Joost Maglev, Alter Ego, 2019

joost maglev - alter egoAfter 2016’s Overwrite The Sin, Joost Maglev is back with Alter Ego. This time not only influenced by Robby Valentine or Valensia, but the latter is joining him on the title track too. Making it sound even more like himself…

And while the overall length of the songs on this second release is notably shorter than on his debut, I also think that the album is more varied. Opener Lucid is fairly short, with female vocals creating a lovely mood. After which Angel takes over with high energy and melody, again in the style that has been made famous by Queen / Valentine and or Valensia. But this time Maglev did try to expand on that. Corpus Christie is an example. Very rhythmic and varied, but still highly infectious. As well as a bit more heavy. Ever After holds a phenomenal guitar solo that hits me in the heart every time I hear it. But is also beautiful without that. Judith sounds closer to Ayreon, were it not for the massive vocal harmonies tying it to the sound we come to love and expect.
The biggest surprise might be the track Burning Girl, as it is by far the heaviest outing on offer. But it is also one of my favourites! The driving riffs and synths couples with the dynamics and another great chorus are just killer.

So there you have it, another great release and one where every song counts. Massive!

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Caravela Escarlate, Self Titled, 2019

caravela escarlateOriginally self released in Brazil in 2017, but now out worldwide on Karisma Records, here we have the second album from Brazilian band Caravela Escarlate (Crimson Ship). The 3-piece band sing in Portuguese and are heavily influenced by the classic prog of bands like Yes, PFM, Le Orme, or ELP as well as by traditional Brazilian music.

Since I do not speak Portuguese, I was glad the press sheet told me that lyrically the album deals with science fiction, comics and environmental concerns. The music however, speaks directly to me for it does sound as described. So if you are familiar with those names, you will know what to expect. And it must be said, it does sound authentic, as if written and recorded in the Seventies.
This also means that, even when the songs are melodic, they are also fairly “busy”, with a lot happening and many twists and turns. In all fairness the singing in their native language did not bother me much, it takes nothing away from the music. And instrumental songs like Atmosfera or Cosmos are done really well. In fact Cosmos so far has turned out to be my favourite track amongst the 8 on offer. Genre aficionados will also applaud that the album closes with an 11 minute epic.

Even when you are not stuck in the days long gone by, this is a expressive album that is worth tracking down.

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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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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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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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Electric Mud, The Deconstruction Of Light, 2018

electric mud - the deconstruction of lightAfter repeated listens to this album, I still was struggling a bit with how to describe it. So I checked the website, and there the answer was: “moving from krautrock to ambiant, from post rock to traditional prog, from edgy to contemplative. Imagine Deep Purple and Camel jamming together with Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream”.

And I must say, the unique feel of this album hit one of my soft spots. Because you might be lead to believe that all these influences lead to a patched up collection of sounds and ideas. But the reality is, that this is not the case. If anything, the project have managed to deliver an album that keeps you on your toes, anxiously waiting for what will happen next. Ideas develop, and then slowly transform. So you do get all these different genre typicals, but the 3 guys (Hagen Bretschneider; idea, sound concept and bass – Lennart Huper: rhythm guitar and Nico Walser on all other instruments and… sound alchemy) mix and match, transform, evolve and warp everything. So what sounds like an old fashioned obscure and rocking Deep Purple song at first, might end up sounding like an ambient Tangerine Dream like electronic track.

Add to that: this is another example of how to create interesting instrumental music. It is creative and exciting, and is definitely exploring new grounds. Recommended!

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