The Progressive Aspect

This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/03/22/the-devin-townsend-project-w-leprous-tesseract/

Eventim Apollo, London
Friday, 17th March 2017

The Devin Townsend Project arrives in London after eight weeks on the road supporting his latest studio album, Transcendence. Prior to tonight’s concert, however, Townsend has created an eager sense of expectation by announcing on Twitter that the London show will be an exclusive performance of his very first album (as Devin Townsend) Ocean Machine: Biomech in celebration of its 20th anniversary. As a result, doors open earlier than advertised and an exuberant audience have plenty of time to take their places.

Devin Townsend Project - 2

Leprous are first on stage to encouraging applause and immediately launch in to a pulsating, throbbing set full of commitment, passion and energy. It is also ridiculously loud and I, along with a fair few others, leave the auditorium such is the physical discomfort it is causing. On the way out an usher kindly gives me a packet of ear plugs; she is stationed in the stairwell, wearing a pair herself, but is reluctant to go any further inside because of the overwhelming sound levels.

Once a noticeable decrease in decibels indicates the end of the set, we return again to the field of battle. One of the interesting features of the evening is the oscillating waveform music being played between sets so as to create an ambient sense of atmosphere and continuity. It’s a nice idea which works well and adds to the sense of occasion as well as creating a vibrant buzz of excitement.

After a quick change-over, TesseracT take to the stage. I last saw them early in 2016 as they toured with their newly released album Polaris. They keep getting better and better and the set tonight is absolutely flawless. There is an explosive sense of rhythm, of penetrating drive and a powerful, unrelenting musical momentum which pulls you in and carries you along. There is little doubt they are destined for great things and what is particularly pleasing tonight is the excellent song selection from across all three albums allowing for a clear appreciation of the ways in which they are growing and evolving as a band.

Devin Townsend Project - 1

After another brief change-over, Devin Townsend arrives to rapturous adulation. It’s the penultimate night of the European leg of the tour and the stage is a clean white minimalist set up with only the drums raised on a platform. He casually meanders to the front of the stage, happily acknowledging the audience, whilst launching into a blistering rendition of Seventh Wave which positively exudes a menacing power and profound significance.

What follows is nothing short of a master class in studied intensity. Here is a man totally caught up in the meaning of the music and completely focused on dredging the emotional content of the moment, seamlessly bringing both to the fore in a performance which is utterly spell-binding.

Every now and then he seems to emerge from his all consuming reverie, almost as if to satisfy and assure himself that the audience are indeed still with him. During one such moment he does appear to be irritated at the way security teams are escorting crowd surfers away from the front, but such acknowledgements become fewer and further apart as he becomes increasingly enveloped by the demands of engaging with Ocean Machine.

Devin Townsend Project - 8Devin Townsend Project - 7

And the truth is, we are engaged with him. Watching him play, it is easy to feel the sheer effort of will which seems to spring from somewhere deep inside, inspiring him onwards with compelling energy and spirit. By the time we reach Thing Beyond Things there is a palpable sense of physical and emotional exhaustion from both sides – a hard fought journey we have been invited to travel together, happily accepted and with no regrets.

After the briefest of pauses, he returns again with three songs from Transcendence. There is no respite from the dogged tenacity and the sheer rigour of the performance. No quarter is given. The commitment to the music, to the playing, to the presentation of what it is all about is absolute and unwavering. That he has done this for the best part of eight weeks is staggering.

Devin Townsend Project - 5

As the lights raise and the tumultuous applause begins to fade, the contrast between the first album and the most recent release are instructive. Transcendence leaves us with a sense of optimism, almost hope. The world maybe a dark, savage, ruthless place but there is beauty if you look and there are reasons to fight, to keep struggling, to keep on going in spite of and despite things always seemingly stacked permanently against us.

It’s a fitting way to end what has been a fascinating, draining and totally captivating evening.

Devin Townsend Project - 4

SETLIST
Ocean Machine: Biomech
– Seventh Wave
– Life
– Night
– Hide Nowhere
– Sister
– 3 A.M.
– Voices in the Fan
– Greetings
– Regulator
– Funeral
– Bastard
– The Death of Music
– Thing Beyond Things
~ Encore:
Failure
Stormbending
Higher

MUSICIANS
Dave Young – Guitar, Keys, Mandolin
Ryan Van Poederooyen – Drums
Brian ‘Beav’ Waddell – Bass
Mike St-Jean – Keys, Synths, Programming

LINKS
Devin Townsend – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube | Spotify

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/03/21/thinking-plague-hoping-against-hope/

It has been over four years since the relentlessly foreboding Decline and Fall, and Colorado state’s favourite avant rock collective, the marvellously uncompromising Thinking Plague, are back, this time dredging optimism from the depths of black despair at the perverse ways of the world, or at least that was composer and band leader Mike Johnson’s original intention.

Mike tells us that Hoping Against Hope is looking for any chink of light it can find, but was stymied by the evolving circumstances of these dark times: “After our Decline and Fall album we felt we needed to offer something with a more hopeful theme – maybe focus on themes based on positive developments and solutions…however…the substance of the album definitely grew more dark. There were just too many grim realities that we needed to deal with. Then with the tribulations of the long primaries and presidential campaign, the title took on a more sort of forlorn hope, which in light of the state of the world, seemed appropriate.”

With titles like The Great Leap Backwards and Dirge for the Unwitting it is certainly hard to see where the titular hope resides, and the lyrics retain their vision of undiluted dystopia. Singer Elaine di Falco wrote the words to Echoes of Their Cries and The Great Leap Backwards, and her themes of dichotomy and dislocation fit in seamlessly with Mike’s general malaise. Tales of making merry to hide cries of despair, technology being used for nefarious purposes by known and unknown powers, and the title track’s loss of hope in a rising tide of forlorn despair, all sung in Elaine’s matter-of-fact style, mean that Mike’s originally intended optimistic outlook for the album has indeed been somewhat lost in the process of its creation, as he pointed out above, at least lyrically.

“Love is falling
down the gullet of greed
…swallows hope.”

That is from the title track, where the protagonist is overcome with hopelessness. This is not music for the cheery optimist, but you have probably worked that out already. They say ignorance is bliss, and it has to be said the world doesn’t bear too much thinking about at the moment. Unfortunately, once that noggin is engaged, you can’t switch it off for any length of time, even aided and abetted by the poison of your choice. Time for another single malt, methinks.

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The music is not easy either, but then if you are at all familiar with Thinking Plague that should come as no surprise. The chamber rock of Henry Cow lives on in these zeros and ones, and only very occasional shards of guitar remind the listener that this music is ostensibly “rock” in the accepted sense. That is not a bad thing, and as in all walks of life perseverance is rewarded. There is an awful lot going on here as the instruments carry out rarefied conversations with one another, conversations the casual listener cannot hope to understand at first sitting. The impression given during these conversation pieces is of a letting in of light, for the music is less dense than on the previous album, and as a result it breathes easier. The structure of the music is closer to classical composition than it is to rock and jazz, and Mike tells us that his “goal was to allow the separate instrumental voices to move independently, but collectively creating shifting and morphing harmonies as they move – more along the lines of chromaticism in classical music.” We therefore find that the music he has composed for Hoping Against Hope is certainly less oppressive than that on Decline and Fall, but it still retains the distinctive Thinking Plague stamp of claustrophobic intensity.

The full experience of this intricate, expansive yet strangely inward looking world is revealed on the closing 14-minute mini epic A Dirge for the Unwitting, a piece that gives the listener a little more each time it is heard, and even after several listens the whole may seem elusive. Unlike some modern overlong traditional prog epics, it is not a case of a single idea being stretched way beyond the point of reasonableness, rendering it instantly forgettable, or of several ideas that do not really belong in the same piece of music being stapled together to appease the desire for a “long ’un”, but more that there is so much here to absorb in order to make sense of the whole, and a cogent whole it is, that it will take many listens for it to become apparent. Or, to use that good old reliable cliché, Mike Johnson rattles off more coherent ideas in one 14-minute composition than most bands have over the course of an album, or in some cases, an entire career. Not just that, but these ideas all belong on the same score.

Mike’s ambition for Hoping Against Hope is that “I hope that the album conveys Beauty. More than anything, I want it to resonate with deep ineffable feelings.” This may be a little hard to convey with something that is outwardly so very cerebral, but if you allow yourself to get lost in this labyrinthine musical world, something should be stirred within you.

Written to be played live, which sitting this side of the Pond is a tantalising yet far-off prospect, Thinking Plague have reportedly always been a stunning live proposition throughout their 35-year history, testament to the undoubted abilities of the folk in the group, now a relatively stable unit. Mike started Thinking Plague with the legendary Bob Drake back in the early 1980s, and the go-to producer of choice for any left-field band worth their salt maintains his links with his old friend, having mixed and mastered this album from his base in France. As you would expect, the sound is crystal clear, allowing every subtle nuance of the many hued instrumentation to be easily pinpointed, no easy task I’m sure.

Thinking Plague make highly intelligent, angst ridden but not angsty music for those of us who want some other musical way to express our frustration at the world than the same old mind-numbing riffage grinding out sheet-metal grey, ad nauseam. As the first commenter says under the video featured in this review, Thinking Plague are “Incredibly disturbing in the best way possible.”

Mike concludes by saying “Perhaps we are an alternative for people who like deep, complex and adventurous music, but can’t abide the onslaught of in-your-face, hyper-aggressive, one dimensional ‘math metal’ or whatever it’s being called these days.” Too bloody right, and long may Thinking Plague plough their wilfully individual furrow for us miscreants and misfits. We’ll be back with more crowdfunding for the next one!

TRACK LISTING
01. The Echoes of Their Cries (6:37)
02. Thus Have We Made the World (5:44)
03. Commuting to Murder (4:44)
04. Hoping Against Hope (10:06)
05. The Great Leap Backwards (4:01)
06. A Dirge for the Unwitting (13:45)

Total time – 44:57

MUSICIANS
Mike Johnson – Guitar, Samples, MIDI Instruments
Mark Harris – Soprano & Alto Saxes, B-flat Standard & Bass clarinets, Flute
Dave Willey – Bass, Drums (track 5), Accordion (tracks 2 & 6)
Elaine di Falco – Voice, Accordion, Piano
Robin Chestnut – Drums & Percussion
Bill Pohl – Guitar
~ With:
Adriana Teodoro-Dier – Piano (tracks 2,5 & 6), Toy Piano (track 2)
Simon Steensland – Bass (track 5)
Mike Boyd – Drums (track 2)
Kathryn Cooper – Oboe (track 4)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalogue#: Cuneiform Rune 421
Date of Release: 10th February 2017

LINKS
Thinking Plague – Facebook | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/03/20/heresy-prufrock-a-musical-adaptation-of-the-poem-by-t-s-eliot/

“Alfred J. Prufrock would be proud of me”, declared Welsh Indie rockers Manic Street Preachers in 2001 on their song My Guernica. Musical adaptations or references to the works of T.S. Eliot in modern music have an interesting and sometimes chequered history, lest we forget Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats! The American progressive rock group Heresy follow in the footsteps of a variety of artists as varied as Hot Chip, Tori Amos, The Cocteau Twins, Frank Turner, Crash Test Dummies and Arcade Fire whom have all touched on that great poet in their work, even if only fleetingly. Bowie’s Low and PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake are also said to have been greatly influenced by Eliot’s poetic style. Even Bob Dylan referred to T.S. Eliot in his epic song Desolation Row, released shortly after Eliot’s death in 1965. The most obvious and notable example of a Progressive Rock band delving into the world of T.S. Eliot is Genesis’ classic Cinema Show, from Selling England by the Pound, which ‘borrows’ significantly from a section of The Wasteland. Therefore, Heresy are stepping simultaneously on hallowed ground previously trodden by Prog greats, whilst also tackling a classic of English literature.

Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock may seem a curious choice upon which to base a rock album. If you were to ask most men and women in the street what they knew about Eliot it is probable (if they even knew he was a poet!) that the poem that they would name would be The Wasteland. So what is remarkable about this relatively lesser known work, his first published poem in 1915? Literary critics now regard it as particularly significant, marking the change from Victorian Romantic verse into Modernist ‘streams of consciousness’, though some critics at the time entirely dismissed it. The poem deals with feelings of physical and mental inertia, with a sense of disillusionment about his human condition. Touching on regret, fatigue, embarrassment, sexual frustration and a growing sense of mortality, an interior monologue presented in a modern and dramatic way not previously seen in poetry. It was written shortly after the Edwardian era, giving it a tension between its modern mode of expression in a time of more mannered Romantic poetry. Therefore, in that context it would appear that this poem provides fertile if challenging grounds upon which to base an albeit idiosyncratic concept album.

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Do Heresy pull it off? The short answer is most decidedly – ‘Yes’.

Heresy clearly have a great respect and love for this source material and present it in a complementary way that engages the listener, drawing them into the anguished internal world of the protagonist. Apparently, Heresy have been considering setting this poem to music since before the release of their first album, At the Door in 1984. From the late ’80s the band went on an extended hiatus (presumably when ‘real life’ had to happen!), therefore this album has been gestating for over 30 years, which may explain the remarkable maturity with which it is presented.

The Italian radio dialogue of intro Dante’s Prelude is a reference to the apparent influence of Dante upon the structure of the poem. The music begins on Let Us Go with a lovely solo vocal of great quality and purity by Tony Garone, which is then accompanied by a subtle acoustic guitar and piano. The song develops gently with the refrain (which is a strange but real ‘ear worm’):

“In the Room the Women Come and Go, talking of Michelangelo.”

This refrain is then echoed at the beginning of Yellow Fog, with a delightful female harmony vocal by Andrea Ezekian, before the song flowers over a lovely guitar melody, akin to the band Renaissance at their best. Yellow Fog is a real highlight of the album with another male vocalist, presumably Scott Harris, singing with great emotion and clarity. The song builds with multi-layered vocals and even trumpet and flute before a flowing restrained guitar motif at its zenith takes us to the end. The opening triptych of outstanding songs is completed by Time, with Joe Meo on flute and some nice bass work from John Sergio, before the piece develops with subtle touches of trumpet over a piano led melody and string sounds. Another restrained guitar solo serves to punctuate the piece rather than dominate it. Similarly, a brief manic violin interjection by Alan Lin adds colour before we return to the ‘Michelangelo’ refrain to close the song. This opening trio of songs sets the bar very high for the rest of the album, and should be successful in drawing in the listener.

Night Vigil is a section of the poem that was previously lost and was only added to the poem posthumously after Eliot’s death. This is altogether darker and more sinister, as reflected in a very different tone of the music, with anguished vocals and an appropriately carnal sounding saxophone. I Was Afraid opens with strange xylophone sounds and keyboards introducing a strong vocal before expanding with guitars, violin and organ. The stabs of saxophone and folk-type vocals have echoes of A Passion Play by Jethro Tull.

Heresy sensitively reflect the variations in the tone of the poem as they skilfully change the atmosphere and instrumentation of the different sections, whether it is short quiet piano led interludes or more dramatic pieces. Worthwhile II provides an achingly melancholic reflection of piano and violin with suitably angst ridden male vocals, counterpointed by an emotional female voice. In contrast Prince Hamlet commences with Sergio on mandolin, with a flute interweaving through the song over a flowing keyboard foundation by Harris. Jaquin Lievano lays down a flowing guitar part, but like so much of the album this is subtle and only as long as it needs to be – serving the song rather than taking the main focus. Mermaids is a weaker song, and veers towards ‘easy listening’ territory, but it would be difficult to completely sustain the very high quality established at the beginning of the album. The album proper concludes with great quality in Chambers of the Sea, underpinned by some tasteful drumming from Chris Camilleri and Jason Brower. This piece is an undoubted highlight of the album as guitars and keyboards build with the drums under the chilling repeated refrain;

“‘Til human voices wake us and we drown.”

A frantic finale ensues with guitars, discordant saxophone and trumpet interplay in a manic conclusion, with echoes of Van der Graaf Generator.

In a song which feels like a soothing coda We Watch the Stars, from Tony Garone’s solo album Too Little, Too Late, serves to pacify after the storm of the final ‘Prufrock’ song. However, a further six additional songs taken from Heresy’s first album feel like unnecessary ‘filler’ and, frankly, do not add anything to the album.

Prufrock is an ambitious and imaginative album. In some ways it sounds very ‘English’, which may seem odd for a band from the U.S., however this is apt as T.S. Eliott grew up in America before moving to Britain in his twenties, staying for the rest of his life. During an interview in 1959, Eliot said of his nationality and its role in his work: “I’d say that my poetry has obviously more in common with my distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written in my generation in England… It’s a combination of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America.”

Similarly, it may have needed an American band to interpret his work so sensitively, conveying the tension between the English post-Edwardian atmosphere in which the protagonist is conversely undergoing a very modern internal monologue full of anguish and doubt. Heresy have pulled off a fascinating album in which each individual section of the poem is expressed very distinctively through music, but they are very much integral to a cohesive whole.

One of the more unusual releases, but it certainly helped to encourage me to discover more of the poetry of T.S. Eliot. The music and the poetry are inextricably entwined, but it also works just fine as a progressive rock album of subtlety, variety and imagination.

T.S. Eliot wrote in this poem; “And would it have been worth it, after all…”, and whilst the poem casts doubt on the answer to that existential question it does seem fair to say that as an album Prufrock is definitely worth it!

TRACK LISTING
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock [tracks 1-6]
01. Dante’s Prelude (0:20)
02. Let Us Go (2:59)
03. Yellow Fog (3:45)
04. Time (4:30)
05. How Should I Begin (2:50)
06. Narrow Streets (0:50)

07. Night Vigil (Prufrock’s Pervigilium) (5:22)

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (continued) [tracks 8-16]
08. Ragged Claws (0:57)
09. I was Afraid (3:39)
10. Dilemmas (2:03)
11. Worthwhile I (2:48)
12. Worthwhile II (3:08)
13. Prince Hamlet (3:37)
14. Mermaids (2:47)
15. Lament (1:27)
16. Chambers of the Sea (4:43)
~ Bonus Tracks:
17. We Watch the Stars (3:17)(from Tony Garone solo album Too Little, Too Late (2015))
Songs from At The Door (1984) [tracks 18–23]
18. Out Of The Blue (4:30)
19. The Headless Horseman (2:13)
20. London 1941 (3:37)
21. An Age Old Recipe (3:56)
22. Wasted Moments (4:25)
23. Love Sleep (5:33)

Total Time – 73:23

MUSICIANS
Tony Garone – Vocals, Guitars
Scott Harris – Keyboards, Vocals
John Sergio – Bass, Mandolin, Flute (tracks 4 & 18–23)
Chris Camilleri – Drums (except track 7 and opening section track 16), Vocals
And on Electric Guitar:
Ed Clark – Electric Guitar (tracks 5,14,15,18,19 & 23)
Dave Kaelin – Electric Guitar (tracks 3,4,6 & 11)
Joaquin Lievano – Electric Guitar (tracks 2,7–10,12,13 & 16, Additional Guitar track 5)
~ With:
Jason Brower – Drums (track 7 and opening section track 16)
Max Darche – Trumpet
Andrea Ezekian – Vocals
Alan Lin – Violin
Christian Lourenco – Spoken Word Introduction
Joe Meo – Saxes & Flute
Ann Marie Garone – Additional Vocals (track 17)

DISCOGRAPHY
– At The Door (1984) (Vinyl only)
– A Far Cry (1989) (CD)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Toll House Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 5th December 2016

LINKS
Heresy – Website | Facebook
Source information on Musical Adaptations of T.S. Eliot partly drawn from an article from The Guardian – ‘Why Pop Music Loves T.S. Eliot’ (2013)

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/03/19/la-bocca-della-verita-avenoth/

I have had this album a while, and it was only thanks to a Facebook friend raving about it that I remembered it, and it was a darn good thing I did, I can tell you. Formed in Rome in 2001 as a ’70s-centric prog covers band, La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth, so named after an ancient marble mask located in the Roman capital) have finally released their own work, a sprawling science fiction concept album that starts in the year 2161 and presumably tells the story of the planet Avenoth. I say presumably as, being a linguistically-challenged Brit, I can only get a gist of what the story is about as no English translations are offered, and quite right too. The “booklet” is in the form of a decent sized fold-out poster that anyone like me who struggles to get maps to fold up the right way will have minutes of fun vainly attempting to get it to fit back into the slot in the lavishly designed tri-fold cover.

Although the lyrics, sung in his gravelly tones by Fabrizio Marziani and ably abetted by the rest of the band’s backing vocals, are no doubt important, for me they will have to remain in the “voices as instrument” category, and in any event they do not dominate proceedings, allowing plenty of long instrumental passages to hold one’s attention.

There are four tracks over ten minutes on Avenoth, and three more over six minutes. Although all the music is superbly executed, it may have been better to have made this a double CD, with two discs of traditional album length, as it does get a bit wearing listening to all of it in one sitting. I suppose having no doubt written all this music over a long period of time, when given the chance the band just wanted it all out there, but maybe the judicious split into two discs, production costs aside, would have been a good idea.

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The first of the long tracks is in my opinion the weakest, as the band throw everything including the kitchen sink at La Suite Dei Tre Planeti, and it is slightly incoherent as a result. It’s one of those long tracks I struggle to recall anything about once it’s over, bar Roberto Bucci’s superb Mick Box-like solo. However, perseverance pays off as from the title track onwards the album finds its mojo and doesn’t let up, apart from the respite granted by the soft hearted, gorgeously filmic and hymnal Perduto Avenoth, simply the loveliest thing I have heard this year.

The bombastic Hammond, swirling and occasionally cheesy synths, thunderous rhythms, and soaring guitar make me think that had Uriah Heep in their early ’70s prime been an Italian band, their brand of Rock Progressivo Italiana would have sounded a lot like La Bocca della Verità. This is not a bad thing, and when you add in a Rickenbacker bass guitar, a dash of PFM, Banco, and Genesis to the mix a heady ’70s brew is the result. With Avenoth, this fine band of proud-to-be-regressive rockers have shaken and stirred a near 80 minute highly enjoyable cocktail of pompous and deliciously overblown ingredients into a fizzing whole that explodes in your ears, an experience that only the most witheringly cynical could fail to appreciate. In fact, if La Deportazione degli Avenothiani and the following La Rivolta – Il Massacro dei Terrestri do not make you want to turn it up to 11, there’s something missing from your soul.

TRACK LISTING
01. Intro 2161 (2:06)
02. Ouverture (2:03)
03. Contro Luna e Luce (4:11)
04. La Suite dei Tre Pianeti (17:43)
05. Avenoth (8:12)
06. La Festa (3:59)
07. Antico (2:29)
08. La Deportazione degli Avenothiani (9:55)
09. La Rivolta – Il Massacro dei Terrestri (12:55)
10. Perduto Avenoth (5:48)
11. Reprise (Speranze Distorte) (10:23)

Total Time – 77:39

MUSICIANS
Jimmy Bax – Hammond, Mellotron, ARP Prosolist, Digital Synth, Piano, Backing Vocals
Massimo di Paola – Piano, Keyboards & Synths, Backing Vocals
Fabrizio Marziani – Vocals, Rhythm Guitar, 12-string Guitar, Flute
Roberto Bucci – Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Ivan Marziani – Drums & Percussion

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Fading Records
Catalogue#: FAD025
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 21st November 2016

LINKS
La Bocca della Verità – Facbook | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/03/19/tom-slatter-happy-people/

Tom Slatter has made another album. Where, in the past, his music has prompted reviewers to describe him as a “quintessentially British eccentric with a quirky imagination” – and he has never failed to live up to that – this new album has shifted the emphasis and direction of his creativity to our reality rather than his previous character and story-led creations, and the results are startling and quite a bit more serious.

The phrase “Happy People” highlights, by means of irony, a totalitarian, near-future dystopian World, the description – or words to this effect – coming from Tom himself. He observes and describes a World filled with paranoia, with satellites that spy upon us as we try to love and live out our lives. It contains nihilistic, existentialist creatures who hover their hands, hesitantly, over buttons, the function of which and the outcome of the hovering we can only imagine to be bad, while they play out events that leave them bereft of companionship and alone. Others contemplate the opportunity of burning us all to relieve them – and us – of our sorrowful existences, to end the relentless and inescapable dread of all that could happen, but may not.

Tom set a high bar with his previous album, Fit The Fourth, and the production on his previous albums was never shabby, but Happy People is as slick as a buttered cormorant. The sounds on this album are altogether more band-like than on previous Slatter releases, for example, there are now some fantastic ways to emulate real drums but there is no substitute for a real drummer, and Michael Cairns’s drums are very real. Jordan Brown (who is also a member of Bad Elephant stablemate, The Rube Goldberg Machine) growls his bass at us, but when required subtly blends in like snowflakes on ice. The keyboards sound tremendous and suitably background in places, colouring in the overall shape of the guitar-oriented musical outline in which Daniel Bowles and Tom use their guitars, both rhythm and lead, to create big, full, heavy sound which becomes appropriately jangly as the songs demand.

When I’ve played this or earlier albums to friends and family they often tell me that Tom’s voice is not their cup of tea. I must admit that on occasion I thought it would be great if, for some of the musical phrases, there was evidence of Tom having smoked sixty Camel a day during the recording sessions – to achieve that earthy rasp. But this isn’t necessary. Tom is a master of harmony and possesses a distinctive voice, seemingly adopting additional techniques that make his singing on Happy People some of the best vocal performances I have heard from him to date. There appears to be a broader range of vocal styles on this album, perhaps because Tom’s is not the only voice in the mix, with the additional voices of Danny, Jordan and Suzette Stamp. In all places, of course, you will hear Tom’s familiar, rather uniquely choirboy-like voice.

Happy People has more hooks than the auditions waiting room for a well-publicised television series of Peter Pan. Throughout the album there is a depth to the songs that give them life, in a way that Tom has previously achieve only even more so.
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What is evident is that Tom knows how to craft a song. I’ve tried writing songs and it’s not just a case of thumping trees with club hammers and throwing bassoons down lift shafts to record the noises. He uses crafty techniques like recurring musical themes in different songs. I developed a fondness for All Of The Dark which, if you play the album on repeat, blends straight back in to the first and title track Happy People in such a way that they could have been on a 1970s progressive rock album if presented in that order. Maybe that’s what appeals?

If you want a track by track account of Happy People then there are already several reviews out there that are worth reading. I would rather try and give an overall impression of the album and Tom Slatter as a musical artist, merely pointing out a few highlights as I see them, and for me there are many. Also, the Bandcamp link is included below so you can give it a listen.

The heavy opening riff of Even When We’re Scared jumps out immediately, especially as it is positioned deliberately, I’d wager, after the lower-energy Flow My Tears, and the quirky experimental instrumental Tracking Signals has a cornucopia of interesting noises and layers of sound. It might be easier to point out the tracks that were not highlights. Actually, it wouldn’t; Happy People is Tom’s most accessible album to date – with some of those damnably persistent earworms that I’ve been infected with for some time. I found myself in the bathroom this morning humming All Of The Dark. Riddled with ear-worms, this album is.

In conclusion, Tom’s sadness regarding this not-too-distant World is palpable, so given the near-future-we’re-all-fucked theme, is this all depressing doom and gloom? Paradoxically, no, not for me. I’m drawn to music that has menacing undertones, carries sad sounding chords or seemingly depressing lyrics. The 12-year-old nihilistic escapism-junkie in me recognises that I am not alone in feeling anxious or depressed or even furious at the apparent state of the World due to the seemingly mindless actions of many of you humans.

I found this album quite uplifting.

The thing you probably want to know is: Should I purchase this album? Well, I did and I am a very Happy People.

TRACK LISTING
01. Happy People (5:40)
02. A Name In A File (5:57)
03. Satellites (4:42)
04. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (5:43)
05. Even Then We’re Scared (5:54)
06. Fire Flower Heart (4:41)
07. Tracking Signals (4:07)
08. Set Light To The Sky (4:53)
09. All Of The Dark (8:51)

Total Time – 50:28

MUSICIANS
Tom Slatter – Vocals, Guitars, Song Writing
Daniel Bowles – Backing Vocals, Guitars,
Keyboards
Jordan Brown – Bass, Backing Vocals,
Keyboards
Michael Cairns – Drums
Suzette Stamp – Backing Vocals

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Date of Release: 17th March 2017
Production: The Machine
Mixing: Daniel Bowles
Engineering: Daniel Bowles with Jordan Brown
Artwork: Joe Slatter

LINKS
Tom Slatter – Website | Facebook | Tom Slatter Imoral Support Group | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/03/18/eternal-wanderers-the-mystery-of-the-cosmic-sorrow/

This was an album that I liked the sound of and took a chance on, and I am rather glad that I did as it is a rather wonderful double CD with some epic and majestic music running through its tracks.

I guess you would call it space rock really and I would draw a comparison to the seventies works of bands like Hawkwind. In fact this album reminded me a lot of Hawkwind’s Space Ritual set, perhaps less heavy or intense but similar in feel. There is a truly outstanding track called Born to Suffer which is a decent 10-minutes in length and has a great style and sound to it. The lyrics are excellent lyrics, as are the use of percussion and synth effects throughout, and the vocal from Elana Kanevskaya is good too. It’s a pretty epic piece and shows the promise that this Russian band have and how much they deserve a wider audience. The keyboards are nice and there’s a rather good guitar break as well making for a memorable piece, as is Following A Neutrino’s Flight which is Tangerine Dream-ish in part but is again a very good track.

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The rest of the album is a mix of instrumentals, including the 23 and a half minutes of The End of the Satellite Age which again shows promise of greater things to come.

The band are certainly talented and play up a storm throughout, but i do feel that it may be a tad overlong and would be best pruned to a single 70-minute CD by losing a few of the shorter, weaker tracks, but even in its unabridged version this is a fine album – far better than I imagined it would be and one that will grace my CD player for many months to come.

If you visit their Bandcamp page you will find a link to their unreleased album Journey Out Of Time which you can buy at ‘name your price’.

TRACK LISTING
CD 1

01. Message From Space (3:50)
02. The Mystery of Cosmic Sorropw (8:30)
03. Methane Rain (8:18)
04. Gamma Waves (5:30)
05. Born To Suffer (10:09)
06. Silent World (8:50)
07. Valley of Oblivion (6:03)

Disc Time – 51:10

CD 2
01. Following a Neutrino’s Flight (9:29)
02. The End of the Satellite Age (23:26)
03. Space (4:26)

Disc Time – 37:21

Total Time – 88:31

MUSICIANS
Elana Kanevskaya – Vocals, Keyboards, Samplers
Tatyana Kanevskaya – Guitars, Charango, Backing Vocals, Samplers
Dimitri Shtatnov – Bass, Backing Vocals, Analog Synths, Effects
Sergey Rogulya – Drums, Percussion

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Mals
Catalogue#: Mals 414
Date of Release: 1st March 2016

LINKS
Eternal Wanderers – Facebook | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/03/18/odd-logic-effigy/

I found this band from the Bremerton/Tacoma area of Washington state on CD Baby one night while searching for some new music and, so far, it has been the best discovery I have made in 2017 – they are excellent!

You can download a copy of their last album, 3016’s Penny for Your Thoughts – or indeed four other albums in their catalogue – for free from CDBaby.com, and I encourage you to do so. How many bands do that? Not many, that’s for sure. Penny for Your Thoughts is spectacular, from the opening lady asking the album title as a flirtatious question, right down to the spinning penny at the end. Their music is a good mix of heavy metal and powerful prog and you will hear early comparisons to Dream Theater, lead singer Sean Thompson having a great range, from James La Brie to Roland Orzabal of Tears For Fears.

One of the keys to Odd Logic’s music is their ability to change direction and pace so quickly within a song. I know some will probably look at this as a fault, but for me it keeps the music interesting. Although I love lengthy epics, frequently breaking them up with fast paced or quiet interludes is what it takes to hold the listeners’ attention. Think of your favorites…mine is Genesis’ Supper’s Ready. What would that song be without interesting breaks like Willow Farm or Apocalypse in 9/8? Odd Logic never lets you get bored with unending rewinds of riffs or endless spirals and loops. It never gets dull, the instrumentation matching a prolific band with a multitude of stories to tell, and having produced seven albums since 2003 they are worth every chord and lyric.

Odd Logic, like Rush, are a three-piece band, and they produce about as much power. Their story began in 2003 after singer/guitarist/keyboardist Sean Thompson’s band MINE! disbanded after releasing one independent album, Powerlines, and touring locally in the Washington area opening for the likes of Sting, Journey, and John Waite. Odd Logic was formed as an outlet for Sean’s true passion of more progressive, hard-edged rock. The demo Parallax Panorama (2004) featured a guest percussionist and bassist, who were in reality Sean’s alter egos as he performed all of the instruments and vocals. Later releases include Legends of Monta, Part I (2006) and Part II (2009), the Sync-To-Movie adventure Over the Underworld (2011), and the fantasy live record, featuring a full production of cast members and brand new music called If We Were Live (2013). Recent albums have included guest appearances from local musicians, including Kevin Hunter who contributed all keyboards and piano on If We Were Live.

Effigy is a heavier album musically than Penny for Your Thoughts. It opens with deep, solemn acoustic and electric guitar, the lyrics telling the sad story before powerful drums and chorus–like vocals lift the melody; “Here we’ve come to see you burn, in this pile of stone. Light the sky, the ritual complete again. Embers rise beneath our feet, with vengeful eyes we see. One more day high above your effigy.”

The title track sets the stage and tone for the rest of the album well, an over 17-minute epic powerhouse, full of expressive vocals, deep bass, hammering drums, and lightning-bolt lead guitars. There are plenty of those mood, melody, and timing shifts which are the band’s trademark in an awesome spectacle of music that would just sound perfect live. Yes, I am making plans to see this band on stage. This track also includes some cool Mellotron and organ mixed in.

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Master of the Moor is the perfect thematic presence to tell a rich story of historic grandeur. A marauder coming to pillage; you can almost see this character walking out of the thick fog engulfing rugged moorland…hiding from the world. “On the run from the emperor’s hand, I’ve been running too long. I’ve been coming here for centuries but now I’m a wanted man. Because you saw my face, in the darkened sky. Now you wonder why, I return home…”. Excellent organ and keyboard sounds mix well with the dynamic drums, bass and electric guitar.

Mercenary is the darkest of the album’s tracks, the lyrics painting the impactful intent; “Welcome to the darkest realm. Tortured masters take the helm”, growls and deep bass, lead guitar and thunder drums filling the air. The Yearning opens with wonderful acoustic guitar, similar to that three-piece band from Canada we all love. It sounds simply fantastic. Then they hit you with warm vocals followed by choral support; one of, if not the best song on the album. Strings and orchestration kick in to lift this one above all; “All this time, all these dreams, buried deep. To the sun, to the sea, the yearning.”

Witch Runner also opens well with solid vocals and softer melodic tones with more emotional lyrics; “Safe in darkness, lost in silence. Just another girl in a land we cannot see. 10 years the light surrounds you, and we ask you to help us believe.
You can take it, grab it, the magic, use it to set us free.”

Iron Skyline is another epic prog tale with an over ten-minute reign. Power drums, heavy bass and electric guitar get this off to a start, Sean’s vocals excellent as he sings, “We reach above the iron skyline. We reach above the iron throne. Untie the sun beyond the unseen light. Break through the armored skyline”, echoing some of the album’s main themes. Memories of Light opens with softly strummed acoustic guitar and Spanish lyrics, “Alumbra ya, cuando llegara. Cuando llegara el sol!”, then Thompson’s vocals return, “No help from the moon, hard to believe it’s true. One man shields the light, he changed all our lives. Still we are blind without the light. Getting what we want is only in the sky”. The choruses on all their albums are so well written and memorable. More cool organ and Mellotron interplay with the drums, bass, and guitar solos makes for another of Effigy‘s best songs.

At over 11-minutes, Maiden Child closes the album with massive drums, bass, organ, and electric guitar lighting the way. Thompson’s vocals take the edge off; “Burning skies and broken gears all around. He’ll never know just what you’ve done. I’m thinking of this life. And life on the way. I am thinking of you…Everywhere she goes, the light follows. Telepathic magic lives inside…”

This is already one of my favorite albums of 2017 and the band could be my favorite of the year too. Go back through their catalog and listen to the magic they have created for over 14 years. Prolific, with long epic tracks, great vocals and expert musicianship. This band deserves to be recognized.

TRACK LISTING
01. Effigy (17:29)
02. Master of the Moor (6:13)
03. Mercenary (5:13)
04. The Yearning (3:08)
05. Witch Runner (6:50)
06. Iron Skyline (10:20)
07. Memories of Light (6:50)
08. Maiden Child (11:33)

Total Time – 67:36

MUSICIANS
Sean Thompson – Vocals, Guitar, Keys
Mike Lee – Bass
Pete Hanson – Drums

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: n/a
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 17th January 2017

LINKS
Odd Logic – Facebook | Bandcamp

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