When Jack and Meg from the Trakwerx label asked me to take a listen to their current release, I could not have imagined they´d sent me the whole Celestina trilogy by 17 Pygmies. Housed in what must be one of the most precious and luxurious packages on the planet! I took a photo of it (second image) but that does not do it justice. Trust me when I say this is a one of a kind set, that just oozes class…
Musically this has to be one of the most ambitious undertakings ever. Like Coheed And Cambria, 17 Pygmies set out to put a story to music and do so within a number of albums. Three in this case. Loosely based upon a 15th century novel about love and betrayal. Now placed in a science fiction environment. CD 3 has a 42 page book to tell the story by Jackson Del Rey, who also does synths, guitar, bass and vocals. In essence the band are a 4 piece, with several guest contributing.
Each CD has 11 tracks and the song titles are kept simple. They start on CD 1 with Celestina I and end on CD 3 with Celestina XXXIII.III. Oh wait, I forgot, CD 3 has an extra track, to make it a total of 33 1/3 songs…
I have been listening to all CD´s back to back and the atmosphere created is that of a hauntingly dreamy peaceful mood. So their claim at combining classical film scores with psychedelia stands. I might add ambient / new age. So in total the chosen label of symphonic progressive rock does this justice. The vocals support these moods just perfectly. What is strong about it that the music speaks for itself. You don´t need to read the whole story to get caught by this music. If you take a comfortable seat, put the CD on and start listening, it won´t be long before you are sucked in and are probably imagining being in a film yourself. That is quality!
So a stunning discovery I hope a lot of people will follow up on. Beautiful stuff, so thank you Jack and Meg for letting me take a listen!
Everybody that has seen the opening song on Gabriel`s Growing Up live DVD, will recall that feeling of awe as he walks on stage, sits behind his piano and starts Here Comes The Flood. The whole arena is silent in an instant and totally commit themselves to that incredible performance. Well, if you felt that one song is not enough to give you that special feeling, here is a complete CD that will achieve just that!
The concept of Scratch My Back is that Gabriel covers songs from artists, who in return cover a track of him. The first output is his version of other peoples songs. He does that without guitars and drums. Just his piano, his voice and the support of other singers and orchestra. And the result is simply phenomenal. This is spine tingling, goosebumbs, drifting off to better places. This is so painstakingly beautiful it hurts.
The only thing I want to add to that is to name some songs, just to give you a hint: Heroes (Bowie), The Boy In The Bubble (Paul Simon), Mirrorball (Elbow), Listening Wind (Talking Heads). And expect some Neil Young, Lou Reed, and Radiohead as well as a couple songs you have to discover for yourself. Utterly essential!
Recently I was invited to visit a concert (thanks René) from this 7 women strong band in a theatre nearby. I was only happy to oblige as I heard of Reincarnatus before, but was not yet familiar with the music. The show proved very good; the lovely ladies wearing a lot of black leather, handling lots of (medieval) instruments and combining music and lyrics from that time frame with modern day drums, guitars, bass and keyboards. Leading lady Renate also amused the crowd with her great sense of humour and informative background stories. The way she handles the hurdy gurdy is reminiscent of one Edward Van Halen… And several ladies proved to be multi talented, constantly switching instruments and lead vocals. So of course I bought this album to listen to at home. And ladies, thanks for signing it!
The album did not disappoint at all, better yet, it impressed me even more as especially the guitars were more dominant in the mix then they were in the live sound. Describing their sound is tough though. Because of the many medieval instruments it sometimes sounds like folk or classical (film) music, impressive (duo or triple) singing, sometimes combined with Gregorian chants and pop vocals, a lot of fiddle, and all held together by a rock combo of drums, bass and guitar. Also the use of many old languages adds to the picture. Some parts keep sending the shivers down your spine.
So I can only applaud the ladies for the courage to assemble this and serve it to the public. I hope they gather a big audience with it and recommend you go see them when they are in your neighbourhood. For now that is mainly mainland Europe, but who knows…
Upfront I want to apologize as I am likely to not make many friends with this post. Matter at hand here is the 2007 debut from Breathing Space, called Coming Up For Air. It is the brainchild of Iain Jennings, so that might ring some bells.
Musically this is symphonic rock, bordering into mainstream rock. The instrument handling is fine, the songs are melodic, the production is at level, etc. The songs are varied, though pretty mellow most of the time. The packaging is professional. So it looks good as it sounds good.
So maybe you are wondering why I started with suggesting this post will not make me more friends. That brings me to the only problem I have with the album; the vocals of Olivia Sparnenn. Don´t get me wrong, she has an angelic voice, totally sings in tune and you can understand the lyrics. It is just that I feel she sings very clinical. No emotion what so ever. Which is okay for any pop diva maybe, but not for serious music. Sorry to say this, but it actually spoils my listening pleasure. Where´s the drama, the feel, the hurting?
Let´s hope a lot of people will disagree with me. Fine, support the band and buy it. For me, despite liking the music, this will not be an album I will revisit often.
Recently I bought some cd’s from Dutch band Kayak. Kinda lost track of them after Periscope Life (1980), but I must say I was very pleasantly surprised. I listened to “Close To the Fire” (2000) and “Coming Up For Air” (2008).
And some more albums are waiting to be heard.
In comparison to the older work I know, the dynamics have improved. By this I mainly speak of the guitar work; it is at times more heavier than I recall. That said; I like it a lot. Adds more bite to the music. Also the voice of singer Cindy Oudshoorn is a welcome addition to the sound of the band. I should mention however that both albums are recorded with a somewhat different cast. But the rest of the band knows what they are doing also. Most players are accomplished musicians and veterans on the scene. Shame drummer Pim Koopman died unexpectedly not so long ago. Still the trademarks of the band are there; melodic, varied, sometimes even radio friendly songs. But for the proggies amongst us, they still know how to write some decent and varied tunes.
Close to the Fire: Close to the Fire, Crusader, Two Wrongs
Coming up for Air: Alienation, Man in the Cocoon, Time Stand Still
If you haven’t heard from them in a long time; go check them out again, it’s worth it!