Saturday, 22 June 2013

"It's Krautrock, Florian, but not as we know it"

While his contemporaries over the border in West Germany were tripping out and creating all kinds of wonderful weirdness in the 70s, Martin Zeichnete, an East German runner, was using the motorik rhythms of Krautrock as a training aid. He also created his own version in East Berlin, to be used as a training aid by the East German Olympic Team, with the blessing of state security.
The first and last tracks are three-minute warm up and warm down routines, and the middle pieces can be used to set a tempo on training runs.
Or, you could just put your feet up and chill out to it; I know which method of listening I prefer!
An odd tale, and some nice hitherto undiscovered East-Krautrock! Thanks to MOJO mag for alerting me to it.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Little Atlas - Automatic Day

Miami new art rockers Little Atlas return after a gap of six years since 2007's Hollow with an album that is nothing if not ambitious.

Blending the influences of classic progressive rock of both the British but more so the American variety, the vast cinematic scope of the compositions that comprise Automatic Day fill nearly every available second of a single CD.

As a result, this is not a work that can be readily absorbed in one, two, or three sittings. Personally, I find that the ideal length for a CD album is around the hour mark. Any less than that and the listener can sometimes feel short changed. Any more and it can become hard work maintaining a level of interest, and unless the compositions are consistently gripping, or offer enough twists and turns to justify what can be an excessive length, I find my attention wandering.

It is just as well then that there is more than enough going on here to tempt me back several times, although it might have been a good idea to be a little more inventive in the running order. With the exception of the ten minute Illusion Of Control, six of the first seven tracks are all around the eight minute mark. Maybe this procession of similar length songs could have been broken up by the three shorter tracks, all stuck at the end of the record?

Despite me mithering on at length about this it is only really a minor drawback, as the music itself is intricate and involving without being knowingly complicated or self absorbed. The songs are mostly written by the core members Steve, Roy and Rik, with relative newcomer drummer Mark Whobrey co-writing "a few" as leader Steve Katsikas tells me.

Covering subjects linking the mythical, the stellar, the metaphysical and the politick, both personal and impersonal, Steve Katsikas has crafted a set of intelligent lyrics that to highlight one particular trio of songs make a stately progress from Greek mythology (Twin of Ares) to man's helplessness at the mercy of the passage of time (At the End Of The Day), via a depiction of Nature as the true deity (Emily True), without seeming in the slightest part contrived, or indeed jarringly disconnected, as could have been the case with a blunter intellect holding the pen. OK - so the lyrics to Emily True are actually by poet Emily Dickenson, but these three songs manage to flow seamlessly nonetheless!

Musically, Emily True manages to mix Rush and Blue Oyster Cult with an epic vision to come up with a new art rock template for the 21st century, and a fine beast it is too.

Illusion Of Control continues an undercurrent of darkness that runs through the album, and would not have sounded out of place had it been penned by Amplifier around the time of The Octopus. Although not quite as heavy (but heavy enough!) as the Manchester sci-fi prog metallers, it is yet more evidence of a new post-prog zeitgeist currently weaving its smoky tendrils through the subconsciousness of a fair number of bands around the globe.

The song contains a cool synth solo after the prog-metal-lite first section, before turning around on an acoustic refrain, with Steve's voice and the entwined backing vocals, a feature of most of the songs here, recalling fleeting visions of British prog giants of yesteryear, but never as mere imitation, as Steve muses on subsumption by isolation into the self.

Never forgetting the value of a structured song, there are no aimless instrumental passages, and no displays of musical ego on Automatic Day. Everything is kept tight and to the point. Probably the best song on the record is We All Remember Truth, which within its economic four minutes manages to display all the virtues of the first two sentences in this paragraph.

Ending with a jaunty, almost throwaway new wave number, Escape Velocity is a fittingly upbeat end to a fine record.

While this album may have worked better as a double CD, there can be no doubt that this is a triumph of modern progressive rock, with a high degree of skill shown in arrangements and in compositional ability, and can be recommended with assurance to any lover of the genre.

Buy from 10T Records

1. Oort (8:55)
2. Apathy (8:32)
3. Twin of Ares (7:42)
4. Emily True (7:04)
5. At the End of the Day (8:45)
6. Illusion Of Control (10:18)
7. Darvocet Eyes (8:41)
8. We All Remember Truth (4:19)
9. Automatic Day (5:57)
10. Escape Velocity (3:08)

Total running time - 79:14

Line up:
Steve Katsikas - vocals, keyboards
Roy Strattman - guitars, main backing vocals
Mark Whobrey - drums, backing vocals
Rik Bigai - bass guitar

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Progstravaganza I - IX

Over the last few years, those fine people at Prog Shpere have been releasing "name your price" progressive music samplers, featuring all known and some newly forged types of the prog rock beast.

Well, here they all are, in one place, a massive beast of a 79 track sampler, covering music you will love, hate, and go "meh" at. In other words there is something here for everyone.

...and it's free, so what have you to lose!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Wrong Object - After The Exhibition

Every once in a blue Moon in June, an album comes along that even on first hearing knocks you sideways with its consummate brilliance, and for me After The Exhibition by Belgian jazz-prog-fusion collective The Wrong Object is that album.

There have been records recently with a similar initial impact but you can tell on listening to this that unlike most of the others After The Exhibition is that rare thing; an album to love at first hearing that you just know will only get better and better with the passing of time.

The group started out as a Zappa covers band in 2002, and went on to make two albums with jazz big hitters Elton Dean (The Unbelievable Truth) and Annie Whitehead (Platform One) before having the confidence to strike out on their own back in 2008 with Stories From The Shed. They have also made a couple of live albums, one as part of Zappanale 2008 with Stanley Jason Zappa.

Led by guitarist extraordinaire Michel Delville, who is also involved in many other projects, this therefore is really only the band's second studio album proper and the first in five years. A refreshed line up includes keyboard player Antione Guenet, the mastermind behind punk-jazz-fusion band SH.TG.N, who has also recently joined the ranks of RIO luminaries Univers Zero; that I must hear! Joining Antoine are two new saxophone players, and a new bassist, and together they join with Michel and the other original member, drummer Laurent Delchambre, to create a solid and frighteningly proficient unit. Guest appearances on several of the songs by Benoit Moerlen (Gong) with his marimbas and vibraphone add another sophisticated layer.

For me, Glass Cubes, featuring the vocals of Susan Clynes, yet another product of the Belgian music scene and an accomplished jazz pianist and composer in her own right, is the high point of an album that, let's face it, rarely dips below the stratosphere. For a small country the consistent high quality and productivity of Belgium's music scene is quite remarkable. It must be that extra strong beer they drink! Susan's unaffected and natural tones combined with a lovely piano motif lends Glass Cubes a Canterbury atmosphere that fits snugly into the overall pattern of the album, and I for one would like to hear more of this track's particular musical combination. Susan is joined on the harmonies by Antoine, who also weighs in with the sort of deft and lightly toned piano solo that is a delight to behold. Antoine has a truly special talent, and the song's eight and a half minutes fly by in no time at all.

There are so many highlights on this record that singling out more individual tracks is somewhat pointless, although I'm going to have to at some point soon, I'm sure. Compositions twist and turn to great purpose and effect; there is no "complicated for the sake of it" on this album. Searing solo and sweet ensemble playing hits all the right spots, infused here and there with Zappa-esque humour. As well as the Canterbury jazz ballad that is Glass Cubes we visit out-there jazz fusion excursions, furious avant-rock spectaculars, quieter jazzy moments, spacey ambience and tunes that surprise and excite in equal measure, all in the relative blink of an eye. When this CD comes to an end it is so easy to hit "Play" again, and that is something that rarely happens these days.

And so, unavoidably, the time has arrived to pick out some more tracks. Let's start with the three part Jungle Cow suite, which creates a steamy jungle ambience followed by a determined lurch through the undergrowth with Michel's furious guitar scurrying around like soldier ants on a mission. Eventually, wah-bass and more marching rhythms sees the tune leaving a trail of vertiginous destruction in its wake, foliage crashing down, before calming to a gorgeous sax solo that builds to a defiantly noisy climax. Furious'n'fun!

You'll need to listen to Stammtisch at least half a dozen times before you can spot even a proportion of the melodies and counter melodies flying about in what is as classic an example of "tight but loose" playing I have come across in a long long time, and totally joyous it is too!

Right, that's enough highlighting, you'll have to find out the rest for yourself. I've made it easy with the Bandcamp link, too!

Less firmly rooted in avant-jazz-fusion than Stories From The Shed, this album launches the band into places while not uncharted, have not been visited with any regularity since Franz Zappa graced us with his presence, or since Soft Machine called it a day. Indeed, about the only modern band who come close to this glorious melting pot are Soft Machine Legacy, but even the very fine Burden Of Proof is overshadowed by the sheer scope and ambition of After The Exhibition, an ambition that is more than met by this marvellous bunch of musicians.

The Wrong Object take the adventurous spirit of their original inspiration and forge their own unique and regularly breathtaking sonic vision. After The Exhibition is an album that restores my faith in progressive music making, and is a shining example to any of the far too prevalent bedroom Mozarts-in-their-own-imaginings who consider that over-referential, over-long and wilfully complicated noodling constitutes good music.

In conclusion, BUY THIS NOW!!!! From Moonjune Records

1. Detox Gruel (4:14) 
2. Spanish Fly (5:20)
3. Yantra (8:03)
4. Frank Nuts (3:39)
5. Jungle Cow Part 1 (5:41)
6. Jungle Cow Part 2 (4:19)
7. Jungle Cow Part 3 (5:24)
8. Glass Cubes (8:29)
9. Wrong But Not False (5:25)
10. Flashlight Into Black Hole (3:05)
11. Stammtisch (5:58)

Total running time: 59:37

Line up:
Michel Delville - guitar, Roland GR-09
Antoine Guenet - keyboards, vocals
Marti Melia - bass & tenor saxes, clarinet
Francois Lourtie - tenor, alto & soprano saxes, voice
Pierre Mottet - bass
Laurent Delchambre - drums, percussions, objects, samples
Benoit Moerlen - marimba, electronic vibraphone (Tracks 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 & 11)
Susan Clynes - vocals (Track 8)

The Wrong Object

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Wrong Object - New album out now!

"Belgian prog heavyweights, The Wrong Object, make a spectacular return to center stage, with a studio album of brilliant original compositions -- and epic proportions"

If this isn't the best album of a truly progressive nature I've heard this year, then Rafa Benitez is the best football manager the world has ever seen.

Expect me to wibble on about it incessantly when I get my hands on the CD!

Ulrich Schnauss - A Long Way To Fall

Bringing glacial Teutonic soundscapes into the world of UK shoegaze, Ulrich Schnauss is something of a celebrity down that particular musical side road.

To a greater or lesser extent his previous solo albums have all fused the dreamy nature of the original UK shoegaze movement with the caress of synthetic polished melody, mostly to good effect.

Ulrich has also had a hand in numerous collaborations and is (was?) also a member of UK post-prog band Engineers. A Long Way To Fall is his fourth solo album proper, and takes his sonic template to a slightly different place from before, a place where the skies are darker. The melodies slowly reveal themselves to you after several listens rather than the more instant appeal of some of his other work, and that's just how I prefer it.

Enigmatic and engaging in equal measure, right down to the high quality and subtly humorous art prints in the digipak, which features several glossy photos of run-down sheds, A Long Way To Fall is a highly enjoyable slice of modern progressive electronica.

Being entirely instrumental, I did not immediately pay attention to the track titles, but it seems the music conveys the intended atmosphere. An atmosphere that led me to describe this as coming from "a place where skies are darker" above, and indeed The Weight Of Darkening Skies shows that Ulrich has nailed that particular perception.

Not that it is all doom and gloom, far from it, for opening song Her And The Sea instantly transmits that trademark Schnauss mix of melancholia and optimism, with washes of minor chord synth ebbing and flowing above the upbeat sequencers, all very nice indeed.

Anyone familiar with UK business-pitch reality show Dragon's Den will recognise the synth patch chording at the beginning of Broken Homes, but according to The Gospel Of Almost Truth that is Wikipedia, the TV series' incidental music was down to one John Watt, so it must be a coincidence. That aside the song, with its disembodied voices and embellished retro computer game sonics sounds like FSOL in places, not that there's anything wrong with that.

The upbeat Europop of Like A Ghost In Your Own Life is followed by the title track, and we are back to gorgeous melodies buried just below the quicksand surface of shifting synth washes. A truly lovely piece of music.

I Take Comfort In Your Ignorance, remixed four times as bonus tracks on the expanded edition of the CD, is a much darker and brooding affair that fans of Depeche Mode should dig. The previously smooth sounds on the album are now beginning to be submerged by something nasty rising from the deep, distortion making a muted appearance. Played loud this is one monster of a track and my favourite from the album.

Oddly enough, The Weight Of Darkening Skies does not carry the menace it implies despite its odd melody structure, and is almost jaunty, albeit in an unexpected fashion.

Ten Years unfolds like a cinematic vista in a seemingly benign landscape where time has stood still for centuries. Both vast and intimate, this is another song that could only have flowed from Ulrich's banks of technological wizardry, and it is another high point. Play it with the lights out and the volume turned up for maximum effect.

The album ends with the equally out-there A Ritual In Time And Death, the bubbling sequencers recalling Klaus Schulze who must have been a backdrop to Ulrich's early musical development, given both his instrument of choice and his country of birth. While Klaus is undoubtedly an influence, with A Long Way To Fall the pupil has shown he has left the teacher way behind.

Schulze would have been proud to have come up with something as refreshing and adventurous as this rather than his somewhat tame latest offering Shadowlands, but equally I am sure he would give credit where credit is due to his compatriot and modern-day alter-ego.

A couple of weaker tracks aside, this is an enjoyable and complete album, a must for fans of modern electronica and progressive music in general.

1. Her And The Sea (5:06)
2. Broken Homes (7:35)
3. Like A Ghost In Your Own Life (5:49)
4. A Long Way To Fall (6:06)
5. I Take Comfort In Your Ignorance (5:58)
6. A Forgotten Birthday (7:01)
7. The Weight Of Darkening Skies (5:24)
8. Borrowed Time (4:51)
9. Ten Years (6:06)
10. A Ritual In Time And Death (7:20)

Total running time: 61:21

Ulrich does not appear to have his own website, so buy it from Amazon. You don't need a link for that, surely?! :)

Ulrich Schnauss on Soundcloud

Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Enid - The Institute, Birmingham, 30th May 2013

Situated in a part of England’s second city you wouldn’t want to visit unless absolutely necessary, Birmingham’s The Institute, now without the HMV prefix, was originally a Methodist Chapel. Standing on Digbeth's insalubrious High Street and spread over three floors, tonight’s gig is on the smallest and top floor; with a capacity of around 300 the venue is around two thirds full by the time The Enid appear.

The support act were Enochian Theory, a band I was aware of but had never actually heard before the gig. Unfortunately I am still none the wiser as their set was bedevilled by the worst sound mix I’ve heard in years. The bass guitar was completely inaudible, which was a shame as Shaun Rayment looked like he knew his chops, but he may as well have been miming. The guitar and vocals of Ben Harris-Heyes were just about audible, but drowning everything out were the drums. ESPECIALLY THE BASS DRUM, which the “sound engineer”, and I use the term advisedly, saw fit to turn up to such levels that it felt like being on the receiving end of repeated punches to the sternum with a jackhammer. Bloody painful, it was!

When I and a few other punters attempted to query this godawful racket of a mix with the gimlet-eyed sound man he ignored us. Or so we thought; we soon realised he was wearing earplugs! Unbelievable. After the set I did get to ask the guy why he had turned up the drums so loud, to the detriment of everything else, and he replied “It’s ‘evvy metal, ent it”. It isn’t. And, nonsensically “It’s a small venue”. Huh? When we attempted to quiz him further he simply grunted and walked off! Ignoramus.

So, my advice is; if you’re going to The Institute in darkest Digbeth for an evening’s musical entertainment take some earplugs. At least that way you’ll get to hear what this deaf troglodyte considers to be a decent mix for the poor unsuspecting support group. Enochian Theory, you have my sympathy. Having since listened to their album on their website, and although not really my particular bag, I can say with 100% certainty that this is not “‘evvy metal”, a few cookie monster grunts aside, and there are some nice subtle melodic touches in there, completely lost on this night’s audience I’m afraid. 

So onwards to The Enid, a band who until very recently I considered far too twee for my perverse musical afflictions, that is until I heard the rather splendid Invicta album. My long-suffering gig-going companion Phil W has been a fan of the band for longer than he cares to remember and is quite chuffed that he's manged to convert me to the cause. He is also of the opinion that Invicta is the band's best ever album, and I fully trust his judgement on that score. 

Emerging stage right and making their way to their positions on the rather cramped stage we have Robert John Godfrey (electric piano, chat), Dave Storey (drums, anchor), Max Read (guitar, keyboards, technical whizz), Jason Ducker (guitar, studied calm), Nick Willes (bass, timpani, percussion, "eye candy"), and last but by no means least Joe Payne (vocals, keyboards, Akai EWI*, theatrics and knowing glances). *An Akai EWI is an electronic wind instrument MIDI - essentially an electronic clarinet...sort of!

This band communicates across generations; I've listed them above from oldest to youngest. They span ages from Robert & Dave, both original members of the band and both in their mid sixties, right down to Joe who is in his early twenties. There can be little doubt that the influx of youthful enthusiasm of Jason, Nick and Joe has given the band a renewed energy that is great to see.

After the sound shenanigans with Enochian Theory, I was a bit concerned as to how The Enid would fare. Although the sound was maybe a tad too loud, at least it was more than listenable as I believe The Enid used a different engineer, who seemed to know what he was doing. There were a few glitches though, and Max told us afterwards that the stage sound had been dreadful.

Invicta starts off in earnest with One & The Many, and I had always assumed its choir-boy vocals were synthesised, but was surprised to see Joe launch into a clear-as-a-bell falsetto and carry it off with no problem at all. This man has a quite remarkable range, all the way down into tenor territory. With his rock operatics and theatricals, and especially when multi-tracking his voice in harmony with Max, the affect is akin to how Queen might have sounded had they not been lured by the pop dollar. An earlier band that used bags of thespian shapes to great effect that sprung to mind was Sebastian-era Cockney Rebel.

However The Enid have definitely got their own unique sound, forged over decades of ploughing an almost obstinately lone furrow where symphonic progressive music is concerned, taking the form to its logical conclusion. Only now it seems to have reinvented itself and come out fighting. Knowingly camp it may be at times, but twee it certainly is not, much to my ongoing pleasant surprise.

After the first three songs, all taken from the splendid current album, Robert said hello, and informed us that as he has been recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, his remaining time with the band may be limited. This sad news already seemed to be known by the audience, most of whom are in The Enid fan club/support network The Enidi, and the news was taken with respectful British stoicism, probably just as Robert would have wanted.

Invicta is the second part of the trilogy that began with last year's Journey's End. The triptych depicts man's relationship with the Earth and his place in the greater scheme of things, and no doubt other grand metaphysical concerns, including such weighty subjects as the existence (or not) of God. Due to Robert's condition, the plan now is for the band to take the summer off in order to write the third and final part. Let's all hope that Robert remains well enough to play that concluding statement live with the band he formed way back in 1974.

Back to the music; the band continued with updated reworkings of old songs. Most if not all of these were originally instrumentals, and Joe has added his lyrics to them, making what amounts to new musical experiences for long-time fans. Phil tells me that some of the older fans were initially up in arms at the thought that their band's legacy was being tampered with in such a fashion, but as a "newbie" I really cannot see what all the fuss is about. The "new" songs work just fine as far as I can tell.  

The original version of Summer on 1985's The Spell did contain lyrics, but the new version is considerably beefed up, coming over as a grandiose elder cousin of Tears For Fears' Sowing The Seeds Of Love, and is a truly epic pop song. Robert probably wouldn't like the word "pop" appearing in a piece on The Enid, but this is a reference to pop when it had quality, nothing to do with the modern version which should probably be termed "pap"!

Robert also treated us to his thoughts on progressive music, which, quite rightly he differentiated from the comfy and usually bland fare now known as "prog". In using the pan-generational line up of his band as an example, he said it has been his mission to instill a love of pushing boundaries to the younger generation, and he sees The Enid as the only true progressive band out there. That last statement is somewhat wide of the mark, but I guess he does not get much time to listen to music, progressive or otherwise, other than his own. The sentiment is right however. It is up to our generation to pass on the love of exciting musical possibilities beyond what Cowell & Co force down youngsters' throats, otherwise the future for adventurous music is bleak indeed.

Jason, looking every inch a late 60s Jeff Beck played some stellar guitar, and when harmonising with Max's Strat, more Queen sonics are referenced. Nick added sundry dramatic blows on the timpani as well as playing consummately skilled bass, as Max maintained his studious pilot-at-the-controls stance throughout. Dave played with panache and a deftness of touch, and Robert, near invisible in the corner, hidden by Max and Joe's keyboard rigs, laid down flourishes of lovely piano in his trademark style. This is a confident band that knows they are on to something good.

Joe is a great visual focus, and would have given Freddy a run for his star dressing room, no question. A highly personable chap, Joe introduced the band and got into a jokey exchange with Robert as to whether Nick's surname is pronounced "Wills" or "Willis". Nick sensibly kept out of the discussion, which Robert won, and "Willis" it is! Joe also gave Nick the "eye candy" label, which he took in his affable stride.

So, after a poor start with the support band, and despite the less than perfect sonics for The Enid, the gig was something of a triumph, and an emotional rollercoaster. We all wish Robert the best health he can hope for in the coming years, and we all look forward to part three of the trilogy.

Now to escape Birmingham, which is easier said than done...


One & the Many
Who Created Me?
Witch Hunt
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Dark Hydraulic

In The Region Of The Summer Stars

All sorts of info here:

I did take some pictures, but they are all terrible, so they're staying in the mobile!

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madne...