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.

Beautiful folk post-rock from Scotland

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‘Quickbeam’ by Quickbeam

This lovely self-titled debut release from Scottish band Quickbeam is working it’s way into my affections very quickly. As soon as I saw the video for ‘Immersed’ I knew I had stumbled on something special

These guys are not new to music and have not suddenly appeared from nowhere having steadily plied their trade on the folk scene for the last three years or so. This is perhaps why there is such a finished air to their debut with a depth of emotion and feeling that lends a tangibly plaintive air across the 12 tracks.

The combination of Monika Gromeks lovely voice with piano, cello, guitar, trombone and harmonium is a thing of beauty which swells like the ocean and builds up into wonderful layers of sound – in particular the above mentioned track ‘Immersed’ which has a feel of Sigur Ros from their Harf-Heim DVD/album where they play acoustically at local venues across Iceland.

I also get the feel of that gorgeous album ‘Diamond Mine’ from King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – a big favourite of mine with it’s simple, elegant and understated tones.

Quickbeam stand up to any of these references and have produced a compelling, albeit gentle, album which is a great companion when you need to relax and contemplate and revel in the atmosphere and mood of acoustically soothing music.

Tracks such as ‘Fall’ are enchanting. Minimal lyrics coupled with a build up of a simple refrain adding strings, piano, cello and eventually trombone create a moving, elegant piece.

This is taken further with ‘Home’ where the gentle opening leads into an upbeat drum finale with the relaxed vocals washing beautifully over the top leading to pure folk-post-rock majesty.

Even the track titles are minimalist – ‘Remember’, ‘Matter’, ‘Grace’ – all reflecting a quiet confidence in what this band are trying to achieve and with this album they certainly deliver.

If I were to try and pin down their sound, I  would describe Quickbeam as a Scottish folk Sigur Ros, but there is enough individual quality and ideas here for them to stand proud and build a solid following on this showing.

A super recording and highly recommended.

Soaring, epic, elegant doom metal

Emerald Forest

 

Swallow the Sun

“Emerald Forest and the the Blackbird”

 

One of the most interesting aspects of being into music is suddenly finding yourself immersed in a genre you may never have gone anywhere near previously.

Most of us here are musical inquisitives I guess.

We like to be challenged and are constantly on the look-out for new music to seek out.

I liken this search to many of my trail runs out on my Pennine doorstop.

A labyrinthian web of dead ends, marvellous open valleys, mist-shrouded mountains, tracks twisting round tortuous cliff-edges, sheep-trods leading to vast open moorlands – this is how I visualise my own journey through the musical vista. The scenery constantly changes, a steady run on a gentle track can suddenly turn into a monstrous climb with leg-sapping rocks, roots and sheer cliff edges …..

This is how I’ve come to enjoy a genre I never thought I would.

Running along that relatively gentle path, listening to quality metal such as Riverside, Dream Theater, Haken and Headspace for example, led on to other bands such as Enochian Theory where, on their stunning album “Life … and all it Entails” a few death/doom metal growls are subtly introduced, cleverly and almost delicately.

These fit the music perfectly and made me go back to Opeth’s “Blackwater Park” to re-discover this fine album, growls and all.

Then I was put on to an English Band called Twilight’s Embrace who have released two stunning EP’s – “Reflections” and “Traces” – which are tight, immaculately played minor miracles with not a single note wasted.

As usual, a good few twitter conversations followed with my ‘metal guru’, Matt Spall (@ManofMuchMetal) and he suggested a Finnish band called Swallow the Sun.  Matt is obviously adept at spotting tastes and trends in other people and he suggested I listen to their “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” album thinking I would enjoy it.

Some albums need a few listens to, some albums grab you by the throat, others you could quite happily never listen to again.

This one fell into a new category : the ‘wtf’ category.

I like my music with a cinematic scope, with an atmosphere and feel that could quite easily carry a whole movie. One of my favourite and totally unconnected artists, is Craig Armstrong. This Scottish composer has produced some stunning work that is widely used in commercials and film soundtracks. It can often be heard tinkling away in documentary backgrounds but stands proud as music for music’s sake. I highly recommend Armstrong’s “The Space Between Us”.  Sigur Ros are another band who straddle the music, art and film worlds with their ethereal soundscapes.

In a similar way, Swallow the Sun are the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings, to the mighty battles for Middle Earth, to heavy medieval swords, to monstrous fog-laden valleys and to dark forbidding Scandinavian skies.

Track titles such as “Cathedral Walls”, “Silent Towers” and “Labyrinth of London” suggest a grand scope to this music and that is certainly what you get.

Multi-layered guitars, powerful riffs, beautiful keyboards, pneumatic percussion, heavy growled vocals interspersed with clean vocals – it’s all there in a huge, and sometimes overwhelming, sound that is simply epic in it’s vision and execution.

The key to their style is, I believe, the melody and harmonies they employ with the instruments rather than the vocals.  Yes, the growling can be hard to take at first but give it time and a few listens then suddenly the vocal style simply becomes a part of the overall sound and it is soon hard to avoid the sublime melodies soaring all around the generally Gothic vibe.

Another essential aspect to the Swallow the Sun sound is the tempo. It is not frantic, there is a calmness (despite the hell being unleashed) and an elegance to their compositions that is common in many Scandinavian bands. Airbag, Gazpacho, Leaves and Lorien are all bands from this part of the world who allow time and space into their recordings unlike anywhere else in the world.

Matt has also recommended other bands to discover in this doom/death or whatever you want to call it scene that are similarly dramatic. Bands with names such as Omnium Gatherum, The Foreshadowing and In Mourning hint at further delights to delve into.

But for the time being, Swallow the Sun are my new favourites in this genre and I would recommend them to anyone looking for elegant, soaring, epic doom metal …………

My top albums from 2102 – a quick re-visit !

I thought it might be interesting to have a quick dip back into my thoughts at the end of 2012 and update with some comments and observations about the albums I chose as my top 12 to see how we are all getting along :

 

Big Big Train – English Electric 

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Yep – still up there on regular play and as stunning as the first listen.  East Coast Racer has moved up the league though and is currently one of my favourite BBT tracks of all time. This track is simply a masterpiece. Brilliant subject, amazing vocals, outstanding arrangement and superb production.  The Underfall Yard has yet to be beaten though 🙂

Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisted II 

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Not played this as much as I thought after the first few listens – it’s there, in the background, but not on the playlist as much as I thought it would have been – still love it though.

Pineapple Thief – All the Wars

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A regular feature on my playlist. I just love the crisp sound, the overall feel and urgency of this melancholic record.

 

Nine Stones Close – One Eye on the Sunrise

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Still an absolute belter of an album and one which just gets better with each play.  A regular first-teamer this one. Shame no-one seems to know them ….

It Bites – Map of the Past

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A marvellous album but one that somehow doesn’t shout out for attention as much as some others for me.  But every time I play it I marvel at the catchiness, melody and arrangements …. should listen to this more !

The Rumour Cubes – The Narrow State 

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A quirky favourite of mine and a regular feature. Haunting cellos, violins and a beautiful Mono-esque feel to it. Brilliant.

Anathema – Weather Systems

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One of he few albums that needs to be played all the way through, in one sitting, to get the full deal.  A regular on my commute and one that relaxes, enchants and adds spirituality to my day.

Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion

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Not worked for me this one !  To be frank I find it annoying so it’s been relegated to the naughty corner at the moment.

Headspace – I am Anonymous

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This is turning out to be an absolute corker of an album. A brilliantly conceived slice of power metal and a favourite I turn to on a weekly basis. Powerful, engaging, interesting – it’s got the lot !

Twilights Embrace – Traces  (EP) 

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These lads from Nottingham have produced two cracking EP’s and they are high on my list as I seem to have expanded my metal taste to incorporate some melodic growls.  Tremendous stuff and being EP’s short enough to blast every week at least.  A further discovery in this genre has been Finnish band Swallow the Sun and their epic ‘Emerald Forest and the Blackbird’ – thanks for the recommendation from Matt Spall (@ManofMuchMetal)

Neal Morse – Momentum

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This was a late entrant and is mid-table in plays I reckon.  It’s good, it’s upbeat and fun but some of it I find a bit obvious (nothing wrong with that though !)

Echolyn – Echolyn

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I really like this album and it has grown to be firm favourite.  I enjoy it’s simply class and elegance with great musicianship, songs and atmosphere. Lovely.

That’s it folks !

 

Enochian Theory – live in Manchester

Every time I see the sign below, as we approach the Northern Quarter in Manchester, I get that quiver of anticipation that brings memories of friends, old and new, great ale in great pubs, and of course live music in small intimate venues.

Manchester - Northern Quarter
Manchester – Northern Quarter

Enochian Theory are a small group with a big sound and their current album ‘Life…and all it Entails’ is currently on my most-played list with a terrific overall tone with layers of melodic invention carefully placed over some seriously heavy sections with the requisite growls (albeit few and far between and deftly introduced…).

Having the opportunity to see these guys at first hand was too good to miss and as the support group, they would be on at a comfortable mid-week time, so business,life,  and all it entails could carry on. The headline group, The Enid, are not a band I am familiar with but suffice to say they were interesting, strange, maddeningly dramatic and worthy of further investigation. A highlight of this particular evening was meeting one of my Twitter friends, Nick Efford, with whom we seem to share a great deal of things in common. Nick is an Enid fan and knows them well so I would leave any further comments to him regarding their music and performance this evening as I couldn’t quite work it out ….

Back to the Theory !

The Ruby Lounge in Manchester is typical of the Northern Quarter subterranean venue with a gloomy street entrance leading down into a gloomy stairwell which leads into a gloomy bar area with a fairly gloomy stage section stuck over in one corner with barely enough room to swing the proverbial cat.

Intimate is the word – in fact so intimate I could reach over and take a shot of the set list on the speaker.

set list
set list
close to the stage
close to the stage

To my delight most of the set was from the wonderful ‘Life.. and all it Entails’ but I was unsure how they would transfer the ‘big’ sound of this album in such a small venue, particularly as they are just a threesome

Needless to say, the sound suffered somewhat and the guitar was a bit lost in a muddy mix, but they had a wonderful selection of backing tracks and loops from their intriguingly titled string section – The Lost Orchestra – which filled out the sound and gave the subtle texture that pervades the aforementioned album.

Ben Harris-Hayes on guitar, vocals and throat (!) is a humble and gracious performer, totally committed to his art and ever so slightly apologetic – an engaging character to watch as he switches pedals, adds sounds, sings and generally controls proceedings.

My eyes were drawn to Shaun Rayment on bass (you may recall I am a once God-like bass player in a band….) as I was interested to see if the sinuous bass lines on the album would be re-created live.  No need for disappointment here – Shaun was incredibly focused and drove the songs on with terrific tight bass lines and worked the hell out of his fretboard – brilliant stuff.

Not being a drummer I can’t comment on the technical skills of Sam Street on drums but I was knocked for six when his double bass drums kicked in – the ferocity of some of the drumming counteracts the delicacy of much of their music and this apparent discrepancy is, I think, what gives them a unique sound..

I’m not going through each song here but suffice to say I was impressed with their live performance of what are complex and involving songs.

A thoroughly enjoyable set made even better by a brief chat with Ben after their set.  I mentioned there was enthusiasm for him on Progarchy but he had not heard of ‘us’ but was delighted to know there are folk out there completely smitten with his work …….

Enochian Theory in full flow
Enochian Theory in full flow

A glimpse of the past ….

I was out with some old friends recently – friends with whom I grew up listening to Rush, camping out to see them at Manchester Apollo, enjoying carefree days of 2112 and Hemispheres.

The memory of seeing Rush close-up, from the front row, as the dry ice trickled out at the start of Xanadu will stay forever. 

We reminisced about school days and about concerts, about girlfriends and what we got up to, and then one of the lads said “Hang on – I’ve got a photo from 1980 of us all when we were camping”

Then he flipped this photo on his phone and there we were, 30 years ago, youthful, hairfull, optimistic, happy, thoughtful, serious.

Suddenly 30 years melted away in a moment …… it was a very atmospheric moment as we silently reflected ….

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I’m on the left by the way and you can just see my 2112 t-shirt.

To think we are all still in contact, sat next to each other in a Manchester bar – older, not much wiser, still into music, still the same people …..

Memories.

My top albums of 2012

 

Seeing as my funds for purchasing new music have run dry,  I’ve drawn a line under a fantastic year for music and decided on my top 12.  

This didn’t really take me long to put together,  my favourite albums of 2012 are quite clear.  There are some omissions  that other may find strange (Rush, Marillion) but it’s my list and it’s for me to choose who goes on my list …. so there 🙂

Big Big Train is my stand out album which is no surprise and the others follow in a random order.

 

Big Big Train – English Electric 

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Simply stunning throughout. Not as epic as The Underfall Yard but a timeless English masterpiece evoking village greens, stone walls and fields but tinged with darkness and seriousness …. a true classic

 

Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisted II 

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A beautiful re-working of some classic Genesis and Hackett songs. Not quite a homage as new vocals add variance. Beautifully produced and a sonic wonder as Hacketts guitar is brought right to the front of the mix

  

Pineapple Thief – All the Wars

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Classy, snappy prog-pop wonderfully produced with a raw edge of emotion throughout – superb.

 

Nine Stones Close – One Eye on the Sunrise

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The second NST album and a tremendous effort with atmosphere, great guitars and an absolute killer track in ‘Frozen Moment’.  Hints of Gilmour, Page and others but has it’s own sound.

 

It Bites – Map of the Past

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A glorious pop-prog masterpiece with a hefty whack of emotion thrown in – catchy as hell.

  

The Rumour Cubes – The Narrow State 

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Beautifully layered string instruments build to guitar crescendos reminiscent of Mono at their best – ‘The Gove Curve’ is a track to die for.

 

Anathema – Weather Systems

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Emotion, power, beauty, wonder – what else can you say ?

 

Storm Corrosion – Storm Corrosion

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Quirky, low-key, strange, inventive and an album I keep returning to time after time but somehow can never play the whole thing through in one sitting…..

 

Headspace – I am Anonymous

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Powerful, edgy new rock of the highest order.  Well-structured songs, great production and a very, very convincing album.  Excellent

 

Twilights Embrace – Traces  (EP) 

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A stunning EP with tight, hard songs infused with Anathema moods, Opeth growls and a mood and atmosphere all it’s own. A great surprise.

 

Neal Morse – Momentum

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A late entrant and gloriously rowdy and upbeat album of brilliant musicianship – cracking stuff.

 

Echolyn – Echolyn

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A stunner. Reflective, clever, tricky, tuneful – a grower.

 

So there you go !

All the best to everyone for the coming festive season and I hope you continue to discover, enjoy and share the wonderful music that is being created in this very special time.

 

 

Why I am not a rock-god …….

This is not a review, so please don’t expect a review.

Rather it is mind-meander, a jumble of thoughts, a mind-fart if you like 🙂

 

As I settled in to the sumptuous Swedish leather of my up-market estate car, cocooned in blue-backlit luxury, ready to drive home to my lovely modern detached, warm, comfy house,  listening to Big Big Train, I began to ponder ……   where did it all go wrong ??!!

You see, although I’ve been a good Dad and a loyal husband and I have certain talents (if you consider running up muddy hills a talent), there is one thing nagging away at me that I suggest nags away at a lot of people (men, mainly) who are into music and are of a certain age. 

You see, I really really wanted to be good at playing the guitar.

It all started out so well.

 At 16 I got my first guitar. An Angus Young look-a-like Gibson SG copy.

In front of the mirror I was a God.  Long hair, denim, attitude.

I was into Rush, AC/DC, Motorhead.  All I had to do was look like them and I would be them – easy ! 

Then the problems started. 

First problem : the strings were so far from the fret board you could drive a bus between them. Rubbish. 

Second problem : I’m small, very small and my hands weren’t big enough to form chords or even press hard enough to get the strings down to touch the fret board. 

Third problem : I couldn’t, and still can’t, read music so had to do everything by ear.

 Fourth problem : I couldn’t hear very well because my hair was so long it covered my ears. At least it covered my eyes as well so I couldn’t see, or hear, my mum screaming at me to ‘Turn that bloody rubbish down !’

Fifth and last problem : LOFT.  Lack Of F… Talent.

 

Anyway, persistence and a touch of youthful arrogance saw an epic battle against all odds and eventually a semblance of music was made and a burgeoning career as a talented rock-god lay round the corner.

A group was duly formed with school mates with the usual mix of who’s Dad had the most money, who had the best girlfriends and who had got the most pocket money for the pints after practice.

It somehow worked and we ended up doing gigs, yes, gigs, concerts.

We were called 4-Wheel Drive and we specialised in hard rocking and cutting edge post-rock.   Actually, we thought this but the reality was we played Eagles and country and western !!

Our gigs were local pubs, Working Mens Clubs and the occasional heady heights of the local school fete.

Usually we were on before the pub disco started (so as to not get attacked by bottles and drunken women) or squeezed between sets of Bingo “Now then ladies, we’ll have a break from t’bingo whilst we listen to these lovely lads from Manchester playing some music for you all”.

One memorable New Years Eve we played at Collyhurst Working Mens Club, a bleak and post-industrial suburb of Manchester.  After setting our gear up we waited for the crowds.  We waited.  And waited.

Our encore of ‘The Crystal Chandelier’ was performed in front of an 80 year old woman with no teeth who had got lost and a 75 year old drunken ex miner who thought he had come to see strippers …..  my guitar broke, an amplifier broke down …..  it was not a good night.

Our highlight was playing at Piccaddilly Railway Workers Club, in a magnificent club under the arches in Manchester. The steward welcomed us and took us down a swanky corridor to a changing room !  A bloody changing room, with one of those mirrors surrounded by lightbulbs.  Well,  we thought we had made it but then when another guy came in and said ‘Fred’s drumming for you tonight” we were made up.  Changing rooms ? A house drummer ?  Wow.

On we went and were confronted with hundreds of folk all looking happy and settled in a huge club.

By this time I had given up with the guitar and was sent to the bastion where ex-guitarists go – bass guitar.  In other words,  there are fewer strings, you don’t have to play chords, you don’t have to do solos – any idiot can play bass – that was me.

As I moved to my position I looked at Fred the drummer and saw what can only be described as a very, very old man.  Well into his 80’s, thin as his drum sticks, no teeth, whippet at his feet and a pint of stout to one side.

‘Do you know Hotel California ?” I asked

‘No lad’, he replied ‘ but I’ll join in !’

Fearing the worst we played the moody, atmospheric intro as the dry ice swirled around our feet and the gorgeous girls on the front row gazed longingly at the rock gods in front of them (reality check : wizened old hags who’s bingo had been interrupted sulkily looked on whilst their husbands dutifully sat there nursing their pints…)

Just as we get to the part where the drums come in – BANG !

 

Little old Fred absolutely nails it. 

 

Neil Peart eat your heart out. Gavin Harrison (had I known him them) couldn’t shake a stick to old Fred – he was fantastic, knew every trick and never missed a beat.

It turned out to be a great concert – the best we ever did !

We never went far from there, we all went separate ways into families, careers, wandering round the world.  I recently found out our guitarist, who was talented now works as a Doctor in Australia and saved several lives in the Bali bombing.  That makes my hill running look a bit feeble but then one of the other guys ended up as a dustman in Droitwich so that makes me feel better.

When I see the likes of Matt Stevens up close and Bruce Soord from no more than two feet away,  I can only stand and gaze in awe at their talent and skill and think …

‘ … where did it all go wrong ?’

 

 

 

A wonderful album ……

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The Rumour Cubes – The Narrow State 

A simply tremendous little album that will blow you away if you like sweeping crescendos of violins building up into a wall of noise with spine-tingling effect then being thumped right in the chest with the most amazing spoken word section of The Gove Curve :

 Cold white fish, on wood beneath a river

Fast right schools bleed silver

Contract, bend stab bend

Touch on light on scales

They divest and vie patterns

On tiers of municipal glass

“The money follows the child”

Attend to the fish bone

The slim neck

Crooked hush

A down, put down handle

Stab in the dark

In a film handle

An old black phone “what ?”

For this one is the Gove Curve

No, this one is the Gove Curve

The river, the silt

Smoothed cling film

Gutted gape of rock

Where guts slip

Deep

Red

Oak grain

The State is narrow and you are basically gone

Gone all bone scuba

It is in the varnished fucking floor

Your face a rut around us

Build to up crinckle shine

Like the winds that hurt us

On Mars

float perfectly sad leaf,

float bight fresh green

fold

feathers torn the dead wing

sunk in the wreath boat

sunk in fine claps of copper flame

orange and green flecks

silent carnival

blinkless

eyes …..

 

Rumour Cubes are a 6-piece ensemble from London who’s music captivated me the first time I heard it with their EP ‘We Have Sound Houses Also”.

With wonderful titles such as “The University is a Factory”, “Triptych” and ‘Tempus Fugit” it might be easy to dismiss this as an art-house fancy by some bright young student types – but it goes way beyond that and has a real depth suggesting some true talent at work here.

That they play instruments well is beyond doubt – many aspiring bands can play perfectly well – but Rumour Cubes blend this with a marvellously cinematic sound borrowing cues from the likes of the aforesaid Mono, with hints of Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky but all the while managing to sound like, well, The Rumour Cubes.

 A fantastic discovery and well worth your attention.