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“I command you to be my master and I will not take no for an answer”, ends the introductory paranoiac’s jerk that is The Answers, the opening track on 7shades’ brand spanking new album of dark pop-tinged psychedelic hot egg juice, that emanates from the cracked shell sitting precariously atop your sensorily heightened and now sticky pate, the gloop slivering down through your hair, bubbling into your ears, leaving your synapses cross-wired and sparking joyfully.

Moving on from the almost-homage but nonetheless enticing draw of the Cardiacs’ suffused Bursting, Neil Spragg and his loony mates have created their own world, mired in this Monumental Midden, a place where the net is cast wider than before, both lyrically and musically.

Themes coalesce into a glorious glutinous mass where humanity’s corruption and greed seem to be sending it blindly hurtling towards a fast approaching precipice. But who cares when you can dance to it, and even celebrate a degree of bodily uncertainty in Eye For An Eye

“A leg for a leg and a nose for a nose
So you hobble along past the blooming red rose
Maybe some day you’ll work out where everything goes.”

The tune displays a fetching ascending crescendo, as does the following Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except An Exhibitionist), a lesson well learned from the never far away influence of Tim Smith’s far-reaching genius. The ascent bursts into a joyous romp on the spiffingly good instrumental The Dialogue, like the much anticipated end of the longest sentence in a Jack Kerouac novel, justifying all that went before. The air up here is rarefied.

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The band do not waste time while they are up here, doing The Pointy Elbow to The Elevator without so much as a by your leave. This may be a midden, but there are diamonds in the murk. This song will leave you breathless but panting for more. Several odd time signatures clash with a metronomic beat and the all-encompassing sparky pop sensibility that makes The Elevator a bit of a lift, and something of an album highlight.

The fun element is neatly balanced by the serious side of the band, with takedowns of social meeja’s “tiresome tittle tattle and endless pissy wit”, and lyrics addressing the serious concerns of disappearing privacy and identity in the corrupt modern world, lyrics that sometimes get overlooked in the headlong rush of the busy, always interesting instrumentation. Fop Killer is an art rock extravagance that will leave your ears ringing and your head spinning, leading into the necessarily calmer climes of the still unsettling Out Of The Woodwork, and onwards into the final six minutes of glorious ideas-in-collision that is Camouflage, where synthetic orchestras do battle with guitars and huge beats on the plains of Kashmir.

Yep, The Monumental Midden is a bit of a triumph, buy it, now!

01. The Answers (3:14)
02. Hot Egg Juice (in a fiery skillet) (4:29)
03. Don’t Make Me Assume My Ultimate Form (4:12)
04. Eye For An Eye (4:12)
05. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except An Exhibitionist) (7:55)
06. The Dialogue (5:26)
07. The Elevator (6:27)
08. Kidneys (5:45)
09. Deaf Ears (4:03)
10. Fop Killer (5:01)
11. Out Of The Woodwork (2:59)
12. Camouflage (6:13)

Total Time – 59:57

Neil Spragg – Vocals & Technology Wrangler
Andy Read – Electric & Classical Guitar
Lance Ruffoon – Bass
The Libbertine – Vocals
Joshua Ryan – Electric Guitar

Record Label: Snafu Recordings
Catalogue#: SNAFU077
Date of Release: 27th November 2017

7Shades – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp


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Death is bewildering. Something beautiful, precious, is gone never to be seen again. Our cries of anguish, the wrenching pain of our dejection, the awful agony of our newly discovered and unwanted aloneness is a heartbroken call to anyone and to everyone to recognise the irreplaceable value of what has been lost. The abject removal of a uniquely familiar presence in our lives is the rending of everything that has been built together across a life time, no matter how short, and the loss of all the hopes and dreams, the plans and the anticipation for a happily shared future.

Joy Davidman is reported to have told C.S. Lewis shortly before her own death from cancer: “It is easier for the one who goes first”. Believe’s stunning sixth studio album, Seven Widows, is an exquisitely conceived and emotionally penetrating protest which carries the raw cry of bereavement directly from this smouldering heart of desolation. It speaks of the profound sadness and aching silences which remain with us forever. And it unflinchingly cherishes the suffering of a love that refuses to surrender or to be overcome by death.

We suffer because we love. We cry out in desperation because the pain of their absence is more real than any presence and the reality of their being gone is so much more tangible than their being alive once was. Mirek Gil’s brilliance in the writing of this album is in taking the stories of seven widows and creating musical narratives which tell the simple tale of the what was and now is not, and how this reverberates in the lives of those who are left behind.

In the process it marks a magnificent – even triumphant – return to form four years after the rather underwhelming The Warmest Sun in Winter. The seven stories translate into seven tracks, the shortest of which comes in at just over eight minutes, which in turn creates an invaluable sense of unhurried space. There is no rush to tell the story; the heart speaks in the way it needs to be heard and the music has a corresponding sense of organic development and natural timing.

What has changed is the return of Satomi’s inspirational violin playing, sadly marginalised in previous releases, but now serving as the textured, dynamic heart which beats so effusively at the thrumming centre of this new musical vision. It brings character, presence and voice to the sound stage and engages you with flashes of insights, perceptions and moods. It says ‘Come, look at this; over here, listen to this.’ The playing is delightfully suggestive, a muse and guide which gently shows us the way.

Gil’s guitar playing is mesmerising in the voice it gives to the empty pain of loss, to the tears of despair, to the lonely wail of isolation. Robert Kubajek’s drumming brings heart and vibrancy, breathing life into the tumultuous turmoil of emotions which ebb and flow throughout each story. It is the perfect mix with Przemysław Zawadzki’s bass playing that really speaks of the anger often associated with hurt, with the relentless circling of thoughts, the mind which cannot and will not switch itself off, each memory recalled a further stab of loss.

Throughout it all new band member Łukasz Ociepa provides the perfect vocal performance which rides the seas of grief from anguish to forlorn emptiness, from hollow hopes to heart aching resentment, self accusation and the keen sense of injustice. The album is an incredible vehicle for the melodic, at times symphonic, expression of the emotions, thoughts and feelings we go through at the end of a life. It is perfect in its construction, elegant in its execution and an absolute delight to listen to.

Above all else, however, Seven Widows does something even more important. For those who are left behind, it shows how music can redeem the memory of suffering, how it can preserve the meaning of what our lives have been and how, by telling musical stories of those whom we once loved and whom we still love, they continue to live in our hearts. This is a supremely beautiful album, with the potential to become an immensely important project, which works on so many levels to let those whom we mourn live again.

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01. Widow I (10:49)
02. II (9:08)
03. III (8:12)
04. IV (11:42)
05. V (8:35)
06. VI (8:37)
07. VII (8:19)

Total Time – 65:22

Mirek Gil – Guitar
Robert ‘Qba’ Kubajek – Drums
Łukasz Ociepa – Vocals
Satomi – Violin, Keyboards
Przemysław Zawadzki – Bass

Record Label: Music and More Records
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 25th October 2017

Believe – Website | Facebook | Soundcloud


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The third long-player from this gathering of Polish potheads is a bewitching listen that demands repeated tokes at regular intervals.

A moniker like Weedpecker automatically brings with it certain expectations of sound, style and the accompanying trappings. However, this 4-piece from Warszawa, Poland deftly manages to both thwart those expectations and assuredly deliver on them. By inhaling elements from a wide array of pot-centred music from the early ’70s they feature a more panoramic sound than is the norm for this genre. Their maturation has been swift as each release has dramatically expanded on the musical vocabulary of the one before.

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The glittery guitars, trippy space-rock groove and lilting harmony vocals of guitarists Wyro and Bartek on opening cut Molecule immediately ingratiate. When it eventually gets heavy it manages to do so while maintaining the relaxed vibe, something less skilled bands have difficulty managing.

Embrace is a joy; a mixture of jangly psychedelic folk, Meddle-era Pink Floyd and in the dramatic instrumental mid-section, righteous tube-driven fury. It’s during this segment that some stylistic similarities appear between Weedpecker and Boston’s Elder, their label-mates on Stickman Records. Both groups have the ability to stretch out on long guitar features without ever sacrificing the song in the process.

Musically the album really hits a peak midway through first single Liquid Sky that it rides for the remainder of the album. The bass guitar-driven groove that begins right around the 3-minute mark is blissfully infectious and lays a hypnotic foundation for the guitars to build on. The jangly section in the coda a particular highlight.

From Mars To Mercury starts side two and it’s not only the longest cut on the album, but also its greatest achievement. Again, there’s a passing similarity here with Elder, especially in the heavy beginning and ending segments, but the gorgeous exploration during the mid-section is very distinctive and beautifully played by everyone involved. This is music that needs to be experienced with eyes closed and distractions shut out to really appreciate (herbal medicine optional).

Album-closer Lazy Boy And The Temple Of Wonders is a playful collision of ’60s psychedelia (later Beatles, Syd-era Floyd) and ’70s Zep guitar that ends things on a satisfying note. III is designed for LP, it clocks in at a brisk 42 minutes that splits perfectly onto two sides of vinyl. It’s refreshing to hear concise albums again! I think it’s better to leave the listener hungry for a little more.

I must also mention the production by Haldor Grunberg who recorded, mixed and mastered III. It’s a beautiful, organic sounding record, the mix really letting the layers of these compositions breathe.

01. Molecule (7:05)
02. Embrace (8:59)
03. Liquid Sky (6:33)
04. From Mars To Mercury (10:36)
05. Lazy Boy And The Temple Of Wonders (8:51)

Total Time – 42:03

Wyro – Guitar & Vocals
Bartek – Guitar & Vocals
Mroku – Bass
Falon – Drums

Record Label: Stickman Records
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 5th January 2018

Weedpecker – Facebook | Bandcamp


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When I first learned Anette Olzon (former vocalist for Nightwish) and Jani Liimatainen (founding member and guitarist for Sonata Arctica) were collaborating on a project called The Dark Element, I jumped at the chance to review it. Olzon is one of my favorite vocalists and Sonata Arctica is a band I recently discovered and have enjoyed, so I was expecting something wonderfully epic from this release. What I got wasn’t what I expected, but the more I listened, the more my disappointment faded.

Most of the songs follow the same basic pattern. They all start off sounding like they are going to be hard, metal tracks thanks to Liimatainen’s heavy riffs accompanied by synth strings, but the guitars soon recede into the background under Olzon’s vocals, which are supported largely by synth pads. A guitar solo leads into the final push to the end of the song. That isn’t to say the songs all sound alike. Nothing could be further from the truth, as each song has its own character. There are a few songs I want to highlight.

The ballad Someone You Used To Know is one of the highest highlights of the album. Sonically, the song focuses mainly on Olzon’s voice, which expresses the desperation of the lyric perfectly, and acoustic timbres. Heaven Of Your Heart sounds like the main love ballad from a Broadway show. Dead To Me is probably the closest thing to symphonic metal on the album with its use of the synth strings to reinforce the vocal line throughout and a greater interaction between the synth, guitars, and vocals. The Ghost And The Reaper is a close second. I particularly like the cello interlude that interrupts the build up to the final choruses.

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I Cannot Raise the Dead is much more electronica-influenced than the other songs on this album. Aside from the solo, the guitars are largely absent from this track except to provide some power to the chorus. It is otherwise dominated by synth sounds.

The album closer, Only One Who Knows Me was probably the song that took me the longest to get into. At first, it sounded like it is completely out of place, and I’m not a fan of the ’80s-style guitar solo fade-out ending. The more I listened to it, the more it seemed like it really fit as the closer. It is essentially a thank you to the person or people in life whose praise and admiration will still matter when celebrity fades and everything is said and done. I’m still not a big fan of the musical setting of the song, but it feels right on the album.

Living up to expectations is the biggest challenge for this album. Since the band was marketed on the reputation of the members’ former bands, I expected a product that would sound similar to those bands. Also, with a name like The Dark Element (and the accompanying cover art), I expected the music to have a darker, perhaps more Gothic sound with down-tuned guitars and darker lyrics. Instead what we get is bright music with lyrics mainly about love and love lost.

Overall, the album is more modern rock than symphonic metal, more like ABBA-meets-Evanescence or a synth-laden Halestorm than either Nightwish or Sonata Arctica. Once I got past my expectations, however, I really enjoyed this album. The songs are catchy and easy to sing along to. The overall musical textures are pleasing, and Olzon’s voice is as fine as ever. One minor, picky issue is that the Liimatainen gives some of his lyrics a bit of an edge through the occasional use of slangy grammar, like “don’t need no…” that commonly appears in rock lyrics. Olzon’s voice, however, is so clean and her diction so clear that it comes across more like your grandma reading Snoop Dogg lyrics than the gritty feel he was going for. Like I said, a minor, picky thing.

Overall, this is an enjoyable album to just put on in the background or in your car. It is a thoroughly commercial album. There is nothing remotely “progressive” about it, unless you are desperate to make it fit and you want to hang your hat on the occasional hemiola in the vocal line, so if you are looking for something complex that requires intense listening to grasp all the nuances, you will need to look somewhere else.

01. The Dark Element (4:27)
02. My Sweet Mystery (5:00)
03. The Last Good Day (4:14)
04. Here’s To You (4:15)
05. Someone You Used To Know (4:24)
06. Dead To Me (5:29)
07. Halo (4:26)
08. I Cannot Rise The Dead (4:26)
09. The Ghost And The Reaper (5:22)
10. Heaven Of Your Heart (4:47)
11. Only One Who Knows Me (5:12)
12. Dead To Me (Almost Acoustic Version) (5:07)

Total Time – 57:09

Anette Olzon – Vocals
Jani Liimatainen – Guitars, Keyboards & Programming
Jonas Kuhlberg – Bass
Jani Hurula – Drums
~ With:
Jarkko Lahti – Piano (tracks 5 & 10)
Niilo Sevänen – Vocal Growls (track 6)
Anssi Stenberg – Backing Vocals
Petri Aho – Backing Vocals

Record Label: Frontiers Records
Catalogue#: FR CD 822
Date of Release: 8th November 2017

The Dark Element – Facebook | Twitter


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Murder & Parliament is a project by Tom Slatter, a Bad Elephant Music artist. The eponymous debut album has been out for a little while now and there have already been reviews. I was busy doing things. And stuff. Consequently, I didn’t have time to write a review or even listen to the album before the release. The Progressive Aspect, nevertheless, would be remiss should we fail to cover music that we feel would benefit from reaching your ears, and this is no exception.

Some of the tracks lead me to consider it very much as a Tom Slatter album, and this left me with many questions. I wondered why Tom felt he needed a fresh identity for the performance of these songs as Murder & Parliament.

Unlike Tom’s solo albums, this one feels very much like a raw band performance (Grey Malkin). At other points noises that don’t appear musical set the scene, like sound effects in a movie, giving some tracks a mood-provoking, experimental and ambient feel, and for this reason my stand-out track, also the most unlike his other solo work, is Embers.

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Now I am concerned that I would like to have regarded this album as the product of a band in its own right. I could only speculate as to whether that was Tom’s intention. I thought about asking him. So, I did:

Hi Tom, hope your day is going well. The Murder & Parliament album. I’m doing a late review of it. Would you mind answering a question for me? If so the question is this: Would you prefer the M&P album to be viewed as the product of a band that you just happen to be in – or is it definitely a Tom Slatter project? I know it is your stuff and that some of it is from ages back, but this has a band feel about it.

Tom Slatter: I regard it as a different project – hence the different name. I’d originally toyed with the idea of keeping it completely anonymous but in the end didn’t go that far as it would require more time than I have available to promote it separately.

[Tom, mistaking me for someone who sympathises with his rock star existence, then reveals just how difficult it is for him working in such a difficult dynamic as that forced upon him by the man running his record label and I continue, impertinently, to ask him more questions, having hoodwinked him into believing that there would be only one:]

I suspected as much.

TS: Please also mention the threats I received from David (Elliot, AKA David Elephant, CEO of Bad Elephant Music) to make sure the CD recouped.

No. Fight your own battles.

TS: Ha!

I bloody love Embers.

TS: That’s got a lot of positive feedback. It was very much improv…

[Tom sends me the score of Embers using the Interwebs]

Fascinating! So, there was direction then, not just wing it and record it!

TS: I gave that to Alun (Vaughan – bass) and Chrissie (Caulfield – violin), did myself then arranged the results.

Were you in the same room or was this an internet collaboration?

TS: I have never met them in real life. They may not exist.

[I pause to wonder whether I exist. Tom does the same. We resume]

Wow! How long ago did you have the M&D thing in “the can” (whatever that means)?

TS: Recording finished late last summer. Composing – It’s old, old pieces but I had the shape of the album maybe three years ago.

A long project, then. Do you have time for this? I’m not keeping you from anything important, am I? I will probably weave it into the review.

TS: I am just about to go get some lunch. I certainly do have time to talk about myself.


TS: I put out CDs with my name and face on. Who would ever doubt the size and breadth of my ego?

I certainly never did. There’s no rush if you want to get some grub.

TS: Carry on asking questions if you have any. If I don’t answer it is cos I got distra- oooh look, a squirrel!

Where? I bloody LOVE squirrels!!!!

TS: Exactly.

There is definitely some familiarity in some of the more guitar-oriented riffs and phrases. I can hear things that are part of your “musical vocabulary” like intervals between notes that crop up periodically, like at the end of Crookedness. What makes one song a Tom Slatter song but another a Murder And Parliament song?

TS: A lack of words?

HAHAHAHAH! Really? That’s it? You make me chuckle, Mr. Slatter.

TS: No, the working method is different. M & P almost all began life as written scores.

Oh, working method. So you can hear the stuff and you write it down?! Like Beethoven only not deaf and dead?!

TS: It’s trying to (write) stuff like the part writing on Firecracker – all those weaving lines have to be written down. I use Sibelius, so you hear it as it goes sorta thing. Like MIDI in a DAW but the interface is the score.

I’ll have to ignore the MIDI reference because for some reason I have a mental block… perhaps because I’ve never had to get to grips with it. I dare say if you hear synths on anything I’ve done it will be sequenced or even played live and recorded direct from the synth. There does seem to be more arrangement in your songs. By that I mean distinct parts that are segued together. Is that a fair observation?

TS: Maybe, but I think all my work is Frankensteined together out of disparate song ideas.

Frankensteined. I like that.

TS: I do deliberately try to write stuff that couldn’t be done with loops and that always has a clear melody. Lots of stuff is loop based, e.g. TFATD [The Fierce And The Dead]. I love them so that’s not a value judgement, just something I think I can do well and that I enjoy.

Some of your stuff does have unconventional patterns of groups of notes and beats to the bar. I’m sort of between two camps as to whether I can whistle along to some of it. I like to get in a 5/4 groove or 7/8 but when you mix them up it can be a bit jarring. Do you ever wonder whether your stuff is putting people off because it might be hard to follow for people who think in 4/4? Did that make sense?

[Silence. I await a response, but Tom stays silent for about the time it would take to stir fry some salmon and vegetables and then eat them. My paranoia begins to surface. Did I say something wrong? I try again…]

BTW, I like that you have Tabs as well as conventional music in your score. I can work from Tabs – well, I’m learning. But they are a bit hard to follow for Stick!

[Obviously, I have gone off-piste a little here. After all, the only questions you people want answered are the ones about lunch and star signs. Nevertheless, someone might want to know other things, so I continued to harass Mr. Slatter…]

I get the sense that the main person you do this all for is Tom Slatter and that if other people like it then that’s a bonus.

TS: I’m not expecting mass market appeal, so no I don’t care if others get it. However, I think there is an audience for this sort of stuff. So do I do it just for me? Well it is art so yes. Do I want others to hear and enjoy it? Yes, but I reckon the people who like this sort of stuff would hate it if I did anything other than follow my muse.

Thanks, Tom! I think I have enough to go on to cobble one or two bollocks together now. Is there any other insight you want to share exclusively to The Progressive Aspect via me?

TS: The CD run has pretty much recouped. We didn’t lose money. If I were capable of being earnest I would say this is humbling. But I’m not. So, I will instead say this is only right and proper.

That’s excellent. I had a toasted ham and cheese sandwich on seeded bread for lunch. What did you have?

TS: Salmon and stir fry veg.


What star sign are you?

TS: Solero.

I did have other questions, like why are these instrumental tracks collected together here and not simply distributed amongst his back catalogue? But Tom answered this by default in that he feels these tracks were created using a different methodology to those of his solo works.

A question for you, or perhaps from you, dearest reader, might be: Is Murder & Parliament sufficiently distinct, musically, from his work as Tom Slatter? I can only answer that in many places it is, although that Tom’s DNA runs through it is undeniable. There are, however, other tracks that fit into an Alterslatterverse. It is these tracks that are, for me, the album’s saving grace. Even as Tom’s song-writing style is individualistic and there are common elements in his musical vocabulary, most of Murder & Parliament is to Tom Slatter as Sugar is to Hüsker Dü.

Despite preferring the stuff on this album that at least reminded me of Mr. Slatter’s solo stuff I do like Tom’s solo albums, as testified to in my reviews published on The Progressive Aspect’s interweb site of Happy People and Fit The Fourth. Some of this Murder & Parliament music takes an altogether new and exciting direction and I want to hear more in the same vein from Tom, in his new alternative incarnation. As this review/interview (or inter-review?) follows numerous others, then perhaps recommendation is somewhat moot, though recommendation this is. Diverse and entertaining, why not put Murder & Parliament in the black on the Bad Elephant sales ledger.

Thanks for reading.

01. A Scattering (8:28)
02. Crookedness (4:52)
03. Grey Malkin (4:50)
04. Kettle and Cauldron (3:05)
05. Firecracker (5:02)
06. Embers (6:43)
07. Clamour (4:53)
08. They Broadcast My Birthday On A Numbers Station (5:29)

Total Time – 43:22

Tom Slatter – All Instruments
Chrissie Caulfield – Violin
Alun Vaughan – Bass

Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st December 2017

Murder & Parliament – Website | Bandcamp
Tom Slatter – Website | Facebook | Twitter

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The second “songs” instalment of Mr Minister’s chanelling his Great Aunt Coleslaw’s muse into an expected 26 albums spread over the year – that’s an infeasible one a fortnight for anyone slightly math-headed – arrives with all the fanfare of a mouse on a ten-lane expressway. However, once one has decided to take this trip, for no better reason than to see where it might take one, there follows an obligation to get submerged in its writhing ocean of many-tentacled creatures.

These vary from vaudevillian microtonal classical piano pieces via some marvellous psychedelic Americana on Must Have Walked Into a Dream, and deeper down to peer nervously into Pandora’s Box, where one finds oneself staring straight into the unfocussed eyes of a lysergically enhanced Les Dawson while he plays all the wrong notes in all the right places.

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This mini excursion into Auntie’s microtonal drawers ends with an off-kilter Beatles-esque universe that begins where A Day In The Life fades into nothingness, and a place where Auntie, whom we are told lives in all times at the same time, tells us “hold on to your dreams, hold on while philosophy has died”.

I often find that the great dollops of coleslaw one tends to find accompanying café and pub lunches these days are always too much, and I can never eat it all. Having agreed to share this industrial-sized portion with Jez at TPA Towers, we’ll see how long I last.

01. Tea tree Shuffle (2:53)
02. Must Have Walked Into A Dream (4:33)
03. Sixteen Mice Skimmering Sideways(1:18)
04. The Beauty Of Words (4:34)
05. Pandora’s Box (2:54)
06. Philosophy Has Died (4:49)

Total Time – 21:01

Elk Minister- Vocals, Steinway Piano, Electric Bass, Upright Bass, Electric Guitar, Microtonal Organ, Keyboards, Egg Shaker, Tambourine, Synthesizer, Violin, Viola, Oscillator, Theremin, Wooden Frog, Pan Flute, Koto, Dulcimer, Zither, Tape and Digital Manipulations, GeoShred App, ANS Synthesizer, The MayaBoard

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 10th February 2018

Elk Minister – Facebook | Bandcamp