Saturday, 31 December 2011

Serious Beak - Huxwhukw

Described by their record label as "psychedelic-progressive discordant metal", when Sydney based Serious Beak landed their talons on my 'pooter I was wondering if I would like this, as endless crushing bludgeon riffola is not what my Sound Doctor normally prescribes. And I happen to have a cold coming on, so the idea of trying to extract the nuances from 41 minutes of probable headache inducing noise did not fill me with glee. 

Firstly I have to say the cover artwork really deserves a mention, as Caitlin Hackett has provided the band with something quite stunning...just take a look at this:

"Huxwhukw is the supernatural long-beaked cannibal bird and servant to Baxwbakwalnuksiwé, the "Cannibal at the North end of the world" in Kwakwaka’wakw mythology. Huxwhukw uses his long, snapping beak to crack open the skulls of men to eat their brains and pluck out their eyeballs.
All hail Huxwkwux and the Crooked Beak of Heaven." Just in case you didn't know!

Now, the music. No vocals here, it's all instrumental, so at least I'm spared my personal bane, the Cookie Monster cometh! There are parts of this that pin you to the wall and attempt to stomp you down, Tuī / Tuō for example, but within those crushing riffs are interludes of eerie weirdness. Opener Baxwbakwalanuksiwé being a case in point, setting the scene with a slow cyclical guitar figure that puts me in mind of early Felt, about as far from metal as you can get.

This from their brief biog on Bandcamp - ""Huxwhukw" is an eccentric amalgamation of mind-melting, toe-tapping, psychedelic, progressive and poly-rhythmic discordant music, sure to please fans of Meshuggah, Mastodon, Botch, The Mars Volta and King Crimson." All these bases and more are covered on Han, as the poly-rhythmic and metal riffing comes out of the woodwork slowly which in parts reminds me of Opeth without the growling. The figure from the opening track is repeated after the brief riffing start, building to a passage of straight rock with a Crimsoid bent. On Swagger we are treated to some violent speed metal, but even here the rhythm chops and changes all over the shop to keep ones interest. The song ends with more very slow drawn out notes that lead into the following track Gödel !Xun, which then morphs into some fine acid rock. Actually the more one listens to this the more you will find behind the what at first listen appears to be the dominance of metal stylings. Is Anhrefn a tribute to the Welsh punks of that name? Well, given that Anhrefn translates from Welsh as disorder, and given the structured chaos of its two and a half minutes, it very possibly is. The fact that an Australian avant-metal band can reference an obscure Welsh punk act just goes to show their diverse influences. I've since been told by the band that they do not know of the Welsh punkers, but that one of them has Welsh ancestors...oh well, can't be right all the time!

Probably the most avant thing here is Sporãs which charges around all over the shop, occasionally stopping to pick up a detuned guitar on the way, along with some spooky math atmospherics. Madness writ large! Fljóta (Icelandic for float) gives us a welcome break from the syncopated insanity of the previous two tracks, with heavily reverbed chanting adding to the eerie atmospherics.

More math-metal pervades closer Taheu Nadryvy, Taheu! (sorry, no idea!) bringing Primus to mind, and leaves us with a challenging listen, a must for all avant-metal fans, but not really my cup of tea. Now, where's that cold remedy?

1. Baxwbakwalanuksiwé 02:23
2. Han 08:17
3. Swagger 05:11
4. Gödel !Xun 02:40
5. Tuī / Tuō 07:23
6. Anhrefn 02:29
7. Sporãs 02:43
8. Lähendama 02:17
9. Fljóta 03:44
10. Taheu Nadryvy, Taheu! 04:33

Line up:
Gene White - drums
Tim Brown - telecaster
Lachlan R. Dale - les paul
Andrew Mortensen - bass

Get this at Bandcamp

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

2011 - A year in review

Firstly a big Thank You to anyone who actually reads my nonsense. I'd still do it if no-one came, but sloppy kisses to ya anyway...xxxxxxxxxxxx!

2011 was a wonderful year for new progressive music, and almost totally crap in every other respect, but hey, let's not dwell on that!

2011 was also a year in which my amateur music scribbling pastime took off exponentially, and was a year in which I discovered, well confirmed actually, as I had always suspected as much, that "prog" is rarely the same as "progressive", and if you've followed any of my wibble then you'll already know my feelings on the subject, and you don't want me going off on one here, do you? Well...I might, a bit, somewhere nearer the end.

Presented below are my music year highlights (and some lowlights)...all completely subjective of course. It's my blog and I'll cry if I want to, or summat...

Albums of the year
In the order they were retrieved from my fog-shrouded brain, the majority of these came out in 2011. There are a few that were released in 2010, but they only crossed my radar in 2011, so that's good enough for me! Whatever, these albums are all worthy of your attention. I have not indicated which I thought was the best, as that changes every week, but those in bold vie for top place in rotation. No compilations or reissues allowed, and links go to reviews. Some of those without reviews will no doubt appear either here or over on DPRP later, as the Yuletide alcoholic fug clears, so watch this space(rock)! 

Amplifier - The Octopus
Memories Of Machines - Warm Winter
Jo Hamilton - Gown
Van Der Graaf Generator - A Grounding In Numbers
Herd Of Instinct - Herd Of Instinct
Jakszyk Fripp Collins - A Scarcity Of Miracles
Grails - Deep Politics
Gosta Berlings Saga - Glue Works
Sleepin Pillow - Superman's Blues
North Sea Radio Orchestra - I a Moon
No Man's Land - Drowning Desert
Serena Maneesh - No. 2: Abyss in B Minor 
Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning
Magazine - No Thyself
Abrete Gandul - Enjambre Sismico 
Kalutaliksuak - Snow Melts Black
Levin Torn White - Levin Torn White
Dave Willey & Friends - Immeasurable Currents
Øresund Space Collective - Sleeping With The Sunworm
Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow
Pythagoras - The Correlated A, B, C
Knitting By Twilight - Weathering 
Moraine - Metamorphic Rock
Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know

True to form, only two of these featured on Andy Read's DPRP writers' top 15 of 2011 radio show, Amplifier (no.11) and Steven Wilson (no.2), which just goes to show I'm off on a Tangent (arfarf)!

Cover of the year
Pythagoras - The Correlated A, B, C

A triple fold-out sleeve that contains a seven inch single (Part A), a ten inch LP (Part B), a twelve inch LP (Part C), two CDs which contain all the tracks from the three pieces of vinyl plus a bonus track, and finally but not least, four art prints!

This is art
...and so is this

Gig of the year
Burning Shed 10th Anniversary Celebration - Leamington Spa Assembly, starring no-man, Theo Travis, Pineapple Thief redux, Giancarlo Erra, Resonance Association. An evening of true art.

Runner-up Cressida at Camden Underworld - A truly magical evening by a band who hadn't played together in 40 years. 

The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz Award
Could only be given to one Steven Wilson. In between a touring a new Blackfield album, remixing two Crimson albums, remixing for Caravan and Jethro Tull, twiddling knobs for Opeth and Memories of Machines, appearing with no-man, recording and releasing his marvy solo album and then touring it, Mr Wilson still found the time to redecorate his studio in a fetching shade of black. He put some shelves up too, and maybe creosoted the fence. Does this man ever sleep?

This is all far too cheery, so, let's get acerbic!...

The "Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before" award
Jointly won by Glass Hammer and Wobbler who both seem to desire to be Yes circa 1973 when they have more than enough talent to create their own sounds, and all while their heroes are still making new music. If Yes were defunct I could almost understand it, but what they feel about these copyists must be a mixture of pride, bemusement and annoyance. Sorry, but I just don't get it.

Oxymoron of the year
Goes to the Head of Music at BBC Radio One, one George Ergatoudis, who captained the Sheffield Uni team on the Xmas series of graduate University Challenge. He not only failed to guess Nashville from the clue "Grand Ol' Opry", but also didn't recognise the fab Wake Up Boo by The Boo Radleys. Obviously his job title is an oxymoron, or maybe it's because Radio One now plays wall-to-wall crap and wouldn't recognise proper pop culture or a decent tune if it was bit on its collective testicles by Sir Paul McCartney? Me, I couldn't possibly comment.

That's all folks! See you all in 2012, have a great New Year's Eve....right, it's off down the shops now to stock up on booze and the ingredients for a turkey curry.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Radio For The Daydreamers - Praying For The Be(a)st

So, back in the wonderful and frightening world of experimental post-rockers Radio For The Daydreamers we are gifted with the second part of the triptych Praying For The Be(a)st with the album of the same name. Our hero, having delved into the depths of his dark psyche on Mother Superior And Her Fields Of Migraines now attempts to come to terms with his inner turmoils by further withdrawal into the self, questioning every aspect of his existence. If that does not sound healthy, it probably isn't, and lines like "No more stab wounds in my arms. He will give me drugs to keep, He will give me nights to sleep." from the opening song We Are Only Safe Before Sunrise only serve to confirm it.

Musically the minimalism of the Mother Superior is continued, and more deliberately off tuned guitar sleepwalks through Wasted Faces In Secret Places. The following song Don't Give Up On Me Yet, Dad is actually almost symphonic and uplifting, as a shred of humanity is still there in the protagonist's soul. Bloodlights (Oh I Sleep) sees a very scary and goosebump inducing narration of a man in the depths of downer induced sleep-like-molasses  nightmares..."through empty skies, that weep and bloody lights, you hide" slurs our hero to a backdrop of This Mortal Coil meets Faust (a very appropriate reference point, even if in name only) at their most Gothic played at one-third speed. Don't play this song in the dark!

Prog Jazz (All musicians are freaks) lifts things up with some club jazz meets Aphex Twin beats and is, dare I say it, sprightly! Of course it was too good to last, and we're back in the Slough of Despond with When You Die, which has a very odd rhythm track, and more very slightly de-tuned and reverbed guitars. Unlike the previous album this de-tuning malarkey seems to work and is not simply irritating, maybe because of the increased production values evident on this album. To Rid The Be(a)st is a hellish vaudeville alt-country number from the Seventh Ring, continuing the horror movie soundscapes. Necrosis Stupor is not the torpid affair you might have expected from the title and returns to the jazz vibe....mmmm...nice.

Piano features heavily throughout the album and the player's jazz style contrasts nicely with the pervading air of menace, particularly on Curl Up, Time To Die (When Jazz Ate My Soul), which has a bass line right out of the Jah Wobble textbook. No-one Comes Here But Me goes all Sigur Ros and dreamy and is a welcome calm and beautiful interlude. The strange voices at the beginning of Freelance Dream Killing Machine remind me of the café scene from The Faust Tapes, but this is soon eclipsed by more woozy off kilter guitar chords, chiming like gargantuan bells from Mordor. Very strange.

The final three tracks of this sprawling be(a)st of an album, all 72 minutes of it, are entertaining enough, but seem like an afterthought, and the album would have been more concise with them left off in my opinion, and it would have been somehow fitting to have ended on the abject terror of We, The Howling Damned.

Is this whole triptych a story of suffering through depression, possibly drawn from experience? If it is then fair play to the band for taking on such a grim subject and expressing it so well. On the other hand if one ignores the somewhat pretentious statements that accompany this band (and I'll bet they would hate to be called "prog") and just take the album as a musical experience you will find a bewildering variety of styles to get lost in. An altered state trawl through the dusty cobweb strewn nooks and crannies of the psyche that are best left alone, this album sometimes feels like a mushroom trip with its rollercoaster ride up to blissful heights one minute, plunging to the pits of skin-crawling terror the next. Just don't play it if your feeling a bit desperate, that's all!

1. We Are Only Safe Before Sunrise (5:01)
2. Wasted Faces In Secret Places (3:05)
3. Don't Give Up On Me Yet, Dad  (3:30)
4. Glowing Like Angels, You Are On Fire (1:55)
5. Ghosts Keep Me Safe, While You Are Gone (3:07)
6. Neither Of Us Will Live On (4:22)
7. Bloodlights (Oh I Sleep) (5:22)
8. Hours Of The Night (1:24)
9. Prog Jazz (All musicians are freaks) (2:56)
10. When You Die (4:32)
11. To Rid The Be(a)st (5:32)
12. Necrosis Stupor (2:13)
13. Curl Up, Time To Die (When Jazz Ate My Soul) (4:10)
14. No One Ever Comes Here, But Me (4:36)
15. Freelance Dream Killing Machine (4:42)
16. We, The Howling Damned (1:55)
17. Treacherous (4:44)
18. 30 Pieces Of Silver (4:03)
19. Knife Party (4:40)

Line up:
Again, the mystery is maintained...I've still not a clue...

No more marking!!!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Truthseeker - Weightless At Dawn

A truly massive sound is made by this young Bostonian band of, well I suppose post-rockers is as close a description as you'll get from me. Like Mogwai at their most animated but with more of a sense of melody, and coming from a more rock oriented direction, thunderous distorted bass and crashing Bonham style drums played by a guy who is apparently a death metal drummer playing slow beats accompany the life-affirming layered, fuzzed and densely reverbed guitars all of which are very loud but not noisy, if you get my drift.  A psychedelic swirl collides with heavy and post rock to create an uplifting tidal wave of pre-post-rock (heheh). It all comes to a joyous climax on the last song Through The Waves, and at 23 minutes this EP deserved to be longer.

Leader, bassist and songwriter Brendan James Hayter has come up with a simple but emotional and wide-angled vista for these five instrumentals on this their debut EP, originally released via Bandcamp on 25th September, and it bodes well for the debut album, which is said to take a heavier and more progressive direction. I await with bated hearing devices, being a big fan of Amplifier who are the epitome of heavy meets progressive, but without all that generic downtuning that makes a lot of bands in that style sound too similar. If Truthseeker keep up the inventiveness shown on this EP then they'll have no problems standing out from the crowd.

1. Daybreak (4:09)
2. Permafrost (7:10)
3. Storm (4:39)
4. Submerged (2:08)
5. Through The Waves (5:02)

Ranting Roger - Part Six

Somebody once said "Opinions are like assholes, everyone's got one" and this critique is wholly subjective, and no attempt has been made to reasonable. So there!

Music comes in many forms, but essentially boils down to the Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent, and what one person considers "bad" might well rock another's boat, and thereby self-defeating arguments will disappear into the cosmos.

I will freely admit to being a music snob (and a beer snob, but that's another story) with an intense dislike of lowest common denominator X-Factor type shite, epitomised by any "singer" who has not paid his or her dues and expects fame and fortune to fall into their shopping-mall-clad laps as a result of a half-baked Karaoke performance on national TV, and who has had any vestige of individuality ironed out of his or her voice by that godawful voice cleaning software, said voice then applied to a generic inspiration-free R&B backing. Ah, I remember R&B, it used to mean ballsy blues-rock like the Stones or The Yardbirds, or later the likes of Dr Feelgood, but now it's synonymous with hideous aural wallpaper played in hairdressers' salons, supermarkets and malls all over the Western World and is bought by the bucketload by the clueless.

...errm, where was I...oh yeah...Way back in the mists of time when a mobile phone meant your telephone cord was long enough to enable you to sssttttrrreeetttccch down the hallway and open the front door to a caller while still on the blower, I like most of my peers was into all the usual heavy bands of the day, your Sabs and Purps and Zeps, along with the major league prog bands, Genesis being numero uno. Pop music back then was for girls, although I had hidden liking for Wizzard and Slade.

My best friend at the time had a cousin who was a few years older than us and into all the underground sounds of the day. Albums by the likes of Man, Caravan, Hawkwind, Amon Duul II, etc would find their way to my mate and we would marvel at the weirdness therein. And there began my journey into the dark backwaters of musical adventurism which carries on to this day.

One of the musical alleyways to snobbery is that much abused and misused term "prog rock." Take the term "prog"....please, just take it..."What does the word "prog" mean?" is one of those endless circular debates I made allusions to above before the ranting took over. The term "prog" is a shortened form of the word progressive, which , to use one of many dictionary definitions, means "Moving forward; proceeding onward; advancing; evincing progress...." Unfortunately an awful lot of what many class as "prog rock" these days is an awful long way from that definition, and there are many bands that seem to have an almost slavish obsession with recreating sounds made 35 or more years ago. A website I write for coined the term "regressive rock" to describe these groups and if there is a more fitting and objective term then I cannot think what it might be.

Wobbler's new bass player revealed!
Falling into this handy little niche are bands like Wobbler, Karmakanic, Arena, Glass Hammer, and many others, who to varying degrees probably all wish it was 1973 again, apart from Arena who come from 1980. Some bands like the aforementioned Wobbler make no bones about the fact and even use phrases like "(We have) a burning desire to create or perhaps recreate some of the musical expressions of the early seventies" which is fair enough as at least you know what to expect. Their last album, Fragility At The Edge....err, hang on...Rites At Dawn does in fact sound like a missing link between two Yes albums, and if you're into a bit of musical archaeology then this will certainly get your inner Piltdown Man cutting a rug. However, like that cunning ruse, I reckon that Rites At Dawn is also a bit of a hoax. Why listen to what some musical museum curators would love to have been the album that never was between Fragile and Close To The Edge when you can play the real thing? I just don't see the appeal, or the point.

The other bands I mentioned while drawing on classic prog sounds have not gone completely down the slavish copybook route and have at least carved out their own sound, but to these well-travelled lugholes, it all seems so flat, so unadventurous. I will admit that Glass Hammer are actually very good at what they do and obviously have lavished great care on their latest waxing, but the original Yes have already done it, so why bother? As we're into missing links between ancient Yes albums, they would seem to fit between Relayer and Going For The One, and their singer falls somewhere between Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, and he's even called Jon, although I strongly suspect his real name is John. As for Arena, another highly popular act (Gawd knows why) a more unimaginitive rehashing of 80s AOR, a genre that was as dull as dishwater first time round, I have yet to hear, and judging by what I've seen on YouTube at least two of their number seem to possess egos the size of Birmingham. I would rather listen to paint drying or stick pins in my ears. If you're a fan of any of those bands then fair enough, but don't try and kid me or anyone else that they are "progressive" in any shape or form. The likes of Muse (who I cannot abide by the way) and Radiohead and Kate Bush have more progressive ideas in their pinkies than any of that lot.

Other artists like Steven Wilson, and Opeth to a lesser degree, have managed to take the 70s template on their most recent works and created something that is rooted in the now and displays progression in its true guise, but maybe Wilson is a rare talent in a sea of mediocrity? One wonders if Wilson would have dared issue something like Grace For Drowning if Porcupine Tree had not already made the breakthrough?

The problem is an awful lot of "prog" fans would rather pay to see those regressive bands and buy their albums than actually take a risk on something that does stretch boundaries and is actually trying to take music forward, like Ske or Herd Of Instinct or Memories Of Machines for instance, to name three very different bands who are all highly progressive in their own way. The fans' desire to follow the tried and tested at the expense of new and in my opinion, far more interesting bands has already lead to internecine internet wars in that hotbed of conservatism the USA, and directly resulted in the demise of one its longest running "prog" festivals. New bands and indeed even established bands who don't fit into the copyist or trad prog bag tend to find it a real struggle over there, and with the demise of one of the best live showcases it can only get worse.

Over here in the UK we have only relatively recently got into staging prog festivals, as for a long time the potential audience here simply wasn't big enough, but one look at the line up of this year's Summer's End festival left me, as a progressive rather than prog music fan, somewhat underwhelmed. Where's the advenure in that line up, Lazuli apart? Why not get Il Tempio Delle Clessidre or Ske over, they've only got to come from Italy, it ain't that far! Mind you I suppose the sheer uncommerciality of the bands I'd pay to see make the wish impossible, and the promoters definitely deserve credit for putting on any kind of prog festival, which has to be underpinned by crowd pleasers to survive. It's just not for me, that's all.

Essentially prog fans are mostly a very conservative bunch who baulk at anything too weird, or dare I say it progressive, and far too often the two "p" words are mutually exclusive!

I make no apologies for this, and today, by pure coincidence a fellow reviewer sent all his colleagues the link to the restaurant critic speech from Ratatouille, and all us "prog" critics should take on board its sentiments, especially "...but there are times when a critic truly risks something, that is in the discovery and defence of the new..." Words we should all remember methinks.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow

An album to lose yourself in when the snow makes going outdoors a trial, sit at your window and gaze at the white blanket as it slowly covers everything and eerily muffles sound and thought while Kate relates tales of melting lovers, metaphysical Yeti hunts, angels and ghosts. Kate weaves a world that is personal, sensual and mystical, in a way that is instantly recognisable and you will find yourself lost is this otherworldly place. Instrumentally sparse, Kate's thoughtful and well played piano is mostly the main instrument with occasional electronica or orchestral backing for added effect.

Opener Snowflake sets the wintry scene as over its almost ten minutes it languidly describes the life and fall of a snowflake backed by Kate's minimal but deep ivory tinkling. Narrated by Kate's son Bertie, he intones "I was born in a cloud" which has a poignancy to it that blurs the role he is playing in the song. The ultra-sad and eerie Lake Tahoe is a ghost story about a woman who drowned searching for her dog in the water. Creepy but at the same time this song is a construct of gossamer-thin beauty.

If I asked you to guess who had written a song about a love affair between a young girl and a snowman, who when she awakes after one night of passion with Mr Frosty finds that Misty has melted away leaving wet sheets and bits of twig, it probably wouldn't take you long to come up with Kate Bush, who has written songs about life from the perspective of a foetus, washing machines, doing deals with the Almighty, the number Pi, etc etc as if they were everyday subjects. The focal point and longest song of the album at over thirteen minutes, again centred around Kate's sparse but accomplished piano over Danny Thompson's and Steve Gadd's jazz infused bass and drums, this slowly evolving crystalline snow ballad builds to an understated and melancholic orchestral climax. I've already heard someone say it's too long, but to be honest I don't notice its length at all, as I can get completely lost in it's intricate reverie. Obviously a metaphor for a fleeting relationship, this is questioned by the cover shot that leads one to ponder if it was ever a metaphor at all, for this is Kate Bush we are talking about after all. Weird but lovely!

Next up, Kate breathily vocalises Wild Man, a song seemingly about a cerebral hunt for a never mentioned Yeti, but it is musically a bit tame and something of an 80s throwback, and is probably the weakest song here, and indeed the strange atmosphere that had been built up before is partly dispelled.

More conventional than Aerial's duet with Rolf Harris admittedly, but I feared that a love ballad duet with Sir Elton John might be a bit much to take after the delicate nuances that had preceded Snowed In At Wheeler Street, and although starting off reasonably restrained, with a backing that is for the most part almost ambient, John's over-cooked and portentous style stomps all over any delicacy and is unfortunately reflected by Kate at the end of the song as if she were trying to keep up, and it serves only to ruin the previous eerie atmosphere. Might make a decent single though...

The other guest appearance is on the following song and title track. English national treasure Stephen Fry gets to recite the 50 Words For Snow, the vast majority culled from Kate's limitless imagination as we Brits only have one word plus a few half-hearted adjectives for the white stuff. Fry's intonations are gentle and unobtrusive, egged on by Kate, and the song works well. The album concludes with a return to the glacial piano atmospherics with Among Angels, a place Kate probably aspires to, a gentle and fitting end to an album that grows with every listen.

In a world where many bands like to describe themselves as "prog" but in reality are anything but, it is a pleasure to return to an artist who is genuinely progressive and could teach some of those po-faced earnest triers a thing or two about experimentation.  

Releasing her second album this year, Kate Bush has been uncharacteristically prolific, for which we should all be grateful. A true and singular talent. Kate always surprises and this album is so completely different to the somewhat indulgent and disappointing Director's Cut, so different it sounds as if two opposing facets of her musical personality have been at work this year, and I certainly prefer this one! 50 Words For Snow is sensual, brave, and a touch bonkers, and we should expect nothing less from one of our more interesting current musical phenomena. All we need now is a return to the live stage.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Magazine - HMV Institute, Birmingham, 8th November 2011

After a crawl up the M6, where we spent an hour in a slow moving traffic jam, we arrive at the venue about halfway through the set of support act In Fear Of Olive. Playing a raucous rockabilly hybrid, these guys seemed an odd choice, and I have to be honest, made a horrendous racket which was at least partly due to a horrible over-loud booming mix that set one's teeth on edge.

Being a tremendous beer snob, it is a very rare occurrence these days to find anything approaching a decent drink at gig venues and this place has to be the worst I've been to this year for lack of choice. On offer were two godawful lagers, a cider, and Guinness Extra Cold, which for the uninitiated is the famous Irish brew served at a filling-shuddering freezing temperature so as to remove any semblance of its original taste. Someone tell me the point of that!

So, armed with a bottle of over-priced fruit juice each me and my esteemed fellow traveller await Magazine, now reformed for a couple of years and having recently released their first new album in nearly 30 years, and a marvellous thing No Thyself is too!

The lights dim and the band minus Howard saunter on and launch into the opening bars of Definitive Gaze, and big cheer goes up when Howard Devoto, looking like a well contented geezer ambles to the mike stand for the opening salvo of his skewed and poetic lyrics.

I have been a bit spoilt lately, attending gigs at Leamington Spa Assembly and Shepherds Bush Empire, where the sound was superb, and this place was acoustically a bit of a comedown, but the sound guys got it right for Magazine, luckily for our aging lugholes.

The band are in top form, John Doyle's unfussy drumming holding down the pulsebeat while Dave Formula delivers striking and melodic runs on his banks of keyboards, occasionally coaxing slabs of gut-rumbling noise from his synth. Noko is a great guitarist who manages to fill the hole left by the sadly departed John McGeogh with some style. Stan White on bass storms through Adamson's sinuous groove, and on Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again) the whole band kick up a well funky stew that gets even a two left footed oaf like me cutting a rug!

During A Song From Under The Floorboards the whole place was jumping, particularly a couple of 50-something blokes, arms round each other, pogoing like it was 1980 all over again. I bet they ached in the morning! The whole audience seemed to be bawling along to The Light Pours Out Of Me, a post-punk anthem of stadium proportions that brought down da house!

It didn't take long for Howard and the band to get into their stride, playing with the audience, who were mostly but not exclusively fans from the first time round. Introducing songs with phrases like "And now track two, side one of Secondhand Daylight" to a rousing reply of Rhythm Of Cruelty from the audience. In the turnaround in Parade it was the "same old" waitress at the "same old" table, and where the service was once good, it is now only "so-so". He's an arch old geezer is our Howard! They say nostalgia ain't what it used to be, but not here maties.

About half the new album was played and it fitted in very well with the older songs and got a decent reception, as it deserves to. Hello Mister Curtis (with apologies) in particular had an added edge over the recorded version.

No prizes for guessing the last song in the encore which was of course Lipstick...only kidding...a blistering version of Shot By Both Sides closed the evening on an adrenalin rush of post-punkery. A victorious return for Magazine, and let's hope they keep it going for a while yet.

A great slide show:

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Radio For The Daydreamers - Mother Superior And Her Fields Of Migraines

In which Pittsburgh experimentalists Radio For Daydreamers take a leap forward from the sometimes irritating over-zealous minimalism of 2009's Clouds Of Smoke And Poison. This new album's title may lead you to expect an hour's worth of headache-inducing noise, but you'd be wrong. No, this album is a thing of melancholic melody, if of the strangely strange but oddly normal variety. Drawing on influences as far apart as modern electronica, jazz, classical, and good old pop, Mother Superior And Her Fields Of Migraines is a somewhat misleading title.

Video for Wasted Faces In Secret Places - electric mix

The first part in a triptych, alluringly titled "Praying For The Be(a)st" Mother Superior is sub-titled Act, relating the story of the protagonist and takes place in a single room where our hero is "..indulging in misery, self-realization, seclusion, developing phobias, anxieties and a need to break out to help his own mind. Accepting negativities, even though it is clear that the consequences of those negativities would be grim. To accept evil just to get some purpose." If that sounds a bit self-indulgent then it is probably meant to. Any album that uses Voltaire in two of its track titles is telling you something about its creators is it not? I wonder what the guys and gals in the band do for fun? They probably pull the legs of spiders at the very least.

Let's give them the benefit of doubt though, and treat what they have put serious thought into as the work of art they obviously want listeners to appreciate it as. Judging by the video above, and the subtext of Wasted Faces In Secret Places..."behind this wall we stand tall", one interpretation could be that one is always sheltering beihnd a veil of isolation, a veil behind which one's real character stands "tall". It would certainly fit in with the protagonist's story. Maybe! 

Sonically a vast improvement from their first album, Crawl Into My Crawl Space references early Cure, intentionally or not I don't know. There are even moments of an almost upbeat nature, I Am Not Coming Back Home sounding like Bongwater with a hangover. God these folk are serious...too serious at an age when they should be in awe of life's many surprises instead of determinedly immersing themselves in grim-faced navel gazing. I don't suppose you can blame them really in an age when the future seems as bleak as at any time since the height of the Cold War.

The instrumental tracks can offer moments of beauty, for example the lovely but simple piano motif on Ghosts Keep Me Safe, While You Are Gone, and the cellos on No One Ever Comes Here, But Me conjuring the mournful introspective atmosphere they were obviously intended to. The unrelentingly grim lyrics of Curl Up, Time To Die where our hero is battling with self-imagined demons and losing do not exactly give you the chance to extend any sympathy to him as he seems intent on creating his own pit of depression, wallowing in it, giving the finger to the outside world. The oh-so-bleak lyrical imagery..."Curl up inside, time to die, the night sleeps and young die, close your eyes"... is cleverly counterpointed by being sung by a disinterested female voice, which actually works quite well. And, Every God Is A Monster almost rocks, albeit in a knowing way, while Freelance Dream Killing Machine sounds like The Flaming Lips in a very bad mood. Always In Hallways must get a mention as having the best song title I've seen for some time!

Not an album to play if you're already feeling down, but, like the first album, a perfect accompaniment to a comedown, Mother Superior is however interesting enough to return to in moments of introspection. What Parts two and three of the triptych bring us is anyone's guess, but can it get any more dark? Probably...

1. Black River Time Bombs (3:33)
2. With Wings, You Will Learn To Fall (3:01)
3. Wasted Faces In Secret Places (Behind This Wall acoustic version)  (3:13)
4. Crawl Into My Crawl Space (3:35)
5. Ghosts Keep Me Safe, While You Are Gone (4:00)
6. Magnetar Mephisto (3:50)
7. Goodbye Voltaire (You Gave Me Sleep) (3:44)
8. I Am Not Coming Back Home (3:07)
9. Goodbye Voltaire (And All The Rain That Made Me Smile) (3:44)
10. No One Ever Comes Here, But Me (4:36)
11. Always In Hallways (3:17)
12. Curl Up, Time To Die (3:40)
13. Praying For The Be(a)st (1:55)
14. Every god Is A Monster (4:05)
15. Freelance Dream Killing Machine (2:58)

Line up:
The mystery is maintained...I've not a clue...

3 out of 5

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Radio For The Daydreamers - Clouds Of Smoke And Poison

Pittsburgh's Radio For The Daydreamers have only been together for a couple of years and in that time have made two albums, this being the first, released independently in September 2009. Downbeat and strange, and drawing on influences from post-rock (whatever that means!) and modern ambient electronica, Clouds Of Smoke And Poison commences with Annunciation, a heavily reverbed  spoken-word treatise that may be setting out the philosophy for the band "..your job, as the radio, is to caress the people who are the poison, that works, like a Clockwork Orange, to make the dreamers believe they're smoking..." High ambition indeed, let's see what they're capable of..

Dark and gloomy, this is a murky record that for the uninitiated may at first listen seem impenetrable. Stoned mumblings mix with lo-fi minimalist and often distorted or over-recorded guitar, electronica, and synthesised as well as organic beats. Until we get to Rain on 24th Street that is, when things take a turn for the optimistic, and for the first part the song is an upbeat meandering through the scales with a driving back beat, before retreating to the previous atonal introspection. I do not yet know what to make of it downer music for the 21st century? The following Leaving On A Sunday actually has a nice tune, albeit annoyingly disturbed by the slightly out of tune bass guitar. It puts me in mind of early Felt, who pioneered this kind of melodic minimalist guitar driven music waaay back in 1981 with the sublime Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty.

Weirdly compelling nonetheless, I find myself sucked in to the enveloping soundscape of I Ran Away From Home Once wherein manipulated found sounds and swirling keyboards are later joined by flanged guitar create a thing of fragile delicacy. Sleeping On A Cloud has some female vocals that are echoed to such an extent as to make them nigh on indecipherable, but the effect is to create a stoned wooziness that floats off, well, on a cloud I suppose! My favourite moment of the album without question.

Judging by the song titles and searching through various online references, the band, if that is what they are, for it seems a deliberate tapestry of mystique is being weaved, are not above a bit of artistic pretension, coming up with phrases like "Reject the beauty, before it dare rejects you". You can make your own mind up on that one. As Annunciation also says, " is half-past cocaine now..." and that about sums this up, as the whole sounds like a long comedown.

A strange, introspective, gloomy and somewhat disjointed album that has moments of beauty and moments of odd out-thereness, and at times what seems like a deliberate ploy to de-tune the bass, or over-record the guitar, which is not art guys and gals, it's just irritating. The band seem to have dismissed this album as an irrelevance, deleting any links to reviews on their website, claiming "This page is basically a waste of time, and time only" so maybe I've wasted my own time here, who knows. It will take more than a few listens to reach the bottom of this particular swamp I can tell you!

PS - I have their latest offering to listen to, and the band have yet to kick it into touch, so, watch this space....

1. Annunciation (1:41)
2. The Mechanix Of Black Eyes (Sudden Movements Of Four) (5:54)
3. Life Standing By (1:44)
4. "Will You Write My Name In A Different Color" We Color Each Other's Walls (4:22)
5. I Dance Alone (A Silent Poem For Wes Schuit) (5:22)
6. Rain On 24th Street (8:14)
7. Leaving On A Sunday (5:22)
8. 'Til I Come Back To Sleep (4:36)
9. "When We Sleep, We Hold Hands And Breathe Into Each Other's Thoughts" (2:46)
10. I Ran Away From Home Once (7:24)
11. Nothing Is Alright In Our Lives (7:21)
12. Sleeping On A Cloud (4:49)
13. Room 110 (9:10)
14. "..The Beach Was Cold And The Bathtub Rusted", She Said (1:51)
15. White Flower Behind The Smoke Clouds (8:32)

Line up:
Absolutely no idea!

2.5 out of 5

Friday, 4 November 2011

Steven Wilson - Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 31st October 2011

Grace For Drowning was one of the most eagerly awaited albums this year, and certainly lived up to all expectations in my book, so my anticipation for this show had been building for some time, ever since my esteemed colleague PW managed to acquire the tickets some months ago.

Not knowing what time Steven was due on stage, and vaguely recalling a posting on his Facebook page asking the fans to get there early, we were seated to the right hand side of the upper tier by 7:20. The stage is shrouded by what my mate referred to jokingly as a "net curtain", and some ten minutes later the house lights dim and Lasse Hoile's trademark bleak images, changed every ten minutes or so, are projected onto the thin gauze accompanied by Bass Communion's ambient drones, which are an acquired taste at the best of times. This carried on for an hour, which was probably at least half an hour too long. One wonders why we were asked to arrive so early? Another of Steven's polite requests was no photos please, which I have adhered to, but judging by the tens of mobiles going off all through the evening it was an instruction that was largely ignored. Assuming the request was down to Steven's perhaps understandable dislike of low quality images, it is somewhat ironic that a recent slideshow on his Facebook page is comprised of amateur iPhone images taken by an audience member at the previous week's Paris gig. Ho-hum...

Come 8:30 eventually one by one the band take up their positions and begin playing the opening song. For the first 20 or so minutes of the set the "net curtain" remained in place in front of the band, occasionally used as a backdrop for more of Lasse's images, which were much better displayed later on the backdrop behind the band. I now know how a poor unfortunate suffering from cataracts must view the world. It wasn't until the veil was lowered during Sectarian, to a big cheer from the sell out crowd, that I really began to enjoy the gig.

Steven acted mainly in a conductor's capacity throughout, playing occasional keyboards or guitar, and of course singing. He said he was going to be taking a back seat and would let the band do their thing, and a splendid "thing" it was too! Nailing down the beat to thunderous effect but also displaying subtlety where needed was Marco Minneman, on bass and Chapman Stick was Nick Beggs, who is now something of a prog stalwart, being a long time member of Steve Hackett's band. He sure has come a long way since Kajagoogoo, but he still retains a slightly daft haircut! Lead guitar duties were performed with panache by Aziz Ibrahim, formerly (and briefly) with the Stone Roses, his guitar was a light show in itself. Nick and Aziz along with Steven showed their undoubted technical skills on the fast syncopated parts of the epic Raider II, Nick even got to do some guitar god posing, and they all looked to be having a jolly good time.

On keyboards was Adam Holzman, who when he got to play the jazzy piano fills showed his chops off to fine effect. Last, but by no means least was Mr Flute himself, the redoubtable Theo Travis, whose wonderful playing is all over Grace For Drowning. Unfortunately he often suffered in the louder sections particularly from being a bit buried in the mix, which was a shame.

You can see from the setlist below that a varied selection was played from both the solo albums, and the highlights for me were the ultra creepy Index, Raider II which was simply magnificent, Deform to Form A Star, which as my mate says sounds like it could have been a Porcupine Tree song from 1997, Harmony Korine was excellent, and the encore, Steven replete with gas mask, was a moment of triumph.

After an over-long introduction, and the "net curtain" overstaying its welcome, the gig eventually became a truly jaw-dropping display of musical excellence, and was certainly well worth the wait.

Steven Wilson Setlist Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, England 2011, Grace for Drowning

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning

I also write for The Dutch Progressive Rock Pages, and usually I treat my reviews for them as exclusive. However, as this is an important release in "The World Of Prog" I will make an exception. The original review can be found here and was published about a month ago.

It should have been a quiet year for The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz, aka The Man Who Never Sleeps, as his band Porcupine Tree took a well deserved break after finally cementing their rightful place amongst the rock elite with the triumphal Incident tour ending in 2010.

However, you didn’t really expect Steven Wilson to rest on his laurels, or on anything else for that matter did you? What to do for our hero? Well, let’s start with a new Blackfield album and tour, during which he had to cope with the sad loss of his father, to whom this album is dedicated, as well as remastering work for King Crimson, Jethro Tull and Caravan, and production credits on Memories Of Machines’ and Opeth’s new albums! I’ll bet he put some shelves up in SW HQ in any remaining quantum measurements of free time too. Oh, and the trifling matter of his new solo project, lest we forget!

To say Grace For Drowning was eagerly awaited may rank as understatement of the year, such is the reverence and respect Steven justly commands from his growing fanbase. Having followed Porcupine Tree since around 1994 and subsequently all things SW I count myself in that number, and yes, I too kept a close eye on the doormat on the day that this album was predicted to arrive.

Using a pool of talent that you would expect a modern day prog icon to be able to call on, including the ubiquitous Theo Travis whose exceptional playing is all over the album, as well as Nick Beggs, Jordan Rudess, The London Session Orchestra and the Synergy Vocals choir, both led by Dave Stewart, and many other prog luminaries, a full organic soundscape is crafted. Gone are the metal stylings of his group’s recent works, and instead the “heaviness” is largely atmospheric or jazz tinged rather than guitar riff based. Interviews with Steven have told us that this is an album in homage to 70s prog stylings, but before you throw up your arms in despair (or delight, depending on your particular whim), all of this is on a decidedly modernistic framework. You cannot tell me that Remainder The Black Dog, despite its obvious 70s heavy prog influence does not sound as if it was made in the 21st Century. Other nice touches are the occasional use of the orchestra and the choir, which lend a layer of sophistication to the songs on which they appear. The choir is particularly effective on Raider Prelude for example, giving it a wonderfully eerie presence.

Splitting what would have been an 80 minute epic single CD into two CDs is a sensible move, as in my opinion any single album should be no more than an hour long in order to avoid a dulling of the senses. So many bands these days, and not just prog bands at that, seem to think they have to fill a CD to near capacity regardless of their ability to craft a musical experience worthy of such a length. Steven Wilson, who doubtless does possess the required ability as evidenced here, by splitting this album into two “proper” length albums is giving the listener the chance to indulge in a metaphorical half-time orange, should he or she so desire.

So, what do we have on our stereos and blu-rays? Grace For Drowning is billed as a double album of two separate but complimentary albums, each of the classic vinyl length of around forty minutes. Part one is Deform To Form A Star, a suite of songs that lyrically would have fitted well into the Porcupine Tree canon. From concerns of entropy on Deform To Form A Star, to rampant cynicism over a relationship of convenience on No Part Of Me, to the almost suicidal despair over a broken relationship of Postcard, to the bleak dissolution of Remainder The Black Dog, there is nothing here a Porcupine Tree fan would find unusual. No, it’s the music, that is where the difference lies. The first two tracks, both instrumental set the tone, especially Sectarian with its languid reverbed electric piano break creating just the right amount of jazzy smokiness in between the heavier passages. Yes folks, as if you didn’t already know, it’s jazz-prog that informs this double album, representing a big shift from previous works.

Part two, titled Like Dust I Have Cleaned From My Eye, is less song based, dominated as it is by the 23 minute jazz-prog epic Raider II, which does all the things one would expect, again using the 70s influences but in a thoroughly modern way. The opening filmic short instrumental Belle De Jour is followed by the electronica infused and orchestral and frankly mildly disturbing Index, a lesson for the collector nerd in all of us. Things briefly get all Barrett era Floyd on Track One; perversely and typically the third track on the second disc, before descending into menace, concluding with a wistful guitar part, a bit of a mini-epic. The real epic follows, the aforementioned Raider II, whose grim subject is made clear with the opening line “A fist will make you understand intention”, the Synergy Vocals choir repeating a theme that were this early VDGG would have been played by Dave Jackson. A charming tale of serial killers, this is a tour-de-force and an obvious high point. The 70s influences are strongest on this song, and after some nice flute playing by Theo Travis in the early parts has lulled one into a false sense of security, given the nasty lyrical theme, heaviness inevitably ensues with some fast guitar led playing sending the song hurtling along at a gallop. This song has all the elements of a typical VDGG or Crimson epic sound collage, and its organic feel is no doubt the result of Wilson having close contact with the likes of Lizard and Islands in recent times, in fact in places Theo Travis does a damn fine Mel Collins impersonation, and whether deliberate or not, it is no bad thing.

Being of a certain age I know exactly where all this is coming from, the question is, what will recent converts to Porcupine Tree make of it? One hopes it will lead them to explore their dads’ (or grandads’!) record collections to discover the delights within. Not to say this work is a slavish recreation of a bygone sound, à la Wobbler’s recent museum piece, it is not, there are enough modern touches to make it a relevant work to those of us who like their progressive music to be precisely that.

Steven’s good friend, Mikael Åkerfeldt, may well have been better served to have released Heritage as a solo album, which, by so doing with Grace For Drowning, Steven has hopefully avoided alienating his hard won Porcupine Tree fanbase, who it is to be hoped, will dig it anyway. It is a brave sideways step from Insurgentes, which bore a fairly close resemblance to Porcupine Tree’s sound, sharing as it did similar influences, and is a record that poses interesting questions as to where Porcupine Tree will head next, given Steven’s declared intention to drop the metal riffing. That however is a conundrum for another day. For now, what we have here is a work of some merit which will hopefully bear repeated listens over the coming months and years, as on the first few listens it is turning out to be something of a grower, rather than the instant hit that was Insugentes. Being a work of depth and no little originality, despite wearing its influences on its sleeves, a grower like this usually lasts the course far better than something that instantly gratifies. This is a modern record that isn’t afraid to take the best elements of past prog triumphs and mould them into a fresh and new sound for a 21st Century audience.

Subjectively, is this “better” than Insurgentes? No, nor is it worse, just different. I urge those of you who prefer Steven’s more metal oriented writing and as a result may prefer the first solo album, to please give this fine work the chance it deserves, you will be grateful in the end, believe me!

Much anticipated now is the Wilson/Åkerfeldt side project, going under the title “Storm Corrosion”, which according to an Opeth press release via Metal Underground should have an album out in April 2012. Furthermore, "This album could be seen as the final part in the odd trilogy of records completed by "Heritage" and Steven Wilson's brand new solo album "Grace For Drowning". If that doesn’t get you drooling, I don’t know what will!

My one small gripe is that there is no DVD-A surround mix with all the extras this time, that luxury being afforded only to those who have invested in a blu-ray player. While I understand Steven’s fondness for new sonic and visual technological developments, surely the economies of scale are such that a DVD-A version in parallel would not have broken the bank, and would have kept happy the majority who do not own a blu-ray player, and maybe cannot afford to invest in one.

Ah well, at least I’m going to see the tour in the not so distant future, something I’m already counting down the calendar to!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


CD 1: "Deform To Form A Star" - Grace For Drowning (2:05), Sectarian (7:41), Deform To Form A Star (7:50), No Part Of Me (5:44), Postcard (4:28), Raider Prelude (2:23), Remainder The Black Dog (9:26)

CD 2: "Like Dust I Have Cleaned From My Eye" - Belle De Jour (2:59), Index (4:48), Track One (4:15), Raider II (23:21), Like Dust I Have Cleaned From My Eye (8:01)

Monday, 31 October 2011

My Brother The Wind - I Wash My Soul In The Stream Of Infinity

You may get the impression from the title and the cover of My Brother The Wind’s keenly anticipated second album that a meditative experience is what is on offer here, and you may be right. However, the opening piece, with the aptly adrenalin fuelled title of Fire! Fire!! will instantly dispel any notions of calm Zen-inspired navel gazing with its wah-noise attack, reminiscent of one of Acid Mothers Temple’s more tuneful sonic assaults. An opening thirteen plus minutes of aural rearrangement that you WILL find a groove in, it won’t let you go until you do. Actually the more you listen to this song the more you can find to latch on to and it gets to the point where I’m not entirely sure I heard that melody, or if it was some random synapse connection in my head that made me imagine it. Once the spaceship has escaped the pull of Earth’s gravity, the bass guitar of Ronny Eriksson propels the song along on a more relaxed but still speedy grove as the sounds become more stretched, spaced out.

Phew! Things chill a bit from here on in, Pagan Moonbeam giving out the Eastern vibe implied by the cover artwork, which would not have looked out of place on a Jade Warrior album. As the band say themselves the music being completely improvised comes “… from the soul, through the fingers, directly to tape” and this work ethic is repeated in the title of The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart, an infectious bubbling piece of sonic mysteriousness where one can almost feel the communication between the players. The drummer, Tomas Eriksson gets credit here for keeping what may have turned into an almost Eno-like ambience on track with some fine playing off the beat.

Torbjörn Abelli, a pioneering Swedish psychedelic bass player who died last year may not be a familiar name to you (or me for that matter), so have a look at Julian Cope's retrospective of his early band Pärson Sound for enlightenment, of course written in the Archdrude's inimitable style! As for the song here it builds to a righteous but respectful celebration, as it should. Things get to (Kraut)rock on Under Crimson Skies which raises the beat to a space boogie shuffle that Amon Düül II would have been proud of. Things eventually get all stretched and spacey and the change is seamless. The chemistry between these guys is something special, and although their first album was a good start, the test tube is now boiling over with ideas. You could describe this as space rock but that is putting far too many limitations on what is almost impossible to describe. On this menu My Brother The Wind have cooked up a dish of Scando-Germanic righteousness that exists on the peripherals of American-British influence, taking the best elements of improvisational Krautrock and running with it until it turns into a creature of some magnificence. An animal that inspires awe and respect.

The closing song and title track I Wash My Soul In The Stream Of Infinity repeats a Zen-like musical mantra over which swathes of gorgeous mellotron leave the listener in a state of near bliss, cleansed in the fading stream. As purely improvisational albums go, can it get any better than this? Buy it as soon as it comes out!

Fire! Fire!! (13:07)
Pagan Moonbeam (3:47)
The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart (5:40) 
Torbjörn Abelli (10:57)
Under Crimson Skies (10:33)
I Wash My Soul In The Stream Of Infinity (6:19)

Line up:
Nicklas Barker - Guitar and Mellotron
Mathias Danielsson - Guitar and Tenor Recorder
Ronny Eriksson-Bass
Tomas Eriksson-Drums

Links: myspace

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Ske - 1000 Autunni

1000 Autunni is the first solo album by keyboard maestro Paolo Ske Botta, a name familiar to me from French TV's This Is What We Do, and latterly as a member of Italian avant-proggers Yugen.

What we have here is another gem from Italy's Fading Records that delivers a difficult but engaging album drawing on a wide range of influences ranging from chamber music, Gentle Giant, Henry Cow, Hatfield And The North, National Health, and a smattering of classic symphonic prog as well as jazz and modern classical.

Paolo is a collector of vintage keyboards, many of which are used on this album to great effect, all lovingly noted in the tastefully designed booklet. Each track gives a complete listing of all the instruments used as well as the keyboards, showing that this album was most certainly a labour of love.

The Hatfield's influence is felt with the vocalisings of Roberta Pagani, very much in vein of The Northettes, when she makes her appearances on Carta E Burro (Paper And  Butter), Delta, and La Nefazia Di Multatuli. A very good example of voice used as instrument, an art that is difficult to master.

Denti (Teeth) is suitably feisty but never edgy, and Scrupoli, introduced with a Dave Stewart style organ swell, leaps about like a court jester, and has a strong Egg influence, no bad thing in my book. Delta offers a moment of reflection with some nice synth work lulling the listener before the first of the three part Scogli (Rocks), which is separated by other songs, but if you program your CD player to play them in succession, a strong Gentle Giant influence abounds, as well as drawing on modern classical music. That is not to say that this album is derivative, as it creates its own distinctive sound while wearing its influences with pride. Mummia sounds as cinematic and Gothic as it should, and things are rounded off with Rassegnati in an almost classic Italian prog style leaning towards Picchio dal Pozzo.

1000 Autunni is a complex and esoteric piece of music making that shows Paolo's skill as a composer and arranger as well as highlighting his abilities on numerous keyboards. The juxtaposition of gentle acoustic instrumentation (see below) with the array of Paolo's keyboards and electronica, and Francesco's guitars, is always interesting and engaging. The intricate rhythms are embellished with many percussion instruments that are underpinned by the subtle playing of Pierre (bass) and Mattia (drums), and this produces a whole listening experience in itself. By my fourth or fifth listen I found myself following just the rhythm section on some songs, beguiled by the subtle intricate complexity on show.

Paolo's other fellow musicians are all top notch players too, and the ensemble playing throughout the album is exceptional. An album for those who like their music to be demanding, this a very rewarding and satisfying listening experience, and cannot be used as background music. In an age where the need for ambience sometimes takes precedence and music is often relegated to a secondary rather than primary experience, it is refreshing to put on an album that requires, no, demands that you give it your full attention. A bit like a three course meal at a very good restaurant, by the end you will be sated but not over-fed! Definitely best listened to in the company of a decent bottle of red wine, 1000 Autunni is yet another high quality release in 2011. Oh, and the cover and booklet artwork is lovely by the way.

Highly recommended! 

Fraguglie (6:05)
Denti (5:10)
Carta E Burro (4:57)
Scrupoli (4:12)
Delta (5:05)
Scogli 1 (2:12)
Sotto Sotto (5:35)
Mummia (5:23)
Scogli 2 (2:33)
La Nefazia Di Multatuli (6:29)
Scogli 3 (1:30)
Rassegnati (7:08)

Line up:
Paolo Ske Botta - Keyboards, synths
Fabio Ciro Ceriani - Sansula, percussion
Valerio Cipollone - Clarinets, saxophones
Enrica Di Bastione - Harp
Maurizio Fasoli - Piano
Elia Leon Mariani - Violin
Nicolas Nickolopoulos - Flute
Giuseppe Jos Olivini - Theremin, percussion, effects
Roberta Pagani - Voice
Valerio Neth Raina - Voice
Mattia Signò - Drums
Markus Strauss - Saxophone
Fabrice Toussaint - Idiophones, trombone, perscussion
Pierre Wawrzyniak - Bass
Francesco Zago - Guitars

Listen to streaming on myspace. The whole album is currently on streaming at (scroll to bottom of page) but this may not be for long.

Buy here - Fading Records

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Abrete Gandul - Enjambre Sísmico

From Chile, Abrete Gandul offer up a satisfying stew of styles on this, their third album. Enjambre Sísmico (Seismic Swarm). It lives up to its English translation, sounding at times like a jazz infused Anekdoten, or a Latin King Crimson, with helpings of Canterbury influence updated to the 21st Century having spent the interim under Latino influence, and is one hugely enjoyable musical ride.

At an hour long the album has eight songs only two of which are under the seven minute mark. Such is the intricacy of the instrumentation that one’s attention is required all the time, but having said that it all flows together nicely, so the listening experience is never hard work, as can be the case with some more wilfully obtuse offerings.

Judging by the album titles and what I can understand with my limited Spanish from the story in the cover booklet, the album appears to be a journey through a natural disaster, with which being Chilean, the band are no doubt all too familiar. 

The seven and a half minute Marejada (Surge) is a particular highlight, covering a gamut of stylistic influences, the math guitar reminiscent of Fripp, the warm ambient layers giving way to a laid back cool but never bland jazzy vibe. Each member is given the chance to shine, but no-one gets to show off unnecessarily, Consecuencia Natural  (you don’t need me to translate that, surely?!) being a case in point where Antonio showcases a delicacy of touch while dancing round the beat, before the song morphs into a Levin/Gunn-like sequence followed by some great sax blowing, all the while the bass of Pedro subsonically shaking the floorboards. Rodrigo’s guitar shines on Colapso, his warm and fluid soloing leading into a heavier section backed by swathes of synths before Rodrigo re-enters on flute, the theme slowly returning and building to a redemptive crescendo and then ending suddenly. An enticing piece of music that puts me in mind of Mel Collins era Crimson, but with Wetton on bass.

Jamie’s keyboards take more of a textural role than a lead one, in much the same way that, say, Richard Barbieri does with Porcupine Tree. As with Richard, Jamie’s contribution is an essential part of the whole, and both Convergencia Caótica and Intangible have some nice understated piano to demonstrate that he is a quality player. The latter builds on a cyclical piano riff, reflected by the bass and guitar at various tangents to create a slight dissonance that remains within the melody so never becomes jarring, while throughout Antonio holds down a no doubt difficult time signature, showcasing a group of players at the height of mutual understanding. Wonderful stuff!      

Their Chilean/Spanish roots are to the fore on the closing track which starts like an off kilter flamenco, before a sax conjures up a smoky neo-Cuban jazz club feel, a lovely way to close the record.

Another contender for album of the year, in a year which has given us so much great music, this is a must for all fusion fans, lovers of heavier Canterbury sounds, Crimson, you get the picture.

8 out of 10

Hacia la nada (4:27)
Necro Sistema (3:02)
Marejada (7:29)
Consecuencia Natural (10:26)
Colapso (11:20)
Convergencia Caótica (8:01)
Intangible (7:55)
…Y Ahora Qué? (7:20)

Line up:
Jamie Acuna – Keyboards
Pedro Santander – Bass, Effects
Antonio Arceu – Drums, Percussion
Rodrigo Maccioni – Guitars, Effects, Flute
Leo Aries - Saxophone

Hear some streaming on myspace

Buy here from Fading Records

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Burning Shed 10th Anniversary Concert - The Assembly, Leamington Spa, 14th October 2011

Burning Shed, distributors of and home to some wonderfully eclectic independent music celebrated its 10th anniversary at the charming venue that is The Assembly in Royal Leamington Spa (to give it its full name) on Friday last.

With a varied and esoteric bill, the gig commenced early in order to fit everything in. First up, in the upstairs gallery was the two man Resonance Association playing in front of a small exhibition of Carl Glover's images, many of which have appeared on Burning Shed related album covers. This was what the more artistically inclined would refer to as an installation, as Daniel and Dominic weaved dark ambience through heavily treated guitar and sundry electronica. The short set put me in mind of Manuel Göttsching's solo work, and intrigued me to the extent that I bought one of the 20 limited edition digi-packs on sale.

Venturing downstairs to the main hall where we were pleasantly surprised to see seating laid out, belying the dreaded word "Standing" on the ticket - we are not as young as we used to be! The short interval before the next instalment was spent perusing Burning Shed's many tempting wares on sale at the merch stall, and spending some cash on the audio delights on offer. As their motto is "Run by artists for artists", I am always more than willing to part with a few shekels!  Judging by the piles of cash being counted later in the proceedings, the hosts did more than alright out of the evening, as they deserved to.

Photo by Agnieszka Lenczewska - Thanks!
Next up was Giancarlo Erra playing a selection of songs from one of my contenders for album of the year, Memories Of Machines' Warm Winter. With just an acoustic guitar and gentle ambience for backing, the songs, already ethereal, were given an extra fragility which was simply beautiful. An evening highpoint indeed, and leaving us wanting more than the fifteen minutes given.

A break of no more than five minutes preceded the entrance of Theo Travis, introduced as "King of the Flute". Playing a concert flute and I believe a clarinet, Theo played some soundscapes by layering the sounds and giving them treatments through various pedals, unseen by us as we were too far back. All that was missing was Robert Fripp! I noticed an uncanny resemblance between Theo and Robin Gibb, although that may have been a combination of my failing eyesight and the twenty or so yards we were from the stage!
With a fair few fans in the audience, Bruce Soord and Jon Sykes of The Pineapple Thief were guaranteed a good reception. This is fourth time I've seen these two in just under 8 months, and it was refreshing to see Bruce and Jon play stripped down versions of songs I have become maybe too familiar with this year. Using only Bruce's acoustic and Jon's electric double bass for backing it showed that the emotive songs of The Pineapple Thief are more than capable of standing on their own merits when laid bear. Perhaps Bruce should consider releasing an album of these bare bones versions along the lines of No Sound's lovely The Northern Religion Of Things? I know I'd buy it.

The much anticipated headliners were of course No Man and they did not disappoint. Much more immediate live than on record, a five piece band backed Tim Bowness' otherworldly voice. You may laugh, but purely from a sonic perspective his voice puts me in mind of David Cassidy! A strong set covering all the 24 years of the band, including a song written in 1987 never performed before, reminds us that this band have been going for as long as Porcupine Tree, and it could be argued that as PT started as a one man bedroom project, that No Man was Steven Wilson's first band proper, a fact that often is overlooked. Initial focus was inevitably on Steven who was obviously enjoying his status as band member rather than leader, and soon the focus of attention was the band as a unit, not just Steven, who together with Michael Bearpark created ambience rather than dominating proceedings on their guitars. Also adding to the sonic texturising was keyboard player Stephen Bennett, but if any one instrument stood out it was the dazzling electric violin of Steve Bingham.

A thoroughly enjoyable night's entertainment, and I can only hope we do not have to wait another 10 years for a similar event.

No Man setlist: my revenge on seattle / time travel in texas / all the blue changes / pretty genius / lighthouse / beaten by love / wherever there is light / mixtaped / things change 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Seven That Spells - The Death And Resurrection Of Krautrock: AUM

This is the first album in a projected trilogy whose lofty ambition is to attempt exactly what it says on the tin, so these guys do not lack confidence, and after eight albums in as many years why should they?

Back in 1972 German synth pioneer Deuter also released an album called Aum (or Om to us Anglos) whose proto-new age spacey vibe is well worth checking out, but there the similarity ends.

Opening song In is a reverberating wall of noise, repeatedly marching up the scales and resembles a triumphant army storming into battle. Brings to mind Guru Guru as the powerful drummer Stanislav Muškinja beats the daylights out of his kit in a fashion Mani Neumeier would have been proud of. As well as the obvious Krautrock vibe, the all pervading influence of the inevitable Acid Mothers Temple (with whom they have toured and collaborated in the past) is felt, particularly on title track Aum where Niko Potočnjak enacts an imaginary battle between Kawabata Makoto and Ax Genrich before Jeremy White's Om chant pulls the listener into a swirling void of ambient headfuck. It feels like the chant might suck your brains out, but then that maybe because the only way to listen to this righteous racket is at ear punishing volume. It will scare your children. David Byron of Uriah Heep introduced a song on their seminal 1973 live album with the words "Right, let's have everything louder than everything else", and this is what this "song", if that's the right word, achieves.

Ending on a final elongated "Om" we are thrown headlong into the cosmic white noise of Zero. Similar to Fire! Fire!! on the marvellous new My Brother The Wind album, you think you hear melodies in this that may not be there at all, as the drone of the low end feedback and reverb cleans the cobwebs from the corners of your psyche like a vacuum cleaner from the Orion Nebula.

Somewhere from the depths of Valhalla, Rock Ist Krieg charges over the horizon and comes at ya at full tilt. A redemptive piece as Croatians Niko and Stanislav know only too well the Hell that is war, and one senses a catharsis at work here. Jeremy shows he can play on the one with the best of them, creating a funky open groove with Niko and Stanislav, before Niko tears it up Makoto/Genrich stylee. If you're up for a bit of headbanging be sure to have the neck brace ready! A sonic riotous wake after the burning corpse of Krautrock has floated away across a mist covered forsaken lake, this is the most structured piece on the album, almost veering into metal riffage territory, and it kicks you out of the Om-reverie in fine fashion.

Out ends the first part of journey and we leave on a repeated motif chanting to the skies...we're not beaten yet and we will see you when the sun rises again.

With a mix that uses little or no compression, being faithful to the original Krautrock era, this record sounds IMMENSE and as such should only be played VERY LOUD. One of Niko's many pronouncements explaining the band's mission is...
 'a commune of psychedelic likeminds exploring the multifaceted cosmos of freak out music and naked women in high hopes of achieving Buddha's blessing  ...and who am I to argue. Oh, and the poster I was sent with this is well groovy!
4 out of 5


In (6:42)
Aum (19:10)
Zero (18:56)
Rock Ist Krieg (8:40)
Out (6:35)

Line up:

Stanislav Muškinja – drums
Jeremy White – bass, voc
Niko Potočnjak – guitar, synth

Listen and buy here, and check out their myspace page.

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