Jarrod Gosling and Cecilia Fage

Album Review: Cobalt Chapel’s “Orange Synthetic”

Cobalt Chapel, Orange Synthetic, Klove Recordings, January 29, 2021
Tracks: In Company (4:27), The Sequel (3:49), Message To (3:18), A Father’s Lament (3:41), Our Angel Polygon (4:32), Cry A Spiral (4:53), It’s The End, The End (5:26), Pretty Mire, Be My Friend (4:04), E.B. (2:15), Orange Synthetic (6:21)

Yorkshire, UK, duo Cobalt Chapel recently released their second album, Orange Synthetic, and it’s a wonderful contemporary progressive take on the psychedelic music of the 1960s. It has fresh production values with lush textures and glowing vocals. So who are Cobalt Chapel? Cecilia Fage (from Matt Berry & The Maypoles) and Jarrod Gosling (from I Monster). Gosling also happens to make the album artwork for Tim Bowness‘ solo albums. 

Fage’s vocals are the clear centerpiece of the album, and her voice is absolutely stunning. It’s treated with some echoey effects that give it a choral feeling, which matches the aesthetic implied by the band’s name. The album sounds fantastic, with the vocals and music clear, clean, and distinct. The various organs and keyboards are the primary musical sounds, with their textures swirling around the listeners head as Fage sings in the center. The guitar, drums, and soft bass complete the psychedelic sound. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding album out today. It is mixed very well with everything easy to pick out. Nothing is muddled. You can even make out the clicking of keys or buttons on whatever instrument Gosling is playing at the end of “A Father’s Lament.” There’s a slight hum in the background at that point which makes you feel like you’re in the room with him as he closes out the song. The whole record is really a pleasure to listen to.

There are folk elements to the music, with the album being influenced by Yorkshire itself. The song “E.B.” sounds the most folky, with instruments kept to a relative minimum and Fage’s voice carrying the brief track. Overall though the music retains a psychedelic vibe through heavy use of keyboards and organs, along with very 60s-sounding drums and guitars. The music is much more upbeat than the type of psychedelic music I’m more familiar with, though. It isn’t as spacey, although there are times when it sounds like they’re about to launch into the spacier side of this corner of rock music. They never quite get there all the way, except for on “Cry A Spiral,” which is the spaciest track on the record. Even on that song the ending is heavier and more lush-sounding, ending with a light touch of saxophone and various organs. Melody takes a central position on the album, which is perhaps what makes this album so appealing on repeated listens. You’re left feeling refreshed after listening to Orange Synthetic

If I had to make one complaint, it’s that I would have preferred some longer extended instrumental sections. The end of the first track, “In Company,” breaks into what sounds like it’s going to be a wonderfully psychedelic Floydian soundscape, but then it breaks off suddenly. The second track similarly fades out as it enters an instrumental passage. The third track does the same thing. It drops into the beginning of a 1960s-style psychedelic mood, yet it cuts off after a few brief seconds. At about 43 minutes in length, I think there’s room on the album for some longer musical exploration. They set the listener up for it, but they leave me longing for that instrumental space to breathe.

The title track, which ends the record, is the longest on the album at over six minutes, and it has a longer instrumental passage in the middle that feels much more natural for this kind of music. When Fage’s vocals kick in again after that passage, I’m left satisfied. In that regard the song is the perfect ending for the album. I just wish more of the songs on the album more generously balanced the instrumental side of this style of music with Fage’s beautiful vocals by having more extended musical passages. 

I highly recommend Cobalt Chapel’s sophomore album, Orange Synthetic. It’s a refreshing blend of upbeat psychedelic music with stunningly beautiful vocals presented with choral overtones. The music is accessible, yet complex enough to reward on repeated listens. Cobalt Chapel have masterfully brought the psychedelic sounds of a bygone era into fresh territory for a contemporary audience. 

Buy the album on CD, vinyl, or digital download, including signed copies of physical media: https://cobaltchapel.tmstor.es/#main_menu

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What Game Shall We Play Today? Remembering Chick Corea (1941-2021)

You wouldn’t have had your Chick Coreas five years ago. Chick Corea doesn’t have to really dress up in blazer gear to get a wide following. It just goes to show you that it’s not a question of image these days. It’s more a question of the actual music.

Keith Emerson, Keyboard Magazine interview, October 1977

In late 1976, my older brother changed my life by giving me a copy of Keyboard Magazine. It was a pretty amazing periodical: in those days before digital sounds, computers and then-undreamt-of technology became the prevailing medium of modern music, Keyboard focused on the serious fun of playing and listening, mostly in interviews with pianists, organists and synthesists across a broad spectrum of genres, as well as in how-to columns and record reviews. That’s where Chick Corea, who cranked out a monthly “Keyboards & Music” column and whose remarkably frequent albums merited equally frequent cover stories, first caught my eye. And through the album My Spanish Heart, reviewed in that issue my brother gave me, he caught my ear as well.

“Armando’s Rhumba” from Chick Corea’s My Spanish Heart – with Jean-Luc Ponty on violin & Stanley Clarke on bass

More than a decade into his career, Corea had unquestionably paid his dues by the mid-1970s. Born into a musical family, gigging professionally in high school, and briefly pursuing classical studies at Columbia and Julliard, Corea jumped into the jazz world of New York City as both a sideman and a leader of striking originality (as on the seminal 1968 trio date Now He Sings, Now He Sobs). Which is when Miles Davis came calling: playing on Davis’ trailblazing In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, then launching the avant-garde quartet Circle, Corea consistently sought the cutting edge of the music. But an encounter with L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology movement abruptly shifted his perspective. As he said looking back,

The concept of communication with an audience became a big thing for me at the time. The reason I was using that concept so much at that point in my life – in 1968, 1969 or so – was because it was a discovery for me. I grew up kind of only thinking how much fun it was to tinkle on the piano and not noticing that what I did had an effect on others. I did not even think about a relationship to an audience, really, until way later.

Chick Corea, Artist Interviews.eu, 1994

That shift was palpable by 1972; in addition to the meditative Crystal Silence (an outstanding duet effort with vibraphonist Gary Burton), Corea was checking out more directly populist idioms. Teaming with bassist and lifelong musical compadre Stanley Clarke, he formed Return to Forever in 1972, traveling with lightning speed from the laid-back Brazilian vibe of Light As A Feather to the audacious jazz-rock suites of 1976’s Romantic Warrior. This version of RTF, also featuring Lenny White’s funky drumming and the flamenco-metal of guitar phenom Al DiMeola, even crossed over to the still prog-immersed shores of Great Britain:

Return to Forever on the BBC’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, 1976
Continue reading “What Game Shall We Play Today? Remembering Chick Corea (1941-2021)”

The Progarchy Interview: Anneke van Giersbergen

Thank you to Anneke van Giersbergen for speaking today with Progarchy.com about her new album, The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest.

Listen above to our conversation about the genesis of the album, each one of its magnificent tracks, and also Anneke’s musical plans going forward. We even ask her about future work with her metal band Vuur

Neal Morse, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt

Parallel Universes: Transatlantic’s Dueling Epics

This is probably the only time I’ll have a legitimate reason to use this cool new WordPress feature.

Transatlantic have reached the ripe old age of 21, and with that they’ve released a brand new album. Wait, that isn’t right. They’ve released two brand new albums. Well, no, they haven’t really done that either. What they have done is released two versions of one album: one at ~65 minutes and the other at ~91 minutes. The Absolute Universe: The Breath of Life is the short one, and The Absolute Universe: Forevermore is the long one. For the sake of clarity (both mine and yours), I’m going to refer to the albums as the extended version and the abridged version.

Now why on earth, you may ask, would a band want to release two different versions of an album? Excellent question. I was a bit miffed when Big Big Train did it with Folklore (the vinyl and Hi-Res audio version was longer with some tracks from the Wassail EP and a slightly altered track listing), and I’m a bit miffed that Transatlantic has done it. Apparently the band couldn’t come to an agreement on whether they should release a longer version of what they had written or a condensed version, so they decided to release both.

The abridged version is $9.99 on iTunes, while the extended edition is $16.99, so it’ll cost you just under $30 to buy the downloads. You may need to take out a loan to buy physical copies. And don’t think you can get away with buying just the extended version thinking you’ll just get the abridged version plus some extra tracks. Nope they’ve gone and changed things in the tracks that overlap, so in many ways they’re very different. There’s also a third version on Blu-Ray only that combines the two into a ~96 minute version. Good grief. I haven’t heard that version, nor do I intend to.

If you’re going to buy only one of them, I suggest you buy the extended version. It has a much better flow to it with smoother transitions than the abridged version. Even though it’s longer, it isn’t packed with filler. To my ear it sounds more like a Transatlantic album. There are more songs with Roine Stolt on lead vocals. Yes of course he sings on the abridged version, but he sings less in the second half of that album. That makes the abridged version seem to morph into a Neal Morse album as it comes to a close. “Lonesome Rebel” towards the end of extended version remedies that by restoring some balance. In addition to Roine’s stellar vocals, the mix of wonderful electric and acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies really makes this track stand out.

Continue reading “Parallel Universes: Transatlantic’s Dueling Epics”

Storm of the Light’s Bane

Straddling Gothenburg death and Norwegian black metal, basically at the margins of what we might term as consonance and coarseness, resides Dissection. Crossing genre and aesthetic boundaries, Storm of the Light’s Bane prods the listener into conflicting paths. Responses could vary, from a nodding reverence of those exquisite guitar passages, to a chilling silence, or a morbid mosh-pit. Channeling those Scandinavian contemporaries, Dissection simply shapes their own brand of occult romanticism, often more despondent and atmospheric.

Extending the boundaries of aggression and poetry, these compositions are constantly shifting their contours, adequately complementing the drifts in lyrical prose. “I drown in the colour of your eye, for a black heart will only find beauty in darkness“– simultaneously conveys the elegance of an autumn night and dual guitar harmonies. With vocal textures reflecting the gloom in lyrics, Nödtveidt adds a layer of darkness unlike any other. Channeling divergent strands, and yet in perfect harmony, Storm of the Light’s Bane is one of those meticulous crafts. The rare ones illustrating extreme metal in all its glory and quirks. Describing in Nödtveidt’s own lyrics — “Forged in blood by tragedy” — album leaves a definite imprint.

Dissection_live_in_2005.jpg: Shadowgatederivative work: Elizabeth Bathory, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Album Review – Simon Collins’ “Becoming Human”

Guest Review by Chloe Mogg

Simon Collins, Becoming Human, 2020
Tracks: 
1. Into the Fray (1:18), 2. Becoming Human (4:17), 3. The Universe Inside of Me (6:56), 4. Man Made Man (4:32), 5. This is the Time (3:55), 6. Thoughts Become Matter (5:05), 7. I Will Be Waiting (7:27), 8. No Love (4:02), 9. Living in Silence (4:09), 10. 40 Years (4:18), 11. So Real (4:28), 12. Dead Ends (9:06)

No stranger to the music industry due to his music legend father Phil Collins, Simon Collins takes centre stage in empowering album ‘Becoming Human’. There’s no doubt that songwriting flows through his veins, and the latest release from Simon Collins completely confirms this. 

Known for performing in band Sound of Contact, Simon’s solo project was produced by keyboardist and sound designer Robbie Bronniman, and features one of the key players from SoC. Released via Frontiers Records, this refreshing album pays odes to the greats while layering it’s authencity on the table. Crossing through realms of pop, industrial and rock, there’s no need to completely label the sound of this album.

 Having gained support from Prog Magazine and sites across the globe, ‘Becoming Human’ features 12 tracks of progressive music with subtle fragrances of futuristic electronica in it’s mix. Exploring lyrical themes such as personal loss, addiction and the nature of our place in the universe, the relevant album is speaking to thousands across the globe due to the current state of the world. 

Led by leading singles ‘Becoming Human’ and ‘The Universe Indie of Me’, this album is one of those releases that needs constant plays to fully experience it’s journey. A rollercoaster ride through elements of nostalgic prog, there’s nudges to artists such as Vangelis, Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Steven Wilson within the release, while still holding onto it’s authenticity. Commenting both on Simon’s personal feelings, the relatable album is something that can speak to many. 

During these uneasy times for the globe, we’re left questioning what is real, and what it truly means to be a human. ‘Becoming Human’ requires your gaze and will captivate you into a realm of thought-provoking feelings. A true asset in the progressive world, Simon Collins could be as huge as his dad. 

The Sound of Steven Wilson’s Muzak: Fifth Impressions of The Future Bites

[Sly and the Family Stone’s album ‘There’s a riot goin’ on’] is Muzak with its finger on the trigger . . . If you listen, you get sharper, and you begin to hear what the band is hearing; every bass line or vocal nuance eventually takes on great force.

Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock’n’Roll Music

Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites didn’t click for me until I stopped listening to it. Let me explain.

It was when I was playing TFB for the fifth time, as I was doing something else, that I finally heard it — almost as if the album was designed to catch you by surprise when you’re focused elsewhere or distracted. I found myself drawn toward the interplay of backing textures instead of the spare surface detail, zooming in on the ambience of the foundational grooves and pads instead of the gyrating vocal and instrumental leads. Instead of missing the rock rhythms, the power riffs, the extended structures and the virtuoso musical moments of Wilson’s previous efforts, I started digging into what was actually there. The minimalism — maybe even the monotony Bryan Morey detected in his review — becomes the message.

Which, whatever you may think of the results, is a pretty neat trick. So the thought struck me: is this latest release meant to work as background music, as much or more than as a foreground listening experience? When you turn the frequently static norms of today’s electronic pop inside out, is this what you get?

If so, it fits with more of Steven Wilson’s catalog than later adopters might think — sample the extended trance trip of Porcupine Tree’s Voyage 34, the forlorn, scratched-up drones of his Bass Communion efforts, even the symphonic disco of 2019’s No-Man comeback Love You to Bits if you doubt me. (Not to mention his remastering of vintage efforts by German synth wizards Tangerine Dream.) And it seems to me his new sound — a postmodern British upgrade of Greil Marcus’ concept? — is not just purposeful, but channeled for a purpose. After all, the man knows (and has lyrically railed against) the sound of Muzak. By embracing it here, he’s planting depth charges beneath our buffed-up virtual lives, triggering both our individual delight as we succumb to the age of the algorithm and our creeped-out, collective unease with the results. We may be having a good time amusing ourselves into financial and spiritual bankruptcy, but Wilson’s depictions of lost, alienated souls (by turns ironic, empathetic, furious, blackly hilarious) hold up a mirror — one with the caption “Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set Purchaser” across the bottom — and dare us to study the reflection as we spiral downward.

Continue reading “The Sound of Steven Wilson’s Muzak: Fifth Impressions of The Future Bites”

Big Big Train Release Remixed Version of “The Underfall Yard” Track Ahead of Album Reissue

Today the mighty Big Big Train released the remixed edition of their 23-minute epic, “The Underfall Yard,” in advance of the reissue of their 2009 album on April 9. First impressions – the mix sounds warmer with more prominent bass. The big guitar solo is also different, although I’m not exactly sure why. I think I prefer the original solo better. Lovely video to go along with the track, though.


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Steven Wilson Bites the Future… and the Fans?

Before we get into the review itself, I want to be clear that I have the upmost respect for Steven Wilson. No matter what I think of The Future Bites, I am not calling into question Wilson’s integrity as a musician, writer, producer, or artist. Everything he does, he does well. This go around he decided to make a pop album, and the pop world certainly has much to learn from Steven Wilson. This is pop in the vein of Tears for Fears or Talk Talk, so if you like those bands, you may like The Future Bites. I don’t particularly enjoy those bands, although I respect them. I also want to make clear that I don’t see what Wilson is doing with this album as being just like what Genesis did after Steve Hackett departed. Genesis sold out and started writing boring trash, both musically and lyrically. Wilson’s lyrics and themes on The Future Bites lead the listener to reflection. This is far from “selling out.” Watching some recent interviews with Wilson only confirmed for me that Wilson is an honest man. This album is incredibly self aware, which I’m sure made this a very vulnerable album for him to make. With all that said, let this long review begin.

Perhaps not surprisingly The Future Bites is doing rather well in the charts, particularly in the UK (number 4 overall as of this writing). It’s wholeheartedly a “pop” album, whatever that actually means. I recall thinking that 2017’s To The Bone was a pop album when it came out, but going back to it now I see that it has far more in common with Wilson’s previous solo work than it does with The Future Bites. There are a few moments on To The Bone that clearly connect with this album, but overall it was a rock album.

Contrarily the remnants of what could be called “rock” are pretty much gone on The Future Bites. That doesn’t necessarily mean Wilson will never return to a traditional progressive rock sound, but he has said in interviews that he isn’t interested in making progressive rock music right now. As to why, well, we can only speculate. Some might say he’s making a lot more money doing this, but I don’t think that is what’s going on here. I think he’s tired of doing what he’s done before, and he’s pushing himself into new territory that reflects the kind of music he enjoyed when he was growing up. 

For the most part the album sounds quite stunning. Not musically. Musically it’s nothing special at all, like most pop. It’s still more musically exceptional than 99% of what passes for pop these days, but compared to an album like Hand. Cannot. Erase., it pales. The actual mixing of the record is quite fantastic, apart from the vocals on “Count of Unease,” which sound like they were recorded in a college dorm bathroom. This record is Wilson’s first time mixing in Dolby Atmos. I’d love to hear the album on a good Atmos system, but I don’t have one of those. Even so the regular stereo mix sounds crystal clear, and there is a lot of depth to the various sounds he employs.

It’s really many of those sounds he chose that I take issue with. He leans heavily into electronic music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of my favorite newer bands, Oak, uses elements of electronic music, and I know Wilson has done that before in the past, but Oak and Wilson always left the rock elements in tact. Without the rock, it leaves much to be desired. I don’t know much about electronic music, but I know there are artists and composers who specialize in and excel at it. On The Future Bites it feels like Wilson is using the electronic aspects in the same way he has in the past, but without the rock the album feels like it’s missing something. The other issue I have with the record is some of Wilson’s vocals. 

Continue reading “Steven Wilson Bites the Future… and the Fans?”