The Unmatched Brilliance of Devin Townsend

In the documentary for his album Empath, Devin Townsend commented that many people have trouble understanding much of his musical output because his albums vary drastically in style. His work with Strapping Young Lad was as extreme as metal can get. On other albums he shows prog, classical, country, and even pop influences. He explained that he doesn’t play only one type of music because he would get bored. He doesn’t listen to only one kind of music for the same reason. 

I share Townsend’s sentiment. Why on earth would you want to listen to only one kind of music? Perhaps that’s why I’ve never really seen myself as a real metalhead, even though I really enjoy metal. You go to a metal concert, and many of the people in attendance only listen to metal. That’s fine – people can listen to what they like. I happen to get bored by listening to one kind of music, which is probably why I like progressive rock so much since it includes a broad array of sounds. But even within contemporary prog you’ll get those fans who will only listen to Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, Marillion, etc., or those folks who still only listen to Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, etc. and haven’t bothered to dig into the music being made today.

DevinTownsend_DevolutionTo those people who aren’t familiar with Devin Townsend (which includes Steven Wilson, by his own admission), you’re missing out on perhaps the most creative genius working in the music industry today. In the Empath documentary he talked about working with Mike Keneally, who has worked with many brilliant people, including Frank Zappa. Townsend says he would never dream of comparing himself with someone like Zappa, but I would. Townsend is every bit as creative, albeit in different ways. That documentary, which I believe is only available on the super deluxe version of Empath that Devin released last year, helps shed some light on Devin’s creative process. It also shows him in a very open and honest way. His new acoustic live album, Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live in Leeds, was his attempt to strip away all the fluff from his stage shows and connect with audiences in a very open way. 

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Review: Mosh – Unbreakable Wall

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“Unbreakable Wall” is a debut release from Mosh, an Israeli musician who “pours the human experience in all it’s rage, sadness, and happiness into his music as he explores universal themes of inner conflict, relationships with others and relationships with government.”

Speaking of the sound of “Unbreakable Wall,” it has a very solemn, jazzy feel that is brought some brightness in the form of Mosh’s vocal melodies. Due to amount of range Mosh possesses he is able to single handedly change the mood, or evoke some otherwise unseen emotion, in the various points of his songs. The effect of this is seen excellently on the track opening song “Keep on Moving,” where he begins the song with some low-register singing and then during the chorus he extends himself into a melody that would trip most vocal chords of the average rock singer. Throughout the song his constant change of singing, to all out bawling, to quiet talking makes the mood of the listener swing with the hymns. The instrumentation on the track and throughout the song is also superb and helps create the perfect backdrop for Mosh’s vocal expertise. Of special effect to this is the harmonica solo, courtesy of Roy Rieck.

Passionate performance on the lead single “Fish Us” sets the tone for the more mellow and emotional delivery both vocally and instrumentally, what tells about how far “Unbreakable Wall” goes when it comes to diversity. The mood of “All I’ve Got” is a fair bit optimistic than the previous song. The song has an acoustic guitar in it, and some other instruments. Mosh’s awesome voice shows in this song and his guitar abilites do as well. “One Way Out” is a mood-changer; stylistically it almost borders with the 1970s funk music; it comes with a catchy groove that makes it one of the highlights of the record. Warm vintage sound of electric piano in “You’ve Reached My Arms” and psychedelic vibe evolving around Mosh’s and Zoe Polanski’s vocals bring “Unbreakable Wall” to new heights. The instrumental work in “Save Me” serves as such a beautiful background for Mosh’s vocals, leading to some of his best performances on the album.

Overall, “Unbreakable Wall” is a pleasant listen, and perfect alternative rock offering from a musician that clearly knows what he wants to achieve.

Things Inside: Discovering Will Sergeant

If you are of a certain age, you will probably be most familiar with Will Sergeant as guitarist and founder member of Liverpool legends Echo & The Bunnymen. Their classic album Ocean Rain became a particular favourite of mine during my student days in the mid 80s and I still consider it one of the best releases of that period.

But Will has not limited his musical horizons to the Bunnymen; he has worked on other projects over the past couple of years and discovering them has been one of 2013’s unexpected pleasures for me.

Back in January, Will and fellow Bunnyman Les Pattinson formed a new band called Poltergeist and announced a PledgeMusic campaign to fund production of their debut album. That album, entitled Your Mind Is A Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder), appeared as a download for pledgers in March and had a worldwide release in June.  According to Will,

We create a form of rock music with its toes paddling in the progressive ocean foam of the sixties and seventies and its head in the bone dry air of the present day.

Your Mind Is A Box is a splendid slice of instrumental prog/post-rock that deserves a place in my Best Of 2013 list, being denied that right solely due only to the incredible strength and depth of this year’s album releases. Fans of The Fierce & The Dead and their ilk should definitely give this a listen.

In September, Will launched another PledgeMusic campaign, this time for a new album from occasional project Glide. This resulted in the release of Assemblage One & Two at the start of November. Glide is a quite different beast to Poltergeist, drawing inspiration from the 1970s electronica of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Will describes the project thus:

It is an unashamed self indulgent venture. I see nothing wrong with being self indulgent. In my view all art of any worth is built on self indulgence. From the first stroke of a brush, word of literature, note of an instrument or strike of the chisel against the cold stone or wood. The only person that a true artist should be aiming to please should be himself. If you start worrying about what the people may say about the work it is immediately compromised and is a dead duck. So I walk alone once more through electronic landscape for only one reason: I like it there.

Well I like it too, Will: as a devoted fan of early to mid-period TD, I like it very much indeed! The two tracks from Assemblage – clocking in at truly proggy lengths of 19:34 and 22:28, respectively – are hypnotic and utterly absorbing, evoking the spirit of this genre’s German pioneers superbly.

Last week I was privileged to attend a play-through of Assemblage One & Two by Will, in the planetarium at Liverpool’s World Museum. The computer-projected visuals of planets, stars and galaxies were the perfect mind-expanding accompaniment to the music. Will had a small merch desk at the event, so I took a punt on a CD of his from 2012, called Things Inside – and I am so glad I did!

Things Inside – available as a CD or as a download – is another instrumental album, but one quite different in tone from the work produced by the Poltergeist and Glide projects. For one thing, it is almost entirely acoustic. Instruments used include acoustic guitars, ukulele, melodica, vibraphone, hammered dulcimer, celeste, auto harp, Schoenhut toy piano, acoustic bass, flute, french horn and wind chimes! I’ve only listened to it a couple of times, but I’m already loving it.

It’s wonderful when an artist known for one particular style of music reveals a hidden side, a more broad-ranging creativity than you were expecting. Here’s hoping there is more to come from ‘Sergeant Fuzz’ in 2014!