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Italian band Kingcrow, from Anguillara Sabazia near Lake Bracciano and the ancient capital of Rome, release The Persistence in September, a wonderful return to the power and majesty of their Phlegethon album, which originally peaked my interest back in 2010.

‘Persistence’ is the perfect title for this album, the band’s musical and lyrical growth evident as they continue to mature fast, and gather deserved success. Kingcrow have been working hard to have their music enjoyed globally, their recognition and popularity increasing via several European tours, including as support to Swedish prog metal band Pain of Salvation, with whom they’ll touring again through August and September of 2018, and a show at Prog Power USA in Atlanta in 2012.

The songs on The Persistence were written by Diego Cafolla with lyrics Diego Marchesi. Drenched opens the album with soft, warm keys, falling like drops of rain… then… the Thundrastorm roars! “Embrace the rain!” Kingcrow is back! Thundra Cafolla’s drums rock the airwaves as Diego Cafolla and Ivan Nastasi’s trademark dual guitar onslaught takes over the stage. Cristian Della Polla’s keys continue their march, as Marchesi’s first vocals enter the soundscape, “Stay with me! Let’s play a game. Forget what you think you have done before! Follow me. Embrace the rain. And feel the drops falling on you… weightless!” Marchesi sings like he is standing on a hill above Lake Bracciano, “Now it makes its way. A different seed, from the branches of the same old tree. Its calling you!” Be persistent! Resist the past… move forward… progress. It’s one of the best songs on the album, and that I have heard this year. The musical explosion that occurs is excellent; dual guitars, with bass, power drums and beautiful intermittent keys. A symphony of rock. Somehow Marchesi rises above it all, “Long awaited answers, from a sky that tells no lies!” It’s good to have Kingcrow back.

Closer opens with some cool keys from Della Polla, a very underrated keyboardist who deserves more credit globally. Often keyboardists get lost in heavier prog/metal bands, fortunately Kingcrow respects the need for well delivered keys in their music. Della Polla has always been innovative with his work, however on The Persistence he takes it to another level. This song is a great example. Cafolla and Nastasi’s dual guitar attacks are what most Kingcrow fans anticipate, and they always deliver, as on this track. Marchesi’s vocals return to the power of Phlegethon; “Call me again in your mind. Shuffling of bare feet at night into the unknown”. Yes, the writing continues to improve immeasurably. Just gripping. “Day after day we get closer” – and so they do.

Everything Goes opens with Marchesi centre stage, and he fills it with deep lyrics and great singing; “Your hands again upon the ground. Falling rain for hours and hours. As you learn the game”, surrounded by Della Polla’s keys and Thundra’s percussion. It is a very memorable moment. Guitars are added to the mix as Thundra provides accommodating percussion. Marchesi sings, “If you have a raging fever you are about to turn the page!” And they do – deep keys and synths, with piano, before Marchesi adds, “We know nothing in the end. From wherever you begin”. Heavy drums, excellent synths and powerful lead and bass guitars fill the soundscape leaving you speechless. Three songs in and this album is both a keeper and contender for Album of the Year.

Folding Paper Dreams features cool keys with drums support. Marchesi sings, “Coming to the end of this lucid dream. Void of sound. Near the shore”. The keyboards rise and become more prominent, Thundra’s perfectly placed cymbals, and then that Kingcrow rising growl of guitars and drums, a trademark of their sound, takes over with a rush of wild abandon. Marchesi roars like he is in the middle of a windstorm created by the swarming and whirling guitars. This song will be great to watch live. Marchesi finishes the song with a lone vocal, “Folding paper dreams, what is left of us, still resound”, before a soft guitar solo.

The title track has some of Della Polla’s best keys. It is my favourite song, and for me the most powerful. With the lyrics and the performances, from end to end it is dynamic, another of the best songs of the year. Marchesi almost yells, “Plant your foot down. And brace yourself for the waves! Do not get overwhelmed. Never… ending… struggle to keep it in line. And sail!” Yes, never surrender! Like a Rush power surge full of energy, the guitar work and hammering drums would be excellent to see live. “I won’t stop. Straight ahead!” They finish it with ELO, Mr. Blue Sky keys, almost bringing tears to your eyes.

The keys that open and close Every Broken Piece of Me are wonderful, but this is Marchesi’s vocal show; “Waiting in the cold for me to arrive. My undernourished dreams, they want a piece of me”. Thundra’s drums console, as slow picked electric guitar sets an eerie mood. They have learned to frame their music well, like Rush and Dream Theater of old. That ocean wave keyboard sound is just spectacular in the song’s mid-section, the guitar work is unique and precise. They smash open the soundscape with thundering drums, bass and electric guitars burning everywhere. The rising keys above this commotion are fantastic, Della Polla’s echoing keyboard full of bass to conclude.

Devil’s Got A Picture is full of solo lead electric guitar at the opening, then Thundra’s drums join in. Marchesi sings, “Memorizing glimpses of everything that stands. Hanging from the ceiling. Of my very own hell”. There are those awesome keys again, “I’m in the line of fire. A lost and blind folded man. Like I’m falling behind, in someone else’s plan”. Thunder drums, elevated synths and keys with that trademark Kingcrow run for the power electric guitars, charging ahead as Marchesi sings, “On this crazy ride. I’m sick and tired. Another meaningless game”. Then it sounds like he shouts, before an amazing roar of musical energy, the band sing together, “The only rule is go ahead”.

Night’s Descending introduces a good friend, Daniel Gildenlöw of Pain of Salvation. I think Marchesi is a fantastic singer, but sometimes you need to add variety and Gildenlöw does an excellent job on vocals for this Queensrÿche/Dream Theater–like production. A very good song, no doubt, with powerful lyrics and music.

Father is a wonderful, warm song, about the importance of building better communication. Marchesi sings, “Father looking straight at me. Father you were just like me. Cut from the same cloth. Never really learned to cry or laugh out loud. Talk to me. Please for real. I’m so tired of living through my memories. Wondering what you think of me”. Maybe the deepest song on an album that extensive examines feelings, the supporting music solid, like for the whole album.

Perfectly Imperfect opens with beautiful piano and train chugging percussion: “Won’t let you down. In this silence. Won’t let you blame only yourself… again”. Wow! The maturity in the sound is apparent. The supporting orchestration, guitars, percussion and drums are perfect. It’s a great closer, I can’t wait for the next album. “Please give us a chance. Cause let me say it clear. We feel the same way”. And so do I.

Kingcrow’s music continues to evolve and become ever more dynamic with each successive album.

01. Drenched (5:35)
02. Closer (4:57)
03. Everything Goes (4:15)
04. Folding Paper Dreams (7:03)
05. The Persistence (7:09)
06. Every Broken Piece of Me (6:50)
07. Devil’s Got A Picture (5:04)
08. Night’s Descending (4:53)
09. Father (4:36)
10. Perfectly Imperfect (5:06)

Total Time – 55:22

Diego Marchesi – Lead & Backing Vocals
Diego Cafolla – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Ivan Nastasi – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Thundra Cafolla – Drums & Percussion
Cristian Della Polla – Keyboards & Synths
Riccardo Nifosì – Bass Guitar

Record Label: Sensory Records
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 7th September 2018

Kingcrow – Website | Facebook

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From the website:

“Songs about lust for power, mass extinction, chocolate, apathy and the Voyager spacecraft – Lathe of Heaven is a solo music project from Hampshire, UK. People have compared LoH to Pink Floyd, Andy Latimer, and Steve Hackett amongst others. All in the ear of the listener, of course… Hey… it’s a prog rock concept album – how could we do it any other way?”

This is Martin Giles’s debut Lathe of Heaven’ offering. If you’ve read my reviews you’ll see that I tend to steer clear of “Prog”. I like some bands that were considered Progressive Rock back in the day but then I also never really “got” Van der Graaf Generator or Camel. I can’t really be called a fan of the genre. I had, nevertheless, an all but obsessive interest in pre-Collins era Genesis and pre-Polymoog Yes (Rick Wakeman’s dog-torturing Polymoog squealings ruined Tormato). My excuse for such obsession? I was 13 years old. And I am an obsessive.

Now I write for an on-line magazine with “Progressive” in its name, but you might consider me a cuckoo in the nest. Inevitably there’s a steady stream of “prog” submissions to The Progressive Aspect for review but I don’t always take them on. I’m looking for progression, not Prog. Some say I need an epiphany to really get the Post-Progressive genre. I have low tolerance for music derived from a formula based on music by other artists. I’ve been known to go to Summer’s End just for the Sunday Morning Wildcard act. What am I to make of a band who actively encourage comparison to classic progressive rock artists? Is Martin Giles reading this wondering whether he’s done the right thing approaching me, of all people? Will his gamble pay off? I could be a tough crowd!

Track-by-track reviews can be quite long and as a reader they’re difficult to stick with, don’t you think? I like to give an overall feel for an album and some insight into what I was thinking when I listened. I went on a little journey with this album and to be candid my method was failing me. I was slightly at a loss. Dipping my toe in the pool of Prog, (whatever that is) is harder than I thought.

To relate my impression of this album succinctly is a tricky one. It’s a rollercoaster. I say “rollercoaster” but ”gently undulating Hampshire landscape” is probably more accurate. I’m starting to wonder whether a track-by-track review might even be necessary!

My initial thoughts on Lathe of Heaven were good. I heard unusual combinations of percussion instruments, keyboards and sampled noises emulating a tuning radio, perhaps a Handpan sample, setting up the opening bars of the first track, The Sibylline Books. Then, later in the song, without question to my mind, there are passages where chord progressions, replete with Mellotron and melodic guitar solo, could easily have been from an alternate universe where David Gilmour guests on the closing bars of The Lamia from Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It seems too close to be subliminally influenced. My heart began to sink as originality seemed to wane and my interest started to fade. However, remnants of intrigue lingered – I wanted to like this music because it had started so well!

With the titular track, Now There’s No Room, there’s an unexpected tangential step. This is a good thing, it makes me reset my cynicism chip. A ghostly, discount Scott Walker vocal style (I mean that with affectionate respect), awash with reverb and so effective throughout the whole album, is underpinned by Mellotron, pads and ambient static that cement the song’s components. It is quite lovely. If there’s any hint of influences here then it seems less relevant, after all, how rare is the artist without influence?

The next track is yet another contrast; Blues-rock in a David Gilmour fashion with a riff like a track called Sock Full of Blood by a little-known act called RDK. I know that’s pure coincidence because hardly anyone has heard that since it was written in about 2003. You should try and find it.

Then another twist – Muted Rhodes, soft but fussy drums in a Steve Jansen style accompany pleasant, non-aggressive nylon strings, building over a long period to something more grandiose. Then a recorded monologue creeps in reminiscent of “… so if you give ’em a quick short, sharp, shock”, and I’m in danger of cynicism chip overload.

The Barefoot Chocolate Maker is yet another change in direction, full of Wakeman-like Mini-Moog yet somehow folky, full of melancholy and lyrical, building to a soft Hammondy climax. Marionettes starts as a delightful, melodic song with words that paint a vivid picture and opens as a vehicle for Hackett-like guitar overlaying a Camel-esque vibe. Despite the comparisons, it is the stand-out track on the album for me. That really is enough track-by-track shenanigans.

Martin’s vocal style is worth mentioning again here. I found his style to be unforced and blissfully free of affectation. Though I have no doubt that some people are going to disagree with me on the vocals, I believe they work well throughout most of the album, especially where the tone seems to match the context of the song. Martin has a somewhat unique vocal style and effectively presents the lyrics in almost every direction the songs are going, whether the vibe be Hacketty or Floydy. This is just as well; in places it’s a wordy album and the vocal is high in the mix.

Now There’s No Room is a well-made album. I like the lyrics, the version of the album available on the Interwebs (see below) has links to them. In an earlier, long-haired, cheesecloth-clad incarnation of Phil this would have been the sort of album I’d have sat listening to with the gatefold open on my crossed legs, watching the lyrics dancing on the inner sleeve in the dim, flickering candlelight. I have probably over-emphasised the similarities to established classic Progressive Rock. In fact, part of me wonders whether Lathe of Heaven might, on some level, be deliberately relying on these similarities. And why not? These similarities just stood out for me, but in fairness, one man’s poison is another man’s meat and the old Progressive Rock bands have let us down… they’ve either died or had the good grace to disband. Besides, look what happens when they continue! Horrible!
Do you remember the first time you spun up Close To The Edge or heard Watcher of the Skies? It was magical. I miss that. And there’s my epiphany!

I can see the appeal of Prog, I really can. It’s the nostalgia. It’s, perhaps, a sense of loss that bands aren’t knocking out their Relayers or Selling England By The Pounds or Wish You Were Heres any more. People still want that feeling. Bands are doing their best to replicate it, but in their way they are the Wizard to their audience, the citizens of Oz; shielded by the humbug Wizard from the Wicked Witch, the reality that they’re actually trapped in a different time and place. Progressive Rock finished way back when and what we have left are the Wizards of Prog. Does that mean that all prog is bad? Of course not! Why should it even be worth mentioning that some music sounds a bit like other music? Don’t we already know this? We all need a common frame of reference and we all like a bit of nostalgia.

I’ve probably given the wrong impression of my impression. If you like the Post-Progressive bands then you should “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. Yes, I am a tough audience. The more I listened, however, the more I liked this album, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it is not without reservation. Comparison with other artists is my biggest bug-bear but for some people this will not be an issue.

Now There’s No Room adds to the growing number of albums by artists filling the void left by the masters of Progressive Rock who are no longer producing any music. I think it deserves to appeal to Prog fans. There are parts of this album where Lathe of Heaven peep out from their giant green Prog Curtain and reveal who Martin Giles, musician, really is… and these parts justify making Now There’s No Room worthy of my consideration and yours.

Worth a punt!

01. The Sibylline Books (7:35)
02. Now There’s No Room (4:29)
03. Misunderstood (3:39)
04. Suit (8:36)
05. The Barefoot Chocolate Maker (5:44)
06. Marionettes (5:44)
07. Panopticon / Rome Burns (7:20)
08. The Last Song (4:22)

Total Time – 47:29

Produced written, recorded and performed by Martin Giles
Martin Giles – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Drums, Programming, Mandolin, Vocals
“A bunch of friends sang backing vocals on Panopticon / Rome Burns

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 8th September 2018

Lathe of Heaven – Website | Facebook | Amazon | Spotify | Deezer | Tidal | GooglePlay

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Esoteric Recordings are hitting another home run for me, this time with a reissue of Curved Air’s third studio album, Phantasmagoria. Originally released on the Warner Bros. label, Curved Air were riding high at the time with the original line-up from their first two studio albums, but during that period there were some issues.

Bassist Ian Eyre was clashing on personal issues and not communicating properly. He also fell ill and couldn’t carry on with the tour, so the band put an advert in the Melody Maker for a new bassist; enter Mike Wedgwood. Sonja Kristina talked about the problems behind Second Album and Phantasmagoria in an interview for Cherry Red TV with Mark Powell on 14th September 2008. She mentioned that the band wrote the material and went into the studio to record them without going over the compositions. She sang them as best she could, but they did it live and it took time to grow and become more powerful. There were also creative differences between Francis Monkman and Darryl Way over the direction that the band should move in next, as both felt they had taken the music as far as they could.

But despite the differences, Phantasmagoria, the name taken from the poetry of Lewis Carroll which Monkman grew up with, is a step beyond their Air Conditioning debut, heading towards a classical, folky, and electronic sound. Using both the VCS3 Synthesizer, which was used on the debut album, and the EMS Synthi 100, it was a leap forward for the band. With ties to the Carroll’s Alice stories, the album cover, by John Gorham, features the caterpillar smoking a hookah.

Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway? features Curved Air’s take on an avant-experimental sound with a Canterbury twist. With frantic keyboards and the EMS going into some dark and insane corridors as Sonja’s spoken dialogue moves from normal to robotic and crazy scenarios, the sound goes left and right while bringing in aspects of Egg’s The Polite Force, David Bedford, Terry Riley and Soft Machine’s Mike Ratledge. It then segues into Over and Above with a Jazz-Rock orientation that is part Colosseum, part Frank Zappa, and part George Gershwin.

There are both classical and theatrical elements in the song while the opening track, Marie Antoinette, sets out the downfall of the last pre-Revolution Queen of France. Sonja always wanted to write a song about her, and she gives us the story of not just Marie herself but also her fall from grace and her being her own worst enemy. There’s a tiny section between the piano and synth setting up the destruction while the next part gives us some twists and turns, Monkman seeming to pre-empt Rush’s Alex Lifeson during his pre-Fly By Night era.

Listening to the title-track, Sonja gives some lyrical details of a person’s paranoia on being watched. It’s a bizarre composition warning the listener to avoid taxis, policemen, doctors and others who could easily scam you. Be very careful on who you trust, you never know what might happen next.

With Melinda (More or Less), Curved Air delve back into the sound of Folk-Rock with a dreamy sign of hope. You have the Melinda character waking up from a dream to find that she’s back at square one of not finding anyone to help her. I felt that Kristina was using the approach of Joni Mitchell and Traffic’s Steve Winwood in this song.

The EMS synth used on Ultra-Vivaldi gives Darryl Way a chance to switch gears, moving from violin to synth as the sound escalates from calm to an incredible ramming speed, reminiscent of Wendy Carlos’s classical interpretations using the electronic sounds of the Moog. The three bonus tracks contains the Italian language version of Melinda (More or Less) and the French language Marie Antoinette.

Sarah’s Concern, originally released as an A-side in 1972, has an eruptive power from the Hammond Organ, dashing guitars, and drums. The darker section heads into the forest thanks to eerie keyboards that have a Caravan-esque sound for a brief second before heading back into broad daylight for a chance to escape in a hay-wiring electronic finale.

The DVD contains two TV appearances, one for Pop Shop on Belgium’s RTBF TV in April 1972, the same show that Genesis did that same year on 20th March during their Nursery Cryme phase, and one on Austria’s ORF-TV from 22nd October on a show called Spotlight. Watching these high quality performances, it’s a rare treat to see Curved Air at their finest.

The DVD main menu begins with a swirling kaleidoscope of the album cover. From the staggering versions of Propositions, featuring some animal clips, including an eagle eating a field mice, to Sonja’s incredible scream as the band gives her the ammunition to bring the volume up to maximum pitch. Darryl adds a blaze of glory on Vivaldi. The mournful organs from Monkman allows Way to create a waking-up scenario by channeling Terry Riley and Itzhak Perlman, centre stage in full control of the delay and reverb effects. He’s a master, going into some dramatic experimental shrieking thunder as Sonja’s vocals return before Francis adds some crazy effects on the VCS3.

Sonja dances and mimes to the title-track, adding some mysterious moves for the Austrian TV show. It shows her theatrical roots, the light shining on her as she plays acoustic guitar and sings Melinda (More or Less) while Francis’ flute and Darryl’s violin play the melody together. The Austrian show ends with Ultra-Vivaldi and you can see the band’s sense of humour, Sonja and Florian Pilkington-Miksa playing patty-cake while Monkman plays organ, Way and Wedgwood duelling each other on their instruments.

The 24-page booklet contains liner notes by Malcolm Dome with interviews with Sonja, Francis, and Darryl about the making of the album. It includes ads, bills of supporting acts, including ones with Deep Purple, Buddy Miles Band, and Yes. Some of the ads I’ve never seen before, including a biography from Warner Bros and, inside the packaging, an ad from the Village Voice in August 1972.

Phantasmagoria is another classic from Curved Air. As I mentioned earlier, Esoteric Recordings have hit another home run and I can’t wait for the reissue of Second Album which comes out at the end of August. In the words of Lewis Carroll, “This is a ‘one-ghost’ house, and you, when you arrived last summer, may have remarked a Spectre who was doing all that ghosts can do to welcome the new-comer”.

Disc One – Original Album Remastered

01. Marie Antoinette (6:20)
02. Melinda (More or Less) (3:27)
03. Not Quite the Same (3:45)
04. Cheetah (3:32)
05. Ultra-Vivaldi (1:24)
06. Phantasmagoria (3:15)
07. Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway? (3:24)
08. Over and Above (8:38)
09. Once a Ghost, Always a Ghost (4:30)
10. Sarah’s Concern (A-Side) (3:31)
11. Marie Antoinette (French Lyrics Version) (3:49)
12. Melinda (More or Less) (Italian Lyrics Version) (3:29)

Total Time – 49:13

Disc Two – DVD
(“Pop Shop” – RTBF Television, Belgium, Recorded in April 1972)

01. Marie Antoinette
02. Propositions
03. Melinda (More or Less)
04. Vivaldi
(“Spotlight” – ORF TV Austria, 22nd October 1972)
05. Melinda (More or Less)
06. Phantasmagoria
07. Ultra-Vivaldi

Sonja Kristina – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Darryl Way – Violin
Francis Monkman – Guitar, Keyboards, Gong, Tubular Bells
Mike Wedgwood – Bass Guitar
Florian Pilkington-Miksa – Drums
Annie Stewart – Flute (track 2)
Crispian Steele Perkins – Trumpet (tracks 3,8 & 9)
Paul Cosh – Trumpet (tracks 3,8 & 9)
Jim Watson – Trumpet (tracks 3,8 & 9)
George Parnaby – Trumpet (tracks 3,8 & 9)
Frank Ricotti – Vibes, Xylophone (tracks 8 & 9)
Alan Gout – Trombone (tracks 3 & 8)
David Purser – Trombone (tracks 3 & 8)
Chris Pyne – Trombone (track 3)
Mal Linwood-Ross – Percussion, Noises (track 9)
Jean Akers – Percussion (track 9)
Colin Caldwell – Percussion (track 9)

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue Number: PECLEC 22638
Date of Release: 27th July 2018

Curved Air – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Cherry Red Product Page

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Djent, nu-prog, math-rock, along with numerous equally bafflingly titled genres and sub-genres, denoting the heavier, more extreme end of the musical spectrum, seems to be an inexhaustible resource. Viewed from afar and admiring the complex polymetric time signatures that defy any coordinated foot movement, played at breakneck speed and with pinpoint accuracy – surely there must be delights to be found therein. Yes? But, and here is the rub, how do you sort out the wheat from the chaff? A rhetorical question and the simple answer is just jump in and see how you fair.

OK that didn’t work! Let’s narrow down the field and exclude anything with vocals.

Far better results this time around including Australian guitarist Plini, who has previously released one album, Handmade Cities, along with a handful of EPs and singles. His latest offering Sunhead, released last month, is a well written and conceived four track EP, with the emphasis firmly placed on composition.

Listening to Sunhead it begs the question, does Plini really belong in any of the categories mentioned above? Well let’s not become an expert based on a few initial dips in the water and perhaps I’ve mistakenly misplaced him there, based on association – appearances at this year’s ArcTanGent festival and tours with those bands firmly ensconced within. Or maybe I need to backtrack and take a listen to 2016’s Handmade Cities. I see, said the blind man. Awesome player, however what has come on in leaps and bounds in the interim two-plus years is his compositional skills.

And the proof of the pudding is Sunhead, an absorbing EP, with the heavier elements covered more vigorously on the first two pieces, whilst the latter two show Plini’s jazz and fusion credentials. Kicking things off is Kind and amidst the meaty riffage is a track of many hues and textures, followed by the truly stunning is the multi-faceted Salt + Charcoal.

Definitely worth twenty minutes of your time to give this EP a listen – it’s all linked below, so just a simple a click of the mouse…

A translation of ‘flâneur’ implies someone who saunters, or a loafer casually strolling about observing those around him. The grooving bass, drums and deft piano on Flâneur may well suggest this, and you might want to view the solos as an expression of the characters he sees; the quirky, portrayed by Anomalie’s synth solo; the hustle & bustle from the muscular thematic riffs; or the seductive lady courtesy of John Waugh’s saxophone. I’m sure you get the point. Closing out the EP, Plini fleetingly hints at Gershwin, before the more urgent thrust of the track moves in for the kill. Kudos to Plini here as for the title track he has invited a guest guitar player, Tim Miller, who adds a wonderful legato passage.

Sunhead started life as one of our ADA Reviews – shorter articles aimed at albums that have slipped under the radar, or as is the case here, an EP, however the quality of music seemed to demand a few more words.

A great find and one that demands wading back into the pool…

[You can catch Plini live at Islington Assembly Hall in London tomorrow night, Sunday 19th August 2018.]

01. Kind (4:00)
02. Salt + Charcoal (4:30)
03. Flâneur (6:00)
04. Sunhead (5:30)

Total Time – 20:00

Simon Grove – Bass
Chris Allison – Drums
Devesh Dayal – Vocals (track 2)
Anomalie – Piano, Synths (track 3)
John Waugh – Saxophone (track 3)
Tim Miller – Guitar solo (track 4)
Plini – Guitar & “everything else”

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Australia
Date of Release: 27th July 2018

Plini – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

I always found Hugh Hopper and Mike Ratledge somewhat musically abrasive at times, although undoubtedly brilliant. I know, it’s probably some sort of sacrilege saying that and I can expect hanging at dawn from the rabid Softs fraternity no doubt. It’s only a subjective opinion… calm down, calm down! The Soft Machine eras raise almost as much late middle-aged hot wind as the same pointless debate among Genesis fans, and among the Softs clans there are probably even some fools who think (The) Soft Machine ended when Daevid Allen was refused re-entry into the U.K. 51 years ago! Damn fools all of them!

We are now in a new Soft Machine era and this current line-up have probably been playing together longer than any previous incarnation, so another debate, “are Etheridge/Marshall/Travis/Babbington entitled to have dropped the ‘Legacy’ from their name?” is equally daft, and frankly, a non-starter. Fans really are a pain in the ‘arris, are they not?

Back to the matter in hand, and Hidden Details, the first album to bear the Soft Machine name in 37 years, will be released a few weeks short of the 50th anniversary of the release of the band’s 1968 self-titled debut. Opening with the title track, the album gets off to a scintillating start. Hidden Details, whose main melody craftily references an earlier Softs excursion (or may not… my addled memory synapses are not always reliable!), is probably the heaviest thing on this record, heck, it may even be the heaviest thing this incarnation of the band have written. After the opening riff, which is reprised towards the end, Theo Travis lets rip with some fine and fearsome blowing on the trusty tenor sax. This serves as a substantial taster, for following that is a mesmerising jazz fusion rollercoaster excursion from John Etheridge that will have you pinned to your seat in appreciation. This track neatly captures the stark colour clash of the album’s cover, and like that garish blue/orange face off is two distinct halves colliding as one blindingly good whole.

The intuitively funky rhythm section of John Marshall and Roy Babbington is a monster on the title track, and is an essential ingredient throughout, with not a beat missed or misused. The band is touring soon and it will be a joy to behold these two in action again at The Borderline in November, anchoring the dextrous front line with a Zen-like calm authority.

Theo Travis adds a fair amount of atmospheric electric piano on Hidden Details, evoking earlier eras, and there are two interpretations of older Softs tunes on the album, which is fitting given the anniversarial nature of this release. The first of those reimaginings, both Mike Ratledge tunes and as different as can be, is The Man Who Waved At Trains, from 1975’s superb Bundles album, that starred John’s predecessor in the band, the enigmatic and brilliant Allan Holdsworth. Bundles also happens to be my favourite Softs album, another sacrilegious comment, I’ve no doubt. This version is dominated by Theo’s flute, using looping techniques to create a full soundscape, and fits with the rest of the album seamlessly.

John Etheridge is a highly expressive guitarist, in whatever style in his huge range he happens to be playing. While probably most at home in this particular setting flying off on exploratory flights of fusion fancy as on One Glove, on Broken Hill a decidedly Floydian air descends, and John takes on the Gilmour Solo, reimagined as if Dave had been steeped in a history of jazz rather than the blues. Elsewhere we witness John’s accomplished classically inclined playing on the sublime Heart Off Guard, performing a lovely duet with Theo’s reeds.

One of the shorter linking pieces, entitled Out Bloody Intro, sees Theo’s beguiling electric piano create an almost subliminal entry into Out Bloody Rageous, Part 1, a far gentler trip into the wilder recesses of the Ratledge original from 1970’s Third than might have been anticipated, by yours truly at least. For all that, it still works a treat, the ensemble playing showing all the class the many decades of experience this wily old troupe (and that includes Theo too, relative youngster that he is!) have between them. This version multi-tracks Theo on clarinet and sax, and entwined within the shifting coils of the snake-charmer rhythm, it makes for a gorgeous feast of music.

The last track Breathe is a lovely way to end the album, an extended ambient piece sailing along on a becalmed sea with Theo evoking swooping seabirds riding warm air currents in the wake of a fishing boat slowly returning to port in the sunset of a long day. That’s my take on it anyway! Thankfully, the bonus track extends that atmosphere, but then… why call it a bonus track at all? A very minor gripe, admittedly.

I would guess all those who run for their Genesis albums at the very mention of “Soft Machine” or the dreaded “jazz” word haven’t read this far, but if you have, try Hidden Details on Bandcamp streaming when it emerges blinking into the harsh light of this mad world on September 8th, it really is very good and highlights four seasoned professional musicians at the height of their powers, and it won’t scare you… much. The rest of you already have it on your “to buy” list, right?

1. Hidden Details (Travis) (7:36)
2. The Man Who Waved At Trains (Ratledge) (5:00)
3. Ground Lift (Travis/Babbington) (5:21)
4. Heart Off Guard (Etheridge) (2:29)
5. Broken Hill (Etheridge) (3:49)
6. Flight Of The Jet (Etheridge/Travis/Babbington/Marshall) (2:12)
7. One Glove (Etheridge) (4:30)
8. Out Bloody Intro (Ratledge/Travis) (2:41)
9. Out Bloody Rageous, Part 1 (Ratledge) (4:56)
10. Drifting White (Etheridge) (1:47)
11. Life On Bridges (Travis) (8:05)
12. Fourteen Hour Dream (Travis) (6:24)
13. Breathe (Travis/Marshall) (5:31)
14. Night Sky (Bonus Track) (Travis/Etheridge) (3:19)

Total Time – 56:54

John Etheridge – Electric & Acoustic guitar
Theo Travis – Sax, Flute, Fender Rhodes Piano
Roy Babbington – Bass Guitar
John Marshall – Drums
~ Special Guest:
Nick Utteridge – Wind Chimes (track 13)

Record Label: MoonJune Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 8th September 2018

Soft Machine – Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

This is why I go interwebbing:

I inhabit several Worlds. In one, which I shall call Reality 1.0, I am a Stick Player. Through that FaceTube I know a Boston-based Stickist called Josh Goldberg. Occasionally Josh sends me the heads-up on new music. I also like to watch Family Guy and I’ve visited Boston… albeit the one in Lincolnshire, U.K. so naturally, with such very strong links to the commonwealth, Stick, Family Guy; I am the first choice for anyone in Massachusetts to bring the World’s attention to a new Boston-based ensemble: Shibui.

“Shibui (渋い) (adjective)” is a word that “refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Like other Japanese aesthetics terms, such as iki and wabi-sabi, shibui can apply to a wide variety of subjects, not just art or fashion”.

Thank you, Wikipedia.

In another conjoined reality, Reality 1.5, I am an on-line “journalist”, writing album reviews. These tie up quite well. This means that I can post words here, in The Progressive Aspect, about the new music.

In Reality 2.0 I am living in a place called “Kent” and working as an IT Manager for a language school in the mythical city of Canterbury. I much prefer the other realities.

This is an interesting album. It sometimes fails to touch me on any deep emotional level, yet I still find it immensely enjoyable. I’ve listened to it intently. I also put it on and did other things, my attention dipping in and out, trying to analyse it, wondering how the patterns will evolve. Funny that we should use the word “evolve” to describe music, isn’t it? Sometimes music seems to take on a life of its own.

Of course, music is not a living organism and sounds are just vibrations in the air. But like life, music is created and does evolve. We sometimes hear it in a song, as our favourite bands go through their life cycle and sometimes in a musical revolution… like Rock’n’Roll. Sometimes we can even witness parallel evolution. That’s why we can say: “ooh, that sounds like…” when what we really mean is “that reminds me of…”. Sometimes music evolves within a single song, without fuss, as if a little woodwind or added percussion here or there might help the creature survive and retain our attention. The creature that is Track 2, 1.5, is such a beast.

What should you expect from Shibui? The metadata on their album says, “Contemporary Jazz”. This said, Shibui certainly aren’t your clichéd piano, double-bass, piano trio. Neither are they a five-piece guitar/bass/drums/keyboard/vocals jazz-rock ensemble. Bassist and composer Tim Doherty has brought together some polyrhythmic musical structures and a predominantly six-member ensemble with additional quintet of strings. This combination of talents has resulted in music that continually seems to support this idea of musical evolution and fits my own personal idea of Progressive Music.

Shibui by Shibui

From the off, then, you’re not going to be bombarded by guitar-hand-gymnastics or crazy trumpet solos. This is cleverly composed music played by skilled musicians and there’s no need for overt showing off. There’s complexity in the interaction between the sounds and the rhythms, not with some ego driven soloing. This appeals to me. What is the point of being able to play 27 notes per second if the result isn’t musical?

Apart from the music being obviously instrumental, their choice of instrumentation and reliance on interweaving rhythmical progressions leads me to comparisons with artists who don’t operate within the established Rock’n’Roll or Jazz idioms. You might draw comparison with Philip Glass. This music, I’d guess, also evolved out of the use of similar building blocks; melody and polyrhythm and chamber music and strings and woodwind and subtlety. Strip away the rhythm and you might compare it with other avant-garde, ambient or experimental music. Parallel musical evolution [Pretentious? Moi?].

I sometimes wonder why bands come up with their song names. Not when there’s lyrical content, as this is usually obvious, but when there’s no lyrical content. Sometimes it is onomatopoeic. For example, Truck by The Fierce And The Dead, is what a truck would be, were it music. Perhaps I’m too literal, as I’m often left wondering how a piece of music, undoubtedly fine though it is, evokes association with, say, an albatross or saying goodbye to a pork pie hat. Now, Jazzists may be all too aware of the significance of this title, but in my ignorance I Googled it. In fact, Mingus’s tune is a tribute to a lost friend. A beautiful sentiment. But there’s nothing in the title and no lyric that says goodbye or conjures up images of recent bereavement or mourning had you been unaware of his loss. I was once co-author of a piece of music called Tobleraubergine, but the music was neither chocolaty nor vegetably. Nor good. Once again, my ignorance has let me down, but still… instrumental titles, eh?

Mercifully, I am spared the embarrassment of revealing the scope of my dullardry with Shibui [EDITOR: Good job you didn’t type all that out loud] as their music is given numbers, in the format n.n, leading me to the conclusion that on the left-hand side of the point is the album number and on the right-hand side, the track number. They are not sequential. Perhaps the order was changed to make the album flow. This appeals to my own sense of logic and is a completely spurious assertion based on absolutely no insight whatsoever.

And there’s some splendid rhythm.

I have always been fascinated by rhythm. There’s something deeply satisfying in working out the time signatures of a piece and finding that, say, the piano is playing 5 to a bar and another instrument, perhaps marimba, is playing 3 to the bar and the two distinct patterns are interweaving and intersecting; creating one perfectly synchronised rhythm. It is all best explained with the old joke: 9/8; 17/16; 13/8 – These are difficult times. Despite this being more accurately explained with mathematics and sorcery there’s still something beautiful and mysterious about the process. There are also rather classical, benign and beautiful sounds being used to instil a sense of tension or unease or expectation or calm. You could put this on in the background and just chill to it or you could sit there and count beats and get caught up in it all. I think Shibui sounds good, whether it touches me on an emotional level or not.

Before you start with your accusations of “you like everything you review” let me tell you… I do this to bring music I get to hear and like to your attention and this short album fits the bill. You don’t have to take my word for it but as a fan of music if you invest your money and 35 minutes of your time then I think you might like this cracking little gem.

01. 1.3 (6:59)
02. 1.1 (5:10)
03. 1.5 (7:16)
04. 1.4 (6:21)
05. 1.2 (9:46)

Total Time – 35:32

Tim Doherty – Bass, Composition
Bradley Goff – Piano, Rhodes
Céline Ferro – Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
Kyle Harris – Drums
Derek Hayden – Marimba, Glockenspiel
Curtis Hartshorn – Percussion, Glockenspiel
~ With:
Daniel Pelletier – Marimba (on 1.1)
Greg Jukes – Marimba (on 1.3 & 1.4, Glockenspiel (on 1.4)
Abigale Reisman – Violin (on 1.2)
Strings on 1.3:
Chris Baum – Violin
Dan Lay – Violin
Nathan Cohen – Viola
Ben Swartz – Cello
Piano intro on 1.1 written by Taylor Kirkwood

Record Label: Independent
Recorded at: The Record Company, Boston MA, by Jamie Rowe
Mix: Ben Levin
Mastering: Randy Roos at Squam Sound
Album artwork: Chris Anderson
Design: Peter Danilchuk
Date of Release: 7th September 2018

Shibui – Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

Nineteen73 Artist Promotion reveal the complete line-up for the Friday – Sunday of the Winter’s End Festival 2019: The festival will once again take place at Chepstow’s Drill Hall between 5th & 7th April 2019. There will also be a stand-alone Thursday night event, on 4th April – headline act to be announced shortly.


Kayak (Netherlands)
Firstly, we are thrilled that legendary Dutch Progressive Rock band Kayak – led by keyboard player Ton Scherpenzeel – will make their first ever appearance in the UK at Winter’s End. The band have a long and illustrious history dating back to 1972, and released their magnificent latest album “Seventeen” in 2018.

Threshold (UK)
Making a very welcome return to our stage following inspirational sets at Summer’s End in 2007 and 2008, plus the inaugural Fused Festival in 2011, Threshold are currently undergoing a new lease of life following the return of former singer Glynn Morgan – vocalist on 1994 fan favourite “Psychedelicatessen” – and a rapturously-received new album “Legends of the Shires”, released in 2017.

RPWL (Germany)
Following a great headlining set at Summer’s End in 2016, RPWL from Germany will be undertaking an extensive European Tour in the spring on 2019 in support of the bands seventh studio album, which will include a stop off in Chepstow. They will also be bringing along label mate Aaron Brooks, best known as the vocalist of Simeon Soul Charger, along to play a short solo set following the release of his solo album “Homunculus”.

Abel Ganz (UK)
The Scottish wizards are hard at work on their new album, following the huge success of their self-titled album in 2014 and will make a very welcome return to Chepstow following a great appearance at Summer’s End in 2015. Abel Ganz Website

Tin Spirits (UK)
Also back with us after a superb set in 2014 are Tin Spirits, featuring Dave Gregory of Big Big Train, who are currently working on their third album. Tin Spirits website

Godsticks (UK)
It is an amazing 10 years since Godsticks last played for us, but Darren Charles’ Welsh outfit – which also includes Dan Nelson of Magenta on bass – continue to go from strength to strength following the release of their new album “Faced with Rage”

Cyril (Germany)
This melodic prog band from Germany are yet another project that includes festival favourite Marek Arnold, and also features former Toxic Smile vocalist Larry B. Their second album “Paralised” was released in 2016, and this appearance will be amongst the bands first live performances. Cyril website

Crystal Palace (Germany)
Following a well-received UK tour in 2017, German proggers Crystal Palace return to the UK for Winter’s End. Their eighth studio album “Scattered Shards” was released in 2018.

Weend’ô (France)
We are delighted to welcome back superb French band Weend’ô after a rapturously-received set at Summer’s End 2017,which led to their second album “Time of Awakening” being released on the Sonicbond label.

Midnight Sun (UK)
The band will be showcasing tracks from their as yet untitled debut album, due for release in autumn 2018. Midnight Sun website

L’Anima (UK / Spain / Italy)
After a couple of false starts, L’Anima will at last be playing for us following a very well received debut album “Departures” and some great live shows.

Exploring Birdsong (UK)
This young Liverpool-based trio are creating waves of interest with their piano driven songs and great melodies, propelled by the great voice of Lynsey Ward. One of the best new progressive rock bands we have heard in many years, the opening slot should not be missed! Exploring Birdsong website

Winter’s End Festival – Website | Facebook | Facebook [Summer’s End] | Twitter [Summer’s End]

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