Intersubjectivity – Cleaning Women (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Well, that’s just plain silly. Or perhaps it is a stroke of genius. After all the two are often the same thing and shift from one to the other only depending on how you look at them. It’s probably something to do with Heisenberg’s Uncertainly Principle…well, it all feels a bit quantum to me anyhow. So you have a band who have fashioned a range of homemade instruments largely from cleaning appliances and household detritus including an electric coffee bean can bouzouki, customised laundry rack, wash tub bass, 3-string closet hanger rod bass, melodic kling klang…no, me neither… and a drum kit made from at least 3 washing machines!

Continue reading “Intersubjectivity – Cleaning Women (reviewed by Dave Franklin)”

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Ghosts – Mr Dog The Bear (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22308787_979491262205802_8608101021869377211_nYou can trust Mr Dog The Bear to take an unusual approach to releasing an album. Normally, as a reviewer, I receive an intangible link to the album’s on line home, if I’m lucky I get a physical version through the post. But Mr Dog The Bear has always been about music built around a visual aspect, cinematic and wide screen in its scope it has always felt more like a film score or a soundtrack than a conventional music release. Which is why, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, the new album arrived as a series of videos, as visual representations of the sonic emotions being created.

Previous releases have often felt like an ambient band testing deeper waters, gentle, understated and restrained but with glorious crescendos of music threaded through as they occasionally leave the safety of the shallows behind. Ghosts, however, is the sound of full immersion and opening salvo All These Constant Reminders draws a line of intent which is hard to ignore. Growing from familiar slow burning grace it eventually takes the listener to a place where dramatic post-rock walls of sound and exquisite symphonic sweeps are the norm.


And something else that they previously only toyed with but now forms an integral part of the sound is vocals, Wait being a more conventional pop-rock groover with classical undertones, Eleutheria a dark and brooding piece with modern indie vocal deliveries and Fireflies calls back to their earlier Cocteau Twins infused haze. Apostrophe combines the conventional wisdom of song structure with the left field thinking that we have come to expect, commercial enough to be popular, cultish enough to be cool and the title track is a slow, mercurial piano piece, the perfect contrast of space and intensity to wrap the album up.

Watching Mr Dog The Bear grow over the last few years has been a joy. They have been a band..project…collaboration…I still don’t really know what they are, that has subverted expectation at every turn and in their solitary and masked way made music for all the right reasons, that is, for their own sake. The results, of which this album is the perfect summation, show that you don’t have to follow fashion, advice, trend or zeitgeist, that the best and indeed the most original music is that which just naturally flows from the creative soul. A lesson more people could probably do with learning!

Veil –  Richard Wileman (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Veil cover.jpgOne of the restrictions of working with music that is so textured, intricate and dynamically fluid as Richard’s usual musical vehicle, Karda Estra, is that when it comes to live shows, the logistics surrounding the amount of players and gear that would be required to do the music justice is generally too prohibitive. Veil, therefore, feels like his pulling together a body of work, some new songs and instrumentals and some reworked pieces from the Karda Estra canon, that can form the basis of small, intimate live shows. Shows that can range from solo performances to slightly enhanced versions of the same as space and musician availability dictates.

What is great is that you get the best of both worlds, new, stripped back sonic journeys but ones which are built on the same creative pulse, musical references and progressive world view as Karda Estra. (Progressive here is used in the broader, genre hopping, rulebook ignoring sense, rather than any connotations of people dressed as wizards, singing about epic quests…possible performed on ice!)

Last Grains has a wonderful 60’s chamber pop feel, cascading vocals and jaunty guitar work really putting a Chelsea booted spring in the song’s step and at the other extreme Unmarked on Any Map is a haunting piece of pop noir. And alongside these more song based approaches, the more fluid form classical explorations are also given room. Andromeda Variations for Guitar being, as the name would suggest, a wonderfully dexterous, short acoustic guitar piece, hints of Iberia hanging between the darker passages and Amy Fry’s spotlight moment, Chaos Theme For Clarinet, hanging between the sound of a Midtown Manhattan jazz lounge and a slightly whimsical dystopian soundtrack.

It is a collection of songs that shows that even without the usual wide array of musical trappings, the heart of Karda Estra, and Richard Wileman’s music in general, is just as wonderfully mercurial and beguiling even when stripped down to its core. It shows too that the intricacies and originality are central to the way he writes and not merely the result of hanging strange textures and off kilter layers on more conventional structures. And more than anything, if this album marks Richard as a more regular fixture on the gigging circuit, for that alone it is an important step.

The Moral Crossing – AUTOBAHN (Reviewed by Thomas Haynes)

AUTOBAHN have created an ambitious album that comfortably sits beside the darker parts of Brian Jonestown Massacre with moments of purposeful hesitation that underpin the self-doubt and uncertainties inherent in understanding the moral crossing.
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Something dark and near biblical lies at the heart of AUTOBAHN’s post-rock progressive second L.P. ‘The Moral Crossing’

Leeds based post-rockers AUTOBAHN bring the industrial clatter and howl of their homestead into focus on ‘The Moral Crossing’, which developed organically while they built their own studio space under a disused bridge in Holbeck. Lead singer and principal songwriter, Craig Johnson taught himself how to record as the new studio and album were constructed, allowing the band to create the sound of melancholic, industrial romanticism they were after.

Johnson, along with guitarists Michael Pedel and Gavin Cobb, bassist Daniel Sleight, and drummer Liam Hilton create a sound akin to progressive rockers Secret Machines with a northern England twang that is part Joy Division-like melodic angst undercut with At The Drive In.

The album opener ‘Prologue’ slowly builds into ‘Obituary’, which is fast paced and reminiscent of The Longcut. The track ‘Futures’ then changes gears altogether with a bouncy synth loop more akin to the bands name sake featuring lyrics echoed throughout the song that can only be heard in whispers, letting the instruments do the talking.

Hilton’s big, distorted drums are something to admire on most of the tunes here and are put to good use on songs featuring violins and cellos, such as ‘Torment’ which starts with slow, mournful strings and is suddenly cut through by the pulsing drums as they take control along with a women speaking French, which all coalesces into something beautiful and haunting.

‘The Moral Crossing’ is almost biblical at times, both lyrically and with track titles such as ‘Execution/Rise’, which features a lovely build into a roaring finish, ‘Creation’ and ‘Fallen’. This effect is given more depth by the inclusion of gospel singers from the bands local church on both ‘Low/High’ and ‘Creation’.

AUTOBAHN have created an ambitious album that comfortably sits beside the darker moments of Brian Jonestown Massacre with moments of purposeful hesitation that underpin the self-doubt and uncertainties inherent in understanding the moral crossing.

In My Veins  –  1921 (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

1921_In-my-veins_COMP012_DigiJust as some of the best and most unique experiences happen when you go off grid, as it were, where the road runs out and turns to green, when art runs out of rules to follow; music often only truly comes to life when you run out of labels that easily capture its essence. The music found on In My Veins might in part be pop, ambient, neo-classical, progressive, operatic, post-rock and cinematic but no one term can sum up more than a fraction of its beauty, so at that point you might as well stop trying.

Even terms like songs or tracks seems too inappropriate words, for what 1921 do is create cinematic scores for films which haven’t even been made yet, but which just through their sonic grace conjure a thousand images. Images of wind-swept vistas, dream-like worlds, night time city streets, ancient landscapes and far flung regions of space. It is chamber-pop, but with sweeping electronica replacing the graceful strings and gentle percussion and to no less emotive effect. The tools of making music may change but its effect on the soul remains undiminished and the music that David Ahlen and Andreas Eklof make that which bypasses head and heart and talks directly to the soul.

David’s ethereal falsetto and Andreas’ sonic sculptures combine in a way rarely heard before, slightly reminiscent of Jon and Vangelis similar vocal/electro blends perhaps but little else readily springs to mind as a comparison and when you draw such blanks in the over-crowded musical market place of today, you know that you have found something a bit special.

And special it is, and unique, and beautiful, haunting, ambient and otherworldly, built through seamless and graceful musical lines and angelic vocals. Like I say, the best music is found in a place that has no need for pigeon-holes and labels, and 1921 seem only to use that place as a base camp as they strike out even further  to explore new sonic realms.

Music For Granular Synthesizer – connect_icut (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

connect_icut - Music for Granular Synthesizer (cover)Never judge a book by its cover but both the title of this album, the wordiness of the track names and even the name of the artist in all its lower case glory are clear sign posts that what follows is going to be something a bit left field, a bit special, totally unique. connect_icut makes music, if indeed it is music in the conventional sense, which aims to blur lines. Lines between instinct and intellect, chaos and order, organic and synthetic, analogue and digital and the result is something which pretty much is defined by what it is breaking away from. It is post-digital, post-electro, post-song even and though built of melodic threads it feels more like an art-piece, a sound installation, an acoustic experiment.

But then again who defines what music is, who gets to set the limits of where it can go, which boundaries are pushed? A four-four beat and some throw away lyrics might conform to a lot of peoples definition but out on the fringes new ideas are being explored, experiments in tonal music, fluid sound washes, structureless expressionism and glitchy distractions.

The opening brace of songs Uridium and Laureline brim with hypnotic subtleties, drawn out threads of sound and slow-burning intrigue and at the other extreme Haernwerthwr is a claustrophobic bundle of sparks and energy and pulsing electronica. But it is not an album that should be seen as a collection of tracks, in the same what that art is not just a collection of colours and shapes. Music For Granular Sythesizer is more about abstraction and texture but it is also about something much bigger, it is about exploring the edges of music, finding out what is beyond once you have pushed that boundary to its accepted limits, it is about music as art and about the total questioning of what music can even be. Now that is what I call thinking big.

It’s Hard to Be Happy When Your Head Is Full Of Sin –  Equinox (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Equinox_-_It's_Hard_To_Be_Happy_When_Your_Head_Is_Full_Of_Sin_(cover)In many ways this album is a reviewers dream. Normally the job revolves around a battle of time and energy, wit and wordplay to tease the original properties out of the music before you which, by and large, has left big and obvious footprints back through musical history, plundering freely and not so much bringing anything new to the table, more just shuffling the contents of the table around a bit.

Equinox’s collection of music not only completely restocks the table, but then places the table in an unlikely place, such as on a cliff edge or in a cellar, lays it on its side and sprays it with strange hues and subtle patterns. And a collection of music it is rather than an album in the sense most people would envisage it, spoken word pieces musing on the human condition, mortality, love and death – dark thoughts put to music which is used to help communicate the emotion, capture the feeling, hold the essence of the subject being explored.

Some tracks are more obscure or obtuse in their dealing with the emotion or thought at hand, tracks like Goodbye or the Vince Clarke collaboration Goodnight Vienna opts more for painting emotive pictures through half heard words, brooding keyboards and creepy electronica, others, Don’t Die On Me, leave nothing to the imagination, its electro-funk grooves wonderfully at odds with the subject at hand. The there are tracks such as Mule  which leave you scratching your head with one hand and hitting replay with the other.

It is an album which has no bounds, the music is as diverse and myriad as to give the feeling of a mix tape or a compilation album from a cultish record label, but it is the lyrics which really form the cohesion, direct, often dark, philosophical and challenging. It is honest rather than bleak, soul bearing rather than tortured, confessional instead of contrived. It matches musical light with lyrical shade and for that the album works.

Memories of Stars  –  Astrobal (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2005119360_16Matching lyrics which are poetic, scientific and philosophical to music which is hypnotic and mercurial, Astrobal’s Memories of Stars falls somewhere between a new wave of underground dance culture and Carl Sagan’s iconic Cosmos reimagined as music. It is full of electronic soundscapes, psychedelic meanderings and slow pop grooves and whilst we think of electronic music as being very much a recent form, here the echos of early pioneers such as the Enid, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, who incidentally get namechecked, can clearly be heard. But as is always the way with the cyclical nature of music, looking back is the same as looking forward, sort of, and as much as this music tips its hat to those originators, it also blazes its own, fairly gentle, trail into its own future.

The title track is the briefest of encounters, a spoken word delivery over a slow but relentless beat, fading out like a broken signal just over a minute down the line and at the other extent of the musical brief is Belle Comme La Nuit whose glitchy grooves steer closest to what you could concieve as a converntional dance track. Within these two parameters, the pace is wonderfully smooth, the tone warm and engaging, the lyrics scattered between spoken, sung or robotic and the overall effect is as intriguing and digitally otherworldly.

For those who need to order their life in such ways you can file this under, dance, alt-pop, progressive, cosmic soundtrack, cinematic, ambient or experimental, depending on just where in the sonic water you dip your toe. Those who care less about such things just file it under wow!

Laranja Swadhisthana 67_5 – EPv1 – Dave Wesley (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Dave_Wesley_Laranja_Swadhisthana_67_5_Session_v1_(cover)Music can be at its most fascinating when its very concepts and ideas are being questioned, when it has moved beyond the boundaries of the common conscensus and into more exploratory and questioning spaces. Dave Wesley’s 2-track offering does this in every way imaginable. He builds hypnotic, rhythmic music which in many ways is a form of ambient EDM but instead of being forged from the normal cool synth waves and glitchy digital heart beats seems to come from a more elemental place.

There is a tribal beat at its heart and primal sounds that feel like extracts from a radiophonic workshop archive flesh it out, sounds which could easily be made up from the noise of cracking ice and shifting sand dunes, of trees growing or the alien sounds of deep space. But as the music often pushes towards a sort of meditative dub genre it also skirts around minimal classic composition, strange cinematic Foley sound scores pushed through a repetitive loop and even aligns itself with an ambient progressive rock.

It also questions what a music release can be, though this is less of a departure in today’s almost format-less world than it may have been in the past but still an e.p. with just two tracks and averaging around the 10-minute mark is bucking convention and offers a real investment in a society with a short span of creative attention.

And the real joy of music such as this meandering sonic journey is letting it grow on you so that each subsequent play reveals another musical texture, another strange, half-hidden layer, another buried instrument and letting it go to work on the mind, conjuring thoughts and ideas, letting it stimulate the imagination to paint its own accompanying pictures as you lose yourself in its beguiling, minimal beauty. Listening is fine for some music, here nothing less than full immersion is required.

The Last Lighthouse – Campfire’s Edge (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Campfire Edge - CoverThey say that you can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep. Similarly you can tell a lot about a musician by looking at who has accompanied them on their musical journey thus far. Making your way in any original and creative field is full of interesting and often unexpected twists, opportunities and collaborations and all this creates an imprint, a cross between a fingerprint, a musical DNA and a family tree. Examine that and you can learn a lot about an artist before you even meet them.

With heroes including Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, time spent as a post rock explorer, sharing stages with the likes of Low, Pan American and Spectrum, writing film score music and a move into the improvisational world of free jazz, you get a feel for the scope and exploratory nature of Nathan Yeager’s mind.

And of those early references and years served before the mast, the two areas which seem to inform The Last Lighthouse most heavily are those hours spent ingesting the progressive electro-experiments of Tangerine Dream and the musical mind set towards composing music suited as much to a film score as a live performance.

The first track, It’s Been a Hell of a Year, is less an opening salvo but more just drifts into the listeners consciousness, a sonorous dreamscape which brings to mind the celestial music of The Enid or the more recent elegantly gossamer creations of SPC ECO. By the time we have got to the wonderfully named March of The Tortoise new elements have been added to this chilled template. The tracks become more confident, more structured, beat driven and brilliantly glitchy and compelling in their oddness. At times, as these two worlds of pastoral charm and clinical futurism clash, it sounds as if you have accidently pressed play on two very different albums yet you can’t quite pull yourself away from the hypnotic result.

Sonoluminescence is a weave of drama and drive and Last Night in Pine Bush NY seems elemental, music built from the primal sounds of nature; otherworldly, ancient and organic. The album’s swan song, Theme From The Last Lighthouse, is a mercurial blend of Vangelis sound tracking, mood music, and beats and noises seemingly being picked up via some sort of deep space monitoring.

You could see these pieces, as Nathan surely does, as a series of sound tacks to short films but an interesting creative twist would be if someone would make the films based on listening to the music. I’m not sure what those would look like but I know I would be at the front of the queue for tickets.

 

Room For The Others (and other singles) – A Shoreline Dream (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

A_Shoreline_Dream_-_Room_For_The_Others_(cover).jpgThe past is a different country; they promote their musical releases differently there. And whilst there are lots of recognisable references shooting through A Shoreline Dream’s hazy, neo-shoegazing, the idea of releasing each track on their planned album as a single in its own right before a physical, vinyl only release, is very much a marketing technique in keeping with the modern promotional drum beat.

Room For The Others is the fourth instalment in a series that wanders down some interesting musical pathways linking early post-punk explorers with modern adaptors and the result is music which matches familiarity with forward thinking, hazy sonic drifting with confident structural dynamics and moody gothic shades with cinematic, post-rock soundscaping.

A Shoreline Dream is the master of time travel and generic cross-pollination. There is something detached and remarkably North European about their sound but it is also flooded with acid tinged psychedelic waves washing in from the darker underbelly of California’s lost hippy dream. Part of it seems as specifically located as the M4 corridors original shoegazing scene and part of it is as progressive, wandering and limitless as anything in the post-genre world.

And if Room For The Others is happy to take a loose and sonorous journey, one that is lush and wonderfully orchestrated, elsewhere in the package, such as on Whirlwind and Revolvist, they show a more intense and muscular side to themselves and touch on what perhaps the dark visions of Joy Division may have evolved into had they not burned out so spectacularly and quickly.

It’s an interesting journey that takes us towards the halfway point of the final album and one that matches a inward looking, dark intensity with the sound of celestial soaring, claustrophobic insularity with shimmering crescendos. A blues-less blueprint for cleansed rock reborn? Perhaps, but either way it gets my vote.

 

 

 

 

It’s a Rotten Game – Shaun Barry (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

It's a rotten gameMusical releases might be seen as just a station along a sonic train ride towards an ever more vague final destination; a place of access, an embarkation point on this journey into musical possibilities. Anyone aware of Shaun Barry’s journey so far will find a lot here that makes sense based on the innovative and often strange landscapes he has steered us through so far.

 

Like many of his previous endeavours this is a largely instrumental collection in that where there are vocals, they are found sounds, film dialogue from some of the most iconic works in modern cinema, from the wise to the witty and from the sublime to the ridiculous. Rather than sounding like an easy way out, this approach actually adds a lot of pathos to the music, striking, familiar and measured dialogue and all of the weight and meaning which that brings with it.

Musically we are in familiar yet somehow unfamiliar territory. Familiar in that you know that the music will be mercurial, forward thinking and adherent to only its own rules and restraints but unfamiliar in what it does within that formula. It wanders progressive paths, ambient climes, psychedelic crescendos and neo-classical charm, looks to new horizons whilst tipping hats to what has already gone, is both strangely comfortable yet oddly foreign.

It has to be noted that the same town has also produced Karda Estra and Mr Dog The Bear (currently writing in exile) who work in similar post-genre, cinematic and exploratory veins. Must be something in the water!

 

For more information and to purchase the EP go to.  www.shaunbarry.com

Myths and Mold – Chris Bartels (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

518m+i0DraL._SS500In many ways Myths and Mold exists in two simultaneous yet diametrically opposed worlds. The studio buff and technical music geek will embrace the textures that make up the music, the layering of drums, the hypnotic note peddling, the way guitar and vocal tracks in particular are built out of ever shifting and gossamer thin washes which combine in vividness and detail as each aural brush stoke is applied one on the other. Even the sound of the room becomes part of the instrumentation.
But there is another way of looking at such things. Although any recording is bolted firmly to the techniques and treatments of the studio it is born in, this is also an often structureless, free-flowing, musical stream of sonic consciousness. For all its existence in a modern and technical place it also seems to also inhabit an ancient and primal one. The sounds of the music are not those of modern instruments being put through their usual paces but seem more like elemental voices, drifting winds, distant thunder, tumbling skies and the sounds of long forgotten places where no human footprint has ever been left, all collected and blended into music.

Like much of my favourite music it goes beyond the limits of modern song, avoids conventional structures and expectations. It is both of the now, of the what might be and of the not quite remembered, a blend of cutting edge technology and shamanic channelling.

Timeless is a word that is much over used when applied to music, but here Chris Bartels 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?

Staub – Le Thanh Ho (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

17457445_1351077411617239_2536800481286929771_nIf opening track Geisterschiff suggests a return to the dark elegance and noir-ish film vibe of Elephant, as soon as Papiermond kicks in you realise that this isn’t going to be just a new journey through previous sonic pastures. Yes, those rich elements are still there, the classic, and at times, classical vocal deliveries reminiscent of the opulence and style of the Weimar era, but now something mercurial, strange and almost otherworldly has entered the mix.

Papiermond in particular is intense and claustrophobic, a mix of the familiar, the exploratory and the inexplicable. Plaintive guitar strokes are consumed by the sounds of alien radio interference and fairy tale monsters before Le-Thanh’s late night, jazz diva voice emerges from the chaos and this acts as the perfect template of what is to follow.

The album wanders between worlds, one very real and recognisable, driven by the hushed, smoky vocals and the minimal instrumentation that forms a fragile musical net behind and one made of strange, brooding and often horrific sounds. Even in the sweetest moments there is an unresolved tension, a dam about to break, a wave of street noise bleeding in from other places, the sound of transport systems and radio interference, primordial whispers and the sound of the universe pulsing away.

It is this balance of wandering across this boundary that creates the wonderful struggle that give this album its strange beauty, this collision of the known and the unknown, the real and the fantastic, the calm and the catastrophic.

Anyone coming from Elephant to this will find themselves presented with much that is familiar but equally much that isn’t. If that album suggested elegant rooms and cool, opulent settings, Staub resets the scene to one of dark corners and desperate places, of streets filled with danger and desire, of the barriers between dimensions being stretched so thin that the sounds of those alien worlds spills through and of the crackling and groaning of the universe itself. That’s a long way to travel in the name of music!

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.

 

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.

New Music of the Day – CLVIII : The Day That The World Breaks Down – Ayreon

image003THE SOURCE is an exciting new chapter in the Ayreon saga, with contributions from renowned vocalists like James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). The Source will be released on April 28 through Ayreon’s new label Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings.

                            

While Ayreon’s ‘Forever/Planet Y’ saga seemed to have reached its conclusion with the album 01011001, it’s clear that Arjen Lucassen’s creative muses had other plans. The new Ayreon album The Source revisits the Forever saga, adding a whole new chapter to Lucassen’s impressive body of work. With its top-flight cast of singers and musicians, compelling songs, overwhelming sound, and intriguing story, The Source offers everything that has gained Lucassen dedicated fans worldwide since he laid the foundations of Ayreon back in the mid-90’s.

 

 

The story of The Source is set six billion years in the past relative to Earth. It begins on Planet Alpha, a world in the Andromeda system where computer intelligence has far surpassed that of humanity.  Alpha is facing a massive global crisis, with ecological and political catastrophes threatening all human life. The Alphans (our human ancestors) try to save their planet by entrusting the global computer mainframe—The ‘Frame—to find a solution. Given total control of the planet, the ‘Frame reaches the logical conclusion that its creators are the cause of all the trouble. The only way to solve Alpha’s problems is to exterminate humanity. This leaves the Alphans no other option than to try and escape their horrific fate. But their escape comes at a terrible price. It’s the beginning of a story that contains everything that has made the Ayreon epics so endlessly fascinating all these years.

 

The international status of Ayreon enables Arjen Lucassen to write his characters with some of the most respected singers in rock in mind: James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried And Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). Special contributions were offered by guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion).

 

Just as on his previous albums, The Source has Arjen Lucassen playing a wide variety of instruments, while the inimitable Ed Warby (o.a. Elegy, Gorefest, Hail Of Bullets) once again masterfully handles the drums.

 

2017 will be a particularly exciting year for Ayreon fans thanks to a unique chance to actually see Ayreon live. Limited to three exclusive performances, “The Ayreon Universe” will take place in September in the prestigious 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. This unprecedented live event features the best of twenty years of Ayreon music, brought to life by a top cast of musicians such as Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, and various others. The reclusive Arjen Lucassen himself is also expected to make a rare appearance on stage. The tickets for all concerts – 9000 in total – sold out within a day, proving once again that the Ayreon magic is still very much alive and kicking.

This Makes Us Human – This Makes Us Human (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

coverIt is interesting that the tag line of their label, Fluttery Records, declares itself to be the “home of modern classical, ambient and post-rock” as this is pretty much the perfect starting point for the album. A three-way Venn diagram if you like, with the music drifting in and out of the various common grounds as the mood takes them.

They build their sound on a wonderfully fluid post-rock template, one that eschews the 4/4 signature and rigid verse-chorus ethic of traditional rock and instead wanders its own musical journey, often lingering long in one lush musical landscape before flitting through more minimal territory, languishing in gentle, bucolic beauty and then climbing acoustic peaks.

It isn’t hard to see this approach as a modern day progressive classical music, the instruments may have been updated from the traditional format but the symphonic nature of the music is obvious to all. And like a symphony it tells its story through sound rather than lyric, it maybe be a less obvious, less direct method, but it is no less heart tugging, emotive and effective.

It is music of the heart and soul, requiring total immersion. Whilst most music contains its own user manual amongst its beats and notes, one that tells the listener exactly how to interpret the message, This Makes Us Human is more about osmosis, a vibe to be soaked up and ingested. And without the directness and constraint of words, the message found in the music is…well, whatever you think it is.

Journey To X – The Brainiac 5 (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

15626019_1257636904306197_1427420358979243567_oThings I like: Weird pop music. Intelligent lyrics. Bands that stick two fingers up to the idea that rock and roll is a young man’s game. Musical ideas that have no business being in the same song. Existentialism. Genuine punk attitudes. Proggy landscapes delivered in bite sized chunks. Lists. And for all the reasons just given, The Brainiac 5.

 

I signed off my review of their previous outing, Exploding Universe, with the line and if this album is anything to go by, this is where things start getting really interesting” and I have hardly ever written a truer or more understated line, for this new gathering of musical outpourings is interesting and then some. Playing with a slightly straighter bat this time out, the Five who in true Thompson Twins fashion are a four-piece, hang their sound on a psych-punk guitar frame but like most things in their musical world, things are never that simple.

 

The Human Scapegoat wanders some experimental pathways, which eschew form, fashion and indeed perceived wisdom regarding track length, but instead mine some rich, dark and trippy musical seams. Some Things warps groovesome swampy, tribal blues into a raw, garage rock anthem and there is even room for a touch of smoky, lounge jazz haziness with The World Inside.

The lyrics have a wonderful depth, drawing inspiration from Robert Graves, The Golden Bough and ancient rituals to the rebirth of the post-apocalyptic society and everything in between, and the music is no less grand in its scope, juggling psych, pop, punk, prog, jazz, blues plus blasts of African rhythms and spacey noodlings throwing curve balls along the way.

 

If ever there was a bridge between punk and prog then this is it. If ever there was a band that proves that the best things come to those who wait, again you can tick that box. It is odd to think of The Brainiac 5 as an emerging band, especially given their collective time served before the creative mast but I really think that the band are currently riding a wonderful upward momentum, one that they missed out on first time around. It is going to be fascinating to see just where it takes them.

Dreams of Hydrogen Days – Echo Park Orchestra (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

imageEcho Park Orchestra have a gift that is rarely found in contemporary music, to be able to take extremes and weave them together into a middle ground experience that ticks more boxes than you were even expecting to be presented with. I’m not talking about extremes in mere musical terms, more in concept, as they match deft, deep and devilishly clever word play with accessible, pop aware, yet progressively fluid music.

 

They offer a range of subjects from the grand and existential to the comparatively small and contemporary, and manage to work with those contrasts so sublimely that rather than sound like jarring juxtapositions they instead take on a wonderfully holistic nature. And it is the exploration of the idea that whatever the lyrical subject matter, whatever the musical reference point, making music is the weaving of universal threads, no matter how disparate and seemingly detached, everything connects somewhere.

 

And so it is that, aided by a very revealing set of sleeve notes to help unravel these colourful wefts, you find songs which conjure images of the galaxy set to classical Indian groove, dirges to the demise of the modern song form evoking an ancient Sumerian hymn and flamenco flourishes documenting the humble realities of love and much, much more. But if the idea of trying to find common musical ground between such a wide-ranging set of ideas and influences seems a spinning gyre that the centre cannot hold, then think again. The very essence of Echo Park Orchestra is the glue which holds these wonderfully diverse elements in place and which provides a cohesive a recognisable sound.

 
To build a sound which is as pop-aware as it is experimental, which explores world music but still sounds from its very own self-contained culture, that can pun as well as it probes, can offer lyrical sagacity as easily as offers musical sass and for which the term eclecticism is an understatement, is something all creative pioneers strive for. Many take a lifetime to realise such a concept, some never do. Echo Park Orchestra manage to do it in one album and still find that they have something just as conceptually mind-blowing to offer next time around. How great is that?

Rainbow’s End – Hollow Water (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

rainbows_end_cover16k_x16kStephen Hawking famously said in his introduction to A Brief History of Time, that he had been advised that every equation included in the text would halve the sales in the mainstream market. I feel the same about analogies in music reviews, better just to get on with the task at hand rather than beat around the bush too much. Like him though , I will allow myself just the one.

 

Although all musical works starts with the same empty canvas, it is what the artist choses to create there that allows people to label and package the results. And if the simplest pop music can be seen as a mere shopping list of ideas and rock music perhaps a bold but basic cartoon drawing, progressive rock, for want of a better initial label, is often an intricate landscape painting, one which deftly blends subtle pastoral hues yet also has space to play with the dramatic colours and stark contrasts of the tumbling skies above.

 

Hollow Water, a name that references the fluidity, spacious nature and energy of racing rivers, whirlpools and waterfalls, began life as an instrumental 2-piece consisting of Alan Cookson and Huw Roberts, but with the inception of Rainbow’s End a wider team was recruited to bring this concept album to life, one garnered from across the western world.

 

And if the term concept album conjures horrific musical flash backs to the genre’s past excesses, of keyboardists dressed as wizards or 3 day long bass solos, fear not, the one thing progressive music is good at is…well, progressing. And although Rainbow’s End retains all that is great about the genre, it is also a product of the here and now, of the contemporary music scene, music which looks to the future a lot more than it glances over its shoulder to yesterday’s glories.

 

And talking of looking forward, the narrative driving the album is a futuristic, sci-fi tale; three acquaintances looking for an ever-lasting rainbow, which takes them into parallel dimensions where the very laws of physics behave differently. Very quantum!

But is there anywhere new to take sci-fi themed progressive music? Well, it would seem that there is. Hollow Water have a way of retaining some of the established structures of the genre; long, fluid musical statements, that not so much eschew the verse-chorus structure but more stretch it out, building dynamic, atmosphere and anticipation along the way. And where as of old the penchant was for long, meaningless solos and passages that seemed to have little relevance to the rest of the song, the hand played here is one of melody and meandering musical subtexts that rather than wander off at tangents to the musical direction instead just take a scenic route to the same destination.

 

The execution of the music is excellent, that goes without saying, anyone with such ambition is hardly going to arrive at the task without the relevant tools, but it is the imagination and scope of the piece, the composition and energy levels that are maintained that are the real joy. To keep the listener enthralled across such as grand tale, to remain focused on the story whilst subverting musical expectation, switching styles and pace and to do all of that and find something new to say, somewhere new to take the genre, that is a real skill.

 

Progressive rock has followed many twists and turns over the decades, from the clichés of its early years which are sadly still a short hand for those not in the know, to jazz fusions and neo-prog reinventions to popularist pastiches and everything in-between. What makes Hollow Water’s corner so appealing is that they manage to offer all the familiar tenets of the genre whilst giving them a contemporary feel. A concept album with roots in the past, that feels very much of today and looks unashamedly towards the future. How great is that?

In The Sylvan Glades – Echo Park Orchestra (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

13716234_1080111755396280_2671903108725607070_nSometimes music is difficult to review because you have heard it all before and find it hard to add anything new and constructive to that conversation. What is there to say about a band still trying to squeeze any remaining creative juice out of a template set down by Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines or Oasis? Then bands like Echo Park Orchestra come along and they present a different problem, they offer a musical embarrassment of riches and the problem isn’t so much in finding something interesting to say but knowing where to start.

 

In The Sylvan Glades is a wonderful mass of musical conflict and contradiction and meanders down similar progressive pathways as The Moody Blues did when they stopped aiming for the chart recognition and melded baroque pop with some wonderful ambient soundscaping. Intelligent lyricism and dark metaphor are balanced by pop aware melody; long, smooth and lilting grooves are underpinned by brass structures, floating flutes and a violin which tugs at some wonderfully arabesque, oriental and exotic musical threads.

 

The title track is a great summation of the forces at work here, as a primal narrative of ancient imagery and biblical references are delivered via 60’s inspired lounge chanson. And from that central piece ideas and musical themes spread out in all directions through the music; chilled, progressive musical templates are layered with dark gypsy jazz noodling, psyched-out pop themes taken to extreme lengths…not least in duration, summer of love vibes and a whole raft of avant-gardening takes place before your ears. Imagine if Aldous Huxley had picked up the guitar and not the pen…

 

Seven albums in and Echo Park Orchestra has only just blipped on my radar, still that just means that there is a whole expanse of back catalogue that I need to get acquainted with. Stand well back, I’m going in….

Her Halo – Teramaze (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

11219684_10153517784765281_1710479661361104455_nI have to admit that I am often put off of venturing into reviewing a record when it has the word metal in the genre description. Although as a younger man I was brought up on many of the classics of that genre, the metal world has moved on a long way since then and sadly left me behind. If not out of my comfort zone, I’m certainly no longer best equipped to review the stuff and what’s with the fact that there’s about 357 sub-genres of metal; would I know my Teutonic Thrash Metal from my Crust Punk? And try as I might I can’t find Djent on my road map of Wales. Put the word Progressive into the mix, however, and I’m on much safer territory. Progressive normally implies a tempering of the blind aggression and “more is more” approach, progressive implies melody, structure, dynamics and inventiveness, all things I can hang my reviewer’s hat on, and Teramaze has all that in spades.

Without abandoning the power and drive bestowed by the Gods of Metal, this is an album that has room to embrace some wonderfully tangential musical moves, piano balladry, sweet vocal harmonies, guitar solos built from sounds more reminiscent of a Pendragon album (remember them?) and brooding electronica.

The bands ethic seems to be to build the song only from what is required to hit its mark, just because you can shred like Steve Vai on his 10th espresso doesn’t mean you have to throw it in all the time, they don’t let such showpieces become their hall mark, they let them become their secret weapon, just one of many in a whole arsenal of musical munitions. And if a song has the desired effect from just the most straight forward of playing, with out needing to be forged of time signatures that you would actually need an extra leg to dance to, then that is the route they are happy to take.

This is an album of majesty, nothing less, the sound track to worlds colliding, hearts breaking and empires falling but also the sound of the intangible forces, emotions and introspection, the mighty and the minutiae, the complete spectrum of life and it proves that power and elegance, impact and eloquence are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Colours – Vasa (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

200384a5-e0c7-465c-b6f2-c035b7bbb18eThe thought of a prog-leaning instrumental, heavy rock band might induce nightmares of cape wearing keyboard players and 18-day drum solos. Perish the thought. As bands such as Town Portal and The Fierce and The Dead continue to prove, done right, music alone can be just as expressive as any well honed lyric or poetic turn of phrase. If those bands raised an important point, Vasa’s debut album rams the point well and truly home.

In an energetic clash of post-rock muscle and cerebral prog workouts, they weave their way through elegant and eloquent musical landscapes, soaring dynamics and quiet atmospherics, they throw spanners in the works of your minds expectations but never lose a sense of direction and identity. This is powerful stuff, yet never oppressive; it is obvious that Vasa know all too well the difference between mere foot on the throttle showboating and the majesty of byzantine complexities, multi-textured arrangements and tension building musical passages. The result is nothing short of stunning.

Omni\One – Halo Tora (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

11222306_901156693255279_6635920733823731075_nIt takes a certain type of band to make music that is as expressive, emotive and engaging as the most eloquent of lyrics and create vocal deliveries what are as elegant and fluid as the instrumentation behind it. It takes a band like Halo Tori. When the age old argument of which is more important the words or the music rages around you, just play those throwing the same old clichés around this album, roles are reversed or at least interchangeable, music speaks and vocals soar, lyrics become half muted riffs and guitar lines become poetry.

Halo Tora are a band who seem to emerge from the dystopian wreckage of a catastrophic collision between very expressive rock genres. Alt-rock provides the power that drives the band, progressive rock the byzantine complexities and subtle changes that form the structure and post-rock the soaring soundscape that cocoons the songs. And as power is harnessed by beauty and wistful interludes balance aggressive workouts what emerges is an album that covers so many bases but still retains its integrity and identity. This is a band to watch out for.

The Seas and The Stars – Karda Estra (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Seas & Stars coverKarda Estra has always provided the sound track to truly big ideas, deep thoughts and boundless expanse, so the latest attempt to chronicle the collision between the Andromeda galaxy and our own Milky Way, the eventual end of everything, a celestial intervention and a return to where everything began – viewed from an impossible, empty shoreline.” is perfect territory to be working in.

The idea of someone stood alone on that shoreline witnessing the end of existence, the beautiful and destructive final act in the story of the galaxy, sounds like a scene from Iain M Banks at his most imaginative or Michael Moorcock at his most surreal and as such the music that is conjured here is as equally unique. Evolving from the gentler themes that evoke the empty shore to the shimmering and fractured music that captures the approach of the encroaching galaxy and the aftermath of the resulting destruction.

These are not songs, those familiar with previous Karda Estra records wouldn’t be expecting anything so mundane anyway, but soundtracks or musical statements created through a wide range of instruments, many more usually found in the classical and folk repertoire. It merges disembodied sounds with sweeping orchestration, mournful piano lines with melancholic woodwind, delicate acoustic guitars with brooding electronica and the result is music that bridges a gap between the dark and the ethereal, sounds that are familiar yet often heavenly and occasionally suitably alien.

As always it is music that opens the mind to the impossible questions, questions about the cyclical nature of the death and rebirth of the universe, the transient nature of life, the majesty and unfathomable beauty of the destruction of worlds, systems, and galaxies. There aren’t many records that simultaneously evoke astro-physics, philosophy and Roy Batty’s famous last speech in Blade Runner, but you can always count on Karda Estra to give you more than you bargained for.

New Music of the Day: LX – Magnet in Your Face – The Fierce and The Dead

11011887_10152971855155222_8687662636560725026_nFor some progressive rock or prog-rock (I’m still not clear on the generic distinction even after witnessing miles of passionate 3 am forum posts on the subject) often comes across a bit too full of itself, a little precocious, a little to smug. Many find full blown metal in all of it’s 468 sub-genres and cultish backwaters a little short on substance. Yes it’s technically clever but where’s the groove? Well, The Fierce and The Dead neatly sort the problem out in one fell, 100 second swoop.

The guitar work is technical but never impenetrable, riff based rather than bordering on musical brinkmanship and the band clearly know their way around song dynamics as they deliver waves of power and restraint that ebb and flow to maximum effect. Proggy but concisely delivered, wandering around the fringes of heavy territories but clearly aimed at grown ups. With both of the aforementioned genres often being mentioned in the same breath as Dungeons and Dragons or Buffy The Vampire Slayer maybe “aggressive progressive” is the way forward.

Free Karda Estra album

a1586047386_16Fans of truly progressive music will be thrilled to know that Richard Wileman, the man behind the mercurial Karda Estra, has just posted a free album on the bands Bandcamp page. Spanning over a decade of the bands evolutionary path, the eight tracks that make up “An Introduction to Karda Estra” are a wonderful addition to any broad minded music fans collection.

For a band that have wandered between symphonic, progressive rock, classical, film noir sound tracks, gothic and much more besides, this will provide the perfect spring board from which to dive into their sublime waters.

Grab your free album HERE 

What The World Needs Now is The Grubby Mitts – The Grubby Mitts (Lost Toy Records) reviewed by Dave Franklin

Grubby_Mitts_Spelling_Mitts_latitude_landscape_highResAt the start of the year a wonderful little art attack called The Worm of Eternal Return popped up on my radar as a teaser for an eight years in the making album. Well, the waiting is over and if that strange song, built from equal measures quirk, wit and a Mighty Boosh induced wisdom, offered a tantalising peak into the weird world of The Grubby Mitts, it certainly didn’t prepare me anything like enough for the expanse and originality of the album to come.

 

Firstly this is not just a debut album, a record of merely where the band is now, but a musical history of the path that got them to this point. It also takes an album of 18 tracks to even  begin to cover the wonderful scope of the band as a myriad of different sounds and styles jostle cheek by jowl for your attention. Quintessentially English, baroque pop songs, ambient electronica, classical and choral pieces, spoken word poetic lists, subverted krautrock, late-night, bar room jazz, weird-folk and a bag of strange sound effects are just the tip of this iceberg, the remaining, sunken nine-tenths being almost impossible to put into words that will convey any real meaning.

 

The bands artistic background comes as no surprise as here they treat music in the same fashion, making sound collages, hopping generic boundaries without a backward glance, plundering recognisable forms and merging them into chimeric hybrids. If modern music can be seen as chemistry, a formula followed to obtain an expected result, then The Grubby Mitts are the last alchemists, a more mystical, intuitive and experimental force of nature.

 

Referencing everything from The Kinks to The Bonzo Dog Band, Neu! to…well, seemingly anything that crosses their path, using everything from regular instruments to children’s toys and home fashioned creations, this truly is an album like no other you have heard and if it takes another eight years for a follow up of similar scope and quality, then I will deem it worth the wait.

Mirage – Saycet (Meteores Music) reviewed by Dave Franklin

1424675565_mirage-saycetA wise man once said that it was better to travel well than to arrive and Mirage is the perfect soundtrack to such a journey, whether it is a physical one or one of a more emotional nature. Inspired by the travel that his touring schedule dictates, Pierre LeFeuvre songs are often reflections of very tangible, geographical phenomena and places as suggested by the titles – Volcano, Northern Lights, Smiles From Thessaloniki and Cite Radieuse. But if the subjects are easily identified, the music that describes them is altogether harder to define.

 

Sitting somewhere between sweeping, cinematic soundtracks, ambient après-dance chill outs and one possible future for pop music, across these 10 tracks the listener encounters grandiose electronic designs and futuristic visions at one extreme, at the other minimalist structures and half-heard, dreamlike primal echos. Falling somewhere between the sounds of the natural world and the euphoria of an artificial, mechanical one, it encompasses everything from the poetic, modernistic and avant-garde of the here and now to the timeless grace of the classical past. And the closing track, Smiles From Thessaloniki, has all the hallmarks of a classic Vangelis soundtrack and it doesn’t get much better than that.

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