Sonar are from Switzerland and their first album, ‘A Flaw of Nature’ was released last year . I liked it so much it entered my Top 12 Progressive Rock albums of 2102 at number 6.
and this is what I said:
“Experimental, minimalist, instrumental post/math rock. Simply hypnotic. Specially tuned guitars produce an unusual harmonic sound. The more I listen, the more I like this album. Pretty awesome actually.”
The 4 tracks that could not make it onto the album were released on an EP recently called “Skeleton Groove” . This EP saw the band start moving away from a strictly minimalist slower ‘groove’ to a faster tempo and slightly rockier sound, particularly in the tracks ‘Broken Symmetry’ and ‘String Geometry’.
Sonar (short for Sonic Architecture) like mathematical/technical references in their song titles. Their first album includes track titles such ‘Mobius Loop’; ‘Structure 3.7’ and ‘Tritone Harmonics’. This is not surprising when one considers their lead guitarist Stefan Thelen has a PHD in Mathematics and the band’s sound is based upon tuning their guitars to tritones (‘diabolus in musica’). This creates a somewhat unusual and unique sound, described by the band itself as tritone harmonics.
I had messaged the band to encourage them to visit London as I was intrigued to hear what the band would sound like live. Stefan had said ‘watch this space’ and sure enough after returning from Norway following the recording of new material for their forthcoming sophomore album, they had arranged a short European tour that included a gig at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, North London. This was a venue new to me.
Arriving somewhat early, before 8pm, we found the club closed (well it was a bit early for a Jazz club!). Standing around the post-modern looking Square upon which the club faced, I was lucky enough to bump into the band itself and had a chat with Christian Kuntner, bassist and a Facebook friend. Christian is instantly recognizable with his tall, gaunt and shaven headed Germanic looks. We talked about how the recording had gone in Norway (very successful) but he made no commitment about a release date and assured me that releasing the new album on vinyl was just too expensive !
Finally getting into the club we ascended some stairs that opened up into a very small cosy room with a small stage at one end and bar at the other. In between were about 25 small round tables with marble tops and wrought iron legs. Each table was candlelit and could fit a cosy threesome at best. With a small amount of extra standing room, the venue could fit no more than 100 people at a push….we were the first in and tables had name tags on them ! So a far cry from most venues I frequent but not unusual for a Jazz club. It had the necessary Jazz ambience, a French ‘look and feel’, dark and intimate. Beers in hand, Stephan Thelen introduced himself and we talked about his influences, he is a major Robert Fripp/early King Crimson fan and his views on the new album (in his words ‘more playful’)…more about that later. The set would consist of old and new tracks.
However, first up were a band called MooV and they entered stage left (well through the audience actually) and we (now about 30 people) were treated to an intriguing mix of piano sequencer ; cello; bass and vocals for about 45 minutes.
A five piece band, billed as a three piece, but performed as a four piece !…rather confusing but that’s what we got. Colin Riley, pianist and main composer, explained that MooV’s music was malleable and open-ended and this allowed them to perform with a varied number of band members. So tonight there was no percussion but equally on some occasions there maybe no cello. MooV have been around since 2005 and made only two albums and had only performed 16 gigs…that’s only about 2 per year so not a vast output. However, as I found out afterwards, the band members are involved in numerous projects. We were told all this after the first track but, if we were concerned that this might affect their live performance, then we need not have worried. To describe their music is challenging as it appears to have may influences without any one dominating. So I enlisted some support by accessing the band’s web page and got:
‘The final product is absolutely unclassifiable’ (London Jazz Blog) .
Oh well that wasn’t much help !…so let’s have a go anyway:
Arty but not Art Rock
Jazzy but not Jazz
progressive but certainly not Prog Rock
poppy but not pop
electronic but not electronica
a sense of chamber music but not chamber music
does that help ?…probably not
Experimental and avant garde and certainly creative and stimulating; unpredictable, even random; with enigmatic, intimate lyrics with a dark edge. The use of sequencing effects and constant changes in pitch (musical and vocal) and rhythm create the backbone of the music. At times angular and unsettling but at other times ethereal and beautifully soft. Sparse and minimalistic. I cannot think of comparisons but perhaps think of Sigur Ros’s simpler tracks unplugged with a folksy edge with Bjork’s vocals (not sure that makes sense!). There is certainly a Scandinavian ‘feel’ at times. The vocalist, Elisabeth Nygard has Scandinavian roots, being from Norway. She has a hypnotic, breathy and fragile voice in the delivery of both word and sound (e.g. wailing/sighing etc.) She appears totally immersed and connected to the music.
Having bought their latest album and in view of Colin Riley’s words, it is also fair to say that listening to their music on cd compared to a live setting is a very different experience. Only live do you truly feel the power and emotional intensity; the darkness; the light. Whether this music has a wide audience I doubt it as, at times, it is almost inaccessible. But to listen is to experience and whether the feelings and emotions produced are good or bad, it is still worth experiencing. Thanks to Colin, Elisabeth, Natalie (cello) and Pete (bass).
Afterwards I managed to speak with the lead singer Elisabeth Nygard and discovered that her major influences were classical, chamber music and folk. She recommended their latest album ‘Here’ but we could speak no longer as we were both in respective toilet queues !
Here’s a link to their website:
So after 45 minutes of hearing something I was not expecting and, at the time, felt was almost impossible to describe, we grabbed another beer before the main attraction..
By the time Sonar arrived on stage the club was nearly full and there was a healthy buzz about the place. To be honest I was a little apprehensive as to whether the music would come across as too sparse for a live setting. Known for their minimalist style, their set was also minimalist in nature with each guitar having a small miked up amp. No frills here.
They commenced with probably their most well-known track, Tromso, from their first album. At over 11 minutes long it is typical of their style. Complex interwoven polyrhythmic guitar motifs, superbly played throughout, supported by staccato bass lines and varied percussion. One clear characteristic of their musical style is how the percussion (just a basic drum kit) drives the tempo of each track. The drum is more than a single instrument. Accenting; snare comping; rim shots(?); cross sticking; the effective use of cymbals and a variety of drumsticks, added an extra dynamic that was/is critical to the delivery of each track. Manuel Pasquinelli is indeed a top class drummer with exceptional timing. However the diversity of bass playing techniques and unusual effects was also noticeable and from the top draw.
The use of crescendo and decrescendos is equally noticeable as is the constant use of complex and layered polyrhythms.
After playing a couple of tracks from their first album, the rest of the set focussed on new material. Track 3 titled ‘Static Motion’ was a standout for me. Generally I felt the new output is less minimalistic; has more complexity; is driven along at a faster tempo; has more groove and at times has a rocky and very occasionally a funky edge. I personally like this subtle change in direction and really look forward to the release of the new album later this year.
As the set continued one could sense the developing satisfaction and enjoyment amongst the band members as their confidence increased. This was appreciated by an audience who increasingly warmed to the set. After an hour the set closed but demands for more were accepted. At the end of the first encore we were in danger of missing the last train home, so we not only missed the end of the set but also a beer with the band afterwards. Maybe next time Stefan.
Sonar are a group of accomplished musicians carving out a unique furrow in the prog jazz scene. An essential live experience. Thank you Stefan, Christian, Bernhard and Manuel.
Check out the bands website:
and here’s a video of Tromso:
and it’s all free to air on Bandcamp.
To paraphrase Wikipedia…a “perfect storm” is a term that can be described as a confluence of different related phenomena that combine to create what can be referred to as the “perfect situation” to generate an event (its first use was allegedly to describe a ‘perfect storm’ of applause).
And yes, things came together pretty nicely on Thursday night.
I have to admit I was a reluctant attendee, not because I don’t like Riverside, far from it. Unfortunately I had undergone a seriously bad day at work, leading to the cancellation of my holiday booked for the next day I also had a dose of ‘man-flu’. So I didn’t feel that inclined to trudge for an hour plus up to Islington; drink gratuitously (polish vodka maybe?) and get home well after midnight.
Things started getting better as travel connections were good and we (Nigel and I) managed to get to the venue fairly early and caught half of the set of the first of the three bands, Dianoya. Hailing from Poland, like Riverside, they were an engaging and enthusiastic Progressive Metal band and, as the set continued, there were various appreciative nods from some of the ‘older’ members of the audience (me included).
I have always liked the Academy, quite small but never a crush. Even a shorty like me can usually get quite close and get a good view. The acoustics are impressive which is important for an audiophile like me. The bar(s) are very ‘adjacent’ and I like the industrial ‘feel’…the ceiling is full of open girders and ducts; wires and lights. It’s a pretty ‘hip’ place and is used as a late night disco for the ‘younger’ folks after all we oldies are tucked up in our beds. At this point I should also name in dispatches the lighting crew, who added to the ambience considerably with a subtle yet creative lighting display.
Two pain killers taken earlier followed by the quick sloshing down of an (incredibly expensive) pint of lager had given me a renewed vigour. And there was not much waiting required for the second act, Jolly, who herald from the great New York City. They produced a powerful cocktail of heavy, experimental, art rock characterised by slow openings, fast bass lines and high quality guitar playing. They aroused my curiosity and I was quite intrigued to find out more. But please forgive me when I say their Facebook band profile is a load of pretentious twaddle; either that or it’s a very long-winded ‘p*ss take in Spinal Tap style. Nevertheless a strong support act.
A move towards the back (to meet another friend) put me in the perfect listening position, at the apex of the classic ‘audio-triangle’, as Riverside took the stage. This Polish progressive rock band led by the virtuoso bassist and singer, Mariusz Duda, have just released their new album, ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ (SONGS), intelligently reviewed recently by my fellow Progarchists, Nick and Erik here:
The band has been gaining popularity following their critically acclaimed 4th album, Anno Domini High Definition (ADHD) released in 2009. Having gradually veered towards a more classic rock sound from their predominantly metal roots, Riverside have been compared with both Tool and Porcupine Tree. Lyrically far less disturbing than Tool they still retain a heavy guitar riff style and the inclusion of powerful keyboards and potent bass lines give the band an added depth, complexity and uniqueness to their sound.
Tonight’s set focussed on the new album and ADHD.
Having just been to one of my Top 10 gigs of all time (Steve Wilson at the Royal Festival Hall, London), how lucky I was to see another band at the peak of their powers. Displaying outstanding musicianship; exemplary timing and an almost telepathic understanding, Riverside are seriously talented. Understated guitar (from a scary looking lead!); extraordinary depth to the keyboards; complex bass patterns weaved by spider-like hands and beautifully sympathetic drumming. Virtually faultless, the only (small) downside was Mariusz’s voice, slightly let down by the flu (I read subsequently that their Sheffield gig the next day had to be cancelled).
There was no showboating; no unnecessary solos; no ego trips displayed. Professional to the last, Riverside were clearly enjoying their evening and showed a genuine desire to engage the audience. And this was reciprocated. How refreshing to see people of all ages. And clearly popular in their home country with plenty of London’s Polish community turning up. Riverside have clearly broken down that difficult barrier that exists for so many Progressive Rock bands…this is not just music for follicly challenged over 50s.
Having been impressed with their last 4 releases, I can say, indubitably, that they sound better live than on record, delivering an electrifying power that is beyond a recorded medium.
Great gigs are not just about the band, they are about the whole experience…the audience; the venue; the lighting; the acoustics.; the beer, absolutely everything ! All these factors combined beautifully to create the ‘Perfect Storm’ and at £19 a ticket it was a steal.
To those interested here is the set-list, with my highlights being tracks 2, 4 and 8:
New Generation Slave – SONGS
The Depth of Self Delusion – SONGS
Feel Like Falling – SONGS
Driven to Destruction – ADHD
Living in the Past – Memories in My Head
We Got Used to Us – SONGS
Egoist Hedonist – ADHD
Escalator Shrine – SONGS
Left Out – ADHD
Conceiving You – Second Life Syndrome
Lucid Dream IV – Rapid Eye Movement
About 5 or 6 years ago my son’s guitar teacher, a young dreadlocked guy into hard rock and grunge, asked me who was my favourite band. I surprised myself when I immediately answered “The Stranglers”. “Oh” he replied, “The band who sung Golden Brown?” “Yes” said I “but haven’t you heard the early stuff from the punk-era like Hanging Around, Grip, Peaches?”……
I’ve asked a few from the younger generation about the Stranglers and many either haven’t heard of them or they are remembered for some of their 80’s pop hits like the aforementioned ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Strange Little Girl’, ‘Always The Sun’ etc. Indeed they did write some superb ‘pop’ songs but I remember them for their uncompromising attitude; their clear desire to ‘progress’ their musical style and their unique sound, driven along by thumping bass lines and swirling keyboards.
In 1977 and 1978 the Stranglers produced certainly one (Rattus Norvegicus), if not two (Black and White) of the great albums to come out of the Punk Era. Whilst not considered punk, these albums stand alongside the great Punk albums of the period: The Clash and London Calling by The Clash; NMTB by the Sex Pistols; Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by The Dead Kennedys; Machine Gun Etiquette by The Damned; The Ramones by The Ramones; Love Bites by the Buzzcocks and Pink Flag by Wire, to name a few. But you won’t find Rattus or B&W featuring highly, if at all, on any Top list of Punk albums.
Many at the time said they had jumped on the punk bandwagon. Certainly they had been playing as an unsuccessful pub-rock band for a couple of years as the Guildford Stranglers. But by opening for the 1976 tour of the Ramones and Patti Smith they got noticed and signed a deal with United Artists.
From a punk perspective they were considered outsiders, both in terms of their age, being older than their peers (Jet Black was in his late thirties when Rattus was released) and musically different. Their sound was unusually melodic (helped by the fact they were ‘relatively’ musically accomplished); their lyrics could be clearly heard (!) and even solos were allowed (!).
The band certainly took advantage of the musical zeitgeist but never truly embraced the punk culture. They did adopt the aggressive and abrasive punk attitude on stage; they delivered their lyrics with snarling brute force. Their dealings with the musical press were notorious leading to JJ Burnel punching a music journalist. Some of their lyrical output reflected the punk-spirit. They exhibited a total disregard for political correctness at times, highlighted by bringing strippers on stage at the Battersea festival in the summer of 1978 (strangely the main support act was a man by the name of Peter Gabriel !).
Led by two charismatic front men, Hugh Cornwell on lead guitar and Jean-Jacques Burnel on bass, they delivered an incredibly varied output over the years. From the simply arranged punk anthems of ‘No More Heroes’, ’5 Minutes’ and ‘Something Better Change’; through the reggae-inspired ‘Peaches’; to the dark more complex and experimental ‘Black’ side of the Black and White album; and they even wrote the 4 part and 8 minute long ‘Prog-structured’ classic, ‘Down in the Sewer’. They broke away from the punk scene totally in 1979, their early success giving them the confidence to release their avant-garde fourth album, The Raven. They followed this with the unusual but ultimately disappointing concept album, The Gospel According to the Men In Black (which lost me and many others as fans for a while). The Stranglers were definitely not derivative and did not want to be pigeon-holed. Their musical and lyrical diversity on a track by track basis is rare and a testament to their originality and innovative skills.
Their signature sound was driven along by the ‘rough’ and a chest-filling bass lines of Jean-Jacques Burnel, usually followed by the swirling Hammond organ and mini-moog keyboards of Dave Greenfield. Unusually the guitar melodies were shared between lead and bass and there are an astonishing number of catchy riffs in their early output. Dave Geenfield’s psychedelic keyboards are hugely inspired by Ray Manzerek of the Doors, particularly on their brilliant cover of Bacharach and David’s ‘Walk on By’. Jet Black’s drums ties everything together nicely with competent drumming. Martin Rushent’s production on the early albums superb.
Their musical style and structure was initially quite basic but over time became more intricate with the use of complex time signatures; effects to slow and speed up sound and, from Black and White onwards, the more frequent use of synthesizers to create weird vocals and soundscapes.
The band’s lyrical themes were hugely diverse. Songs about boring lives, disenchantment, alienation, and the breakdown of political and social order were laced with biting political and social comment and par for the course at the time. But they were also inspired by the writings of Nostradamus, Japanese and Viking culture and even by a Victor Hugo novel.
Their lyrics quite often pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable. ‘Peaches’ is the only song I know that has the word ‘clitoris’ in it (changed to ‘bikini’ for the UK’s Top of the Pops). Clearly their lyrics were at times sexist and whilst unacceptable they were tame compared to today’s rap music and I believe ignore the playful irony and satire inherent in much of the band’s output. Most controversial was the misogynistic ‘Bring on the Nubiles’, about the obsession of older men for younger girls. The song comprises ‘in your face’ vulgarity and alludes to incest. Were they serious or just exploiting the times? What we do know is the band was deliberately antagonistic and courted controversy to increase their profile and this was indirectly supported by their record company who saw no reason to censor their lyrics or curtail their behaviour (it sold records for God’s sake!!!).
Here are some of my favourite lyrics:
From the punk anthem ‘No More Heroes’, the witty:
Whatever happened to Leon Trotsky?
He got an ice pick
That made his ears burn
From ‘Grip’ the truly memorable:
Stranger from another planet welcome to our hole
Just strap on your guitar and we’ll play some rock ‘n roll
Visceral social commentary from ‘Hanging Around’:
I’m moving in the Coleherne
With the leather all around me
And the sweat is getting steamy
But their eyes are on the ground
They’re just hanging around
(The Coleherne was an infamous gay leather bar in Earls Court, London in the 70s and 80s frequented by many famous clientele).
Here’s a typically aggressive live, albeit shortened, version…
Acerbic criticism of the educational system in ‘School Mam’:
In the free-form, abrasive and controversial ‘Ugly’, only the Stranglers could juxtapose a reference to Ozymandias, a poem by Shelley about folly in the pursuit of power, with the shallowness of mankind’s attitude towards aesthetics:
I Could Have
Read A Poem Called
To Her Instead
I Lived For The Moment
It Was A Futile
I Was Here
And She Was Here
And Being Broad
Of Minds And Hips
We Did The Only Thing Possible
I Guess I Shouldn’t Have Strangled Her To Death But
I Had To Go To Work And She Had Laced My Coffee With Acid
Normally I Wouldn’t Have Minded
But I’m Allergic To Sulphuric Acid
Besides She Had Acne
And If You’ve Got Acne, Well,
I Apologise For Disliking It Intensely,
But It’s Understandable That Ugly People Have Got Complexes
I Mean It Seems To Me
That Ugly People Don’t Have A Chance
It’s Only The Children Of The Fucking Wealthy Who Tend To Be Good Looking
An Ugly Fart
Attracts A Good-Looking
Chick If He’s Got Money
An Ugly Fart
Attracts A Good-Looking
Chick If He’s Got Money
An Ugly Fart
Attracts A Good-Looking
Chick If He’s Got Money
It’s Different For Jews Somehow.
I’d Like To See
A Passionate Film Between
The Two Ugliest
People In The World.
When I Say Ugly
I Don’t Mean Rough Looking
I Mean Hideous.
Don’t Tell Me That
Just Know The Truth
When You See It
Whatever It Is
Powerful stuff indeed.
In 1990 Hugh Cornwell left the band and it appeared to be the end of an era. Over the subsequent years they continued to release albums with little mainstream success but were (and still are) supported by a fanatically loyal fan base. However, with the addition of Baz Warne, whose energy and snarling aggression making him a worthy replacement to Hugh Cornwell, they have become a superb live act. Their latest album ‘Giants’ released in 2012 is a huge return to form, echoing their halcyon period of the late 70s. It seems ironic that I saw them headline a predominantly ‘Prog’ festival, Weyfest, in 2010 but it’s a clear indication of their popularity amongst a wide cross-section of music lovers.
The Stranglers are arguably the greatest and certainly the most enduring band to emerge from the punk era. I look forward to another brutal encounter with them later this year in Guildford, their spiritual home and fortunately only a few miles away from chez moi.
Final words though must go to Hugh, JJ, Dave and Jet from the epic ‘Down in the Sewer’
I tell you what I’m gonna do
Gonna make love to a water rat or two
and breed a family
they’ll be called the survivors
You know why ?
Coz they’re gonna survive
Nearly 40 years on and they are surviving remarkably well
For my American colleagues..an old blog mailed to me by a friend, this may interest those who like music, myth and the invention of history.
Sometimes a band comes along that defies categorisation. KBm are such an animal. From the first listen the album aroused my curiosity and I strived in vain to ‘place’ it in my comfortable world of musical genres. That I failed to do so after repeated attempts is a testament to the diversity within Truth Button. As a result it’s taken me a long time to write this review (I’ve thought of little else for the last week!)
KBm are the brainchild of John Bassett, based in the UK. Truth Button is the band’s sixth album since 2003. I will be honest enough to say I had never heard of KBm before, so this was my first experience of their quite unique sound.
Truth Button has a loose concept and in the band’s words:
“…deals with an underlying theme of technophobia and social disconnection due to the ever-growing trivial use of modern technology”.
The frequent pressing of computer buttons has led to the creation of an illusory world but through the ‘Truth Button’ we can, if we wish, attempt to connect with the real world.
This theme is clearly referred to in some of the song titles and accompanying lyrics.
The mix of musical styles is eclectic and melded into an original sound. There’s a bit of Queen here and maybe Black Sabbath there and smatterings of indie and alternative rock (Queens of the Stone Age). At times the lead and bass guitar riffs are very grungy (Tool/Nirvana). And they throw in a bit of Radiohead and Muse. The vocals however are generally light and punctuated with some nice harmonies.
Frost* and It Bites at the Scala, London on Sunday 16th December: ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’ review
We (myself, Nigel and Gary) arrived at the Scala at 7.15pm knowing that with a strict curfew operating at 10.30pm matters would commence at 7.30pm sharp. So plenty of time then, even if I was told it might be popular (but that’s not saying much for a Prog gig). To my horror I saw the biggest queue I have ever seen for such a gig….it was at least 100 yards long and possibly 150 yards. I’m used to walking straight in, getting served a beer immediately and hearing my voice echoing in the venue. By the time we actually got in, Frost* were already playing and the place was packed. No beer then and not a good start.
I managed to squeeze myself into a spot near the ‘mosh pit’ but being vertically challenged and trying to review a gig that’s crowded was not easy. Anyway, with excuses out of the way, what was it like?
First I noticed a sound problem and then that John Mitchell’s voice was a bit croaky.
So let’s recap…I haven’t got a beer in hand; I feel like a sardine; I can’t see much; the sounds cr*p and the singer has lost his voice…could it get any worse?
Ian’s friend Nigel (Barham) takes up the story…..
I’m not familiar with Frost* apart from the instrumental Hyperventilate, which I really like. So I was delighted to hear it being played as we made our way to the ‘mosh pit’. Like Ian I’m rather vertically challenged but I reckon the sound is invariably better at ground level so I’m usually prepared to put up with staring at the back of people’s heads. We were impressed by the rest of the set and I for one will be investigating the Frost back catalogue (courtesy of Ian). Jem Godfrey’s keyboards skills are well-known (in my case for his fine contributions to BBT’s Underfall Yard) but he also has a talent for entertaining stage banter – perhaps the spelling bee competition and drum-duel went on for rather too long but then again, not only is it coming up to Christmas, but 2012 has seen a resurgence of the ‘music that dares not speak its name’ (thanks Geoff B) and these hard-working and dedicated musicians deserve to have a smile on their faces.
Ian takes over again….
It’s difficult to categorise Frost* but for those who don’t know their music, I find their (albeit limited) output to be well-produced; keyboard effects-driven; predominantly instrumental, neo-prog with some beautiful, complex melodies. Sometimes moving from gentle piano introductions to a wall of sound (Hyperventilate); sometimes with short vocalised passages (Black Light Machine) or sometimes just a very long mixture! (Milliontown). Quite often with ‘competing’ guitar and keyboards. Mainly bright and uplifting (nothing dark and disturbing here). Generally it’s a ‘big’ sound for a four-piece band.
But back to proceedings….Yes, the sound quality noticeably improved by track 3 and at a ground level I’ve been in a much tighter squeeze so things improved.
The band treated us to a couple of new tracks, Heartstrings and Fathers from their forthcoming album to be released next year. Both were well-received and I didn’t notice any significant change in musical direction, so I think we can expect more of the same on the new album. The band finished with their lengthy ‘magnum opus’, Milliontown. All the tracks were played to the usual high standard expected from this ‘gifted and talented’ group.
Over to you Nigel….
The interval revealed another strange thing – not only did I have to queue to get into the venue, but there was a queue for the gents loos – and none for the ladies! This is unheard of. The crowd around the bar was 5-deep so sadly the evening remained dry – even more unheard of…
It Bites came on to a rapturous reception and played a varied set covering their long career. A fan since seeing them play Calling All The Heroes on a children’s TV programme (!) way back in the 80’s, I’ve seen them live several times and they never disappoint. John Mitchell has proved to be a more than capable replacement for Frank Dunnery – as John Beck has commented “I’ve met guitarists that could manage Frank’s licks but weren’t singers, or the other way around. John’s the first to do both”.
The guitarist’s voice was showing the strain of playing back to back gigs for the past week (and having a bad virus I’m led to believe) but fortunately he managed to make it through to the end of the evening. Ironically the huskiness added an unexpected depth of emotion to some of the songs, particularly Send No Flowers.
Nathan King, on bass for both bands, and deputising for the absent Lee Pomeroy for It Bites, played some quality bass-lines throughout (well, it does ‘run in the family’ – geddit?).
The high point of the set, the 15-minute Once Around The World, brought the gig to a triumphant close, cunningly leaving just enough time for an encore (Kiss Like Judas, another favourite) before the venue’s 10:30 curfew kicked in. We even had some special Christmas effects; the artificial snow making us all feel full of Xmas cheer.
High point for me (Nigel) – Yellow Christian, a long-time favourite.
And finally from Ian….
High point – the whole set from It Bites!… low point, they didn’t play the beautiful piano melodies from ‘The Last Escape’.
AND…Special mention to Jon Patrick for organising it. I noted some ‘on-line’ complaints about ‘feeling like a sardine’ and ‘tickets were over-sold’. Well maybe that’s true but isn’t that better than a less than half-filled venue with no real atmosphere? I know we want these guys to make a living out of this and if that means I have to suffer a bit for them to produce such stunning music then I’ll happily be a sardine 20 times a year!
Nigel – agree, I would much rather a gig was sold out than have a band play to a half-empty venue. And on that note, if anybody has happened upon this by chance and has had their interest piqued, all I can say is – give it a go! At a time when the Strolling Bones are charging the cost of a holiday for one show, these gigs are seriously good value. Plus, the prog crowd are possibly the friendliest bunch around.
Overall a superb night of entertainment.
I’ve taken the plunge and chosen my top albums of 2012. My top 6 came to me quite quickly. The rest took some time to rank but I finally managed it. I’ve also ‘mentioned in dispatches’ a few other albums that I either like and/or think are worth having a listen to if you haven’t already. 2012 has been a very good year indeed for the Prog world.
No 12 First Stage Zoltan by Zoltan
Wonderful cinematic soundscapes that would make John Carpenter proud. It’s all analogue and sounds great on a good hi-fi system. For lovers of atmospheric film scores.
From their eponymous titled album released earlier this year, this is a spontaneous blog following the posting of a Youtube link by a few other Echolyn admirers. This is not only my favourite track from the album but it is also one of my favourite tracks of all time. For me there are few songs through which I have had an IMMEDIATE and TOTAL connection. I am not usually a lyrics/song-orientated person as I like getting lost in very long instrumental tracks (typically prog but also classical or jazz). Sometimes I find lyrics (or more to the point singing, particularly bad singing) act as an obstacle to my enjoyment of the quality of the musicianship. However, there is no doubt that a song containing a combination of wonderful lyrics, a great voice and superb melodies and musicianship is difficult to beat.
When I first heard Past Gravity it literally sent shivers down my spine, in fact my whole body. The lyrics evoked memories and feelings within me that rarely surface. In fact when I listen, especially as the singing reaches a crescendo, I am usually welling up with tears. From the very first line I was hooked….’Love is a ghost in a room when she has turned away into the empty night’…. How many of us have felt this in our lifetime I wonder?
This song transcends music, it is pure beauty. If you haven’t heard it then I really hope you will enjoy it, and if you have, then listen again!
Beardfish are another of the wave of Scandinavian bands to grace us with their music in the last decade or so. Heralding from Sweden they have been around since 2001.
I had heard of the band but never listened to their music. Various people had recommended their latest album ‘The Void’ but I first got hold of one of their earlier albums ‘Destined Solitaire’, released in 2009.
What can I say other than, for me, this has the ‘Wow’ Factor.
Perusing Wikipedia (dangerous I know), they are likened to Genesis and Yes…..mmmmm, not so sure about that………..yes, they are labelled as ‘Prog’ but they are light years away from these Classic Prog bands. Avant-garde certainly, their imaginations run riot through this album. To me the music conjures up a meeting between Frank Zappa and The Marx Brothers, it’s that zany and madcap. There are an incredible amount of different influences prevalent, from prog through jazz with even some ‘growling’ metal. They are refreshingly unique in a genre where that’s very difficult to be.
These Swedish guys are certainly talented and incredibly inventive. They are the spawn of the Mothers of Invention!
This album is complex and long but rewards perseverance. It took me three listens just to begin to appreciate it and I’m sure that with repeat listening more of its treasures will be revealed.
If you like eccentric, surreal 70s style music (with a lot of Hammond organ), I heartily recommended this album.
My journey has just started with this unusual band. Their latest album is winging its way through the Christmas post. I wait with anticipation.
I was first introduced to Oceansize a few years ago after reading a general review of progressive rock by a devout Catholic (a priest I think, not you Brad!). He discussed a number of albums produced over the last few years that had escaped me and I decided to take a chance on Effloresce. I purchased the CD with no internet listening beforehand. At first I just didn’t get it; what was this all about? There were too many things going on for my brain to register. It literally blew my mind. I just couldn’t get my head around it. But after about 4 or 5 listens it hit me like a sledgehammer, but in a good way, where pain is pleasure. I have listened to this album so many times it’s stupid really…can one album be so good that I spend so much of my precious time listening to it? The whole album is like a massive earworm to me, I have trouble getting it out of my head after listening to it… trouble sleeping, you bet!
Of all the brilliant tracks on the album, I’ve chosen Massive Bereavement to comment upon because it includes so many of the elements of progressive music that I like.
- It’s long and it takes me on an emotional journey.
- It has multi-layered guitars (three of them), played in the usual complex time signatures. The guitar sound is dissonant, atonal and challenging but it’s also soft and melodic at times. It’s full of great little riffs without any noticeable solos. If someone can identify all the time signatures for me then I would appreciate it!
- It has some fantastic ‘off’ beat, syncopated drumming. The drum is another key instrument, it’s not just there to hold the beat together (thanks Nigel). It adds extra texture and complexity. In fact of all the many albums I’ve heard, Effloresce is my favourite for drumming.
- The structure is typical of a ‘prog’ song i.e. it’s typically unstructured in the traditional sense and you’re not quite sure what you are going to get next. It builds up slowly and carefully, slipping in and out of strangely hypnotic vocals. An unsettling interlude follows – the song almost ‘simmers’ before the tempo speeds up; more lyrics follow building up the tension before exploding into a frenzied vocal and concludes with an attack of manic, duelling guitars.
- The mood of the song is at first hallucinatory; it has a dream-like quality that is also disturbing; there is a sense of foreboding. As the vocals kick-in, there’s a palpable sense of anxiety and related despair as if someone is trying to get somewhere but can’t. As if in a dream I feel disconnected from reality without the ability to control my circumstance. A sense of trying to understand someone or something but being unable to, then realising that whatever I am searching for is different from my expectation. This is the emotional state the song triggers in my mind and I cannot escape from it.
- The vocal style, its emotion, is in perfect harmony with the mood of the song. At times dream-like but also contemplative, despairing and finally, almost hysterical.
- Lyrical meaning – what is the song all about? – perhaps asking Mike Vennart, who wrote it, would be a good idea. I’ve heard on one blog that it’s about the death of Bill Hicks, the American comedian who died tragically young and who (allegedly) the band admired. His comedy involved direct attacks on mainstream society, religion, politics, and consumerism. However, I’m not going to hypothesize. Musical lyrics, like most verse, can be interpreted in different ways. What I know is that the words resonate with me and this significantly adds to the song’s enjoyment. I leave it to the reader to listen carefully to the song and make of them as you will. (They are at the end of this review).
- I never tire hearing this song. Every time I listen to it I capture a little bit more of its essence.
I read one review saying that Oceansize are like Mogwai meeting Tool and indeed, there are similarities with both. I personally ‘connect’ with the Mogwai sound, Tool not so much, but I believe there is an extra level of musical complexity to Oceansize. I would recommend either a very, very good hi-fi system OR a very good set of headphones to gain maximum appreciation of the complex sound of the band. The ‘inner-ear’ experience is superb.
Massive Bereavement is a stunning track from an album full of exceptional tracks. It’s an awesome debut album and currently in my top 10 of all time. Please, if you haven’t heard them, check out their other three albums, Everyone Into Position, Frames and Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. I hope you won’t be disappointed.
Oceansize fit into the edgy, dark and heavy side of Prog but that’s just where I like to be. Intense stuff. Welcome to the dark side J
PS – Totally unrelated anecdote
Massive Bereavement is a superb warm up track for the gym. I’ve developed a special 10 min cycle routine for it. A low rpm start, gradually building up the power to an explosive intensity and climax (Yes I am slightly deranged!).
Billy’s worries take control
All at once needing seething teething
Take one more
He is growing
And we were searching for a truth that was there all along
All those knowing little seeds would be the words to this song
That righteous indignation dollar turning you on
Turn off the television turn off the television
All at once needing seething teething
Take one more
He is growing as god looks on
He is growing, god looks on, god looks on
What a way to go i’m still running for that bus that we missed years ago
A perfect antidote more connections made it’s inevitable
That he was reaching out to touch me he was reaching out to touch me he was
He was reaching out to touch me he was reaching out to touch me he was Reaching out
He’s not joking joking joking
Indelible an ever-changing colour you winner man
He’s invincible and screaming at the world that you’re wrong you’re so wrong
And i was reaching out to touch him i was reaching out to touch him i was
I was reaching out to touch him i was reaching out to touch him i was Reaching out
I’m not joking joking joking
Is this not what you expected
Is this not what you expected
Is this not what you expected
Is this not what you expected
Ah ah ah ah