Sunday, 22 November 2015

Buzzcocks - The Roadmender, Northampton, 21st November 2015

Sometimes it is a good idea to leave the serious stuff behind, cease being over-analytical, and simply let your hair down - purely metaphorically in my case, you understand - and have a good time. Such was my approach to an evening of arthritic rug-cutting at Northampton's primary scuzzy music venue last night. Well if truth be told The Roadmender is, and has been since the mid 1980s, Shoesville's only dedicated music venue outside of the pub circuit, a sad state of affairs for the third biggest town by population in the country.

Anyway, after a curry and later a pint of sublime ale by the name of Release The Chimps, me and my mate enter the hallowed dimly lit halls of said venue, to find it packed to its 300ish capacity. I was expecting the audience to be entirely populated by fifty-somethings putting out collective backs attempting to pogo, but thankfully I was wrong, as the crowd was a nice mix of ages right down to teens, who seemed to know all the hits. The sight of an otherwise unremarkably attired fellow fifty-something bloke wearing a shiny new dog collar did make me smile, though!

At 9pm Buzzcocks saunter on to the stage to a rowdy reception. The only original members of the poptastic punk foursome present are Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle. Considering they are the same age, with a mere 20 days separating their 1955 birth dates, two more different approaches to stagecraft you could not begin to imagine. Steve Diggle is permanently "Sixteen Again", consumed by a frightening level of energy, and obviously loves every second in the limelight as he bounces around the stage like an over-enthusiastic puppy making rock god moves and posing with his guitar, but in a purely joyous rather than studied fashion. Meanwhile looking across at his compadre stands the diminutive grey-bearded figure of Pete Shelley, every inch the kindly but world-weary retired social worker, who gives the impression of being Steve's benevolent but slightly exasperated uncle, putting up with his "nephew's" capers with a "here he goes again" expression on his careworn fizzog.

Buzzcocks have cemented their place in pop history for a succession of short sweet blasts of perfect pop punk, nine singles released between November 1977 and September 1979 that chronicled teenage angst and frustration better than any other band of their generation. All but one were penned by Shelley, whose sharp wit and wordplay married to the band's razor-sharp punky pop sensibilites made for singles that only the cloth-eared could fail to appreciate, punk fans or nay. As a result this gig despite obstensibly promoting Buzzcock's ninth studio album The Way was for the majority of audience, me included, an unashamed nostalgia fest.

Opening with the punk manifesto that is Boredom, released in January 1977 back when Howard Devoto was still in the band was a smart move. The cynical indifference of Devoto's lyric fits as a perfect counter to the energetic charge of the tune, and we're off, on a night of relentless and FUCKING LOUD punky rebel rousing. The guy behind the mixing desk seemed to find 11 with each slider almost from the first note, and left them there. This gave Diggle's nasal bark, thankfully only featured as lead vocal on a handful of songs a literally teeth-rattling quality, if "quality" is the right word. Painful it certainly was!

After that storming start, a shaky part of the set, starting with a ramshackle and a shall we say "rhythmically challenged" Automony was eventually corrected by a cracking Whatever Happened To?, and normal service was resumed. One of the songs from current album The Way sounded like Green Day, which when you think about it is doubly ironic!

Steve Diggle also gets to showcase his plank spanking abilities with a no doubt brief but in the context of the night, a seemingly long feedback drenched two note solo, possibly during Nothing Left, displaying the punk ethos that anyone can get up there and do it, to the nth degree. What he sorely lacks in technical ability he more than makes up for with over the top boyish enthusiasm, utterly at odds with his 60-year old frame. I'll bet he ached this morning!

Played in succession it becomes apparent how many of those great singles had singalong football terrace "whoa-ohs" in the choruses, which made for a great live atmosphere, and plenty of hoarse voices on the way home, no doubt. The encore ended with the last Devoto penned lyric, the acerbic wanking anthem Orgasm Addict, as far as I am aware one of only two hits in the history of the UK charts dedicated to the onanistic arts. The audience left...err...sated.

Set list:
Fast Cars
I Don't Mind
Fiction Romance
People Are Strange Machines
What Ever Happened To?
Why She's the Girl From the Chainstore
Sick City Sometimes
Moving Away From the Pulsebeat
Nothing Left
Noise Annoys
In the Back
It's Not You
You Say You Don't Love Me
Love You More
What Do I Get?

Harmony In My Head
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)
Orgasm Addict

Buzzcocks are:
Pete Shelley - Vocals, guitar
Steve Diggle - Guitar, vocals
Chris Remmington - Bass guitar
Danny Farrant - Drums

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Ángel Ontalva - Tierra Quemada

A mark of a good album is how much it resists being filed away in a neat little niche, and Tierra Quemada by Spanish guitarist Ángel Ontalva is defying my efforts in that direction very nicely indeed. You may know Ángel as the guitarist and leader of Spanish heavy eclectic prog band October Equus, but this album proves there is far more to this man than meets the ear on hearing his band's music, nicely angular and coruscating stuff as it may be. Indeed, anyone familiar with Ángel's work will know he likes to branch out.

Three consecutive releases show the highly varied and always interesting scope of Ángel's muse. 2012 saw the release of Mundo Flotante, his first solo album, and a thoroughly enjoyable and languid album it is, too. Then in 2013 we had two concurrent releases; Permafrost from October Equus, and its companion album Isla Purgatorio, which was something entirely different to the band's usual output and was released as October Equus Quartet, essentially the usual group minus Victor Rodriguez' keyboards, and coming over as if the Mel Collins' era live King Crimson had been a product of the 21st century rather than the early 1970s - a truly stunning album that deserved more than the scant attention it got at the time, for it is far more than an afterthought to Permafrost.

That brings us up to date, and Ángel's second solo album Tierra Quemada. Translating as "Scorched Earth", and utilising the rich talents of the rest of October Equus behind the keyboards, bass, and drums, plus additional musicians lending saxes, clarinets, cello, hurdy gurdy and duduk to the heady mix, this is an album that is full of musical flavour, and is anything but the kind of heavy blast you might expect from the title and indeed from his avant-rock band. For all that, Tierra Quemada is a fulsome and spicy work that will satisfy even the most jaded palate. Mention must also be made of the fine artwork in the booklet and inserts. Ángel is also a highly gifted graphic artist, another string to his rather full bow!

The music on this fine album is often laced with a more than a hint of Oriental zest, apparent from the first track onwards. Tarlaya Ektim Sogan marries an insistent rhythm with a snake charmer of an arrangement from the tightly knit ensemble. All the tunes are composed by Ángel, who knows how to evoke an Eastern atmosphere without cliché as the gorgeously liquid Ugetsu highlights. I have not heard anything this evocative of the mysterious East, be it Near or Far this side of Dennis Rea's spellbinding Views From Chicheng Precipice*.

Some great sax work weaves through the more insistent rhythms of El Telele, and a repetitive but nonetheless intriguing bass line of one sort or another is becoming a feature of the album. One exception is the plaintive melancholy of Bicycles were quite popular in the Forbidden City, which serves as a short, highly musical entrée for the climax of the album.

Fittingly enough, Tierra Quemada achieves an apogee of bliss with the final track. Cobra Trap is a sun-kissed delight of warm and sinuous themes coming to a natural climax, playing out on some marvellous fretwork from Ángel. Introduced with the cello, the guitar winds around until a calm but insistent bass line allows the ensemble the freedom to weave clarinet, saxophone and keyboard melodies on to its steady framework. Soon, Ángel teases with a few lines of molten gold as the tune is taken to the bridge with more fabulous reed work from Pablo Hernández. A great end to a contender for Album Of The Year in my tiny universe.

1. Tarlaya Ektim Sogan (4:38)
2. No return (7:09)
3. Tierra Quemada (3:59)
4. Ugetsu (6:56)
5. El Telele (3:47)
6. Comanche (3:40)
7. Bicycles were quite popular in the Forbidden City (2:31)
8. Cobra Trap (8:58)

Total running time - 41:44

Line up:
Ángel Ontalva - guitar, bass
Amanda Pazos Cosse - bass
Victor Rodriguez - keyboards, melodica
Pablo Hernández -alto & soprano saxes
Luiz Rocha - clarinets
Marc Egea - hurdy gurdy & duduk
Pablo Ortega - cello
Vasco Trilla - drums & percussions

Bandcamp - Tierra Quemada

Bandcamp - Isla Purgatorio (yes, you need this, too!)

octoberXart records 

* Dennis Rea is an outstanding American musician with a long connection to Chinese and Taiwanese music, and interviews, reviews, you name it, can be found on this blog by typing his name into the search box.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Baron - Torpor

With their previous album, the rather upstanding Columns, Brighton post-everything-rockers Baron described themselves as playing "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Psych Art-Rock", and now they have moved on, adding vegetables and Germanic ambience into the mix, becoming purveyors of "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Pastoral-Kraut-Drone-Lettuce-Rock". A nifty little pigeon with asymmetric eyes fits in that odd-shaped hole, I'm sure.

Based in Brighton and employing some big fish from the small but highly talented pool of musicians that you will find cropping up in other bands based in that fair city, such as Diagonal, and Autumn Chorus, both of whom may or may not be currently in stasis, Baron are led by singer and guitarist Alex Crispin. Alex has a distinctive baritone croon that paints his songs of mysticism and pastoralism in a melancholic hue, aided and abetted by his favoured guitar sound, reverbed and echoing, swirling round in the wide open spaces afforded by the airy mix.

"Torpor" is a state of physical and mental inactivity, or lethargy. The feeling one has occasionally when the weight of the world presses down and one's limbs seem to become immovable objects. The feeling transmitted by this record, for me at least, is one of a more contented state of immobile bliss than the dread implied in the album title. Carrying on from where Columns left off, the band's sound takes on a heavier tone when additional guitarist Joe Hollick from psych-folk troupe Wolf People stirs up the mix.

One of his two guest appearances is on the track Stry, which builds as a moss gathering stone rolling down a low incline, gathering momentum by increment to become a post-rock mash-up of irresistible power, but it is all done rather deftly, the climactic bludgeon riffola and guitar freak out will hit you as a hundred tonne feather.

The band carry on with their peculiarly filtered take on post-spacerock with Sleepless, swapping a peace pipe with The Blue Nile, early Felt (UK version) and The Chameleons and exchanging stories of cosmic derring-do. Baron have not entirely left behind their inkling for pastoral dreamscapes, as the lovely and elegiac Dark Down proves, but there is an over-arching psychedelic shamanism at work in these zeros and ones, one example being the hypnotic fire dance of Deeper Align with its call to ancient wonder made over a repetitive mantric guitar and drum groove.

Elsewhere, beyond blue skies stars are shaken while tiny flying insects hover jerkily in the eyeline dazzling bright autumnal sun to the gossamer Mark Maker, flittering away on a highly Florian Fricke-like organ groove. Psychedelic but nonetheless churchy organ chords call the faithful to prayer on the closing Albedo Dei, recalling both early Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh.

The quasi-religious atmosphere of that last track and indeed the whole album no doubt owes more than a nod to the fact that "parts of the album were surreptitiously (and not entirely legally) recorded at Purton Green, one of the last surviving medieval halls in the UK". This otherworldy imagined landscape is immediately apparent in opener Dragonfly, Alex intoning mournfully "Dragonfly over me" as the mystical tone of the album is apparent from the outset, laid before us with this highly charged psychedelic mantra, the swirling guitar and keyboard figure taking the song to an abrupt end.

Highly meditative as well as uplifting, this fine album is out on 6th November (see pre-order links below), and well worth investigating if you dig the modern psychedelic seam, baby!

1. Dragonfly (4:49)
2. Mark Maker (6:54)
3. Wild Cry (4:51)
4. Dark Down (3:25)
5. Stry (8:15)
6. Sleepless (7:05)
7. Deeper Align (6:52)
8. Albedo Dei (5:32)

Total running time - 45:45

Line up:
Alex Crispin - Guitar, Vocals, Synthesiser, Electric Piano on track 5
Peter Evans - Bass
Blue Firth - Organ, Recorder, Vocals
Luke Foster - Drums, Percussion, (Organ on ‘Dark Down’)

Joe Hollick - Electric Guitar on tracks 4 & 5, Acoustic Guitar on track 4



Svart Records

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Bob Lazar Story - Self-Loathing Joe

In the modern era of music making, a pet saying of mine, aimed at the surfeit of truly average, sometimes awful music out there that was made only because of a working knowledge of cheap audio recording and manipulation software, regardless of any actual musical talent, is "bedroom music that should have stayed there".

Hundreds of these recordings that back in the day would not have progressed beyond the guitarist's parents' garage, let alone made it it to a studio are uploaded every month for the benefit or otherwise of the universe at large. Of course, I appreciate the irony in all that, being an amateur myself, but hey I can take it!

Here we have an ex-pat Scouser and occasional cab driver now residing in Christchurch, New Zealand collaborating over ye interweb with a drummer ensconced in Los Angeles, USA collectively under the name of The Bob Lazar Story. From what I said at the beginning of this piece, you might be forgiven for thinking that I am about to set sail on a self-induced stormy Sea of Rant. Well, no actually, as Self-Loathing Joe is actually an example of the benefits rather than the drawbacks of instant comms and easy access to recording technology.

The ex-pat Scouser is Matt Deacon, and the Californian sticksman is Chris Jago, and together they have made an individualistic instrumental EP that is full of invention and the joys of life. Matt's sense of humour is apparent from his instrument endorsements on Bandcamp. He uses "plenty of fucked gear held together with sticky tape and hope", a true "bedroom musician" description if ever I read one, while Chris appears to be a real pro, judging by his percussive listing.

I have no idea if the two protagonists have ever met, but Matt's occasionally slightly Zappa-esque tunes, with an added hint of mischievous glee now and and again are perfectly pinned down by Chris's authoritative but never overpowering drumming, as if the pair have been together in a real band for years.

There is also an archness that runs through this short but charming piece of work, highlighted by the opening and closing tracks, the latter being the reverse of the former, which is exactly as described. Also, you will spot a Hatfields' humour to the song titles, and even some of their musical influence within Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist The Traitor. "Foodstool" is a reference to the duo's previous EP, which is another slice of eclectic but fun music making.

Ezekiel II, by far the longest tune here, commences as a slow funky strut led by Chris's solid beat before riffage and later some disembodied voices turn it to a is a cosmic glide in orbit around Matt's slide guitar figure and some reverbed keyboards, almost Floyd-like in places.

Matt and Chris have emerged from their virtual bedroom with their dignity intact and judging by this EP do not deserve to be confined there, at all.

1. Harmonics (0:16)
2. Don Branch Venom (3:00)
3. No Wait. Yes Chips (2:45)
4. Self-Loathing Joe (2:05)
5. Foodstool Exacts Revenge Upon Gilchrist The Traitor (3:04)
6. Ezekiel II (8:59)
7. Scinomrah (0:15)

Total running time - 20:24

Line up:
Matt Deacon - Guitars and Mouse
Chris Jago - Drums

Tanya Didham - Vocals on Ezekiel II
Zeke Deacon - Other vocals


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Tētēma - Geocidal

Mike Patton as part of Faith No More played a big part in one the best albums of the 1990s regardless of genre, the brainfrying acid punk metal cinemascape that was Angel Dust. Since then I have dipped in and out of Patton's career, especially his projects away from the band, whom he joined in 1988. Faith No More split ten years later and since then Patton has developed into something of a musical polymath. His career covers all bases; from continuing to front his previous band, the absurdist pop-metal outfit Mr Bungle who ended on a high in 2000 with the superb California album, to experimental solo albums, via the avant garde improv group Hemophiliac with John Zorn, to singing Italian oldies from the 50s in front of an orchestra under the name of Mondo Cane, and not forgetting the barking but wonderful experimental metal outfit Fantômas. Oh, and he's dabbled in opera, too, as well as acting in films and composing film scores, and of course he joined the newly reformed and still working line up of Faith No More in 2009, and then there's alt-metal supergroup Tomahawk, and the seemingly dormant Peeping Tom project.

No wonder then that Patton blamed the break up of his marriage to Italian artist  Cristina Zuccatosta partly on his obsessive working practices, during which as legend has it, nothing stronger than caffeine was consumed to keep him going. This man makes Steven Wilson appear sloth-like!

And so we arrive at Patton's latest adventure along the road less travelled, the exotically named Tētēma. This project is really the brainchild of Australian pianist, electronica manipulator and composer Anthony Pateras, who spent 18 months putting this together, the germ of the idea apparently "…started when I locked myself in a convent in rural France for 10 days to think about rhythm and sound". Sounds like a normal day at the office for Mike, no wonder he was interested.

Taking my cue from the record label's PR blurb, and because I am feeling especially lazy this dreary wet autumnal day, I won't attempt to describe this in my usual lengthy detail, only to say it is an analogue-electronica-percussion-vocal mash up, the like of which you won't have heard before. As Ipecac Recordings put it, "To us, it sounds like two maniacs in their respective studios having the time of their lives, rebirthing some of the most insane songcraft this side of the godforsaken Miley-Cyrus worshipping millennium". Yep, that'll do.

This deeply unsettling and specially commissioned video by avant-garde film maker Sabina Maselli for the track Tenz sums it all up perfectly...

One thing to note is that only a small part of this work derives from sampling, the majority is real and organic, although your ears may struggle to believe it. Followers of Patton will not be surprised that this record is way out on a limb, just as it should be.

1. Invocation of the Swarm (2:44)
2. Pure War (2:410
3. Irundi (4:18)
4. The Hell of Now (3:15)
5. Ten Years Tricked (7:31)
6. 3-2-1 Civilisation (3:36)
7. Tenz (3:22)
8. Suishaman (0:35)
9. Kid Has Got The Bomb (4:31)
10. Emptiness of Ecstasy (2:10)
11. Death in Tangiers (4:01)

Total running time - 38:43

Line up:
Mike Patton - voices
Anthony Pateras - synths, pianos, machines

Will Guthrie - drums 1-7, 9

...and a whole lot of other guest musicians, written in a nigh on impossible font to read. You'll just have to buy the CD and squint!

Ipecac Recordings

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Magic Bus - Transmission From Sogmore's Garden

Hailing the that hotbed of rock'n'roll excess, Totnes in Devon, Magic Bus are rather accurately musically described on their PR sheet as turning out "sun-drenched harmonies and vintage prog rock noodling". That kind of retro warning would normally have me groaning, but Transmission From Sogmore's Garden is such a charming affair, you'd have to be an even more battle-weary old scrote than moi not to appreciate its thorough winsomeness.

There is a review on Amazon that is headlined "Better than Caravan?", well, obviously not, but these chaps and chappess have certainly been playing the first few albums by the Canterbury instigators on heavy rotate, along with large helpings of the the first two CSN(&Y) albums. There are worse things to be influenced by, it has to be said.

Opening with Sunflower, Magic Bus lay their cards on the table. This band are not going to be pushing any envelopes anywhere soon, but hey, that's just fine. Nostalgia certainly IS what it used to be in Sogmore's Garden. Sunflower is infused with a heady West Coast aroma, via Welsh wizards Man's own appropriated Californian vibe on their Rhinos album. Led by a winsome flute line it skips away down the winding path, full of the joys of life, including a very Caravan-esque solo from the keys player.

Three of the songs here were composed by singer and guitarist Paul Evans, the remainder by Evans in tandem with keyboard player Jay Darlington. Paul has one of those voices that while it sometimes struggles with staying on note in a fashion similar to Pye Hastings' charmingly strained high croon, manages not to make me wince, but smile to myself. This despite living with perfect pitch, which can be a curse as much as a blessing, particularly as I no longer have a practical use for it. Paul's singing is enhanced no end by the lovely harmonies of Viv Goodwin, Benny Brooke and Terence Waldstradt, the "flowers in the hair" on the head of the blissed-out and occasionally wavering lead voice.

The top line instrumentation consists of guitar, keyboards, mostly of the organ variety, and flute, in varying combos. You will have recognised the name of the keyboard player, yep, it's the tall one from Kula Shaker. After the demise of Kula Shaker, Jay Darlington spent five years as the touring ivory tinkler with Oasis, but we'll forgive him that, everyone has to make a living. More recently he has reconnected with his true pastoral psych-prog calling, contributing organ to a couple of cuts on the fabulous The Unrecorded Beam by fellow Devonians Billy Bottle & The Multiple, as well as being a full-time member of Magic Bus since their debut album in 2010. However, this second album is not a showcase for any one individual, but a complete band effort. Even so, that won't stop me mentioning the organ break four and a half minutes in to Seven Wonders, which is a straight copy of Dave Sinclair's reedy sound on Nine Feet Underground. Heheh.....

What Paul might lack technically in the tonsil department, but not I must emphasise to the detriment of the record, he more than makes up for with his gently fried guitar lines. Together with Jay's swelling organ (heheh...the old ones are indeed, the old ones), the two make for a lovely combination on the introduction to the rambling and pastoral Ballad of Lord Sogmore, which from the start of the vocal section has that indefinable "getting it together in the country" feel that Traffic used to great effect waaay back in the day. Paul's marvellously acidic solo towards the end of the tune is followed by a flute solo on the outro, all quite lovely.

And that is the general tone of the album, as it combines drifting across the cosmic vastness under the influence of many cups of mushroom tea with an inescapable pastoral English vibe. Cosmic Rays Of Dawn lights the way with a waltz across the lawn, and Three Days hints that if they could do it again, they'd do it all over you, I'm sure. "Climb aboard the bus, let's head off for the summer" sings Paul, and indeed this is one of those hazy, lazy records recalling stoned days in the countryside. Marvellous!

Pretty soon the Bus is away across the universe on an expanded trip, and it's real good out here, we may even be immaculate. Hints of jazzy keys enlighten Jupiter 3AM, Dave briefly vacating the place behind the electric piano, Steve takes over...only for one album. Jay knows his Caravan keyboard players, is all I'm saying! Melody is never far away, and a simple but effective tune points the way to the small hours as the biggest planet fills our view, before the trip goes skewiff on the back of a atypically aggressive section. Flung back out of gravity's pull, the trip continues.

That's probably more than enough individual track description. If you like what you've heard and hopefully read, then just go buy the thing! Helpful links provided at the end of this nonsense.

I'm always griping about prog bands who want to make "Fragile By The Pound", and it might seem a tad hypocritical of me to shout this band's praises as I have been doing, for they are just as unashamedly nostalgic as any Yenesis wannabee you care to mention, but you see, the thing is, bands that wish to be stuck nine feet underground in early 70s Canterbury while dreaming of toking with Crosby and Nash in Laurel Canyon are, perhaps thankfully - I wouldn't want this album to be the start of a trend - a damn sight rarer and therefore far easier to enjoy.

I like this album a lot. It seems everything in Sogmore's Garden is rosy. While there are melody lines here, riffs there that have you thinking you're sure you've heard that before, in the fullness of time it matters not a jot, just get on the Magic Bus and enjoy the trip. You pay your fare in bananas, cos they got no bones... ;)

That was a recommendation from "The Peter Cook of Prog", as I was christened by a prog fan from Totnes, oddly enough! Buy this newish-but-dusty slice of dreamery from the band's website below.

1. Sunflower (3:51)
2. Ballad Of Lord Sogmore (5:15)
3. Cosmic Rays Of Dawn (3:47)
4. Three Days (7:32)
5. Jupiter 3AM (8:37)
6. Seven Wonders (5:33)
7. Morning Mantra (6:55)
8. Earthpod (4:44)

Total running time - 47:20

Line up:
Paul Evans - Lead vocal and guitar
Jay Darlington - Hammond organ and assorted vintage keyboards
Terence Waldstradt - Lead guitar and backing vocals
Viv Goodwin - Flute and backing vocals
Benny Brooke - Bass guitar and backing vocals
Matt Butlin - Drums

Listen to the whole album on Soundcloud

Band website


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Karda Estra - Strange Relations

Last year a curious album by the name of Strange Relations came my way, and over the months since it has slowly revealed its many delights to me. For many years now, Richard Wileman has been ploughing a thoroughly individual furrow as Karda Estra, releasing several albums since debuting with A Winter In Summertime back in 1998. While I have heard some of the back catalogue, it is this strange and beguiling twelfth album that has completely hooked me.

Marrying complex rhythms and a modern classical sensibility to an exploratory nature allows Richard to make a unique music that would probably fall within the avant sphere if one was looking to conveniently categorise. "Avant"  can mean whatever you want it to, but would always suggest a sense of adventure, and Strange Relations has that in joyous quantities.

The six-part suite of music that comprises Strange Relations was co-written with Muffins' drummer Paul Sears, and the duo are joined in the composing credits on Strange Relations 2 by Kavus Torabi, a man whose musical path seems to be criss-crossing mine with increasing regularity these days. Kavus adds some atypically restrained and effects-free electric guitar playing to the track, giving it a languid, alt-jazz feel, especially in juxtaposition to Mike Ostime's plaintive trumpet.

Richard invests his compositions with a sense of space that allows the listener to float away with his or her imagination, and his ear for melody and subtlety keep this well away from the stridency and angularity that can sometimes be to the detriment of the more wilful exponents of music in the avant world. Strange Relations 1 has an otherworldly quality that I can easily imagine being enhanced by an individualistic voice, perhaps Robert Wyatt? Now there's a combination that would be a delight to behold!

The music of Karda Estra covers a large sonic spectrum, from ethereal psychological thriller movie soundtracks to gorgeous sci-fi waltzes, taking detours into cerebral modern classical along the way. Strange Relations 4 is that sci-fi waltz, and a lovely  thing it is too. Keyboards, guitars, oboe and cor anglais, the latter two from long-time collaborator Caron De Burgh combine in the most sublime fashion imaginable. Part romantic fairground fantasy, part chamber rock, this exquisite music is uplifting and soulful in equal measure.

Paul Sears' playing caresses the rhythms rather than forges them on a drum skin anvil, and the subtlety and grace with which he guides the melodies is fascinating to follow, and I say that from the perspective of one who has never sat behind a drum kit. Most of the other contributing musicians have worked on previous Karda Estra albums, in particular vocalist Ileesha Wileman who has been there from the beginning, whose wordless multi-tracked choral singing imbues another layer of mystery to the already mist-shrouded Strange Relations 5.

The suite unravels in the most unforced way with the final part, highlighting Richard's avant classical leanings. Reflective and wide in scope, Strange Relations is an unfolding musical tale that will delight and intrigue in equal measure.

The album ends with two separate pieces, Ylla, inspired by a similarly named Ray Bradbury short story, and The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa, a piece of music composed for a compilation based on 14th century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron. The former fits in with the musical theme of Strange Relations rather well, Amy Fry's clarinet and saxophone weaving melody in and around Richard's piano and electronica flights of fancy.

The naturally medieval feel of The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa, Ileesha's one-woman harmonising leading to a descending scale acoustic guitar combining with brass and reeds, transmits a knowing air of implied frolicsomeness. Later, there be shenanigans. A nice "bonus track" with which to conclude an absorbing album.

1. Strange Relations 1 (4:31)
2. Strange Relations 2 (5:27)
3. Strange Relations 3 (9:15)
4. Strange Relations 4 (6:47)
5. Strange Relations 5 (9:09)
6. Strange Relations 6 (5:27)
7. Ylla (4:45)
8. The Wanton Subtlety Of Monna Tessa (7:41)

Total running time - 53:02

Line up:
Richard Wileman - electric, acoustic, classical and bass guitars, keyboards, samples, percussion, zither, rastrophone
Caron De Burgh - oboe (4, 5, 8), cor anglais (4, 8)
Amy Fry - clarinet (4 , 7, 8) , saxophone (4, 5, 7)
Mike Ostime - trumpet (2)
Paul Sears - drums (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), percussion (6)
Kavus Torabi - electric guitar (2)
Ileesha Wileman - vocals (5, 8)


Karda Estra website