Yage, Nordwand, 2019

yage - nordwandMountains. Mountain tours put to music. So do you have to be a mountaineer to enjoy this album?

To continue the comparison: without having the actual experience, I would imagine that doing mountain tours (especially when the mountain is big and the paths treacherous) is demanding for both the body as well as the mind. And in that sense Yage have succeeded in their mission.
In no way this is an album that digests easily. The 67 minutes of music require you to pay attention, while not giving you much time to relax. It’s a full throttle journey from start to finish. Part of that is due to the high level of energy, the wall of sound. Another part is due to the use of the German language in the lyrics. Living close to the German border, that is not really a problem for me, but that will not be the case for everybody.

That said, there are lots of things to enjoy here. The guys build their songs on skilled riffs of quality and variation. And despite being a 2 man affair, sound like a proper band. Okay, the lead vocals will not be for everyone (nor will the “rap” added to Zwicker), but the reality is they work well within the musical frame Yage have set up for themselves. And in a track like Planet Broesel, they use dynamics to great effect so you do not miss vocals at all.

So definitely one to check if you like your rock hard as metal and do not mind a bit of adventure…

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Skylake, In Orbit, 2019

skylake - in orbitDo not know how often I have listened to this before I could convince myself to start writing about it. And with opening with a sentence like that, I guess many of you will wonder what is wrong with it…

To be honest, it might be just me. I mean, this is a very solid album from start to finish. That is, for those who like expressive progressive rock with loads of dynamics and maybe a bit of alternative touches. The songwriting ticks all the expected boxes, and the band sound confident. And are fronted by a female singer.
You see, it took me all this time to realise that my, eh challenge, with this release probably lies with the vocals. Not that singer Suzan van den Engel has a bad voice or sings out of key. But somehow the vocals don’t grab me. At all. The reason I suspect, is that all vocals are extremely safe, nicely coloured between the lines so to speak. No edges, thus leaving me unaffected by them. Where is the emotion? Even the (male) aggressive shouting in Smooth Skin – War Within lacks depth and true aggression. At least in my ears.

So yes, interesting songs and all, but for me to keep listening to the band, I really need them to show their true colours and add identity to what they deliver. This is too much brain and far too less heart for my tastes.

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Fervent Mind, Tranquilize, 2019

fervent mind - tranquilizeThe last couple of weeks I have been listening on and off to this album and I keep realizing how hard I find it to describe it accurately. I think the press sheet says it best: “the music balances on a fine line between the rough and the delicate, with elements from post rock and metal, as well as dream pop, trip hop and contemporary jazz”. So let’s just call it a progressive rock album…

I know, that description is a mouth full, but while listening to the album, it just proves true. Opener A Series Of Fragments puts emphasis on the voice of singer Live Sollid, and the track segues seamlessly into Torrid, maintaining a somewhat laid-back feel, albeit injected with haunting guitar feedback before suddenly exploding in pounding riffs and wailing vocals. Next track Fervent kicks off in stylish progrock style, before turning into a groovy pop tune. And then back again.
So with 3 songs in, it is clear the band do not shy away from combining all those element I mentioned earlier. And I must say, they are good at what they do. Singer Live can sound delicate, but also bring some power to the mix, and the band follows accordingly.

All in all I find myself pretty impressed by this album. It takes you places, and gets better with every play. A classic in the making?

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Toto, All In 1978 – 2018, 2019

toto - all in 1978 - 2018Despite already owning all regular Toto albums, I still thought this would make me a nice present from the kids for father’s day. So they did 🙂

And while listening to all these albums I know so well, I did find that the remasters of especially the first 7 albums breathe new life into them. Because in all honesty I have always loved the music, but the production always seemed very smooth. And if my ears and memory do not fool me,  these new versions have more punch, especially in the drums and the guitars. And as a bonus, some discs contain tracks I did not yet have too!

But the main reason for wanting to have this 13 CD collection was of course the inclusion of the Live In Tokyo 1980 EP and the Old Is New CD. The Live EP has 5 songs, 3 from one of my favourite Toto albums Hydra, and Tale Of A Man, whose studio version would not surface until the XX release. It ends with Runaway, a new David Paich song (for me at least). Great rocker that went down a storm.
Some tracks from Old Is New already have been released as singles. On these tracks the band revisit old recordings they for some reason never finished (that include many past members like the Porcaro brothers), rewrote parts or added them, fresh lyrics and vocal melodies by Joseph Williams and voilà. An album that sounds like Toto, past or present… (pun intended). Turned out great I feel!

Well, then on to some remarks; sadly the CD box does not include the liner notes from Andrew McNeice that where present in the full on version (including vinyl). And 1 album is missing from this collection; the Dune soundtrack, so it is in fact “(almost) All In”. ( I do not reckon the various live albums and their covers album Through The Looking Glass are candidates for this box). Also, Hydra comes as a mini vinyl replica, all others are wallet versions (some with such small print my old eyes sadly can hardly read the song titles).

But this is minor, the music is and will stay timeless!

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Kinetic Element, The Face Of Life, 2019

kinetic element - the face of lifeAlbum number 3 for this US outfit from Richmond Virginia. Although the various members live all over the place. But since the band is founded by Mike Visaggio (keyboards), who still writes the majority of the music, Richmond it is. After the success of previous album Travelog, they have now expanded to a quintet, with St. John Coleman on vocals, Mark Tupko on bass, Michael Murray still on drums and Peter Matuchniak on guitar.

Some may be tempted to write the band off as a Yes / Genesis clone, but I don’t think that would be very fair. Yes it is obvious those bands are at the root and heart of KE’s sound. But especially in the epic tracks like All Open Eyes and The Face Of Life, they manage to add their own music identity. Let alone that both Yes and (old) Genesis have a distinct style, so a melting pot of those ingredients would already be something different.

Anyway, to me it is clear that the guys put their heart and soul into the music. And in doing so, create an album that will appeal to those stuck in the Seventies as well as those that keep track of everything that is going on in today’s scene.
I really like that despite that these 2 epics form 70% of the album, it still feels song based. No ego tripping and self indulgent technical wizardry. But songs that have a story to tell.

Another good effort, recommended!

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John Wiseman, Filling The Void, 2019

john wiseman - filling the voidOne should never underestimate the power of building a good track order for one’s release. But when your album covers a pretty wide range of styles, how you go about? I guess Cumbrian artists John Wiseman has had something to think about after completing the recording of his third album…

Because this is an album that is all over the place. From pop, to rock, to jazzy, to electronic and back. Now I do not mind experimentation or variation. It’s the spice of life. But I can also understand that an artist is asking a lot from his (would be) audience when the output is so diverse. Many critics love to put a certain tag on a release and making things difficult for them is often not appreciated.

So you understand I have been struggling a bit to find the words to describe my listening experience. Many tracks on this release are catchy, like On Your Side or Grow Up. This type of tracks has a bit of Eighties pop vibe that many people still appreciate. Won’t Last or Calling Out sound more modern, even when their backbone is not unlike the ones mentioned before.
But then comes the kick in the teeth; after listening to this album back to back a couple of times, these difference seem to iron out a bit. In a weird kind of way it all starts to make sense! So where I was first tempted to say that John might consider grouping his songs and releasing them under different names to attract a specific audience, now I am not longer sure. Even when I do think there is room here and there for improvement as not everything sounds  convincing.

Make up your own mind, but the more often I heard it, the better it got.

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RPWL, Tales From Outer Space, 2019

RPWL_Tales from outer spaceI was amazed to discover that this is actually the first time a RPWL album has made it to the pages. Not that this has prohibited them from having a career of course, phew.. 😉 And rest assured, it is definitely not the first time hearing them for me!

As is easy to tell from the front cover, Tales From Outer Space contains 7 tracks that deal with science fiction, without this turning into a concept album in a strict sense. If you already are familiar with the band, I guess their melodic song approach is already known and enjoyed. Should you be new to the band and consider yourself a fan of progressive rock, where have you been?

All kidding aside, with a sound sitting somewhere between Pink Floyd (Yogi Lang could easy pass as a young Gilmour with his voice), Steven Wilson / Porcupine Tree and a tad of Manfred Mann (keyboard solos), this is another album showcasing their knack for songs that are as catchy as they are intricate. All is done with great taste and finesse, without ego’s getting in the way. For me no need to talk more about songs or album, I can listen to this all day.

In other words, have no doubt, this is a gem!

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Stephan Thelen, Fractal Guitar, 2019

stephan thelen - fractal guitarThird Moonjune release in a relative short time for me and still very different than other artists on the label. As is fairly usual for Moonjune, this release incorporates many other musicians. Markus Reuter is one of them, and a busy one. Other names are David Torn, Matt Tate, Jon Durant, etc. Thelen himself provides guitar, organ and samples.

Recorded over a 3 year period all over Europe and North America, this album is based around recurring themes over which layers and layers of guitars have been recorded. The drums (excellent sound by the way) lay down a groove and add fills, but this is all about guitar. I think the bass is coming from the 8 string guitars. Because of the constant repeating of especially the bass / base, a kind of hypnotic feel is created. The guitars are used in many different ways. Some sound are highly processed, with tons of reverb and echo, thus creating a certain mood. Other parts add colour, lightness, percussive elements and of course solos and or melodies.

After repeated listen I am still asking myself how I feel about the album. Main problem for me is that the constant repeating of the bass riff seems a bit one dimensional. Especially since the 5 tracks together generate 67 minutes of music. On the other hand, the drums and guitars often create nice moods and make me enjoy the tracks.

Fans of King Crimson (especially their instrumental side) will enjoy this. Fans of intelligent instrumental music should also listen in. I am curious how this will develop in the future.

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Slug Comparison, When You Were Living Here, 2019

Slug Comparison - When You Were Living HereSecond album from Canadian singer / guitar player Doug Harrison (Fen). The first one was released a couple years ago and I loved that one to bits. After that, Doug started releasing a few songs at a time in the form of digital EP’s, until Rock Company came with the plan to combine those with a few extra songs and release them in physical form too. And the result is this!

Opener Exactly What To Do is a meaty rocker that kicks things into gear. Great chorus too. Hyperslump is more mellow, even when the tempo goes up a bit. Let Some Light has a bit of a singer/ songwriter vibe to it. It sounds deceivingly simple!
There are several songs on this album that send the shivers up my spine. Fine With It is one of them, same as the killer title track and Beings Far Away. Those last 2 are dedicated to the memory of Eric Rose, Doug’s close friend from whom a painting is used in the front cover. So Ya Got A Great Guitar and One More Step are a return to more rocking territory.

This release proves once more that Harrison is a fabulous songwriter with the ability to sing any type of song with a stunning passion and emotion. Also, the diversity of the tracks means that lots of people will find something to their liking. This is a genre crossing release that you must explore!

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Dewa Budjana, Mahandini, 2019

dewa budjana - mahandiniFrom all Moonjune artists, I think Dewa Budjana is one of my favourites. He not only is a gifted guitar player, but  he also writes songs that appeal to me because of their fluid melodies and intricate arrangements. And on his new album he surprises with enlisting Marco Minneman on drums, Jordan Rudess on keyboards and the (just as) fabulous Mohini Dey on bass. Also John Frusciante sings on 2 tracks and plays a solo. Other guests are Mike Stern (solo) and Soimah Pancawati (vocal).

Opener Crowded is a bit of a surprise, but of the pleasant kind. A rather rocking track that shows another side. Queen Kanya is a more complex but still melodic gem where Hyang Giri marries East and West in a way that should please both sides too. All musicians also shine in a solo spot here.
Well, actually these musicians not really need a special spot to shine, because their talents are unmistakeable. But where several label mates prefer free form improvisations, with Budjana’s music it always seems to be composed. This gives the music a more clear direction and makes it more easy (for me) to enjoy it. So you try listening to Jung Oman and resist the beautiful playing, fuelled with emotion.

Yes, every of the 7 songs on offer highlights different aspects of the mix of  progrock and fusion. With releases like this, Budjana firmly remains high on my favourites list.

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