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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gravy Train - Second Birth

Esoteric Recordings have always keep my wish list growing, growing, and growing. On my blog site, I’ve been a big champion of the label from their reissues and supporting new bands/artists since their launch in 2007. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the label, which has been a part of the Cherry Red family. So who knows what surprises will lay ahead for them in 2017. One of them is a reissue they’ve released this year of Gravy Train’s third album, Second Birth.

Formed in St. Helen’s, Lancashire in 1969, the combination of the two that started the wheel of Gravy Train's chugging were; J.D. Hughes (Wind instruments, Keyboards, and Vocals) and Bassist Les Williams. Soon Drummer Barry Davenport and vocalist and guitar player Norman Barratt joined the force of Gravy Train. The band did some rehearsals in the summer of 1969 at St. Helen’s Cricket Club in Merseyside before being signed to the Veritgo label.

The band released two albums (the self-titled debut and (A Ballad) Of A Peaceful Man) one of them didn’t do well, but the second album showed an assembling sound in their music. It wasn’t until they switched from Vertigo to the Dawn label which was a progressive subsidiary label for Pye Records. They recorded their third album at Orange Studios in North London. By this time during the making of the album, Barry quit the band, but he only appeared on three of the tracks (Morning Coming, Fields and Factories, and Tolpuddle Episode).

What happened was Barry was getting exhausted and fed up that the band was not getting anywhere, plus no money, along with stress he was going through. He suddenly had a breakdown and left. Russell Caldwell took his place after a long extensive search that the band went through to find the right person to fill Barry’s shoes.

Listening to Second Birth, it’s a diverse album. There were some inspirations between Jethro Tull, CSNY, Cream, and bits of East of Eden. When you listen to songs like September Morning News, it has this West Coast Sound thanks to the Country/Folk rhythmic sound of the Acoustic Guitar and Barratt channeling his Neil Young style on his vocals along with as I’ve mentioned the harmonizing vocals of CSNY.

Tolpuddle Episode is another Acoustic Folky composition that has this bright and gentle arrangement as the lyrics deal with a strong concept of hoping for a new beginning and a new life in a new year while the music goes towards the reminiscent of Colin Scot and Gary Farr. Strength of a Dream, I can imagine this song thanks to it’s ballad and melodic melodies and a different side to Gravy Train with their sliding guitar work, their homage to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass-era.

And when I listen to that song, I could tell that the band honor the sound and the style of his guitar playing and the album’s music is everywhere on the composition. It feels like it was recorded for the album’s sessions, but cut off due to time restraints. And Gravy Train’s song nails the Harrison tribute. Now let’s get to the rocking side of the band’s music.

There’s this classical guitar fast passage that Norman does in which it is a very tricky and hard riff-line in that tempo. You can hear the sonata format on Motorway which features thumping rhythm guitars and drums along with the bass and flute work a-la Tull styles with the homage to East of Eden’s Mercator Projected-era. The opening track, Morning Coming, feels as if it is a blaring alarm that is coming right behind you like a roaring monster from the guitars.

It is a great introduction to the start the album as if it is like a cannon blast coming out of the horizons to start the engines up. Not to mention the midsection featuring these mourning lyrical settings with guitars, drums, and keyboards setting this church-like choir. The closing title-track begins as I’ve mentioned, the fast passages that Norman does on his guitar along with Hughes’ flute between Melodic melody guitar/flute essence resembling Premiata Forneria Marconi and pre-Iron Maiden.

Inspired by controversial figure Norman Mailer’s novel in which I think in my opinion, it might be his debut novel in 1948 entitled, The Naked and the Dead. The lyrics are haunting and it delves into a disturbing view of the fictional universe between war and politics as the music sets the tone through the story. The midsection has a Van Der Graaf Generator twist and it is a chilling 7-minute story-song before fading into the night of what will happen next.

The bonus track, Good Time Girl which was released as a B-side, sees Gravy Train having a great time as they channel a shuffling Glam Rock take between the essence cross-over of Slade, The Kinks, String Driven Thing, and Ian Hunter. It is a rockin’ single and it shows them having a blast to get down into the groove and hitting the dance floors.

When the album was released in 1973, it didn’t do well. The band went back on the road and were supporting many of the big names including Genesis, Roxy Music, and Nazareth to name a few. The band broke up after the release of their fourth and final album, Staircase to the Day in 1974. When you listen to Second Birth, you can understand why this band were way ahead of their time.

It’s a shame they never got the recognition they deserve during the golden-era of the Progressive Rock scene of the 1970s. And with the Esoteric reissue which contains a 16-page booklet with liner notes by Malcolm Dome and interviews with J.D. Hughes about the history of the band and the making of their third album along with a little snippet interview with Norman Barratt.

Sadly, Norman passed away in 2011. And as I’ve mentioned Gravy Train never got the recognition they deserve, once you put this album on. You can tell where they could have gone and why they deserve some recognition. Let’s hope Esoteric does more of the Gravy Train reissues (they’ve already reissued their last album Staircase to the Day) including the first two albums released on Vertigo.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Top 35 Albums of 2016

Originally, this list was going to be in December towards the end of the year. But I realized that I know it's way, way, too early. I've decided to go ahead and post my top 30 albums of 2016. There will be some criticisms about this list, but what it is, it is. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you my top 30 albums of 2016.

1. Bent Knee - Say So (Cuneiform Records) 
2. David Bowie - Blackstar (ISO/Columbia)
3. Purson - Desire's Magic Theatre (Spinefarm Records)
4. Blood Ceremony - Lord of Misrule (Rise Above Records)
5. Iamthemorning - Lighthouse (Kscope)
6. Anderson/Stolt - Invention of Knowledge (Inside Out)
7. Dwiki Dharmawan - Pasar Klewer (MoonJune Records)
8. Stick Men - Prog Noir (Unsung Productions)
9. Van Der Graaf Generator - Do Not Disturb (Esoteric Antenna)
10. Gong - Rejoice! I'm Dead! (Snapper Music/Madfish)
11. Knifeworld - Bottled Out of Eden (Inside Out)
12. Zhongyu - Zhongyu (MoonJune Records)
13. Eye - Vision and Ageless Light (Laser's Edge)
14. Matthew Parmenter - All Our Yesterdays (Bad Elephant Music)
15. The Far Meadow - Given The Impossible (Bad Elephant Music)
16. Dewa Budjana - Zentuary (Favored Nations Entertainment)
17. Admirals Hard - Upon a Painted Ocean (Believer's Roast)
18. Maglev - Overwrite the Sin (Self-Released)
19. Syndone - Eros & Thanatos (Fading Records)
20. North Sea Radio Orchestra - Dronne (The Household Mark)
21. Chat Noir - Nine Thoughts For One Word (RareNoise Records)
22. WorldService Project - For King And Country (RareNoise Records)
23. Leon Alvarado - The Future Left Behind (Melodic Revolution Records)
24. Moulettes - Preternatural (Craft Pop Records)
25. Manna Non Piangere - Manna Non Piangere N.3 (AltrOck Records)
26. Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Black Stabat Mater (Rune Grammofon)
27. Tiles - Pretending 2 Run (Laser's Edge)
28. Cirrus Bay - Places Unseen (Self-Released)
29. The Rube Goldberg Machine - Fragile Times (Bad Elephant Music)
30. Aperco - The Battle (Self-Released)
31. Edensong - Years In The Garden of Years (Laser's Edge)
32. Opeth - Sorceress (Nuclear Blast)
33. Blues Pills - Lady in Gold (Nuclear Blast)
34. Vasil Hadzimanov Band featuring David Binney - Alive (MoonJune Records)
35. Yugen - Death By Water (AltrOck Records)

Friday, November 25, 2016

The top 15 reissues of 2016

Now while we have gone through the Turkey coma, this will be a perfect time to name the top 15 reissues of 2016. The top 35 albums of 2016 will be up sometime in December. But if you've been very good and want to ask Santa to name the albums that you've been really wanting to get for Christmas, here are my top 15 reissues of 2016. Criticism is welcome

1. The Move - Reissues (Esoteric Recordings)

2. Jethro Tull - Stand Up: The Elevated Edition (Chrysalis)

3. Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans (Panegyric)  

4. Anthony Phillips - 1984 (Esoteric Recordings)

5. Anthony Phillips - Sides (Esoteric Recordings)

6. Three Man Army - A Third of a Lifetime (Esoteric Recordings)

7. Pink Floyd - Cre/ation The Early Years 1967-1972 (Pink Floyd Records)

8. XTC - Skylarking (Ape House)

9. I'm a Freak Baby: A Journey Through the British Psych & Heavy Rock Underground Scene 1968-72 (Grapefruit)

10. Barclay James Harvest - Everyone is Everybody Else (Esoteric Recordings)

11. Let's Go Down & Blow Our Minds: The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967 (Grapefruit)

12. Gandalf - To Another Horizon (Esoteric Recordings)

13. Gilli Smyth - Mother (Esoteric Recordings)

14. Colosseum - Colosseum Live (Esoteric Recordings)

15. Gary Wright's Wonderwheel - Ring of Changes (Esoteric Recordings)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Let's Go Down and Blow Our Minds: The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967

Next year, will mark the 50th anniversary between the Summer of Love, the year music was changing. The year The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd’s overlooked debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and Procol Harum releasing their sole self-titled debut and their groundbreaking single, A Whiter Shade of Pale. But it was more than just those amazing albums and the Summer of Love. That and this amazing 3-CD set done by the great people by Grapefruit Records which is a part of the Cherry Red family.

It’s called, Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds: The British Psychedelic Sounds of 1967. It’s released in a clamshell box set done with a 41-page booklet about the history of the time period and focusing on the obscure, pop, novelty, unearthed nuggets, and histories about the bands/artists behind the music done by David Wells. This was like looking through the outside door of the closet and magic flowing out with brilliancy of the music that was ahead of its time. Along with some amazing highlights on here.

The title of Let’s Go Down and Blow Our Minds, comes from the song, Toyland which opens the set done by The Alan Bown. It’s a very whimsical, acoustical, flute, and symphonic of going through the dreamscape of a wonderland filled with Toys to be a kid all over again. The big ones are on here including The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s Give Him a Flower, Procol Harum’s Kaliedoscope, the proto glam-garage rock crunch of The Move’s Vote For Me, and the eerie scenario of Defecting Grey by The Pretty Things.

Elsewhere there’s the Denny Laine-era of The Moody Blues which he would embark on his career with Paul McCartney & Wings as he last appeared with the band on the soul/R&B touch, Life’s Not Life. We delve into the underground scene from The Purple Gang’s psych ragtime with a humoristic approach named after the shop called, Granny Takes a Trip, the homage to the Syd Barrett-era of Pink Floyd, Traffic and The Who’s Silas Stingy is evidential on The Riot Squad which features the late David Bowie on Toy Soldier.

Not to mention John Children featuring Marc Bolan of T. Rex delving more into Garage-Psych Rock flavor on Desdemona, The Doves essence of a romantic Smokeytime Springtime, Rupert’s People’s mournful with a soul/psych organ beauty for the Reflections of Charles Brown, Dantalian’s Chariot’s running through the speed of light of the insane asylum on The Madman Running Through the Fields, The Artwoods’ galloping drums, haunting organ and story of Into the Deep End, and The Flower Pot Men channeling the essence of Sagittarius meets The Beach Boys Pet Sounds-era of A Walk in the Sky.

Then there’s the obscurity hidden treasures. There’s the homage to the Jeff Beck-era of The Yardbirds with Pink, Purple, Yellow and Red by The Sorrows, Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera usage of proto-psych punk of the Bass ready to drive into the sunrise for the fires to go up in Flames, Sweet Feeling’s lyrical essence of The Kinks comes to mind for a marching beat for All So Long Ago, Skip Bifferty’s Schizoid Revolution which was about Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull who worked as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, and Richmond group, Sands paying homage to Gustav Holst’s Mars from the Planets suite played with a distorted feedback guitar along with the sound an air raid siren.

It is one of the most twists and turns that goes from psychedelic pop into nightmarish terror, and closes out the compilation. Funnily enough, Brian Epstein who was the Beatles manager, signed the band to his NEMS management company which was released on Stigwood’s Reaction label along with the flip side of their cover of the Bee Gees Mrs. Gillespie’s Refrigerator. Unfortunately the single disappeared after Brian’s death in that same year.

The 3-CD set is a wonderful discovery of listening to these unearthed, familiar, and overlooked gems of 1967. Grapefruit Records have done it again and I hope they will continue to do more to search for more unearthed recordings from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. If you love the psychedelic era along with Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation, then this is the one you need Santa to write and ask him to put on your Christmas wish list.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra - Dronne

Formed 14 years ago by Craig Fortnam (Arch Garrison and Knifeworld), North Sea Radio Orchestra are this cross between Chamber, Alternative Classical, and Victorian Music. They have released three albums from 2006 to 2011. It’s been five years since they’ve released another album. This year, they’ve released their fourth album entitled Dronne. Two years ago, the band performed in Lyon at the Nuits de Fourviere Festival performing the music and legacy of Robert Wyatt which Craig conducted.

In the NSRO performing Wyatt’s music alongside the band were William D. Drake (Cardiacs) and John Greaves of Henry Cow for the live performance. They decided to put a cover of one of Robert’s composition from his fourth album released in 1985 on Old Rottenhat entitled The British Road. This is an amazing honor and beautiful take of the song. They honor the song as they do it in the style of Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air with the keyboards before delving on the train voyage of the Krautrock adventure.

Craig and his wife Sharron share vocals each other on the song and they deliver justice to the piece. Guitar Miniature No. 4 sees Craig himself doing a folky-jig classical guitar down across the dancing sidewalk while Queen of All the Day and Night gives Sharron spooky vibes between this amazing arrangement of the song. You have this rapid ticking noise along with the violins done by Brian Wright with a middle-eastern vibe as you imagine yourself waking up and seeing the beautiful landscapes of India with a pastoral vibe.

I can imagine Sharron paying tribute to the Acid Folk scene. Not just that, but there is this lyrical texture set in this Victorian-era of England done in the styles of Ray Davies. The title track brings to mind not just the realms of Riley’s electronic compositions, but in the spacey voyages of Gong’s Radio Gnome trilogy as if Steve Reich himself was conducting the whole thing and making it surreal, strange, and hypnotic.

The opener, Arcade features guitars, and piano done by James Lacrombe as if both he and Craig share the same melodies between each other. With woodwind instruments setting up the scene by opening up a book that has been dusted and never touched for 73 years, opening up the book and the sounds of the Chamber-Pop musical mind as if you are looking through between the pages of the past and present before heading towards to see what the future holds for you.

While I have mentioned about the sharing vocals between Craig and his wife, Sharron in which both of them do an incredible job, the song Alsace Lorraine is Craig doing a take of lullaby of cradling a child to put them to sleep in a gentle composition. It is a terrific piece that do a duet as the violins and cello brings some sadness and lifting beauty that will bring you to tears.

The closing 2-part suite, Dinosaurus Rex starts off in part one with medieval chamber music a-la Mike Oldfield style between Nicola’s B-flat bass clarinet, Luke Crookes’ bassoon, Harry Escott’s cello, and Brian Wright’s violin work along with a mid-fast fingerpicking acoustic guitar and organ sections with a wicked twist of humor. The second part ends with a solemn atmosphere to close the album off.

It’s been two years since I’ve discovered North Sea Radio Orchestra when I bought I A Moon on Wayside Music and I almost forgotten about them. But with their new album, I was completely blown away right from the get-go. This is a very good, surreal, weird, beautiful, and staggering album I’ve listened to. I hope Craig continues to do more with the NSRO and Dronne is an album exploring the music of the Experimental, Chamber, Canterbury, and Folky side of their sound.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Jethro Tull - Stand Up: The Elevated Edition

This 2-CD/2-DVD set contains an amazing reissue of Jethro Tull’s second album released in the summer of 1969 as Stand Up: The Elevated Edition. Originally released in August of that year on the pink Island label in Europe and on the Reprise label in the States, this was a diverse album. It shows Tull moving away from the Blues-Rock sound that was on their 1968 debut, This Was, into more of a Progressive, Folk, Jazz, and Classical approach they were moving into.

By this time period in 1968, Mick Abrahams left the band to form Blodwyn Pig before the band went on to record the second album because he felt that they should stay to the Blues roots and tension was between him, Ian, and Glenn. Enter, Martin Lancelot Barre who would join to take Abrahams place on guitar and be the only band member with Ian from 1969 to 2011. It’s not a concept album, but it’s more of a lyrical structure album dealing with Ian Anderson’s relationship between the band members and his family.

This was also Ian’s writing all the lyrics and in full control of the music. What I love also about this amazing set, is the homage to the children’s pop-up cover of the band members done by woodcarver James Grashow who worked on the album cover of the Stand Up album. You have Bach’s Bouree done in the style of a walking Jazz-Classical melody thanks to the late great Glenn Cornick’s bass. He takes his Bass through the jazz melody before delving into a rhythm style groove in the midsection.

While this album is at times, semi-autobiographical from Ian’s point of view and dealing with his issues with his Mom and Dad on Back to the Family and For a Thousand Mothers, it shows while that you are on the road and while they might oppose to what you do, it is a struggle that you want their approval to know that you’re not a little kid anymore, but you’ve worked hard and hard to make it. These two tracks are bluesy, psychedelic, and showing nod to Traffic.

Fat Man is an intense Celtic Folk Rock foot-stomping rhythm with a thunderous percussion work done by Clive Bunker while Ian is punching through the incredible strumming on his Acoustic Guitar and the Mandolin as the song deals with while you are an easy target being picked on as the fat one, you know you’ll reach a boiling point by knowing they push you too far, you push back.

The opener A New Day Yesterday and Nothing Is Easy, which features a crunching heavy riff blues-rockin’ opener and Ian’s switch both from Harmonica to Flute is jaw-dropping along with Martin’s instrument going through a circular phasing sound as the sixth track with Martin delivering the message again as Clive delves into some of the essence of a mode style in the work of Buddy Rich.

Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s novels, Desolation Angels and Dharma Bums which Tull paid homage to Kerouac’s title on Dharma For One for This Was, We Used to Know is a moving and touching ballad on looking back on the winter of 1967 of him living in the Attic room in the coldest part of the day. The shillings in the lyric was him to put in the electric meter and get the electric fire. You have to imagine what Ian was going through during that rough period. It’s such a wonderful song and dealing with the hardships of struggling to make it big.

The bonus tracks contain the original 1969 mono single mixes, 1969 stereo single mixes, and new stereo mixes done by Steven Wilson who has done the new remix of the entire album, the singles Living in the Past and Driving Song. And it includes the studio in which the band were recording in Morgan Studios of doing a different version of Bouree. And BBC Sessions they did for John Peel who would later turn his back on Tull. Not to mention two radio spots for the second album.

The second CD contains a live performance they did on January 9, 1969 at the Stockholm Konserthuset in which they were a supporting act for The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This contains the second show and you can close your eyes and be at the concert and witnessing this band giving the Blues Rocking powerhouse and knowing that they would get the audience’s stamp of approval.

Including different lyrics for the first show on To Be Sad is a Mad Way to Be. On Martin’s Tune, it is an incredible composition on the live performance of the second set. Both Ian and Martin are on fire and it’s almost as if they are taking turns between each other on who would do some improvisations between wood and guitar as it goes up higher and higher.

There is a calming moment in the last 3-minutes before descending into a climatic end with audience’s applauding at the right moment.  Now with To Be Sad is a Mad Way to Be, features Glenn’s walking Bass lines along with the harmonica as the song they would take notes from Howlin’ Wolf or Willie Dixon as if they could have written this song for themselves or for Muddy Waters on the blues label, Checker Records.

Steven himself has done an amazing job capturing the spirit of the album with the new mix. He knew that the tracks had to be cleaned up and improved and bringing the vocals in front. For example on the single, Living in the Past, there was an Organ track which was issued in the 1972 issue irreversible of removing the flute track. But what Steven did was that he contained both the original and later mix and combined it into one.

The DVD contains both the new stereo mix, the original mix in a flat transfer, 5.1 mix, and concert footage of Tull at the Stockholm Konserthuset of the two clips containing To Be Sad is a Mad Way to Be and Back into the Family. The 112 booklet contains Nick Logan’s original report he wrote for the NME when he was on the road with Tull in 1969, Ian Anderson’s annotation of the album, Extensive article by Martin Webb about the making of Stand Up, a tribute to Glenn Cornick including his selected discography alongside Tull with Wild Turkey, The John Evan Band, The Executives, Karthago, and Paris. 

An interview with James “Jimmy” Grashow, photos of the band, Remembering Andy Johns with an interview assistant Engineer, John Burns, and the full chronological 1969 tour dates and recording. This is a must have set if you are a Tull fan and for me, it’s one of my favorite albums that I highly recommend for either Christmas or Hanukkah that you need to have Santa to write that you want as a gift. 

I would like to close out a small quote from Jack Kerouac’s novel, Desolation Angels; Hope is a word like a snow-drift. This is the Great Knowing, this is the Awakening, this is Voidness. So shut up, live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Eye - Vision and Ageless Light

One of the most mind-blowing bands to come out of Columbus, Ohio is a group called Eye. They have released their third album entitled, Vision and Ageless Light. This was an album I was really excited for because I have almost forgotten about them since hearing their debut in 2011, Center of the Sun. With two albums in the can and a live album, and different line-up changes, Eye are back in action and being signed to The Laser’s Edge label, it shows there’s no stopping them.

When it was announced this year they were releasing the new album and coming in November before Thanksgiving, I went ahead and pre-ordered the album from The Laser’s Edge website. With five tracks including one clocking in at 27 minutes, the new line-up which Eye drummer Brandon Smith who’s played on the first two albums, he still has the goods.

Vision and Ageless Light considers alongside Brandon Smith, Lisa Bella Donna on Keyboards, 6 and 12-string Guitar, and Vocals; Michael Slicien, Bass Guitar, Upright Bass, Percussion and Vocals; and Jon Finley on Electric/Acoustic Guitar. It is a sonic voyage combined with psychedelic, progressive, and doom metal with essence of Black Sabbath, ASTRA, and Pink Floyd showing a return to form.

Opener, Book of the Dead features the Mellotron going through the strings and cello sections between the mind of Eloy and King Crimson’s Lizard-era before Brandon’s drums open the floodgates as the electronic synths kick in by Lisa herself as she delves into the mode of the late, great Edgar Froese. Michael and Jon do some rumbling rhythms in a fuzz tone/dooming sound on the Guitar and Bass before Jon and Lisa head into a jazzier section as they Kill the Slavemaster.

The arrangements are staggering and almost as if Lisa is conducting and writing a story in the styles of both Richard Corben and Michael Moorcock and doing something straight out of the adult illustrated fantasy comic-book, Heavy Metal. What I also love about Eye, is they pay homage to not just the late ‘60s and early ‘70s of psychedelic and progressive music, but doing in the styles of a band.

With Searching, they do the song in the styles of East of Eden’s Northern Hemisphere and my eye-brows went up right from the moment they head back into the milky way as they hurl through the cosmic voyages of Space Rock. They take their ship with a roaring sound to get ready for action to search for new life. And then Brandon goes into the drumming techniques of Mitch Mitchell in the Hendrix-sque groove.

Eye really gives listeners some unexpected twists and turns. And they do! The band switch from Space into Psych-Acoustic-Folk music with the mood melodies of insanity into the space-like sky with double-tracked vocal effects with the delay/reverb sounds with mid-tempo rhythms to meet the Dweller of the Twilight Void. The finale which clocks in at 27 minutes and 11 seconds is, As Sure as the Sun.

With the acoustic guitars coming in and mellotron’s galore, Lisa takes her keyboards into the styles of the Krautock scene. All of a sudden it transforms to a heavy, swirling, militant, and dynamic format of Rush’s A Farewell to Kings-era meets Nektar’s A Tab in the Ocean-era. It feels as if a story is taking place as this character is going on a suicidal mission going to sacrifice his life by heading towards the heart of the sun and knowing he will be at peace instead of living like a manic depressive.

Lisa is very much in the haywire modes on her keyboards as Brandon goes a bit all over the place on the drums. There are some driving sections a-la ASTRA style with chugging grooves as guitars with the lead and rhythm sections blare out of the soaring tunnels as it changes into atmospheric haunting melodies from the minds of Annot Rhul and Van Der Graaf Generator and of course, Nektar.

Vision and Ageless Light is a welcome back for the band. It is weird, mind-boggling, and out of this world, but it is an accomplishment. This is one of the most powerful journey's I’ve listened to and I hope they will do more for the next years to come. If you are new to the band’s music, this is worth recommending.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Zombie Picnic - A Suburb of Earth

It’s been two weeks since I’ve done a review lately. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up very soon, so it’s to do a review for some albums. This afternoon, I received a package in the mail of a band that just completely took me off the edge of my seat. It was this cross between Progressive, Post, Kraut, and Space Rock. A four-piece from Limerick, Ireland called Zombie Picnic.

They have released their debut album entitled, A Suburb of Earth. The band considers Brian Fitzgerald on Bass, James Griffin on Guitar, Dave Tobin on Guitar, and Brendan Miller on Drums. It is a journey to the infinite worlds inspired by the beat poets of the 1950s and the classic of science fiction who is known for his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke.

The music is very mysterious, cosmic, and exaggerating. I can hear the influences between The Fierce and The Dead, CAN, NEU!, Radiohead, Hawkwind, Mogwai, and Elephant9 with Reine Fiske. They know their influences well to the spot on here. The six-string textures of the duo between Griffin and Tobin, is the “Holy Shit!” momentum. It’s almost as if they are new captains along with Fitzgerald and Miller’s incredible rhythm section on both Bass and Drums.

I love how they would use reverb/delay effects of the tone setting of going into the outer limits of space, time, and poetry combined. It is a real treat for what the four-piece have brought. It feels as if you are in hyper-space with a blaring soundtrack inside your mind with four instrumental pieces that clock in 7, 8, 10, and 11-minutes. It was for me a real surprise.

Not just because it’s an awesome debut, but the way the four-piece have worked really hard and made sure note-by-note, space-by-space Zombie Picnic took some baby steps to create an outer space/milky way adventure. With creativity, cosmic, and thumping rhythmic adventures, A Suburb of Earth is the album I recommend. And to close out in the words of the episode, Space Madness from The Ren & Stimpy Show, All right Space Cadets! Prepare to hurtle through the cosmos!” 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Black Stabat Mater

I first became aware of Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen’s music when I first heard about her on Sid Smith’s blog, Postcards from the Yellow Room. As I’ve mentioned in one of my reviews, whenever Sid plays or writes about something on his blog, podcasts, or on PROG Magazine, that would make my ears light up, I know I have to put that on my wish list. The Rune Grammofon label is one of my favorites. It's up there with MoonJune, Cunieform, AltrOck, Esoteric Recordings, Laser’s Edge, Rise Above Records, and the Svart label.

They always release something special and mind-blowing albums from the label. Whether it would be Fire! Orchestra, Motorpsycho, Grand General, Elephant9, or the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, they know my ears would perk up to some amazing bands from the label. Back two years ago, I went and bought Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s Enfant Terrible on Wayside Music and it completely knocked me out of my socks off. This year, she’s released her new album entitled, Black Stabat Mater.

When it was shown on one of the new arrivals on The Laser’s Edge website, I bought straight away. Listening to this album, Hedvig’s guitar playing is like a menacing forceful eruptive explosion that is waiting to happen at the right moment. With the textures of Jazz, Space Rock, Doom Metal, and Post-Rock voyages through the outer limits, she creates this tension. Not only her playing is out of this world, but Ellen Brekken’s Bass, and Ivar Loe Bjornstad’s drumming set the engines engaged to hyper-speed.

There is some elements between early Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, Ash Ra Tempel, and King Crimson. She really takes the listener to those voyages and there’s no stopping her now along with her fellow comrades to keep the fuzzing sound thanks to Ellen and intense drumming techniques by Ivar. She is the new commander-in-chief on the metallic spaceship and the new captain of extra mind-blowing adventures through the five compositions.

With riffs, chord changes, and insane moments, you baldly need to turn this volume all the way up to kingdom come. She’s a very busy person. Mind you, the trio really get down into some space voyage business. It’s also my third time listening to Black Stabat Mater. And I was blown away right from the get-go and knowing she is a damn good and excellent guitar player.

I’ve mentioned a quick second ago, she’s a very busy person. She collaborated with bands/artists such as the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Hilde Marie Kjersem, The Cumshots, and El Doom and the Born Electric. And now she is going to be on the new White Willow album released next year. To me, it’s a stamp of approval and a perfect combination for her to work with some of these bands/artists and of course White Willow.

Who says women can’t play an instrument? They can. And they can kick some gigantic ass with it. Hedvig herself will blow you away for the space madness adventure she will take you on with the Black Stabat Mater.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hominido - Alados

Since I was blown away by this band from Chile thanks to their 2014 debut album Estripe Litica, Hominido are back again with a follow up their debut with the release of their second album entitled, Alados which is self-released this year. The word Alados translated, means Wings. It is a concept album about Birds from Chile and how their personalities of the birds are related to the characteristics of the human race. It’s a diverse album from their debut and it shows at times, a classical side to Hominido.

There’s also a different line-up. Javier Briceno takes over Eliana’s role as vocals, Francisco Martin isn’t there on his bass as Natan Ide is taking the bass over with his Touch Guitar a-la Trey Gunn and Tony Levin style! But also Rodrigo’s drumming, gives it the driving beat and the heart, soul-like force of the sound of Hominido. With bits of keyboards flowing in, but in the album the band uses; Trumpets, Violins, Duduks, and French Horns.

Listening to Alados, you can close your eyes and imagine yourself being the landscapes of Chile and visiting the exotic birds and how they relate of what the humans go through. With Melodic, World Music, Metal, and a Progressive side to them, the lyrics are sung in Spanish and it sets the background and tempo through the atmosphere with 11 tracks throughout the entire album.

I can hear the styles between Steven Wilson, Syndone, King Crimson, and Gentle Giant and I can imagine the influences flow well into Hominido’s music. Now Javier’s vocals reaches higher peaks throughout his arrangements and while there are dramatic approaches with thundering moments, the birds fly to meet their flock to teach their little ones to fly.

Fanfare anthems, Spaghetti Westerns, and Salsa Grooves thrown into the blender from the horn sections, I always imagine Ennio Morricone conducting the band and letting them do whatever they want by using carte blanche and have creative control by letting the band do whatever they would like. This is my second listen of hearing Alados. As I’ve mentioned before, it is a diverse album, and while the new sound may find listeners interesting to see where the band will lead into next, it is a very good album.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Muffins - Manna/Mirage

Formed in 1973 in their hometown in Washington D.C., The Muffins were this combination between the Canterbury scene and the Rock In Opposition movement. They were a cross between Gong, Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, Frank Zappa, and the Soft Machine. In 1978, they released their debut album entitled Manna/Mirage which Cuneiform Records reissued 25 years ago.

The band considers Billy Swan on Bass, Piano Guitar, and Percussions, Paul Sears on Drums, Gong, Xylophone, Vibes, Percussions, Pots, Pans, and Pennywhistle, Tom Scott on Wind Instruments and Percussion and Dave Newhouse on Keyboards, Wind Instruments, and Percussions. There are four tracks two of which are 15 and 22-minutes.

Opener, Monkey with the Golden Eyes features flute, electric piano, oboe combining with Wyatt-sque backgrounds done in the style of the Northettes arrangements with beautiful textures before the alarming and rising Organs with xylophones in the reminiscent of Egg’s Dave Stewart. Then it becomes a nightmarish Free-Jazz Avant-Garde 12-tone harmonies in the style of David Bedford and Frank Zappa as if they conducted together of wind improvisations between Scott, Newhouse, and Sears swirling chaotic drums as Hobart Got Burned.

Amelia Earhart is 15-minutes of an adventure dedicated to the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean then suddenly disappearing in the Devil’s Triangle. It begins with the world music in a chilling background for 1 minute and 34 seconds before the odd signatures of Rhodes, Fuzztone sounds, Drums, and Bass before the intense section of the Wah-Wah Bass, Flutes echoing Didier Malherbe before Billy Swan’s fuzz bass comes in.

Then the wackiness and thumping percussions and delving into the essence of Gong’s The Isle of Everywhere with the Herbie Hancock flavor with a spacey scenario. The last track clocks in at 22-minutes is The Adventures of Captain Boomerang (For Mike Forrester). The Muffins themselves go into overdrive to make the jump for intense light speed. They are in full control. And featuring Cuneiform founder Steve Feigenbaum on Guitar creating the underwater section and appearing on the Amelia track, the band themselves go through these different levels with a “Holy Shit!” momentum.

Blaring saxes and music changing gears, it’s almost as if they had done a score for either an episode The Ren & Stimpy Show or one of the Fleischer cartoons and almost giving Disney and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a big gigantic middle finger. And at times they can also do the music set to the paintings between Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock.

I love how that the band are in full control with free-rein with the sense of humor into their music and knowing that they are working together as a team to capture more of the Canterbury influences like a burst of thunder coming down at you in a quick second. They are in full control throughout the entire piece. Now, my introduction to the band’s music was in Romantic Warriors II and III. Not to mention Prog Rock Deep Cuts with Ian Beabout.

This is the real deal if you want to delve more into the musical boundaries of both the Rock In Opposition and Canterbury movement. If you love the genres then check into The Muffins Manna/Mirage. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Curved Air - The Curved Air Rarities Series Volume 1: Tapestry of Propositions

Curved Air for me, are one of the most overlooked and underrated Progressive Rock bands to come out of the ‘70s. Among supporters including the great John Peel and Lee Dorrian, founder of Rise Above Records and founding member of Napalm Death and Cathedral, they have never done me wrong when it comes to taking music to higher levels. I first heard their music back 10 years ago when my Mom got me the 4-CD box set from Rhino entitled, Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era. The box set has been out of print for a long time, but you can find some copies of it on eBay.

Since their formation in the ‘70s and lead by the amazing Sonja Kristina whose vocals just sends chills down the spine whenever I would put on either Air Conditioning, Phantasmagoria, or Second Album, they would take the dark side of music to a sinister background. This year they released the first volume of the Rarities and it’s titled, Tapestry of Propositions. The song was originally released on their debut album in 1970 released 46 years ago on the Warner Bros. label, and it still packs a punch both the studio and live version of the song.

Here, recorded live between 2013-14, it is a 64 minute and 34 second adventure of the different improvisations of the piece which was done by present keyboardist, Robert Norton. He painstakingly compiled the pieces into one of 15 movements of the song and made into a whole circle. You can close your eyes and imagine yourself at these gigs and watching the band giving the energy and power to delve into.

It is dark, haunting, spiritual, and raw. The variations is right in front of your eyes. Most of the time, it’s Jazz, Fusion, Spacey, Krautrock. Or should I say Space Rock with a Jazz-Krautrock Floydian twist thanks to the keyboard sections done by Norton himself. Guitarist Kirby Gregory is not just channeling the styles of former Curved Air/Sky guitarist Francis Monkman, but he’s going through the voyages between CAN’s Michael Karoli, Hawkwind's Dave Brock, and Ash Ra Tempel’s Manuel Gottsching.

I can imagine the band are in a tightrope after Sonja belts her scream that gives the audience the stamp of approval and then she gives the band the center stage and give them free rein. They want to make sure they don’t fall to the ground and they don’t throughout the entire improvisations. This is not your typical Dead show, this is Curved Air at their finest. Not to mention the dynamic and amazing drum work by Florian Pilkington-Miska and the intense violin work from Paul Sax.

Here they are giving the powers of a high-tech electrical power with thunderous sections that will have jaws drop at the same time. I always imagine Sonja not just as a singer, but I can imagine her as at times Leopold Stokowski. She is to me, like a conductor telling the band where she wants to go into the next section and the first volume of the rarities, I could tell I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out where they will go next.

For me, while this is a first volume of the Curved Air rarities, I hope they will do more and find some unearthed gems that didn’t make it into the final cut of their albums or live material also. But here with the Tapestry of Propositions, it’s an extended version or a director's cut of the song that you just want to put your headphones and turn this up to 11 and be in awe of the music of Curved Air.