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Friday, March 31, 2017

White Willow - Future Hopes

It’s been six years since we’ve heard from White Willow after the release of their sixth album, Terminal Twilight. So far, the band have released six albums going from 1995 to 2011. Their music is dark, haunting, folky, and psych-progressive. And with supporters from Mikael Akerfeldt and Lee Dorrian, they have been very busy with other projects. With projects including Three Winters and The Opium Cartel, the question I always wonder is, what will Jacob Holm-Lupo will think of next?

Not to mention his work on Alco Frisbass’ sole self-titled debut release two years ago on the AltrOck/Fading label. But I’m off-topic. This year, they have released their seventh album on the Laser’s Edge label entitled, Future Hopes. And it is a welcoming return for the band. Taking over Sylvia Skjellestad is Venke Knutson for the lead vocals. She has top 10 hit singles from 2003 to 2010 along with three albums and a compilations album.

Venke's vocals is not bad. Yes there will be lines divided in the sand whether they will accept her or not but it doesn't matter. She's got it done and delivered the goods to White Willow's music. And throw in some guest musicians including; Guitarist Hedvig Mollestad, The Low Frequency in Stereo's own Ole Ovestedal and Clarinet player David Krakauer to name a few, it is a perfect match, perfect combination, and a perfect team.

And of course, the amazing artwork done by Roger Dean himself. The 11-minute piece In Dim Days is one of their darker compositions beginning with a ‘80s futuristic synth/electronic intro. Venke’s soothing voice sends a tone of destruction and no chance to come home of what was, has turned into a wasteland. Hedvig brings the experimental sonic Floydian-landscapes along with Jacob while Mattias Olsson does incredible work on the drums.

Very laid-back and not all over the place. But you have to give Mollestad a huge amount of credit as she is on fire whilst hitting the high notes as if her guitar is crying out in pain. The music is set in the styles between Vangelis and Tangerine Dream from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, followed by Pink Floyd’s Keep Talking and Annot Rhül’s Leviathan Suite in the last 2-minutes.

Pixel’s own Ellen Andrea Wang’s Bass exercise and Ketil shrieking flute work, close the composition. Where There Was Sea There Is Abyss is Ole delving into the deep, deep waters of the Frippertronics and the Mellotron for this short little instrumental Crimson-sque composition as it segues into A Sacred View that clocks in at 18-minutes. 18-minutes of music?! Holy shit!

Hedvig herself never disappoints me. The first 2 minutes and 54 seconds is the keyboards delving in mysterious ambient voyages as the movements of the tide go back and forth while the title-track which opens the album, begins with the keyboards opening up the pearly gates for the sun rise on a new beginning and a new day as Silver and Gold brings to mind an alternative acoustical balladry waltz done in 3/4 time.

There are two bonus tracks on here including their magnificent take of The Scorpions Animal Magnetism which dives into between Mike Oldfield meets Tangerine Dream featuring an intense clarinet work by David Krakauer while Jacob brings a sombering essence of Damnation Valley. I love how he takes the synths and piano to the dark depths inside a village turned horribly wrong. Not only that, but he knows his influences and inspirations very well as he pays homage to Rush’s The Camera Eye from his keyboards. And he nailed it bit by bit.

I have listened to this 16 times now. And I was very impressed on how White Willow have accomplished for 24 years and they keep surprising and always move forward to see where the yellow brick road will lay ahead for them. With Future Hopes, I’ve mentioned this earlier, it is a welcoming letter to let the fans know that they’re back and they hope they will keep the flames burning and never let it burn out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Schooltree - Heterotopia

The late great Bruce Lee once said, “Zen is not attained by mirror-wiping meditation, but by self-forgetfulness in the existential present of life her and now. We do not “come”, we “are”. Don’t strive to become, but be. I think what he was saying is we remind of ourselves from our rebellion is part of the mash between what is happening right now and the knowledge and ignorance is how it unites the arrangement on what we’ve become of a choice of perspectives.

That and Schooltree’s second relese which follows up to their debut album, Rise. Four years in the making, Heterotopia is a symphonic dystopian rock opera that follows in the footsteps between The Who’s Quadrophenia, The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Now since I can’t go into spoilers, the music is mysterious, brilliant, and touching.

It tells the story of Suzi, a modern underachiever who tried to keep in the dreams which is broken and living the life of a rock-n-roller, but her life is completely dark and she wants to become herself and try to support herself to get away from the rich and famous, but then she loses her body and travels through a parallel universe of the collective unconscious to get it back.

It’s a task that she must take by not travelling around the dreamlike world, it’s the test that she has to cover on the origins of its darkness, and finding the courage to search for herself. There’s essence of the Lamb story and also Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, and it works completely well. I nearly wept through the entire album and I was spellbound right from the get-go.

Dead Girl is a taunting rocker. It’s a sneering composition with a heavy guitar blast with a mid-tempo drum pattern as Lainey sings different vocals on the three characters as you can imagine her delving into David Bowie’s Reality-era while Enantiodromia Awakens sees her portraying Suzi and one of the others in her Dalek-like computerized vocals with a dooming electronic yet ambient mournful composition.

Radio is Suzi trying to call out for someone, but no one can hear her. In the music, you can feel her pain as she tries again except one of her Zombified bodies. It’s almost that she has become deaf, dumb, and blind. Not to mention the Queen-sque and Floydian parts done by Brendan Burns and the sound of static radio as the alarming tease of Walk You Through that is a part of a segue.

You can imagine her that she is in full control of her body and teases her. There’s some hard rock and teensy-bits of clavinet wah-wah funk. As Danilchuk does his little homage to Tony Banks, he adds a bit of the scenery on the organ as Zombuzi is planning to take over of what Suzi tried to do, but failed because of her irresponsibility. It’s haunting, sinister, and heavier at the same time of what is happening in the story.

The Big Slide is very much the cross as Kate Bush had teamed up with Peter Hammill and the band Discipline to write on how Suzi has become an outsider and knowing that the dream is over, but the responsibilities that she has do to, is hard and not easy on her part. When I listened to the entire album, I nearly wept again because it shows that Lainey is not only an amazing writer, composer, and performer, but she has come a long, long way to work hard of bringing the story to life.

And with a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $20,000, and supporters including Margaret Cho, Aimee Mann, Amanda Palmer, and Barry Crimmins to name a few, it’s showing support and knowing not to let the genre of Art, Theatre and the Progressive Rock scene, to keep the flames burning. Schooltree will premiere the rock opera this coming Friday at the OBERON, the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA.

Heterotopia is a spectacular release this year and while its way, way, way, way too early for my top 30 albums for 2017, this is definitely going to be in my top 10. And I would like to close a quote from Stan “The Man” Lee, “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Light Freedom Revival - Eterniverse Déjà Vu

Progressive Rock ensemble band Light Freedom Revival have released their debut album entitled, Eterniverse Déjà Vu. It’s more than just a project, but the who’s who on here including  Canadian singer-songwriter John Vehadija, who has assembled this amazing line-up including; Eric Gillette (The Neal Morse Band) on Lead Guitar, Oliver Wakeman (Yes) on Keyboards, Marisa Frantz on Harmony Vocals, and Billy Sherwood (Yes, Asia) on Bass, Drums, Guitar, and Keyboards. Not to mention the mind-blowing album artwork by Ed Unitsky. When you have this ensemble put together, you know something will take you beyond the travelling extensive universe.

What Vehadija wanted to do is create a bigger sound by going through the consciousness and positive energy shape of all of our future destinies as we look through the future and how we would like to experience. The Earth is evolving by this gigantic space crystal of the city of light called, Avatar. It represents the point of focus for the entire Light Creation with a sealed cornucopian light society template.

It’s a great brainstorm for John to do. And believe me, it really does work. Now I’m not a gigantic Melodic Rock person, but listening to this debut, I have to say, I was very impressed of the centerpieces throughout the entire album. Where Worlds Fail is a melodic prog-rock composition featuring the blending vocals between John and Marisa while Billy’s bass adds in the textures along with his drum patterns.

He’s not all over the place, but he is very relaxed and following towards the skies between both the vocalists. And Dream and Dream Again is a 4/4 time signature haunting ballad composition with Oliver Wakeman’s mysterious keyboards to bring this dreamy atmosphere before Gillette brings the peaceful touches on his guitar both in the style of clean and bluesey in a 3/4 waltz rock on Form Hope.

The title-track has this vibe of the early ‘80s AOR tempo as the lyrics bring to the mind of the sessions of Asia’s sole self-titled debut album sessions done in the style of the late great John Wetton. It’s not just following in his footsteps, but to honor his legacy while They Fit You In features some dazzling hard rock symphonic synths and riffs on the views of hell.

The lyrics deal with while you are welcome in the pits of the flaming scenario, but it’s also the damaged you have caused and being your own worst enemy. Sherwood is spot on along with Eric to help Vehadija out. This here is a great debut from John Vehadija’s Progressive Ensemble band. I hope he will continue to do more for the Light Freedom Revival. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In the Company of Serpents - Ain-Soph Aur

Formed six years ago in their hometown in Denver, Colorado, this Sludge/Doom duo have just taken me by surprise. The name of the band is called In the Company of Serpents and they have released their follow-up to their Merging in Light EP entitled, Ain-Soph Aur. The name of the title comes from the three veils of negative existence which precedes manifestation of the material philosophy of Hermetic Qabalah western esoteric tradition involving both the occult and mysticism.

It translates to Never Ending Light. The duo considers Grant Netzorg on Guitar and Vocals and Joseph Weller Meyer on Drums. The music has this strange and bizarre combination between doom, spaghetti western music, eerie, death, and spine-tingling spacey instrumentals. Grant’s vocals have this snarling and growling style of Tom Waits on the opener, Middle Pillar.

Beginning with the guitar notes with a reverb effect and eruptive banging by Joseph himself, it has this vigorous sound while Nothingness and Limitless Nothingness brings the serialism of western art. It’s almost as if you are in the eye of Clint Eastwood or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s characters The Man with No Name or El Topo.

You can imagine either one of them have walked through a bloody aftermath as the town and the people are dead and knowing by what they have saw that they are not surprised of what has happened in the aftermath. Limitless Light sees both Grant and Joseph transforming themselves into their own take of Popol Vuh’s score of Aguirre, The Wrath of God.

The last three minutes of the piece goes into some storming yet menacing beats as you can imagine Klaus Kinski’s character near the final reel of the film on the raft as he is alone as tells in narrative format that he’s sane, but he’s now a crazed survivor. Since I mentioned about their take of the Spaghetti Western score which I could see In the Company of Serpents know their homework well, they’ve shown more on Crucible.

Imagine both Klaus Schulze and Ennio Morricone working together on one of Jodorowsky’s films as if he’s continuing the legacy for the son of El Topo to see what he will do next to follow in his father’s footsteps of his spiritual journey. The music is a minimal heavy spaghetti-western rock score with a black metal twist. This was unexpected and listening to this whole thing, made my arm hair’s go up.

I hope they will continue to do more and see where the Denver duo will think of next for their brainstorming ideas. As Jodorowsky once said, “I provide the shock treatment, the rest is up to you. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Big Hogg - Gargoyles

As I’ve always said, Bad Elephant Music has never, ever disappointed me with some amazing music they would release. One of the bands they signed this year, is a sextet from Glasgow called Big Hogg. They describe themselves as Electric Music for the Mind and Body. They have this influential and inspirational sound between the sounds of; psychedelic, jazz, blues, and rock of the golden era of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. This is their second album entitled, Gargoyles.

And believe me, they are very, very good. You have a piece with a psych-pop ballad twist with the guitars sounding the brass/horn sections with some delay/reverb effects on Drunk on a Boat. I can imagine this visual scenario of a young woman singing on this boat for the captain and his crew for a chance to sleep and have a nice long rest after a hard day’s work and it captures the vibe.

Vegan Mother’s Day has this late psychedelic vibe of Styx’s The Grand Illusion-era while Waiting for Luigi combines a mournful horn section with a Canterbury touch to it. Then you have Solitary Way which starts off as a Psychedelic Folk intro before delving into the essence of Love’s Forever Changes and mid-to-late ‘60s David Bowie as they take a far-out trippy adventure into the infinite worlds.

Devil’s Egg features heavy wah-wah guitars, psyched organ as the instruments including the drums go through a loop in a weird, but not a bad way. By the way, is it just me or did I just imagine I can almost hear a mellotron in the background? Gold and Silver sees Big Hogg going into the styles of ‘70s Glam Rock with brass and flute as they prepare themselves a fine banquet to dine on through reminiscing T. Rex and the Ziggy Stardust period.

The closing track Little Bear, is a haunting short little number that goes for a minute and nineteen seconds. It sees Big Hogg delving into the Acid Folk acoustic side to close the curtains and prepare for a bow. It gives them a chance to take a break from the electric sound while knowing it is time for bed.

Bad Elephant again, scored more home runs for me so far this year. With Orange Clocks, The Gift, and The Far Meadow to name a few, they’ve done it again with Big Hogg. Please check out their music and their new album, Gargoyles. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Blonde on Blonde - Rebirth

This fellow blogger first heard this album after reading about the reissue eight years ago in Prog Magazine by Rise Above Records/Cathedral’s Lee Dorrian back when I was at Houston Community College. That band is Blonde on Blonde. Taken their name from Bob Dylan’s seventh studio album released 51 years ago, this was the band’s second album released in 1970 on the Ember label, which was their follow up to their debut album, Contrasts on the Pye label in 1969.

Ralph Denyer, who was the original lead singer, left the band to form Aquila which released their only sole self-titled debut album on the RCA label in 1970. But I’m getting off-topic. David Thomas replaces Ralph on vocals as soothing and heartfelt at times, shows in the steps between Roy Orbison and Love’s Arthur Lee. It was a step forward from their debut album as they were moving into the Progressive Rock direction at the beginning of the golden-era of the ‘70s.

You have these psychedelic pop and the uplifting gems including the dreamy organ/piano landscape introduction of Castles in the Sky, which was released as a single including the B-side with essence bringing to mind the introduction of the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black as David sings “Leaves of green/are turning brown/this silent world/keeps turning round.” The haunting rhythm sections between Les Hicks’ drumming and Gareth Johnson’s rhythm/lead guitar, and the heavy fuzz bass by Richard John, shows the power and the thunderous energy they bring.

The raga-rock of growing up to start a new life and a new chapter, has these catchy riffs and the scratching noises of the pick going up on the heavy E string as Gareth leads through the shining candle burning brightly for a Heart Without a Home. Time is Passing feels like something straight out of the sessions for Love’s Forever Changes while the 12-minute and 07 second epic on Colour Questions is the kicker on the album.

It begins with a traditional Asian form of music then delving into the night with a galloping rocker between Richard, Leslie, and Gareth. I love the dynamics and brilliant shrieking noises that Johnson does on his guitar while David sings in various sections of the song. Then near the last five minutes of the piece, it almost reminded me of the Underture from The Who’s 1969 rock opera, Tommy.

Richard and Gareth really go into town as they hammer it down between Bass and Guitar and then it suddenly turns into a whirlwind followed by the drumming going up, up, and way up in the air. The three bonus tracks contain the single version of Circles and alternate versions of the two songs including a mid-feel Elton John-type of Castles in the Sky and homages of String Driven Thing’s The Machine That Cried-era on Time is Passing.

When I heard that Esoteric was going to reissue this, I thought this peaked my interest. And it did. It contains liner notes by Malcolm Dome with interviews of Gareth Johnson and David Thomas about reflections about the history of the band. It includes the original sleeve notes including champions of the group including the late great DJ Tommy Vance and Rolling Stone writer John Mendlesohn, and little biographies about the band.

Rebirth still sounds fresh to this day since I’ve heard back in 2009. And with the Esoteric reissue they have done another great job. I have to admit the alternate versions didn’t click with me. It was a little too grandiose as I prefer the original. But I digest, Blonde on Blonde’s second album, is worth exploring. If you are in the search for more lost treasures in the sierra madre, this is one of the albums to dig deeper into.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Neal Morse Band - The Similitude of a Dream

I have to give Glass Onyon a huge amount of credit for re-introducing me back to Neal Morse’s music thanks to the 2-CD/DVD set Alive Again which showed his band at the time promoting The Grand Experiment recorded two years ago in the Netherlands. Again, while I’m not a gigantic fan of Spock’s Beard and his solo work, it’s opening my eyes a bit more of where he’s coming from. I went ahead and bought the band's follow-up released last year on the Radiant/Metal Blade label entitled, The Similitude of a Dream.

It’s an ambitious concept album based on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. And it’s the story of a protagonist named Christian, who leaves the city of destruction by leaving his wife and children behind whilst travelling through the Celestial City as his soul can be saved by the company of god and to live for eternity of the heavenly host. It’s a religious spiritual journey, but the music and lyrics work very well.

The group who worked on The Grand Experiment are back which includes Keyboardist Bill Hubauer, Guitarist Eric Gillette, Drummer Mike Portnoy, and Bassist Randy George. I can tell by listening to the entire story, which is a big and ambitious concept, Morse is all revved up and ready to go for the listener to embark on the adventure of spirituality to find on being alive and never giving up your journey.

Mike parallels the Similitude album between Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s rock opera Tommy. For me, which I might a little bit agree with Portnoy’s idea, it’s more than those two classics. I can hear bits of the stories between Magma’s Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and tiny bits and pieces of The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow thrown in there.

It begins with a sincere string section as Neal’s passionate vocals being the story as we are imaging of seeing Christian knowing it’s time to go and live forever as it kicks in with the Overture. It is symphonic prog-metal with out of this work time signatures between the synths/organ and Eric’s powering leads and riffs on his guitar. Then, we get into the heavy stomps and rhythms between Portnoy and George of escaping the City of Destruction.

It gives Christian fleeing from his home along with his wife and children to save himself by having Pliable to tag along with him for a brief while. With We Have Got to Go starts off with an acoustic introduction and then Neal gives Hubauer a chance to bring the keyboards delving into the works of the PG-era of Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound while Portnoy sings as Obstinate on Draw the Line.

He’s letting Christian know that he has lost his mind and his journey in Obstinate’s mind is mumbo-jumbo nonsense as Pliable abandons Christian as the music is confrontational and intense between those two characters and Christian has made his mind up to continue on his journey. The Ways of a Fool has this late ‘60s/early ‘70s style of the Progressive Pop scene with it’s Jeff Lynne-sque lyrics as it pays nod between the styles of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper and ELO’s Out of the Blue-era.

With The Man in the Iron Cage, the vocals have this sound of Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott as guitars and organ goes into a riff mode a-la MKII of Deep Purple and the reprise of the music from the City of Destruction is shown from Confrontation as Portnoy himself is like a rapid machine gun shooting out bullets as he plays the drums to give it a powder-keg eruption.

Throughout the entire listen of this 2-CD set, I was on the edge of my seat listening to Morse’s concept and it’s quite an epic tale. For Neal to create story and music on John Bunyan’s story, is a challenge, but he and his crew worked really, really hard on their butts for another job well done. And I hope The Neal Morse Band continues to surprise me for more adventures that lay ahead for where the road will take them.

Not to mention the amazing gatefold sleeve artwork of the Pilgrim's Progress story done by the great Paul Whitehead (Genesis, Peter Hammill, and Van Der Graaf Generator).

Monday, March 6, 2017

IZZ - Ampersand, Volume 2

Whenever I would look through bands or artists that would peak my interest, I knew my ears would perk up. When it comes to a band like IZZ, it’s something that would give me some attention. Now I’ve heard some of the samples of their music on Internet radio many years ago when I was at Houston Community College and then, I completely forgotten about them. It wasn’t until last year I went ahead and bought their new album on The Laser’s Edge which was Ampersand, Volume 2. And from the moment I put it on, I was instantly hooked right from the first note.

IZZ launched back in their hometown of New York City 21 years ago the Galgano brothers (Tom and John). And despite the line-up changes, they have released eight albums and performed at NEARfest ten years ago. This is their ninth album released on the Donne Records label. And it’s their follow up to their 2015 album, Everlasting Instant. They have a passion for songwriting, melody, and diverse texture between the sound and style.

In the digital booklet it begins with a quote, “Sometimes music is just music. Songwriters and artists create works about which they are passionate. Sometimes creations falls into a certain category; sometimes they don’t.Ampersand, Volume 2 it’s a diverse album and I got a kick out of it a few times. And while I’m very new to the music of IZZ, their new album will get me open my eyes more of their sound and vision of what they want to accomplish.

John Galgano’s virtuosity from playing both the acoustic guitar and piano have shown a lot of importance. When you listen to Hail Double Knob, Children of Mars there are different sections from his acoustic instrument going back and forth as if Mason Williams delved into the styles of medieval music and wished he had been a member of Gentle Giant during the time period of the Octopus-era.

Then, he steps towards into the piano with the mixtures of both Jazz and Classical music a-la George Gershwin style with 84th and Amsterdam while his brother Tom goes through his vocal arrangements between Godley and Crème of Ascension in Time. With elements of something straight out of an unearthed 10cc track from sessions of The Original Soundtrack, guitarist Paul Bremner and Tom give their nods to ELP. Did I forget to mention one thing? You ready? MELLOTRONS GALORE!

With Ready To Go, Paul’s snarling solo work comes out with a volcano ready to explode and have the lava emerged out of the mountains as time-changes and symphonic rock erupts at you like the fire that will never burn out. The spacey ambient introduction of Penelope starts with a sombering piano ballad as Laura Meade’s soothing vocals as if the lyrics tells the story of a last farewell before their dying days.

And it goes into a Prog-Pop orientated arrangement as Laura and John share vocals for a few pieces in the background sections before Paul comes shining through the leading melodies. Fine is alternative rock with lyrical texture that starts off with an acoustical riff for the first 57 seconds before kicking into high gear in the styles of lyrical essence of Kurt Cobain.

After delving into IZZ’s swimming pool of different textures of music, I knew this is a band right away I will check out and it strikes me well to know they have done their homework right. Ampersand, Volume 2 is a triumph.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

John Wetton 1949-2017

John Wetton who sadly passed away on January 31st of this year after a long subsequent battle with colon cancer, is been a hard way to start 2017. I can remember 17 years ago when I was in Corpus Christi, Texas with my Mom and I went to Wherehouse Music which is defunct and buying the King Crimson 4-CD box set entitled, The Essential King Crimson: Frame by Frame which covered from 1969 to 1984. And it was there I heard his voice on the second CD set which covered 1972 to 1974.

I was completely hooked hearing his voice. It had a soulful and raw sound in his vocals along with his bass playing. His breakthrough came with King Crimson after being in bands/artists such as Family and Mogul Thrash. But it was time with Crimson that struck me like a lightning bolt. From pieces such as The Great Deceiver, Lament, Easy Money, One More Red Nightmare, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Pts. 1 & 2), Red, and Book of Saturday, he wasn’t just a singer, but he could Bass with some virtuosity and bringing the sounds to a whole new level.

While Crimson disbanded in 1974 after the release of their seventh studio album, Red which among supporters including The Mars Volta, Tool, and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, he would work with bands and artists as a session musician such as Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Bryan Ferry, Uriah Heep, Atoll, and Wishbone Ash. But he would achieve success in the progressive super group, U.K. featuring Crimson alumni Bill Bruford, Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, Frank Zappa), and virtuoso guitarist Allan Holdsworth.

Then in the 1980s at the height of Album-Orientated Rock and Arena Rock with another super group that would get commerciality with Asia. Now while I’m not a gigantic Asia fan, I do respect the accomplishments and creativity they brought to the table with the release of their mind-blowing debut 35 years ago and then Wetton’s solo career. But for Wetton, his time with King Crimson will be one of my favorite time periods when he was in the band.

The music and legacy will live on for years and years to come. He will be in the heat of the moment, a sole survivor, the great deceiver bringing One More Red Nightmare, and the king of the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. John Wetton, Rest in Peace. Thank you for an amazing journey you brought to us to the old and younger generation you have stowed upon us. Keep the angels rocking in heaven.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Magma - Felicite Thosz

48 years later, Magma always opens the door to come upon what their next journey that is next for the listener to embark on their spaceship from their home planet, Kobaia. Christian Vander who formed the band back in 1969, is the brain child and the mastermind of the band and you might never know what he will come up with next. Magma’s 11th studio album released five years ago entitled, Felicite Thosz was recorded between September, 2011 and April, 2012 in Francis Linon’s studio on the French Riviera.

Vander wrote the piece sixteen years ago after completing one of his complicated and exhausting compositions, Les Cygnes et les Corbeaux. The 28-minute piece evolves the spirituality, fluid, and evolving melodies that bring to mind of world music, classical, and jazz. It begins with Ekmah that begins with an eruptive blast for a few seconds by Vander’s drums and the vocals at first and then it gets eerily quiet and back to the blast-like explosion.

You can imagine both the Kobaian language and piano melodies, walking into a misty fog and knowing you’ve entered a town with no people and the pin dropping at the exact moment as it gets intense in the last few seconds. As both Elss and Dzoi, goes into a heavenly sound as if the pearly gates have opened the soul genre for a brief minute before heading into the sounds of Central Asian music.

But it’s Stella Vander’s vocals that gives me chills every time I hear sing in the language, Christian knows that she is ready to give the right moment. It’s evidential on Teha as it sounds like a style of Motown Tamla ‘60s R&B vibration and the harmonizing vocals of The Temptations. It is a strange and bizarre piece, but it works completely well to show their melodic side. And you can hear parts of it in the opening sequence of the 2012 documentary, Romantic Warriors II: A Progressive Music Saga about Rock in Opposition.

Duhl and Tsai! Feels as if the two of the pieces reminisces of Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh as they bring their own style of the Klezmer genre in a strange twist for a jumping piano dance across the hallway of excitement with Ohst. While the suite is off the wall and just completely took me by surprise and I always wonder what Vander will think of next, it’s the closing track Les Hommes Sont Venus, showing the genre of post-modern music.

Different beats and phrases along with the glockenspiel, sees Magma delving into the musical sections of both Minimal and Aleatoric genre and taking the essence of Philip Glass’ Music in 12 Parts and Terry Riley’s In C. Magma’s music again, is very hard to get into. Whether you get it or don’t, they have never, ever, ever disappointed me since hearing their music on the 5-CD box set Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era and the ProgArchives website 12 years ago.

As Vander said,  “Life is always on a Tightrope.

Carptree - Emerger

John Milton who wrote the epic poem, Paradise Lost says, “For who would lose, though full of pain, this intellectual being. Those thoughts that wander through eternity. To perish rather, swallowed up and lost. In the wide womb of uncreated night.” A journey into something that a man building his own utopia, for people to come and start their new lives, may be not the smartest idea, but it comes with a heavy price and it crumbles upon him.

That and Carptree’s sixth studio album entitled, Emerger combines good, catchy melodies with a progressive and dramatic arrangement. The Swedish duo who formed the band 20 years ago have released five albums. Now while I’m very new to the Carptree ride, I knew listening to their new album released on the Reingold Records label, it was going to be an adventure I was about to embark on.

I can remember coming back for my afternoon walks and low and behold a new mail from Glass Onyon which has always perked my ear up for new progressive bands and artists that peak my interest and they have never disappointed me. Carptree have hit a gigantic home run. While they are a duo (Niclas Flinck and Carl Westholm), they are almost accompanied by the No Future Orchestra (NFO) which are a group of people who are both known and unknown acts from Sweden whilst bringing their personal sound that are more or less frequent.

Niclas’ voice resembles the minds of Strawbs’ Dave Cousins, Peter Hammill, and Phil Collins. He could nail those arrangements thanks to the keyboards (mellotron sampler on software), bass, 12-string guitar and a few other instruments by Carl himself, it’s a story for what is happening right now this year. Opener, The Fleeting Track starts with the line “Where do I go/To find a space for necessary/distance or detachment?” The song deals with the question on finding out who we are.

With keyboards and the synths delving through a revolutionary arrangement, featuring the orchestral atmosphere it reminisces of Genesis meets Van Der Graaf Generator setting as if both Peter Gabriel and Hammill himself worked together to create the theatrical voyage. In the spirits between 10cc, Queen, and Klaatu’s Hope, Between Extremes deals with the chance of stand up to fight and no turning back whilst walking into the lion’s den.

The acoustic ballad Porous features of a desolation scenario of what was, making the circle almost in full while Ultimately Lifeless which features an electronic introduction merges into a nightmare in the styles of a Muse-sque melody as the stories taken from the inspirations of a crossover between Ayn Rand, Philip K. Dick, and H.G. Wells brings the mellotron lush inside of the underwater city.

The bonus track Dwindle Into Darkness which is the remixed version of the song, deals with the scenario of what’s going on which I’ve mentioned earlier. Niclas sings about the detail and adds a chance that it’s a ride that will turned into a frightening location set in a parallel infinite universe. The music fits the situation and price to be paid for the enemies coming down on you and the pain as well for the king to be taken down as city crumbles upon him.

Those who are interested in the novelists I’ve mentioned along with some of the bands, Carptree’s new album is a story that holds an intense setting. Worth checking out. And in the words of Richard Adams’ Watership Down, All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Blackfield - Blackfield V

It’s been six years since Blackfield have release another album since their previous two albums, Welcome to my DNA and Blackfield IV. This year, they have released their fifth album on the Kscope label entitled, Blackfield V. And it shows that both Steven Wilson and his friend Aviv Geffen are back in action. The album was recorded in 18 months between Israel and England. In my opinion, it is very much a conceptual piece of 13 songs that are linked of a Ocean themed song cycle.

For me, it’s been a few years since I’ve listened to their music after hearing their third album and after reading about them in PROG magazine. So listening to their new album, I can tell they are back in form. A Drop in the Ocean starts with a string arrangement done by the London Session Orchestra that has this romantic score done in the styles of the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed that features the sections done by Peter Knight and The London Festival Orchestra. It then kicks off with Family Man.

Steven starts off with a bang on the vocals as the song deals with the struggle on being the best family and the stress that comes with it as the sections between guitars, drums, synths, and bass are very powerful with an escalating sound. At times it reminded me of Panic Room’s Satellite and bits of The Raven That Refused to Sing-era. But it’s the ballad piano composition of How Was Your Ride which shows Aviv’s songwriting with a strong and questionable view with lyrics such as “We’re leaving tracks on the ground/It’s too late/So why pray now/You cynical bastard?

He and Wilson work well together since their formation thirteen years ago and I could tell they have each other backs by recording, writing, and singing together. Aviv’s vocals are tender and very passionate. It may take a few spins to whether they will like it or not, but I admire his arrangements on We’ll Never Be Apart. It has this alternative rock sound as the song deals with the success and achievement and never letting music go away.

It can be your best friend and will be your friend forever and ever until the day you die. Sorrys feature an acoustic and string section setting with an emotional background on the son’s deal on the father he never knew who abandoned him for seven years and trying to find him and finding out why he left him. Steven comes back and returns with Lately. It is an optimistic composition and he is just sending his heart out when he sings.

Almost as if you are riding on your motorcycle and riding off into the sunset while October sounds very much an animated rock musical (non-Disney) that fits perfectly that I can imagine him writing this and give Disney a real message on how to write a song. Again, his vocals tugs your heart and there are moments on the piano that have some bits of a piano concerto and imagine the audience being in tears and being blown away of this song.

It is going to become one day a live favorite and hopefully receive a standing ovation for this. Then, Blackfield take a break from their songs and delve into the instrumentals which is Salt Water. Featuring the acoustic guitar and electric sliding guitar rides and I can imagine Elmer Bernstein doing the conducting whilst writing the score on the string session. Wilson, Geffen, Tomer Z, and Eran Mitelman who worked on the string sessions, quite well. Eran did a great job and he deserves a huge amount of credit for helping out to create the scores on the fifth album.

Because I can imagine he worked on his butt to do the string section to create a lush, emotional, and powerful orchestral and symphonic sound. That and the closing track, From 44 to 48 is Steven’s reflection from his day as a teenager, early to late 20s, 30s, and into his late 40s. The song deals with growing older, taking responsibility and letting go of the dreams.

He knows that he had succeeded from Porcupine Tree and as a solo artists and those guitar chords are moving forwards in time to see what he has done and it ends well to close the curtain. Blackfield’s return not just shows Wilson and Geffen welcoming for a job well done, but their fifth album is one of the most emotional and strong releases I’ve listened to. Let’s hope they return and tour to support their new album in Europe, Israel, and here in the States.