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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Stephan Thelen - Fractal Guitar

Stephan Thelen is someone you may or may not recognize. He’s probably best known for his work with Sonar. They’ve been around for nine years who have burst through the flood gates with their minimal, darker, and nightmarish sounds that is dynamic, brutal, and very mysterious. He’s an American-born Swiss musician who can write, compose, and perform his own music.

Alongside Sonar, Stephan has worked on projects including Radio Osaka, Root Down, License to Chill, and Broken Symmetry. And CD productions for Andy Brugger’s No No Diet Bang and Peter Scharli Sextet while composing music for dance, film, and theater productions. Stephan is a very, very busy man.

Kronos Quartet recorded one of his compositions entitled Circular Lines which was commissioned by the Kronos Arts’ Association and Carnegie Hall for this visionary project called, Fifty for the Future. And the percussion ensemble from Germany called Mannheimer Schlagwerk also premiered one of his compositions called, Parallel Motion. Stephan has released his debut album via MoonJune Records called, Fractal Guitar.

What Stephan wanted to do was record and compose pieces of music with an integral side to it. He used this effect that worked on before Sonar called, Fractal Guitar. It is this rhythmic delay with high feedback levels that creates this surging delay of patterns from 3/8, 5/8, or 7/8.

Recorded from various locations between Europe and North America from August 2015 and April 2018, Fractal Guitar has all the ingredients that’s in there. Post-Rock, Experimental, and straight out the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Thelen is bringing out more of the energetic forces with a little help from David Torn, Markus Reuter, Barry Cleveland, and Manuel Pasquinelli to name a few. And they lend Stephan a helping hand with more gigantic sounds by going into a ramming speed.

Radiant Day is Stephan’s answer to Krautrock masters Agitation Free’s Haunted Island from their 2nd album released in 1973. It shows Thelen going into those perplexing tunnels to see what’s inside. From the booming sounds of Matt Tate, Cleveland and Reuter, it give Thelen going into those surreal voyages by swimming across parallel universes by creating their own score for Werner Herzog’s 1972 classic, Aguirre: The Wrath of God.

It has these watery effects that begins to climb upwards to the heavens as the skies suddenly become red and very alarming before Stephan, Markus, Matt, and Barry begin to chart the dangerous landscapes. The opening track, Briefing for a Descent Into Hell, which took its name from Doris Lessing’s 1971 novel, the collaborations between David Torn and Stephan Thelen, shows that they have each other’s back.

When I was listening to the piece that kicks the album off by clocking in at 18 minutes and 37 seconds, I can hear them going into the styles of Post-Rock, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma-era, and King Crimson’s The Talking Drum. They can take you towards the edge of the cliff as the heat level increases more and more.

Torn is playing some incredible feedback and loops while his guitar becomes this snarling beast that is getting ready to attack with a vicious hunt for raising hell on their prey. With those territories that go beyond space and time, Tate’s bass playing goes into the works of Tool’s Justin Chancellor to have the doors opening more and more by going into a middle-eastern twist.

Listening to Road Movie is like a journey down the desert highway. Stephan lets his band members not just to go with the flow, but prepare to make the jump by surging towards sub-light speed and engage themselves into space madness. I can imagine Reuter, Kaiser, Walker, and Thelen going into the waters of Ash Ra Tempel’s Manuel Gottsching as they tip their hats towards the master by flying into the outer limits.

The title-track begins with some of the sections between the looping and soundscapes that Markus, Barry, and Stephan do on the third composition. Kaiser’s drums create this roller-coaster ride with some challenging measurements. I can definitely hear some aspects of Aphrodite’s Child’s All the Seats Were Occupied from their third and final album, 666.

The final track Urban Landscape, brings David Torn back to the forefront again as Stephan helps him out once more by racing to the finish line. Reuter takes you back again into his soundscapes as the droning sounds come crawling underneath your spine.

It has these film-noir vibes that adds up the final pieces of the puzzle as if Thelen and Torn are detectives are finally catching to the criminal's hideout and bringing him to justice. You could tell that Markus is doing this split-second fast guitar solo with a mighty crunch. But that was an unexpected moment that worked very well.

And Kaiser, his drumming crosses over between Bill Bruford and Buddy Rich’s playing and he is on a full-scale assault. David and Stephan are a band of brothers by working together and taking the listeners into town with some unexpected results as they climb upwards more and more to see what will happen next.

After listening to his album, I was very impressed on how Stephan Thelen goes beyond the structures and shows that he’s more than just his work with Sonar. But he takes a leap forward with the challenges that awaits him. Fractal Guitar is one of those ingredients by having a huge amount of carte blanche. And it shows that Stephan is having a lot of fun of bringing his music to life.

Kentish Spires - The Last Harvest

Kentish Spires are this up-and-coming band from England that takes inspirations from the Canterbury scene. Now for me, I had absolutely no idea on what I was about to expect when I was listening to this album from start to finish. I have a very peculiar ear, mind you. And from the moment I listened to their debut release of The Last Harvest, I was quite intrigued.

The band considers Lucie V on vocals and violin; Danny Chang on Guitar, Keyboards, and Backing Vocals; Paul Hornsby on Reeds and Keyboards; Rik Loveridge on Keyboards and Guitar; and Phil Warren on Bass Guitar. Non-member Tim Robinson plays the drums on here also.

The origins behind the album’s title came from Danny Chang himself. According to an interview he did with Urban “Wally” Wallstrom for the Rock United website last year, Danny grew up in a small village called Cliffe in Kent. He went to St. Helen’s Primary Church School and remembered the Harvest time where he and his classmates took along local produce that filled the big harvest festival services where the whole village turned out.

While it’s not really a concept album, but three of the tracks cover the aspects of Kent’s violent tribal pre-history, the centerpieces on the album almost took me to a different level on their storytelling compositions. Spirit of the Skies is a cross between Ramsey Lewis’ The “In” Crowd and Camel’s Lady Fantasy brings some of the finest flute and guitar playing that gives a chance for Lucie V to ascend her vocals.

Hornsby channels the late great Ray Thomas by keeping his legacy alive in the song. He takes you through those various improvisations by seeing and hear what the magic carpet will take you into. I love how the piano is channeling Ramsey Lewis’ style and going into the Organ by following into the structures of Andy Latimer. It’s really quite a journey.

The riffs on Introception that goes between the guitars, reeds, and the thumping bass lines, gives Kentish Spires their tip of the hat towards Elton John’s Madman Across the Water and obscure prog legends of Jonesy’s Mind of the Century. Lucie can really hit those notes as the lyrics have these Bernie Taupin like structures that shows the reflections and describing all the damages they’ve done.

Clarity goes into a medieval ballad in 3/4 time. Lucie sings through this melodic section with her vocals and her violin before Hornsby lays down some warm-like gentle jazzy arrangements before dancing ‘til the sun rises with an unexpected change throughout the song.

Hergist Ride is the band’s nod to the title of Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge. Paul’s smoky sax brings his reminiscing of John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon for a couple of seconds before the mood suddenly changes as Lucie takes the listener into the battlefield on what is happening next. But the mood suddenly changes as Lucie and Paul work well throughout their improvisations to capture the aftermath.

The title-track clocks in at 13 minutes and 09 seconds beginning with two flutes. One from Paul and the other from the Mellotron setting up this scenario of a dystopian landscape that is straight from the minds of Ayn Rand, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. It then becomes this spiraling riff between guitars, growling sax’s, organs, and drums that becomes this increased nod to Van Der Graaf Generator's H to He Who Am the Only One.

Everything changes as the guitar soars upwards into this Gilmour-sque heaven structure that beings a sign of hope of  bringing peace throughout the city. It's also Kentish Spires nod to Rush’s final section of the suite towards Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres. I have to say that Kentish Spires debut album didn’t grab me that much.

Now am I saying that this is a bad album? No, absolutely not. But I would love to hear more from them in the years to come. I wished that they would not try to strain that much and give Lucie V a chance to relax on her vocals. But The Last Harvest is quite the journey and I might keep my eyes and ears out for them.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Top 10 Reissues of 2018

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, this year in the reissues has been a good year from the good people from Esoteric Recordings, Universal, Chrysalis, and Kscope. I hope you have written down some of these on your wish lists for either Christmas or Hanukkah. Here are my top 10 Reissues of 2018.

1. Procol Harum - Still There'll Be More: An Anthology 1967-2017 (Esoteric Recordings)
2. Curved Air - Reissues (Esoteric Recordings)
3. Barclay James Harvest - Barclay James Harvest (Esoteric Recordings)
4. Happy Rhodes - Ectotrophia (Numero Group)
5. Chris Squire - Fish Out of Water (Esoteric Recordings)
6. Jethro Tull - Heavy Horses: New Shoes Edition (Chrysalis)
7. The Kinks - The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (ABKCO/Sanctuary)
8. Bruford - Seems Like a Lifetime Ago: 1977-1980 (Winterfold)
9. The Beatles - The Beatles (White Album) (Universal/Apple)
10. Mansun - Attack of the Grey Lantern: 21st Anniversary Edition (Kscope)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Top 25 Albums of 2018

I know I've been quiet since due to helping out with my family and doing other reviews for Echoes and Dust and The Progressive Aspect. The others I've done reviews was back in 2012 for Progplanet and Progsphere where I did a live review of Rush's Clockwork Angels tour when they came to Toyota Center.

Now does that say I'm giving up on my blogsite? Absolutely not! It's still going to be there and it will be there for another 10 years. But I needed to branch out and see where the doors will lead to me. Now as we are getting close to Thanksgiving and 38 days til Christmas.

So this is an opportunity for me, to go ahead and deliver my Top 25 Albums of 2018 early this year so that you could or might add this to your Christmas or Hanukkah wish list.

So here it is:

1. Alec K. Redfearn & The Eyesores – The Opposite (Cuneiform)
2. Ring Van Mobius – Past the Evening Sun (Apollon Records)
3. Phideaux – Infernal (Bloodfish Media)
4. Yuka & Chronoship – Ship (Cherry Red)
5. The Fierce and the Dead – The Euphoric (Bad Elephant Music)
6. Sanguine Hum – Now We Have Power (Bad Elephant Music)
7. VAK – Budo (Soleil Zeuhl)
8. Voivod – The Wake (Century Media)
9. Dee Snider – For the Love of Metal (Nuclear Blast)
10. WorldService Project – Serve (RareNoise Records)
11. Mark Wingfield – Tales from the Dreaming City (MoonJune Records)
12. Soft Machine – Hidden Details (MoonJune Records)
13. Kit Downes – Obsidian (ECM)
14. Argos – Unidentified Flying Objects (Bad Elephant Music)
15. Homunculus Res – Della Stessa Sostanza Dei Sogni (Fading Records)
16. Sonar with David Torn – Vortex (RareNoise Records)
17. King Crimson – Meltdown (Pangyeric/DGM/Inner Knot)
18. The Pineapple Thief – Dissolution (Kscope)
19. Gazpacho – Soyuz (Kscope)
20. Elephant9 – Greatest Show on Earth (Rune Grammofon)
21. Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin (Kscope)
22. Kevin Kastning & Balazs Major – Kismaros (Greydisc)
23. David Cross & David Jackson – Another Day (Cherry Red)
24. Vantomme – Vegir (MoonJune Records)
25. Dialeto – Live with David Cross (Chromatic Music)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

King Crimson - Meltdown: Live in Mexico

This 3-CD/1 Blu-Ray box set consists of King Crimson’s exuberant performance in Mexico City over five nights at the Teatro Metropolitan in July of last year and they also performed at the same location in August of 1996 during the THRAK-era. And not to mention Steven Wilson, who performed and recorded at the same venue on April 13, 2012 during his Grace for Drowning tour entitled, Get All You Deserve.

Now when you either watch or listen to the concert both on CD and Blu-Ray, you are now to embark on something more than just your average typical rock-and-roll show at a big gigantic massive stadium. And this time, King Crimson have got more unexpected ideas that they’ve unleashed to the audience. Believe me, this here is quite the journey that they and the fans themselves will never, ever forget.

If you think that both of the live albums from Chicago and Vienna were the real starters, Meltdown is the final cherry on top of the Red Velvet Cake. From the moment that the band enters onstage with thunderous applause, they are going to deliver more than just the goods for that evening performance at the Metropolitan.

From the three-headed drumming improvisations of the Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row and The Hell Hounds of Krim, to the lukewarm beauty of the Interlude between Mel and Jakko’s flute improvisation followed by Levin’s electric string bass, and the reigning of the battlefields of the most brutal yet bloodiest wars on Last Skirmish to the dooming aftermath of hell that laid waste on Prince Rupert’s Lament as Fripp’s textures fill the halls inside the venue for the Lizard suite.

You can see on the Blu-Ray where Pat Mastelotto is doing some of the textures as he pays a little nod to Crimson alumni Jamie Muir while Jeremy Stacey plays the keyboard along with Bill Rieflin follow suit. And for me, I would always say this, “Mellotron's galore!” as the music in Easy Money goes into a deeper, darker scenario by sending you into those ominous areas that are filled with greed, corruption, and betrayal.

Listening to the title-track, it’s quite peculiar for Robert to revisit perhaps one of my favorite era’s which is the Lizard period from 1970. While he has reconciled to the third release thanks to Wilson’s remix back in 2009, Robert himself is like a magician and kind of like an expertise on where he wants the tricks to be located at. He and Jakko along with the three-headed drum beasts and Mel take you into those crystalized areas inside the caves before the snarling monsters come out of the blue for Radical Action II.

But this where the mysteries and clues keep adding up more and more by Levin’s Chapman stick and the three-headed drum beasts keep up the search on Indiscipline. Jakko sings like a beat poet while the playing the melody on his guitar as the climax reaches more and more before to an abrupt halt as Jakko shouts “Me Gusta!

Now we have come to Starless from the Blu-ray. It is a must-watch sequence when they performed the song from the Red album. You can feel the band’s mellowing wonders to the heart of the city with a smoky vision that once was, is now gone. The band suddenly go into overdrive after the lights suddenly change from bright yellow, to darker orange-red coloring to increase the tension even more.

It becomes this dangerous high-wiring escape for the aerialist dancer to embark not just the 90-feet ground and never knowing when the wires are going to be cut unexpectedly, but it becomes alarming that knowing he has to make it before time runs out. From the blaring guitars between Jakko and Robert, to the clashing of the titan drumming, and Mel’s blaring sax solo, it becomes a free-for-all climax.

The bonus tracks on Disc 3, is where it gets even more interesting. They revisit another classic from the debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King entitled, Moonchild. The live version from the official bootleg bonus tracks, is very much like an extended version of the song that makes it more beautiful and surreal. You have these Cadenza’s between Tony Levin’s string bass to Jeremy playing his piano creating this finale of giving some sort of a mournful end.

Then everything suddenly changes into some sort of an attack mode as King Crimson goes into the archive of revisiting Robert Fripp’s debut solo album (Exposure) released 40 years ago tackling the track, Breathless. It has sorts of the Red-era with a brutal twist as Robert delivers more clues to add the pieces inside the Rubik’s cube with even more challenges.

Meltdown as I’ve mentioned earlier in my introduction, is the final cherry on top of the Red Velvet Cake. But this gives King Crimson more real adventures that are mysterious, nightmarish, surreal, and visionary. And what I hope for when they start their Winter tour in Japan in late November to the end of December, I hope we can expect more from them if they get a chance to record the shows in the Land of the Rising Sun.

And this here, is only just the beginning for them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

King Crimson - Live in Vienna

This 3-CD set consists of King Crimson’s live performance they recorded in Vienna two years ago on December 1st. Mixed from the original multi-tracks, it features the two-set performance from the evening show. Since I considered the 2-CD Chicago performance as an experimental and tribal atmosphere, the Vienna performance brings more clues and mysteries for you to embarking their adventures into their possible universes that are infinite worlds that you’ve never seen before.

For 50 years, King Crimson despite through various line-up changes, in the words of Robert Fripp, Crimson has “A way of doing things.” And that’s how they do throughout their music. They aren’t just a prog band, they are a band that take these ideas and take them through the levels of intensity, hidden momentum, and sinister surroundings that would make your skin crawl.

Their live recording at the Musequmsquartier in Halle E, you can close your eyes and being at that venue and being in awe and supporting the masters with some volcanic eruptions that is on here. For me Live in Vienna is almost the icing on the cake. They revisit the classics including, Pictures of a City, The Sailor’s Tale, Epitaph, The Court of the Crimson King, and 21st Century Schizoid Man. The seven-piece line-up aren’t taking you through memory lane, but keeping their spirit and legacy alive.

And they know that this time, it’s going to be both ferocious and brutal. You have the 13-minute version of Starless. You can imagine both Tony and Robert taking the temperature levels by making the heat gage as high as it can go by making their instruments go through some menacing overtones.

But it’s Mel Collins laying down some incredible sax improvisations throughout the last three minutes as the three-headed drum beasts of Mastelotto, Harrison, and Stacey reign in the terrors once more before closing the night out with some Mellotron and dooming bass with a bang. But what I also love on the Vienna recording is that the three-headed drum beasts do some tribal workouts.

You can hear some of the aspects between The Hell Hounds of Krim, Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row including a little help from Tony Levin bowing the electric string bass. They play like the masters they are by lending a friend, some helping hands to keep the beat going. Each of the drummers play not like a jazz drummer, but laying down some swinging vibes by channeling both Buddy Rich and Magma’s own Christian Vander.

But I love the nods towards the THRAK-era that covers even more of the puzzle pieces even more as Jakko himself sings it out through Suitable Grounds for the Blues. And also the gentle warmths of Peace and as a master of ceremony for the Cirkus to begin. For me, whether like him or not Jakko’s voice and guitar playing grows even more and more to keep the vibration’s going.

Now once you get to Disc 3 which features four tracks recorded from Cophenagen, Milan, Barcelona, and Antwerp, Robert goes beyond the textures of Crimson and delving back into the soundscaping visions that he’s been doing since the mid-‘70s by working with Brian Eno on No Pussyfooting.

You have Levin, Collins, and Fripp going through the opening doors to reveal something that is minimal, nightmarish, and atonality of both Schoenberg Softened his Hat and Ahriman's Ceasless Corrputions to name a few. They channel Arnold’s compositions which I can hear from one of his Second String Quartet, Fourth Movement. And it’s quite the atmosphere that Robert tackles to show Arnold Schoenberg’s compositions by going beyond the twelve-tone techniques.

On the Cophenagen performance that’s on disc 3, they revisited Fracture. Now this hasn’t been performed since 1974 from their album, Starless & Bible Black. It is really quite a treat for them to go back and perform it live again. Robert really challenges his fingers on the fretboard as if he’s finding the escape route before it becomes a gigantic booby-trapped location.

The last three minutes on Fracture is the band going through this dangerous tightrope to make it right out of there before time reaches out as Jakko and Robert help through their guitar exchange as Levin’s fuzztone bass and drums go intensive together by making it through the exit sign and finally getting out of there in the nick of time.

Live in Vienna is King Crimson continuing more and more to surprise both the listener and the audience themselves. While Chicago as I’ve mentioned is their finest, Vienna is almost the cherry on top. But this is where the turning point was for Robert was planning to do for the following year in 2017. And this was only just the beginning.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Kevin Kastning, Sandor Szabo, Balazs Major - Ethereal II

Kastning still continues to surprise me instead more and more throughout his releases on the Greydisc label. The usage of both the 30-string contra-alto guitar and 36-string double contraguitar would make you question and answer more of the clues and evidential moments that he would help you solve the case. Kevin’s follow up to Kismaros is called, Ethereal II.

He brought along two people who previously worked with Kevin are now teaming up with him for his new album. With percussionist Balazs Major and Baritone guitarist Sandor Szabo, Ethereal II is embarking more mysterious adventures to see and hear what the trio would come up with next and going beyond our solar systems.

What Sandor would create on his baritone guitar is to go through by not just taking a rocket to outer space, but landing in through various cities that were once the brightest of the future, have now turned into a menacing and very deserted location. And throughout some of the compositions that are on the new album, you can hear some of these ominous cries throughout the cold wintery mountains throughout the landscapes of Antarctica where the sun never, ever sets.

Balazs’ percussion helps both Kastning and Szabo out by encountering deeper into those areas in the blue glaciers of those mountains that are snowy and filled with mystery with some spiritual guidance whilst making the music with a soundscaping atmosphere and would have made founder of ECM Records, Manfred Eicher very happy on what he’s hearing from start to finish.

Ethereal II is Kastning’s achievement and I hope there will be more for him to continue in 2019 and seeing where Kevin will take his instruments next into the nearest future. And in the words of Fairport Convention, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.”