The Progressive Aspect

This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/09/19/the-pineapple-thief-godsticks-2/

The Bierkeller, Bristol
Sunday, 17th September 2017

If I may, I’d like to propose a toast to the Gods of Serendipity.

Now I don’t often pay homage to deities of indeterminate origin – or any others for that matter – but in this case I’ll make an exception as the recent goings on within The Pineapple Thief camp must be the result of intervention by some higher being.

And it would be easy to suggest that this ‘higher being’ is called Gavin Harrison, but that would be unfair to the legacy from which Bruce Soord and his band are now reaping richly deserved rewards.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, first up Godsticks. For the second time in a row I missed the start of their support set, the last time being a couple of years ago at this very venue with The Aristocrats. This tardiness – brought on by the vagaries of travel rather than any disrespect to support bands – is a great shame as I have followed Godsticks closely since the release of their first EP waaaaay back in 2008 (where does the time go?!).

Godsticks - photo by Mike Evans

During this near decade long journey the band have developed and changed their sound considerably, from a quirky jazziness to the harder edge of 2015’s Emergence and onward into the hugely mature Faced With Rage, due out next month on Kscope. During this time Darran Charles and his men have not only experimented with the music but also how to deliver it in a live setting, from the early shows where the band – and Darran in particular – came across as very nervous, through trying to integrate live keyboards and on to the current hard-edged two guitar line-up. Today the band have bags of confidence and a menacing intensity to their sound, well-drilled by this tour, the result being a storming performance of dexterity and power, all hung on Darran’s canny ear for a melodic hook. The band are on top form, the rhythm section of Tom Price and Dan Nelson have developed into a very impressive unit with Dan cultivating his stage persona, a million miles away from the 17 year old youth who originally joined the band. Gavin Bushell is the perfect companion for Darran and their techniques mesh well whilst adding variety to the performance. To cap it all Darran’s singing was majestic tonight, and overall the package appears complete. The sound levels were set a little on the loud side but the detail was still present so not a major quibble, and with the set split equally between Emergence and the unreleased songs from the new album to underline the band as they are now, it was a great performance and well received by a receptive audience.

Setlist
Much Sinister
Hard to face
Revere
Exit stage right
We are leaving
Lack of Scrutiny

Musicians
Darran Charles – Guitars, Vocals
Dan Nelson – Bass
Gavin Bushell – Guitar
Tom Price – Drums

Links
Godsticks – Website | Facebook | Twitter


A quick turnaround and The Pineapple Thief emerge, expectations high based on the praise forthcoming for the previous tour with Gavin Harrison and Darran Charles, including the London show in February which is set for release as the Where We Stood Blu-ray package at the end of the month.

The Pineapple Thief have never fully clicked with me; I’ve heard a number of the albums and saw them once, in a sports hall in Chippenham back in 2004, but I was never really engaged.

This has now changed.

Last year’s Your Wilderness was a great release and Where We Stood underlines what this band have now become, but catching the majesty of a full live performance is where it all falls into place. Quite rightly, the whole of Your Wilderness is played, Gavin and Darran fully integrated into these songs, and they are fabulous. Bruce has always written songs of real quality, but now he has the vehicle to properly deliver them, and you get the feeling that the rest of the band have stepped up in the process, growing in confidence with every turn.

TPT - Bruce Soord - photo by Mike Evans

Darran Charles puts in a fine second shift of the evening with some exquisite soloing, his virtuosity augmenting Bruce’s playing to expand the sound and give it additional depth. Darran has proved his versatility over the years and is a player of real note. Here he is a vital component, both in the performance and as a comedy foil for Bruce, his pithy comments adding to the good humour of the evening (I particularly liked the wicked goading of Bruce to actually remember the name of the forthcoming Godsticks album after Soord told the audience how good it was!).

The laugh out loud banter adds to the show, but it’s the man at the back who sprinkles the magic dust over the music. Gavin Harrison is rightly lauded as one of the finest drummers of his generation and you can’t help but marvel at his skills. As the perfect choice to lead the three drummer front line of the current incarnation of King Crimson, his profile has been raised to a higher level and to a far wider audience, but here he is playing to a pleasingly rather full Bierkeller. I had to pinch myself that the last time I saw him was in the regal surroundings of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall with King Crimson, pounding seven bells out of his kit in one of the most dexterous displays of precision I’ve ever witnessed.

TPT - Gavin Harrison - photo by Mike Evans

And his playing tonight is nothing short of exquisite. For example, No Man’s Land is just fantastic; little fills, tinkling percussion at all the right moments, slide rule kick drums and power as and when required. Absolutely astonishing, and if the rest of the band just stopped playing it would still be a wonderfully melodic experience. He’s the master of the perfectly weighted augmentation, in no way showy whilst defining everything by his playing. Some of the fills were just so outrageous that I laughed out loud, and with the wonderful sound quality every tiny movement and addition could be heard. However, the finest quality in Gavin’s playing is the sensitivity and understanding of the source material; he did not take over but added exactly what was required to raise Bruce’s songs to the place they deserve to be.

TPT - photo by Mike EvansTPT - Gavin Harrison - photo by Mike Evans

The Pineapple Thief have never sounded as good and Bruce is clearly rightly proud of what they have achieved, a vindication of what he has been doing all these years as they play to more people with a fantastic line-up and the technical support to deliver a beautifully judged show. The quality of the songs speak for themselves, the setlist consistent with the previous tour with Shoot First, 3,000 Days and Where We Stood added, Reaching Out and Simple As That dropped with Fend for Yourself pushed forward in the running order.

The encores were a celebration with an audience completely on side, the result being a fantastic evening, completely enthralling from start to finish. Should this line-up get to tour again – and hopefully they will – then attendance is a complete no-brainer. Just get a ticket and marvel at it all.

Setlist
Tear You Up
The One You Left to Die
No Man’s Land
Shoot First
Alone at Sea
That Shore
3000 Days
Fend for Yourself
In Exile
Take Your Shot
Show a Little Love
Where We Stood
Part Zero
The Final Thing on My Mind
~ Encore:
Snowdrops
Nothing at Best

Musicians
Bruce Soord – Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Guitars
Steve Kitch – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Jon Sykes – Bass, Backing Vocals
Gavin Harrison – Drums, Percussion
Darran Charles – Guitars, Backing Vocals

Links
The Pineapple Thief – Website | Facebook | Twitter


All photos by Mike Evans and used with his kind permission.


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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/09/16/alan-emslie-floating-emotive-bay-driven-heavy-dark-matter/

With news of a new studio album from Alan Emslie scheduled for late 2018 and with the new re-mastered editions of his first four releases appearing in April this year, it seems a timely opportunity to revisit the early years. Between 2001 and 2005 Alan Emslie released four albums, three under his own name and one, and my introduction to his work, as Soft Monster.

Alan Emslie? Re-mastered reissues? Composer, classically trained orchestral timpanist, drummer and multi-instrumentalist Alan Emslie, that’s who!

Primarily a drummer and percussionist, so the worry might be that his main instrument of choice may overtly dominate, but happy to report this is not the case and across these four albums, it is certainly an ace card, but not the full hand. With the help of some stellar guest performers and his crafty inclusion of electronica it makes for a varied and interesting deck.


Soft Monster – Floating

‘Sinking’ may be more appropriate in 2017, with a market awash with an endless stream of new music, it’s so easy to concentrate on the new and overlook the past. So these timely re-mastered re-releases from Alan Emslie come as a welcome opportunity to take stock and reflect on music that has sat in my burgeoning CD shelves for far too long – sadly without too much airplay.

Working chronologically we start with the calming keyboard wash that opens Soft Monster’s Floating album. As remarked upon, in the review I did of the album some fifteen years ago, this tranquillity is short lived as “…the drums just sort of explode after the delicate dreamy introduction and are reminiscent of perhaps Rush or Genesis.” Certainly Alan displays all the fire and gusto of Mr. Peart and Mr. Collins here.

A great opening statement and followed by the equally impressive Da Monstas which features guitarist and constant companion across Alan’s career, John Irvine. John adds some tasteful guitar, which we pick up for the first time here on track two. In fact John’s guitar is refreshingly thoughtful throughout the album, often restrained, but always harmonious to the surroundings.

Floating proves to be a very appropriate title, as much of the album does exactly that, mention here therefore of keys man Euan Drysdale who, along with Alan, lays down the fine canvas that the album rests upon. The title track is a prime example – superbly understated.

Mindful that there are another three albums to cover I’ll forego the somewhat tedious (to read) track by track look at Soft Monster’s album and simply move on to the summation.

Reading back through my review in 2002, I was perhaps a little misguided, or perhaps my tastes have changed? Either way, revisiting Floating has been an absolute pleasure and unlike 2001, when there was no audio to tempt, 2017 presents us with a golden opportunity to check out this album in it’s entirety via Bandcamp. I was impressed with Alan Emslie’s production values back in 2001, so the added clarity of the 2017 reissued re-masters is an added bonus.

TRACK LISTING
01. Ooger (4:56)
02. Da Monstas (4:41)
03. Floating (6:25)
04. Pushing Free (7:24)
05. Doughnut Warden (4:20)
06. Approaching The Ice (8:21)
07. Behind The Dark Mirror Machine (4:46)
08. Three Rooms (4:43)

Total Time – 45:36

MUSICIANS
Alan Emslie – Drums & Percussion
Euan Drysdale – Keyboards
~ with
John Irvine – Guitar (tracks 2,4,6 & 8)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Scotland
Originally Releases: 2001
Date of Reissue: 13th April 2017


Alan Emslie – Emotive Bay

Released a year after Floating and under his own name this time around, but in many respects a sympathetic companion to that release. Alan is once again joined by guitarist John Irvine who adds some tasteful guitar to a couple of the tracks. Mention here of the John Irvine Band’s progressive jazz/rock albums – where Alan Emslie returns the favour and forms the formidable backbone for some stellar music. Taken from the Next Stop (2013) album – checkout the Means To An End drum recording video HERE.

BEWARE! – track by track review (albeit mercifully short ;).

The opening piece, Downforce, would have sat very comfortably on the Floating album, with percussive techno-synth, melodic synth hook-line and fiery drumming kicking the album off to a cracking start.

As might be implied, Emotive Bay takes a far mellower, tranquil course and during the next four pieces the emphasis is on mood and atmosphere. The title tune sets the mood, with Emotive Bay‘s rippling, early Genesis-like arpeggios and surrounded by swelling synth washes. In similar fashion this is followed by Watching The Waves, although this time bolstered by a solid, but unintrusive drum beat. Regardless of what the track’s title might conjure up, The Distortion That Drives Us is more in keeping with Vangelis and only John Irvine’s Gilmour-esque guitar takes us to other thoughts. Concluding this section of the album is the more up-beat Groovy Jelly, and as the title implies, it’s a groove driven piece.

Listening to both Floating and Emotive Bay it struck me how refreshing and valid both albums sounded. In this, dare I say, more diverse progressive climate, both albums might benefit from this broader spectrum of acceptance. Cue up the hypnotic, almost entirely percussive Quarqaba, barring the monastic chanting from Mr. Emslie to close. So a not entirely instrumental release and the tongue-in-cheek Something Wrong? gives our first real taster of AE’s vocals. Well he’s definitely no chanter – but with the lyric line…

“I hate singing so much… and my voice sounds like a loo brush”

… I gather he is aware of this fact. It’s refreshing to find a serious musician who is able to not take himself too seriously at times.

Okay, and mindful that once again I have drifted into a track by track scenario of the music I’ll swiftly take a quick look at the two concluding pieces. First up is the wonderful Beyond The 11th Dimension, with both Alan and John in fine fettle – BUT rather than waffle on I’ve linked the track from Bandcamp:

And finally We Went To Bed Too Late, “…a gently constructed ballad but without the inclusion of any vocals”.

I’m really glad Alan Emslie decided to re-issue his back catalogue, if for no other reason than it prompted me to listen to the albums again. And what a pleasure it has been.

TRACK LISTING
01. Downforce (4:49)
02. Emotive Bay (3:14)
03. Watching The Waves (5:42)
04. The Distortion That Drives Us (8:01)
05. Groovy Jelly (4:39)
06. Quarqaba (4:12)
07. Something Wrong? (6:24)
08. Beyond The 11th Dimension (13:14)
09. We Went To Bed Too Late (4:32)

Total Time – 54:47

MUSICIANS
Alan Emslie – Drums & Percussion
John Irvine – Guitar

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Scotland
Originally Releases: 2002
Date of Reissue: 13th April 2017


Alan Emslie – Driven Heavy

With album releases in the previous two years, Alan returned again in 2003 with Driven Heavy. Again guitarist John Irvine is in the fold and joining the flock this time around are Greg Lawson on violin, Jo Nicholson’s bass clarinet and Pat Jackson’s bass trombone, the latter two perhaps a token gesture towards the lack of a bass player on any of his releases.

As the album title indicates, Driven Heavy is a more robust album than it’s predecessor, Emotive Bay, although the now familiar signature sound is still present. Other changes on Driven Heavy are the inclusion of vocals and a movement towards a more aggressive sound, a precursor to the heavier material Alan would eventually head towards.

Mindful that I have covered the previous two release in some depth, and not wanting to completely lose your will to live before covering the following two releases, I will focus on some of the album’s highlights. We start with the stunning Help Me – a track that really should be heard. So here we go…

Greg Lawson’s electric violin is truly emotive and beautifully underpinned by Pat Jackson’s processed bass trombone. As mentioned above, an odd quirk of Alan Emslie is that he doesn’t use a bass player, curious, but in no way detrimental to the music. Greg also features in two of the album’s other stand out instrumental tunes, the alluring Meditation and the Floydian Through The Valley.

There is much in the way of hidden depths and the longer I’ve had to revisit this album, the more has been revealed. The outro section Something In Your Eyes, for instance, is wonderful. Before leaving Driven Heavy, mention of the two final “bonus” tracks. Firstly Bitter Boy [Instrumental Mix] which stands up surprisingly well without the vocals. Secondly Downforce [Live Rehearsal] which appeared on the original release in the interactive section of the CD – an indication of how little of the releases are overdubs.

TRACK LISTING
01. Bitter Boy (3:39)
02. Help Me (4:26)
03. Big One (4:41)
04. Meditation (4:21)
05. Simple Groove (3:54)
06. Causeway (5:26)
07. Through The Valley (4:58)
08. Something In Your Eyes (6:49)
09. Bitter Boy [Instrumental Mix] (3:39)
10. Downforce [Live Rehearsal] (4:54)

Total Time – 46:47

MUSICIANS
Alan Emslie – Drums & Percussion
John Irvine – Guitar
Greg Lawson – Electric Violin (tracks 2,4 & 7)
Jo Nicholson – Bass Clarinet (tracks 5 & 7)
Pat Jackson – Bass Trombone (track 2)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Scotland
Originally Releases: 2003
Date of Reissue: 13th April 2017


Alan Emslie – Dark Matter

Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to re-visit Alan Emslie’s earlier work and in a relatively short period of time. What is evident, in hindsight, is that with each new album, Alan has progressed his sound and each release has shown a marked level of maturity, even if not all has suited this reviewer – but that is just a matter of personal taste. With the final album in this retrospective it’s also evident that Alan’s musical pathway was heading towards a heavier destination. This he has undertaken, since 2010 onward, with his Plastic Noose project, a much darker affair, releasing three albums, described as “Misanthropic Industrial Metal”. Despite this troubling title, the second album, Fractured Despondency revealed a rather absorbing listen.

Returning to Dark Matter, the opening two tracks echo previous releases, certainly within the dynamics and precision of the drums, and of course the fine guitar work of the ever present John Irvine. What Dark Matter does mark is a transition to a distinctly less studio-like recording and a more “live” and organic sound, something Alan will embrace wholeheartedly in his later releases. Alan also seems to have passed his “loo brush” vocal phase and adopted a punkish guttural approach to his vocalisation, which not only works in the heavier material but sits comfortably with the lighter tracks, epitomised during Dark Matter and Charon.

The title track, an instrumental, whilst retaining the more aggressive tone of the album, does tie in the previous releases nicely. With Alan’s fiery drumming, John’s great guitar work and sweeping synths, we have a track that might well have emerged from the Rush camp.

Similarly with the following track Charon, and as remarked in the review I undertook of Dark Matter back in 2005, there is a strong correlation across all four albums. “…Charon, at times it has the feel of a late ’80s synth pop song, but one that is continually interrupted and savaged by choppy driving metallic chords and a precise drum rhythm.” Topping it all off is a atmospheric guitar solo from John Irvine.

For those who enjoy their prog gritty, then Dark Matter is well worth investigating. The fact that Alan has a keen sense of melody, as we can hear clearly in All The Time, will also appease those who may struggle with the heavier end of the spectrum.

TRACK LISTING
01. Misanthropic Myopic Man (5:47)
02. Incomplete (5:09)
03. Dark Matter (5:32)
04. Charon (6:36)
05. Living Monster (7:03)
06. All The Time (6:27)
07. On Your Knees (4:47)
08. Two Threads (3:10)

Total Time – 44:34

MUSICIANS
Alan Emslie – Drums, Percussion & Keyboards
John Irvine – Guitar

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Scotland
Originally Releases: 2005
Date of Reissue: 13th April 2017


And there we have it, Alan Emslie revisited in 2017. By way of a taster I’ve added a direct Bandcamp audio link to one track for each albums featured in this retrospective review – certainly well worth the few minutes of your time to check out some of the fine music available.

At the time of writing all the above albums, along with the Plastic Noose releases, are available on Bandcamp and with a “pay what you want” offer – it’s got to be worth taking the plunge.

As mentioned above there will be a new Alan Emslie album release in late 2018, but prior to this the new Plastic Noose album Enmity will be released on 21st December 2017.

LINKS
Alan Emslie – Website | Bandcamp
Plastic Noose – Website | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/09/15/jet-black-sea-absorption-lines/

Jet Black Sea came into being in 2013 as a new musical project for Adrian Jones and Michael Simons, after they had been working in the studio with Adrian’s band, Nine Stones Close. It became apparent that they both wanted to explore other musical themes, using their individual experiences to enhance each other’s contributions, and the debut Jet Black Sea album, The Path of Least Existence, was released in November 2015 to critical acclaim.

Adrian and Michael describe their music as experimental, ambient and progressive with a dark edge, which has drawn comparison with Ulver, Nine Inch Nails, King Crimson, Radiohead and Pink Floyd. It is true that these influences and more can be felt in the music, but it definitely becomes clear that this is a sound created by Jet Black Sea.

There are seven songs here, which flow very well from the start to the finish of the album. The music is ambient, melancholic and dark at times, but there are always moments of beauty and melody woven through. Second albums can often be tricky affairs, but Adrian and Michael have created a work that is markedly different from the debut, but still identifiable as Jet Black Sea. All the songs were written by the duo with mixing, mastering and production handled by Paul van Zeeland.

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Two of the tracks are clearly influenced by the Apollo 13 mission, the first being the title track which follows on from the short Jumping to a Conclusion (part 1), its static effect start followed by a chiming guitar and atmospheric keyboards as the tracks segue nicely. The use of sound effects, in the shape of dialogue between Houston control and Apollo 13, help create the mood, along with the keyboards before a Floydian guitar cuts through. The closing track, 133 hours, so named for the length of time the world waited for the safe return of Apollo 13, offers up some feelings of hope.

Their previous album was instrumental, but here they have used vocals on two tracks, inviting Adrian O’Shaughnessy to sing on Cathedral and Tony Patterson on Hours Slip Into Days. This works well; Cathedral starts with sound effects creating the mood, accompanied by keyboards. The overall feel is somewhat dark, almost sinister, before the guitar comes in with a Floydian sound adding some brighter, grandiose textures. The vocals arrive after about four minutes, almost when you are not expecting any at all, helping to build to a climax before falling away to moody sound effects for the end. Hours Slip Into Days starts gently with a beautiful piano, Patterson’s voice giving a dreamy Radiohead feel to the proceedings.

There is a lot of variety within these songs, which may not be obvious at first but is revealed on repeated plays. Opener Wrong Turn with its ambient start has an unsettling but almost dance-like drum pattern, provided by Pieter van Hoorn, accompanying the drone of keyboards, changing to deliver a somewhat harder edge at the midpoint. The Sixth Wheel gives us a Tangerine Dream start, evolving into a Middle Eastern feel, guitar riffs added towards the end.

This is a masterful album, wonderfully crafted and created to provide the listener with a rounded experience, the seven songs working well together with a natural flow across the forty four minutes running time. Just the right length, creating enough interest to prompt you to jump up and hit repeat, and in doing so you will be rewarded with further hidden depths. An album worthy of investigation and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to review it.

TRACK LISTING
01. Wrong Turn (4:18)
02. The Sixth Wheel (6:51)
03. Jumping to a Conclusion (part 1) (2:00)
04. Absorption Lines (10:54)
05. Cathedral (7:17)
06. Hours Slip Into Days (8:31)
07. 133 Hours (5:19)

Total Time – 44:52

MUSICIANS
Adrian Jones – Guitars
Michel Simons – Programming
~ With Guests:
Pieter van Hoorn – Drums
Brendan Eyre – Keyboards
Paul van Zeeland – Bass
Adrian O’Shaughnessy – Vocals
Tony Patterson – Vocals

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Freia Music
Catalogue#: THOR 40
Date of Release: 16th July 2017

LINKS
Jet Black Sea – Facebook | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/09/13/the-contortionist-clairvoyant/

The signs were all there: forward-thinking music, a vocalist who can both scream and sing, a dedicated keyboardist, and 2014’s Language was already moving in that direction anyway. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that The Contortionist have almost entirely left behind their heavy tech-death-core sound in favour of a softer, proggier one, as so many progressive metal bands eventually do. What is a surprise is how well it has turned out. Clairvoyant loses the growling and the uptempo djent in favour of more layers and nuance, but the band loses none of their vitality in the process – no mean feat, and the result is one of the most exciting progressive metal albums of the year.

The key is that the new album is every bit as adventurous as previous albums, even if it is a little more subtle. Listen carefully to how many times the groove (and even the tempo) changes in the short Godspeed. The rhythmic play of drummer Joey Baca is as tightly locked in as ever with bassist Jordan Eberhardt, who are as good a pair as any in the genre. However, in Godspeed the guitars shift with them, with layered clean parts, chords, and leads morphing continuously to match their abstractions on the song’s durational canvasses. And almost all of the album has this constant shifting quality. Meters are never quite stable, though they often give the illusion of being so – see the subtly irregular metric shifts in the chorus of Reimagined. Subdivisions and tempi are not stable either, as in Godspeed but also in the opener Monochrome (Passive). Each new layer turns a 2 into a 3 or vice versa, pulses are continuously regrouped and re-subdivided. Harmonies are similarly mercurial, as in the utterly surprising major chord that starts the beginning of the chorus of Relapse. Not even moods are quite safe – the dark, submerged opening of Reimagined bubbles up quickly into the full sunlight of its chorus.

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But none of this is as jarring as these descriptions might make it seem. The changes are subtle and so cleverly orchestrated that they are often hard to even recognise – how many separate sections are there in the title track, for example? I was shocked when I started paying attention to its form. Its complexity does not call attention to itself, and is even more interesting because of it. Everything is well tied together, even if the atmosphere is highly variable. Maybe it’s the hypnotic clean ostinatos that lend the album its coherence – the ones that persist maddeningly through The Center, the ones that appear to drag Reimagined out of the dark (at 0:32), the ones that weave throughout album closer Monochrome (Pensive). In any case, it works, and the album is coherent while being dizzyingly variable.

Not everything about this album sits right with me straight away. Michael Lessard is a great singer, but a few of his melodies on this album feel too much like sugary pop songs for comfort – I’m thinking specifically of the synth section at 1:44 of Return to Earth, as well as a few other places. I respect it as an artistic choice, if for no other reason than because in the world of transgression that is progressive metal there is perhaps nothing as startling as conventional pop melodies. And I really like the hook (“and keep on building…”) that gets heavier and heavier throughout the song; I like his use of the voice as a layer among many, as on Monochrome (Pensive), I like his voice in the hooks of Godspeed and Reimagined, and I of course miss his growling. But a few of the melodies on Clairvoyant have given me negative reactions that have been slow to dissipate. Whether these more harmonically simple, repetitive lines grow on me remains to be seen.

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There is always some nostalgia for older albums when a well-loved band offers up their latest, especially here when The Contortionist has left big parts of their sound behind. Besides the growling and the heaviness, I also miss the band’s trademark technical obtusity, showcased quintessentially on Flourish but carried consistently all the way through most of Language. On Clairvoyant, there is no doubt that the band is still made up of exceptional musicians, but the overt displays of virtuosity, while still thrilling, seem almost like throwaway gestures between the longer stretches of hypnotic layering. If you pay attention to them, they’re cool and just as dazzling as the examples that were all over their earlier albums – the two that stick out to me are the short, tight, whiplash-inducing ascending riff at 2:37 of Clairvoyant and the quick transition run that leads into the chorus of Relapse, starting at 1:12. As often happens as bands of this type mature, instrumental virtuosity has taken a back seat to performance and compositional finesse.

But Clairvoyant does not erase Exoplanet or any other of the band’s albums – I can still listen to both. And if the first albums displayed the contortions of acrobatics, Clairvoyant marks the transition into meditative, yoga-like contortions – and the album is ultimately equally mind-bending and well worth a listen.

Clairvoyant is out Friday, September 15th, on Good Fight Records, and the band’s tour of the U.S. as support for Between the Buried and Me’s Colors tour begins the week after, though good luck getting tickets if you didn’t get them early.

TRACK LISTING
01. Monochrome (Passive) (4:58)
02. Godspeed (3:48)
03. Reimagined (3:22)
04. Clairvoyant (7:37)
05. The Center (7:13)
06. Absolve (5:20)
07. Relapse (6:18)
08. Return to Earth (6:16)
09. Monochrome (Pensive) (9:24)

Total Time – 54:16

MUSICIANS
Robby Baca – Guitar
Cameron Maynard – Guitar
Joey Baca – Drums
Mike Lessard – Vocals
Jordan Eberhardt – Bass
Eric Guenther – Keyboards

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Good Fight Music
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 15th September 2017

LINKS
The Contortionist – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/09/11/marillion-announce-2018-uk-tour-dates/
Featured

Published on 11th September 2017

Marillion confirm a short run of UK dates for next year. Along with the announcement of a new EP release, late last week, the band hinted at more live shows in 2018. Today sees confirmation of a seven date UK tour in April 2018…

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Marillion 2018 UK tour dates
11/04/18: Sage, Gateshead
13/04/18: Corn Exchange, Cambridge
14/04/18: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
16/04/18: Dome, Brighton
17/04/18: Colston Hall, Bristol
19/04/18: The Hexagon, Reading
20/04/18: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Tickets go on sale from 10am – Friday, 15th September 2017.

These dates and many more from across the progressive rock spectrum can be found in the TPA Gig Guide – the UK’s most comprehensive prog gig listing…

TPA Gig Logo 2016

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/09/09/kaipa-children-of-the-sounds/

Swedish progressive rock band Kaipa return with their thirteenth album, Children of the Sounds. Formed in 1973 and now led by original member Hans Lundin, they released their debut album in 1975. This is their eighth album since the band was reborn in 2002 with the release of Notes From The Past, original guitarist Roine Stolt leaving again after the release of the third reformation album Mindrevolutions in 2005. Then with the inclusion of Per Nilsson on guitar for 2007’s Angling Feelings they have continued with a stable line-up since.

As Hans comments, “in November 2014 when I was still filled with all the energy I had captured during the summer I started to write the new songs”. He felt that his inspiration came from “the long bicycle rides that I made during the summer in the open landscape around Uppsala… All the beauty and the wondrous inspiration from nature in combination with this ‘enormous groove’ made me create five long songs during the next months”. These words from Hans are interesting because for me Kaipa’s music has always felt like a musical stroll through Swedish forests and countryside, often full of light, bright and positive feelings, invoking images of their homeland.

Kaipa’s music is firmly rooted and influenced by the Seventies prog rock from which it began with touches of Scandinavian folk, all now presented with modern production values. It is difficult to not be draw into their music, with its combination of atmospheric sounds and beautiful melodies. Quality bass and drums (as you would expect from Jonas Reingold and Morgan Ågren) confidently support Hans’ excellent keyboards and lovely guitar runs from Nilsson. The use of both female and male vocalists adds an extra dimension to the songs; Aleena Gibson’s vocals are different but beguiling in equal measure, which certainly works within and for the music. Indeed both she and Patrik Lundström give excellent performances.

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The opener and title track is an epic eleven minute feast for the ears containing all of what we have come to expect from Kaipa; beautiful melodies, carefully crafted to ensure that the music flows well. Jonas’ bass work is nothing short of marvellous, ably supported by Morgan’s drums which gives focus and drive to the song. Patrik and Aleena’s vocals work so well together when sung in harmony, alongside Per’s flowing and precise guitar throughout. Not resting on their laurels, they follow up with the seventeen minute On The Edge of New Horizons, another well constructed song, well paced with some inspiration taken from Yes. Jonas’ bass is to the fore in the early part of the song, supported by Morgan’s jazzy touches.

Like a Serpentine tells the story of Lundin’s bicycle rides around his hometown and neighbouring countryside and how they inspired him to write this collection of songs. An almost pastoral start gives way to Per’s bright and positive guitar, giving the feel of the wonderful scenery being revealed and the beauty to be found. The addition of guest violinist Elin Rubinsztein gives another dimension to the sound, the keyboards providing some lovely atmospherics. This is followed by the shortest track, although it is still nearly seven minutes in length, The Shadowy Sunlight having a happy, bouncy feel and a good edge.

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The album closer What’s Behind The Fields features Patrik’s vocals at the start accompanied by atmospheric keys and jaunty acoustic guitar before at around four minutes it switches to electric guitar with some lovely organ. The song continues to unfold and evolve while telling its story throughout the nine minute running time, and there you have it, fifty seven minutes passed in what seems like half that time.

All the songs were written, produced and mixed by Hans Lundin between 2015 and 2017, with final mixing and mastering by Martin Igelstrom. Children of the Sounds is a well-crafted and creative album which is essentially melodic prog, it never really kicks off, so to speak, but I don’t think fans of Kaipa would expect that; it’s full of long instrumental sections, superbly played by all involved. A bright album full of positive energy that creates a feel good factor, and don’t we all need some of that these days. This is an album that I have enjoyed, though I must confess that I do have a fondness for the music that Kaipa create, and this is a very good addition to their body of work which grows on you with repeated plays.

TRACK LISTING
01. Children of the Sounds (11:31)
02. On The Edge of New Horizons (17:10)
03. Like A Serpentine (12:52)
04. The Shadowy Sunlight (6:57)
05. What’s Behind The Fields (9:31)

Total Time – 57:01

MUSICIANS
Hans Lundin – Keyboards, Vocals
Per Nilsson – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Morgan Ågren – Drums
Jonas Reingold – Electric Basses
Patrik Lundström – Vocals
Aleena Gibson – Vocals
~ With GuestL
Elin Rubinsztein – Violin

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Sweden
Formats: Special Edition CD Digipak, Gatefold 2xLP + CD, Digital Download
Date of Release: 22nd September 2017

LINKS
Kaipa – Website | Facebook

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/09/06/gentle-giant-three-piece-suite-the-steven-wilson-remixes/

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a prog album recorded in the 1970s must be in want of a Steven Wilson remix. Nowhere is that more true than with the Gentle Giant catalogue, in which complex, challenging compositions and astonishing musicianship were sometimes let down by being recorded seemingly in a bucket of mud.

Wilson has already given a much-admired wash-and-brush-up to Octopus and The Power And The Glory, so fans have been eagerly awaiting his work on the first three releases – arguably (because we love to argue) among Gentle Giant’s most loved recordings.

The self-titled debut, released in 1970, is an astonishing first album, a bold and confident mix of rock, blues and classical music that takes a sledgehammer to old ideas about song structure. And to think that a few years earlier they were Simon Dupree And The Big Sound!

Acquiring The Taste, from 1971, is wilfully even more complicated as the multi-talented sextet threw practically every instrument devised by man, plus a donkey’s jawbone, at a series of unique, fascinating but darker compositions.

And 1972’s Three Friends – a concept album about the loss of childhood connections – takes the same elements but adds in a dollop of sublime melodic poignancy that makes this a favourite of many fans.

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But hold! There is a fly wriggling in the ointment. You see, most of the original multi-track master tapes are lost, leaving just three from the debut, two from follow-up and four from Three Friends. Those who see the glass as half-empty may view this as a Titanic-sized disaster. But it could have been worse. ALL the tracks could have been wiped to make way for, say, Nana Mouskouri’s Greatest Hits.

We’re left with nine tracks from the three albums, plus an even earlier song, Freedom’s Child, that first saw the light of day 20 years ago on the Under Construction album of unreleased material. So what has Li’l Stevie done to make these gems shine even brighter?

The difference is evident from the very first track, Giant. The keyboard intro is warmer and fuller, the bass has space to reverberate, the drums are snappier and sharper and the vocals jump out of the speaker.

On the sublime Nothing At All the acoustic guitars ring out, the electric guitar sounds like Martin Barre in his prime and the keyboards and drums duel is so thrillingly alive you can hear yelps of encouragement in the background.

Why Not leaps out of the speakers and proves that GG could rock with the best of them, while Pantagruel’s Nativity is ghostly, abrasive, magical and scary, with the Wilson mix making the intricate vocal harmonies sound even more heart-meltingly beautiful.

I could go on but I would be repeating myself – suffice to say, these tracks sound so fresh and alive they could have been recorded this year instead of four decades ago.

But that’s not all. On the CD/Blu-ray edition you get Wilson’s 5.1 surround mix – and if any band deserves to be listened to in surround sound it’s Gentle Giant. Their penchant for putting up to 32 different instruments on just one track means you find yourself sitting in the middle of a virtual orchestra. Is that a vibraphone tickling your left ear, a viola caressing your right and a celeste hovering just in front of your nose? And what’s that at the back of your head? Ah, yes, the donkey’s jawbone…

Add the flat transfers of all three albums in their original mixes and you have a package here that just keeps on giving. This is not just an album for GG fans – it’s an album for anyone with an interest in progressive rock and, especially, in a band that remained resolutely uncommercial, even when, in later years, they tried so hard not to be.

Listen – and acquire the taste.

TRACK LISTING – CD
01. Giant (6:26)
02. Nothing At All (9:06)
03. Why Not? (5:32)
04. Pantagruel’s Nativity (6:57)
05. The House, The Street, The Room (6:08)
06. Schooldays (7:41)
07. Peel The Paint (7:36)
08. Mr Class And Quality? (5:51)
09. Three Friends (2:56)
10. Freedom’s Child (3:58)
11. Nothing At All [7” edit] (4:54)

Total Time – 67:05

BLU-RAY
As CD 1-10 in 5.1 Surround Sound.
Instrumental versions of CD 1-10 in 5.1 Surround Sound.
Flat transfers of original album mixes of Gentle Giant, Acquiring The Taste and Three Friends.
Free Steven Wilson wig and glasses. (Actually, I’m lying about that. But he should think about it…)

MUSICIANS
Gary Green – Guitars, Mandolin, Bass, Donkey’s Jawbone, Cat Calls, Vocals
Kerry Minnear – Keyboards, Tuned Percussion, Cello, Bass, Maracas, Tambourine, Vocals
Derek Shulman – Saxophone, Clavichord, Cowbell, Vocals, Bass
Phil Shulman – Brass, Woodwind, Percussion, Piano, Vocals
Ray Shulman – Bass, Violin, Triangle, Spanish & 12-string Guitars, Skulls, Vocals
Martin Smith – Drums, Percussion

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Alucard Music
Catalogue#: ALUGG057
Date of Release: 29th September 2017

LINKS
Gentle Giant – Website | Facebook
Steven Wilson Remixes Info – Facebook

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