Saturday, 30 August 2014

Zeptelar - El color de las cosas

Hailing from Valparaiso in Chile, a coastal city and port 0.40° north of the inland capital Santiago, Zeptelar released El color de las cosas (The colour of things) last year. Fusing rock, jazz, and a light sprinkling of ethnic stylings, the group make an appealing sound that is easy on the ear.

The compositions are mostly the work of guitarist Camilo Acevedo and feature the usually wordless scat-vocals of Valentina Maradones, often in tandem with flute, piano or both. The effect is a Latino jazz-infused take on the Hatfields when featuring The Northettes. Opener De la esquina a la plaza (From the corner of the square) commences proceedings at a canter, and immediately tight-knit and complex ensemble playing is well to the fore. Hints of the harder-edged tuneage to come are given by the slightly dissonant sax blowing in the middle of the tune. An infectious number played by a band obviously in love with their craft, De la esquina a la plaza is a good start.

Syncopation is a big feature of the ensemble playing, and the similar structure of the numbers, especially in the first half of the album occasionally has the effect of making this listener's attention wander. There are many good moments however, and the compositional contradictions inherent in 5 de 3, where the middle-of-the-road scat-jazz is contrasted with harder riff passages shows that the band know how to make an arrangement effective.

Things begin to take off with the longest track on the record, Sangre (Blood). The length of the tune allows the band to stretch out a bit, and Camilo's guitar playing comes into its own. Underpinned by a sonorous funky bass, a light jazzy theme establishes itself with voice and flute. Valentina has an impressive range, evidenced by the top notes reached with ease in this section. Camilo then gets into his stride with a clean jazz solo out of the Metheny school, followed by a more dissonant Zappa-esque offering replete with some nicely controlled sustain and distortion.

The darkly impressionistic Piletismos serves as a link to La pileta de pájaros gigantes (The pool of giant birds), a good fusion number that uses a riff adapted from Soft Machine's The Hazard Profile. Well, if you're going to wear a fusion influence on your sleeve, why not go for the crown of that particular tree?! The now established edgier feel to the album continues into Destapes, which features some nice sax playing from Tomás Carrasco, and on into Persecusiones which highlights the best and most frantic ensemble playing of the record.

We end with the languid Espejismos (Mirages), and El color de las cosas, which takes a while to hit its stride is a thoroughly enjoyable experience once it gets up to speed.

1. De la esquina a la plaza (4:50)
2. Futuros recuerdos (4:45)
3. 5 de 3 (5:21)
4. El color de las cosas (4:37)
5. Estrellazos (5:03)
6. Sangre (8:19)
7. Piletismos (2:01)
8. La pileta de pájaros gigantes (5:24)
9. Destapes (4:04)
10. Persecusiones (4:51)
11. Espejismos (6:23)

Total running time - 55:39

Line up:
Camilo Acevedo - Guitar
Valentina Mardones - Voice
Felipe Morros - Drums, percussion

Edmundo Castro - Bass
Javier Portilla - Keyboards
Tomás Carrasco - Flute, saxophone


Thursday, 28 August 2014

The MOJO CD - September 2014

I subscribe to MOJO, and every month it lands on my doorstep, and every month there is the accompanying themed cover CD. Mostly these get played once - sometimes not even all the way through if I'm being honest - and binned. Occasionally they are keepers, but every time there are a host of bands and artists I've never heard of before, which is always good no matter how iffy the end product.

So, I thought I would start a series of reviews of the ones that are worth playing more than once.

We will start, illogically enough, with next month's offering, which I have not yet decided whether or not to Shelve or Bin, and work backwards until I run out of the keepers, and from then on I will put up a review if I think it's worth the effort.

The September 2014 offering is entitled The Dreamers, and is a loosely bound collection of music inspired by dream pop in general and Ms Kate Bush in particular, she being flavour of the moment.

1. Pinkunoizu - The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Kicking off with what turns out to be the best piece of music on the collection, Danish band Pinkunoizu provide an addictive mix of Krautrock, dream pop and shoegaze - Scandinavia strikes again!

2. Haley Bonar - Last War
Big pop meets Americana. Nicely swoonsome "end of all things" songsmithery.

3. Connan Mockasin - Do I Make You Feel Shy?
Loner bedroom psych-pop with a dark underbelly from NZ. A bit thin on ideas.

4. Caribou - Can't Do Without You
Samples the title ad infinitum and sounds like a treated version of what I like to term "hairdresser music". Pass...

5. The War On Drugs - Red Eyes
Band with daftest name on the compilation and current meeja darlings turn out 80s sounding synth-beat fare mixed with intermittent understated sub-Big Country guitar bluster. Pass...

6. Wye Oak - Shriek
Ah, now this is more like it. Hailing from Maryland rather than Herefordshire, this electronica duo turn out a delightfully pastoral Cocteau-wibble. Derivative but classy.

7. Poliça - You Don't Own Me
Covered by loads of folk from Dusty to Joan Jett, Poliça add electronic darkness to the pot. I prefer Dusty's version.

8. I Break Horses - Denial
Band names ain't what they used to be, are they? A futuristic intro built on backwards sampling leads into average Euro pop. Pass...

9. Lia Ices - Thousand Eyes
The blurb mentions "tripped-out West Coast folk music" and references Syd. Not quite that good, but not bad nonetheless.

10. Julia Holter - Don't Make Me Over
More 60s homage, this time of the Bacharach/David Dionne Warwick tune. Stripped down, it works better than Poliça's effort, and is none too shabby.

11. Anna Von Hausswolff - Mountains Crave
I was hoping for a Marlene/Nico gone shoegaze, but despite the name this chanteuse is apparently Swedish. Still managing to convey a Teutonic air, this is an anthemic little number that could do with a sweeping orchestra behind it instead of the minimalistic backing of organ and electronic percussion.

12. Smoke Fairies - Your Own Silent Movie
A proper band name, at least. Unfortunately this girl duo are obviously in thrall to Ms Bush. Even the melody is naggingly similar to a mixture of Kate tunes.

13. Nite Jewel - in The Dark
90s electronic R&B apparently. That should put me off, but it's actually rather nice.

14. Snowbird - Porcelain
Wisconsin singer-songwriter Stephanie Dosen has sung with Massive Attack and The Chemical Brothers, and the other half of this duo is ex-Cocteau Simon Raymonde no less. They produce a lush romantic piano and electronica ballad that comes over like a less tripped-out Twins record. Nice.

15. Haiku Salut - Sounds Like There's A Pacman Crunching Away At Your Heart
Now there's metaphor I would never have thought of. A trio of Derbyshire lasses end this compilation with a woozy little folksy number that reminds me of North Sea Radio Orchestra.

Best three tracks:
1. Pinkunoizu - The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
15. Haiku Salut - Sounds Like There's A Pacman Crunching Away At Your Heart
2. Haley Bonar - Last War

Shelve or Bin? - Bin, but I'll certainly look into PinkuNoizu and Haiku Salut.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Knifeworld - The Unravelling

Knifeworld are one of those "Marmite" bands, and although I can see why the more conventionally atuned ear may be initially put off, a veritable cornucopia of modern psychedelia awaits those with the chutzpah, and indeed, the intelligence to persevere. As with any band that divides opinion, the positive and negative responses are often exaggerated beyond any reasonable point. A reviewer hiding behind the pseudonym Second Life Syndrome on Prog Archives hates it to the extent that he finds it "pretentious" and the " music is merely cutting and paste (sic) grooves and melodies from classic bands", particularly Gentle Giant. He accuses Knifeworld of ripping the "brassy bassy groove" (careful, that sounded like a compliment!) of The Skulls Have Regrown Their Eyes from GG's The Power And The Glory.

Firstly, I assume he means the opening track Proclamation? Yes there is a fleeting similarity, but the two are distinctly different. Secondly, I would point out that GG on that particular LP employed just the one saxophone, technically not a brass instrument, and they used it sparingly at that. Ultimately, Mr Syndrome is well wide of the mark, for although Knifeworld use obvious and many more not so obvious influences they are not one of those "museum curator" bands whose entire existence appears to hinge on recreating their idols' best works from 1972-73. As I've said, the reviewer in question goes by the pseudonym of "Second Life Syndrome" which indicates he is a big fan of Polish post-proggers Riverside. The irony is that Riverside based their entire sound on a certain band with whom Steven Wilson was long associated, and could not be called "original" by any stretch of the imagination. One final thing Mr Syndrome; if you actually knew what mostly unimaginative fare falls under the dreaded "prog" banner these days, you would realise Knifeworld are a million miles from the "prog-wanabees" you so wrongly claim they are. Progressive in the literal and proper sense yes, prog in the stylistic sense, absolutely not!

..and now, Ladies and Gents...the review you thought I'd never get round to!

My take on Knifeworld is that had the years 1969 to 1975 been erased entirely, then this band of musical pranksters are what Simon Dupree And The Big Sound might have sounded like, post-punk. Yes, I know that group became Gentle Giant and I do not deny that there is an element of the wilfully obtuse and brilliant Portsmouth band in the mix, but equally one can spot XTC, Cardiacs (unsurprisingly, and another reason for the Marmite, I'm sure. Even I find Cardiacs a tad beyond me), Flaming Lips, even Queen!

However, Knifeworld go beyond all these influences to become something quite unique. The aforementioned The Skulls... is a menacing thing built on that contentious - to some - circular Rhodes piano riff, and swirling bassoon and saxes, none of which are brass instruments, I hasten to add. Clever arrangements abound; the multi-layered vocals on Destroy The World We Love, hanging off the repeated refrain "You hold a secret in your hands" being especially noteworthy.

Leader of the band is one Kavus Torabi, a seemingly irrepressible force of nature who is all over this record. He has Cardiacs, Guapo, Chrome Hoof and much else on his CV, and he wrote all the music and words as well as producing and arranging The Unravelling. Reading interviews it is obvious he has an all-consuming passion for his music, for once he gets going on the subject he is hard to stop!

Kavus' lyrics have a frequently dark edge without ever descending into the self-pitying "woe is me" defeatism so popular among some bands, prog or otherwise, who would be better advised to remain instrumental in my not so humble opinion. Take this from the first verse of cinematic opener I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight, sung in a resigned fashion by Melanie Woods:

"That halo won't have far to drop
'til it becomes a noose
And I'm not gonna break you loose"

A tale of bitterness, jealousy and bile told over a densely packed psychedelic maelstrom-symphony, Kavus chips in with "Why'd you grow those teeth in your heart?" responded to in harmony with "Has it unravelled enough for you?", setting a recurring theme for the album.

Send Him Seaworthy, a choppy trip on a rough but navigable sea, with a very XTC guitar line from Kavus, is a homage to those who set an unusual course through life, and must surely be a song written for his erstwhile and now bedridden colleague Tim Smith.

"I just can't face up to what's happening to you here
Now that you're half dead.

In a half-life my sweet captain's sailing away"

It does not get much more heartfelt than that. "Pretentious"? I don't think so!

Even a ballad of regret and doubt like Don't Land On Me is rescued from becoming maudlin by the bold and striking arrangement, and a good riff topped off with a bit of theatrical warbling. Quite mad, but it all comes together nicely.

Kavus gives reign to his avant instincts on the occasionally discordant, and for once musically minimalist ghost story for the living-yet-dead that is This Empty Room Was Once Alive, referencing once more his "sweet captain", who leaves behind an unfillable hole. All very sad and poignant, and a major part of the psyche unravelling.

My one problem with this album does not stem from the content but from the production. While the review copy mp3 I had sounded fine, well, as "fine" as that regressive music storage system can be at any rate, the CD I later bought sounds a little flat. The bottom end is nowhere near prominent enough, reproduced via "Source Direct" on my not inexpensive hi-fi amplifier. Thankfully the CD does not sound over-compressed when turned up loud, an all too common failing in this day and age, but the "no bottom" effect is a bit of a let down, particularly when one considers that the sound was mixed by go-to avant sound man Bob Drake. Steven Wilson's albums, famously produced with no compression do not suffer this problem, so feeling generous I'll put it down to a manufacturing rather than production glitch. Very few in the music industry seem to care about sound reproduction these days, especially on CDs it seems.

No amount of my pleading will change the minds of the cloth-eared, but I recommend this busy, busy bee of an album to anyone with a sense of sonic adventure. With eight people in the band it will be interesting to see how they all fit on the tiny stage of Leicester's Musician venue next month. Personally, I can't wait to be unravelled!

1. I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight (5:14)
2. The Orphanage (1:34)
3. Send Him Seaworthy (6:37)
4. Don’t Land On Me (8:02)
5. The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes (4:45)
6. Destroy The World we Love (6:05)
7. This Empty Room Was Once Alive (3:50)
8. I’m Hiding Behind My Eyes (9:15)
Total running time 45:20
Line up:
Kavus Torabi – Guitar, vocals
Melanie Woods – Vocals
Chloe Herington – Bassoon, saxophone, vocals
Emmett Elvin – Keyboards
Charlie Cawood – Bass
Ben Woollacott – Drums
Nicki Maher – Saxophone, vocals
Josh Perl – Saxophone, vocals

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Schizo-Brainiac - A labyrinthine exploration in music

Over the years my music scribbling has led to me accumulating a disparate collection of musical associates as Farcebook "friends". Some go on to become solid acquaintances, and, Heavens forfend, I've even met some of them out there in the real world.

The majority remain largely anonymous after the initial reason for connection has been long forgotten, and now that FB in its wisdom doesn't actually let you see a lot of what even close friends put up there, nevermind those on the "Acquaintances" or "Restricted" lists, it often comes as a surprise when a name pops up in your Newsfeed you have no recollection of. Usually these random hits from "friends" removed by several degrees of separation are of no consequence and passed over and forgotten.

Occasionally a gem of a post comes along to make you sit up and take notice. One such appeared today, and it contained a link to the Soundcloud page of an American gent going by the name of Solo Goodspeed aka Schizo-Brainiac. His profile contains the following choice quotes:

"SchizoBrainiac is a source of musical alternatives, with a tangent for eclecticism...It is helpful if you bring a very open mind (and not much in the way of expectations) to the exploration of these tracks, and if you have a bit of an off-kilter sense of humor, all the better."


"...Life is too short to merely exist.
"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist" - some guy named Picasso"

You can't argue with that, but it does not prepare you for the vast scope of the music this musical polymath has produced, all since 2009 apparently. He describes his music as falling into the "Soundtrack" genre and there are six distinctly different and thoroughly absorbing sets on offer, each with a short written intro by the composer to give the listener some idea of what to expect. We have:

...and two more that do not have embed links; An Oral Condition (original songs) and Residual Influence (cover versions). That last one includes songs by XTC, Gentle Giant, Snakefinger, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Captain Beefheart, and Pete Seeger amongst others. Those influences only go a part of the way to describing what Schizo-Brainiac is about, but anyone who has the chops, not to mention the balls to cover Beefheart, Gentle Giant and Mahavishnu is obviously harbouring no little talent. The Beefheart cover is quite mad and makes the original sound almost tame. It is quite brilliant, by the way.

Thanks to Tesla Manaf Effendi, whoever and wherever you are, for popping up in my Farcebook Newsfeed with this incredible music!

Now, where's that device for stopping the space-time warpy thing for about a month so that I may catch up with all this?...

Saturday, 2 August 2014

An open letter to Robert Fripp

Dear Mr Fripp

Firstly, as we have never met and are never likely to, I would not be so presumptuous as to address you by your first name, I trust you don't mind?

I read with interest and a near-confirmation of a growing suspicion your mini interview in this month's Uncut magazine. The forming of King Crimson Mk VIII was announced last year and inevitably provoked fevered interest among us Crimson fans. My friend and I speculated on possible weekends in London, Paris, Brussels, or anywhere on the near European continent, our partners enjoying whatever the locale had to offer while we were only really there for a night of Crimsoid menace.

As the months after the reformation announcement went by, and eventually the American tour dates were announced with no mention of Europe whatsoever, I began to realise that this, what is in all probability a final tour of a King Crimson involving your good self would most likely be a repeat of the last outing in 2008, that is a tour confining itself to the shores of the old colony.

Your comment in the Uncut interview that "touring Europe or beyond is 'not a question that has current relevance' " at least is not an unequivocal "no" but falls not far short. If I may be entirely selfish, is it beyond the bounds of possibility that King Crimson would play two or three dates at a venue in London? There must be at least one venue in the capital that doesn't resonate in middle C, or whichever note this particular Crimson may find unsettling. The band in former guises has played the Shepherds Bush Empire the last two times it was sighted briefly on these shores, and if that is now an unsatisfactory setting, I cannot believe that there is not one venue in London that does not meet your requirements at least to the extent of some those barns you are playing in America!

Is it unreasonable to ask that you and the band play one last time in the country that provided the chance set of circumstances that led to an entity called King Crimson, and gave you the opportunity to embark upon your chosen path, and provided you with the initial audience and platform to eventually make a not insubstantial living from your muse?

Finally, I was sorry to read that your professional life has been "devoid of joy", but most of us out here in the world of work and drudgery can say much the same. At least you have spent your working life following your art, something the rest of us cannot imagine, for our lives, professional or not, are spent making do to a greater or lesser extent. Take satisfaction, if not joy, for the work you have done correcting the greed-obsessed and obfuscating record industry excesses where past royalties are concerned, setting precedents for others to follow. Not to mention the hour upon hour of fabulous music you have been a significant part of over the years.

While typing this I have been listening to what many regard as the "ignored" Crimson album, the actually rather fine Lizard. The irony is not lost on me that I am a member of the "ignored" Crimson audience. For all that, I wish you and the rest of King Crimson a pleasant and enjoyable tour of the USA.

Yours sincerely
Roger Trenwith, an English audient (hopefully, but not expectantly)

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...