Friday, 24 February 2012

Steven Wilson - Catalogue/Preserve/Amass

OK, cards on the table - I'm a big fan of Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, and therefore this "review" if I can call it that, has left all objectivity at the door.

After pre-ordering this a week or so ago, when I got home this evening there it was waiting for me. No doubt I will carry it around with me for days and days, playing little games, like not looking at it for a whole day, and then...looking at it to see if I still liked it...I'm sure I will. The more I look at it, the more I like it.....hang on, haven't I heard that somewhere before?....

Ahem...where was I? Oh yeah, the new live album from The Man With No Shoes is a document of the European leg of last year's tour, and as such features the band that I saw back on Halloween last year. Adam Holzman's classical and jazz piano runs are a positive embellishment to opener No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun, along with Aziz Ibrahim's spiky guitar fills, also prominent in Sectarian. Strangely refused a visa for the USA leg of the tour (nowt to do with his name and Yankee paranoia of course), Aziz will be back for the second part of the Euro tour this year. In fact the proceeds of the sales of this CD are going towards financing the second leg, so Mr Wilson cannot be as minted as some may think.

The mighty Theo Travis also squawks briefly in lung busting fashion over Sectarian and Adam's jazzy electric piano fills are a treat. Sectarian is probably now my fave song on the almost impeccable Grace For Drowning. I say "almost" because in my opinion Deform To Form A Star sounds too much like a PT throwaway moment and does not fit the jazz fusion vibe of much of the rest of the record. Similarly Index, although containing a lyric of some menace could easily have been left in the PT songbook.

Marco Minneman and Nick Beggs lay down sometimes complicated rhythms with a natural grace, and of course both get to show their contrapuntal dexterity during the syncopated parts of Raider II which naturally enough ends this righteous 70 minute document.

Somewhat chaotically sold through SW's website, originally limited to 3000 copies, the pre-orders sent the systems into meltdown, causing almost laughable panic among those fans not quick enough on the hard return key. SW should have taken a leaf out of the the likes of The Enid book and asked for upfront subs then he (or kscope) would have known exactly how many CDs to make rather than sticking a rather pointless limit on production.

It may eventually be available again, here.

That minor gripe aside, this is a must have for any of those of us lucky enough to have seen the live show. Contrary to the opinions of some, Steven Wilson is deserving of the praise he gets, and although a certain magazine would indeed give a recording of one of SW's bowel movements 5 stars, at least he is creative and constantly evolving unlike some of the other bands that same over-priced magazine and a lot of modern prog fans fawn over. remains consistent, I wish you were here to see it. I like it.

Apologies to Adrian Belew!


01 No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun
02 Index
03 Deform To Form A Star
04 Sectarian
05 No Part Of Me
06 Veneno Para Las Hadas
07 Raider II

Line up:

Adam Holzman - Keyboards
Aziz Ibrahim - Guitars
Marco Minneman - Drums
Nick Beggs - Bass, Stick, Backing vocals
Theo Travis - Sax, Flute, Clarinet
Steven Wilson - Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, No shoes

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Vaiping - Industrial Workers Of The World

From Stavanger in Norway, industrial noiseniks Vaiping forge raw beats through the metal presses and the production line issues forth a concept album in oil-stained overalls, pounded out to the hard rhythms of the burgeoning industrial revolution in the first decades of the twentieth century.

In keeping with the imagery of the production line, the rhythm is constant and implacable, the only short respite given by the Salvation Army. The ceaseless use of robotic beats owe a large debt to Kraftwerk initially, and latterly to the more modern electronica of Depeche Mode, and musically this is an unrelenting trip along the conveyor belt of heavy industry, occasionally counterpointed by short synth melodies. Transatlantik is pure Radio-Aktivität era Kraftwerk, with a slight twist in that the German vocals are sung by the dispassionate female voice of Ann Karin Både. I'm sure I've heard the early melody line in Victory, or something very similar to it on a Kraftwerk song, and the ongoing comparison to the grandaddy of electro beats is unavoidable. The occasional vocals offer a bit of needed variety, especially the ethereal wordless vocalising on High Hopes. The album concludes with a rare example of a fully formed song, Pie In The Sky featuring a repeated and almost oriental melody in place of a chorus, fading away into the smoky firmament, before reprising the song section at the end.

I would imagine this makes for an engaging live set, given the band's reputation for dressing the part, right down to the dirty overalls, but as a piece of music to sit down and listen to it lacks something, maybe a hook here, or a dynamic there, and as such feels a bit flat. However Vaiping are interesting enough to keep an eye on in the future.

01 Land For Sale
02 Street Talk
03 IWW
04 Transatlantik
05 Wind Will Blow
06 Listen Up
07 Victory
08 The Blue Ribbon
09 Salvation Army
10 High Hopes
11 Pie In The Sky

Line up:
Erik Steffensen -Vocals, keyboards
Håkon Landmark - Guitar, bass, percussion, backing vocals
Per Magnus Johnsen - Bass, backing vocals, 12 string guitar
Rune Horvei - Drums, loops, backing vocals

Additional musicians:
Mina Steffensen - Vocals (10)
Ann Karin Både - Vocals (04)
Hans Edward Hammonds - Voice (02, 03, 06)
David Bowen - Voice (02, 06)


Karisma Records

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Herd Of Instinct - Herd Of Instinct

Four years in the making, this self-titled debut by Texas’ Herd of Instinct was, in my humble opinion one of the very best progressive releases of 2011, and criminally ignored. Mark Cook and Mike Davison who between them play almost every type of guitar and guitar synth treatment you would care to imagine are backed up by the powerful polyrhythms and percussion of Jason Spradlin, who on Vibrissa is also credited with “Low synth drone”. Like it!

Having been around for a while the boys have managed to call on the services of such luminaries as Gavin Harrison (who seems to crop up everywhere these days) and Pat Mastelotto, and a crowd of others, who between them contribute drums, electronica, mellotron, keyboards, more electric guitars of every kind, bouzouki, flute, and synth. Special mention must be made of Kris Swenson, who like Mark and Jason is a former member of 99 Names Of God. She contributes the only lyric and the beguiling and gorgeous vocal to Blood Sky.

The music is a veritable melting pot of Crimson influenced eclectic world musics that knows no boundaries, rooted in complex rhythms and interplay, producing a many-splendoured listening experience. Veering from the ethnic flavoured Road To Asheville with its weaving flute work to the very Crimsoid Room Without Shadows to the downright scary Hex, in the middle we have the sinuous and slinky Blood Sky where Kris Swenson’s sensual voice wraps itself round the groovy marimba led rhythm like warm honey, before the song ends with some marvellous Warr guitar runs. Lovely stuff indeed. Pat Matselotto’s trademark percussion electronica are present and correct on Anamnesis, which would not sound out of place on one of Crimson’s ProjeKcts. Vibrissa ups the ante considerably and has some spiky guitar workouts against a backdrop of synth twiddling and keyboard dexterity from Mike McGary before changing tack somewhere in the Spanish hinterland and then returning to the heavy keyboards. This band do not lack confidence!

Things take a breather on the highly atmospheric Possession and S Karma sees a mating dance featuring Warr guitar and flute, and The Face Of Another ends things with an intricate display of 21st century power trio interplay.

Fans of King Crimson and all its myriad offshoots will love this and should buy it NOW, as in fact should all fans of real progressive music. We look forward to the second album with an eagerness that is frightening!

Buy this here!

01 Transformation (2:01)
02 Room Without Shadows (4:49)
03 Road To Asheville (5:40)
04 Hex (4:35)
05 Blood Sky (5:01)
06 Anamnesis (5:50)
07 Vibrissa (4:47)
08 Possession (4:22)
09 S. Karma (4:43)
10 The Face Of Another (4:20)

Line up:
Mark Cook - Warr Guitar, Fretless Bass, Frettless Guitar, Ebow, Synth, Acoustic & Nylon String Guitars, Chunk Guitar, Programming, Treatments, Loops, Keyboards
Mike Davison - Guitar, Guitar Synth, Spaec Guitar Chords, Nylon String Guitar, Spastic Guitar, Sitar
Jason Spradlin - Drums, Marimba, Camel Bells, Low Synth Drone

Additional Musicians
Gayle Ellett - Mellotron & Guitars (Tracks 5-7)
Bob Fisher - Flute (Tracks 3 & 9)
Gavin Harrison - Drums (Tracks 7 & 8)
Jerry Marotta - Drums & Percussion (Track 5)
Pat Mastelotto - Drums, Electronics & Percussion (Track 6)
Martin McCall - Percussion (Track 3)
Mike McGary - Keybord Solo, Additional Synth Treatments (Track 7)
Markus Reuter - Touch Guitar, Solo & Loops (Tracks 6 & 8)
Dave Streett - Warr Guitar (Tracks 3 & 5), Bass Guitar (Tracks 6 & 7)
Kris Swenson - Vocals & Lyrics (Track 5), Vocal Samples (Track 8)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Fourteen Twentysix - Every Line

I don't normally bother with singles, but this is a fine piece of post-rock-pop from Dutch experimentalists Fourteen Twentysix, featuring Mick Moss of Antimatter. A collision of Depeche Mode's darker bits with Anathema's brooding prog introspection and The Blue Nile's knack for an off-kilter melody, this song bodes well for the soon-come album In Halflight Our Soul Glows. Free to download too.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Trettioåriga Kriget - Efter Efter

Formed near Stockholm back in 1970 Trettioåriga Kriget (Thirty Years War) were founder members of Sweden's fledgling prog and hard rock scene, and they released five albums between the self-titled debut in 1974 and Kriget in 1981 before splitting up. Long regarded as a classic of the genre, their second album Krigssång (War Song) stands the test of time well. Regarded as highly influential on latter day Swedish proggers Änglagård and Anekdoten and others, the band reformed in 2003, and 2011's Efter Efter (After After) is the third album since then and concludes a trilogy of themed releases.

I'll confess to not having heard the other two albums in the trilogy, Elden Av År (Fire Of Years - 2004) and I Början Och Slutet (The Beginning And The End - 2007) so I can't say how this album links to the other two, but suffice to say the sound they produce here is far less edgy than on Krigssång, the only other album of theirs I own, but that was put out back in 1976 so a mellowing is to be expected. That is not to say that what they have produced here is bland, far from it. Mostly guitar dominated, the songs show influences such as early ballad style Uriah Heep on The Painting, while The Dance is an instrumental in the vein of early Peter Banks dominated Yes and the lead guitarist gets to show off (but not "show off") his chops in fine style. As this lot have been around as long as the those two bands it is a moot point as to whom is influencing whom anyway.

Opener The Man On The Bench starts off with some nice, almost typically Swedish gothic sounding chords, and kudos to  the singer for not pandering to the English speaking rock audience as his native language, which he uses throughout the album, suits the mood perfectly, and I get the feeling of contemplation although I have not a clue what is being sung about, as my review copy is a download. Luckily the CD apparently comes with English translations of the lyrics, and by what I've managed to find out on the interweb there are themes of reflection and and hope, among other things. There is a rather fine guitar workout on The Man On The Bench too, and the song has all the dynamics required of an album's opening number.

My favourite number is the following track The Child (see video above) which starts with the simple but emotive theme set by Christer's guitar, a melody which he plays around and along with throughout the slowly building song, backed by Mats' keyboard's gentle waves of sound. A lyrical and uplifting solo from Christer takes us on to a reflective melancholic middle section before the dramatic conclusion where Mats gets to show some good keyboard chops, part of which remind me of Dave Stewart, not praise I would hand out lightly. Nothing groundbreaking here, but a fine example of how to put together a well structured piece of music.

This band sound like a bunch of guys who have played together for longer than they probably care to remember, and the interplay is powerful and confident without being unecessarily flashy. Mostly guitar dominated, the keyboards paint a background on a sonic canvas for the lead guitar to illustrate and embellish, but never to excess. They make accessible hard rock from a prog direction with a melodic edge, but with enough variation to keep those us who like a bit of intellectual prodding in our tunes more than happy.

I look forward to hearing more from this band in the future, and recommend this album for lovers of decent hard rock tinged prog.

Find out more on the band's website.

1. Mannen på bänken (The man on the bench)
2. Barnet (The child)
3. Tavlan (The painting)
4. The Dance
5. Glorious War
6. Till en sputnik (For a sputnik)
7. Paus (Time out)
8. Efter efter (After after)

Line up:
- Stefan Fredin / bass guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar
- Dag Lundquist / drums, percussion, backing vocals
- Robert Zima / vocals
- Christer Åkerberg / electric & acoustic guitars
- Mats Lindberg / keyboards
- Olle Thörnvall / lyrics

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