Folllow Me on Twitter

Friday, November 26, 2021

The top 25 albums of 2021

 As we are getting close to the end of 2021, it has been quite a magical year for incredible artists, bands, and various genres to knock it out of the ball park during these hefty times. Some concerts are coming back, but done very carefully. Now there are some that are head-scratchers, un-expected momentum, and surprised choices I’ve picked, you just have to live with that.

So, here we go, the top 25 albums of 2021.

1. Regal Worm – The Hideous Goblink [Quatermass]
2. Isildurs Bane & Peter Hammill – In Disequilibrium [Atraxia Productions]
3. Dee Snider – Leave a Scar [Napalm Records]
4. The Anchoress – The Art of Losing [Kscope]
5. Mahogany Frog – In The Electric Universe [MoonJune Records]
6. Rachel Flowers – Bigger On The Inside [Rachel Flowers Music]
7. Diablo Swing Orchestra – Swagger & Stroll Down the Hole [Spinefarm / Candlelight]
8. Novelty Island – How Are You Coping With This Century [Think Like a Key Music]
9. Penfriend – Exotic Monsters [My Big Sister Recordings]
10. Edge of Paradise – The Unknown [Frontiers Records]
11. Dennis Rea – Giant Steppes [MoonJune Records]
12. PAKT – PAKT [MoonJune Records]
13. The Grid / Fripp – Leviathan [DGM]
14. Jack O’ The Clock – Leaving California [Cuneiform Records]
15. Danny Elfman – Big Mess [Epitaph Records]
16. Laura Meade – The Most Dangerous Woman In America [Doone Records]
17. Jess and the Ancient Ones – Vertigo [Svart Records]
18. Field Music – Flat White Moon [Memphis Industries]
19. Jane Weaver – Flock [Fire Records]
20. Jane Getter Premonition – Anomalia [Esoteric Antenna]
21. Stephan Thelen – Fractal Guitar 2 [MoonJune Records]
22. Steve Hackett – Surrender of Silence [InsideOut Music]
23. Steven Wilson – The Future Bites [Caroline]
24. Emily Wolfe – Outlier [Crows Feet Records]
25. Trifecta – Fragments [Kscope]

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Beledo - Seriously Deep


Hunter S. Thompson once said that “Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of fuel. Sentimental people call it inspiration, but what they really mean is fuel. I have always needed fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I believe that a care with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

Music will always be a part of your life, no matter how long it will resonate with you. For Beledo, he always bounce back to the groove with his latest release from the MoonJune label, Seriously Deep. The genesis behind his follow-up to Dreamland Mechanism started out 11 years ago when he and Leonardo Pavkovic first met and have appreciation of the music they shared with each other.

The title came from ECM label artist Eberhard Weber from his 1978 release with Colours entitled, Silent Feet. Both of them had admiration of Weber’s music. But it had a huge impact from Beledo when Jorge played him the album in its entirety from start to finish 43 years ago. And that was where the gem resonated from.

With Tony Levin, Kenny Grohowski, and special guests that include vocalists Boris Salvodelli and Kearoma Rantao and vibraphonist Jorge Camiruaga who introduced Eberhard’s music to Beledo many years ago, it brings their friendship full circle for their latest release as it becomes a flower ready to bloom at any second.

From the moment the opening title-track begins, you feel as if you’re inside a dream. Beledo’s acoustic piano sets up these oceanic landscapes to fill the entire stratosphere between Levin and Grohowski’s puzzle pieces to fill in the empty space. But it’s his guitar that becomes a paintbrush at times.

Beledo paints in the styles of Bob Ross and Jackson Pollock. He creates both the mysticism and visual imagery that he brings his portrait to life. With each color he puts on the board, Levin and Grohowski are there to help him out whenever they can to fill in more of the gigantic trees or a sunset to fill in the final blank.

Kenny pounds his drums very structured. He creates the river wild on his drum kit while Beledo cries out each note by bending the strings exquisitely before going into this unexpected change on Weber’s composition.

Levin’s Bass follows the two in hot pursuit as if he’s cooking scrambled eggs for breakfast by seasoning it with an enormous amount of Tabasco sauce on his upright instrument to add that extra spicy flavor. Quite an introduction to start things off with a bang.

Mama D is a trip down to Crimson land with National Health thrown in as Rantao’s vocals lays down some of that romantic textures with the rhythm section setting up these time changes for Grohowski following her vocals in a hot melodic lead. Coasting Zone is a walk into a Broadway skip lane the trio create in the styles of a pounding powder keg waiting to explode.

Between Grohowski and Beledo lighting the fuse, it is an unbelievable result by adding more intensive lines they create for Levin to calm the scenario down as Maggie’s Sunrise gives the three-piece a chance to cool down as they watch the sun go down as if they’re drinking Daiquiri’s to toast each other for a job well done.

Knowing they’ve got something wonderful up their sleeves, it’s quite an eye-opening experience to witness a warm-relaxing moment to witness the ball of light heading down the west with Camiruaga’s vibraphone embellishing the Gershwin-like textures to have a party at the very end. Knocking Waves is a futuristic composition that Beledo has created.

He gives Tony a chance to come center stage in the composition as he adds some double-tracking tempo on his upright bass to set up the midsection for Beledo channeling Steve Howe’s arrangements in Yes’ Close to the Edge. He channels Steve’s vision by witnessing the waterfalls pouring down rapidly into the volcanic mountains that were envisioned by Yes illustrator, Roger Dean.

But it’s Levin that adds more watery landscapes by going up and down a spiral staircase that awaits its listeners to see where the next parallel door will come upon us. Beledo hammers it down with some brutal wah-wah arrangement as he punches back and forth with Grohowski’s snare-like grooves that becomes a snake sniveling to eat its next prey.

A Temple in the Valley sees Boris scatting down into a gentle view of the world. Beledo creates these melodic tempos for him as he goes from high to mid arrangements on his vocals to climb the highest mountains and scat like no other! There is something very Zappa like in this track.

In the midsection, Beldeo and Boris walk into the Hot Rats territory as they continue the extension from Peaches En Regalia honoring The Grand Wazoo up in the heavenly sky. Quite an achievement that Beledo channels the mastermind’s playing by walking into this Blues-like mystery for Kenny to go into a ramming speed on his drum set before Levin lays down the law once more.

Who knows what the trio will think of next? A tidal-waving effect? Volcanic eruptions? It’s up to you to decide what the trio comes up in this cliffhanger finale. The funk-like ending Into the Spirals Levin channels Bootsy Collins by climbing aboard the mothership as they channel the styles of Parliament’s Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker).

Man does Beledo tip his hat to not only Bootsy, but George Clinton as well. Seriously Deep is a spectacular release from the MoonJune label this year. For Beledo, he has given a lot of strength and hope throughout the entire structure of the album. And I hope to hear more from him in the years to come.



Thought Bubble - 'Around'

From the moment the female voice describes the opening statement, “The waves and the patterns are merging.” It would start things off with the album’s opener, The Waves. It becomes a disturbing nightmare that Chris Cordwell and Nick Raybould would create. It has this ‘80s video game-like structure from Super Mario Bros. 2 as you enter different parallels of the pyramids with these film-noir like atmospheres as the clock ticks rapidly.

Then, the powder keg becomes a fuming heat to increase the next track Rat Race. Nods to Roxy Music’s The Bogus Man and Bowie’s Earthling-era, it’s a freak-out like no other. Cordwell and Raybould would duke it out in a boxing ring punching each other between their instruments. Hay-wiring chaos at its best, it is a batshit composition that would keep you guessing until the end.

Fluctuate is a journey into the unknown. A chilled-out futuristic string-section wasteland that you’ve never seen before while Beatwave channels Devo’s Oh No! It’s Devo-era as they have their pumping iron muscles to get your blood flowing for Nick and Chris tipping their hats to the Spud patrol with a Vivaldi-like crossover.

Mobius Trip becomes a ladder-climbing composition for the duo. They climb each of the ladders that transform into various patterns by reaching to the top of the mountain with a challenging pace by going into a mid-fast tempo for the guitars to slide down in one section to another.

Devoider closes the album by leaving the hot temperature levels inside the jungle. Hallucinated nightmares come to life for Thought Bubble as if they teamed up with Ozric Tentacles and the Irrlicht-era from Klaus Schulze. It is a crazy re-arrangement as they take us into a lane filled with gigantic mushrooms waiting to be eaten for the rest of the month!

Thought Bubble’s ‘Around’ is one of the most mind-boggling debuts that will keep you guessing until the end. ‘Around’ will be talked about in the years to come in the roaring ‘20s. And I hope to hear more from Thought Bubble in the next adventure that awaits them.



Friday, October 15, 2021

Tom Slatter - Escape

 

It’s been a long time since I reviewed something out of the label, Bad Elephant Music. Back in 2013, I listened to one of the most mind-blowing artists to come out of the label named Tom Slatter. His third studio album, Three Rows of Teeth, was a combination between early Genesis, Caravan, and William D. Drake. And I gave it a glowing review along with his other two; Through These Veins and Black Water. And then I had completely forgotten about him. Until now.

His latest release this year Escape, deals with escapism. Slatter took inspirations from comic books, sci-fi novels, computer games, and being an indoor kid. Slatter is bringing more stories to life again as an imaginative movie brought to life. So has it been a while? Oh yes. So let’s get straight to his new album.

From the moment Time Stands Still opens the album off, you hear these static sounds coming from the TV while blistering guitar riffs channels a thrashing attack in mid-tempo arrangement. It channels Diagonal’s sole self-titled debut album that Tom had picked up for inspiration as his eerie stories structure in more Mellotron’s to float in at the right moment.

It goes through this Ayn Rand-sque waltz channeling both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged with a folk-dystopian midsection as the machines take over the entire planet. And then it back to the metallic forefront with an orchestral vibe as Tom tips his mad hattering hat to early Black Sabbath and the first two Iron Maiden albums with arpeggiated textures brought to life.

Too Many Secrets has these electronic hay-wiring effects going chaotic as it tells the story of a group of soldiers who are in a rocket ship flying to another planet, fighting one of the bloodiest wars that’s going on. And the question that remains, is it worth fighting this stupid war that’s happening? Not to mention the dooming and sludging atmospheres that he brings to the kitchen table.

Let’s All Pretend reminisces between William D. Drake, Present, and Osanna’s Palepoli thrown into the blender. It’s Rock Progressivo Italiano meets the Rock In Opposition movement with a nod to the late, great Roger Trigaux’s guitar section while Rats becomes a Punk-Folk attitude.

Fast-sped drums followed by guitar melody, the unexpected time changes go from one corner of the living room to another. You can hear Tom channeling Bowie’s Outside-era as he picks up the pieces where Detective Nathan Adler had left off. Collateral is a psychedelic swinging garage rock dance. It becomes a dance to the death between Be-Bop Deluxe’s Futurama sessions as it climbs aboard Gentle Giant’s train chugging 500 miles per hour.

Going Nowhere is a 19-minute sci-fi opera brought to life. You can hear a Beefheart-sque introduction that makes Tom’s train turn into a fast-speeding overture. There is some Edgar Allen Poe structures for the main character’s death to happen with these guitar-organ sound that is completely unexpected, but works very well.

Not only there’s a ‘60s guitar on a tightrope, but he’s continuing where Rush had left off during an extension of Cygnus X-1 Book One: The Voyage. And then, he makes it a joyful walk before it gets even heavier as Tom fires more missiles by raising more hell than ever before.

Tom then also returns back for another Italian Prog dinner from Banco del Mutuo Soccorso’s Darwin period to I Giganti’s Terra in Bocca. You can the sound of a carousel organ come to life as Tom brings the steampunk audiences to a standstill as the story gets even more dangerous.

Escape is Tom Slatter’s nightmare brought to life. He is still our storyteller brought to life again, following in the footsteps of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Rod Serling, and Vincent Price. And I hope that I will hear more from him in the years to come during these tricky times we’re living in.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Asaf Sirkis - Solar Flash

The cover of Asaf’s latest release is a very striking artwork from singer Sylwia Bialas. I can imagine she was inspired by Tarkovsky’s work from the realms of Solaris and Stalker. Or it could have been inspired by something bold and mysterious throughout the pandemic. Solar Flash is an unknown journey that awaits us.

Sirkis himself has been a very busy man working with artists such as Gary Husband, Markus Reuter, Kenny Wheeler, Tassos Spilotopoulous, and Yaron Stavi. The collaborations on this album featuring alongside Husband, contains bassist Kevin Glasgow, and special guest Mark Wingfield. Now that is a collaboration right then and there.

In an interview from 2010 on the Music Without Borders:Innerviews website, Anil Prasad asked Asaf on what were the biggest challenges he faces in his creative process and how he overcame them. His response was this; “As a professional musician and a band leader, I often face situations of stress in which it’s hard to let go. There’s also recognizing your weak points and being able to face up to them and work on them. The trick is to organically combine these elements together in a way so they complement each other and become beneficial to the music.”

Solar Flash is quite a challenging release. And for both Asaf Sirkis and the MoonJune label, it is a fast-driven spiritual beauty brought to life that is like a flower ready to bloom at any second.

The three-part story arc Polish Suite is like a silent movie brought to life. You have these gentle mournful piano work from Gary, setting up this city that is now a ghost town in the middle of nowhere. You can almost feel a pin drop while Sylwia arranges the emptiness of the city that it once was, is no longer there anymore.

Sirkis’ brush on the snare, walks across the town with Glasgow’s bass in tow helping out the melodic vocals to give the last rite in this fair city. Then, he packs his bags and goes into Nick Mason’s city to celebrate The Grand Vizer’s Garden Party from the Ummagumma album.

He becomes this mad scientist on the drums going crazy before this foghorn-like sound from Husband takes full control for Mark’s guitar to send a message to the gods in the sky in the Himalayan mountains in the middle of a heavy snow storm. What Husband, Sirkis, and Wingfield would do is to take listeners into the unknown that is a door-opening experience.

I can see Gary channeling bits of the Canterbury vibes from Hatfield and the North in the style of scale-soaring beauty Calyx. I always envision Robert Wyatt singing the third and final section of the suite. That would have been something to close the curtain down throughout the structure of the composition.

Kinship opens the album with a surf-like wave arrangement that the trio create. You have Gary doing this mysterious balance to channel Matching Mole’s Dave MacRae while Glasgow has some mellowing tones on his Bass. Under the Ice has these cavernous arrangements to set up a film-noir vibe from the 1940s.

Glasgow can go high and low on the fretboards. He captures that smoky atmosphere before Gary lends those smooth R&B touches to know that the case has been solved. Now comes the dark side in Asaf’s arrangements. Aquila is an ominous Mahavishnu approach as Gary sets up this dooming rise on his organ to let Mark come out of Dracula’s coffin and set up this mid-snarling effect he creates to let the Beast calm and subdued.

Not only he channels both Frank Zappa and Allan Holdsworth, it’s almost as if the two maestros are watching him up in heaven, knowing that he’s tipping his hat to them up in the sky and they got his back. For Eric is dedicated to the drummer of Weather Report, Eric Kamau Gravatt. It’s a cross between Steely Dan, Tangerine Dream, and Soft Machine’s Third album.

With the spiritual voice of Sun Ra talking various subjects throughout the piece, it becomes an intensive drive for the instruments to go into this NASCAR race segment to reach the finish line at the end. Solar Flash is not only engaging, but an amplified release this year from MoonJune Records.

When the trio gets together to create something unexpectedly, it is like a cannon blast, knowing that it is going to be a wild ride waiting to be unleashed.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Memories of meeting Stan "The Man" Lee at Comicpalooza 2014


I am not a morning person, mind you. Whenever I would wake-up between 9 or 10am to get ready for Comicpalooza, I would take a shower, get cleaned up, and have a small amount of breakfast so that I could get ready to go the George R. Brown convention. Whether my Mom or Dad would take me from 2013 to 2018, it was a magical time to go for those Memorial Day weekends.

The construction can be tricky for them to take a different passageway, and sometimes we would go a different route so that I can enjoy my time from 10am to 6pm. I would look and see the cosplayers looking down at their phones, going as a family, talking to their loved ones, friends, or whatever they might do when they enter the building to enjoy the fun and forget about all the craziness that is going on in the outside world.

When I’m at Comicpalooza, I am free from everything. I have a great time, it can make my feet tired during the afternoons from all that walking, but it becomes a safe haven. When I show them my badge whether it’s a 3-Day pass or a Speed pass, I’m in to have a ball.

I never cover Comicpalooza. I don’t want to ruin the moment for everyone during my time at the Convention. This is their moment to shine. It’s sort of like other cons or expos from San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic-Con, E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), Wizard World, or Anime Expo where they launched the new dubbed version of the original Sailor Moon back in 2014 in all of its uncut glory.

But it would be a whole expose to cover those and all those travel expenses to go from area to another. It was the summer of 2014, I had just graduated from Houston Community College and getting my Associate’s Degree for Music in Performance for a nine year run. It was announced prior to the convention that Stan “The Man” Lee was going to be there.

Meeting an icon like Stan Lee, was like meeting The Beatles when they first arrived in the States on February 7, 1964. He along with Bernie Wrightson, Peter Mayhew, Armin Shimerman, Jim Cummings, Sigourney Weaver, Neal Adams, or Jim Steranko was the person I wanted to meet. I grew up watching the animated series of both X-Men and Spider-Man on FOX Kids back in the ‘90s when animation was cool then.

Then reading comics during that time frame. I stopped reading comics until I got back to reading them again in the summer of 2012. But I digress. The line for Stan was long, I my Superheroes PBS Blu-Ray docuseries for him to sign. I couldn’t tell if I was in the middle or at the back. But I could imagine it was long.

When he came in, the crowd went crazy as he sat down and signed autographs. I came in and as he signed my Blu-Ray. We shook hands, and I said to him, “Thank you for coming to Houston.” He replied back, “You are very welcome!” Then came for the Photo Op. I always get starstruck whenever I meet the people I wanted to meet. But I always keep my cool and not go ga-ga over them. Just like those crazy people who are autograph seekers who sometimes hide under the bushes and invade their privacies to get they’re signatures and use it to sell on auction websites.

I was wearing my CAN Future Days shirt as I showed my Blu-Ray he signed, the photo was taken and I thanked him again. I felt like it was winning the lottery at times, but that was the moment I will never forget.

It was a moment in time that Comicpalooza during the mid-2010’s like looking through your old scrapbook for a long, long time. Now in the pandemic, it’s almost as if the dream is over and going through conventions on your computer. But I look back on it now, and it was the memories that I will never forget.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

PAKT - PAKT


It’s quite a strange concept that Dr. Leonardo Pavkovic would create some strange experiment inside his laboratory at the basement of MoonJune Records. But something has lurked underneath the curtains that is waiting to be unleashed. It is a form of live music from one of the most important quartets that has unleashed all of its ammunition, and bring it to life at the Shapeshifter lab where originally Markus Reuter, Tim Motzer, and Kenny Grohowski had recorded their experiment live for a MoonJune release back on August 18th, 2019.

Brand X’s Percy Jones, Testament’s Alex Skolnick, Kenny Grohowski, and Tim Motzer, have brought enough fuel to light the fires up for this amazing 2-CD live recording at the same venue. Recorded last year during the lockdown, you can imagine yourself being in the venue, being free from the craziness that’s going on in the outside world.

Listening to the first act entitled The Unsilence, you can feel the tension cut with a knife. You have Alex and Tim going at it by creating this beautiful sculpture as if they were channeling either Jackson Pollock’s art design or creating more magical spells to show off to their friends instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

For Alex Skolnick, he’s more than just a Metal head, and a member of Testament, but he can create these visual scenarios on his instrument while Percy’s fretless bass goes into a counter clockwise as he climbs each ladder with challenging results. I love how Kenny’s drumming goes on this rampant whilst Alex channels the Krautrock masters, Manuel Gottsching and the late great Michael Karoli from Ash Ra Tempel and CAN.

I imagine he would feed Motzer some strange idea as they open up the soundscaping location before they take us into Andrei Tarkovsky’s wasteland from the sci-fi epic, Stalker. It is very chaotic and very hay-wiring at the same time. PAKT would do some strange experiments as Motzer uses bits and bobs throughout his electronics to go all over the Shapeshifter lab like there’s no tomorrow.

He and Skolnick are hammering down those Egyptian-like textures in the hottest part of the Sahara desert. They work well together as a team while Percy and Kenny go into a little Space Jam (no pun intended) as they take a trip into the Isle of Everywhere from Gong’s You-era meets Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters period.

The second act is called The Sacred Letter. Now this is where we really get those boiling waters bubbling. It adds a virtual landscape into an unknown wasteland that is waiting for us. Motzer’s eerie textures sets up the illustration while Jones walks back and forth by giving Grohowski more intense ideas on his drum kit.

There is a moment where I believe it’s Alex tipping his face mask to Mike Ratledge’s composition on Facelift from The Soft Machine’s Third album originally released in 1970. It’s quite a treat from Alex making his instrument sound like a wah-wah organ that would have gotten Mike’s stamp of approval to create something like that.

Meanwhile, they walk into Sonar’s territory as Alex and Tim go for the jugular. They walk into David Torn’s sonic voyages, but carrying more of the Irrlicht-era from Klaus Schulze. Percy is a madman to go crazy throughout his bass exercise as Alex, Kenny, and Tim follow him in hot pursuit.

The climatic ending is where all hell has broken loose for PAKT. They raise the roof up by going into a nuclear explosion by giving it a mind-boggling finale with a sigh of relief. But I can imagine there’s more to where it came from. I just wish it had continued more instead of a cliffhanger ending by leaving us dangling on top of the Grand Canyon.

Contributor to All About Jazz’s own Mark Sullivan who wrote the liner notes for the 2-CD set, watched the livestream performance during the pandemic. And I could imagine that it was quite a revelation for him to watch these four amazing geniuses bringing listeners on an adventure that we will ever think of dreaming about. I hope to hear more from PAKT in the years to come from the MoonJune label. I can always wait and hear to see what not just the quartet, but what Leo will have in store for us in the roaring ‘20s.