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Friday, June 16, 2017

Gentle Knife - Clock Unwound


Howard Roark, a character from Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel, The Fountainhead says to Peter Keating on the way he lives his life is, “To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul, would you understand why that’s much harder?” What Roark is saying to Keating is, that while the second-hander fails on the authority, it loses their hope of sensibility.

But it nurtures your own body and soul by freeing the control from the outside by demanding ideas and accomplishments. We are living in a society where something might go horribly wrong and lived in a world one day will be in a dystopian underground. That and Gentle Knife’s second release which is a follow up to their sole self-titled debut release entitled, Clock Unwound released on the Bajkal label shows that the Norway ensemble is back.

The themes deal with the situation I mentioned, was once a paradise that everyone can live in and bring their dreams to life, but it goes awry and the price it comes with it. But there’s hope of a glimpse of beauty underneath the ruins. Gentle Knife themselves have never done me wrong and their second album is a dark, beautiful, and haunting release I’ve listened to.

Opener, Prelude: Incipit starts off with a jazz piano chord in an ominous tone, followed by echoing reverb effects of the Trumpet done in a mournful sound a-la Miles Davis style. And it shows us, the listener, the wasteland that is like something straight out of either Blade Runner or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. And then, it segues into the title track.

With its hard riffs essence to both Procol Harum’s In Held ‘Twas in I and Rush’s Permanent Waves, the synths represent what is about to describe in the story structure as the composition feels almost like a mini-opera as if Arjen “Ayreon” Lucassen conducted and wrote the piece and got it done right. Increasing levels before the vocalizations and metal riffs pour in.

The flutes come pouring in with some Crimson-sque guitar lines as if you are walking through the rubble, hearing some pleas of help, but you can’t hear them and imagine hearing a pin drop in the area followed by a sax improvisation. With Fade Away, it’s almost as if it’s the mellowing pieces turned into volcanic rhythms. The first 2 minutes and 13 seconds start off honoring essences of King Crimson’s THRAK-era.

You can hear mellow guitar structures, mellotrons, flutes, and trumpets rolled together in a gigantic blender. And featuring the roaring horns erupt and wah-wah grooves and flute improvisations and then it heads back in the last 2 minutes of the mellowing arrangements. Plans Askew starts off in the first minute and seven seconds of a Hackett-sque classical guitar intro as the singing kicks in as if they are in an abandoned stage singing folk-like lyrics.

It then boosts up the instruments by coming in knowing hopefully that tomorrow will be a new day. The guitars go through a double-edge sword sharing the same melody with the same lines. It’s almost as if crying to the gods through the rubble with no one to hear as the characters know that death has come upon them.

The closing track, Resignation starts off with some video game haunting chords as if’s through the 16-bit Sega Genesis. And then, eerie Jazz flutes and atmospheric waves come in with the spoken dialogue done by a poet through the minds of between Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison and George Orwell. There’s some heavier tones by in a mid-speed journey to the unknown with a church organ behind you.

The characters I can imagine in the finale are letting the listener know, not to follow and not come looking for them. Because they aren’t going to like what they find. I really enjoyed listening to Clock Unwound. This is my fifth time listening to Gentle Knife’s second album. And the mastering done by Stick Men’s Markus Reuter and Benjamin Schafer from Unsung Productions, for me it’s a perfect combination for them to work on this album.

I hope Gentle Knife continues to do more for years and years to come. They are one of my favorite ensembles to come out of the genre. And I hope they won’t stop. The journey has just begun for them with Clock Unwound.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Schnauser - Irritant


It’s been three years since Schnauser released a new album after 2014’s Protein for Everyone. I loved what they have done on their fifth album since it was my introduction to their music. It was wacky, off-the-wall, prog, pop, avant-rock, and in your face. This year they have released their sixth album on a new label with Bad Elephant Music entitled, Irritant. And it proves that have shown no sign of stopping and never giving up on their sense of humor.

For me, it is a “Holy Shit!” release I’ve listened to from start to finish. I can hear the cross-overs between the Cardiacs, Knifeworld, Supersister, XTC, and Gentle Giant rolled up into a big giant smoothie. Alan Strawbridge, who founded the band 12 years ago, still follows in the footsteps of Robert Wyatt, Andy Partridge, Vivan Stanshall, Tim Smith, and the late great maestro of Gong, Daevid Allen.

Listening to this album, is like walking on Schnauser’s tightrope and you have to be very, very, very careful by not looking down. Because you never know if they are going to cut the rope or not. And the tightrope itself has five centerpieces on here that just made me embark on their roller-coaster ride.

The opener, Spiele Mit Katzen is a speed demon introduction between organ, drums, and sax with an intense punky roar and lushful midsections. I can hear the Cardiacs influences everywhere. It’s then followed by and electro-space trippy adventure a-la Chrome Hoof style. Re-Morgating the Nest of Hairs is essence to the Rugrats theme with some nostalgia of growing up to old-school ‘90s Nickelodeon cartoons as it delves into a psych-punk space rock approach.

There are some mysterious movements as if Ren and Stimpy are continuing more of their journey inside the Black Hole before going back into the morning animated TV-sque intro. The Monday Club deals with the 2015-2016 election and run-up to the Brexit referendum. The song deals for a plea to end the scaremongering and spewing of the media.

Schnauser pushes the envelope and they are spot on what was happening. And I can imagine it’s still going strong. The last 2-minutes sees them going for an approach in the essence of Henry Cow’s Nirvana for Mice. Now this is a title that just took me by surprise and would have given Jamie Oliver a chance to shit his pants on.

Chinese Brainworm (Taeria Solium). Now when I first heard this title, I was thinking to myself, “Schnauser really never gives up on a sense of humor.” And believe me it is a wicked sense of humor. I like how they take the approach of William D. Drake’s The Rising of the Lights-era with a moody waltz in the time signature of 3/4. But I get the feeling that Schnauser could have written this as a score for a short featuring Ren and Stimpy.

Fail Better starts with the pouring rain as Dino Christodoulou’s free-jazz Sax improvisation before Duncan’s keyboards go into an eerie wah-wah psychedelia approach. Alan shows his nod to the master of Robert Wyatt with his inspirational lyrics along with some lifting guitar and sax work. 

This is my fourth time listening to Irritant. And it is one of the wackiest, out of this world, and insane albums I’ve listened to this year and prepare more with Schnauser to hurtle through more of the cosmos with them.

The United States of America - The United States of America


49 years ago, something surreal was unearthing through the psychedelic movement, but mixed in political views and electronic music with an avant-garde twist. That band was The United States of America. Formed in 1967 by Joseph Byrd, a Stanford University graduate, and was one of John Cage’s student, and a part of the surreal Dadaism movement, Fluxus. What Byrd wanted to do was to capture the styles and mix of music and electro music that was bold and musical.

Originally released on the CBS label in the UK and on Columbia in the States on March 6, 1968, this was completely off the wall, in your face, dystopian lyrics, musique-concrete, Dixieland jazz, and avant-electronic rock at its peak. It was ahead of its when it came out. It was very diverse than what bands like The Byrds, The Doors, and Cream were doing. It was more of the essence between Silver Apples, Delia Derbyshire, Electric Prunes, and The Velvet Underground.

The opener, The American Metaphysical Circus, starts off with a calliope fanfare, ragtime piano, horn sections, and militant drums going through this insane nightmare before Dorothy Moskowitz’s vocals come in through someone’s brain about dealing the dark side of what America has become. And the lyrics, is the nightmare we are living in the past, present, and today in the 21st century through an experimental nightmare as Dorothy’s voice becomes a dalek-sque scenario.

Hard Coming Love sees the band delving into a proto-punk garage rock attitude with Forbes punching bass, Marron’s violin screeching like a fuzztone guitar before the Derbyshire-sque White Noise vibe in a psychedelia shrieking rocker. The Garden of Earthly Delights I would consider early beginnings of Space Rock about the dangers of what is not you expected to go into this area of the dangerous fruits and hallucinated voyages of what is in this person’s eyes that holds a mystery to them.

Where Is Yesterday is a mournful ominous composition with monk-chanting Latin concept to the Lamb of God, it describes what was once a peaceful land, turned into a hellish world and the question of the song is simple of what happened to the place that was once heavenly sent turned into a wasteland. Love Song for the Dead Che which is about the controversial figure of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara.

This was a risky composition dedicated to the leader. It has a romantic, uplifting, and warmth vibration as Dorothy’s vocals through the reverb and the violin and string section as well as mournful organ and percussion while the 6-minute finale mixed with psych folk rock and musique-concrete of the three-part suite of The American Way of Love is in political satire.

Metaphor for an Older Man is a resemblance to Donovan’s Season of the Witch mixed in with an out-of-the-blue calliope and shrieking violin work that you can imagine the band East of Eden taking inspiration. It then moves into an electronic drone and alarming synths a-la Edgard Varese style before delving into a wah-wah humoristic twist of the West Coast sound of California Good-Time Music and delving in Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out-era of haywire effects of everything coming in a cycle on Love Is All.

There are ten bonus tracks which was originally issued on the Sundazed reissue and on the Esoteric Recordings label three years ago that the band recorded between September and December of 1967 and during the summer of 1968. You have more of the garage avant-rock for No Love to Give along with the first version for a Psych-Pierre Henry-Ragtime effect on I Won’t Leave my Wooden Wife for You, Sugar featuring Dorothy on vocals.

Tailor Man has this David Axelrod effect as the folk-acoustic driving blues in the highway on Do You Follow Me gives The United States of America a chance to take a break away from the electronic sound. The 16-page booklet contains liner notes done by Sid Smith including archive interviews by Byrd about the making of the album including the original lyrics, pictures, and the 45-RPM single release of the A and B-Side that they released on the CBS label.

When the album was released, it didn’t do well. There was also tension between Byrd and the rest of the band members as the band broke up. Joseph would later do a solo album from support by John McLure’s support as he recorded and released The American Metaphysical Circus with and extended group from the West Coast considered as Byrd called them, The Field Hippies in 1969.

Listening to The United States of America’s sole self-titled debut released in 1968, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not an easy album to listen to, but very challenging. It was the same thing for me with Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Magma’s Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh. It’s one of the albums that grows on you. It’s weird, surreal, and political, but worth delving into the darker side of what America has become.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Discipline - Captives of the Wine Dark Sea


It’s been 30 years since their formation and six years since they have released a new album. One of the bands that have been around from day one in their hometown in Detroit, Michigan and discovering their music on Prog Rock Deep Cuts with Ian Beabout, is Discipline. With four albums in the can, they've released their fifth album on the label, The Laser’s Edge this year entitled, Captives of the Wine Dark Sea.

The themes of the album deal with; disbelief, struggling to write and looking back on what was by achieving success, and the haunting images that will come at you as if it's the elephant in the room. And the themes fit well into the new album. The current line-up is Paul Dzendzel on Drums, Matthew Kennedy on Bass, Tiles guitarist Chris Herin, and vocalist and keyboardist, Matthew Parmenter.

And working with veteran music producer Terry Brown (Rush, Voivod, FM, Max Webster, and Klaatu) in the mixing level who also worked with Matthew’s third solo album, it’s a very interesting combination. Discipline have never disappointed me with the art and theatrical side of their music. With Captives of the Wine Dark Sea, it’s a return to ideas as Parmenter describes it as “an escape to ameliorate the workaday world.

Life Imitates Art deals with the struggle on writing a hit and success while Chris’ lead guitar and Matt’s piano share the introduction and the verses by his vocals. With it’s pounding beats, ‘60s psych-organ, and the lines “That’s why we make pretty songs for all the boys and girls to sing along/in High School and Reunion/I remember that one too and life imitates art.

Matthew is describing to the listener that while a band or an artist writes a successful song and it gets on the radio, they realize the big question that lays ahead of them “What is going to happen now? We’ve come a long way, what is going to happen in the years to come?” It’s a great song and I just can’t get enough of it. But let’s move on. S is a gothic ride of instrumental terror.

The vibes of Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk comes to mind as screeching guitars, ominous string sections go on a dangerous ride towards the rapid rivers and the waterfall that is bound to happen at any moment, at any second for the first 2 minutes and 24 seconds. But then, it goes deeper into the tunnels showing these haunting images as Herin’s guitar digs us towards those moments a tiny between Richard Pinhas and Roger Trigaux as Chris honors the RIO (Rock In Opposition) movement.

Love Songs gives Parmenter to delve in the acoustic folk-blues walking composition. It deals with not wanting to hear the same old “I love you” songs and being alone from the situation. Matthew really digs into these Lennon-sque lyrics that strike a chord before the mid-ragtime piano section with some heavier territory.

With Here There Is No Soul, Discipline delves into the essence of The Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter and at times country-sque lines with the Keith Richards touch for the first minute and thirty-eight seconds. But then, it digs deeper and deeper into the soil as the organ and rhythm guitar riffs and soars to a closing end finale on the last 53 seconds.

The closer, Burn the Fire Upon the Rocks is a 14-minute epic that gives Chris Herin a chance to come forward. He goes into the Zeppelin-sque riffs and Beatle-sque styles from the White Album-era throughout his guitar. There is a rising sequence between the mellotron, mellowing drums, and piano. Not to mention some 10cc vocalizations on the first 4 minutes and 9 seconds.

Discipline’s music may not be everyone’s cup of coffee, Captives of the Wine Dark Sea is a return to show that they are not stopping. Mellowing, haunting, and different types of sound alongside from their progressive inspirations. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Hedersleben - Orbit


Among supporters including Hawkwind co-founder Nik Turner and Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, Hedersleben are this cross between psychedelic adventures with a space rock expedition. This is a band that just took me by surprise. Not only that it’s very good and very interesting, they have released three albums from 2013 to 2015. This year, they have released their fourth album entitled, Orbit on the Purple Pyramid Records.

The band launched in the outskirts of Quedlinburg, Germany which is a town situated north of the Harz Mountains, located on the district of Harz of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany by UK Subs guitarist, Nicky Garratt. He also worked with Nik Turner on the Space Gypsy album four years ago. The fourth album is a story structure dealing with a great elliptical orbit around our solar system around the sun extending the reach of the Kuiper Belt.

Which is called the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, a circumstellar disc beyond the planets extending Neptune. Now while I’m very new to the band’s music, it can be heard in two films starring Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, The Doors, Species, Dishonored) the action heist film Diamond Cartel and the horror revenge thriller, The Devil’s Domain. The music dives towards the adventures that made me realize, this is a band I’m might be interested in checking out.

Hedersleben with three of their albums released, they featured new singers. This one features vocalist and violinist Alicia Previn who is the daughter to conductor Andre Previn and a member of The Source Family. Keyboardist Jai Young Kim returns from The Fall of Chronopolis returns to the cosmos to bring both the Organ, Mellotron, and the Moog for another adventure with the band.

Also featuring the rhythm section of Drummer, Percussionist John Darren Thomas and Bassist Doc Miller. When I was listening to Orbit, I was completely near the edge of my seat to be a part of their take of the Millennium Falcon to be set and geared up to go into outer space and heading towards other planets through their music.

The epic chord rising intro on History of Light brings essence of Blood Ceremony’s organ roar with a cosmic voyage meeting into psychedelic hard rock atmosphere while the opener, Judas Star has the Bass and Organ ascending the countdown for lift-off as both violin and guitar share the same melody with an alarming sound for the first 2 minutes and 37 seconds.

It’s this cross between String Driven Thing meets the early Moody Blues meets Van Der Graaf Generator’s Pawn Hearts-era while the Mellotron and Moog set the futuristic scenario before Alicia is speaking through a gigantic megaphone as the lyrics are essence to the mind between Michael Moorcock and Blue Oyster Cult’s Eric Bloom as if they’d worked together again since Fire of Unknown Origin.

Rarefied Air is a spacey atmospheric mid-fandango groove. Nicky’s guitar riffs are similar to the opening introduction to Malaguena as the vocalizations are cool, relaxed before the Moog sets the jump to light-speed by heading towards the star system. Apogee is the Organ and the Moog revving up as Nicky, Doc, and John channel the styles between Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, Amon Duul II, and Sabbath approaches. 

While the beat is slightly molto, it has a bright energy and it continues with the quest as the closing track, Perigee gives Doc Millar moving from Bass to Classical Guitar. It’s this cold and haunting finale instrumental as Birds chirp through the sunset as the double-tracking on the guitar sees Doc go back and forth through his instrument.

Again, I’m new to the world of Hedersleben’s music, but this shows a very interesting concept by travelling towards the galaxy. Orbit is worth exploring and recommended if you admire the space rock sounds as prepare yourself to hurtle through the cosmos with Hedersleben. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Patto - Hold Your Fire (Expanded Edition)


This 2-CD set consists of Patto’s second album, Hold Your Fire which was originally released in December of 1971 on the Vertigo label, and now reissued by Esoteric Recordings. After the release of their sole self-titled debut album in 1970, the album didn’t do that well and Vertigo wanted the band to do another album as Muff Winwood was brought back to the studio to produce their next album.

The album was recorded at Island Studios in Basing Street as the band decided that it was time to show some improvements of what they could have done on their debut. What that meant was that it gave them time on both of the arrangements and overdubs while it showed a self-confidential side to them and building up their sound with both of the blues, jazz, and soul in their roots.

Ollie channels his improvisations of Jazz Rock to keep the essence flowing of Holdsworth’s technique like a train going at full speed with the Air Raid Shelter while You, You Point Your Finger deals with the struggle with fame and the price that is paid with it. With its haunting melodies and social commentary, Mike pours his soul on the issue for its powerful composition as Ollie’s melodic/harder edge, makes you feel as if he is taking you to the dark side of the music industry.

See You At The Dance Tonight is a mid-tempo piano blues rockin’ number. Not only that, but I could tell it is an essence of Rod Stewart and the Faces almost as if they could have written this song for them during the sessions for Ooh La La as Ollie shreds through the midsection as John Halsey’s drumming follows beside him. The two bonus tracks on the first CD features Beat the Drum which at first starts off with a jazzy improvisation.

The first few minutes gives Clive Griffiths a chance to come forward as his bass line brings it in. As he and John follow Ollie’s vibes, the stop-and-go moments gives Mike’s vocals delve into some of the issues of what was happening during that time period while Bad News shows more of Ollie’s virtuosity. It shows that he’s more than just a guitar player. He and Bernie Holland share together on their instruments in the lead and rhythm guitar structures.

The second CD contains two performances that Patto did for the BBC sessions including BBC Radio One’s In Concert introduced by John Peel and the other three for a summer session for Sounds of the 70s along with alternate mixes of the last three tracks from the sessions at Island Studios. Listening to these sessions, makes you want to close your eyes and imagine yourself being in the audience watching this band going into town to deliver the goods during the time they were promoting their debut album.

When Hold Your Fire was released in December of that year, the album didn’t sell. And Vertigo dropped the band. And soon they were still on the road for supporting acts including Stackridge, Genesis, Bell & Arc, May Blitz, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Genesis for a festival. Listening to their second album, it shows that this was a band that was so far ahead of their time and often overlooked in the history of the progressive rock genre.

The 20-page booklet contains liner notes done by Sid Smith which included an interview with John Halsey about the making of the album. It also contains posters, promos, reviews, including a picture of Centipede which Mike Patto participated with Keith Tippett for the Septober Energy album and performances they did in London and Europe. Pictures of the band, and of course the Lyceum Easter Festival they did with some of the progressive bands they were on the bill with as I’ve mentioned a second ago.

The band would later be with another label on Island Records due to Muff’s connection with them as they would release their next album in 1972 entitled; Roll ‘em Smoke ‘em Put Another Line Out.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Art Griffin's Sound Chaser - Visions from the Present


Canada has been for me one of my favorite places I’ve always wish to go to. And the bands from that area whether it’s the sounds of Rush, Klaatu, Morse Code, Max Webster, The Musical Box (which I had the great pleasure of seeing them six years ago for their Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour at the House of Blues), Maneige, and FM to name a few. It’s not just me loving these bands, but showing my support and seeing where the next direction will take the genre into.

In one of the projects that are taking those directions is Art Griffin’s Sound Chaser. Hailing from the Blue Mountains in Ontario, which is a town located at the southwestern area in Grey County and where the Beaver River flows into the rocky shores of Nottawasaga Bay by passing over the two dams by reaching its mouth. But it’s also a ski resort including the private Craigleith Ski Club.

But I’m off-topic. When this landed on my lap a few week ago, I didn’t know what to think of it. So I put the album on my portable CD player and for me, it’s not just a great album, but a very interesting release that was unleashed last year on the Velvet Orb label. It considers Art Griffin who is a multi-instrumentalist and composer, lead guitarist Kelly Kereliuk, electric violinist Victoria Yeh, and drummer/mixer Steve Negus of SAGA and Chris DeBurgh.

With a brilliant artwork of the album cover done by Roger Dean who’s done the Yes artwork, Osibisa, the Vertigo swirling logo, and White Willlow’s Future Hopes, he shows no sign of stopping. But let’s straight to the instrumental adventures with a few highlights on here. The alarm goes off on Nomadic Traveller as it delves into an electronic ‘80s voyage essence of the Trip-Hop groove as Art’s bass sets the tempo as the Wurlitzer goes into a wah-wah mode with a floydian-sque feel.

Red Sky at Night features mid-chomping rhythm sections between Art, Victoria, Kelly, and Steve. Ken Baird’s Rhodes takes you into driving across the highway with the fusion-sque beats while crossing between Yes’ Time and a Word-era and Rush’s Moving Pictures-era. It’s a combinational crossover, but the vibes between early ‘70s and ‘80s vibe works interestingly well.

Ascension pays its nod to 10cc’s The Original Soundtrack. Victoria’s beautiful violin work helps to say farewell either to a loved one or a friend as it sends warmth and hope to the stars. Near the mid-climax it has this ambient/atmospheric finale, but it goes back to the end by fading out into the sunset. Supersuit is a dynamic and heavy electro-rock thanks to the drum programming on here.

Both Art and Victoria are doing a dualistic melody between each other as if they are heading towards the solar system with a climatic ending whilst the 10-minute and 31-second epic, Happy Place which is a four-part composition, brings Kelly to the forefront. He takes the listener to his virtuosic improvisations channeling Steve Vai’s presence by going back and forth on the frets as Art gives him carte blanche to see him getting ready to fly with amazement.

Art has really brought a lot of ideas and hopes into his music. Now while I’m not crazy about the album, Visions from the Present, it has some brainstorming moments that just made me realize what he and his team will do next for the years and years to come.