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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cheer-Accident - Putting Off Death


It’s been a good while since I’ve done a review from the Cuneiform label. And it’s about time to do a review for one of the most interesting bands that have peaked my ears more and more since discovering them in the 2010 documentary, Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga. That band is Chicago’s own Cheer-Accident. Since their formation back in 1981 and despite line-up changes, they blew me away right from the moment I watched the documentary and I was hooked right from the get-go.

I have one of their albums which is 2009’s Fear Draws Misfortune. And then they took a six-year hiatus after the release of 2011’s No Ifs, Ands or Dogs. This year, it’s almost to let the listener that they are still here and they have the batteries all charged up and ready to go with the release of their new album entitled, Putting Off Death. The album title suggests that while death is approaching it’s a game of chess with the Grim Reaper.

But for me, it’s almost along with the album cover done by Jeff Libersher’s art deco 1940s look, the idea of Chess feels very much essence of Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 classic, The Seventh Seal. The opening track, Language Is begins with this lovely melodic piano ballad and Thymme Jones’ vocal arrangements. The first 3 minutes and 40 seconds have these lyrical aspects between Robert Wyatt and unsung singer-songwriter John Howard (Kid in a Big World-era) that brings to mind of his classic, Goodbye Suzie.

It suddenly transforms into an aggressive yet alarming movement with a mid-fast ramming speed segment before it changes near the end into a heavenly atmospheric Blade Runner-sque scenario of Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets-era. The Avant-Pop catchy melody featuring the piano and keyboards with some nice percussion sounds as Carmen Armillas’ soothing vocals describe of the scenario and where the lyrics gave the album’s title from on Immanence.

But then Thymme himself brings his essence of the psychedelic-era of The Beatles with some trippy effects between the vibes of Tomorrow Never Knows and Frank Zappa’s The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet. Not to mention the trippy effects on the vocalizations and menacing acoustic guitar sounds with Wishful Breathing while everything goes into an apocalyptic hellish introduction to Falling World.

Guitars go through a mysterious opening door to the essence of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. There’s this crossover essence between David Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy and Radiohead’s The Bends sessions featuring some mid-operatic vocal arrangements. But then, Jazz Trumpets goes head towards the howling mix improvisation and then ending with an electronica doom finale guitar chords.

Lifetime Guarantee is probably going to be one of Cheer-Accident’s favorites. And it is for me one of my favorites that is on Putting Off Death. It has the ingredients of Prog-Pop, standalone rock anthem, Frank Zappa arrangements of odd-time changes near the closing sequences, memorable grooves with some fanfare trumpet movements, the vocalizations rise for life lasting voyage, and little bits and pieces of the AOR sound (Album Orientated Rock).

Hymn closes the album. The echoing reverb effects of the piano brings to mind a piece of music delving into the pool of a genre into the dreamy pop city. Jones sends you into the sky that there one day might be hope for a new day along with an eerie nightmarish string section for a brief few seconds. It is a gripping way to close the album and fade off into the sunset.

Putting Off Death in which Thymme Jones suggested that it might ask the listener that it will ask you some questions that can be answered through the mind of a receiver. Now for me, I always like a mystery. It is of course, a mysterious album that might give you some clues to the piece of Cheer-Accident’s piece of the puzzle as if they are following in David Lynch's footsteps. I have embarked more rides with album than ever before, and Putting Off Death is one of them. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bent Knee - Land Animal


For me, they are still one of the most mind-blowing and eruptive bands to come out of Boston with a volcanic roar that the lava itself flows rapidly quick of showing no sign of stopping to raise hell. That band is Bent Knee. With three albums in the can, they still keep going for more. And with them being on the road with bands such as Thank You Scientist and with The Dillinger Escape Plan for their farewell tour, they have come a long, long, long way. And the six-piece show that they can take their music higher with their fourth album, Land Animal.

They are on a new label with InsideOut Music. To me, that’s very interesting to be on a label with bands such as Knifeworld, Haken, Karmakanic, Beardfish, and Ayreon. I wouldn’t say it’s like winning the Super Bowl, but it’s a big leap forward from moving from one label to another. But let’s get straight into Land Animal. I’m going to say this right now, but this is one of the most powerful and scariest album I’ve ever listened to. It shows that Bent Knee will keep on going for more of the long and winding roads ahead.

Terror Bird kicks the door open with Gavin’s intensive drumbeats along with Ben’s guitar making it sound like a clock ticking followed by an eerie quick second of the synths going into a lullaby. And then Ben hits you in the gut as he channels the vibes of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. He then takes you into the heavens with some of his psychedelic moments on Hole.

It is an electronic alternative arrangement with some pumping sounds as Courtney Swain’s vocals go on high alert for a brief second as the lyrics deal of finding the strength to keep going while the stand-out track Holy Ghost gives Baum makes the violin pluck as if the pin has already dropped. This is a very killer composition because Courtney takes you beyond of the reflections of the mirror as if Beauty is showing their dark side by taking the mask off.

The lyrics are raw, tight and front of your face by giving you the facts; “Oh nothing charges me like the night/It is like good god/I was born to write hey, wait/What about my body though?/I got to find a way to get more glitter/more sass/more time/wine and dining/kissing ass.” You can’t write amazing lyrics like that. You just can’t. But now you can. And again, it hits you right in the face as if they are giving you a gigantic reality check.

The mid-section becomes a cat-and-mouse sequence between Ben Levin, Jessica Kion’s Bass, Vince’s ‘80s video games synth, and Gavin setting up the mysterious case of the grizzly crime scene on the drums. Courtney isn’t trying to be center of attention, but she wants to make sure the band are a team and keeping the machine alive. She pours her heart and soul in her vocals as if the character is ready to break out of this madness.

Bent Knee take a break on the first three minutes and fifty-seven seconds on Insides In. This shows their softer side with a mellowing jazz ballad as it has these Tori Amos lyrical structures. The classical string section has this ‘50s romantic sound before the last couple of minutes become a booming nightmare as synths become harp sounds, Ben’s guitar chords are explosive, and it sets up the tone that is happening with an unexpected twist by ending with a chilling drone.

Jessica Kion comes on center stage as her Bass line on Those Hands, sets up the scenario of the character’s life becoming more worried, depressed, being in danger, and all alone. And while they aren’t around to help you, you have to deal with the facts of growing up and facing family life. It is walking towards the deeper tunnels between classical music and alternative post-rock.

The title-track begins with some string sections straight out of the 1960s TV series, The Fugitive that blares out of nowhere as if it was done by the great Bernard Herrmann. It’s almost at times that the lyrics are dealt through the mind of a little mouse sneaking through the house for some crumbs in those sections through Courtney’s vocals. You can absolutely feel the vocals, stirring sections, and the band going on a dangerous tight rope.

Time Deer feels as if it is the third installment of the continuation of the tracks between Way Too Long and Leak Water. It has this Roy Orbison-sque punch of early to mid-‘60s vibe featuring some action-packed/dramatic sequence in the last minute and thirty-two seconds featuring Gavin’s galloping drums. Stomping intro, has this ‘60s girl’s group essence in the sound of going into parallel universes.

And then Courtney almost goes into the vocal arrangements through the Dalek-sque arrangement as the finale Boxes features dooming bass synths and drums as if its straight out of Alex Proyas 1998 film, Dark City featuring a haunting abrupt end as there’s dead silence for the last seven minutes to close the album. The two bonus tracks contain the title track going through a surreal ‘50s house of a dystopian effect going into a haywire effect as if it is all over the place done by the remix of Ben Levin.

The Sylvia Massy mix of Way Too Long which sounds like it was recorded on a tape recorder, is a different take. It’s menacing, punchy, and volcanic than what was on the original version on Shiny Eyed Babies. It may divide a line in the sand whether they will admire Bent Knee’s new album or not, but it grows on you. However, Land Animal is definitely on my soon to be top 25 albums of the year so far.

There’s going to be some gigantic competition on which albums will be on there. This one is definitely going to be on there. Bent Knee never disappoints me. Again, Land Animal is one of the scariest and eruptive albums I’ve listened to. And you need to check it out. Worth recommending.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Pixie Ninja - Ultrasound


Whenever something special my ears would come around for a piece of music that might peak my interest, I know it would hit me at the right moment. One of those moments is a band called Pixie Ninja. Now mind you, it sounds like an Anime series or a Video Game, but the title of the band’s name as I’ve mentioned a second ago, peak my interest. They’ve released their debut release this year on the Apollon Records label entitled, Ultrasound.

The band came around with two individuals who have a love of the Scandinavian Progressive scene. Now, again, I admire the Scandinavian scene, and this band is going to be up on my list that is up there with Anglagard, White Willow, Motorpsycho, and Beardfish to name a few. Jostein Haugen and Marius Leiranes started to work on the album back in 2015 and then recorded the album a year later.

And bringing Mattias Olsson to the score by mixing the album and producing it along with the overdubs and drumming, that’s a combination. And throw in people like Johan Hals Jorgensen and guest musician Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (White Willow, Wobbler, and Motorpsycho) to the mix, you’ve got yourself a weekend. But let’s go ahead and get straight to the album.

The album itself has this dark futuristic setting. It always has this reminisce at times as if Pixie Ninja were doing the score for the 2017 video game, Prey. Now for me as a Geek, I would love to see them one day do something like that in the near future. The album with six compositions that both Haugen and Leiranes wrote and arranged, takes you into the darker areas that you've never seen before. It’s almost at times that you can feel as if a pin dropped and knowing that trouble is brewing.

And getting out is the hard part. There are elements between Goblin, Anima Morte and the Sorcerer-era of Tangerine Dream thrown into the mix. Whenever an album I mentioned before as if the movie inside your head, well think of this like an extended director’s cut of a sci-fi dystopian movie. It blends well of the past, present, and future. It’s creepy, deep, and vast, but it is an interesting release this year.

I have listened to Ultrasound five times now. It’s not an easy album to listen to, but I will hope they continue to do more in the years and years and years to come. Ultrasound is one of the scariest and compelling releases I’ve listened to.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gentle Knife - Clock Unwound


Howard Roark, a character from Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel, The Fountainhead says to Peter Keating on the way he lives his life is, “To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul, would you understand why that’s much harder?” What Roark is saying to Keating is, that while the second-hander fails on the authority, it loses their hope of sensibility.

But it nurtures your own body and soul by freeing the control from the outside by demanding ideas and accomplishments. We are living in a society where something might go horribly wrong and lived in a world one day will be in a dystopian underground. That and Gentle Knife’s second release which is a follow up to their sole self-titled debut release entitled, Clock Unwound released on the Bajkal label shows that the Norway ensemble is back.

The themes deal with the situation I mentioned, was once a paradise that everyone can live in and bring their dreams to life, but it goes awry and the price it comes with it. But there’s hope of a glimpse of beauty underneath the ruins. Gentle Knife themselves have never done me wrong and their second album is a dark, beautiful, and haunting release I’ve listened to.

Opener, Prelude: Incipit starts off with a jazz piano chord in an ominous tone, followed by echoing reverb effects of the Trumpet done in a mournful sound a-la Miles Davis style. And it shows us, the listener, the wasteland that is like something straight out of either Blade Runner or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. And then, it segues into the title track.

With its hard riffs essence to both Procol Harum’s In Held ‘Twas in I and Rush’s Permanent Waves, the synths represent what is about to describe in the story structure as the composition feels almost like a mini-opera as if Arjen “Ayreon” Lucassen conducted and wrote the piece and got it done right. Increasing levels before the vocalizations and metal riffs pour in.

The flutes come pouring in with some Crimson-sque guitar lines as if you are walking through the rubble, hearing some pleas of help, but you can’t hear them and imagine hearing a pin drop in the area followed by a sax improvisation. With Fade Away, it’s almost as if it’s the mellowing pieces turned into volcanic rhythms. The first 2 minutes and 13 seconds start off honoring essences of King Crimson’s THRAK-era.

You can hear mellow guitar structures, mellotrons, flutes, and trumpets rolled together in a gigantic blender. And featuring the roaring horns erupt and wah-wah grooves and flute improvisations and then it heads back in the last 2 minutes of the mellowing arrangements. Plans Askew starts off in the first minute and seven seconds of a Hackett-sque classical guitar intro as the singing kicks in as if they are in an abandoned stage singing folk-like lyrics.

It then boosts up the instruments by coming in knowing hopefully that tomorrow will be a new day. The guitars go through a double-edge sword sharing the same melody with the same lines. It’s almost as if crying to the gods through the rubble with no one to hear as the characters know that death has come upon them.

The closing track, Resignation starts off with some video game haunting chords as if’s through the 16-bit Sega Genesis. And then, eerie Jazz flutes and atmospheric waves come in with the spoken dialogue done by a poet through the minds of between Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison and George Orwell. There’s some heavier tones by in a mid-speed journey to the unknown with a church organ behind you.

The characters I can imagine in the finale are letting the listener know, not to follow and not come looking for them. Because they aren’t going to like what they find. I really enjoyed listening to Clock Unwound. This is my fifth time listening to Gentle Knife’s second album. And the mastering done by Stick Men’s Markus Reuter and Benjamin Schafer from Unsung Productions, for me it’s a perfect combination for them to work on this album.

I hope Gentle Knife continues to do more for years and years to come. They are one of my favorite ensembles to come out of the genre. And I hope they won’t stop. The journey has just begun for them with Clock Unwound.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Schnauser - Irritant


It’s been three years since Schnauser released a new album after 2014’s Protein for Everyone. I loved what they have done on their fifth album since it was my introduction to their music. It was wacky, off-the-wall, prog, pop, avant-rock, and in your face. This year they have released their sixth album on a new label with Bad Elephant Music entitled, Irritant. And it proves that have shown no sign of stopping and never giving up on their sense of humor.

For me, it is a “Holy Shit!” release I’ve listened to from start to finish. I can hear the cross-overs between the Cardiacs, Knifeworld, Supersister, XTC, and Gentle Giant rolled up into a big giant smoothie. Alan Strawbridge, who founded the band 12 years ago, still follows in the footsteps of Robert Wyatt, Andy Partridge, Vivan Stanshall, Tim Smith, and the late great maestro of Gong, Daevid Allen.

Listening to this album, is like walking on Schnauser’s tightrope and you have to be very, very, very careful by not looking down. Because you never know if they are going to cut the rope or not. And the tightrope itself has five centerpieces on here that just made me embark on their roller-coaster ride.

The opener, Spiele Mit Katzen is a speed demon introduction between organ, drums, and sax with an intense punky roar and lushful midsections. I can hear the Cardiacs influences everywhere. It’s then followed by and electro-space trippy adventure a-la Chrome Hoof style. Re-Morgating the Nest of Hairs is essence to the Rugrats theme with some nostalgia of growing up to old-school ‘90s Nickelodeon cartoons as it delves into a psych-punk space rock approach.

There are some mysterious movements as if Ren and Stimpy are continuing more of their journey inside the Black Hole before going back into the morning animated TV-sque intro. The Monday Club deals with the 2015-2016 election and run-up to the Brexit referendum. The song deals for a plea to end the scaremongering and spewing of the media.

Schnauser pushes the envelope and they are spot on what was happening. And I can imagine it’s still going strong. The last 2-minutes sees them going for an approach in the essence of Henry Cow’s Nirvana for Mice. Now this is a title that just took me by surprise and would have given Jamie Oliver a chance to shit his pants on.

Chinese Brainworm (Taeria Solium). Now when I first heard this title, I was thinking to myself, “Schnauser really never gives up on a sense of humor.” And believe me it is a wicked sense of humor. I like how they take the approach of William D. Drake’s The Rising of the Lights-era with a moody waltz in the time signature of 3/4. But I get the feeling that Schnauser could have written this as a score for a short featuring Ren and Stimpy.

Fail Better starts with the pouring rain as Dino Christodoulou’s free-jazz Sax improvisation before Duncan’s keyboards go into an eerie wah-wah psychedelia approach. Alan shows his nod to the master of Robert Wyatt with his inspirational lyrics along with some lifting guitar and sax work. 

This is my fourth time listening to Irritant. And it is one of the wackiest, out of this world, and insane albums I’ve listened to this year and prepare more with Schnauser to hurtle through more of the cosmos with them.

The United States of America - The United States of America


49 years ago, something surreal was unearthing through the psychedelic movement, but mixed in political views and electronic music with an avant-garde twist. That band was The United States of America. Formed in 1967 by Joseph Byrd, a Stanford University graduate, and was one of John Cage’s student, and a part of the surreal Dadaism movement, Fluxus. What Byrd wanted to do was to capture the styles and mix of music and electro music that was bold and musical.

Originally released on the CBS label in the UK and on Columbia in the States on March 6, 1968, this was completely off the wall, in your face, dystopian lyrics, musique-concrete, Dixieland jazz, and avant-electronic rock at its peak. It was ahead of its when it came out. It was very diverse than what bands like The Byrds, The Doors, and Cream were doing. It was more of the essence between Silver Apples, Delia Derbyshire, Electric Prunes, and The Velvet Underground.

The opener, The American Metaphysical Circus, starts off with a calliope fanfare, ragtime piano, horn sections, and militant drums going through this insane nightmare before Dorothy Moskowitz’s vocals come in through someone’s brain about dealing the dark side of what America has become. And the lyrics, is the nightmare we are living in the past, present, and today in the 21st century through an experimental nightmare as Dorothy’s voice becomes a dalek-sque scenario.

Hard Coming Love sees the band delving into a proto-punk garage rock attitude with Forbes punching bass, Marron’s violin screeching like a fuzztone guitar before the Derbyshire-sque White Noise vibe in a psychedelia shrieking rocker. The Garden of Earthly Delights I would consider early beginnings of Space Rock about the dangers of what is not you expected to go into this area of the dangerous fruits and hallucinated voyages of what is in this person’s eyes that holds a mystery to them.

Where Is Yesterday is a mournful ominous composition with monk-chanting Latin concept to the Lamb of God, it describes what was once a peaceful land, turned into a hellish world and the question of the song is simple of what happened to the place that was once heavenly sent turned into a wasteland. Love Song for the Dead Che which is about the controversial figure of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara.

This was a risky composition dedicated to the leader. It has a romantic, uplifting, and warmth vibration as Dorothy’s vocals through the reverb and the violin and string section as well as mournful organ and percussion while the 6-minute finale mixed with psych folk rock and musique-concrete of the three-part suite of The American Way of Love is in political satire.

Metaphor for an Older Man is a resemblance to Donovan’s Season of the Witch mixed in with an out-of-the-blue calliope and shrieking violin work that you can imagine the band East of Eden taking inspiration. It then moves into an electronic drone and alarming synths a-la Edgard Varese style before delving into a wah-wah humoristic twist of the West Coast sound of California Good-Time Music and delving in Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out-era of haywire effects of everything coming in a cycle on Love Is All.

There are ten bonus tracks which was originally issued on the Sundazed reissue and on the Esoteric Recordings label three years ago that the band recorded between September and December of 1967 and during the summer of 1968. You have more of the garage avant-rock for No Love to Give along with the first version for a Psych-Pierre Henry-Ragtime effect on I Won’t Leave my Wooden Wife for You, Sugar featuring Dorothy on vocals.

Tailor Man has this David Axelrod effect as the folk-acoustic driving blues in the highway on Do You Follow Me gives The United States of America a chance to take a break away from the electronic sound. The 16-page booklet contains liner notes done by Sid Smith including archive interviews by Byrd about the making of the album including the original lyrics, pictures, and the 45-RPM single release of the A and B-Side that they released on the CBS label.

When the album was released, it didn’t do well. There was also tension between Byrd and the rest of the band members as the band broke up. Joseph would later do a solo album from support by John McLure’s support as he recorded and released The American Metaphysical Circus with and extended group from the West Coast considered as Byrd called them, The Field Hippies in 1969.

Listening to The United States of America’s sole self-titled debut released in 1968, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not an easy album to listen to, but very challenging. It was the same thing for me with Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Magma’s Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh. It’s one of the albums that grows on you. It’s weird, surreal, and political, but worth delving into the darker side of what America has become.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Discipline - Captives of the Wine Dark Sea


It’s been 30 years since their formation and six years since they have released a new album. One of the bands that have been around from day one in their hometown in Detroit, Michigan and discovering their music on Prog Rock Deep Cuts with Ian Beabout, is Discipline. With four albums in the can, they've released their fifth album on the label, The Laser’s Edge this year entitled, Captives of the Wine Dark Sea.

The themes of the album deal with; disbelief, struggling to write and looking back on what was by achieving success, and the haunting images that will come at you as if it's the elephant in the room. And the themes fit well into the new album. The current line-up is Paul Dzendzel on Drums, Matthew Kennedy on Bass, Tiles guitarist Chris Herin, and vocalist and keyboardist, Matthew Parmenter.

And working with veteran music producer Terry Brown (Rush, Voivod, FM, Max Webster, and Klaatu) in the mixing level who also worked with Matthew’s third solo album, it’s a very interesting combination. Discipline have never disappointed me with the art and theatrical side of their music. With Captives of the Wine Dark Sea, it’s a return to ideas as Parmenter describes it as “an escape to ameliorate the workaday world.

Life Imitates Art deals with the struggle on writing a hit and success while Chris’ lead guitar and Matt’s piano share the introduction and the verses by his vocals. With it’s pounding beats, ‘60s psych-organ, and the lines “That’s why we make pretty songs for all the boys and girls to sing along/in High School and Reunion/I remember that one too and life imitates art.

Matthew is describing to the listener that while a band or an artist writes a successful song and it gets on the radio, they realize the big question that lays ahead of them “What is going to happen now? We’ve come a long way, what is going to happen in the years to come?” It’s a great song and I just can’t get enough of it. But let’s move on. S is a gothic ride of instrumental terror.

The vibes of Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk comes to mind as screeching guitars, ominous string sections go on a dangerous ride towards the rapid rivers and the waterfall that is bound to happen at any moment, at any second for the first 2 minutes and 24 seconds. But then, it goes deeper into the tunnels showing these haunting images as Herin’s guitar digs us towards those moments a tiny between Richard Pinhas and Roger Trigaux as Chris honors the RIO (Rock In Opposition) movement.

Love Songs gives Parmenter to delve in the acoustic folk-blues walking composition. It deals with not wanting to hear the same old “I love you” songs and being alone from the situation. Matthew really digs into these Lennon-sque lyrics that strike a chord before the mid-ragtime piano section with some heavier territory.

With Here There Is No Soul, Discipline delves into the essence of The Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter and at times country-sque lines with the Keith Richards touch for the first minute and thirty-eight seconds. But then, it digs deeper and deeper into the soil as the organ and rhythm guitar riffs and soars to a closing end finale on the last 53 seconds.

The closer, Burn the Fire Upon the Rocks is a 14-minute epic that gives Chris Herin a chance to come forward. He goes into the Zeppelin-sque riffs and Beatle-sque styles from the White Album-era throughout his guitar. There is a rising sequence between the mellotron, mellowing drums, and piano. Not to mention some 10cc vocalizations on the first 4 minutes and 9 seconds.

Discipline’s music may not be everyone’s cup of coffee, Captives of the Wine Dark Sea is a return to show that they are not stopping. Mellowing, haunting, and different types of sound alongside from their progressive inspirations.