there is no questioning the skill and technical ability of all involved but as always it is a testament to the bravery of leaving space, of knowing what not to play and of drawing the listener in to the atmospherics and moods that swirl around between the heard and the anticipated.

Scene and Heard – CCLXXVII : Church of Lies – Rebecca Relansay (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

29027069_1804449939607474_5073233804034834432_nGothic music all had a touch of the melodrama and theatre about it, even those embryonic bands like Bauhaus who held the keys  to the musical crypt revelled in a filmic, widescreen persona. By the time you get to the likes of The Mission and The Nephilim and the lines are completely blurred. Church of Lies uses this vibe as a touch stone but it mainly comes from the opposite direction. If they were goth bands bending the majesty and grandeur of classical music and wide-screen orchestration to their dark will, Rebecca Relansay comes from a more classically pure place but adopts something of their dark mantle.

The result is a song which wanders freely between a classical sound, pop accessibility and gothic charm. It toys with almost musical theatre poses and lyrically has something of the folk ethic about it. It sweeps rather than punches, shimmers rather than shocks and deftly blends minimalist dream-pop interludes to create some wonderful dynamic balance. Whilst it may not be goth in the literal music genre sense, more akin to Dead Can Dance exploring such territory, it would grace the sound track of any gothic-esque or noir movie more comfortably than most.

Scene and Heard –  CCLXIV : Larissa –  Floating Beauty (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

floating_beauty__larva_frontcover_out_1500.jpgLast month Floating Beauty’s gorgeous album Larva found its way to my review pile, not so much dropping into the in-box more seemingly coalescing slowly from the sound of the elements and the world around, growing from smoke like intangibility until it became perceptible to the sense. Larissa, the album’s opening track, provided my first steps into that sumptuous world and so to find myself in a position to explore it more full was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass.

Floating Beauty is a world of music like little else I have heard before wandering between modern classical orchestration and post-everything minimalism, it avoids the obvious and the immediate instead revelling in a slow burning majesty and Larissa captures these concepts in all their glory. Strings brood and bruise rather than drive, chime rather than create melody, often doing little more than painting musical colour to frame the anticipation and atmosphere found in the natural world. And it is this tense reserve which feels like the calm before the storm, the deep breath before the plunge, but tantalisingly the storm and the plunge never happen, not on this track at least.

It moves at glacial pace, sure footed but unhurried, feeling at times like you are hearing just one part of a song in isolation, that this is merely the base for a more dramatic, more dynamic musical piece. But that is indeed the beauty, that this sparse and spatially aware music is the be-all-and-end-all, no embellishments or musical motifs need to be threaded through or bolted on to  achieve its goals, such a move would be gimmicks at best, at worst, totally distracting. The accompanying video makes the same bold statements as the music, a slide show of hazy woodland landscapes, backdrops rather than images and barely changing.

That is the bravery of the music, that it knows it is the antithesis of most modern music, that is has nothing to say directly to the listener but instead tugs at emotions, dances with the heart and becomes one with your very soul. When was the last time music gave you that experience?

Larva –  Floating Beauty (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

floating_Beauty__Larva_Frontcover_OUT_1500Larva is one of those albums which is a reviewers dream. So much music follows firm templates and, good as it may be, from a review point of view you are often just reworking the same language and over used descriptions, into slightly new forms. Larva is not like that. It is sweeping, ephemeral, restrained and elegant. In short, it is gorgeous. And that’s my point, I have already slipped into the sort of descriptions which I would never get away with when confronted by the usual three minute pop workout or a bedroom rapper armed with a set of beats and a working knowledge of auto tuning.

But maybe that is unfair to pop music as Larva is built from everything not pop. It is built from classical grandeur, from drawn out strings, from both dark brooding menace and ethereal fragility, it is as much about the space between the notes, the anticipation and the atmospherics, the echo of the music as much as what is being played. It also takes its time, many songs, such as the opening Larissa, moving at almost glacial pace for over seven minutes but never once failing to carry the listener along with it.

It is not until track three, Clytaemnestra, that any form of beat is introduced, tribal, primal and brutish, wonderfully at odds with the classical sweeps and gentle piano motifs, adding claustrophobic intensity as it builds to a crescendo. Daphne, is the epitome of the spatial awareness of the record, piano notes often acting merely as heartbeats through the silence, again making the point in the most eloquent fashion that it isn’t about how many notes you play, how dexterous and full you make the music, sometimes the right singular note at the right moment of the song is more powerful than a whole album of showboating.

Tenebrae VII could be echos from deep space, the sound of glaciers moving or the musical ghost in the machine as a computer network learns how to make music, it is strange and beautiful, haunting and addictive. Like much of my favourite music, Larva goes beyond the limits of modern song, way beyond, it avoids conventional structures and expectations and just builds its own identity, beguiling and separate. It is both of the now, of the what might be and of the not quite remembered, a blend of classical tradition and shamanic channelling.

Timeless is a word that is much over used when applied to music, but here the perfectly named Floating Beauty does indeed fashion something timeless but also something without genre, location or direction. Why road sign your music for the listener, far better surely, to have them follow you off the beaten track with eyes full of wonder, open to adventure and ready to go with the flow?

Vivre –  Elizabeth Anne Mall (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

f5c88da2-29a8-4bbd-af29-f8cdfb8d4c26Revolutions are usually too jarring to be of any real use and evolution is often too slow a process, but what Vivre represents is a gentle and purposeful nudging forward of the pop package, an unhurried but deliberate direction of travel. It also represents a point where pop brushes up against and intertwines with a number of other genres, absorbing some of their features more by osmosis than hard design.

Elizabeth Anne Mall’s sophomore record is deft blend of alt-pop and neo-classicism, it has the touch of modern commerciality, though shying away form cheap gimmicks and the fickle finger of fashion and instead weaving emotive strings, brooding cellos and plaintive piano lines through the more vibrant musical colours. It contains more than a dash of a minimalist neo-folk vibe and revels in space and atmosphere.

Heroes in particular seems to encapsulate all of these hallmarks throughout its slow and sultry journey, rising from spacious balladry and hushed tones through slow burning classical builds and ending in a wonderfully unexpected diminuendo. I can’t overstate just how brilliantly understated this song is.

Elsewhere, she proves that it is not just the timeless torch song that she is mistress of, and You Make Me Happy is, as a title like that might suggest, a peppy little groove that instantly puts a smile on your face, Selfless is a restrained chamber-pop classic and Take Me Away could easily be riding high in the mainstream pop charts even as we speak.

People often observe that the music industry is now driven by a template sound, one that seems designed by a marketing team and fawns to this week’s trends, one which seems to be mass produced on sonic production lines and touted by dead behind the eyes divas and delusional chancers. That may be so but it is comforting to know that underneath that manufactured scene is a wealth of independent artists just waiting for the tables to turn, for their day in the sun, their quiet, peaceful and affable revolution. Imagine if that actually happened, that art rather than industry was the deciding factor, imagine if an artist such as Elizabeth Anne Mall represented the new pop sound. Wouldn’t that be something? We need to make that happen. Now!

Bloodthirsty – Symbion Project (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Symbion_Project_-_Bloodthirsty_(cover)I always feel that if music causes us broken down scribblers to start inventing new musical labels and generic pigeonholes just to try to explain where it fits in to the grand scheme of things, the plan that only the Gods of Music truly understand, then it is just doing its job. And if this is indeed the case, then Symbion Project should be in line for a promotion. Whilst it is easy to see what many of the building blocks are; new romantic drama, chilled avant-pop, neo classical electronica and an element of suspense, what it all adds up to is not quite so easy to pin down. But that’s fine; creativity is more about asking questions than providing answers anyway.

The music seems, on the first few listens at least, to be drifting and free form, although it is actually more focused and defined than that, and it is this minimalist and cinematic approach which puts it in a similar musical ball park to the likes of Bowie’s exotically esoteric Berlin years or Japan’s icy detachment. For all its apparent dark and melancholic first impressions, those shadowy musical structures seem only to exist to frame the space in between them, the atmosphere and the anticipation, the gaps between the haunting vocals and the moments when the music exists only as a fading echo.

Even with the fact that we had a whole generation of post-punks exploring this sort of sonic territory, Bloodthirsty still feels like music out of time or context, that it is somehow seeking to write its own musical history, separate from the accepted one. Why not, it is what all the most exciting musicians have always done.

Ghost – Richard Wileman (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Richard Wileman - Ghost 1500x1500 2As the central hub around which the musically intricate world of Karda Estra revolves, Richard Wileman has been responsible for a wide range of wonderfully textured, unpredictable and eclectic music. He has wandered from intense noir-ish soundtracks to sweeping celestial grandeur and embarked on everything from progressive Avant Gardening trips to jazz infused meanderings. But everyone needs some time out now and again and so here we find him playing with a musically straighter bat. Voice, acoustic guitar, a guest Clarinet for the final track and little else, a far cry from the usual musical layers we find him swathed in but no less glorious a result.

The title track is one of emotive acoustica dressed with just a few musical motifs and sonic embellishments, simple yet stylish and acutely reflective. Best of all after producing a body of, if not instrumental work then music where vocals are used more as ethereal instruments, we hear Richard sing and immediately wonder way we haven’t got to hear more of this with Karda Estra.

Andromeda Variations takes some classical Latin guitar pathways but the songs that top and tail the e.p, The Veil and Chaos Theme For Clarinet, skirt his more familiar territory. What is both exciting and revealing is that these compositions feel like they are the sound of Karda Estra as first thoughts, its ideas refined, polished but retained as more direct and immediate musical communiques, you can occasionally see the same sonic thumbprint in evidence but here the joy lies not in the way those ideas are built into complete musical worlds but in their straightforward and unadorned beauty.

 
Ghost is a wonderful view into what the composer himself sounds like with the depth of his compositions stripped away, the beating heart and the nerve centre of the whole affair. But more interestingly with the complexity and therefore live logistics of his usual widescreen sound stripped away, does this e.p. herald Richard Wileman as a more regular live performer? I do hope so.

Caterpillar Chronicles – John “Adidam” Littlejohn (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Caterpillar-Chronicles-Front-Cover-3000px-300x300It isn’t very often that new genres present themselves and if they do they normally don’t stand up to too much scrutiny, usually being akin to genre-spliced musical Frankenstein’s Monster, a revolutionary idea on paper but with an end result which is far from palatable. Caterpillar Chronicles, however, is anything but such a clumsy hybrid but is instead a slick blend of cutting edge hip-hop, timeless classical lines, sophisticated jazz vibes and an honesty born from the soul and gospel undercurrents which bring the whole thing together like an unseen musical glue, more presence than substance.

Having accidently joined the school orchestra instead of jazz band at a young age, John soon fell in love with the violin and began a carer which saw him study and perform with the instrument at the highest levels, learn from some of the most iconic names and play as a member of, and composed for, the most highly regarded orchestras and ensembles working today. So what do you do once you have conquered such musical heights? In John’s case the answer is to write, arrange and perform all of the music for an album which chronicles your own life and which is a wonderful fusion of the traditional and the modern, rap and rapture, the beat driven and the beautiful, the street and the Stradivarian.

It is interesting to note that his chosen nickname is actually an acronym, All Day I Dream About Music and this album is indeed proof that his dreams are vivid, wide ranging and musically boundless. Caterpillar is a slow, R&B groove, Rain Please Stay is an emotive soulful, staccato ballad and Who Cares is a wonderful slice of modern classical reminiscent of another contemporary classical fusionist, Ed Alleyne Johnson, had he not been an Oxford University busker but brought up in one of Michigan’s tough inner-cities.

And if the music is exploratory, the lyrics also cover a lot of ground, weaving his faith through social commentary, trying to match the ideals he adheres to with the tougher, grittier world of modern urban life. But the importance of this album may not lie so much in the individual songs, great as they are, but in the way they are put together, that subtle and supple joining of musical worlds that rarely meet. Worlds which often represent very different paths through life and The Caterpillar Chronicles is the perfect reminder that we are not very different from one another other and that one ill planned or random act can change the whole course of your life, often for the good of everyone it touches.

Oliver – Grace Freeman (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

17016816_1861666304105950_7915571353060311657_oIt is a common misconception that making music which falls into brackets such as chilled, ambient and understated is about taking a song and stripping back to leave space. Actually it is about using the right few musical statements, the perfect notes, the most effective and concise melodies to encase that space. Knowing that, Grace Freeman’s Oliver is more about using music to create musical bubbles around the existing atmospheres and intangible feelings that naturally linger around us all.

The tangible elements of the music are a blend of classical ballad, 70’s folk and cinematic soundtrack but the art is that beyond, behind, above and below those sparing and carefully chosen notes, deft guitar and plaintive piano lines the atmospherics and emotions seem to just hang in the air.

And that vocal! It is fantastic to hear a voice so pure and charmingly innocent sounding and one seemingly so out of alignment (thankfully) with the modern pop template of over statement and over enhancement that it seems to be not just from a different time but a whole different place. I can’t begin to overstate the power of understatement.

 

Let’s Make This Earth From House To Home – Lyrics of Two (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

19105858_782848555173441_4315933262841808728_nI think it is safe to say that if ever there was the perfect time to put out a song calling for unity, celebrating people’s similarities rather than differences and extoling the virtues of peace and compassion, it is now. The world seems like an ever more volatile place and the more bridges rather than walls we attempt to build, can only be a cause for celebration.

 

And like the bridges being built in the message of the song, Lyrics of Two build musical bridges, ones that link alternative pop with ambient balladeering, neo-classical minimalism with earnest indie callings. But there is something else as well, an ambient space behind the notes, a meditate feeling lingering in the pauses between the words, a transient, opaque beauty created not out of the physical aspects of the song being presented before you, but rather out of the atmosphere and moods being created in the gaps between.

Maybe the most effective messages are the ones that are just left hanging for others to find, rather than the more bombastic and theatrical attempts. Messages that seem to affect change by osmosis rather than conscious direction, ideas which are just absorbed by the population around them rather than as a result of being told what to do.

I propose that this song be played in every mall, bank, school yard and workplace across the world, a gentle suggestion to already susceptible minds, a reminder that when it comes down to it, we are all children, all parents, are all loved, are all neighbours, are all community, all citizens of the same small planet. And when the cruel winds deliver news of yet more dark actions and troubling events around the world we can use this as a collective song of unity. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow…maybe mighty movements from gentle songs do as well. Let’s hope.

For more information about Lyric of Two follow THIS LINK

Quarter to Somewhere – Astroblue Express (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Astroblue-Express-350I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for kickstarter funding I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have is a very particular set of words. Words I have acquired over a very long career. Words that make me a nightmare for musicians like you. If you stop sending me your music that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will describe your music in the most verbose way possible.

Just as some of the more production line music, style over substance pop and unadventurous artists with their skinny jeans and complicated hair cause me to trot out the same well rehearsed lines, when I find myself on the receiving end of such mercurial music as that on the debut album from Astroblue Express, I feel like writing about it is what I have been training for all my reviewing life. Finally music so textured so well crafted, so layered, subtle and supple, that I feel like I am wielding a pen like a scalpel, that I am less reviewing, more attempting open surgery to dissect, reveal and understand what lies before me. But where to make the first incision? The heart!

 

The heart of this music, the pulse, the very lifeblood of the album is a wonderful blend of classical ethereality, sonorous dream-pop and ambient soundscapes. Sometimes this is driven by trip-hop beats or glitchy, futuristic sounds, but more often than not it is all about a sense of quiet majesty, one often built less out of the sounds being conjured and collided and more about the atmosphere and anticipation that lingers behind the vocals and between the notes.

 

Often these post-genre experiments feel less like songs and more like a series of musical statements that conjure scenes and scenarios of a fleeting cinematic memory or a glimpse of the future, otherworldly soundtrack or alien music being picked up in high tech laboratories. Ranging from atmospheric minimalism, though slow-burning post-rock dynamic builds, to soaring anthemic crescendos, and back to quiet classical granduar, it covers a lot of ground even within each individual track.

It is music based on mood rather than message, music that depicts scenes rather than tells stories, music about images rather than ideas. It is music of the isolation tank, just exist within it, become one with it, heavy meditation, a solitary experience. Some music is aimed at the brain, intelligent and intricate, some at the heart, emotive and alluring, Astroblue Express does nothing less than aim for your very soul.

 

Flux – Anomie Belle (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

14184426_10153971039247865_5934926731595230029_nTimeless is a word that is banded around all too readily, mainly applied to music which has stood the test of time but which largely sounds very much of its era. Isn’t that more to do with survival and comfort zones? Maybe for music to really be timeless it should be impossible to see any chronological source, music that seems to contain elements that are familiar, fresh and forward thinking all at the same time. Music like Anomie Belle’s Flux.

 

Classical charm is threaded through futuristic beats, plaintive pianos wash over trip-hop glitches, dance floor culture is turned into musical anagrams, and dream-pop vibes are welded onto sensual and meandering EDM. The balance between beat and atmosphere is remarkable, changing direction in the most unexpected ways so that clinical cold clicks are replaced by warm pastoral washes or hanging anticipation and space is quickly subsumed by alien dance music.

Rarely do I come across music that is writing its own agenda as skilfully as Anomie Belle’s does, so much so that you would be hard pushed to think of a genre or label to assign to it. But that is a good thing right? A label assumes that it is music that can be packaged alongside similar artists, get enough of them together and you may even be able to rustle up a genre! A scene? No, none of that here, just a musically singular sound and a genre of one. After all, making the journalists earn their money trying to describe this without use of their go to comparisons and stock phrases must be a wonderful added bonus.

Artist Profile – Illacrimo

18268125_1352666331477679_6412159878001814680_nIllacrimo are the perfect band for the post-genre world, wandering effortlessly as they do between musical styles. Whilst they have one foot firmly planted in a slick alternative rock vibe it is what they gather around that which sets them apart from their peers. Pop awareness, classical deftness, and electronic exploration all make this a lot more than just another rock band.

 
They trade in a rich, dense sound and although they embrace all that the modern age has to offer in terms of technology, studio production and equipment, at the end of the day they stay true to the spirit of rock and roll. It’s a sound built on big riffs, accessible, soaring, melody driven songs, deep-rooted grooves and thunderous backbeats. In short it’s a big show just waiting for its turn to be unleashed on the big stage.

Dynamics rise and fall, built from subtle break downs, soaring vocals or euphoric guitar lines, past-referencing interludes or mood shifting drum patterns. A glorious celebration of what modern rock music can be. The less is more years are behind us, if done correctly, and this certainly is, more is more can definitely be the way forward.

They are a band who have worked out that the wheel doesn’t need re-inventing, it just needs a clean up, re-treading and some fancy rims then taken out for a spin to leave some indelible and unsightly marks all over the road, possibly invoking an angry letter to the local newspaper. Hang on, it is going to be one hell of a ride.

https://www.reverbnation.com/illacrimo

Infernal Spheres – Karda Estra (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Infernal cover 1500x1500Richard Wileman has used the Karda Estra musical mode of transport to explore some very interesting places over the years. From progressive landscapes, taut horrific scores, dark noir-ish themes and even the death of galaxies, and the music always matches both the depth and breadth of the subject matter it is encapsulating.

And if last time out The Seas and The Stars placed him at a very Moorcock-esque location, looking up from an empty shore to witness the collision of The Andromeda galaxy and our own, that blend of science fiction and science fact which is never far from the surface is again the topic of instrumental conversation for his latest album.

The Fermi Paradox is a tug of war between super slick jazz and a spot of musical avant-gardening, matching the contrasting arguments of the Paradox itself; that contradiction between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations and the high estimates proposed by The Drake Equation. I mention this only because it explains the both theoretical and physical nature of the journey that this album takes you on.

Pastoral tones are layered over a piano loaded with anticipation and expectation accompany our wandering around the dwarf planet Ceres, whilst Obelisk Of Cruithne is built from sinister tones and brooding staccato deliveries before wandering off into electric space fuzz and alien radio noise.

We visit theoretical locations such as the controversial Theia through waves and washes of sound, white noise bleeding into music and vice versa and end up amongst the gas swirls of Tyche and some suitably sixties, sci-fi sound tracking.

As always it is a truly unique experience, a sort of beat-era space opera, a musical journey from the smooth and familiar to the challenging and mercurial just as the themes explored takes us into unexplored territories, distant locations and hypothetical realms. I should imagine that if history were different and Serge Gainsbourg had been the first man in space, this is exactly the sort of thing he would have been listening to as he left earth’s atmosphere.

 

The Semi-Hollow – Les Robot (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1445398870_16I know I’m always searching for music that is pushing new boundaries, testing the limits, fusing disparate threads into new forms and making truly creative inroads towards new sonic pastures. Occasionally you find it in the fleeting corners of more conventional songs or as fillers on albums between more commercially viable options. And then you stumble across people such as Les Robot who just go for it with reckless abandon.

It takes a few plays; I’ll give you that. Firstly you get that WTF moment, the thought that this is madness, a suicide note to an unbalanced musician’s career. Then you try to work it out, piece together what is actually going on here, tease apart textures and layers to properly understand it. A post-mortem if you will. Then you start to appreciate it. Then you like it, but you are not sure why. Then you love it. Then you realise that this is a work of genius ….and often madness, but it’s pretty much the same thing, right?

I can’t give you labels, but then the best music sits beyond such pigeonholing anyway. Lets start with rock, it’s definitely rock, sometimes runaway, joyous, indulgent guitar rock, technically slick and easy to pin down. But more than often it goes way beyond that, it wanders around proggy soundscaping and structures, it blasts through industrial wastelands treading on broken glass and twisted metal, it offers classical interludes and dystopian soundscapes. Sometimes it does all of that within just one song!

I guess the art is not to be pinned down, to subvert expectation and if you thought that you pretty much knew what instrumental rock sounds like, by the time you have navigated the 5 twisting and mercurial tracks offered up here, the rule book will be a smouldering pile of ash, your pre-conceptions will be cowering in the corner and your mind will be truly broadened.

Headache Machine is an industrial slab of jagged edges and warped architecture whilst Oz takes more familiar routes though does so at breakneck speed. Bumble B Boogie often sounds like machines writing a progressive rock album, making musical choices that conform to some sort of cool, internal logic and Imp at times sounds like nothing less than the end of the world. But it is title-track and finale that sums up best how diverse and off the wall Les Robot’s thinking is as deft and delicate acoustic beauty are slowly subsumed by alien sounds and dystopian drama.

I like music that I can’t just hang a sound bite or label on, can’t kick into a well defined generic drawer, music that I didn’t see coming. Well, I didn’t see this coming. I feel like I have been run over by demon-possessed truck, experimented on by extra-terrestrials, have stood on the edge of the end of the universe itself, been attacked by cyborgs and had a music shop collapse on me. What a way to spend a morning. And the weird part is…I can’t wait to do it all again.

Any Joy – Adam Scott Glasspool (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0386002033_16Modern technology has presented a lot of new sonic possibilities, even for the grassroots, jobbing musician. A guitar is no longer just a guitar, a voice more than a voice and I recall seeing Adam Scott Glasspool demonstrating this concept live in a small venue as banks of affected guitar sound washed around him, resonant and otherworldly, sweeping and cinematic and yet all resulting from one man, six strings and a broad minded approach.

It’s an approach he continues to explore on his latest e.p. Any Joy. Whilst In The Shade of the Trees offers a fairly expected take on the chilled, ambient acoustic experience, shimmering guitars embellished by some intriguing haunting background noises and a lilting melody centre stage elsewhere he is less conventional.

Arkansas is a wonderfully chiming instrumental, part classical oriental, part BBC Radiophonic Workshop, intriguing in its lack of urgency and its ability to use notes to merely create bubbles around existing natural atmospherics and let both nature and the listener fill in the rest.

Even the slightly more substantial tracks which bookend the e.p. This Can Be and Where I Am Unknown seem the product of drifting, primal sounds, distant echoes of the birth of the universe and disembodied vocals rather than the usual musical building blocks.

It is music that seems in turn the product of a human composer, the mournful sounds from deep within a dying computer and transient, elemental sounds of the natural world. It is at once ancient and futuristic, timeless and outside of time itself. I guess the greatest complement you can give any original songwriter is that you can’t pin down exactly where their music fits into the scheme of things. And here that is an understatement, to say the least.

Pre-order Any Joy (and all previous releases) HERE

The String Quartets – Jethro Tull (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

largeIf ever there was a contemporary band whose music was the perfect subject matter for arrangement for string quartet, it is Jethro Tull. There was always a classical feel to many of the original arrangements, especially during their progressive-folk heyday from which many of these songs have been garnered. Add to that the wandering nature of Ian Anderson’s flute, often the lead line of many of these songs and you have all the basic ingredients for the perfect exodus to more classical climes. But who would take on such a task? The Carducci Quartet that’s who.

I guess if a string quartet were good enough for the likes of Beethoven, Bartok and Britten then it is good enough for Anderson, and The Carducci Quartet appealed to our hero due to their ability to perform as a symbiotic unit, one that results in them going beyond being four brilliant players and become one single musical organism. And the results are stunning.

Adding the obvious flute focal points and occasionally John O’Hara’s masterful and fluid piano to the violins, viola and cello of the Quartet, a whole host of classic Tull songs are re-examined, re-explored and re-interpreted in such a way that as much as the original songs are clearly on show, much that is new also emerges. Sub-melodies, transient counterpoints and seemingly fleeting and inconsequential musical lines often find themselves with a larger role to play, sometimes these new arrangements are content to capture just the essence of the original recordings on their way to beautiful new reimagining, other times they remain true to the original band-centric deliveries.

Aqualung, Living In The Past, Songs From The Wood, Heavy Horses and many more classics all come under the ear of John O’Hara’s new orchestrations and as they see a new lease of life in wonderful new musical trappings you realize that even if 10 more such albums were produced, it wouldn’t seem a song, a chorus or even a musical bridge too far.

Reflections of Love – Les Fradkin (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

16003026_941877352581190_7762757272469811084_n-1New Age music is one of those categories that are so broad as to almost not have any consensus of definition. If, however, you use it to classify music, which is used to create an inspiring, relaxing and uplifting environment one conducive to a creative, stress free and meditative environment, then Reflections of Love is New Age music.

Throbbing back beats and pulsing bass lines form the heart of the song with chiming electronica and effected guitars building deft and intertwining melodies and hooks around it as choral washes ghost in and out of the piece. But this is not music designed to be examined too rigidly under the microscope, it is music designed to evoke a feeling, create an atmosphere, evoke a mood, induce tranquillity, something it does effortlessly.

There is a powerful drive behind the music, which may mean that it is a bit too intrusive as an aid to mediation but it is this same powerful drive that creates a wonderful sense of euphoria and optimism as it heads down its unique sonic pathway. And even if you aren’t in need of such music as a tool, it is a wonderful example of genre-shifting instrumental music and will find fans in the neo-progressive, cinematic and even classical camps.

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