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This news story was originally published here:

I have spent the majority of my working life in higher education. For the best part of 35 years I have grappled – and have been a guiding companion in helping others to grapple – with the ways in which it may be possible to make sense of the bewildering diversity of artistic cruelty human beings seem capable of effortlessly inflicting on each other.

One approach is to consider the sheer scale of the numbers involved. Over the course of the last century alone, well over one hundred million people died as a direct of violence. WWI – circa 9 million (military), 7 million (civilian); WWII – circa 48 million; Stalin’s programme of collectivisation – circa 14 million; the Korean War – circa 5 million; the killing fields of Cambodia – circa 3 million. And on. And on. And relentlessly on, even in our new century. Nor do these figures include individual and social acts of brutality and savagery.

Unfortunately the shocking truth these numbers reveal highlights the key weakness of taking this approach. The numbers quickly become incomprehensible. Overwhelming. Numbing. Too much to take in. There is just no way of getting a meaningful handle on the sheer depths of the agony and anguish the numbers represent; they defy explanation and too easily the suffering of those who went through it becomes distant and depersonalised.

The other approach is precisely that taken by this truly outstanding third studio album Seed from Freedom to Glide and marks the concluding chapter of a trilogy which started with Rain in 2013 and continued with 2016’s Fall. Andy Nixon and Pete Riley have created a musical experience which is simply breathtaking in the way it opens the doors to remarkable levels of penetrating insight, which in turn pave the way for genuinely gut-wrenching moments of emotional empathy.

Never before have I reached for a pause button so frequently as when listening to this album. There is a gentle but disturbing sensitivity which underlies the lyrical ingenuity of this release that hits home again and again with heart-breaking poignancy and force. If you want to talk about war, if you want to come one step closer to understanding the unspeakable, unbearable horror of what people went through on the battlefields, if you want to remember them, then this is precisely how you do it.

A snippet of a song jumps out and catches your ear: the imagery, the allusions, the delicate beauty of the song’s story physically jolts you to a halt. As the resonances begin to ripple out from the point of impact, you find yourself sitting there on the verge of tears as the full force of the emotional realisation well and truly sinks in of the awful, senseless state of resignation and despair these soldiers – these sons, brothers, husbands, lovers, friends – felt as the sun rises and falls on yet another sodden, deafening day of fighting in a foreign land.

To pick out individual tracks would be a horrible injustice to the tight and organic conceptual as well as musical vision that flawlessly threads its way from opening chapter to aching conclusion. Yet I would point your attention to four particular episodes which mesmerise with a clarity and a focused purity the immense foresight and imagination which underpins this release.

The Right Within The Wrong is steeped in the most tragic sense of unravelling self-certainty, the unfettered questioning of everything you hold dear as you sink into the morass of moral ambiguity from the everyday sights and sounds all around you. The plaintive plea and desperate holding on to certainty repeatedly asserts: “I’m not broken”, but is tested in the heat of battle “with every ounce of steel / That finds a fate to seal / Another crack appears”.

The enthralling and elegant acoustic of The Only Way? tells the story of an ‘enemy’ doctor crossing the lines to bring an ‘enemy’ soldier back to his comrades. The unabashed humanity is “A ray of light passing / Through the black of war” and forces the recognition of what we have in common: “You, like me, will bleed when you are torn and it’s / Clear that we would both prefer to talk than kill so / Much more to lose than they could ever hope to gain / It’s not the only way.”

Infrequent moments of humanity feed fleeting seeds of hope. Yet even here, the lament of Broken Road is loud and clear: “Broken road carry me home / To the life could have made / On the path we should’ve laid / Broken Road lead me away / From where my brothers lie / Where truth and reason died.”

Dear May is staggering in the bewitching simplicity of the final message it conveys from “this distant broken land”. “You’ll hold our memory close as we fade from view / This war must never claim me as it’s hero / I belong to you.”

Seed is magnificent. It is devastating in the range of its emotional sweep, humbling in the profundity of the insights it enables and majestic in the way it flawlessly presents a holistic musical experience. This is, without doubt, a contender for album of the decade and should be mandatory listening for anyone who is grappling to understand what it is human beings are capable of doing to each other.

01. Seed (0:56)
02. Holding On (5:06)
03. No Turning Back (4:18)
04. Undertones Of War (4:38)
05. The Right Within The Wrong (4:38)
06. The Space Between The Lines (6:17)
07. The Only Way? (4:40)
08. Escape To Survive (4:56)
09. One Day (1:51)
10. When That Day Comes (6:07)
11. Broken Road (7:30)
12. Dear May (3:04)
13. Seed Of Hope (1:09)

Total Time – 55:22

Andy Nixon – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keys
Pete Riley – Piano, Synthesizers, Organ
~ with:
Louise Wilson (KAFKADIVA) – Additional Vocals (tracks 6 & 13)

Record Label: Independent
Country Of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st May 2019

Freedom to Glide – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

This news story was originally published here:

Let’s not beat around the bush – when Hand. Cannot. Erase. was originally released in 2015, it immediately became one of the finest progressive rock albums released in the 21st Century, and must rank amongst the truly great albums of any era… no ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’, no ‘maybes’. Some things are just undoubtable and irrefutable facts.

Only four years later Kscope have decided to re-release the album with an additional Blu-Ray including instrumentals and other bonus track ‘Versions’. There are two potential audiences for such a reissue – progressive rock fans who have yet to hear or purchase the album, and Steven Wilson fans who already have the original. (NB, Some of the songs available on the additional Blu-Ray have been previously available on the original ‘Deluxe Edition’ Blu-Ray release.)

The question is, should they buy this re-released album?

The answer for those that have never heard or purchased the album is very simple – YES, just get it… and why the heck haven’t you already got this in your collection? (I refer those punters to my opening comments!)

Hand. Cannot. Erase. has been previously and numerously reviewed and discussed at length, so we will not be focusing deeply on the original album. However, for those that have never heard it, a brief summary. The concept is based on the tragic story of Joyce Carol Vincent about whom Steven Wilson heard via a 2011 documentary film called Dreams of a Life. She was a woman who died in her flat in about December 2003 but her body, heartbreakingly next to wrapped but not labelled Christmas presents, was not discovered until January 2006 when bailiffs finally entered the property. The television had been going continually for over 2 years in front of her decomposing body, leading some neighbours to assume someone was in the flat. Her disappearance had not really been noticed and although her family had initially tried to locate her they assumed that she had chosen to break off ties with them. She was not some sort of elderly homeless ‘bag lady’ (which would be sad and shocking enough) – she had some problems including domestic violence in her past, but she had also previously had a successful career.

The idea that in a block of flats filled with people in one of the largest cities on Earth an individual could be so disconnected from those around her that she could just die and be virtually unnoticed fascinated and appalled Steven Wilson. His album skilfully and emotionally delves into a similar story of a woman who ‘disappears’ in a city, but it is not a total recreation of Joyce Carol Vincent’s life. There is a different, more optimistic conclusion to the album’s story, but this piece is filled with themes of sadness, disconnection and anxiety. However, strangely it is not a depressing listen as the story is told with such consummate musical skill and imagination, framed in a brilliantly inspired melodic and lyrical framework. Hand. Cannot. Erase. pulls together Wilson’s musical paths over many years, including multi-faceted progressive rock songs, like 3 Years Older and the haunting and emotional Routine, or the more rock/pop slanted, such as the catchy title song or the sun-filled optimism of the gorgeous Happy Returns and the gossamer-thin and delicate acoustic Transcience. Perfect Life is a hypnotic piece in which Katherine Begley’s monologue about a girl’s memories of a brief but influential relationship with an older ‘foster sister’ is conveyed with a synth intro and then a pulsing, percussive setting over which Steven Wilson repetitively chants “We have got, we have got the Perfect Life…”

Alongside those golden moments you have the dramatic, darker heavy rock-inflected Home Invasion and Regret #9, albeit with a shimmering progressive slant, and the truly visceral instrumental tour de force Ancestral, in which this supremely talented band truly excel. Such powerful moments are bookended by the more ambient and cinematic First Regret, suffused with an atmosphere which draws you into the world of the story, and the ethereal conclusion of Ascendant Here On. This brilliant, diverse album is set out perfectly as a cohesive and engrossing whole.

What about the punters who have already got and know this album? What is the attraction of this release to the ‘already converted’?

The packaging is fine but virtually identical to the original release. The album was perfectly mixed and mastered only 4 years ago so there’s no new ‘fairy dust’ on the sound of the original. The Blu-Ray offers the most attractive elements to interest existing fans. The Lasse Hoile studio documentary and interview is well worth seeing, but this has been available on previous editions. On this new version, there is a Photo Gallery which may be of passing interest for some.

The album is presented in pristine 5.1 ‘surround sound’, which is frankly stunning… but the album was already available in 5.1 on some versions so that is not really a new feature – it’s certainly an added recommendation to those unfamiliar with the album who have the required technology. Steven Wilson is the master of 5.1 mixes and Hand. Cannot. Erase. is a fantastic example of his skills in that area.

So what’s new on this release (as far as I am aware!)?

The Blu-Ray contains the whole album in ‘Instrumental’ formats. It is interesting to hear these familiar songs stripped of their vocals, which allows us to hear the music in a different way, with elements we may not have noticed previously underneath the vocals coming much more to the fore. In addition to those pieces, there is a ‘bonus track’ of Piano Themes from Hand Cannot Erase. This is a short piece which may be of some interest but is hardly essential.

There are also six different takes on the songs in a ‘Versions’ section (all previously available in ‘Deluxe Editions’). Two of those songs are Radio Edits so are very similar to the originals, just shorter, although the edit of Happy Returns is more sparse with some of the synths and effects of the album version removed, which does cast that lovely song in a slightly different light. First Regret (Minimal Version) is rather, well, minimal! More of a mild curiosity than unmissable. Regret #9 (Alternate Take) presents a different version of the album’s instrumental ‘wig out’ – there is some interest in hearing a familiar piece presented in a different manner, but the differences are not massive – probably one for the purists who know every single note of the original solos!

The standout pieces in the ‘Versions’ section are Routine (Ninet Solo Vocal version) and Perfect Life (Grand Union Mix)… and these really are songs worth hearing. The Ninet Tayeb solo vocal version of Routine, without Steven’s voice, fully reveals the depth of emotion Ninet poured so passionately into the song. It’s truly heart-breaking and certainly worth hearing her wonderful voice alone.

Perfect Life (Grand Union Mix) is a radically different version to the original, and a full three minutes longer. The Katherine Begley monologue commences the piece unaccompanied by any music, which gives it more impact, and is extended as she recalls going to watch the barges on the Grand Union Canal. There is a more sparse and liquid feel to the early section as the girl remembers her ‘foster sister’ saying ‘the water has no memories’. The monologue returns later as the percussive nature of the song rises in power and the end piece of Steven Wilson chanting the refrain is extended and seems more ethereal. It’s a fascinating take on the song and definitely worth hearing – I think I prefer it to the original.

So what’s the answer as to whether to get this re-release?

Needless to say, if you haven’t got it the answer is obvious – just stop what you’re doing right now and just go out and get it – I cannot state that enough (have you noticed?!!).

If you only have the CD version without 5.1 and have the technology to hear this in surround sound then the recommendation is similar – this album is DEFINITELY worth getting to hear it in that immersive format.

The decision for most fans who already have an earlier edition is whether they are interested enough in the additional tracks they may not have heard before to invest more money. I would suggest that is down to just how much they are interested in the instrumentals and different ‘Versions’, which admittedly do have two great alternate versions. That’s down to the punters – but whatever your decision, this wonderful album will long be remembered as one of the truly great progressive albums – just make sure you have it and hear it in whatever format or version – that’s the RIGHT ANSWER!


01. First Regret (2:01)
02. 3 Years Older (10:18)
03. Hand Cannot Erase (4:13)
04. Perfect Life (4:43)
05. Routine (8:58
06. Home Invasion (6:24)
07. Regret #9 (5:00)
08. Transience (2:43)
09. Ancestral (13:30)
10. Happy Returns (6:00)
11. Ascendant Here On (1:54)

Same Tracks as CD in 5.1
Instrumental versions of all tracks (24-bit / 96-khz only)
01. First Regret (Minimal Version) (2:04)
02. Hand Cannot Erase (Radio Edit) (3:29)
03. Perfect Life (Grand Union Mix) (7:45)
04. Routine (Ninet Solo Vocal Version) (8:58)
05. Regret #9 (Alternate Take) (4:17)
06. Happy Returns (Radio Edit) (3:54)
~ Extras:
Studio Documentary (filmed by Lasse Hoile)
Photo Gallery
Bonus Track: Piano Themes from Hand Cannot Erase (24-bit / 96-khz only)

Steven Wilson – Lead & Backing Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Programming & Effects, Keyboards, Mellotron, Banjo, Hammered Dulcimer, Shaker
Guthrie Govan – Guitars
Nick Beggs – Bass Guitar, Chapman Stick, Backing Vocals
Marco Minnemann – Drums
Adam Holzman – Hammond Organ, Piano, Celesta, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Moog Synthesizer
~ With:
Ninet Tayeb – Vocals (tracks 5 & 9)
Theo Travis – Flute & Baritone Sax (track 9)
Dave Gregory – Guitar (tracks 2,3 & 10)
Chad Wackerman – Drums (track 10)
Katherine Begley – Spoken Word (track 4)
Leo Blair – Solo Vocal (track 5)
The London Session Orchestra – Strings (tracks 9 & 10)
Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School Choir (tracks 5,10 & 11)

Record Label: Kscope
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 23rd August 2019 (original version 2015)

– Insurgentes (2009)
– Grace for Drowning (2011)
– The Raven that Refused to Sing (and other Stories) (2013)
– Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)
– To the Bone (2017)

Steven Wilson – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here:

In my previous review (HERE), I covered the first three CDs of this six-CD box set of the complete works of Simon Phillips’ Protocol project. This review will conclude that set with my reviews of disc four – Protocol 4 – and discs five and six, which feature demo versions of tracks that appeared on Protocol 2, 3 and 4, plus various unused or unreleased tracks.

The first thing to note is that on Protocol 4 the line-up has changed significantly, in that both Andy Timmons and Steve Weingart have departed, the latter replaced by the return of Dennis Hamm to the keyboard role with American guitarist Greg Howe, from the Shrapnel/Mike Varney school of players in the mid 1980s, also coming aboard. Howe has played with Ritchie Kotzen, Michael Jackson and many others over the years.

Right from the off you notice a subtle change in that the guitar work is even more fiery and pronounced, but does not overpower the music at all. Once again the sound is very lush and full with great separation between the instruments, although the bass is a bit low in the mix. Simon’s drums are clearly present but again they are not the prime focus of the overall sound. This group approach and sound is very refreshing, Simon doesn’t need to prove anything and this is clear from how these albums sound. It is very pleasing to hear that there are no egos at large, unchecked or demanding the spotlight, and that this is a case of the parts not exceeding the sum as it were. Refreshing and it makes for a harmonious approach.

The album opens with Nimbus, harmonic tones from Greg’s guitar and percussion from Simon with bass in support for the first 90 seconds before Greg unleashes a fluid melody line that sets a groove for all to follow. A sweet, tasty groove it is to, with a meaty riff emerging at two-and-a-half minutes, with drum emphasis at 3-minutes over Dennis Hamm’s keyboards/synths, before a delicate jazzy solo from Howe. This is some serious fusion, a great opener that bodes well for the rest of the album.

Pentangle is a rhythmic little mid-length number (6:46) that opens with a good guitar riff and the chance for some fluid playing from the whole band. The mid-section has good keyboards from Dennis with his synth again, all very tasteful and energetic. These numbers certainly have drive, all a real joy to hear, music without agenda (sounds like a good album title).

Next is the raga sounding Passage to Agra. Here Simon’s drums and Dennis’ keyboards create an Indian-sounding opening section. Greg’s fluid guitar line is introduced, sweet-sounding with a backdrop of syncopated drums and swirling keyboards, all very ethnic sounding, whether Simon is playing any Indian percussion I don’t know as I don’t have the booklet for these albums, but I suspect he is in an expressive tonal track. A very enjoyable 7-minutes of great music.

Solitaire is a funk-based number with a chunky riff using wah-wah guitar and staccato keyboards. This is another good track, the band can certainly cook these rhythms. Following this is a short but atmospherically charged piece that shows the fine keyboards of Dennis and a very fluid guitar line from Greg that soars above to great effect. Short but oh so sweet.

Next is Celtic Run, which doesn’t sound at all Celtic, more’s the pity. This is another great workout for Dennis and Greg, with Dennis’ synths taking centre stage before yielding the stage for a fiery burst from Greg’s ever-fluid guitar, before all commence on a fairly brutal riff section. Returning to the original opening riff, this is a very good piece indeed with some highly imaginative and charged playing from all parties, a tonic for the ears. Then we are onto, all things considered, a somewhat shorter track, but no less interesting as it has a sinewy riff that twists as it plays out.

Disc 5 features tracks that formed the basis for the Protocol 2 and 3 albums, along with some previously unissued tracks. These are generally shorter sketches rather than finished works, but even in their abridged versions they still show plenty of promise. Of particular note are the tracks Six Eight, Thirteen, Zawinul and Mystery, all of which are slightly more finished, showing great rhythms and with plenty of interest. Again the production values are absolutely first class, you would not think these were demos at all, such is the attention to detail and fine engineering. The music is generally fairly fiery jazz-rock fusion with great performances from all parties, and I am put in mind of latterday Weather Report on these tracks, no bad inspiration to have!

Disc 6 is the shortest of all the CDs and hosts demos and sketches for what became Protocol 4. It features a longer version of Six Eight and also different version of Pentangle, Indian Theme and Celtic Boogie, these are not that different to the album versions but do show how the sound was progressed, Celtic Boogie becoming Celtic Run on Protocol 4. The original version is, in my opinion, far superior with a longer running time. The bass is more prominent here making for a great track, and this take on Pentangle also features a fine bass solo segment. In fact, this whole CD is really very fine indeed, good pieces, fine playing and top-notch production all making it less a collection of demos and more a cohesive alternative look at a great fusion album.

I really like this box set, it has some fabulous music, for those who like the jazzier fusion style, and there is much to explore and to enjoy herein. I recommend this very highly indeed.

[The first three discs of this set are covered HERE.]

CD 4

01. Nimbus
02. Pentangle
03. Passage to Agra
04. Solitaire
05. Interlude
06. Celtic Run
07. All Things Considered
08. Phantom Voyage
09. Azorez

CD 5
01. Wildfire
02. Funk Tune #1
03. Six Eight
04. Pump Type
05. Thirteen
06. Herbie Type
07. Ballad
08. Three Four
09. Zawinul
10. Mystery
11. Protocol Blues
12. A Perfect Flush
13. Circle Seven
14. Pilatus
15. Stir Crazy
16. Fast Five

CD 6
01. Six Eight
02. Pentangle
03. Indian Theme
04. 7 Four Funk
05. Intro + Celtic Boogie
06. Blues
07. Ballad
08. Jan Type

Simon Phillips – Drums & Percussion
Greg Howe – Guitar (discs 4 & 6)
Andy Timmons – Guitar (disc 5)
Dennis Hamm – Keyboards (discs 4 & 6)
Steve Weingart – Keyboards (disc 5)
Ernest Tibbs – Electric Bass

Record Label: Phantom Recordings
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 12th April 2019

Simon Phillips – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here:

Simon Phillips is a legendary drummer in modern music, his résumé features a staggering list of greats, including Jeff Beck, Judas Priest, Michael Schenker and many others, but his 30-plus years as the drummer for Toto (after the gardening accident heart-attack death of Jeff Porcaro in 1992). Simon ended his stint with Toto in 2014 to concentrate on other interests, including his own fusion outfit, Protocol, with whom he has recorded four albums. This box set pulls those albums together, along with two full CDs of outtakes and demo versions of the material on Protocol 2 and 3.

The music is jazz fusion with an incredible group of musicians featured alongside Simon’s drums and production, including Earnest Tibbs on bass, Greg Howe’s guitar and Dennis Hamm on keyboards. As one who grew up on fusion in the seventies, with the likes of Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke, Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this is a style that I enjoy, alongside my more traditional rock and progressive leanings.

The music of Protocol is not wild or extreme, but it is certainly well constructed, well delivered and produced, and whilst generally mellower than certain fusion groups, it is certainly not bland or muzak in any way, in fact, its memorableness quickly becomes very apparent.

The first album opens with a gated drum sound before real drums and synth kick in with a guitar line from Ray Russell on Streetwise. It’s a fine example of Simon’s steady metronome-like pace and consistency, he certainly shows his skills without showing off – a rare thing with restraint at play, although he does display his chops in a brief solo section. It’s a great track and one that encourages further and deeper listening to these great tunes, continuing with Red Rocks, with its steady backbeat and swirling keyboards with another highly melodic guitar line floating over the beat, on the edge of distortion yet somehow managing to stay on the clean side of the line. Utterly beguiling.

The more I hear this, the more I hear, if that makes sense. Whilst not very progressive as such, it does have a great ebb and flow that certainly captures the attention. The third and title track opens with a mass of tuned percussion, with great syncopation and an almost Caribbean beat it’s a real tour de force in itself. Whilst these are all shortish tracks, they display imagination and variety, which is to be applauded. In fact, this track sounds very much like something that could have come from the mighty Spirogyra. There are formidable drum patterns in the later sections that are highly effective and should be heard loud to feel the full power. An astounding piece of music, very enjoyable, makes you feel happy and is sunny listening.

Slofunk is another fine piece and one that shows the fine bass playing of Ernest Tibbs, fine groove playing with sweet guitar from Ray and the keyboards of Dennis Hamm. It’s followed by the fast-paced V8 which powers along very nicely with a muscular beat and some great drum fills, showing Simon’s skills to good effect.

Rather marvellous all told, this is followed by two alternative mixes of Streetwise and Protocol, both with significant differences; Streetwise has more fiery guitar whilst Protocol is more percussive to start and with a slightly faster pace, the guitar line more accentuated to great effect.

Next come three solo drum pieces, Wall Street parts 1, 2 & 3, which are undoubtedly skilful and well-executed, but unless you’re a drummer they’re not staggeringly interesting. The only drum solos I really enjoy are those from Rush’s Neal Peart, these leave me a bit cold somehow. Like Ginger Baker’s solos, they’re good but not very entertaining.

So that’s the first disc, disc two opens with Protocol 2, which opens with the instrumental Wildfire, where it becomes clear that the band members have changed. Gone is Ray Russell, replaced by Andy Timmons, and out goes Dennis Hamm, replaced by Steve Weingart. Ernest Tibbs remains and once again Simon has selected very good musical companions for this journey. The first track is very good indeed, with fine guitar lines throughout. The tracks on this album are longer, around the 8-minute mark in several cases, and this allows the band to stretch out a bit more with some tasty playing, especially from Timmons who reveals himself to be a very tasteful soloist on tracks like Gemini, which is a real guitar classic.

This is a very good fusion album, superior in every way to the first and a really good listen. I particularly like the guitars throughout. Next up is Moments of Fortune, another longer track with a very good guitar introduction. Timmons’ playing is really hot, no wonder he’s part of Guitar World‘s roster of muso’s/writers. He is like a less showy fusion version of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, a very melodic player with the right degree of chops. He is, of course, backed by the formidable and muscular rhythm section of Simon Phillips and Ernest Tibbs, plus the fine keys of Steve Weingart. This is accomplished music that grows in stature with every listen.

Upside in Downside has some good wah-wah guitar lines and great Rhodes playing from Steve Weingart alongside Phillips’ tasteful drumming. First Orbit follows, opening with shuffling beat and guitar lines with more gentle keyboards, is a far more atmospheric track and one that works well, tasteful guitar exhibited throughout. Octopia is shorter and more pop-orientated, but no less enjoyable with its rather chirpy keyboards taking the main riff. Enigma is the album’s longest track, clocking in at over 9-minutes. Again it’s very strong, showing the skill and versatility of these players and why they are so highly regarded amongst fellow musicians. More glorious guitar and keyboards parts abound in this epic track, another that will make you smile. It also features another great solo section from Andy Timmons, shredding wildly and duelling with Steve Weingart’s keyboards to fine effect. All in all, a spectacular piece of music, probably the highlight of the album.

An exceptional album of fine jazz fusion which leads us to disc three, Protocol 3, which features the same line-up as Protocol 2. This stability pays dividends as the album carries on the fine music displayed in Protocol 2, opening with the very fine Narmada, with its funky guitar parts and great solos. Timmons is again on fire, mixing choppy rhythm parts and solo lines with great dexterity.

Imaginary Ways is another blinder, great guitar and brooding basslines move it along with taste and style, which leads on to a very interesting and different track, Outlaw, opening with AC/DC-like guitar chords. Andy shows great feeling and expression here, the rhythm style works well with the syncopation laid down by Simon, and you can hear the cowbell in the mix beautifully. A fine piece with great drum fills throughout.

Catalyst opens with keyboards before guitar comes in over the top with an interesting rhythm and taking the main riff, Andy’s fiery guitar well displayed. Certainly, between the previous album and this one, his playing has got a whole lot hotter and more inspired somehow, maybe the live work the band undertook lit a fire under him. Whatever it may be, it’s a joy to hear his great shredding on this album, tasteful and fitting the music rather than being mere ‘fretwankery’ like many other widdly-widdly exponents; there is restraint at play here, alongside the fire.

Amrita is another longer piece, with gentler melody lines played by Andy and Steve, followed by Circle Seven, again longer with more fluid guitar from Andy, who is proving himself to be a very underrated and melodious player of rare taste and style. You Can’t But You Can follows, slower and more groove-led, again giving space for expressive guitar and atmospheric keyboards, alongside the steady walk of the bass and the drums, revealing a simply gorgeous track. Finally, Undercover, opening with Simon playing his floor toms, moving to snare with keyboards brought in with piercing guitar notes. Another long track with great dynamics and more fine guitar lines, this piece has a real sense of urgency and proves to be a great finale to what is a most remarkable album.

[To be continued…HERE]

CD 1

01. Streetwise
02. Red Rocks
03. Protocol
04. Slofunk
05. V8
06. Two Socks
07. Outback
08. Harlem Nights
09. Cosmos
10. Force Majeure
11. Wall Street, pt.1
12. Wall Street, pt.2
13. Wall Street, pt.3

CD 2
01. Wildfire
02. Soothsayer
03. Gemini
04. Moments of Fortune
05. Upside in Downside Up
06. First Orbit
07. Octopia
08. Enigma

CD 3
01. Narmada
02. Imaginary Ways
03. Outlaw
04. Catalyst
05. Amrita
06. Circle Seven
07. You Can’t But You Can
08. Undercover

[Discs 4 to 6 are covered in Part Two of this article, HERE.]

Simon Phillips – Drums & Percussion
Andy Timmons – Guitar (disc 2 & 3)
Ray Russell – Guitar (disc 1)
Dennis Hamm – Keyboards (disc 1)
Steve Weingart – Keyboards discs 2 & 3)
Ernest Tibbs – Electric Bass

Record Label: Phantom Recordings
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 12th April 2019

Simon Phillips – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here:

Quite a while ago, I noticed that the quite wonderful London based chamber rock group North Sea Radio Orchestra plus guests were performing a live version of Rock Bottom, the 1974 first post-accident solo album from the now British National Treasure otherwise known as Robert Wyatt, for Italian and French audiences. This seemed like a marvellous prospect, and I awaited an appearance of this iteration on these benighted shores with unseemly anticipation. When the date of the London gig was announced, as is the way with these things, it inevitably coincided with your humble scribe being away on his holidays. To say I was a tad disappointed would be akin to the feeling Michael Collins must have had when told he was staying in the tin can. Well, okay, maybe not that devastated, but you get my drift.

As no-one else from the TPA not-so-Massive was at the gig, it would be remiss of our august journal not to pass comment on this momentous musical happening, and luckily for us and you all, the group recorded their take on this landmark record, complemented by four more tracks from across the career of one of Great Britain’s finest musical innovators.

I am sure all of you who have read this far will be well aware of the gestation of the original album, an musical landmark, a lot of which was written prior to Wyatt’s life-changing accident on 1st July 1973, belying the often incorrect assumption that the deeply personal lyrics of loss, yearning and love flowed as a direct result of the author’s alcohol aided plunge from a third floor window at a party on that fateful date, that left him paralysed from the waist down.

As is the case with all cover versions, a band or solo performer has to put their own stamp on the original, especially one as known and revered as this, otherwise, what is the point? North Sea Radio Orchestra plus their guests John Greaves, Annie Barbazza, and William D. Drake certainly do this, and then some. As Robert Wyatt himself has said: “These musicians have really grasped what the songs are about, but at the same time created an entirely fresh way of putting the music together.” Recorded live, and superbly mixed and mastered by Alberto Callegari at Elfo Recording Studios, Tavernago, Italy during the “Musiche Nuove a Piacenza Festival” in November 2018, the sound is simply stunning.

Craig Fortnam’s arrangements and instrumentation are by necessity more full, intricate perhaps, than the original, but manage to retain the fragility and power of Wyatt’s defining art rock statement while adding their own unique instrumental embellishments, courtesy of the chamber-rock set up of NSRO. Annie Barbazza’s fantastic range does fine justice to Robert Wyatt’s emotive poetry, and the melancholy of Sea Song, and the urgency of Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road remain, all fed through the enhanced NSRO filter. Throughout the album, you can feel the emotion seeping through the zeros and ones and out the speakers, and I defy anyone to listen to this album and not be moved.

Long-time Wyatt collaborator John Greaves, although not on the original record, is deeply musically connected to its creator, and his left-field pop inclinations make him an obvious choice to aid this interpretation, and fittingly it is John’s voice that takes on Ivor Cutler’s surreal spoken word outro on the final track, Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road.

Of the bonus tracks, Craig Fortnam takes the vocal on Wyatt’s best-known number in the wider world, written for him by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer. This version of Shipbuilding retains the despairing lament of the original, and Craig’s London inflected tones connect it to Robert’s original plaintive take. Its anti-war sentiment is as true today as ever, we never learn from history. John Greaves’ vocal on a heartfelt O Caroline, replete with altered lyrics offering a nice compliment to its writer, is a suitable end to an uplifting and joyous album, easily a contender for my Album of The Year.

Finally, a word on the sumptuous vinyl pressing, which with its multi-fold out cover and glorious artwork serves to underline the fact that the 12-inch vinyl record and its attendant cover art is, when produced with the obvious love and care of this package, the ultimate aesthetic expression of music as art. And it sounds bloody great! You can keep your lossless digital files in the bland anonymity of your hard drive or tinny little mobile device, and smoke them.

01. Sea Song (5:54)
02. A Last Straw (5:27)
03. Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road (5:04)
04. Alifib (7:45)
05. Alifie (5:19)
06. Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road (5:18)
~ Bonus tracks:
07. The British Road (6:25)
08. Maryan (5:41)
09. Shipbuilding (4:47)
10. O Caroline (5:09)

Total Time – 54:49

Annie Barbazza – Lead Vocal, Farfisa Organ
John Greaves – Bass Guitar, Vocal (tracks 4 & 11) | Spoken Word (tracks 3,5 & 6)
Nicky Baigent – Bb Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Spoken Word (track 5)
Luke Crookes – Bassoon
William D. Drake – Piano, Farfisa Organ, Vocal (tracks 2,3 & 5)
Harry Escott – Cello
Craig Fortnam – Guitar, Farfisa Organ, Vocal (tracks 7 & 9)
Tommaso Franguelli – Vibes, Percussion
Cheb Nettles – Drums
Laurent Valero – Violin, Viola, Recorder, Bass Recorder

Record Label: Dark Companion
Catalogue#: DC012
Date of Release: 17th May 2019

NSRO – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
John Greaves – Website
Annie Barbazza – Facebook
Distributors: Ma.Ra.Cash | Bandcamp

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The Norwegian powerhouse trio Elephant9, after releasing five studio albums, take the opportunity to document their live experience, with not just one but two special releases. The act of releasing live albums often instigates debate about the purpose, with comments that it never captures the true excitement and it’s just a money-making exercise, etc. There is also another side of the debate: which live album is the greatest. There are lots of thoughts about this, but there does seem to be a consensus that maybe Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, Hawkwind’s Space Ritual and Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous are up there as the top examples. Now here is my personal, perhaps, controversial view: these two albums must rank up there with these classics in terms of capturing the live experience of this particular band.

Elephant9 have gathered a great reputation in their native Norway for providing thrilling, exciting and truly skilful live gigs, their aim here is to capture that and present a live document for all to hear. They have chosen to release Psychedelic Backfire as a pair of albums, the first is the band itself, demonstrating the power of their trio set up, and the second features guest guitarist Reine Fiske to add an extra dimension to what they do. The band booked a four-day residency at the intimate venue Kampen Bistro in Oslo, Fiske invited along to play at two of the nights. These albums were taken from the four nights with no overdubs, repairs or edits, a “warts and all” recording, not that you would notice with these skilful live players. The albums were later mixed by another trusted collaborator, Christian Engfelt.

The power and the interplay between the musicians is mesmerising, drawing you into their musical world, with forthright keyboards provided by Stale supported by great drum work from Torstein and some wonderful and notable bass by Nikolai, it kind of grabs you and gives you a good shaking. The audience noise is kept to a minimum so we get to enjoy the music, but you are able to feel the electricity and excitement in the room as the concert unfolds, they bring the power, enthusiasm and energy of their live performance to the recording, at times as a listener, you get the feeling of being there. That I believe is the real success of a live album, if you can achieve that you must be on to a winner.

Psychedelic Backfire I opens with a twelve-minute tour de force, I Cover the Mountain Top; it begins with a gentle interplay between the keyboards and the bass, playing off and complementing each other before they are joined by subtle drums. The whole thing grows and gradually builds with increasing power, so much so that you never become aware of the song’s length. The trio provide a solid bedrock for the music, each complementing the other, each creating space, but that space being filled when necessary in an almost telepathic interplay. The second track, Farmer’s Secret, follows before you can get your breath back with excellent bass work to start, drums and keyboards joining in, and then the song goes off at a skilful and enjoyable speed.

Habanera Rocket begins with a bass and drum shuffle, keyboards adding textures over the top, gradually gathering momentum in what is, at 18 minutes, the longest song on the album. The bass develops this hypnotic rhythm as subtle changes in the drum patterns drive the song forward, the discipline of the players is superb. At six and a half minutes the rhythm and pace pick up again, the keys becoming more intense, almost frantic. Towards the end, sonic textures and sounds stab out here and there before settling back into the outro, leaping straight into the next song. The drive, excitement and interest continue for a further three songs and the album closes after seventy-one very enjoyable minutes.

After the first top-quality live album, how could you beat that? Well, the guys add renowned guitarist Reine Fiske to provide different tones and textures and pull it off again. Psychedelic Backfire II consists of only four tracks over sixty-two minutes; we get one cover version, a repeat of a track covered as the trio, a follow-up companion piece and the tour de force final track. The interplay between Reine and Ståle is excellent, with extremely important contributions from Nikolai and Torstein going to create another superb example of their live show.

The opener is a cover of Stevie Wonder’s You are the Sunshine of My Life, in a style you may have never heard before, an interesting and absorbing listen. Skink / Fugi Fønix follows, a full-on version with Reine’s touches making it interesting to compare to the version on the first album, both are excellent and it’s near impossible to choose between them. The third track is Habanera Rocket 2, here the drum shuffle is supported by up-front keyboards, Reine adding subtle guitar textures and the bass begins its hypnotic rhythm. A few minutes shorter than its namesake on CD 1, but just as interesting and exciting, the tempo picks up gradually throughout the song reaching a crescendo for the ending.

As you try again to get your breath back they launch into the final and longest track on this album, Freedom’s Children/John Tinnick. They open up and take a full-throttle approach, but remain tight, never losing their control, yet another excellent example of their live prowess.

This is a wonderful listening experience, so immersive that you forget that it’s live, such is the quality of the playing, the energy and enthusiasm jumping out of the speakers at you. If you have not heard this band before I urge you to investigate, I don’t think you will be disappointed, I certainly wasn’t. Indeed these albums are added to my albums of the year list. Yes I know it’s a live album, but its quality, pure quality.

CD 1

01. I Cover the Mountain Top (12:06)
02. Farmer’s Secret (7:20)
03. Habanera Rocket (18:00)
04. Skink / Fugl Fønix (13:22)
05. Actionpack1 (9:20)
06. Dodovoodoo (11:12)

Time – 71:20

CD 2
01. You are the Sunshine of My life (14:11)
02. Skink / Fugl Fønix (14:05)
03. Habanera Rocket 2 (15:19)
04. Freedom’s Children/John Tinnick (18:46)

Time – 62:21

Total Time – 133:41

Ståle Storløkken – Hammond, Rhodes, Minimoog, Mellotron
Nikolai Eilertsen – Electric Bass
Torstein Lofthus – Drums
Special Guest:
Reine Fiske – Electric Guitar (Disc 2)

Record Label: Rune Grammofon
Catalogue#: CD I: RCD2206/RLP32, CD II: RCD2207/RLP3207
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 7th June 2019

Elephant9 – Facebook

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Music tightly bound to the term Progressive Rock often shows the tendency of sounding generic. The same old Mellotron thickening curvy harmonies, a syncopated 7/8 meter driving down the same old lanes toward a dramatic chorus or a complex hook performed in unison by guitar and keyboard breaking out into thick canonic layers are only some of the ingredients that have been used and recycled time and time again. Throughout their career, New Jersey-based The Tea Club have been able to avoid tapping into these clichés, but rather continue to repeatedly surpass their own achievements, not by reinventing their sound, but by steadily improving on what was original, compelling and completely their own to begin with. The unique guitar work and vocal harmonies performed by the brothers and leaders of the band, Patrick and Daniel McGowan, are only some of the unique traits, that leave the group standing out as one of the most original in today’s landscape. On If/When, they’ve further refined their style and tie together their leanings towards the dissonant with engagingly melodic choruses and humbly hide the virtuoso nature of their playing in structures that are proof of sophistication without giving up on their adventurous spirit.

The title’s play on confronting the seemingly synonymous conjunctions if and when serves as the main concept of the record and can be traced across the album all the way to the cover art, which puts the dichotomy between shell and anatomy of man on display. Like the cover painting, the setlist can be interpreted as a binary division as well: the first represented by a chain of six shorter and more immediate cuts, the last by one single long track with a running time of just under half an hour, carrying the existentially human title Creature. One could argue, however, that it only is a long track for symbolic reasons, for the compositional structure of the song reveals a mirror of the first half of the record and could just as well have been divided into smaller portions. Here, little musical quotes and imitations introduced before, are found sprinkled between the measures.

On the purely musical side of things, The Tea Club picks things up where they left off on 2015’s Grappling but incorporate a further acoustic layer that evokes the subtlety of Folk music. In a highly dynamic production, arguably inspired by the organic sound of the early ’70s, intricate acoustic textures are met by electronic walls to a synergetic effect that channels vast energies. The more or less straight forward rocker Say Yes cuts through the afore introduced folky guitar-driven opener The Way You Call like a puddle of neutrons and protons in a game of tug-a-war. Echoes of 2012’s harsher sounding Quickly Quickly Quickly surface before the title track If I Mean When calms the waters and introduces what may be The Tea Club’s most melancholic ballad to date. It follows up the densely packed Say Yes like a breath of fresh air and sees the band presenting their strongest features in a compact way. Elegant acoustic guitars guide subtle yet gripping vocal harmonies at the core of this picture and make for a catchy chorus that can’t help but stick.

The six-minute-long gloomy crescendo that is Riverman brings back the calculated aggression before Came At A Loss revives what seemed like the lost art of a gently swinging folk song in 6/8. As the title suggests, melancholia is back on the table and might leave the listener in a slightly bewildered state of mind before Sinking Ship takes care of the rest. Another ballad in a similar spirit as the title track, Sinking Ship sees the piano take up the leading role and together with percussive drumming and guitar work create a dreamily atmospheric soundscape. Like on most songs here, the progressive nature of the music doesn’t dominate the surface but lies within the elaborate harmonies and intricate details hidden at every turn – here for example represented by electric guitar patterns that alternate between a staccato in quarter sextuplets and straight forward eights.

The Creature is both the opener of the second half of the record as well as the closing piece on the album. Many different currents and streams unfold throughout the composition, much like the flow of a long and winding river. In between mostly pastoral and symphonic sections of epic proportions, The Tea Club insert some electro-acoustical play, reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s solo ventures, before departing into a raging fit, brimming with fuzz and distortion. They come out on the other side, only to end up where they began: “The way you call, as if I don’t already know…”.

In what concerns the lyrical aspect of the record, much contemplation and reflection on society, existence and, consequently, coexistence can be traced in, as well as between, the lines – some hopeful, most discouraging to the point of despair, sometimes even anger. What a gift The Tea Club have, to be able to channel these troubling thoughts into something so beautiful and wholesome. An outstanding and emotionally expansive recording by a band that deserves the widest audience possible, regardless of the term Progressive Rock or any other category for that matter.

01. The Way You Call (2:39)
02. Say Yes (4:12)
03. If I Mean When (4:21)
04. Rivermen (6:35)
05. Came At A Loss (4:19)
06. Sinking Ship (3:17)
07. Creature (27:45)

Total Time – 53:08

Daniel McGowan – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Vocals
Patrick McGowan – Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin
Joe Dorsey – Keyboards
Jamie Wolff – Bass
Dan Monda – Drums, Percussion

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 30th July 2019

The Tea Club – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

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Since the dawning of the new millennium, Christian Vander has been quite content to rest on his laurels, only re-entering the studio to re-record pieces that never made it to the studio back in the ’70s (and even some that were; see 2014’s re-imagining of Rïah Sahïltaahk). Not counting Rïah Sahïltaahk or 2015’s Slaǧ Tanƶ, this is actually the fourth Magma studio album to come out since the turn of the century, with Vander leisurely going into the Magma archives to bring out an ancient relic every few years.

While the age of the pieces recorded ensures the listener that they will indeed be listening to ‘classic’ Magma, there is a problem about releasing old music this way; you’re always going to want to release your best, most sellable stuff first, and leave the worst until later. That certainly seems to be how things have gone since 2004’s K.A, a breathtaking album that rivals Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh as Magma’s magnum opus. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré, released five years later, was brooding and intense but not essential, basically a mish-mash of different ideas from the ’70s, including the excellent Hhaï. Félicité Thösz was a bit of a weirder one for Magma, with many moving parts and lyrics, never really letting the music flow.

And then we come to Zëss. If Félicité Thösz has too many moving parts, Zëss is at the other extreme. Vander has long used minimalism to great effect throughout the Magma catalogue, but Zëss sees him push the concept to its very limits. Five of the album’s seven interlinked ‘tracks’ see the group simply play the same two chords over and over while four feature the same repetitive yet irregular drumbeat played by – *gasp* – not Vander! In his place, quite unexpectedly, is Morgan Ågren from Kaipa and Devin Townsend’s band. If you’re more into complex, intricately written progressive rock, this album may push the boundaries of your patience, but that’s not to say the magical Magma formula isn’t in there somewhere.

Though it’s listed on the packaging as one 38-minute track, Zëss is actually partitioned into seven neatly divided sections, some of which share the same melody and rhythm. The introductory piece Ẁöhm Dëhm Zeuhl Stadium is dominated by piano and choral vocals, with space for Vander to orate in Kobaïan. This introduction might have more impact if it didn’t feel like a carbon copy of Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré Part 1. Both of these prologues seem to go on far too long, with the seemingly sole purpose of delaying the gratification of the meat of the track, with no recognisable themes heard elsewhere in each respective piece of music. Both pieces also abruptly and gracelessly just lead into the second part of the song, as if to say “OK, we’re ready to play now”. Similarities with Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré end here.

Da Zeuhl Ẁortz Dëhm Ẁrëhntt begins the musical pattern that you’ll hear repeated for the next 26 minutes with few interruptions. The first six of these minutes features something unusual: Vander speaking a language other than Kobaïan; French as it turns out. Already this seems like a betrayal of the Magma formula, but the fact that Vander chooses to continue in French for a full six minutes proves he’s doubled down on the decision. The English translation is provided in the CD booklet. It’s only in Dï Ẁööhr Spracer that he thankfully switches back to Kobaïan. As he further orates, we begin to hear swells from the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, which is possibly the best thing about this record. As Dï Ẁööhr Spracer draws to a close, we hear a brief eleven-second interlude which shakes the listener awake as the first interruption in the pattern after eleven minutes.

If you make it as far as Streüm Ündëts Ẁëhëm, you’ll find the earworm that will ultimately keep you coming back to this album; “Ëhmëhmöh nëhmëhsïn”. It’s just a line or two of Kobaïan, but it’s just so damn catchy. The next six minutes are devoted to the orchestra, who seem to bloom and blossom naturally over the pulsating rhythm. It’s rather busy, but captivating nonetheless. Zëss Mahntëhr Kantöhm brings back that earworm to make sure it’s fully planted in your brain. With more vocals, including the female voices heard at the beginning, this seems to be the most structured part of the repeated pattern, and plays like many a Magma tune heard in the past. The final two minutes of this part see some deviation away from the repeated pattern, rewarding the listener for their patience.

Zï Ïss Ẁöss Stëhëm features the same tempo but a more syncopated rhythm, almost as if to begin a dance. Female chants of “Sanctus sanctus” are heard under Vander’s Kobaïan scats until something truly bizarre happens: the chants are followed up by “Ϊëzüsz krïstüsz”. This is quite the game-changer and once again made me sit up in my seat. Is Vander really suggesting that the folk from the planet Kobaïa really worship Jesus… sorry Ϊëzüsz of Nazareth? Maybe this is the piece of the puzzle that Magma fans have needed all along to prove Kobaïans originally came from Earth. Songs that feature religious figures by name have always been iffy with me, and it’s why I’ve steered clear of Neal Morse’s solo career altogether.

With that controversial shocker out the way, the main portion of Zëss builds to a climactic finish, giving way to Dümgëhl Blaö, a surprisingly relaxing piece in a major key which appears to represent a slowly setting sun. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the word “Om” is featured heavily, once again bringing an Earth religion to Kobaïa, this time Hinduism. If anything, this just confuses matters further! While the piece is calming after the mounting tension of the previous half-hour, the call and response vocal parts are a little cringeworthy in places. As the singers chant “Om”, the piece slides away into nothingness.

The French subtitle of Zëss is ‘Le Jour de Néant’, literally “The Day of Nothingness”, and it can certainly feel like nothing is going on for large portions of this minimalistic work. Elsewhere, Vander makes questionable choices about the Kobaïa mythology in the lyrics and doesn’t even use Kobaïan to narrate in the first half. It borrows heavily from previous Magma exercises and yet manages to do less than any of them. Heck, let’s not forget that Vander doesn’t even unleash his drumming prowess on this record!

Despite all this, I actually quite enjoy Zëss in the right circumstances. If you’re trying to focus on work, the piece demands very little attention whilst keeping your brain active and actually seems to fly by. The way the piece builds slowly is actually pretty effective with more layers of sound introduced over a very long period of time. And the Kobaïan lyrics are so darn catchy that you’ll be singing along after just a couple of listens. Somehow, despite all the flawed aspects, it works. It doesn’t hold a candle to Magma’s masterworks, but it doesn’t need to. It’s perfectly content occupying its own space in the discography and still holds that classic Magma lustre. I would say that it’s well worth checking out the live version of this piece played in 1981 at breakneck tempo; this energised version may not feature an orchestra, but it might be truer to Vander’s earlier vision for the piece.

01. Ẁöhm Dëhm Zeuhl Stadium (4:55)
02. Da Zeuhl Ẁortz Dëhm Ẁrëhntt (6:22)
03. Dï Ẁööhr Spracer (5:12)
04. Streüm Ündëts Ẁëhëm (6:05)
05. Zëss Mahntëhr Kantöhm (8:09)
06. Zï Ïss Ẁöss Stëhëm (3:16)
07. Dümgëhl Blaö (3:59)

Total Time – 37:54

Christian Vander – Solo Vocals
Stella Vander – Solo Vocals, Vocals
Morgan Ågren – Drums
Simon Goubert – Piano
Philippe Bussonnet – Bass
Rudy Blas – Guitar
~ With:
Isabelle Feuillebois – Vocals
Hervé Aknin – Vocals
Julie Vander – Vocals
Sandrine Destafanis – Vocals
Sylvie Fisichella – Vocals
Laura Guarrato – Vocals
Marcus Linon – Vocals
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Adam Klemens

Record Label: Seventh Records
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 28th June 2019

Magma – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

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It’s been a long long time, hasn’t it? A good couple of years, which saw Emma Brewin-Caddy working with Cantor Semper in the hiatus. A close harmony group with musical accompaniment, in my view, and very nice it is too. Daniel Zambas has been accumulating keyboards and taking on work, leading to him now being in residence in La Belle France. Gary Boast has been parenting with child number one, and all the trials and tribulations that come with that. Good luck, there is no escape. And somewhere on that timeline, We Are Kin have put together album three.

We Are Kin are progressive, subtly changing yet moving forward and not leaving the fan base behind. There are no guitars on this album, which is as involved and interesting as before. Emma’s voice is at the core, and it seems stronger, more controlled. The keys paint the background, giving our vocalist a textured surface. Music to hang in the Tate.

There are seven tracks, but no waste. Economical, you might think, but the rich contents, like one of those nouveau dishes, is pretty on the plate, still leaving you hungry for more. Circles is the first song, setting the tone for a collection that appears to be about regret, unrequited love and hope, however, the digestion of the music doesn’t leave you feeling sad. From the electronic spectrum, We Are Kin remind me of so many, Daniel clearly loving his keyboard toys. Circles starts with the welcoming of a machine, but without the sounds of Portishead, The Cinematic Orchestra and a number of others that fall below the surface waters of progressive and exist in the realm of chill.

This moment is late morning in an Airbnb in St. Ives; the sea is calm, the sun shines and everything seems right. Other hearings have been in the car, late-night, and rubber duck time. The album fits every place; the voice soulful, the backing just right.

The Fawn flips back to opening with the once old faithful, now presumably easier played, backward recording. Simple but effective percussion provides the back-beat as the track layers. Just lie back, close your eyes and enjoy as eight minutes seem like only a couple have passed.

Two tracks have passed in a blink of the eye, headphones sought as The Cure, courtesy of this years Glastonbury, vie for airspace – great music, wrong place. Probably an apt time, synchronicity as Leave Me Be is third up; headphones, focusing on the moment, cooking on gas. There is just the right level of sustain on the vocal without it becoming a wailing Whitney. In an all-out wrestle between The Fawn and Leave Me Be, the second half of Leave… wins hands down. I hope that the geographic distances We Are Kin now experience do not have a detrimental effect on the quality of their compositions.

The title track is marvellous, a deceptively simple melody, nothing is broken here, and as suggested by the lyrics it flies. A short track at 4:11, but just right.

I Won’t Go Back is beautiful, although I wonder if the other instruments could have stepped back behind the vocalist here as, at times, they do seem in combat rather than the harmony that is the strength of this album. A personal preference, and when placed in context with sentiment and lyrics, what difference could it have made? It doesn’t detract from my pleasure, I just feel the voice should have been more.

Nothing More, for all the laying of sound and rhythm, the core is that voice, highlighted in the bridge where all that accompanies is a ticking clock and a piano. Listening at 3:30 am, it’s as much heaven as it was at 3:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon. Pair this in a chill-out session with Grice’s One Thousand Birds and heaven will be complete.

Seven tracks and my time of listening will have been far too brief, this is music that needs to be heard as widely as possible. Paper Boat starts in radio playback mode, hints of static piercing the night air, sliding almost imperceptively into full sound on playback. The longest track, it exhibits several changes of direction, and by the proverbial country mile is the most progressive as we listen to experimental layer upon layer.

Daniel et al have not failed on Bruised Sky. It holds true to the path of the band, even when the vistas they create are unexpected. Year-end lists are becoming more and more difficult as so much good music, both in the traditional expectation and, like this, new progressive material comes out. How will I select my albums of the year? I can see that We Are Kin will continue, I look forward to the fourth (with some of the upbeat material that I’ve seen live!), and have no problem in saying that this album is essential to me, and I believe you may love it too. I have offered up favourites, but at different times they all are; lean back, relax, enjoy.

01. Circles (8:14)
02. The Fawn (5:55)
03. Leave Me Be (6:57)
04. Bruised Sky (4:11)
05. I Won’t Go Back (5:22)
06. Nothing More (6:13)
07. Paper Boat (10:33)

Total Time – 47:25

Daniel Zambas – Keyboards
Emma Brewin-Caddy – Voice
Gary Boast – Drums and Sound
Lee Braddock – Bass
Alex Dunedin – Lyrics

Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 12th July 2019

We Are Kin – Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

You called…?

Hey Weirdo! is the strangely gentle and gently strange second album from multi-national outfit Loomings, now based in Strasbourg. The album arrives a mere four years after their debut, which was on the now seemingly sadly defunct AltrOck label. This one is independently released, and continues the subtle meanderings through a displaced Canterbury via Europe endless. Less forceful than its predecessor, it exudes an easy confidence where Everyday Mythology maybe tried just a little too hard to impress.

Led by drummer, programmer, singer, and composer Jacopo Costa, these beguiling tunes will send you off into a state of bliss, an audio massage for those with an appreciation of the strange art of contrapuntal rhythms and left-field songcraft.

After the short a cappella intro, we are into The Slap, a tale of sexual jealousy delivered in a slightly Zappaesque fashion, multi-vocal parts carrying out a conversation atop jazz-inflected finger-poppin’ rhythms and sonorous vibes conveyed by synths and piano. Elsewhere we have a list on the failings of religion, the crazy pace of modern living, and love as an addiction. And we’re only halfway through the album.

The two female intertwined voices, with the occasional addition of Jacopo Costa’s narrations and harmonies, provide an extra layer of instrumentation. In fact, they are the main focus of attention throughout. The mini-choir serves to relay the well thought out lyrics, which, considering they were written in Jacopo’s second language put many native English lyricists to shame.

When the multi-faceted keyboard-led instrumentation (there’s is no six-string guitar on this album) does breakthrough, as towards the end of the beguilingly odd Hypnotic, we are shown how this band are no slouches in the technical department. A special mention must be made of Jacopo’s rhythm twin, bassist Nicholas Klee, who plays the many seemingly bewilderingly complex runs with the ease of a lounge band four-stringer playing a 12-bar.

The sudden and, up to this point, atypical agitation of the title track awakes one from the pick-up bar called Cerchi at the corner of Hatfield and Zappa. Multi-part vocals are driven by insistent rhythms and bubbling bass in a way that will have you twitching those reversible thumb joints.

Hey Weirdo! is a fine album that is well worthy of your attention.

“Kid, don’t worry, that’s OK, go your way, hear me saying,
I like your style and to me you’re OK, go your way, go on
Hey weirdo! Hey weirdo!”

That’s the spirit, you tell ’em. Non-conformity is the new normal ’round here, and that’s what keeps me sane in these surreal and dangerous times.

01. listen (0:20)
02. The Slap (6:28)
03. All Hail (6:19)
04. Sick Notes (3:51)
05. The High Bar (4:03)
06. Hypnotic (7:50)
07. To and Fro (4:07)
08. Cerchi (4:03)
09. Hey Weirdo! (4:42)
10. Stratification (2:51)
11. Wonder and Delusion (7:37)

Total Time – 52:13

Maria Denami – Vocals
Clara Weil – Vocals
Matthieu Mazué – Electric Piano, Grand Piano, Synth, Electric Organ
Nicolas Klee – Electric & Acoustic Bass, Bass Synth
Enrico Pedicone – Drums, Vibes, Electronics, Samples
Jacopo Costa – Vibes, Drums, Samples, Programming, Vocals
~ Guest Musicians:
Bertrand Eber – Trumpet
Nicolas Jean – Trombone
JB Juszczak – Alto sax
Paul Schwartz – Tenor sax
Rémi Psaume – Baritone sax

Record Label: Soleil Mutant
Country of Origin: Multi-national
Date of Release: 4th May 2019

Loomings – Facebook | Bandcamp