Archive for the ‘Update Existing Band’ Category

Agents of Mercy – The Black Forest

January 16, 2012

The Black Forest

For my previous reviews of Agents of Mercy, I had only heard bits and pieces of the albums I talked about, a fact I hope I made that clear in those reviews. However, for their 2011 offering The Black Forest, I got to hear the album in its entirety several times. So what to say about this album? It does indeed have the similarities to Transatlantic I mentioned before, particularly in the high quality of the production. But where Transatlantic has a definite Beatles vibe, The Black Forest is completely missing such a flavoring. Instead, imagine if Genesis had become a bit more accessible while still remaining progressive and you’re in the ballpark of what this sounds like. That’s doubtless at least in part due to vocalist Nad Sylvan‘s Peter Gabriel-like tone, though he seems to have cut back on this just a bit for this album, at least for some of the songs. He’s a very verstile and emotional vocalist, and it’s great for him to have such a high quality backing band behind him now (relative to his former band Unifaun, even though I liked them too).

And it’s great for us too, because The Black Forest is a really good album. It’s not ground-breaking or challenging in any way, but it’s really good symphonic neo-prog with great playing, mature compositions, and sparkly-clean studio work. If you need challenging or avant-garde wierdness in your music, you’ll undoubtedly characterize The Black Forest as “boring and uninspired” or something similar. But for my tastes, this is a really good album that I’ll be listening to with some frequency for years to come. Check it out and decide for yourself … very nice in my opinion. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Agents of Mercy‘s web site
Click here for Agents of Mercy‘s MySpace page

Ancient Future – World Without Walls re-release

November 8, 2011

World Without Walls by Ancient Future

What’s an album like World Without Walls doing in the GEPR? “That’s not prog!” I hear you say. Well, in my view it’s definitely progressive, in the true sense of the word, rather than the “sounds like Yes, Genesis or King Crimson” sense. Ancient Future coined the phrase “World Fusion” to describe their music. Not insipid easy-listening “World Music”, though it might make you think of that if you aren’t listening closely. World Without Walls is a remastered re-release of their 1990 classic, and doesn’t sound dated at all.

World Without Walls is a fusion of musical stylings, scales and rhythms from around the world. The main influences I hear are Middle Eastern, Indian and South American, though there’s also Jamaican “Island Music” sounds, Balinese and probably dozens of other influences too subtle for me to notice. The instruments run the gamut of acoustic instruments like violins, piano, tuned percussion instruments and tablas (by renowned master Zakir Hussein) and also electric guitar synths and synthesizers. Leader Matthew Montfort plays (along with other guitars) a unique scalloped-fretboard acoustic guitar which allows for subtle pitch-bending and timbre-modulation effects. A careful listen will reveal that this is way beyond the usual health-food store “World Music” offerings and is instead a high-energy, very experimental fusion of styles from around the world. Highly recommended, and now offered as a digital download for the first time (see link below).

Click here for Ancient Future‘s web site
Click here to download World Without Walls from iTunes

Derek Sherinian – Oceana

August 9, 2011

In the last release of the GEPR, I added an entry for Derek Sherinian with a bunch of blathering about his tenure with Dream Theater, etc. To this I should have added his credentials of playing with lots of famous rockers in a supporting role, including Billy Idol, Alice Cooper (Cooper dubbed him “The Caligula of the keyboards” whatever that’s supposed to mean), Kiss (backstage, black and white face paint and silver platform shoes were not required) and tech-metal icon Yngwie Malmsteen. In addition, he’s the keyman for “Classic Rock” super-group Black Country Communion. But I didn’t have much to say about his solo albums because I hadn’t actually heard any of them. Well, now that’s changed because I’ve now heard the soon-to-be-released (Sept. 5, 2011) new album Oceana. I have to say, I’m quite impressed, though not for the reasons I thought I would be.

I expected to hear keyboard work and soloing similar to what I heard from his (former?) band Planet X. This is very guitar-like in the way he bends pitches, trills and makes fast speed-metal-like arpeggios. There’s a little of this on Oceana, but overall I’d say it reminds me more of Chick Corea from the Return to Forever / Elektric Band days, or maybe even a bit of Eddie Jobson from the first UK album. In other words, fusion, not speed metal at all.

Well, OK, when guest guitarist Tony MacAlpine cranks up, it gets pretty speed metallish sometimes. On the other hand, sometimes the guitar work really reminds me of Allan Holdsworth, though I’m not sure if this is MacAlpine, one of Sherinian‘s other guests, or possibly even Sherinian himself playing in “guitar mode”. Whatever, Oceana is a collection of really good fusion pieces with influences from other musical genres also playing in “guest-starring” roles. Production, composition and technical execution are all second to none. It doesn’t get any better than this. Highly recommended!

One more thing – the album cover is great! Right-click the cover photo to open it up full-screen and check out the detail on the vintage keyboards at the bottom of the ocean. — Fred Trafton

Cheer-Accident – No Ifs Ands Or Dogs

May 17, 2011

Cheer Accident – No Ifs Ands Or Dogs

So, in my last GEPR update, I called Fear Draws Misfortune “listenable” (among other things). The question I’m asking myself now is whether I’d say the same of their 2011 release No Ifs Ands or Dogs. My answer, for better or worse, is “no”. Not that this makes it a bad album. Quite the contrary, No Ifs Ands or Dogs is a really interesting album, very much able to hold my attention and keep me engaged. Not quite the same as “listenable”. This album does take a bit more work to get through.

Like Fear Draws Misfortune, the array of musical styles is dizzying, from Frank Zappa stylings to songs that sound like The Monkees interpreted by The Residents to your usual Cuneiform type avant-RIO with Magma on backing vocals. One song, “Pre-Somnia”, features a sound that’s halfway between a fuzzed guitar and a bagpipe, leading into “Sleep”, which features the same riff of the same sound as a backing harmony instead of the main focus. Given that there’s a later song called “Post-Somnia” and several other related title-pairs (“Life in Polyanna” and “Death By Polyanna” / “Drag You Down” and “Drug You Down”), there does seem to be some unifying principle behind the album, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out what it is. It seems pretty stream-of-consciousness. “Drag You Down” is especially interesting with its (clearly intentional) rhythmic mis-steps, slow-downs, and overall “not quite up to speed”-iness. And the “Drug You Down” bookend is obviously what this sounds like while on major drugs. But what it has to do with the rest of the album (if anything) is anyone’s guess.

No Ifs Ands or Dogs doesn’t jazz me as much Fear Draws Misfortune did, but nonetheless it’s a good album worthy of a listen or three for those who have what it takes to … uhm … endure this sort of music. That may sound negative, but it’s like the stimulating, adrenaline-pumping part of pain without the actual hurt. Sorta like biting into a jalapeño pepper. And I mean that in a good way. Some people like this kind of pain. I guess I’m one of them, when I’m in the right mood. But don’t play this for someone who thinks “music” is the stuff they hear on The Voice. As Thymme Jones said on their forum, “Hang in there! It starts to get really good in that half-second just before you hear it.”

I did find out something else of interest … Cheer-Accident got their name from a Hallmark card display. I can only guess it was cards that were supposed to cheer you up after you’ve had an accident. Obviously the band found these seemingly contradictory words used together to be a good name for their band. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Cheer-Accident‘s web site
Click here for Cheer-Accident‘s MySpace page
Click here for Cheer-Accident‘s Cuneiform Records page
Click here for Cheer Accident‘s page at Skin Graft Records web site (antiquated)
Click here for a listing of Cheer Accident‘s idea of the top ten best albums of all time. The review of YesRelayer is particularly brilliant. I wish I’d said those things.

Electric Sorcery – Believe In Own Best Friend

May 12, 2011

Believe In Own Best Friend

OMFG! Electric Sorcery has released their rock opera/concept album Believe In Own Best Friend. What to say about this album? I suppose I’ll start with the warning from the band:

This album is not recommended for anyone who lacks a somewhat twisted and slightly naughty sense of humor, neither is it recommended for children (unless of course you want your child to sing out dirty words in the grocery store and ask you embarrassing questions about adult apparatuses). It is also not recommended for the elderly as it may cause them to lose all hope for the future of mankind (unless of course they have cable TV in which case they already have). To quote this piece’s main inspiration, Frank Zappa: “It’s f***ing great to be alive, ladies and gentlemen, and if you do not believe it is f***ing great to be alive, you better go now, because this show will bring you down so much.” …Enjoy!

To say this album is “Frank Zappa inspired” is perhaps not strongly worded enough. “Frank Zappa-channeled” is more like it. Not the jazzy Zappa of The Grand Wazoo nor the wannabe-classical Zappa of The Yellow Shark. No, this is the filthy Zappa … the one that “Dinah Moe Humm” was a cleaned-up example of. This has everything a Zappa fan could want … screwing your business partner’s underage daughter, then killing him when he finds out she’s pregnant. Of course, since he needed to get rid of the evidence, he made a soup and ate him. Then the daughter started looking pretty yummy too, so … and this is just the opening “Suite”. The remainder of the album covers teenage sexual angst, electronic penises, prescription drug abuse, and finally the annihilation of humankind. Zappa at his finest!

Oh, no, I forgot! Not Zappa, this is Electric Sorcery. But I already accused them of mugging Dweezil Zappa and making off with the keys to Frank‘s vault. They never answered me on that one. Hmmm … can you say Dweezil soup? Too ugly to contemplate. [shudder]

Musically, this sounds like the very earliest Zappa circa We’re Only In It For The Money or Uncle Meat. Recording technique and anarchy level is also similar. The growly vocals at the beginning of “Suite : Yehsu Beelzebobs” is very reminiscent of “I’m the Slime” from Overnite Sensation. The guitar playing and woodwinds are also reminiscent of earlier Zappa, not so much the Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar era, and also don’t expect marimba/vibes gnat-notes. The similarities don’t extend that far. But you’ll have no doubt about who inspired Believe In Own Best Friend. Unlike their other albums, they want $5.00 for this download instead of “Name Your Own Price” (which many people name as $0). It’s WELL worth it! Try it out at their Bandcamp site (link below). Oh, yeah, the cover art is really cool too (above). Don’t ask me what it’s a picture of, but it’s very cool anyway. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Electric Sorcery‘s MySpace page
Click here to download Electric Sorcery albums from Bandcamp

Zen Rock and Roll – Undone

May 4, 2011

Zen Rock and Roll – Undone

It hasn’t been so long since I added Zen Rock and Roll and noted that Jonathan Saunders no longer had much of a web presence. I assumed he had moved on to other pursuits, but apparently it has been health issues that prevented him from creating new music. My impression is that these are now resolved, at least enough for Saunders to complete a new Zen Rock and Roll album, released yesterday, and entitled Undone.

To my ears, this album is more symphonic prog-pop than the previous albums, which while having some pop aspects, were really more symphonic prog. By this I mean there are standard song structures with very heavy emphasis on the lyrical content. In some ways it recalls Thomas Dolby‘s early work, with vocals and synthesizers, including innovative synth sounds.

The exception to this is the nearly 15-minute instrumental epic “Concerto for the Original Sinners”. This piece is mostly synth-orchestra, complete with string machines and overdubbed faux-brass and woodwind sections, but also with some Queen-like guitar multitracking. It’s an ambitions piece that nearly lives up to its ambition, despite a couple of sections that get dull due to maybe one too many variations on the theme before moving on. Still, not bad.

For my taste, I liked End of the Age and The Birthright Circle more than Undone, though Undone certainly has its moments. I found the lyrics to be a bit depressing, which felt strange juxtaposed against the sunny, bouncy, almost dance-able music. But you might not be bothered by this. So head over to the Zen Rock and Roll‘s web site (link below) to check out some samples and decide for yourself. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Zen Rock and Roll‘s web site
Click here for the Zen Rock and Roll Facebook page
Click here to order all Zen R&R titles from ProgRock Records

Glass – Spectrum Principle

April 14, 2011

Previously, I mentioned that “prolific” was not the first word that comes to mind when describing Glass. This update to their GEPR entry will both confirm and refute that statement, as you’ll see below. It turns out I was prophetic in predicting their next album release would be in 2010. No mysterious foreknowledge there, just a lucky (and slightly snarky) guess. Their new album Spectrum Principle was five years in the making after their previous studio release, Illuminations. This seems to confirm the “not prolific” hypothesis. But wait …

I have to admit, Spectrum Principle didn’t really grab me on first listen. Lots of good prog is like that … which is why I always listen to an album at least three times before I decide whether I really like it or not. Right on schedule, “third time is a charm” for this one — for me, at least. There’s nothing about Spectrum Principle that inspires head-banging, nor are there jaw-dropping speed solos or bombastic orchestration. These are simply good instrumental songs, in the five-to-seven-minute range with a few even shorter cuts. Shortish for a prog album, but with each song stating what is has to say in a simple, unpretentious way. My first impression was, “this is a little thin-sounding, isn’t it?” Well, yes, it is. But on the other hand, you can hear every instrument in its place, a refreshing change from some of the over-produced wall-of-sound albums I’ve been reviewing of late. You have to be in the right mood for this sort of thing, but when the adrenaline junkie in you is ready for a break, try out Spectrum Principle for some jazzy yet slightly off-kilter progressive goodness. Mellow without being sleep-inducing. Mature. And a nice addition to Glass‘s discography.

So now’s when we put the lie to the “not prolific” theory. I just received a note from Jeff Sherman saying that their new (as yet unnamed) album has finished recording. This should be a looser, more improvisational album than their last couple of studio albums. The whole thing was recorded in only four days, mostly direct-to-2-track tape with some sections allowing one overdub pass. But mostly it’s “live-to-tape”. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know when it’s released. The current target is spring of 2012, but — well — sometimes things change. I’ll let you know. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Glass‘ home page on the Relentless Pursuit web site

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

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