The Progressive Aspect

This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/05/28/syncage-unlike-here/

Syncage was formed almost a decade ago, by brothers Riccardo and Matteo Nicolin together with their best friends Daniele Tarabini and Matteo Graziani, when they were all teenagers. They have previously released a single, Hellhound in May 2014 which they followed up with the EP Italiota in September of the same year. Matteo Nicolin moved to the Netherlands and doubt was cast over what this meant for the band, but within months he began writing for what would become Unlike Here. Later other members chipped in to enhance the music with their own contributions, and once they had got down to recording the band signed to Bad Elephant Music for this, their first full album.

And what an album they have delivered here; there is a saying that youth is wasted on the young, not so here as Syncage have presented a piece of work that is mature and confident, all delivered with that youthful vitality. The music is an experimental fusion of jazz, metal, rock, ambience, with some touches of classic Italian prog. As they put it themselves, “Syncage are a musical project which aims to sting listeners’ resonance through various psycho emotional devices”.

This is certainly a varied and well constructed album, from the art rock opening track School you are immediately engaged as the band take you on a journey of discovery which delivers a sparkling array of songs. The performances are outstanding throughout with particular note to Matteo N’s amazing vocals, which can range between subtle and falsetto. Syncage make use of what they call the “Unlike Here” String Quartet to add extra texture and emotion to the music, always well placed and not overused.

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After the opening song we get the track Uniform which is a sparse arrangement of violin and drums before the guitar and vocals join in, giving the song an almost folk-like feel. At times there appear to be influences from The Mars Volta and King Crimson in their delivery, indeed the KC influence is felt on Redirect and Edelwiess. The former has a harsh Crimson-like guitar riff, then a driving rhythm from bass and drums, with the violin playing over the top, before it gives way to Matteo’s high vocals, which seem manic at times with some Bruce Dickinson-like screams. Things begin to mellow slightly with the return of violin, the harsher riffs returns with the drive to the end.

Edelwiess is the epic track here, clocking in at fourteen and a half minutes. A spoken word intro leads to the line “guys are you there, is anyone?” which then leaves the violin to take over. The spoken word continues the story, accompanied by guitar before the focus changes and the music returns to Crimson-like menace. Driven along by the rhythm section, the violin comes back with a slightly crazed solo, leading to a great guitar solo with things lightening up with bright guitar and bass to the fore. The spoken word gives way to sung lyrics and the track contains a wonderful trumpet solo from Sean Lucariello which becomes somewhat unsettling towards the finish.

Elsewhere the songs continue the high standard; Still Unaware with its bright guitar and jazzy piano fairly bubbles along before its mid-song change of mood. The acoustic guitar, flute and violin feature on Stones Can’t Handle Gravity, which beautifully demonstrate the gentler side of the band. The album closes with the nine and a half minute title track, the strings and rhythm section leading at the start, eventually joined by atmospheric keyboards as the song continues to develop throughout, each added instrument giving extra textures. Matteo’s vocals are again top notch and used almost like another instrument, there’s a natural flow and progression from start to finish.

Unlike Here is an engaging album which holds the attention throughout. There is a cohesive whole to the songs which also have enough variety to stand up in their own right. Syncage have developed their own musical style, which will make them stand out in their future endeavours, and I for one look forward to where this band will take their music on subsequent releases. Give this a listen; I don’t think you will be disappointed.

TRACK LISTING
01. School (4:38)
02. Uniform (4:14)
03. Still Unaware (6:20)
04. Skyline Shift (5:49)
05. Stones Can’t Handle Gravity (5:48)
06. Redirect (7:56)
07. Bearing The Colour (5:05)
08. Edelweiss (14:31)
09. Hunger Atones (5:12)
10. Unlike There (9:29)

Total Time – 69:02

MUSICIANS
Matteo Nicolin – Vocals, Guitars, Programming, Morin Khuur
Daniele Tarabini – Bass, Flute, Backing Vocals
Matteo Graziani – Keyboards, Violin
Riccardo Nicolin – Drums, Vibraphone, Percussion, Backing Vocals
The “Unlike Here” String Quartet:
– Matteo Graziani – 1st Violin
– Sarah van Eijk – 2nd Violin
– Michele Sguotti – Viola
– Enrico Graziani – Cello
Additional Musicians:
Sean Lucariello – Trumpet Solo (on Edelweiss)
Fabio Ferrante – Additional Vibraphone (on Edelweiss)
Fabio Ferrante and Beatrice Lannelli – Additional Scream of ‘NO!’ (on Redirect)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 5th May 2017

LINKS
Syncage – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/05/27/arjen-lucassen/

On 22nd April 2017 – Earth Day. While protests to mark the “Science March” were proceeding across the USA and the world, TPA’s Professor Mark sat down with one of the great musical sci-fi storytellers, Arjen Lucassen, and conducted a Skype interview about his latest album release as Ayreon, The Source, and all things Lucassen. Mark would like to thank Arjen for the amazing opportunity to talk to him ‘face to face’ for the first time.


Ayreon - The Source

When you try to imagine the prolific discography that this musical maestro has created and the journeys he has taken his fans on, you realize that any interview can only scratch the surface of all the things that he has accomplished…so far.

Let’s start with The Source. It is a prequel to the amazing saga that has comprised the fans’ favorite part of Arjen’s four-pronged musical experience that includes Ayreon, Star One, Ambeon, and the many bands he has launched, including Stream of Passion, Guilt Machine and the Gentle Storm. All of these “worlds” are great, but it’s the Ayreon world that is respected the most by Arjen’s metal fans. It has the largest discography of all the groups. And Arjen seems to enjoy it the most.

So, my first question to Arjen:

If money was no object, being the space traveller you write about, where would you like to travel to, outside the Milky Way?

I would probably go to Planet Y in the Andromeda Galaxy M31, because it was included in one of my earlier Ayreon projects, The Universal Migrator Part II: Flight of The Migrator. The song I wrote was Out of The White Hole. Some of the lyrics include: “We come out of the white hole into the M31 galaxy, which is also known as Andromeda. We see a planet that looks much like Earth. Could it sustain life? And if, who lives there?” So, potentially another chance for humans to maybe start over.

Ayreon - The SourceThe Source seems to travel down some of the same paths you have travelled before with the Ayreon saga. You’ve brought back James Le Brie – thank you for this. Is he your favorite singer, or who is your favorite singer of all time? You have certainly ‘screen-tested’ many.

Yes James is one of my favorite vocalists. We have met, and understand each other well. He enjoys working on these sci–fi futuristic projects as well as the evolution and emotions of the species. His voice mixes soft and hard and can cover all aspects of human emotion.

You have an incredible storytelling ability and are prolific in recording. What do you read to keep up with all the innovative ideas coming into each of your new creations?

I read scientific magazines online and have a wealth of books and literature that I consult when I’m ready to create. I am constantly reading and discovering additional information on the Science Channel and other such outlets.

Who from music, movies or culture inspires you to write and record music?

Most of what inspires me is people and the way they interact with each other, the world, music and technology.

I know The Source imagines where things could go in the future. What are your feelings on the state of world affairs?

I think this album reflects the fears that I and many people have about our future. Sometimes I don’t even want to go anywhere outside my house, ha ha!

Dissect a song like Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, or your favorite song and describe how you see it evolving. What do you see as the highlights and best riffs and sounds?

Arjen starts to hum the melody…

That is such a cool hook and melody. Few songs I know could ever compare to the power and simplicity of how perfect Set the Controls… sounds. Just perfect. I wish I could create something that powerful.

I think you have, with songs like Dragon on the Sea; the way those boats sound like they are right in front of you, when you close your eyes. Beneath the Waves is another one that just sends chills down my spine. All the tracks from Guilt Machine are just perfect melodies, and so different from everything else you or others have created.

You must have been very happy with the completed version of the DVD and theatrical production of The Theater Equation.

It was a lot of work, but in the end it was very fulfilling and a lot of fun.

Will there ever be another Guilt Machine album?
 
I never plan ahead, but it’s definitely an option! I’m very proud of that album. I guess it wouldn’t be with exactly the same musicians though.
 
Can you bring Fish to the theater and re-animate The Electric Castle?
 
I think Fish will stop playing live soon. I asked him for the Ayreon Universe shows, but unfortunately he was unavailable.
 
Do you envision performing any of the rest of the catalog live? There are only so many hours in the day, after all!
 
You mean as a theater production? Yes, that is definitely an option. But I know nothing about the theater, so someone else would have to set it up.
 
That cocoon at the end of The Theater Equation forecasts a drift back to Actual Fantasy or maybe The Universal Migrator – The Dream Sequencer.
 
Yes indeed! The idea was that the whole story was just a figment of my imagination inside the Dream Sequencer.
 
What is next for Arjen?

First the Ayreon Universe shows, and after that… I really don’t know! As always I don’t plan ahead. So, it will be a surprise for me as well!

Thank you again Arjen for taking time to speak with us at The Progressive Aspect.
 
Cheers!

Arjen Lucassen - photo by Lori Linstruth


And you can read Professor Mark’s review of The Source HERE.


LINKS
Arjen Lucassen – Website | Facebook | Twitter

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/05/27/ayreon-the-source/

Arjen Lucassen has returned with a new Ayreon album for 2017, The Source being the latest adventure in the long saga which has been the stalwart concept and story of Lucassen’s discography. The Source is actually a prequel to the Ayreon story, of which I have been a fan since I first heard about it. There have been many magical moments throughout the now nine album saga. I particularly enjoyed Into the Electric Castle, The Human Equation and 01011001, although Actual Fantasy, The Final Experiment, both parts of The Universal Migrator and The Theory of Everything were also excellent.

It is a fantastic storyline, full of power and momentous music. From ancient times through the evolution of our world and onward towards space travel and planetary colonization, it has been a powerful journey, full of great lyrics and musicianship, pulled together with fine performances by musicians and singers from throughout the globe. Lucassen has been akin to the George Lucas of the musical experience and every aspect of this journey, from the in depth stotylines to the choosing of the players and singers, has made Lucassen the premier composer of this type of futuristic space rock. Arjen has melded traditional rock, space rock, heavy metal and progressive rock to paint from this grand palette his stories which document history and warn of potential future outcomes for planet Earth.

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In this latest reading of the story I feel that Arjen has accomplished a rewrite of sorts, a prequel to the story, using new singers and musicians. Although the songs have changed, the story is very similar. Like Hollywood, he has decided to try a fresh re-boot of the Ayreon story with new performers. This also seems like a summary or overture of the complete storyline. I know that Arjen’s fans love the Ayreon concept and never want the story to end, but with this disc I feel he is replaying it, but it’s a fun story which engages a multitude of talented artists.

Yes, there are highlights, like Everybody Dies, and James LaBrie’s singing as ‘The Historian’ character on The Day that the World Breaks Down, The Star of Sirrah and others. Any album graced with his singing will always hold the interest for Dream Theater fans like me.

Marillion’s Mark Kelly plays keyboards while Epica’s Simone Simmons and Floor Jansen from Nightwish play central characters, singing their roles perfectly. Any band would be more than happy to include the guest list of top new heavy metal talent in whatever project they were creating. There is no question that assembling these great talents is both fun and creates some excellent music, their performances interpreting the story in innovative ways and sending it in new directions.

The record label, Mascot, describes the album in these words: “The title of The Source invites various interpretations. It’s a reference to water — the source of life — and the water planet where the escaping Alphans find a safe new home after their long, arduous journey. The Source also points to the origins of humanity and the question of where we come from. The title also hints at the role that the album itself plays in the whole Ayreon catalogue. Given that it is a prequel, it can be thought of as the source of the entire Ayreon epic.”

The only question I am left with is, ‘Why?’

For me it is time for a new story. It is hard to branch out when this direction is obviously so profitable and enjoyable for the artists, but for fans like me it’s definitely time for something new.

I like this album, and highly recommend it for anyone new to Arjen’s fan club or this genre of music. That said, I hope to review something completely different from Arjen the next time he releases an album.

2017 will be a very Ayreon year, with multiple live performances taking place across Europe. Having a new album with new songs, singers and players is important to that end.

Get this album and enjoy the re-start of the Ayreon Universe.

[And you can read Professor Mark’s recent interview with Arjen Lucassen HERE.]

TRACK LISTING
CD 1
Chronicle 1: The Frame

01. The Day That the World Breaks Down (12:32)
02. Sea of Machines (5:08)
03. Everybody Dies (4:42)
chronicle 2: The Aligning of The Ten
04. Star of Sirrah (7:03)
05. All That Was (3:36)
06. Run! Apocalypse! Run! (4:52)
07. Condemned to Live (6:14)

CD2
Chronicle 3: The Transmigration

01. Aquatic Race (6:56)
02. The Dream Dissolves (6:11)
03. Death cry Of a Race (4:43)
04. Into the Ocean (4:53)
Chronicle 4: The Rebirth
05. Bay of Dreams (4:24)
06. Planet Y Is Alive! (6:02)
07. The Source Will Flow (4:13)
08. Journey to Forever (3:19)
09. The Human Compulsion (2:15)
10. March of The Machines (1:40)

Total Time – 88:33

MUSICIANS
Arjen Anthony Lucassen – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Bass Guitar, Mandolin, Synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings, all other instruments
Joost van den Broek – Grand Piano, Electric Piano
Mark Kelly – Synthesizer Solo
Maaike Peterse – Cello
Paul Gilbert – Guitar Solo
Guthrie Govan – Guitar Solo
Marcel Coenen – Guitar Solo
Ed Warby – Drums
Ben Mathot – Violin
Jeroen Goossens – Flute, Wind Instruments
~ Vocalists:
James LaBrie – as ‘The Historian’
Tommy Karevik – as ‘The Opposition Leader’
Tommy Rogers – as ‘The Chemist’
Simone Simons – as ‘The Counselor’
Nils K. Rue – as ‘The Prophet’
Tobias Sammet – as ‘The Captain’
Hansi Kürsch – as ‘The Astronomer’
Mike Mills – as ‘TH-1’
Russell Allen – as ‘The President’
Michael Eriksen – as ‘The Diplomat’
Floor Jansen – as ‘The Biologist’
Will Shaw, Wilmer Waarbroek, Jan Willem Ketelaars & Lisette van den Berg – as ‘The Ship’s Crew’
Zaher Zorgati – as ‘The Preacher’

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Mascot
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Date of Release: 28th April 2017

LINKS
Ayreon – Website | Facebook
Arjen Anthony Lucassen – Facebook

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/05/26/nad-sylvan/

Currently the singer with Steve Hackett’s band and formerly a part of Agents of Mercy with Roine Stolt, and before that Unifaun, Nad Sylvan has just released his second solo album, The Bride Said No, on InsideOut Music. With Nad’s profile higher than ever, TPA’s John Wenlock-Smith took the opportunity to have a brief chat…


Nad Sylvan - logo

To many Progressive rock fans you are mainly known as the vocalist for Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited live shows over the past few years. What is your musical history prior to this era?

Nad Sylvan 1I began playing the piano at the age of four or five. I sought myself to it. Composing came pretty much immediately and has lingered with me ever since. I actively started to sing at the age of 13 and before I knew it, a variety of different local bands became my natural environment. But nothing crucial would come to pass before I met Bonamici, and we formed Unifaun in 2004, a four year exertion to come up with the best tribute possible to classic era Genesis with our own material. We were offered a record deal and released one album in 2008. Soon after it came out, Roine Stolt (Flower Kings, Transatlantic) contacted me and we formed Agents Of Mercy. On his own label we cut three albums in between 2009 and 2011. In 2012 Steve Hackett decided to record a second Genesis Revisited album, and I was recommended by a German promoter who knew of my previous work and could clearly see a future with me singing the Genesis material. I tracked my vocals on three songs and was then offered to go on tour with Steve in early 2013 and I have stayed with him since then.

You seem to have formed a strong working relationship with Nick Beggs. How did that occur?

Nad Sylvan - Courting the Widow coverWe just hit it off in 2014 and became really good friends. He tracked his bass and vocals for free on my previous album Courting The Widow – something that I see as a token of love and true friendship. Unfortunately due to other commitments he wasn’t able to participate on this new album I am about to release.

You seem to pop up on more albums nowadays, for example on the new PBII CD, ROCKET! The Dreams Of Wubbo Ockels, where you sing on the track Trapped. How did that come about?

I was simply asked by the guys in the band. I really like the song and thought I could add something to it. They seem very happy with the result.

Your last album, Courting The Widow, was well received. How was that for you?

I was amazed by the positive reactions, as I had no idea how it would be received. I feel it very much lingers in the 1970s, where my roots are, but that is also where most of my fans are coming from.

Nad Sylvan - The Bride Said No coverYour new CD, The Bride Said No, is out shortly on InsideOut Music. Tell us about that and how it ties in with the ‘Widow’ album.

Well it’s not a concept album in a true sense, but the Vampirate and the Widow finally come to a close at the alter. The record itself contains little stories with sometimes recognizable characters.

You have strong theatrical elements in your performances. Tell us about those influences.

Well growing up in the 1970s with megastars such as David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, etc., they had a very strong impact on me. Besides, I was always the class clown and loved to put on a show to make people laugh, or cry for that matter.

Will there be a final part of the Widow/Bride albums?

Yes I am working on a trilogy and plan to have the next album out later next year. Who knows what happens after that!

Nad Sylvan 4What is next for Nad Sylvan? Will you be doing any solo shows at all?

I am still very much committed to Steve and will keep on touring with him into 2018. but I believe that having three albums to draw from would make a viable tour, which I can see happening later next year or in 2019.

You seem to have no difficulty in attracting top talent for your albums. Is there anyone you dream of working with?

I am very happy where I am at the moment, and would like to see myself continue working with the current lineup of musicians. But as I’m in favor of duets, a recording with David Longdon of Big Big Train would be really fascinating to hear. He has a remarkable voice, with a texture close to my own. Besides, he is a lovely humble man.

My partner Sue was very impressed with your take on the Genesis stuff on both the occasions we have seen you with Steve, and she sends her thanks for your sympathetic and sincere treatment of songs like Firth of Fifth, etc. – you helped make the shows very special for her, so thanks for that.

Thank you very much indeed!

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me Nad, and good luck with The Bride Sad No

Nad Sylvan 2


[You can read the TPA review of The Bride Said No HERE.]


LINKS
Nad Sylvan – Website | Facebook

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/05/26/nad-sylvan-the-bride-said-no/

Well, shiver me timbers and splice the mainbrace (whatever that is). Our favourite pirate-cum-vampire, Nad Sylvan, has risen from the grave with another cracking musical collection that shows he’s more than just a heavily made-up face.

Step aboard me hearties and let Cap’n Nad take you on an adventure you will never forget. Yo ho ho and a bottle of blood! The Bride Says No is a great album, packed full of catchy tunes, wild keyboard soloing and moments of such sheer glorious guitar beauty that even hoary old seadogs will surreptitiously wipe a little tear from their eyes.

When I first happened upon Nad at the beginning of Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited odyssey, I’m afraid I wrote him off as a bit of a poser. A fop. A dandy, even. With his piratey vampire costume, liberal application of facepaint and glorious golden hair that’s almost an advertisement for Silvikrin, I saw him as all show and little substance.

But his 2015 album Courting The Widow was a very, very pleasant surprise. It turned out that Nad could write songs – strong, melodic compositions drawing heavily on 1970s prog, and Genesis in particular – and he could play a pretty mean guitar, as the languid, effecting solo on Echoes of Ekwabet proved. He could also write a well-constructed 22-minute prog epic without boring the pants off us.

The question was – has this vampire still got plenty of bite? Is he Captain Jack Sparrow or Roger the Cabin Boy?

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Well, The Bride Says No certainly comes from the same, er, vein. Sylvan has brought together a similar supporting cast of Roine Stolt, Steve Hackett, Guthrie Govan, Tony Levin, Jonas Reingold, Nick D’Virgilio and Doane Perry. And he has continued the theme of the sea-going vampire, a sort of pirate Dracula, this time searching the seven seas for a bride to share his un-life. But, for me, this is a leap forward in composition and performance. This time there is more variety and feeling to the music, more theatricality. He uses the rhythms of sea shanties and draws from the drama of Kurt Weill (think The Black Freighter as interpreted by Steeleye Span on Storm Force Ten).

He’s not afraid to take chances with the arrangements and creates things that owe as much to musical theatre as they do to prog. A stand-out example is The White Crown, which opens with a piano tinkle and ghostly vocals before we are almost in Les Miserables territory, punctuated with heavy riffs. Jaunty, staccato lyrics suggest seamen chanting while hauling on ropes – sorry, lines – while keyboards and guitar dance around each other like duelling swordsmen. It sounds like a godawful mess but it’s held together by Nad’s cheeky Peter Gabriel-ish vocals, a band that’s tighter than a cork in a bottle of rum and an unashamed sense of exuberant drama. I absolutely love it.

Equally impressive is the 12-minute title track, a kind of dialogue between the vampirate and his intended, in which Tania Doko’s vocals blend beautifully with Sylvan’s on some gorgeous melodic lines that at times reminded me of Tears For Fears. Again, the track has dramatic stops and starts, there are moments of spoken word, stabbing strings like the shower scene in Psycho and then a keyboard solo that’s come straight from the pits of hell.

Also worthy of note are The Quartermaster – ostensibly a standard prog rocker but one that again is given a shanty-esque twist, with ethereal female voices complementing Nad’s vocals – and Black Sheep, a great little catchy pop song that closes the album. Sylvan is also impressive when he slows things down a bit and tugs at our heartstrings. When The Music Dies, a tribute to all the musicians taken from us by the Grim Reaper last year, is a solid power ballad with a backing reminiscent of Robbie Williams’ Millennium (who, in turn, ‘paid tribute to’ John Barry’s theme for You Only Live Twice). A French Kiss In An Italian Cafe opens with distorted electric guitar but alternates between gentle menace and a wistful, chilled-out beauty.

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But the high-point for me, the song that climbs the rigging and sits triumphantly in the crow’s nest, is What Have You Done. A gentle piano ballad that could have come from Les Miz turns into a soaring guitar duel between Guthrie Govan and Steve Hackett, as they battle to tear your heart out with their picks. If you are not a puddle on the floor after listening to this then you are truly one of the Undead.

Musically, Nad has stretched his horizons. Sure, there are moments that conjure up ’70s prog but there are also nods to the ’80s and ’90s, and a big, fat contemporary drum sound.

So, to conclude: There will, I think, be two reactions to The Bride Said No. The less adventurous among us may think he’s totally lost the plot. But if you love passion, theatricality, invention and ambition in your music; if you believe that vampires and pirates, especially blond ones, have more fun; then you will absolutely love this.

[You can read TPA’s brief interview with Nad Sylvan HERE.]

TRACK LISTING
01. Bridesmaids (1:15)
02. The Quartermaster (5:38)
03. When The Music Dies (7:00)
04. The White Crown (6:15)
05. What Have You Done (8:29)
06. Crime Of Passion (5:59)
07. A French Kiss In An Italian Cafe (5:56)
08. The Bride Said No (12:24)
09. Black Sheep (4:58)

Total Time – 57:54

MUSICIANS
Nad Sylvan – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Programming, Orchestration
Tania Doko – Vocals
Jade Ell – Vocals
Sheona Urquhart – Vocals, Saxophone
Steve Hackett – Guitar
Guthrie Govan – Guitar
Roine Stolt – Guitar
Tony Levin – Chapman Stick, Upright Bass, Electric Bass
Jonas Reingold – Bass
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums, Percussion
Doane Perry – Drums, Percussion
Anders Wollbeck – Keyboards, Programming, Orchestration, Additional Sound Design
Alfons Karabuda – Water Phone

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 26th May 2017

LINKS
Nad Sylvan – Website | Facebook

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/05/25/mew-warhaus/

I don’t know what it is but 2017 has been a veritable desert of gigs for me, rather than the usual dessert. It might be age related apathy, or the arse ache that is having to travel for hours from home to attend anything remotely interesting, but we’re almost half way through the year and it’s only my second gig of 2017…

However, I’ve been really looking forward to this one for quite some time, the magnificent Mew from Denmark. So off to Bristol, and more arse ache as the M4 is closed resulting in a journey of almost three hours. Happy days. Finally in Bristle, the Trinity Centre is a very lovely venue in a converted church just outside the city centre, reminding me a little of Cardiff’s late, lamented The Point, except Trinity is bigger.

Immediately obvious, and as expected, the audience tonight is student-heavy and favouring the 20-somethings. There are some of the ‘older persuasion’ present but we’re in the minority and it’s quite refreshing to be out and having it moderately large with ‘Da Youth’. As always on such occasions I wonder why some of these people don’t turn up for more of the shows that I go to. Granted, Mew are quite a youthful and generally not bad looking bunch, but even they are now there or there abouts in their 40s. More proof that gig choices are generally made with the eyes rather than ears perhaps?

WarhausBut first up is swaggering Belgian hipster Maarten Devoldere, also of rock band Balthazar, with his solo art-pop project Warhaus. I’d not come across Maarten before but with the title of Warhaus’ debut, We Fucked A Flame Into Being, a quote from D.H.Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, it is obvious that he isn’t afraid of straight talking or courting notoriety, the stripped down ‘noir’ sound of his band giving an almost sleazy, knowing feel. There’s decadence and a hint of Tom Waites bluesiness as the three-piece keep it real, playing over loops and samples to expand the sound as Maarten’s lip curling delivery cuts right through. The drummer keeps strangely off kilter rhythms with splashes of additional sounds from his electronic pads. Across the stage the guitarist unleashes shards of jagged chords, adding to the tonal palette with keyboard and melodica. I don’t know their names but they did well helping Maarten deliver his vision as he deploys guitar, bass loops and trumpet shrieks. The album is not bad, live it’s fascinating and I’m glad I was able to experience it.

So far, so not prog at all, but that really doesn’t matter as it isn’t what tonight is about. Mew play an interesting and absorbing range of sounds with melody in abundance, often soaring to the stratosphere, but they aren’t in any way a prog band. That said they frequently tickle my Prog Detector and are far more consistently exciting than most current bands.

Mew - Trinity Centre, Bristol

Now down to a trio (again) after the departure of guitarist Bo Maddsen, Mew are augmented by the more than capable Mads Wegner in that area, plus the ever present keyboard and vocal support from Nick Watts, now a live member of the band for 16 years. The sound, as with Warhaus, is loud but very clear, the acoustics of the building probably helping, as Mew kick off with In A Better Place and 85 Videos from new album Visuals, the accompanying images for the latter projected across the band and onto the backscreen to impressive effect.

Mew - Trinity Centre, Bristol

Special, from 2005’s classic And the Glass Handed Kites, appears earlier in the set than expected and with Wegner and bassist Johan Wohlert adding movement and energy, Jonas Bjerre centre stage is the epitome of calm, nailing his high register vocals beautifully over the pounding rhythms from Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen. Silas appears to be ‘The Quiet One’ but he makes up for it by beating seven shades out of his kit in unorthodox style. It often looks ungainly and isn’t the most dexterous thing you’ll ever see but the results speak for themselves. Following Special with The Zookeeper’s Boy, as on the album, is always going to work, but midway through and just before Bjerre’s skyscraping vocal section, there’s clearly a problem. Silas has stopped playing and the rest of the band join him as the song peters out.

Mew - Trinity Centre, Bristol

As technicians scurry about the band are left scratching their heads as to what to do. Eventually Jonas shyly relates a charming anecdote from a previous trip to Bristol wherein a pretty girl approaches him, he believes – with a hint of fear it seems – that his luck might be in. She’s smiling, he’s nervous but ultimately she only gives him a leaflet about Scientology. It seems that despite being a rock star (possibly a reluctant one) Jonas suffers like many of the rest of us! After this they’re running on empty and decide to retreat backstage. We’ve all seen bands that delight the crowd with an impromptu ‘whatever’ to keep the crowd entertained during such incidents, but it is the honest insecurity of Mew that helps to make them so appealing. It’s almost like they’re surprised that anyone has turned up and are easily rattled. As Johan tells us after the unexpected five minute break, “we’re not used to things going wrong!” Jonas says that he always wanted to be a stand up comic, but few are convinced!

Mew - Trinity Centre, Bristol

The crowd will forgive them just about anything so no harm done and it’s on with the show, the issue turns out to have been a monitoring problem, and next up is crowd favourite Satellites. The band are soon comfortable again and the rest of the set is a swoon of tracks from the new album, including a thumping Twist Quest, and songs from the previous three releases, the rhythmic frenzy of Introducing Palace Players the only selection from No More Stories…. Mads is on fine form and it turns out that today is his birthday. Jonas is almost embarrassed when asking the audience if they’d like to sing Happy Birthday to him. In fact he almost abandons the idea but the Mew faithful are more than happy to oblige, indeed those around me have been singing along with everything all evening.

Mew - Trinity Centre, Bristol

Johan is immense throughout, the massive bass pump cutting through it all. Jonas is just sublime, hitting unfeasible notes and contributing to delicious four-part harmonies with the help of Johan, Mads and Nick. Apocalypso is thundering and magnificent, culminating in a fantastic slide into Saviours of Jazz Ballet – and any band that can successfully utilise a title like that and turn it into a soaring mini-epic is more than worthy of your attention.

Mew - Trinity Centre, Bristol

There is real variety in the songs chosen, showing the distance that Mew have travelled over the years. There’s rock excess, pop sensibility and jazzy weirdness, all held together beautifully by Jonas’ extraordinary voice. The main set ends appropriately with the closing number from Visuals, the epic qualities of Carry Me To Safety the perfect way to finish.

Mew - Trinity Centre, Bristol

Mew leave to rapturous applause but are soon back for a quite wonderful encore that takes in the opening track from Visuals, Nothingness and No Regrets, followed by a trio of tracks from Mew’s 2003 breakout album, Frengers, all accompanied by some fantastic images on the screen. First off it’s back to back high energy crackers in Am I Wry? No and 156, Jonas strapping on a guitar to help fill out the sound. They leave again but only briefly as Mads returns to pick out the fragile opening of the ubiquitous closer to Mew shows everywhere, the majestic Comforting Sounds. Jonas joins him, his voice plaintive, the rest of the band gradually drifting back to the stage, finally Johan just in time for the song to kick off. If every gig ended like this I’d be a happy man, it’s a stunning thing of real beauty that builds and builds to a simply extraordinary crescendo, Jonas nailing the screamed accents in the finale. Simply superb.

Mew - Trinity Centre, Bristol

Mew are a very special band and their music touches the hearts of music fans across the genres. They don’t do pigeonholing, it’s all about writing and performing whatever they want in their own inimitable style. A complete pleasure and a privilege to be present.

SETLIST
In A Better Place
85 Videos
Special
The Zookeeper’s Boy
Satellites
The Wake of Your Life
Introducing Palace Player
Twist Quest
Ay Ay Ay
Water Slides
Apocalypso / Saviours of Jazz Ballet
Carry Me To Safety
~ Encore:
Nothingness and No Regrets / Seasons
Am I Wry? No
156
Comforting Sounds

MUSICIANS
Jonas Bjerre – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Johan Wohlert – Bass, Backing Vocals
Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen – Drums & Percussion
~ With:
Mads Wegner – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Nick Watts – Keyboards, Backing Vocals

LINKS
Mew – Website | Facebook
Warhaus – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

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This news story was originally published here: http://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2017/05/24/mellow-diamond-american-god/

Based in Washington DC, Janel Leppin-Pirog already has one album and a couple of EPs to her name, and an earlier album as a duo with Anthony Pirog, now her husband. Confusingly, her one previous album is called Mellow Diamond, and here she records the album American God as Mellow Diamond!

Janel is a talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who for American God returns to her preferred instrument, the cello, to make an album that is beguiling, introspective, thoughtful, and highly atmospheric. Using a combination of the cello, often multi-tracked, or looped, or put through various effects pedals, along with subtle use of electronica makes for a heady and unusual mix, resulting in swirls of ambient semi-acoustic psychedelia.

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Sometimes I am put in mind of some of Ivo Watts-Russell’s work with This Mortal Coil, particularly on the minimalist Gothic deconstruct of Art Holds Her Hand, a funereal paced and sombre death march, atop which Janel’s lilting ice maiden tones lull us into the land of Morpheus with impressionistic tales of the primal forces of Nature.

“She viewed the vacant land
While art holds her hand
In that sparkling garden
The queen’s rule multiplied
The richest wane.”

“Of her diamond in the Moon Moon Moon.”

Spooky!

Ophiuchus ups the pace, and onto the title track where we find Janel channelling Nico, the lyrical concerns turned to focus on the unrelenting all-devouring monster that is Janel’s homeland. Back to Pleasure Highway, a song that exudes an earthy vibrancy, and Stick And Stone, which has a creepy poignancy, and another lyric using nature as metaphor.

This is a captivating album that if anything doesn’t hang around for long enough, being only a tad over half an hour long. This leaves me wanting more!

TRACK LISTING
01. Ashes To Breathe (4:18)
02. Pleasure Highway (3:44)
03. Where The Heart Grows (5:07)
04. Stick And Stone (2:08)
05. Art Holds Her Hand (2:55)
06. Papery Haze (2:08)
07. Ophiuchus (3:35)
08. American God (6:17)
09. Thumb The Dumb (2:37)

Total Time – 32:49

MUSICIANS
Janel Leppin – No list of instruments is given, but we assume Janel does everything, as she did on her Mellow Diamond album

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: n/a
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 28th April 2017

LINKS
Janel Leppin – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

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