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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.