Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Seven Impale - City Of The Sun

It seems I have followed the careers of Norwegian proggers Seven Impale on this blog since the beginning, reviewing their debut EP Beginning/Relieve back in March 2013, and following that up with an interview. This was not planned, it just panned out that way, so rather than write this review on TPA or DPRP, for the sake of continuity, I shall wibble on and on and then a bit more, right here.

Well here they are then with their first full length album City Of The Sun, and they seem to be coming along quite nicely, albeit a tad in thrall to their influences, particularly on opener Oh My Gravity! which runs the gamut of VdGG and the mighty Crim, the latter even down to a take on the stop and start section of 21st Century Schizoid Man in the middle of the song. It's still a fun ride though, and the boys in the band show they are getting rather skilled in the arrangement department, contrasting a repeated gentle guitar run with Tormod Fosso's growling bass. The latter will become a feature of the album, popping up now and again to rattle the collective cage. Charging from a quiet start to a furious denouement, Oh, My Gravity! ticks all the heavy prog boxes, and although it is obvious which records these guys have been listening to, they inject armfuls of youthful enthusiasm to drag it out of the museum and into the 21st century street, kicking and screaming. Playing out on the reprised hypnotic understated guitar run from earlier, the song is something of an emphatic statement. We are impaled.

For all that, I much prefer it when they run with their jazz instincts, as on second song Wind Shears, containing as it does some great interplay between the guitar of Erlend Vottvik Olsen and the saxophone of Benjamin Mekki Widerøe. The song builds to a jazz-symphonic bombastic conclusion, of a style that is beginning to sound their own.

This nascent individuality continues into the initially deceptively calm Eschaton Horo which opens the gates of Hades to reveal a scorched earth VdGG-styled angular and angry blast right out of Still Life before descending further into the abyss on the back of a neo-RIO segment, then returning to the lounge jazz song of the start. Again, there is enough in here to make one forget the obvious influences after a while, and this song shows undoubted promise.

The dirty and grungy bass of at the start of Extraction develops into a meeting between between the heaviest of jazz-prog, grunge, and freakrock. The declamatory and dramatic vocals wouldn't sound out of place on a metal album, but there is no grunting, thank your deity of choice. This tune changes tack more often than a straggler in the Fastnet yacht race, and I think maybe it is trying just a little too hard to impress. One thing this band are not short of is ideas!

The album ends with the full-blown epic, the daftly titled God Left Us for a Black-Dressed Woman a song that builds slowly and purposefully, Håkon Vinje's atmospheric keyboard effects to the fore. The sudden interjection of a few seconds of Jannick Top-like gnarly fuzz bass hints at what is to come. This time singer Stian Økland leaves the bombast at the door, and his vocals are all the better for it. Much syncopation between guitar and sax interweave with subtle percussion led sections as the tune reaches a furiously swaying bridge, blown about in a blast of some more of that heavy jazz-prog.

In structure this epic is again similar to the first 70s reformed version of VdGG, and it has to be said that Seven Impale have become a whole lot heavier since the Beginning/Relieve EP eighteen or so months ago. It will be interesting to see where they go next.

1. Oh, My Gravity! (10:08)
2. Wind Shears (6:44)
3. Eschaton Horo (8:46)
4. Extraction (6:48)
5. God Left Us for a Black-Dressed Woman (14:41)

Total running time - 47:07 

Line up:
Stian Økland - vocals, guitars
Fredrik Mekki Widerøe - drums
Benjamin Mekki Widerøe - sax
Tormod Fosso - bass
Erlend Vottvik Olsen - guitar
Håkon Vinje - keyboards

Karisma Records

Monday, 20 October 2014

Emmett Elvin - Bloody Marvels

Multi-instrumentalist Emmett Elvin is the keyboard player for Guapo, Knifeworld, and Chrome Hoof. In another no more or less real world he is an artist and graphic designer and an exponent of sundry related activities. He describes himself on his website as “hectically creative”, a description that also fits this, his second solo album to a tee. 

Bloody Marvels consists of thirteen (plus two "bonus" tracks) pieces of mostly instrumental music varying in length from under a minute to well over five minutes, and it could all be the soundtrack to a wilfully obscure arthouse movie that still only exists in its writer's head.

Aided by many of his colleagues from the aforementioned bands, along with some other musical friends and relatives, Emmett has created a vast all-encompassing cinematic soundscape in which the listener can easily get completely absorbed, to the point where the album has ended either after ten minutes or two hours, who knows? This audio painting is mixed and mastered (you can't just say "produced" these days) by Mark Cawtha who has worked with Knifeworld and North Sea Radio Orchestra amongst others. Those two bands are at opposing ends of full-on and minimalist music making, and Mr Cawtha has used the sonic traits of both on Emmett's album, to great effect.

Emmett's main instruments are keyboards of various hues and acoustic guitars that maybe bear the traits of a classical training. You can see from the credits below that no instrument seems to be beyond this musical polymath, a fact given away by the modest "etc".

Thirteen soundtracks to thirteen impressionistic arty videos, or a complete soundtrack to a road movie of the mind, all yet to be made - these are my first thoughts as the plaintive slide or bottleneck guitar melody slips mournfully across quickly picked arpeggio guitar on opener Artificial Pterodactyls Over Leytonstone, a tune that exposes fraught nerves just under the surface. 

Phobos is three minutes of chamber music with piano and cello, and the slide/bottleneck returns on Toxic Sweetheart with a very similar melody to Pterodactyls.

Beyond Astronomy's Reach references Gustav Holst's Planet Suite, ascending oh-so-slowly like a Saturn rocket on take off determinedly escaping gravity's pull. Introductory swampy mists swirl on bridging track The Indolent Spirit, and then we are in a run down shack in Alabama where all kinds of dark backwoods ghosts roam through Where Do You Think You Are Going? More strings to Emmett's ever-expanding musical bow come when a banjo adds to the reflective cello and more finger-picked and bottleneck guitar. Bassoon, trumpet and a slightly overdriven distant electric guitar add to the mix in a hypnotic cyclical progression that makes this tune the most intense of the album so far.

Harmonium Phosphate is played over a horror-short scripted by Alan Bennett, and by now the largely acoustic instrumental palette is proving a boon to spur my imagination to ever more unlikely scenarios. Thora Hird as an undead repressed Methodist matriarch, anyone? Nocturine is a time to bring out your dead, and the jester cavorts to bluegrass bottleneck as Jupiter Sneezed, by Jove he did!

Suddenly Two Tree Island Drowning has us in the court of a medieval king dancing a formal dance in the round, all classical guitar motifs, enlivened by bottleneck electric to add a nerve jangling element of suspense. The scene dissolves and the lens refocuses on the protagonist dreaming, eyelids twitching, mental vistas shifting as synapses spark.

After the deceptive calm of the echoing Disaster Avenue, we arrive at what turns out to be the only song on the album. The vocals, initially displaced and shifting, come as a surprise and Witness Unknown is not a million miles from a Knifeworld song in structure. I'm not quite sure it fits in here.

More gorgeous strings return on the classically inclined Medicine Box, and Outro is the musical box winding down. The two bonus tracks commence with film-noir dramatic intent on X Corpus, a tune imbued with a dissonant dark menace that would have fitted on the main album, perhaps in place of Witness Unknown. X Corpus also uses a Holst motif, obviously a favourite of Emmett's. The very odd Dustbowl Prizewinner ends the journey with a cut-up of snippets of what has gone before, chatter, dog barks and birdsong. "What's going on?", indeed!

All in all, a quirky and enjoyable ride from a musician brimming over with ideas. I look forward to his next solo effort which I am sure will be as different to Bloody Marvels as this album is to its predecessor Emmettronica '98 - '05, a compilation of sample-based electronic music. Bloody Marvels is another winner from the Bad Elephant stable, definitely a label to watch.

1. Artificial Pterodactyls Over Leytonstone (5:03)
2. Phobos (3:06)
3. Toxic Sweetheart (3:41)
4. Beyond Astronomy's Reach (5:35)
5. The Indolent Spark (1:30)
6. Where Do You Think You're Going? (5:19)
7. Harmonium Phosphate (3:33)
8. Nocturine (1:08)
9. Jupiter Sneezed (2:41)
10. Two Tree Island Drowning (4:30)
11. Disaster Avenue (1:57)
12. Witness Unknown (4:56)
13. Medicine Box (2:18)
14. Outro (0:58)
15. X Corpus (bonus track) (3:40)
16. Dustbowl Prizewinner (bonus track) (3:32) 

Total running time - 53:35 

Line up:
Emmett Elvin - 6 & 12 string guitars, resonator slide guitar, piano, recorders, percussion, mandolin, banjo, etc

Beverley Crome - French horn, tenor horn
Chloe Hetherington - Bassoon, cor anglais, alto saxophone
Richard Larcombe - Harmonium
Anna Tam - Cello
Daniel Friend - Trumpet
Matt Stevens - 6-string guitar
Sarah Anderson - Viola, violin
David J. Smith - Percussion
Will Elvin - Acoustic bass

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Sounds Of Sputnik - New Born

Sounds Of Sputnik is Russian multi-instrumentalist and producer Roma Kalitkin who is here aided by Canadian/Ukranian duo Ummagma on three of the five tracks of this, his debut release. Proof positive that you can have successful collaborations between Russians and Ukranians in these fraught times.

Shauna McLarnon and Alexx Kretov are Ummagma, under which name they released their first two albums simultaneously back in 2012. Since then they have released singles and remixes while keeping very busy promoting themselves online in order to be noticed in this over-populated internet music world.

Like Sounds Of Sputnik, Ummagma are firmly rooted in the world of shoegaze and dream pop, and here the trio rekindle a working relationship originally tentatively begun some 12 years ago until McLarnon and Kretov moved away from Russia. Theirs is a perfect match and here they present us with five new songs steeped in the world of MBV, Slowdive, Cocteaus, and just about every other British original shoegaze band you could think of.

Although obstensibly an album, this release is effectively an EP, as seven of the thirteen tracks are remixes, and one a radio edit, as you can see from the track listing below. The five original tracks constitute 21:23 of the total running time of 59:12, and although some of the remixes are interesting enough in themselves, it is a strange tactic. My guess is that these days no-one under 40 plays albums all the way through anyway, so the inclusion of re-imagined versions of songs makes little difference in this "playlist" age of short attention spans. Whatever the reason, this is not an album in the traditional sense.

Of the five original songs, Ummagma appear on tracks 1, 2, and 5, and the combination of the post-rock and Gothic musical atmospherics are complimented nicely by Shauna's breathy tones on lead song New Born, an epic psychedelicised space-ballad walking the thoroughfares of an anonymous Russian city in winter. Light Scheme is a jauntier affair, and to these ears a more obvious choice for a single.

Blizzard and Shades of the Cosmos are solo efforts from Roma Kalitkin, and the former has a slow, doomy, and overdriven guitar as the base for chiming guitar and synths to take the simple musical construction to reverb and echo heaven. Ending too soon, it is followed by Shades of the Cosmos, a dark trip through early Cure and MBV moves, full of more effects-laden shimmering multi-tracked guitars.

Overdrive sees the trio reunite for a Siouxsie-like romp through an upbeat post-rock skip and jump, with a great distorted cacophony of a guitar sound that sprawls all over the second half of the song. The section of original songs concludes with its best moments, for sure. Shauna McLarnon's lyrics to this and the other two fully realised songs on the record focus on an optimistic viewpoint of new possibilities, renewal and exploration, which makes a nice change from the doom-laden obsessions of a lot of post-rock and Goth rock.

Of the four remixes of New Born, for me the best is the Malcolm Holmes/OMD version, which opens up the spaces in the song and brings Shauna's voice, the thing that marks this collaboration apart, blinking into the daylight where it prospers in the airy mix. The Morozov mix deserves a mention for taking the thing waaay out into a far flung orbit, as if on the end of an infinitely long rubber band.

There are some fine songs here, and some good examples of studio trickery on this album-that-isn't, but I would like to have seen this trio make an album in the proper sense, as they certainly have the talent to do that. Perhaps I'm showing my age?

1. New Born (4:57)
2. Light Scheme (3:53)
3. Blizzard (3:10)
4. Shades of the Cosmos (4:49)
5. Overdrive (4:36)
6. New Born (radio edit) (3:51)
7. New Born (Malcolm Holmes/OMD remix) (4:39)
8. New Born (Sputnik remix) (4:51)
9. New Born (Oleg Mezherovsky remix) (5:01)
10. New Born (Morozov remix) (6:52)
11. Light Scheme (Fran Ashcroft remix) (3:38)
12. Light Scheme (Sputnik remix) (3:38)
13. Light Scheme (Mind Movies remix) (5:17)

Total running time - 59:12

Line up:
Roman Kalitkin – instruments, arrangement
Shauna McLarnon – lyrics and vocals, arrangement
Alexander Kretov – vocals (tracks 2, 11, 12, 13), mixing, artwork & design
Graham Bonnar - drums (track 5)

Sounds of Sputnik on Facebook
Sounds of Sputnik - Bandcamp
Ummagma on Bandcamp
Ummagma on Facebook

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Has it really been ten years??!...

Ten years ago this month the man who kick-started my continuing obsession with the musically odd, the consquences of which I continue to occasionally inflict upon you, dear reader, moved on to play that jukebox in the sky. He touched the lives of thousands if not millions of fellow curious music lovers and will continue to be sorely missed. That man was of course John Peel, and fellow scribbler Mark Whitby over at Unwashed Territories had the marvellous idea of getting some of the many bands Peely featured over the mostly later years of his reign to contribute to a free compilation put together in the great man's honour.

21 Songs For John will be available as free download until 30th November, when it will be deleted...go on, what have you got to lose?

Mark is doing mini-features on the artists involved, starting with Cuban Boys, and this will be a series to keep an eye on. Shame there's no Fall track, but you wouldn't expect anything else, really!

John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, OBE (30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004) RIP

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...