Archive for February, 2011

News from Runaway Totem

February 24, 2011

A press release from Runaway Totem is always mysterious and epic, much like their music. I can’t begin to capture the flavor any better than simply reproducing it without further embellishment. So here you go. By the way, they have also released a currently-unreviewed live album Ai Cancelli dell’Ombra (from a concert in 1994) since their last entry update, which I’ll try to get added to the GEPR soon. — Fred Trafton

Runaway Totem is proud to announce that the third and final movement of 4 Elements 5, Le Roi Du Monde will be published in March 2011. This album marks the end of the First Symphony NOUS. In order to complete the album, given its complexity and importance, two new Elements are descended.

Current Elements:
CAHÅL DE BÊTÊL Guitars, Voice, Keyboards, Synth and Sampler
TIPHERET Drums, Percussions, Kettle-drum and Keyboards
DAUNO Telluric Bass
RAFFAELLO RE-TUZ REGOLI Voice, Diplophonic voices and Obliquitions
ANBIS-UR MARCO ZANFEI Electronic Piano, Keyboards

This last Album is so important that a new Entity descended on this World, in order to support Runaway Totem with its Work. We’re talking about Modern Totem Ensemble. Runaway Totem is the Star, and Modern Totem Ensemble is a Planet orbiting around it. It’s like other Planets, that during the Time will show themselves and descend on this World.

Modern Totem Ensemble
MAURO BIATEL Photography

Best Regards

Click here for Runaway Totem‘s entry in the GEPR

Algebra – JL

February 21, 2011

In my original Algebra write-up for their GEPR entry written 11/21/01, my concluding statement was, “Algebra are currently recording new material for a second album entitled Il Gabbiano Jonathan Livingston. They say it will be released soon.” Well, “soon” is a relative term in the world of Prog. This isn’t the first band I’ve heard say they’re recording and will be releasing a new album “soon”, then have many years go by until I’ve forgotten all about the promise, only to have it suddenly show up. In these modern times, life (and day jobs) do get in the way of art. Such is the case with Algebra‘s 2009 release of JL, clearly the final title for what they had been calling Il Gabbiano Jonathan Livingston. Yeah, either way, it’s Richard Bach‘s 1970 seagull story set to music.

JL is a pretty big step up in quality from their first album Storia di un Iceberg, in recording quality and musical composition both. It’s mostly because of the vocals, I guess, but it recalls more than anything else for me Le Orme, circa Uomo Di Pezza. It’s got everything … Hammond organ, flutes, saxes, synthesizers and guitars, and of course Italian lyrics. It’s pretty clear these folks really like ’70’s Italian prog, and this album is nicely done the style. Just enough recording quirkiness to not sound too “slick”, yet also not too amateurish (a frequent problem on Storia di un Iceberg). Some just-slightly out of tune guitars drive me nuts on a couple of songs, particularly “I gabbiani non volano al buio”, but as I’ve said elsewhere, I think I’m particularly sensitive to this … probably you won’t even notice.

Bottom line is that JL is a pretty good album, and if you’re a fan of ’70’s Italian prog at all, you should check out this modern recapturing of that feeling. Quite nice. I imagine if I understood the vocals, it would add another dimension to the album … note for those Italian speakers out there! You can buy JL (or Storia di un Iceberg) via the BTF web site, see link below.

I should also mention that Algebra has continued to make contributions to tribute albums. Their most recent were their covers of “Dear Diary” for the 2006 Moody Blues tribute album Higher and Higher, “Que Hacer” for the 2006 Luis Miguel tribute album Mas Che Never, and “This Train Is My Life” for the 2010 Marillion tribute album Recital for a Season’s End. — Fred Trafton

Click here for the Algebra web site
Click here to purchase Storia di un Iceberg or JL from the BTF web site

Ukab Maerd – The Waiting Room

February 14, 2011

Ukab Maerd is a side project of Djam Karet members Chuck Oken Jr. and Gayle Ellet. Ukab Maerd is “Baku Dream” spelled backwards, a reference to Djam Karet‘s 2003 release A Night for Baku. For their first album The Waiting Room, they are joined by French electronics luminary Richard Pinhas (of Heldon) who contributes Frippian guitar loops that act as a backdrop against Oken‘s drums and Ellet‘s electronic keyboards and guitar of his own.

The Waiting Room turns out to be pretty easy to describe … it sounds most like earlier, more experimental (as in “less new-agey”) Tangerine Dream, with a fair amount of Fripp and Eno thrown in for good measure. The second part is due to Pinhas‘ guitar loops, but in most places they’re so subtle they’re hard to separate from the synthesized sound washes. Some call this style ambient, but to me one of the requirements of ambient is that it can go into the background and be successfully ignored. I do not find The Waiting Room to be ignorable … there’s so much interesting stuff happening that I really want to pay attention to it. Probably not actual fare for a waiting room (I’m not sure I would have the same sentiments about Eno‘s Music for Airports, which actually might sound pretty good in an airport). This ain’t rock by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly progressive and very interesting for those of us who know how to listen to this style. The recording is also much better than those old ’70’s recordings in its clean, high-presence recording quality and lack of (unintentional) noise.

The bottom line is that if you’re a fan of Tangerine Dream or Fripp and Eno, or more specifically, Richard Pinhas, Heldon or the more “ambient” offerings from Djam Karet, then this will be right up your alley. I think this is a great album, and will happily recommend it to any fan of the style. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Ukab Maerd‘s page on the Djam Karet web site (click on “Present” door)
Click here for Ukab Maerd‘s MySpace page
Click here to order The Waiting Room from CD Baby

The Orb – Metallic Spheres

February 7, 2011

When I heard that The Orb had teamed up with Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour, I must admit that I was hoping for a new Gilmour solo album, like On An Island or something.

Undeterred by the reviewers who said, “this ain’t no David Gilmour solo album”, I went ahead and ordered Metallic Spheres. “How bad could it be?” I thought. Since I love Gilmour and like The Orb, I can’t go wrong, right?

Well, for better or worse, the other reviewers were dead on. This is, indeed, no David Gilmour solo album. In fairness, it doesn’t claim to be. The credits say it’s The Orb featuring David Gilmour, and that’s exactly what Metallic Spheres is. It’s music by The Orb with Gilmour playing solos on various sorts of guitars around the trancey electronics. From what I’ve read, the influence went the other way too, with Gilmour soloing and The Orb (Archie Patterson and Youth) composing a backing context for it, and rearranging the guitar parts to fit as well.

So, is it OK? Well, yeah, it is. It’s not the next great thing in music. It’s certainly not the next David Gilmour solo album. But it’s not bad. I’ve listened to it several times. It’s The Orb. Expect no more than that and you won’t be disappointed. And one more chance to hear Gilmour‘s Floydian guitar work along with that? It’s the icing on this cake. I think many GEPR readers will like this if they give it a chance. — Fred Trafton

Click here for The Orb‘s web site (which currently just sends you to their MySpace page)

Zip Tang – Feed Our Heads

February 1, 2011

Zip Tang – Marcus Padgett (sax, keys, vocals), Rick Wolfe (bass, vocals), Perry Merritt (guitar, vocals) and Fred Faller (drums, percussion)

Somehow, I missed the release of Pank (head buried in the sands of work, no doubt), so I don’t have anything to say about that album, but the band sent me a copy of their 2010 release Feed Our Heads. Man, this band is a totally class act. If you’re the kind of listener who rolls their eyes at “wankery”, “self-indulgence” or “bombast” when it comes to their prog, then you’re gonna love Zip Tang. Well, OK, there’s a little bit of wah wah burbling spaciness in the synths and jazzy sax solos (enough to make me ask if they were Gong fans — they’re not!), and the guitars certainly don’t stick to easy passages or 4/4 time signatures. It might be considered too difficult and attention-demanding by younger listeners who’ve grown up on alt-rock or 2000’s pop stars, but for those who would be reading the GEPR, this is really not hard to listen to at all, very mature and familiar without rehashing the same old jazz or rock stylings. The biggest danger is not noticing the progginess on the first listen because it feels so natural, and then not listening to it again. Don’t do that! Three listens minimum!

My closest comparison would still be to Zappa, though I could also compare them to Umphrey’s McGee in that they are very much modern guitar and rock oriented, rather than ’70’s prog in style. Zip Tang also makes heavy use of vocal harmonies, almost to the point that Gentle Giant comes to mind, though Zip Tang‘s approach is way less classical and less British-sounding. The recording quality on Feed Our Heads is marvelous, every instrument can be heard with crystal clarity.

And, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the lyrical content. Very inventive. “Girl Behind the Glass” is a song either about a peep show patron or a peeping tom expressing his love for a girl he can watch but never have or even touch. But rather than coming across as creepy, I actually feel compassion for the guy. But my favorite is “I’ll Put It Right”, a song about someone making the most outrageous promises from free health care to getting rid of all crime, taxes, bad TV shows and insect annoyances. Oh, yeah, and he’ll create a world religion so we can all live in peace and harmony and have an answer to any question we might ask. Hey, I want this guy for president!

Feed Our Heads isn’t your usual prog album at all, which makes it truly progressive rather than “retro”. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly to mine. I really love this album, as much as I did Luminiferous Ether (even without an ELP cover song), and it will score high on my “Best of 2010” list*. Give it a couple of listens for maximum penetration … it will FEED YOUR HEAD if you do! OK, someone had to say it. — Fred Trafton

* Which I really will get around to compiling one of these days. Hey, I still haven’t heard every 2009 album yet!

Click here for Zip Tang‘s web site
Click here for Zip Tang‘s MySpace page
Click here to order Luminiferous Ether from CD Baby
Click here to order Pank from CD Baby
Click here to order Feed Our Heads from CD Baby

Cue – Five Steps to Happiness

February 1, 2011

Cue is a Dutch band, who I might characterize more as “art-rock” than “prog”. That’s just because, at least for their second album, Five Steps to Happiness, the emphasis is on the lyrics and story of this concept/rock opera album more than trying to impress you with their instrumental prowess. There’s some nice playing on here nonetheless, in a ’70’s “classic rock” mold, but the story is what this album is about.

It’s the tale of an emo goth kid (he dresses in Victorian attire …) who’s a self-styled intellectual (… while studying to be a medieval historian), and is dark and depressed all the time. Then one day, he finds a “ticket” with the inscription “Five Steps to Happiness” on it. There are cryptic instructions on the ticket, but as he strolls through the cemetery he hangs out in, he decides it can’t be for him, since he’s “always so glum”. As we’re guided through the double CD, he goes on a modified “hero’s journey” to discover what life is about by following the instructions on the ticket, to find the mystical land of Borkulo, and find true love along the way.

Trite? Naive? Overworked? OK, it’s all of the above. But it’s so charmingly done, it’s hard to not be carried away by the youthful enthusiasm (and these band members all look VERY young) and optimism of these folks. The inclusion of both male and female vocals really helps this to be more of an opera than just a narrative, and the story resonates with things we hate about our own lives (“He’s busy … no time to think … never any time … there’s always stuff to do …”).

So, for those who would like to try out a feelgood story and don’t need to be too serious about their “prog”, this album is very good theatrical art-rock. Clearly the output of inspired and talented amateurs (or at least young, starry-eyed newbies to the cutthroat world of music) rather than “pros”, but that just adds to the charm. I actually like it that the CD cover of the promo I got was clearly created on someone’s color printer and the CD’s were hand-labelled CDR’s. If you order the album from them, you’ll get 2 CDR’s with the CUE logo “lightscribed” on the top, not a pro-pressed CD. But for $US 12.50 for a 2CD release (that includes postage), a made-on-demand CDR is a good deal.

But I did get a nicely-printed ticket to Borkulo with the Five Steps … now, which way should I go to find that forgotten Aunt?

As a final note, the band describes their debut album as “more progressive/fusion oriented”, and it is still available as an on-demand lightscribed CDR. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Cue‘s web site
Click here for Cue‘s MySpace page
Click here to email Cue about ordering Five Steps to Happiness or their debut album