Album Review – The Weever Sands’ “Stylobat’s Travels”

Weever Sands Stylobat's Travels album coverThe Weever Sands – Stylobat’s Travels, 2020
Tracks: 1. Intro/The Breakout Session (3:29), 2. And Aphrodite Took The Veil (7:03), 3. Stylobat’s Travels (25:27), 4. Acropolis (The Big Wave) (6:12) 

Cologne, Germany’s The Weever Sands combine the album format and experimental playfulness of the early 1970s with what could be considered post-rock or ambient rock. To be honest, I didn’t quite get it at first, but then the other day I was listening to Gentle Giant and it hit me. The synth and organ sounds that predominate in Gentle Giant’s music are very similar to what I hear on Stylobat’s Travels, The Weever Sands’ sophomore album. Add in some flute and strong bass and you have the makings of a classically inspired progressive album. But this is stripped back. The music isn’t as heavily layered as you might get on a Gentle Giant or Jethro Tull record, and that’s by design. The band are also heavily influenced by Mike Oldfield’s idea of a “powerful miniature,” where the songs aren’t as heavily developed yet still stretch out into varying sounds. 

The album opens with some spoken word that sets the stage for a concept that is told primarily through music, the wonderful cover artwork and other artwork included with the CD, and promo notes telling me what the story is about. The band describe the concept as a story about a bat (Stylobat) in Ancient Greece who goes on a quest to find his sweetheart. Most of the album is instrumental, so you’ll have to use your imagination, with some help from the artwork, to see Stylobat searching for his beloved. 

The first two tracks most closely resemble what we would call progressive rock, but the 25 minute “epic” is most certainly post-rock, with all of the elements that might make up a layered prog song spread out and played individually. A splash on the high hat here, a symphonic tone there, a synthesized beep. Four minutes in and I’m beginning to wonder what’s going on. The first five minutes of that track are subtitled “Flatlined,” so the musical scene is apparently meant to be at a hospital bedside. Things pick up after that with the next section, “Stereobat,” but I would still label it experimental. There’s melody, but the combination of different synth sounds keeps it sounding unique, although it still references the gentlest of giants.

The third section, “Ah! These Ionic Beams!” nicely builds to a combination of keyboard combined with a rock riff that’s a lot more traditional. An electrical guitar finally comes in, elevating the music by leaps and bounds. Not that there was anything wrong with the music before, but the guitar solo is quite nice and certainly welcome. This section of the song is the best music on the album. 

This is the point where I notice that the song has built gradually to this moment. The song began with disparate sounds, but they have gradually been brought together and build upon each other. The fourth section, “Introducing Fire Ghosts,” returns to some of the disparateness of “Flatlined,” but it never becomes that sparse again. It soon returns to the musical complexity of the previous section. The final section, “Underwater,” winds down with a synth sound that fills the musical space, perhaps suggesting being covered by water. The final song, “Acropolis (The Big Wave),” continues that nautical theme, but it builds and morphs into more of a rock song with heavier drums and heavier keyboards with a vintage 70s sound. 

Stylobat’s Travels isn’t your typical instrumental prog album. Usually instrumental albums feature a lot of musical noodling, but this record seems to focus more on telling a story through music. Personally I would’ve preferred a bit more guitar and fewer moments of sparseness in the long track. Some more spoken word sections beyond the opening track would’ve helped move the story along as well. The opening spoken word passage reminded me a bit of a radio drama, and I think a few more instances of that on the record could have helped tell the story more clearly and coherently.

The Weever Sands are quite unlike most of what you’re going to find in progressive rock these days. They don’t seem to be copying any particular sound, even though I made that Gentle Giant connection earlier. Rather they start with a more ambient base and build that up until it’s no longer ambient… if that makes sense at all. It isn’t quite rock, even though it does have rock moments (which I wish were more numerous). It’s a fun little journey that has a few bumps in the road, but it’s worth checking out if you’re looking something inspired by classic progressive rock that isn’t symphonic prog. 

https://www.the-weever-sands.com
Buy the CD from: https://shop.trommelfell-records.de/the-weever-sands/
Full album playlist on YouTube: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRqGY_YLULtQlBHPovPjj8sGvM-4AX0y2

Minus

Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd, in other words it’s heavy metal, but quite psychedelic, atmospheric and drawn-out. Kraków’s Minus exhibits significant post metal and stoner hues too. The album actually progresses from stoner straight into post rock territory. From a three minute album opener to nine minute compositions essentially reflects that trend. From fractious Soundgarden like textures to introspective drone riffs – the journey couldn’t be more seamless.

NAO4 Teaser Trailer

NAO
Our last glimpse of real beauty–NAO’s compilation album.

Sam Healy–while complying with Big Euro Brother laws, regulations, and microintrusions–offered a wonderful teaser/trailer for the forthcoming North Atlantic Oscillation album, coming sometime this year.

Granted, it’s only a full-eighteen seconds worth, but it’s eighteen more seconds then we had before. . .

Looking East: Gazpacho’s Soviet Saga

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Gazpacho’s 10th Album, SOYUZ.

Gazpacho, SOYUZ (Kscope 2018).  Tracks: Soyuz One; Hypomania; Exit Suite; Emperor Bespoke; Sky Burial; Fleeting Things; Soyuz Out; and Rappaccini.

To be sure, every release from the Norwegian art rockers extraordinaire, Gazpacho, is not just another moment in a progger’s life, but an actual event—filled with meaning and significance, marked by the awareness and heighten-ness of all five senses.

For those of us in the United States, we wait that extra week for the package from Burning Shed to arrive. Then, we carefully remove the rectangular sticker from Kscope (this one, Kscope607) and, then, the cellophane.  I have the strange habit of collecting every one of these cellophane stickers, placing each within the front or back cover of whatever book I’m reading at the time.  Today, when the mail came, I was re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Book of Lost Tales, Part I.  Hence, the Kscope607 sticker sits nicely behind the front cover.

Opening the booklet releases a smell every bit as satisfying as that of a brand new car.  It’s a bit sweet and a bit pulpy.  And, then, we dive into the pictures and, most importantly, the lyrics.

The only disappointing thing about a Gazpacho release is knowing that the next one is most likely at least two years out. Real art takes time, especially in the northern parts of the world.  I’ve now gone through this ritual exactly 13 times (counting studio, live, and re-releases) since I first purchased NIGHT in 2007.  It’s always healthy, and it’s always inspiring. As much a release as it is an inspiration.

Continue reading “Looking East: Gazpacho’s Soviet Saga”

Remembering the Genius of Porcupine Tree

2018 release
The 2018 release.  2 CD/1 Blu-ray from Kscope.

Porcupine Tree, ARRIVING SOMEWHERE. . . (Kscope, 2018).  2 CD/1 Blu-ray package.  A re-release of the 2007 title on DVD.

Though it originally came out over a decade ago, Porcupine Tree’s ARRIVING SOMEWHERE . . .–its live show from Chicago, October 11-12, 2005–has just been re-released by Kscope in a very nice 2 cd/1 blu-ray book.

When it first came out on DVD in 2007, I had purchased it immediately. Of all the concerts I own on varous forms of video, ARRIVING SOMEWHERE . . . has been in constant play, rivaling only Rush’s TIME MACHINE and Talk Talk’s LIVE IN MONTREUX for most played.

Now, having it on CD and blu-ray reminds me yet again how incredible Porcupine Tree was in the first decade of this millenium. Admittedly, between 2001 and 2010, I was rather obsessed with the band. To me–all pre-2009 and, thus, pre-UNDERFALL YARD–no other band had reached as far and as perceptively as had Porcupine Tree. The band seemed the perfect fusion of prog, pop, and psychedelia–in its music as well as in its lyrics.

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Ulver – The Assassination Of Julius Caesar

New music from Norwegian experimentalists Ulver is always something to savour, and its diversity might surprise you. 2016’s cryptically-titled ATGCLVLSSCAP was mostly instrumental and partly-improvised, veering from ambient to intensely atmospheric post rock and back again. Their latest release is a quite different proposition, however.

The Assassination Of Julius Caesar channels progressive, pop and electronica influences to utterly glorious effect. Repeated listens variously bring to mind Pure Reason Revolution, Anathema, New Order, Propaganda, early Simple Minds and Massive Attack, amongst others (a list of musical reference points that will have a few Progarchy readers salivating, I’m sure).

It’s difficult to pick out highlights in an album of such consistently high quality, but right now I’m particularly enamoured by the expansive dark groove of Rolling Stone (at over 9 minutes, the album’s longest track), the elegant pop of Southern Gothic and the achingly beautiful chorus in Transverberation.

I’m calling it now. One of the best albums of 2017.

soundstreamsunday: “Candy-O” by the Cars

the-cars-candy-o-button-b3064(2)It’s been forty-ish years since their first record but it’s not difficult to remember how important the Cars were to American music.  Punk really broke with the Cars and maybe also with Devo, because until these bands hit the radio, and they did so in a big way in 1978-79, punk music and its influence was just a news story for those of us not living on America’s coasts.  The Cars weren’t a punk band really at all but they brought a toughness to their pop music that defined American new wave, even as they were being played, say, between the Doobies and AC/DC on the radio (as they still are today).  They represented a slew of less commercially fortunate American underground bands: Big Star, NRBQ, Flamin’ Groovies, the kind of groups who extended 60s garage rock post Beatles.  That is, they saw the art in what they did.  They opened ears.  Ric Ocasek’s and Benjamin Orr’s lyrics were smart, un-fussy, their singing had the odd effect of creating emotional distance even while containing heartbreak, and Elliott Easton’s guitar kept the band on course — they were never not a rock band.  Here on “Candy-O,” the title track of their second album,  the Cars throw down a power pop gauntlet elevated by this raw live peformance.  Bookended by a monster debut album and outsized 1980s success, “Candy-O” is nonetheless the band’s peak as new wave game changer.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light

Years ago, when I was 16 I found an organization that helped with my curiosity about progressive rock, it was called the Classic Rock Society, they were based in Rotherham (a short bus ride away from the small village I lived in at the time) and they met on a Wednesday night in a pub. Beer and prog, all within a short distance from my front door, what was not to like?

One night at the pub talking about prog music in 1995 a friend lent me an album by a band I’d never heard of called No-Man, the album was Flowermouth, and it’s mix of shifting sounds and emotive vocals was my first introduction to the works of Mr Steven Wilson and Mr Tim Bowness, and I was hooked.

Luckily I got to see Porcupine Tree not so longer afterwards, but despite following No-Man and Tim Bowness solo work, it took me slightly longer (nearly 20 years in fact) to see Tim live, with Henry Fool at Eppyfest in 2014, followed quickly by seeing him at the Louisiana in Bristol in 2015.

Continue reading “Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light”