Murder and Parliament, Self Titled, 2017

murder and parliamentNot sure, but think this is the first Bad Elephant release on the blog. With more to follow, rest assured 🙂 Murder And Parliament is in essence Tom Slatter, with the help of Alun Vaughan on bass and Chrissie Caulfield on violin.

What Murder And Parliament bring is instrumental music that most people will categorize as progressive. When comparing this to for instance Sunrise Auranaut, this turns out a completely different animal. This goes from ambient soundscapes to thriving rock.
I guess for many the complexity will come across as similar to that of SA, but I think the biggest difference is that Murder And Parliament more often use recurring themes and melodies. Sometimes to such an extent that the melodies overcome the complexity and songs like Crookedness or Firecracker nest themselves pretty quick in your system. Which will surely help them to find their audience.
While I understand that instrumental music is not for everybody, when the melodies are good and recognisable, this helps to connect to the music. So in that light, this is a release that should find a home with many prog heads.

It never gets too heavy or too complex, shows a clever sense of arranging and the songs are just too good to ignore. Yes you need to keep an open mind about it, but it will be worth it. Job well done!

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Syzygy, Misconnected Man, 2017

syzygy - misconnected manFrom Gainesville Florida, USA, comes this trio, an alignment of 3 celestial objects (which is what Syzygy literally means). And while this is not their first release, this is de facto their official full length debut. And when I add that it contains 6 tracks and totals almost an hour of music,  all bets are off as to what musical genre we can expect. But beware of confusion, I know of another US band called Syzygy that released for instance A Glorious Disturbance in 2012, but that seems a whole other band.

I don’t think any progressive rock trio can avoid being compared to Rush, and in this case we are talking pre keyboards Rush. So the music is an amalgam of styles yet will stay firmly within rock territory. In first song, the title track Misconnected Man, we are not only treated with more twist and turns than the average coastal highway, it also features a great lyric! Talking of lyrics, most of them are fairly short, the band seem hooked on throwing in a bunch of instrumental ideas and go places. Luckily they know how to keep it all together so they never lose the plot. Another good thing is they not only vary themes and rhythms, but are not afraid to put dynamics to good use either. So a song can go from almost whisper soft to metallic and will keep you on your toes.

All in all I really enjoyed listening to this and am confident that prog aficionados will too.

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Vantomme, Vegir, 2017

vantomme-vegirAh, another Moonjune Records release. And featuring none other than the mighty Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Stick Men) on bass! Vantomme is the project led by Dominique Vantomme (keyboards, Ana Popovic, Vaya Con Dios, Viktor Lazlo)) who wrote all the songs/ jams that Tony contributed to, together with Michel Delville on guitar (The Wrong Object, Machine Mass) and Maxine Lenssens on drums.

Now this introduction should tell you a couple of things. First, yes it is instrumental and probably falls into the jazz / fusion category. Yes, this music takes time to digest as most of the themes incorporated in the songs will not show themselves in the first (few) rounds. Still, some songs do have a fairly quick impact, like opener Double Down or the haunting Sizzup. Other songs remind of the soundscapes King Crimson do. Something Levin is of course very familiar with.
Guys like this are ace players, capable of taking everything that is thrown at them into their own hands and turn it into something special. Yet in all honesty, the result is not always easy on the ears. So people expecting  straight forward songs should be beware that this might disappoint them. For the adventurous amongst us, this is a discovery that will last you a long time. And not only for funny song titles likes The Self Licking Ice-cream Cone!

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Marygold, One Light Year, 2017

marygold - one light yearOh, this must be the wet dream for those progressive rock lovers that keep stuck in the seventies. Italian band Marygold have delivered an album that sounds modern and up to date, but is filled to the brim with the musical concepts that formed that classic era of prog.
And is that a bad thing? Well, I suppose that depends on where you stand on the matter. Is it really progressive to play music akin so much to that fruitful period in time? But let’s not get trapped in that discussion and focus on what the band deliver.

And what the album brings, besides the unique vocal delivery of Guido Cavalleri (who also adds flute), is 7 songs with a total playing time of over 56 minutes. So yes, there are two 10 plus minute epics present. But most of all, the release has depth and attracts the listener with well written and executed songs. I hear a lot of influences from the neo-prog of early Marillion, so it is no surprise various members once started in a Marillion cover band.
But no all too obvious copying here, the band convince in every department. The songs flow, and are kept in balance with clever arrangements and solos and or breaks on the right spot. All enhanced by a transparent, yet powerful production.

So in itself a very pleasing album to listen to, and one that will be lapped up by the prog community.

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Dawson Rutledge, Monsters, 2017

dawson rutledge - MonstersOne of the best things about doing this is that you get to hear a wide variety of music. And since variety is the spice of life, this album is been making quite a few rounds in my CD player lately.
The 19 year young Dawson Routledge is a fairly new name on the scene, delivering his first official album here, the 9 track album Monsters.

Probably best described as a mix of soft rock, pop, jazz and folk, Monsters has turned out to be quite the laid back affair. But of the kind that grabs you with an unique voice, clever lyrics and a delivery that is beyond Rutledge’s years.
Sometimes a song starts with a hook that makes you wonder if you have heard it before, but in the end this is all original. The overall sound is warm and does justice to the songs that are carried by their pop sensibilities and folky arrangements. It is clear that he is serious about his craft, especially since his picking skills are on par with his vocals. And the subtle rhythmic changes are often the icing on the cake.

Personal favourites are When Life Gives You Monsters and Heavy Heart, but there are enough choices to please many.

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Bad Butler, Not Bad At All, 2017

bad butler - not bad at allAfter a couple of more progressive albums to listen to, now back to a more straight in your face release. Bad Butler are from Germany and describe their music as “Impressive melodies, gripping guitar riffs and an accentuated heavy sound that gets straight under your skin. The troupe works with driving, atmospheric songs that create a mystically dynamic soundscape”.

Mhm, atmospheric songs that create a mystically dynamic soundscape? Afraid that means something different to me. For me this is a “take no prisoners” album. Heavy metal as it is supposed to be. Not overly German by the way, with which I mean there is no constant galloping on the double kick. The band sure mean business though. Lots of energy and melodies that stick. Actually, one of the good things about the album is that the band keep trying to avoid using all too obvious genre clichés. And indeed, they are not afraid to make use of dynamics. Listen to Gunman for instance; clean guitars, break downs, a talking voice… All this resulting in a song that makes you want to listen.  Or take Straight From Hell, with an addictive rhythm. Another highlight for me is Nameless Thing. The vocal and guitar melodies in this track are just stupefyingly brilliant. And still the thing rocks your socks off.

Even when not all 10 tracks are of the same calibre, this is a solid release that will make many genre addicts very happy. And considering it is an independent release, one of high quality.

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DBA, Skyscraper Souls, 2017

dba-skyscraper-soulsIn full this is the Downes Braide Association. With Geoff Downes being the prog rock legend from the Buggles, Asia and Yes. And Chris Braide being a master in pop hits with the likes of Beyonce, Lana del Rey and Britney Spears to name a few. It is their third album together and according to the press sheet their most progressive so far. I would not know, as this is the first I have been listening to.

Well, with someone with such a pedigree in hits, it will not be a surprise that melodies are very important on this album. Even the 18 minute title track has many moments that catch your ear with ease! The good thing with melody is of course is that they catch your attention easily. Yet in this case that does not mean the material is lightweight or plain fluffy. What the duo have created has much more depth. And it is a band effort too, with drummer Ash Soan and bassist Andy Hodge adding their qualities to the songs. As well as guests like Andy Partridge (XTC) and Kate Pierson (B-52’s). And the art from Roger Dean is fitting too, especially since Braide’s voice is not too distant from that certain mister Anderson.

Anyway with 9 songs ranging from 1 to 18 minutes and a total playing time of 53 minutes, this is an album that will appeal to an audience beyond the fairly closed prog rock community. And that cannot be a bad thing!

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The Foxholes, Sci-Fox, 2017

the foxholes - sci-foxThe Foxholes have been featured here before, making this their second release on these pages. And from a dialect, we now move on to Spanish as the language of choice. But no translations this time.

The album opens however with the instrumental title track. Or actually part 1 to be more accurate. And it is a prime example of how to build up such a track. Just like the other instrumental tracks they have on offer, Andromeda Blues and part 2. Themes, riffs and breaks are glued together in such a manner that the song has a clear identity. And the sound is just very transparent, yet powerful, great job!  And speaking of powerful, next track La Ciencia De La Confusion opens with a very attractive hook! It immediately sucks you in, especially since it is based on a groove Led Zeppelin would have been proud of. But the guys manage to work a little beyond that idiom, adding textures and parts that sometimes turn it into a more progressive song. Anyway, great track. And even though I barely understand any Spanish, it does not withhold me from enjoying all I hear.
Mephistopheles is the shortest track on the album. Very catchy chorus, and the use of dynamics is plain clever. In a perfect world this would have the potential to become a hit. Tierra Ni Hogar continues the high level of songwriting, and the same goes for the bonus track Cada Miércoles.

In my book there is only one flaw with the album, with 7 songs and less than 40 minutes it is a bit short. But we can’t have all now can we.

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Huub Holtman, Trap Door, 2017

huub holtman - trap doorNot 100% sure, but this might actually be the first CD discussed here, that is sung in my native dialect, Limburgs, from the South of the Netherlands. And to complicate things, from the somewhat North of the South… So while the English speakers amongst us think they are reading Trap Door, in reality that means something like; go on. Or more specific, go on with your biking. Or something like that 😉

Anyway, this album is written, performed, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by Huub Holtman himself. Albeit with some guests on percussion, additional vocals, lead guitar and a few other bits and pieces.
It took me a while to tag the music I was hearing. It sounds a bit like Peter Gabriel and Muse have been experimenting together. So I guess it is a mix of rock and pop with alternative touches and a tad of prog thrown in for good measure.
But the beauty of it all is, that even when most of the world will not understand the lyrics, the music does have the quality to reach out and grab you. Trap Door and Neet Van Belang (It Doesn’t Matter) have an attractive catchiness about them. Veur Dich (For You) is an intricate follow up to the suspense closing bit of Neet Van Belang. Heb Ik Waat (Do I have Something) just plain rocks.

Obvious conclusion is that this is an album that the (alternative) rockers, no matter the language, will be able to enjoy.

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Alan Simon, Excalibur IV, 2017

alan simon - EXCALIBUR-4From never having heard of Alan Simon, now on to a second album. The first was his recent released Songwriter double disc, which I enjoyed very much. And since this one is called Excalibur IV, The Dark Age Of The Dragon, we can be pretty sure that there have been Excalibur albums before this (duh).

Not sure if everyone will agree with me, but for me one of the highlights of Simon is the diversity on offer. From folk, to rock, to classical and many in between, you can find a lot of genres on this album. Sometimes even in one song. And while in many cases that would make an album suffer from a lack of focus, this guy produces songs that are able to tell a story, even without words. The fact that all is executed beautifully only helps of course. Just take a look at the guest list: Michael Sadler (Saga), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Moya Brennan (Clannad), Roberto Tiranti (Labyrinth), John Helliwell (Supertramp) or Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep) to name a few! What all these names confirm is the scope of the material.

So a haunting song like Alone can stand firmly besides a more rocking song like for instance Stonehenge. Just like the pop bliss of Calling For You easily sits besides the proggy Don’t Be Afraid or the dreamy and almost opera-esque The Last Lament Of A Fairy.

For me there is no more excuse in trying to find earlier albums. Great stuff, worth checking out if you, like me, have been living under a rock as far as Alan Simon is concerned…

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