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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gandalf - To Another Horizon

Since my support of Esoteric Recordings goes back nine years ago when the blog was starting in 2008 and being a student back in Houston Community College working on my degree in Jazz Studies, I’ve always would go to their website and see what obscure gems they would release at the end of the month. This year, I was fascinated by an artist that blew me away. His name is Gandalf. It’s an alias name for artist and composer, Hans Strobl.

His third album entitled, To Another Horizon which was originally released in 1983 on the WEA label in Germany and Austria, is a conceptual story about the awareness of a global threat between the environment of nuclear weapons and how will humanity destroy itself or how we can change our behavior and the consciousness before it’s too late? Listening to this album, it’s a combination of Tom Newman, The Enid’s first two albums, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and Mike Oldfield.

His keyboards tell the story as if you as a listener can close your eyes and imagine the story from Gandalf’s vision by making it the movie inside your head. It is a touching and haunting dystopian vision of the dangers that will happen between life, death, and rebirth. It’s atmospheric, ambient, new age, and symphonic. The lush of the mellotron’s, synths, organ passages, and piano work he brings, is a stirring yet emotional with a futuristic setting.

I love Flight of the Crystal Ships. Here Gandalf doesn’t just play they keyboards, but he plays guitar also. He has these ambiance and swirling Yes-like settings that brings forth the style of Steve Howe. It’s a dazzling yet adventurous composition as you can imagine flying on the crystal ships across the galaxy towards into the Milky Way with the electronical settings that give the view of the stars and looking how beautiful our solar systems are.

Natural Forces Getting Out of Control begins with a flute introduction done by Robert Julian Horky with some wind-blowing keyboards and natural world that has now gone haywire as Gandalf takes some innovative styles between the finger-picking classical guitars and the synths showing that Hell has now begun with Mother Earth’s body being in pain by making volcanoes spitting the fires out and floods starting out as the night follows.

It has the styles of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn-era as the electronic drums and synths set the thunders to the skies for the earthquakes to begin. Now I’ve mentioned about the organ passages. It’s shown on the Requiem for a Planet. By now in the story of the second act, Earth has now been damaged from the night before as the organ movements set the church-like tone along with piano passages for a mourning loss of what has happened. Including the vocal spoken-word at the last minute to give the last rites.

The opening track, March of No Reason, sees Gandalf channeling the styles of Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds, Klaus Schulze’s Irrlicht, Marillion, and Tangerine Dream with Gandalf channeling his keyboards into unbelievable results. He along with drummer Eron Groger, and bassist Heinz Hummer, take you to in this parallel universe of what is happening of the conflicts between nations, war, and the final battle that is about to destruct our own planet.

The spiritual yet Indian-raga middle-eastern atmosphere with experimental vocals, sets up the hope for a new beginning of the three-part title-track suite starting with The Divine Message and the Sitar with a droning effect, gives the chance to rebuild for a new chapter and a new beginning for a Change of Consciousness while near the end of the story, it becomes clear instead of fighting, they are working as a team as Gandalf goes into the Yes styles of Tales from Topographic Oceans-era on the Creation of a New World.

This is my second and third time of listening to Gandalf’s To Another Horizon. I was on the edge of my seat just being blown away of how Hans himself takes the New Age, Atmospheric, and Symphonic structures to another level. It’s not just Progressive, but the adventure that will take you towards seeing how the dangers can affect everybody. The 16-page booklet contains the 2-part story, including liner notes done by Malcolm Dome and an interview with Gandalf (Hans Strobl) about the making of the album.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Esoteric label which is a part of the Cherry Red Family since 2007, have never disappointed me when it comes to reissue gems from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Here, Gandalf’s third album is the soundtrack and movie inside your mind. If you love Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze, Marillion (Fish-era), The Enid, Yes, Mike Oldfield, and Vangelis, then I highly recommend exploring To Another Horizon.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Deus Ex Machina - Devoto

It’s been an 8-year absence since Italian Progressive Rock band Deus Ex Machina made another album. This year, they’ve released their eighth album on the Cuneiform label entitled, Devoto. It’s their first release since 2008’s CD/DVD release of Imparis. Which was a live DVD performance and studio CD release which Cuneiform released showed new and looking through DEM’s career. Devoto is the band’s return to capture more of the energetic, virtual, and eruptive sonic force.

With the styles of Rock Progressivo Italiano, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Banco, and Premiata Forneria Marconi, Devoto is a welcoming return of the maestro’s back into the musical machine again since their formation back in 1985. Now while I’m very new to the bandwagon of Deus Ex Machina, I have to say that listening to their new album, their textures are mind-blowing and going into different groundings.

While the other band members were doing different projects and after the departure of keyboardist, Fabrizio Puglisi, the band wanted to see where they wanted to go next. The recording of Devoto was done quickly as a result a long reflective procedure. It also marked the return of Luigi Ricciardiello after a two-decade hiatus to replace Puglisi.

Mauro Collina’s guitar still delivers the virtuosity and experienced advanced work as Luigi’s keyboard brings the futuristic, experimental, and jazz orientations, Devoto is a challenging listen from start to finish. And the seven highlights on the album, shows that they still got the energy and still have the captivating results that is like a motorcycle that is ready to launch to make the jump to hyper-speed.

Autore del Futoro (Author of the Future) has this essence between Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and Traffic featuring Steve Winwood. There is a Funk-Soul-Jazz Rock crossover with the Blues for the first 4 minutes and 24 seconds before the last 2-minutes for a split second sees Bonetti carrying the torch of Jerry Goodman’s style of The Noonward Race.

Quattro Piccole Mani (Four Small Hands) is Collina’s haunting Blues Acoustic gothic essence between Ry Cooder and Jack Nitzsche. Sliding electric approach and layered effects with a classical/folky twist, it feels as it was straight out of the score sessions of the 1970 controversial cult film classic of Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s Performance.

Devoto (Devoted) is the opening title-track that starts the album off with a big bang. Featuring Mid-tempo riffs that is motioned between Italian Prog bands such as Banco Del Mutuo Sorccoso and Corte Dei Miracoli, Bonetti’s violin passages filled with sparkling ignition as it swells through the structured different time signatures. But it’s Multiverso (Multiverse) that got me really under my wings.

Here, Deus Ex Machina are taking you as a listener into the universe and the passages of time. It’s a nod to Rush’s early ‘80s sound between Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures as if they were doing their own twist of the continuation of YYZ and the French Progressive Rock group, Atoll. Mauro himself, just had me on the edge of an amazing roller-coaster ride as he channels the styles of Alex Lifeson throughout the composition like a battering ram hitting the doors down really good.

Distratto Da Me (Distract By Me) starts of in a time signature of 3/4 in the style of waltz for the first 2 minutes and 50 seconds with a three-piece horn section before it changes with Vivacissimo beats thanks to the drum patterns of Claudio Trotta as he goes into his styles of Billy Cobham and Bill Bruford before Luigi himself goes to the synths and organ and delving into the essence of the late great Jon Lord, Premiata Forneria Marconi, and ELP.

Figli (Sons) shows how much Alberto Piras’ vocals are stronger, passionate, and at times operatic in the reminiscent of Francesco Di Giacomo. He knows exactly where he wants Deus Ex Machina to go into when he those cords in his voice and show the power and glory he can take with him. The song itself is like a whirlpool of amazement as Bonetti fires up his Violin engine to go into the speed with unbelievable results.

Sotterfugio (Subterfuge) is an instrumental passage. It features a mini-experimental atmospheric improvisation on the keyboards and featuring strings to set this futuristic tone that is like something out of an innovative dream. And while it’s short for a minute, I wish they could have continued with more of the electronic vibrations with this piece and carry a Tangerine Dream effect to see what is going to happen next.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m new to Deus Ex Machina’s music. And for me, Devoto isn't just a superb album, but it is a remarkable and a stimulating release I have listened to from beginning to end. And the Cuneiform label have never disappointed me when it comes to both Progressive, Avant-Rock, and Jazz. And yet it gives forth with these inventive and compelling arrangements that will make you dig deep into more of the excellence that has come forth with Deus Ex Machina’s return. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Admirals Hard - Upon A Painted Ocean

Whenever Kavus Torabi has come up with interesting twists and ideas from his work with Guapo, Knifeworld, Gong, and Karda Estra to name a few, I always get a kick to see what he will think of next. This next adventure for Kavus, is like a trip into the adventurous seas. That is Admirals Hard.

They are an underground folk ‘supergroup’ in which they formed by Cornishman Andy Carne back 14 years ago while he was in a spell of exile in London. He convinced fellow bandmates from the West Country of bringing the songs he was singing when Andy himself was a kid. From the Avant-Rock, Chamber, and Experimental groups/artists raging from North Sea Radio Orchestra, Mediaeval Baebes, Stars in Battledress, and William D. Drake, they put the electric instruments aside as they lend Carne a helping hand.

Their long-awaited debut album released this year is entitled, Upon A Painted Ocean. Released on Kavus’ label Believers Roast, it is a traditional folk musical singing for Carne’s love of the genre. Andy Carne’s voice at times resembles the essence of Richard Digance and Fairport Convention’s Dave Swarbick and Trevor Lucas. The moment I’ve listened to this, I’ve really got a kick out of this and knowing that Andy and his fellow crew are on a pirate ship singing these songs and knowing that it’s time for the rum to drink and following the bouncing ball when you hear these songs.

You can imagine both Andy and Kavus are the Captains of the ship as the crew members including Daniel Chudley, James Larcombe, Richard Larcombe, Sarah Measures, and Paul Westwood give the help and go on a journey through their adventures and the songs that will make you smile and at times get a kick out of the harmonium (pump organ). Not to mention a few centerpieces that made me smile throughout the entire album.

A traditional dance for a good time, but once you add a clapping rhythm along to the Jig approach for a Folk-Classical twist in the styles of Johann Sebastian Bach featuring both the Harmonium, Accordion, and Acoustic Guitars, it makes it enthusiastic with The Random Jig/I’ll Get Married In My Auld Claes.

With some of the acapella pieces thrown in there of the sea shanties while the sailors singing while they were on the ships to accompany the labors on boarded sailing ships with trading vessels, songs like Whip Jamboree/Let the Bulgine Run feature the rhyming stimulating stanza lyrics with evocative rhythms followed by foot tapping sections from the instruments.

Their take of Burl Ives’ Hullabaloo Belay is a bright and enjoyment yet haunting take of the classic done in the style of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera while getting into the Celtic Folk-Punk attitude into a joyful mood of The Pogues’ cover of South Australia. But it’s Rounding the Horn that really made my eyebrows lit up even more.

We have a spacious atmosphere of the song that clocks in at 7-minutes long, you can imagine the seven piece group after getting off the ship from the cargo they carry with them, walking into an eerie situation where this is nobody there as if you can imagine a pin drop in this Ghost Town they are walking into. The stirring vocals set the tone as the accordion and electric guitar itself carries the droning finale that gave me goosebumps throughout the entire piece.

The band will be performing on July 23rd at the Islington in London and the album’s release this coming Friday, it will give Admiral’s Hard a lot of recognition since they were doing 10 years of roof-raising performances in the pubs and clubs in London and in the South West. Upon a Painted Ocean is a must have and the 7-piece band and Andy Carne have done a spectacular job bringing the sea shanties brought to life in this amazing form.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Top 10 Albums of the Year so far

Since we are in June, I decided to be a little bit, well let me put it this way, way too early on my top 10 so far of this year. It's been a good year in both Progressive, Avant-Garde, Jazz, and Metal for me. Very much like Christmas in June to be more precise So here it is:

Top 10 Albums of the Year so far

1. Bent Knee – Say So [Cuneiform Records]
2. Mamma Non Piangere – N.3 [AltrOck]
3. WorldService Project – For Kings & Country [RareNoise Records]
4. Vasil Hadzimanov Band – Alive [MoonJune Records]
5. Knifeworld – Bottled Out of Eden [Inside Out]
6. Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre [Spinefarm Records]
7. Blood Ceremony – Lord of Misrule [Rise Above Records]
8. Beastmaker – Lusus Naturae [Rise Above Records]
9. Syndone – Eros and Thanatos [Fading Records]
10. Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays [Bad Elephant Music]

Friday, June 10, 2016

Alex's Hand - Künstler Scheiße

Alex’s Hand formed back in October of 2011 in Seattle, Washington by Bassist Kellen Mills and Drummer Nic Barnes. They moved to Berlin and have toured in both Germany and France back in 2014. This year, they have released their third album entitled, Künstler Scheiße which translates to Artist’s Shit. Their sound is a combination of the Avant-Rock, Free Jazz, Chamber Music, and of course, Avant-Metal as if it’s in full circle.

Following in the footsteps of Frank Zappa, Mr. Bungle, Charles Mingus, Igor Stravinsky, Gentle Giant, Diablo Swing Orchestra, King Crimson, Bela Bartok, and the Rock In Opposition movement, their music just took me by surprise the moment I’ve listened to Künstler Scheiße. This is a band that deserves some recognition big time. They have built a following in both Germany and France followed by the United States between California and Seattle.

With four enduring highlights throughout the entire album, it’s quite clear that Alex’s Hand are soon going to be one of my favorite bands to support and champion. Trained which a composition is done by Stephen Barnes, has these haunting minor piano melodies that resemble the twist between Alban Berg and Zeuhl masters, Magma. It is almost as if it was recorded during the sessions of their debut album, Kobaia and a continuation of the piece, Stoah.

Samba has this bizarre cross between as if Zappa was conducting bands such as; Gentle Giant, il Balletto di Bronzo, The Mars Volta and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It starts off with a chaotic synth introduction before the Latin groove with a psychedelic twist comes kicking the door down with a hardcore battering ram before delving into a swinging melodic jazz-rock line featuring soulful organ improvisations and then back into the strange groove again with a fast punch.

The 8-minute Evans Lips starts with crescendo guitars and dives into the pool of eerie ballads with reverb tenor sax’s and delay effects on the rhythm guitar. It suddenly changes into the style of Mr. Bungle and Avant-Metal-Post-Rock territories that will have you at the edge of your feet with mouth dropped on wondering what just happened and get the excitement going.

Mars Travolta which opens the album off, goes into a haywire effect of the Jazz-Rock waltz and then into the overdrive effect of a Chamber RIO Crimson momentum and guitar and sax flourishes going all over the directions that gives it the punching force. Not to mention the sinister bass lines and creepy structures in the midsection that gives the chilling factor a tour de force before it kicks back again.

The sax, guitar, and drums start going back into the crescendo mode as if they are making the jump to light speed for insane measures. It’s the music for the insane asylum. And believe me, this will knock your socks off when you turn this up to maximum volume. I love this album. Not just because it’s awesome, but the way they would make it sound like something straight out of a Ren & Stimpy cartoon or one of John Kricfalusi’s shorts from SPUMCO.

And while I’m new to Alex’s Hand, this is a band that will make you leap out of your seat when they hit that eruptive and explosive note with a gigantic blast. Künstler Scheiße is a stunner from start to finish with unexpected twists. If you love Chamber Rock, Avant-Garde music, Mike Patton, and the Rock In Opposition movement, then delve back into the pool again for the sounds of Alex’s Hand.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

My tribute to MoonJune Records...15 years later

This year, it marks the 15th anniversary of the label MoonJune Records by Leonardo “MoonJune” Pavkovic. Since its launch back in the summer of 2001, the label itself has been releasing 79 albums so far. And whenever I get a package in the mail from the MoonJune label, as I’ve mentioned before in my blog reviews of the label, something magical has landed on my lap. From Prog-Rock, Jazz Fusion, World Music, Avant-Rock, and Rock In Opposition, the label is still growing strong.

I first became aware of the label back in late 2011 when I bought the DVD Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga by filmmakers Jose Zegarra-Holder and Adele Schmidt from the Syn-Phonic Music website. And I was blown away from the bands/artists such as Cheer-Accident, Phideaux, and D.F.A. When I looked at the bands from the label such as The Wrong Object and along D.F.A., I knew this was a label I had to check out. The name MoonJune came from a Soft Machine track “Moon In June” from the Third album released in 1970.

Leo knows his understanding about music very well. He has a very good ear when it comes to the genres and supportive of the artists and bands when I would plug the CD into my portable CD player. It’s been four years since I’ve championed the label and I will keep on championing it until the day l die. So to Leonardo Pavkovic, I want to wish you and MoonJune Records, a very happy 15th anniversary and keep the wheels rolling.

And I would like to quote from one of my heroes and legends from Marvel Comics, the great Stan “The Man” Lee as he would say both, “Excelsior!” and from Uncle Ben in the Amazing Spider-Man, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

And my top 10 albums from the label:

1. Susan Clynes – Life Is…
2. Zhongyu – Zhongyu
3. Soft Machine Legacy – Burden of Proof
4. Mahogany Frog – DO5
5. Machine Mass Trio – As Real As Thinking
6. I Know You Well Miss Clara – Chapter One
7. The Wrong Object – After the Exhibition
8. Marbin – Last Chapter of Dreaming
9. SH.TG.N – SH.TG.N
10. Slivovitz – All You Can Eat

Mike Kershaw - What Lies Beneath

Whenever Bad Elephant Music releases some very good material from the realms of The Rube Goldberg Machine, Mothertongue, and Trojan Horse to name a few, I always knew something magical is happening for my ears. When it was announced last year that Mike Kershaw signed up with the label, I knew right from day one, I had to check out his music. Mike has released so far three albums and two EP’s. And this year, his new album, What Lies Beneath marks his fourth.

Mike’s music is a combination of symphonic and atmospheric progressive music as his compositions deal with the struggles of emotions and melancholy structures as he wants the listener to follow him wherever he goes into his arrangements. Not only that, but he brought along people such as Joshua Leibowitz, Tom Slatter, Leo Koperdraat and Frank Uraniak of Fractal Mirror, Clare Stephens, and Marco Vasquez to name a few to lend a helping hand for Kershaw as they work as a team.

The production and mixing level is done by Leopold Blue-Sky of Unto Us followed by the mastering of Daniel Bowles. And with a mind-blowing dystopian atmosphere artwork done by Steven J. Catizone, I knew right away that this album is worth exploring. And the four highlights on here, shows how Kershaw brings the emotions to a standstill.

It begins with the galloping moog/keyboard, Leibowitz’s drum work of space and time underneath the essence of David Bowie’s Low-era on Growing for the Gods. Featuring shining and exhilarating tracks with Hackett and Lifeson-sque rhythm guitar sounds and then moving into the styles between Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth finale on the Moog.

It has a futuristic and experimental adventure to kick things off. The dreamy and moody vibrations come in to fill the keyboards and mellotron’s galore on a Floyd-like beginning to see The City Revealed while the ‘80s come in full swing of the Neo-Prog genre and Roxy Music’s Avalon with acoustic rhythmic sections followed by the psych vibration for those Two Eyes.

Leo brings in the acoustic and sliding guitar lines to send the memories of flashbacks to remember the good times in these memories as Kershaw nails those vocal lines to bring the flavors in together like a complete full circle. Tom Slatter takes over on his guest appearance for a guide to a spiritual journey of finding the inner selves despite the loss of right and wrong on the ominous beauty, Wounds. He and Slatter work well for an experimental acoustic sci-fi tale of a battered man of what he has done, and not to give up.

This is my third time listening to What Lies Beneath. And while I’m new to the bandwagon of Mike’s music, it’s one of the most emotional and heartfelt albums I’ve listened to. While it is not just a “great” album, Kershaw himself has got a lot of potential and amazement that has taken me to higher levels on where he will take me to next. And what other surprises he has waiting to the next open doors of his arranging and composition’s to other side of life.