Author Archives: John Deasey

Big Big Train – live review, Kings Hall, London, Friday 14 August 2015

Light bleeds from the world

Starcross, the Underfall Yard

the iron and the stone is broken

the dream of the Western mind

searching for reason is gone now

It seems a lifetime since these words have been etched into my mind. Countless runs on the moors and trails of our Pennine hills amongst old quarries, broken shepherds rests, along sheep trods to old mining tracks, rusting old machinery dramatically lit by shafts of sunlight amongst stark moorland beauty ….. the words silently going round in my mind as I run blissfully up the hills.

Yet, somehow, it is but a few years since the Underfall Yard came into my life.

Never has music resonated and connected with me so strongly to the extent that it has almost become my theme tune for running, for life even …

So here we are, in a rainy and warm London, having a pre-show pint with some wonderful friends about to witness this magnificent piece of music performed live for the very first time.  In my mind there was somehow a nagging doubt that it was all some huge spoof, a wind up, and we would get to the venue to find it had all been a dream and that the concerts were in fact just us fans wishing beyond dreams that BBT would perform live.

The venue could not have been any better, a mini Bridgewater Hall lookalike with perfect views wherever. Small, modern and intimate – perfect.

There was palpable tension in the air and, as alluded by Nick on a previous post, a slight worry that the sound might not be right, the tracks may not lend themselves to live performance, could the group cut it …..  ?!

The lights went down. The band walked out. The audience was hushed.

Then David Longdon said “Hello ..shall we make some noise ?”, in a cheery voice and you could almost feel everyone relax.

And it started ….

Two and a half hours of the most sublime, moving and emotionally charged music I have had the pleasure to witness – ever.

Although they started with my least favourite track of the evening, it was a joy to see these people who I have listened to for so long, actually there on stage, performing with such energy and fun. My eyes were casting back and forward, yes, there’s Dave Gregory, that’s Greg Spawton tucked away at the back on the right, just next to Nick D’Virgilio … wow.

Once the little opening track had allowed them to loosen up, we moved into a powerful section with ‘The First Rebreather’ providing drama and the first opportunity for David Longdon to really open up that fantastic voice :

‘Searching for hope at the ninth hour …..’

What I wasn’t expecting was the 24 minute epic ‘The Underfall’ Yard to be so early in the running order but boy, did this deliver. From those first opening chords to the magnificent section with the lyrics above, this was a stunning tour de force : powerful, precise, tight, dripping with emotion and passion for the subject matter ….. wonderful.

I never thought I would get to see this track performed live and it really did feel like I had died and gone to heaven.

As a bit of light relief we then had ‘Uncle Jack’ which has always struck me as a quirky track with an awkward but charming feel to it. Maybe it’s the use of the banjo or it’s structure, but it was a delight to listen to live despite a couple of timing issues, not to be unexpected I guess in a first live performance !

So far we’ve not mentioned the brass band, or more correctly the brass section. At first I was a bit non-plussed as I could hear them but there was no sign on stage. Then I noticed they were sitting in the balcony just above the band. This was good timing as another track from ‘The Underfall Yard’ was next – ‘Victorian Brickwork’.

If you know this track,  you will be aware of the power of the closing section with it’s huge build up of brass, guitar and keyboard. If you don’t, you need to rectify that situation with immediate effect. The track itself is wonderful, a haunting lament that rolls along as the waves and sea it describes envelope us to finish off with the beautiful brass-infused wall of sound finale.

The hairs on my arms were tingling at this point, particularly when the trumpet (or cornet ?) soared so clear and emotionally over the crescendo coming for the stage below ……

Time was going so quickly, as I knew it would.  I couldn’t stop time, despite wanting to.

A 20 minute interval allowed everyone to regather themselves, take in what they had just witnessed and try and absorb what had just been.

An interesting choice to start the second part of the performance was ‘Kingmaker’ which, for me, is an often overlooked track sitting as it does somewhat between albums. The live performance was captivating and had me quickly checking my iPod on the journey home to give it the attention it deserves.

One feature of the performance was the energy of David Longdon. He was superb : lively and energetic. He added pathos and drama and at one stage even donned a subtle face mask during ‘Wassail’ that, along with his flute waving, was completely in keeping with the track. He really connected with the audience and delivered a virtuoso vocal performance that was stunning to see at such close quarters.

‘Summoned by Bells’ followed and was played with sumptuous ease, and again, we were treated to a wonderful brass section that could have frankly gone on for several hours and I think we would have all been very happy ….

Now, as a rule I hate drum solo’s with a passion, so was a bit taken aback as Nick D’Virgilio suddenly started thrashing around in a very accomplished drummer sort of way but then suddenly – bang ! – we are into ‘Judas Unrepentant’ as quickly as you like. A stunning way to open this track actually. Again,  if you know this track you will be realise it’s quite a complex little fellow with odd phrasing, clever structure and a wonderfully chaotic feel to it.  Somehow,  this was performed with hardly a missed beat, at least I didn’t notice one, and this was a complete hoot to see live. Loud, energetic, fun and impeccable played.

The mood changed dramatically for the next track – ‘Curator of Butterflies’ from English Electric 2. Danny Manners’ cultured keyboard playing provided a beautiful backing for Longdon’s vocals to soar powerfully. This wonderful track has, for me, always evoked feelings of loss, gentleness, delicacy and compassion and to hear it so beautifully played was mesmerising.

Grown men were weeping at this point it must be said ….

This utterly captivating performance was coming to a close, it had to, it couldn’t go on for ever. There was a sad inevitability that this was a moment in time that was going to be over too soon.

Anyhow, enough reverie. There was some serious business to complete in the form of ‘East Coast Racer’ a track which I have enjoyed immensely from the very first listen but is fast becoming my second favourite track of all time. There is something about its movement and rhythm, the way it mirrors the Mallard steaming along the rails at 120+mph, the elbows jutting from the cab and caps worn in racing style – everything about the lyrics, the history and the industry combine to stunning effect.

The performance of this track was simply astonishing.

During the mid-section the power of the brass section, the drum work of D’Virgilio and the build up of layer on layer of keyboards was spellbinding and when Longdon gets to the final lyric and belts out over all this …..

‘into history

into legends

she flies ………’

Goodness me ….. I’m not sure I’ve seen any live music as compelling as this and yes, I’m a fanboy and know the music inside out, so perhaps my views are a little biased but there was something out of this world about this performance.

To expect any great encore was maybe pushing it but we were treated to a lovely rendition of ‘Hedgerow’ which included sublime violin work from Rachel Hall. In fact,  this seemed to captivate Dave Gregory so much he didn’t seem quite ready for his guitar part, as though he was lost in the music and enjoying it as much as us .. a lovely moment !

So, that was it. It was over.

A performance I feel privileged to have seen and one I hope will be repeated should the band feel it was a success.

I sincerely hope they do because from a fan’s perspective it was everything I had dreamt and more …….

Thank you to all the Big Big Train band and the brass band guys for a truly memorable evening.

Setlist :

Come on Make Some Noise

The First Rebreather

The Underfall yard

Uncle Jack

Victorian Brickwork

—- interval —–

Kingmaker

Wasail

Summoned by Bells

Judas Unrepentant

Curator of Butterflies

East Coast Racer

—–

Hedgerow (encore)

Big Big Train – live review of first night of 3 London gigs

……. wow !!!!

Full review to follow when the three London gigs are complete to avoid spoilers for those with the pleasure of attending tonight and tomorrow lunchtime …….

Hand. Cannot. Erase. – a review

 

 

Steven_Wilson_Hand_Cannot_Erase_cover

 

As much as I adore most of the Porcupine Tree back catalogue and go along with the line that Steven Wilson is a modern day genius,  there has been a tendency (for my tastes) to sometimes veer off course which is probably a result of his never ending quest for perfection and experimentation.

Although last years ‘The Raven …’ is undoubtedly a fine, fine album, I still find myself preferring ‘Insurgentes’ and ‘Grace for Drowning’ whereas his work with Mikael Akerlecht in Storm Corrosion is almost un-listenable and the less said about his latter days with Blackfield the better (do NOT mention IV, please …..).

So, a tiny bit of perspective before I state quite clearly that ‘Hand.Cannot.Erase’ is to these ears, a truly magnificent album up there with the best work Wilson has ever written, produced and recorded.

What this has in spades, in no small part due to the storyline behind the album, is a wealth of emotion with some memorably touching passages of music. There is no shortage of incredible musicianship from the outstanding band he has put together, and there are moments when you just wonder how on earth they hold it all together as they veer from what sounds like all-out jamming, jazz-fusion-prog style,  to a gorgeous funky groove.

With a group including Guthrie Govan (guitar), Adam Holzman (keyboards), Nick Beggs (bass / stick), and Marco Minneman (drums) with guest guitar also from Dave Gregory and Wilson himself,  it is no surprise the technical excellence is there, but what is added to this album is a depth of emotion and feeling.

The back-story to this album is well documented by Wilson and well worth checking out.  It’s a poignant, sad and strange story that manages to be both haunting and somehow very close to home. How many other people are lying there now, as we speak, unnoticed ……?

The artwork, the titles, the subject matter, even the web page (http://handcannoterase.com/) – all blend to form an incredible piece of work that I hope will be talked about for years to come.  The human story and the emotion-infused music suggest this may be a long-lasting meisterwerk ……

This is not a Prog album or a pop album or a metal album or jazz album and sits firmly within Wilson’s aim to be genre-less : it has a wonderful mixture of styles which together form a potent mix and offer up a compelling piece of work.

So, that’s a snapshot, a birds-eye view if you like.

I’ve always been a fan of soundscapes and soundtrack music and this is where ‘Hand.Cannot.Erase’ moves in a slightly different direction to some of Wilson’s other work. There is much more use of electronic sounds to link the pieces together and provide a subtle background. In many ways it reminds me of Craig Armstrong in places  – if you don’t know him, check out the magnificent “Weather Systems’ album – an absolute classic.

This is typified on ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ by the 4th track, ‘Perfect Life’. The combination of an electronic beat, swathes of keyboards and spoken voice are cinematic and moving. From the opening spoken word section to the build up with the refrain repeated, over and over ….. simply magical.

This is a relatively simple track but it is where the album starts to move up a few notches as the emotionally intensity starts to get hold.

Before we’ve reached this point however, 4 tracks in, mention must be made of the moody intro piece ‘First Regret’ which sets the tone with cinematic piano and keyboards and hints of refrains and themes that will be re-visited throughout the album.

‘3 Years Older’  has a Rush-type riff that is tight and dynamic and at 10.00 minutes long moves in typical SW style through various genres.

The title track is a poppy little number which is full of life and energy with a deceptively simple structure but hits the right spot in so many ways. I’ve seen mention of Blackfield for this track on YouTube but the scars of IV live long in the memory for me to discount any such connection …. this is instead a gloriously catchy, and clever track.

The album now takes a decidedly darker turn, as the back story is mirrored and a melancholic air permeates the music.  ‘Routine’ introduces a spooky, intimidating soundscape that is ethereal and affecting. The final two minutes of this track are particularly outstanding as the mood is taken down again with a gorgeous choral backing accompanying Wilson’s gentle vocal and is pure movie soundtrack genius …

A harder edge then comes in with a suite of tracks that on my review copy seem linked so it’s hard to tell which one is which.  ‘Home Invasion’, ‘Regret#9’ and ‘Transcience’ combine to give a powerful section of the album which sees more instrumental work going on. There is a palpable release of this magnificent band as they hit their stride with a jazzy start moving into a funky groove then some glorious guitar work and a typical Wilson wall of sound  – I imagine this will be superb live.

As good as this is, it really doesn’t prepare you for the 13.00 minute epic that is ‘Ancestral’.  This starts with a cool, detached and melancholic opening with a beautiful chord structure that builds tension that releases in gorgeous style with a truly moving refrain. The way this track builds and suggests drama is quite startling but then around 5 minutes in, the track moves to a wonderful instrumental section which summits several peaks, let’s us take the view in for a brief moment, then plunges us back down with intense power before soaring to a truly stunning climax …. the emotional intensity of this track is powerful indeed.

The album closes with ‘Happy Returns’ which gives us time to breathe but not rest as another gorgeous track sweeps along in glorious style to the moving choral fade out that frankly, leaves you sitting rather stunned.

So there we have it.

There is little of the cold, detached, analytical Steven Wilson that sometimes pervaded his earlier solo work and instead we have a sweeping, emotional work of art that at times is quite breathtaking. The brilliance of the musicians is matched by the brilliance of the concept, the direction and the songwriting which, for me, makes this album stand out above Wilson’s previous solo work.  It has moved him on to another level not just in the music world, but as a multi-media artist in his own right.

The combination of story line, artwork, melody and musical excellence should make this album one of the highlights of 2015 …..

 

 

 

My favourites albums 2014 …..

Not sure I’ve put a post on here for ages,  so apologies for that but I’ve been busy running up and down hills through the mud, puddles, cow dung and sheep poo of the fantastic Pennines in the UK, with all this wonderful music going around in my head …

Anyway, as is customary for me, a quick scattergun snapshot of my favourite albums of 2104, with three very noticeable exceptions that were actually released in 2013.

My most played album of the year is :

Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortal

Dramatic, operatic, emotional, heavy and stunning.  Never has an hour passed as quickly or enjoyably as this sublime album. Wonderfully structured with barely a note wasted, this is a true classic with a flow that simply cannot be bettered. Crunchy, clean production, massive riffs, melody to die for. Can’t wait for the next chapter in 2015 ….

And this lot aren’t so bad either ….

Seven Impale – City of the Sun

A fantastic smorgasbord of jazzy heavy brilliance that twists and turns through a myriad of styles to delight with every listen. Absolutely barkingly brilliant …

Gazpacho – Demon

Evocative, moving, emotional and deeply rewarding. True to their style, Gazpacho deliver a wonderfully elegant, understated and involving piece of work. Essential

Pineapple Thief – Magnolia

Bruce Soord comes up trumps again with a collection of intense snippets of emotion. No solos, no wasted space – just fantastic compact songs that delight every time.  My favourite live band and Magnolia brought to live brilliantly in Manchester recently. Wonderful.

Tin Spirits – Scorch

Brings back memories of running high up in the Lakes on a hot day. Gorgeous, light and textured. Dave Gregory’s guitar work is sublime – a summer album for sure. Uplifting and memorable.

IQ – Road of Bones

An absolute blast from start to finish. Solid prog rock of the highest order and a regullar visitor to CD player in my car. Cracking stuff.

Now for the fellas that were released in 2013 but which I’ve become acquainted with this year and, I think, two have been re-released in 2014 so I guess they might count, particularly if, like me, you are never sure what year you actually in …

Leprous – Coal

Saw these guys live with Haken and for me,  they were the highlight by far. Physcotically syncronated head-banging perfection. Engaging, powerful, emotional and with slight nods to 90’s electronic amidst the metal mayhem. Brilliant.

Obsidian Kingdom – Mantiis

Stunning modern prog metal madness with jazz, death and brass thrown in to provide a Pans Labyrinth’an atmosphere of brooding intensity.  Wonderful production as well … just listen to this track

Navigator – Ghostworld

Superbly engaging, soaring melodies with hooks that just won’t let go.  Check them out – you won’t regret it.  This is my most played album of December by far ….

My biggest disappointment of the year was ‘Distant Satellites’ by Anethema.  What a mess of an album after the brilliance of the previous two albums. I know it was many people’s favourite but for me it had memories of the frankly awful Blackfield IV which will forever stay in my mind as one of the worst albums of all time …..

Anyway, onwards and upwards.

My running plans for 2015 are as expansive and ambitious as some of the music that has been released this year and I expect the same high levels for the coming year.

Thanks

JD

Top 10 for 2013 – my quick list

What a year for music. What a year for Prog.

I had every intention of writing reams and reams about my top 30 albums and eulogising in great detail about their many nuances, but to be honest, I was eating into my listening time and I’ve still got at least a dozen albums from last year to listen to properly.

So this is my list in terms of the albums I have enjoyed and played the most during 2013 :

 

1. Haken – The Mountain

haken1

A brilliantly conceived and executed album with riffs galore, melody in abundance, emotion pouring out of it with a message and cover art that sits close to my heart as those of you who know me will realise. To see this performed live recently at the Borderline, along with several Twitter friends who I met for the first time, puts this album into a special place.

 

2. Freedom to Glide – Rain

Rain

A beautifully produced and immensely moving album. A distinct Floyd and Waters vibe but shot through with it’s own sound. In many ways this is a perfect album for me. The theme is clear, it is not ‘overdone’, it does not become hectoring, the sound is truly gorgeous and the level of detail bears repeated listens. Quite simply a stunning album.

 

3. Days Between Stations – In Extremis

days_between_stations_in_extremis_resized

A smorgasbord of prog references put together with loving detail to produce one of the major highlights of my music year.  I can hear Big Big Train, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and other great artists – but I also hear the wonderfully crafted musicianship of Eggshell Man and the title track which, albeit with subtle and not so subtle references to other groups, soar above any suggestions of plagarism. A wonderfully fulfilling and rewarding album ….

4. Lifesigns – Lifesigns

Lifesigns CD (2)

 A genuine ‘feelgood’ piece of music – uplifting, joyous and engaging.  Refreshingly different yet reassuringly familiar. A summer album to play on a sunny day.  There is complexity and skilfully tricky arrangements but the overriding feel is one of melodic genius.

 

5. 65 Days of Static – Wild Light

Wild Light

These guys are old favourites of mine, right back to their anthemic Fall of Math album.  This revisits some of that territory again but this time with soaring synths, staccato beats and pulsating slabs of electronica to lift this album into places it is sometimes quite difficult to get down from …. a dramatic cinematic masterpiece. Top class.

6. Steven Wilson – The Raven …..

raven-that-refused-to-sing

Everything that can be said about this album has already been said……. I’m still gutted I missed it live in Manchester otherwise I’m sure it would be higher in the list, but I hold grudges badly :-)

7. Sound of Contact – Dimensionaut

Sound-of-Contact-Dimensionaut-Cover-300x300

A great album that is a joy to listen to. Nothing too heavy or in your face, great melodies, hooks to die for that linger and give you earworms for days …. a nice antidote to some of the tricker albums and one I constantly return to. Excellent stuff.

8. Big Big Train – English Electric Pt 2

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This would have been my album of the year but for the annoying fade outs and rather weak middle section that, over time, have become wearisome.  However, any album that contains East Coast Racer (an absolute masterpiece), Curator of Butterflies and The Permanent Way has to be in my top 10. The re-arrangement of tracks on Full Power hides some of the issues on Part 2 but I can’t consider this a 2013 release in it’s own right.

9. Omnium Gatherum – Beyond

Beyond

Melodic doom metal of the highest order. A breathtaking tsunami of sound that cascades out of the speakers and provides layer upon layer of drama. Yes there are growls, but there are also soaring melodies from both the vocals and the layered guitars. Epic in scale and epic in production. I am enjoying this genre more and more and if Insomniums’ ‘One for Sorrow’ had been released this year that would be a leading contender …..

10. Vienna Circle – Silhouette Moon

Vienna

This couldn’t be further from the above album if it tried. A gossamer light blend of melody, skilful playing and wonderfully constructed songs that entrance and enchant in equal measure. There is a shimmering feel to this album that is an absolute delight. This is super music that improves with every listen.

 

Special mentions must go to Airbag, Votum, Anta, The Fierce and the Dead, Subsignal, Maschine (who’s Rubidium album was really brought to life when they supported Haken at the Borderline), Subsignal and Jet Black Sea –  all their albums are on more or less constant rotation when the time allows.

There are also albums from Humanfly, TesseracT, Spocks Beard, Amplifier and Dream Theater that have been played but not yet ‘discovered’ and I dare say one of these could well have burst it’s way onto my list had it clicked at a particular time.  The delights of these plus many others have still to be explored and as with so many other things in life, time is the pressing issue.

What a year it has been and quite frankly, if no albums were released at all in 2014, we would have enough riches to survive a long time on the output of 2012 and 2013.

See you all soon and have a great break over the next week or so …..

A powerful and moving piece of work ……

Image

 

Freedom to Glide – “Rain

Review by John Deasey

 

If you look careful at the album artwork above, you can see the faces of soldiers in every rain drop.

 

So my brothers fell like rain

Every rain drop bears a name

The storm will rise, the sky will fall

A bitter lesson for us all.

 

“Rain’ is the culmination of 3 years work by Pete Riley and Andy Nixon, both members of a Pink Floyd tribute band who realised they had more than a shared interest in the music they were playing. 

As they explain on their website, musically they just clicked and before long they were exchanging ideas, laying down tracks and realising they were on to something outside of the tribute band. 

And my, how they were on to something. 

Taking a step back for a moment, I remember when Roger Waters released “Amused to Death” and being totally floored by the opening track ‘The Ballad of Bill Hubbard’. The beautiful, subtle guitar fills from Jeff Beck, the mournful backing to the spoken word of a British veteran soldier describing the horrors of war in a gentle, frail, breaking voice …… very moving indeed.

Other tracks such as ‘It’s a Miracle’ and the closing title track are similarly outstanding and have stood the test of time.

Admittedly some of Waters’ anti-war tirade gets a bit tiresome and a little bit theatrically obvious on that album, but there is a stunning tone and feel to the overall piece of work that stays long in the mind. 

It is no surprise, given the background of Freedom to Glide, that there is a distinct Floyd / Waters vibe to ‘Rain’, but it avoids any of the cheap shots or crassness of ‘Amused to Death’ and instead infuses the whole piece of work with an elegance and subtlety that is perfectly in keeping with the respectful air for the subject matter.

 

My copy of the album arrived at 10.50am on release day, 11/11/2013.

 

So apt. So appropriate.

 

The sweeping keyboards of the title track immediately set an atmosphere and within a few moments we are taken into a magnificently moving piece of work that absorbs, transfixes and takes us on a journey that I, for one, found hard to let go off.

Seldom have I played a new album on repeat so many times.  

We have clear, crisp production, with lyrics that can be heard clearly. 

We have background sounds of radios, soldiers speaking, swathes of gorgeous keyboards, Middle Eastern sounding woodwind, military drumbeats  low down in the mix and the beautiful Floydian textures of strummed guitar whilst a delicate lead guitar adds shimmering tones ….. 

We also have rockier tracks such as ‘Path of Reason’ which roll along with a strident beat but even these sections are done with class and quality – nothing is out of place and there are no sudden distortions or jarring distractions to annoy. 

Tracks such as ‘Riders on a Wave’ display superb, uncomplicated song writing that is a joy to listen to with a subtle depth that adds to the unfolding and building atmosphere.

This takes on a more dramatic and sinister turn as we head into ‘Price of Freedom’, which recounts a soldiers journey on a vessel from Liverpool to “…halfway round the world, a universe from home” and really sets the scene for the second half of the album.

From here, this is where the music becomes powerfully emotional and at times, incredibly moving without ever becoming maudlin or crassly over-sentimental. 

‘Angels and Stones’ is a case in point. A steady beat with gorgeous textures weaving in and out underpinned by a forbidding deep rumble whilst the vocal refrain mournfully tells us : 

Fly like an angel, fall like a stone

  

Whilst the subject matter of the album could have led to a bitter tirade of rhetoric and barely concealed anger, we are instead treated to a beautifully restrained, elegant and respectful tone as exemplified on ‘When the Whistle Blows’. 

This is a stunning track about the young men answering the call. Unaware the rain would fall. Not knowing the rivers would turn red.

Lyrically, musically and atmospherically this is a minor masterpiece. 

The spoken words of the soldier are reminiscent of ‘The Ballad of Bill Hubbard’ with a similar hauntingly sad feel.

It is actually difficult to put into words how moving the final part of ‘Rain’ is, whether or not you agree or disagree with the whole Remembrance issue, but to hear the veteran soldier on ‘Home Again’, speaking, whilst warm keyboards wrap his elegant words like a shroud, is something else.

As you sit in silence, taking in what you have just heard, the album closes on a fitting note with an uplifting and reassuring track that despite the horrors, wounds and damaged minds of war, we can emerge ‘Not a Broken Man’.

So there we have it – a majestic and beautifully judged piece of work from Pete Riley and Andy Nixon who should be proud of what they have achieved.  This is certainly one of the most enjoyable and moving albums I have had the pleasure to listen to for a long long time.

 

Highly recommended

 

http://www.freedomtoglide.com/home

http://freedomtoglide.bandcamp.com/

 

Cinematic, emotional, uplifting, coruscating, life-affirming …..

65 Days of Static – “Wild Light”

Review by John Deasey

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I was smitten by 65DOS when I first heard The Fall of Math many years ago. A joyous cacophony of jagged beats, storming riffs and crashing walls of layered sounds that were simply astonishing.

Anyone who has heard ‘Retreat Retreat’ from that album will know what I mean.

Even back then, I always thought there was a cinematic quality to their epically conceived mini-meisterwerks. The only nagging thought was how they would develop this sound over the next few years.

Well, hear we are, several years later with a beautifully constructed and totally cinematic collection of tracks that are, frankly, brilliant.

Art and media students must be salivating at the prospect of putting images to this music and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these tracks end up as backing music to television photo montages or as the backdrop to moody, gritty northern European detective series’.

I see city lights, rain, romantic liasons in doorways and dramatic edgy moments of violence.  But I also see mountain vistas, euphoric ascents, stormy skies and sunbursts ……

This album is like a huge slab of urban edgy artistry taking on the Icelandic beauty of Sigur Ros and slaying it with slabs of guitar-laden, techno-filled post-apocalyptic grandeur.

The opening track ‘Heat Death Infinity Splinter’ starts proceedings in stately style with a glorious swathe of keyboards swirling around a steady beat, with that typical electro-tinge so typical of 65DOS.  As the track builds there are clues to the band’s past – clicks, whirrs, that amazing metallic beat tone they get – and then, and then ……  the release !! The release that lets it all out and we finish before we know what has happened. Immense.

‘Prisms’ has already been doing the rounds with a stunning video clip and this track reminds me of a gritty, cellar-based version of something Craig Armstrong might have been involved with had he taken something during recording of his outstanding ‘The Space Between Us’. The track is driven along by an ace beat, that breaks up, distorts and brings it all back together again for a belting finale of pulsating electro-synth rock.

‘The Undertow’ , as it’s title suggests, is a gentler track and allows us some breathing space as a gentle piano motif soothes us, but before long we are lifted, arms raised, yet again by a stunning crescendo to a sea of feedback, crackling fires, echoes and …silence.

I’m a big fan of dramatic, instrumental music as it can fit so many scenarios – there are no lyrics to fix a story or suggest a mood, Instead, your mood is created by when and how you are listening and this can change with every play.

For example, ‘Blackspots’ has me one minute in mind of bowling along the motorway at 90mph, in the style of Kraftwerk, then the next minute it brings to mind a city back-alley with rain lashing down, blood seeping into the gutter from a slain body ….

This album builds and builds, as if somehow during recording, the inspiration just kept on coming.  ‘Sleepwalk City’ does the impossible and raises the bar higher yet again with a driving, urgent, city-beat with a vaguely New Order feel but awash with layers of huge keyboards and the undercurrent of crunchy techno-sounds.

‘Taipei’ begins with less techo-trickery and we have a lovely piano led introduction with jangly guitars that uplift and entrance with that typical surge of optimism until we have a huge swell of amazing sound that bursts out of the speakers and overwhelms all who may be in its aural path – although this is almost in standard post-rock territory with the build up and release, it is so well done and just so typically 65DOS it is breathtaking.

There is a real sense this album is soaring into a place where it will be difficult to come down from.

The penultimate track, ‘Unmake the Wild Light’ snakes into life with a sinuous bass pattern that sets a marvellous platform for the intricacies laid upon it – strings, guitars, synths, keyboards moving with a simple chord progression to lift, inspire and take us on some epic journey for which the destination is never known. As the track builds, the beat drives, and the wave of crashing sound becomes almost unbearable we are thankfully released from the tension and allowed to breathe again ….

…but only for a moment, as we head towards ‘Safe Passage’.

A fitting title for a closing track to an epic album. It is as though we have made it safely through the emotionally uplifting journey, not caved in to its majesty and not cowered at the questions it asks of us. It has become our friend and is one we can now trust.

‘Safe Passage’ finishes off a truly epic piece of work in a style worthy of  some of the best pieces of instrumental music I have heard for a long while.

Cinematic, emotional, uplifting, coruscating, life-affirming.

Essential

Raw, charming post-folk-rock from England …..

The Monroe Transfer and Her Name is Calla – “An Enclave

Review by John Deasey

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It’s always interesting when you are asked to review music from a band you really don’t know much about. No preconceptions, no axe to grind – a blank sheet of paper and a clean mind.  When Echoes and Dust (www.echoesanddust.com) sent this through for me to listen to, I was intrigued 

The Monroe Transfer (from London) and Her Name is Calla ( spread between Leicester, Leeds and York) already work closely together and have toured with each other and contributed to each other’s music, but no official collaboration has ever been done until now. 

A coming together of two ‘Post Rock’ outfits would generally suggest a huge, over the top, Mogwai-meets-GYBE-meets Explosions in the Sky down a dark pub and battle it out to see who can be the most post-rock ! 

Thankfully, this couldn’t be further from the case and this EP turns out to be a bit of a charmer. 

A lot of this charm may stem from the way the EP was recorded over a four day spell which, by all accounts, includes camping out, roughing it and freezing their backsides off.

Sometime the words ‘home spun’ and ‘kitchen sink’ can be the kiss of death for music, when what was intended to be intimate and urgent can come across as annoying, irritating and up itself. Again, this isn’t the case here.

From the acapella opening of the first track (#5) to the closing ambient sounds of the last track (#7), we are treated to a lovely, mournful ocean of sonic tragedy.

There are five tracks, no titles, just numbers, and not even in sequence, but it doesn’t really matter as there is a flow to the whole thing which goes with the urgency of the recording I guess. No time for overdubs, re-recordings, second takes or any such luxury – often the first thing you hear is the best and they’ve done pretty well with this approach I’d say. 

The album opener is a mournful sea-shanty with a background drone so typical of this style and it sets the tone with an air of sad misfortune. This morphs beautifully into the second track as the same refrain continues with a lone cello which gently builds up with violins, guitars and more vocals until we have a swelling tide of folk-tinged post-rock beauty.

There are echoes of GYBE here, a touch of Radiohead there, but this is just a hint of the overall sound and nowhere does anything feel contrived or borrowed. Indeed, the fourth track has a rawness and edge to it that jolts you out any reverie that might have been setting in. This is an angry, percussive led piece with group chanting and a lead vocal almost shouting :

          “the path to righteousness is always out of reach….”

         “I screamed and I shouted … I demanded to be heard” 

Guitars start to scream in the background and we have a fantastic cacophony of demented anger, home-spun charm and a feeling that great fun must have been had recording this.

A gentle ambient closing track calms things down again and with a running time of 21 minutes, there is not a moment wasted.

A super little EP. A little different, a little rough round the edges but well worthy of your time.

For a pre-purchase listen try  www.hernameiscalla.bandcamp.com

Where are Blackfield heading … ?

I am fortunate enough to contribute the odd review and article to this wonderful website, and I also write some reviews for some guys in London by the name of Echoes and Dust  www.echoesanddust.com . It is well worth a visit to their site to find some amazing bands which tend to be of the dark, heavy and very powerful variety.

I recently reviewed the latest Blackfield album for Echoes and Dust and wanted to share this with fellow Progarchists.

Most of our Progarchy reviews are very positive, effusive and done from a ‘fan’ perspective.

For a change, this review is decidedly negative.  I have not listened to an album that annoyed me quite as much for a long long time ….. but I make no apologies if only to make it known how little this release has to do with the current Prog movement, particularly at this marvellous time with an abundance of quality music being released almost weekly.

 

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I’ve never really quite known what to make of Blackfield – the vehicle for Israeli artist Aviv Geffen – and where he (they ?) sit in the progressive scene despite now being on the marvellous KScope label.

 For sure, the connections with maestro Steven Wilson have added gravitas and undeniable ‘box office’ to what might otherwise be a relatively unknown artist in the current scene, where top quality releases are becoming the norm, not the exception.

Before commenting on this latest release, we need to take a quick look back at previous Blackfield offerings.

The first album, released in 2004, is a superb piece of work and has the distinctive mark of Mr Wilson who contributes several lead vocals and writing duties.   There are some very strong tracks and the album has a flow and energy with tracks like ‘Open Minds’, ‘Glow’ and ‘Pain’ that would sit comfortably in the quieter sections of any Porcupine Tree album. 

The second album from 2007 carried on in the same vein but never reached the heights of the debut album.  We get the same short, snappy tracks, crisp production and that distinctive influence of Wilson but the nuggets of brilliance become a little more diluted. One highlight of this album is the stunning ‘My Gift of Silence’ – a brilliant track and one of my all time favourites, but this quality is not maintained throughout.

For me, where it all starts to unravel for Blackfield is with the release of their third album in 2011 – ‘Welcome to My DNA’ – where tellingly, all songwriting duties bar one track are by Geffen himself.

Despite looking forward to this album enormously I was hugely disappointed to find a mix of trite lyrics, bland melodies and crass sentiments very poorly expressed. There is one track in particular that is virtually unplayable it is that bad – ‘Go To Hell’ – where the repeated ‘F…k you…’ lyrics are just an embarrassment. This album has rarely been re-visited except prior to this review when it just confirmed my original thoughts…..

So to this latest release – ‘Blackfield IV’. 

Is it a case of getting back to past glories or pushing forward from ‘Welcome to My DNA’ with a fresh sound and new direction ?

With the opening track –‘Pills’ – it is a promising start. A sweeping track with a touch of drama, this is a vast improvement and has lovely touches in the structure and recording.

‘Springtime’ starts to worry me though. The second track is bland beyond bland and is virtually unmemorable which sadly, becomes a theme throughout the whole album.

Vincent Cavanagh of Anathema adds a song with ‘X-ray’ which is pleasant enough, as though he recorded it in passing, but it does have a nice refrain with a tuneful Anathema-lite feel to it.

‘Sense of Insanity’ which follows is where the album starts to collapse though. For me this is a terrible track with woeful lyrics

Mother – have you seen the world today

The shooting all over town

I’m a sinner

I’m not the one you one you prayed for

 … and it just gets worse if you care to seek out the You Tube lyric video (if you are brave enough…)

If this is supposed to be a protest song, or a political swipe at the Israeli military, it sadly fails in my opinion.

We then have a truly bizarre couple of tracks with ‘Firefly’ sounding like it’s from a third rate musical. Brett Anderson of Suede contributes vocals but has no chance of rescuing it.  At least it’s not as bad as ‘The Only Fool is Me’ which continues this mini-musical theme which sounds like an outtake from a 6th form performance of the Phantom of the Opera.

Another couple of bland, plodding inconsequential pop songs follow with no redeeming features then we get to ‘Faking’ which raises the quality by several notches and in context with the rest of the album is a great track.

The one thing that overrides this album is it’s misplaced earnestness and seriousness – there is no hint of humour, edge, feeling, protest, energy -nothing.  Geffen seems to have a high profile in Israel with a famous family, and an energetic outspoken take on politics, but none of this comes through in the music. It is this blandness that so irritates me – there were enough talented, creative and respected people involved in making the album yet how such a bland offering can be released is beyond me.

I hope this album finds it’s market, but I fear that people buying it thinking it is part of this magnificent Prog movement will be hugely disappointed. 

 

 

Sanguine Hum – a sinewy treat of musical excellence

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Sanguine Hum – “The Weight of the World

by John Deasey

Back in 2002, a relatively unknown band called Lorien released an album called ‘Under the Waves’. Although a fairly low-key affair with a relatively bland Coldplay/Doves/Athlete type of vibe, there were some seriously beautiful tracks with a definite prog tilt. The album also included some of the best vocals I’ve heard from their Italian singer Fabio Ciarcelluti.

A natural countertenor, Ciarcelluti added a fantastic and unusual tone to produce some really moving and memorable songs, which still rank highly in my collection.

This same tone is brought to mind immediately on the opening track of Sanguine Hums second album, ‘Weight of the World’.  The Oxford quartet are led by Joff Winks who’s elegant and understated vocals blend perfectly with the bands clever, languorous and intelligent music.

This is my first exposure to Sanguine Hum, their first album ‘The Diving Bell’ having slipped under my radar, but even on first listen it is clear these guys have been playing together for a long time. It turns out Winks, keyboardist Matt Baber and bass player Brad Waissman have been together for ten years in various guises and it shows.

They create a lovely, fluid and subtle sound that is very complex but made all the more accessible by some lovely hooks and melodies that grab your attention, fleetingly, and draw you in to investigate further. This is not music to play in the background – it is complex, tricky but ultimately very rewarding with layer upon layer to unpeel and delve into.

So, to the music.

Five seconds into opening track ‘From the Ground Up’ and the silky, gossamer layers that are to frequent this album become apparent. A gorgeous vocal over what can only be described as a spider’s web of keyboard and guitar create an immediately gentle and captivating atmosphere.

There is a lot going on here, with clever bass lines weaving in and out whilst shifting rhythms subtlety propel the track forward. It is a great opening track and sets the scene wonderfully.

‘System for Solution’ follows with a super sinuous guitar lead snaking around the languorous vocals of Winks.  Languorous.  A word that could neatly surmise the whole thing really. Nothing really jars, no guitars scream out of the mix, no distortions are out of place. This is a good track which shifts around, never settling, but which has about as urgent a pace as there is on the album. It also has one of the few guitar solos and it’s an absolute belter with not a note wasted or over-played. Again, subtle and languorous.

Next up we have a wonderful instrumental track – ‘In Code’ – which really showcases the musical talent on display. Something about this track reminds me of Steven Wilson’s  later stuff, with it’s jazz tendencies, key changes and complex arrangement.

‘Cognescenti’ and ‘ Day of Release’ continue the general theme with the added interest of electronic elements being nudged into the mix. These are introduced skilfully here and there to add lovely sonic textures that in many cases, have you hitting the rewind button to check again.

The penultimate track, ‘Phosphor’ is beautiful and gentle and reminds me of classic Blue Nile. A neat, precise and condensed piece of beauty.

The finale, so to speak, is the title track which at 14.52 minutes long could be considered the albums swansong, a Magnum Opus, an over the top exultation of all that has gone before it. It couldn’t be further from the truth.  This is yet another musically excellent, structurally fascinating and interesting track that weaves and snakes it’s way around a chorus that works it’s way into your head after a few plays.

This album surprised me.  After a couple of plays in the car on the way to work, I wasn’t too thrilled about it.  Nothing jumped out, nothing shouted out, no hooks leapt into my head and stayed there, but I heard enough to make me want to investigate further. Sure enough, listening to it carefully, in a quieter environment allowed a peeling back of the layers to reveal a wonderful piece of music put together by talented young English guys.

I haven’t really got under the skin of the lyrics as they are well in the mix and not clear enough to discern with any real meaning, but the tone and delivery suggests a weary, but not maudlin, take on how the world is going but not in any hectoring way, more in the way of idly contemplating and reflecting.

This is Progressive music at it’s progressive best in my opinion.  There are traces of influences scattered throughout. I can hear Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, Mew and the aforementioned Lorien but it really is wrapped up in it’s own skin and provides a refreshing take on ‘Prog’ as we know it.

Wonderful stuff.

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