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This band hail from Norway, and I’ll bet they’re from Trondheim, without looking at the PR blurb, I hasten to add… actually, they appear to be from Oslo. No prizes to me for that then, but listening to this fat bottomed Viking raider of an album it’s fairly clear they’ve saved all their imaginative powers for the music, which is exactly as it should be.

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Sometimes The Trons seem a little unsure of their intended direction, like a car full of stoned students on a road trip, but heck, who cares what the destination is, it’s the travelling there that’s the fun part. So, we have Sabs-like bottom end mixing with furious wah-guitar and a saxophone blown to within a millimetre of its reeds’ life on Mogadon head shaker The Crossing, its extreme heaviosity bookended by two jazz-blues tunes that lay a path for, and clear up after the lead-booted beast has done its worst. A Quiet Flame eventually bursts out of its slumber, with the guitar and sax giving it another round or three as the tune bounces off the ropes.

The sole entry under “Band interests” on their Facebook page is “Fly fishing”, which explains the curiously titled Catching the Nile Perch, a piece that both ends the album and encapsulates the band with it’s jazz-inflected rhythms, off the wall Rypdal/David Torn guitar homage, tumultuous saxophone, and general menacing heaviosity, building to a roiling thunder.

The perch, needless to say, got away, but we’re told it was THIS BIG…

01. Die Streif (3:49)
02. Maelstrom (4:50)
03. No Country for Young Men (3:53)
04. Light as a Feather, Heavy as a Lead Balloon (4:13)
05. The Crossing (5:21)
06. A Quiet Flame (6:48)
07. Catching the Nile Perch (5:59)

Total Time – 34:53

Per Harald Ottesen – Electric Bass
Ivar Loe Bjørnstad – Drums
Ole Jørgen Bardal – Saxophone
Øyvind Nypan – Guitars

Record Label: Losen Records
Catalogue#: LOS 174-2
Year of Release: 2017

The Tronosonic Experience – Facebook | Soundcloud | Losen Records


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Well, that was just magical.

In the beautiful setting of Acapela Studio, in Pentyrch, north of the M4 outside Cardiff, the North Sea Radio Orchestra beguiled an audience that couldn’t have numbered many more than 100 with their shifting tapestry of exquisite music. Led by Craig Fortnam, they moved effortlessly through a set taking in pieces from all four of their albums to date, including 2016’s Dronne.

As seems fitting, following on from NSRO’s long history of playing in religious spaces, the Acapela Studio is housed in the former presbyterian Capel Horeb, dating from 1835, the wooden floors and interiors creating a wonderful resonance that lifts the music as it fills the high ceilinged hall. There are individual tables for much of the audience, but those of us sat in the hard pews were grateful for the cushions provided. The welcome was warm and the beer delicious, and there is also a pizza oven on site, all adding to a friendly and relaxing experience, perfectly complemented by the beauty of the music presented.

After working with others in the Cardiacs orbit, Craig and Sharron Fortnam formed North Sea Radio Orchestra in 2002 to perform Craig’s more classically inclined compositions, using Sharron’s voice, a blend of traditional and contemporary styles, to create an uplifting and engagingly melodic hybrid: it isn’t classical, it isn’t rock but employs elements of both alongside folk and world influences. The earlier albums provided musical settings for poetical works by the likes of Blake, Tennyson, Yeats and Hardy, but in recent times the words have mainly come from the Fortnams themselves.


With an ensemble that has in the past ranged from two to twenty players, tonight we have a septet taking in guitar, violin, cello, bassoon, clarinet and keyboards, Craig’s phone acting as unofficial eighth member to provide rhythm tracks for a couple of the pieces, some of which are instrumental, taking in various groupings of the available musicians, but Sharon’s beautiful singing is featured prominently throughout, sometimes in duet with Craig, who himself alternates between his main instrument of guitar and the piano. The overriding feel is of 19th Century Romanticism, but this does not tell the whole story as elements of Cardiacs and other influences drop in and out serenely to produce an intriguing sound that is all its own, the idiosyncrasies of James Larcombe’s unorthodox keyboard lines adding an abstract quality.

From the opening Hole in the Sky, where Craig’s guitar duets with cellist Harry Escott, into The Wound with Sharon’s voice entering for the first time, singing Thomas Hardy’s words from the pulpit above the players, the set progresses through a variety of instrumental combinations, including the woodwind introduction to the more rhythmic Berliner Luft which segued into The Earth Beneath Our Feet via Morpheus Drone, with local guest violinist Naomi Thomas taking the lead, the rousing sound of the whole ensemble playing together making for a completely absorbing performance, immaculately delivered and magnificently refreshing. Each musician had the opportunity to shine but within the group setting rather than solo, and this gave the evening a warmth and wholeness, all of the contributions clear within the inspiring arrangements. Above it all, Sharon Fortnam is a thing of wonder, the settings favouring the unusual facets of her strong and clear voice, delivering the words to glorious effect.



The shifting textures of Dronne‘s Vishnu Schist was a highlight, as was Alsace Lorraine which ended the first set, separated by a captivating reading of the hymn When Floods the Tempest High, which had been requested by Craig’s father, who was present.

The sound and view was spot on from anywhere in the hall. We stayed downstairs for the first half, moving up to the balcony during the interval where about 15 of us sat for the second set, with plenty of space to move around for different vantage points, the music rising beautifully to the upper level. This set began with the woodwinds getting a solo introductory piece, Luke Crookes’ bassoon and Nicola Baigent’s clarinet complementing each other to fine effect. The music ebbs and flows, rises and falls and is completely captivating throughout, Sharon and Craig (at the piano) dueting on a brittle When Things Fall Apart. After two pieces from the Birds album, Morpheus Miracle Maker is another wonderful showcase for Sharon that builds into a sweeping ensemble, woodwinds leading into strings and a marvellously enigmatic second half. Not of any genre specifically, just gorgeous.

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Kingstanding is a wistful piece, guitar and organ setting a pastoral scene that easily brings the English countryside to mind, before a more strident Heavy Weather ends the set to rapturous applause. It’s been a great set showing all of the intricacies of NSRO’s repertoire, and with Craig intimating that there is no need for the faffing about of leaving the stage only to be called back for more, positions are re-taken for the encore of a majestic Personent Hodie from Birds, underlining Craig’s Renaissance influences from the works of John Dowland and others, and finally an uplifting He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven sends everyone home on a cloud.



A haunting and otherworldly experience throughout. Craig introduced some of the pieces, others merging into the next and throughout the audience was rapt and silent. I found myself being drawn into the music and fully absorbed in a way that doesn’t happen very often these days. At one point I noticed a tear rolling down my cheek, must have been something in my eye…

At the end I felt more relaxed than I have in ages, uplifted and cleansed. This was a very special performance of organic music performed in a space that was designed for just that purpose, and if you get the opportunity I urge you to catch one of NSRO’s sporadic live performances, the next being a matinee show with the inestimable Mr. William D. Drake supporting, in London in November.

Hope in the Sky
(drone improv in D into…)
The Wound
Berliner Luft – Morpheus Drone – The Earth Beneath Our Feet
Vishnu Schist
When Floods the Tempest High
Alsace Lorraine
~ Interval
‘Intro’ (woodwind)
When Things Fall Apart
A Poison Tree
Morpheus Miracle Maker
Heavy Weather
~ Encore:
Personent Hodie
He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

Craig Fortnam – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Sharron Fortnam – Vocals, Drum
Harry Escott – Cello
James Larcombe – Phillicorda Organ, Jen Monosynth, Piano
Naomi Thomas – Violin
Luke Crookes – Bassoon
Nicola Baigent – Clarinet, Bass Clarinet

NSRO – Website | Facebook

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Möbius Strip are a young Italian band who come from small towns in the Lazio and Abruzzo areas, they are all in their early twenties but on this debut appear to show considerable maturity. The band states that they got their inspiration from the object from which they took their name; a möbius strip geometrically connects the two sides of the same surface by starting a path on one of them. This then became the purpose of the band, to combine different styles and influences to make a whole sound. They have crossed a number of genres but have created a sound which is still firmly rooted in jazz.

The six tracks presented here have all been written by keyboardist Lorenzo Cellupica, with the entire band contributing to the arrangements. What they have produced is a selection of carefully crafted songs with some excellent arrangements, which gives each instrument the room to excel, but all the while interlocking carefully with each other. There is no guitar used here, but that is not immediately obvious, such is the standard of the playing. The piano and keyboards from Lorenzo and the wonderful saxophone of Nico Fabrizi take the lead alternately, supported by some great drum work from Davide Rufo, ranging from subtle to more forceful and matched by Eros Capoccitti’s marvellous bass lines. The rhythm section provides the drive and energy allowing the keys and sax to fold around each other.

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Things kick off with Bloo, a gentle start creating a piano-led groove before we get to an easy saxophone, getting a little more frenetic as it gives way to keyboards and then return to sax. All of this is supported by the rhythm section to push it to the end. The bright piano of Déjà Vu alternates the lead with the sax to create some melodic passages. This upbeat, almost feel good vibe continues throughout the remaining tracks; on Andalusia the playful keyboards give an Iberian feel to the start and throughout, the shortest track Call It A Day at just under three minutes has a lovely gentle feel provided by the piano and supported by some great bass work. The title track has a lovely drive provided by the rhythm section, this song having the jazziest feel of the album, Eros providing us with a wonderful bass solo.

This is a beautifully paced album, and at forty-five minutes long does not outstay its welcome, leaving you with a satisfied feeling and wanting to hit repeat. The tracks can be accessed individually without spoiling the enjoyment, but equally work well as one straight listen from the beginning. A very good debut album with an upbeat feel, played with great energy and providing some nice gently melodic grooves.

01. Bloo (9:38)
02. Déjà Vu (8:25)
03. First Impressions (7:49)
04. Call It A Day (2:44)
05. Andalusia (8:21)
06. Möbius Strip (8:48)

Total Time – 45:45

Lorenzo Cellupica – Keyboards
Nico Fabrizi – Saxophones & Flute
Eros Capoccitti – Electric Bass
Davide Rufo – Drums

Record Label: Musea Records
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 27th March 2017

Möbius Strip – Facebook | Bandcamp


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A Day in the Life of a Universal Wanderer was Gandalf’s Fist’s fourth album, released in 2013. An enjoyable sci-fi musical romp based on signals from a stricken vessel on the edge of a wormhole and assembled by “the best signal decoders across all known dimensional rifts”. Played on instruments found in said craft, this is a great space/progressive rock concept.

Well, Dean Marsh and his merry band of space cadet minstrels decided to remaster and update this album for the futuristic listeners of 2017 by adding, for example, real cellos and violins and including a hitherto left off track, The Stowaway and The Endless Night. This adds a further narrative and clues from whence the signal came – some great guitar work here with stellar performances by all of the spacemen, with a timeless production that really will sound fresh in light years to come, and this applies to all of the files here.

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Opening with a radio drama scene setter, we know it’s 2520 and Mark Benton orates the story so far, with a timbre of accent that hints at Red Dwarf’s Lister, before we launch into The Nine Billion Names of God. Never to drift from the tale’s genre, this title taken from Arthur C. Clarke’s short story where all the stars “went out” after God’s nomenclatures were completed, so the many suns fade as the wormhole is entered. Guest astronaut Andy Bolper Floyds it up with some weightless sax playing and this track is redolent of the many styles within this band, with the folk and rock pushed to the forefront and again on The Battle for Tannhäuser Gate where the violin leads the fleet.

However, the heavier elements are never far from the dock door as Stefan Hepe’s drums show on Orphans of The Sky, contrasting with the beautifully sung ballad Somewhere Beyond the Stars, Melissa Hollick at her furthest apogee here.

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A Universal Wanderer and Nexus further progrockets the listener past the inevitable gravitational pull of the black hole, with some travelling synth, guitar, and sax solos leading to the Tolkien-esque North of the Wall.

The last section of spoken word is Ghosts of Spacetime and it’s as good as Blade Runner’s Tears in Rain, and in keeping the movie theme, The Wanderer Goes South ends the recording on an optimistic Dark Star resignation of the situation where high spirits dematerialise with hope.

Sonorous, imposing and widescreen, this is an album to be listened to as if in the cinema. The story is absorbing and attention keeping thanks to the many textures provided by the range of vocalists, especially the ladies who sing from the heart. Their sense of loss is portrayed with despair and alacrity in equal measure.

The frequency technicians have indeed worked tirelessly re-calibrating their devices. It is our mission to “comprehend the secrets of its origin”, be that by searching the universe or simply purchasing the many DigiPak variations available from their intergalactic web site, but be warned, A Visitation of The Mushroom People means that they’re not necessarily fungis to be with…

01. Another Night on the Far Side of the Universe (1:54)
02. The Nine Billion Names of God (7:56)
03. Where’s A Bloody Escape Pod When You Need One? (0:26)
04. Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet (4:38)
05. Message Home (0:54)
06. Somewhere Beyond the Stars (4:26)
07. Orphans of the Sky (7:04)
08. A Visitation of the Mushroom People (0:58)
09. The Stowaway and the Endless Night (11:41)
10. A Universal Wanderer (4:33)
11. Nexus (4:40)
12. North of the Wall (3:07)
13. The Battle For Tannhäuser Gate (5:12)
14. Ghosts of Spacetime (0:56)
15. The Wanderer Goes South (8:48)

Total Time – 66:41

Dean Marsh – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Luke Severn – Vocals
Stefan Hepe – Drums
Christopher Ewen – Bass
~ With:
Mark Benton – The Voice of The Captain
Melissa Hollick – Lead & Backing Vocals
Alicia Marsh – The Voice of the Ship’s Computer
William Stewart – Violins (on The Battle for Tannhäuser Gate)
Natasha Jaffe – Cello (on North of the Wall)
Andy Bolper – Saxophone
Davor Bušic – Flute (on The 9 Billion Names of God)
Suzanne Weller – Flute (on The Wanderer Goes South)
Beccie Watson, Jennifer Pederson, Dying Seed – Additional Vocals
Thomas Huth – Cover Artwork

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Original Release: 2013
Date of Reissue: 18th September 2017

Gandalf’s Fist – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp


This news story was originally published here:

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.

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

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

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.

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:
Nothing at Best

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

The Pineapple Thief – Website | Facebook | Twitter

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

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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.

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

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

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.

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

Alan Emslie – Drums & Percussion
John Irvine – Guitar

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.

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

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)

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.

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

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

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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

Jet Black Sea – Facebook | Bandcamp


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