August 2008


14th August, 2008

visitorConcept albums can be nothing short of disastrous (Styx’s Kilroy was Here???). Or they can be mind-blowing, timeless classics (Pink Floyd’s The Wall immediately springs to mind). Water’s focused on loneliness. Here, Arena hone in on pain, death, redemption, humankind’s purpose, and the nature of knowledge all with a religious slant, and are assisted by The Visitor, a metaphysical concept, or spirit being, travelling through time. So, a suitably epic idea from a consistent neo-progressive band; a recipe for another timeless classic. And the result?

As far as concept albums go, this one falls somewhere right of centre. On paper it overflows with potential, but tiny flaws hold it back from reaching total greatness.

Neo-prog gets slated for its more than intimate associations with Gabriel-era Genesis. Just one listen to this record and the references to Tony Bank’s keyboard style are unavoidable and sometimes become irritating, especially on ‘Pins and Needles’ and ‘Blink of an Eye’. Secondly, Paul Wrightson’s vocals might not appeal to everyone. His accent is very middle-class English, and he tends to emphasise some words in a way that doesn’t fit the song’s rhythm. His tone also makes lines which are meant to sound aggressive, sound almost sarcastic and comical, most noticeable on ‘(Don’t Forget To) Breathe’. Also, some tracks here are quite noticeably weaker than others, namely ‘Enemy Without’.

There may be a few problems, but for the majority of the time, they get in the way like a Stop sign gets in the way of a Panzer. If you want to be niggardly then fine, but here is a wealth of incredible material here. If you’re a Genesis fan you won’t care, and the issues with the vocals could be pedantry gone mad. With a concept album, album structure is thrown into the mix; relatively easy if the concept involves a story, but this is more of a musical essay. Across the fourteen tracks, pain, death and their friends are stylishly intertwined, expressed both musically and lyrically. ‘Serenity’ and ‘Elea’ break up the album but are by no means fillers, both being highly-charged guitar leads. ‘Running from Damascus’ ties everything up, paving the way for one of the best guitar solos I have ever heard; don’t play ‘The Visitor’ from 03:15 onwards near any glaciers. They will shatter in seconds. A grand ending to match the grand opening of ‘A Crack in the Ice’.

Song structure is equally impressive (‘Double Vision’ boasts time signature changes from through 5/4, 6/8 and 7/8, and what’s more, it works), and tracks such as ‘The Hanging Tree’ have been put together with an almost motherly care; quaint minor arpeggios, crushing suspended chords, rousing choruses and powerful guitar solos create a track not epic in length, but in sound. Most of the songs here are not the usual six plus minutes you would expect from a progressive rock band, but that is more due to the organisation of the album along the lines of “everything must work together”, rather than a lack of musical creativity, or longevity for the sake of longevity.

Aside from being a sophisticated and effective musical discussion of humanity’s darker aspects, one of the album’s greatest achievements is its ability to hide its flaws. Unless you’re naturally pedantic, or are reviewing the thing (or both), this is an hour long marvel.

10/10

Published on sputnikmusic, August 2008 http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=20975

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14th August, 2008

Attempting a top-board dive into the rich waters of Spanish folk music, Glow smashes the bottom of the pool and bobs around lifelessly for a while. But manages to look pretty whilst doing it.

Peter White’s smooth jazz outputs are by no means stunning, but display a degree of consistency that a few artists within the genre should take note of. So, mixing Peter White’s dependability with Spanish atmospheres and Latin scales sounds quite intriguing. And it is, so long as you don’t listen to the album all the way through.

glowDon’t get me wrong, there are some real shimmers of sunlight here. ‘Who’s that Lady?’ is by far the best track on the album. A sexy, steamy, sax-led piece with a stalking beat, it features a melody which glides effortlessly between the provocative and the delicate, building to a sax solo straight out of the Richard Elliot (alto saxophonist) book of sophisticated seduction. ‘Glow’ can only be described as achingly quaint, and ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ is reflective and free to wander though its four minutes of elegant phrasing.

It’s strange. So many albums start brilliantly and then tail of towards the end, like a painter who died during the creation of his masterpiece, leaving the world with a disappointment, and wonder at what could have been. Not so with Glow. Here, it feels as though towards the middle of the album, the artist just lost interest, almost gave up entirely, and then seemingly from nowhere managed to pluck three songs out of nothing that nearly met the high watermark of ‘Who’s That Lady?’

Independently, ‘Turn It Out’, ‘Bullseye’ and ‘Bueno Funk’ are great songs, with catchy melodies and laid back basslines, again with a Spanish feel to them. But when listened to consecutively, they sound almost exactly the same, and three tracks of Flamenco-but-in-reality-not-Flamenco is quite simply irritating. And ‘Pedro Blanco’ is quite simply an awful attempt at a bossanova.

It’s almost as if Glow was made with the shuffle function in mind. ‘When I’m Alone’ is pretty much a re-working of ‘Just My Imagination’, just as ‘Baby Steps’ is to ‘Chasing the Dawn’, except in the former there is the addition of strummed chords. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a terrible album; there are some memorable songs and some interesting melodies. Separately, it’s exciting, but together, it’s frankly a bore, becoming background music that wasn’t composed to be background music.

5/10

Published on sputnikmusic, August 2008 http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=29757

9th August

An insatiable lust for melody and a more confident outlook make Night Grooves this award winning contemporary jazz guitarist’s finest work since Special EFX. This isn’t just a great new smooth jazz album; it’s a new smooth jazz yard-stick.

If smooth jazz is the embodiment of jazz tinged pop melodies, unconsciously contagious grooves and a whole lot of passion and atmosphere, then Chieli Minucci’s masterful fifth solo album, Night Grooves, is the physical embodiment of smooth jazz. Everything here is of a ridiculously high quality, but the most remarkable thing about this album is that there are still standout tracks.

minucci3There isn’t much here to boggle the mind, at least, not in terms of technicality, although some guitar runs are pretty frightening. ‘Night Grooves’, for example, is based around a simple three chord turnaround, upon which is built loose and effortless melodies and phrasing. Most tracks here seem to be made for a certain mood or situation, with this track’s being a midnight road-trip with no particular purpose through a glamorous city.

Even the album itself is arranged well. ‘Night Grooves’ flows into the funk driven ‘Foolin’ Around Again’, with ridiculously catchy syncopated rhythms, and intelligent duals between clean guitar and saxophone. It’s sister track, ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ seems to attempt to emulate this, but even though it’s still good, it doesn’t even touch the relentless drive of its older and more sophisticated brother.

From funk to romance. ‘You’re My Reason’, is one of two tracks possibly inspired by Special EFX’s 2001 album, Butterfly. An acoustic number, its melody floats along with a charming grace, climaxing with a saxophone lead towards its end which relies not on volume, but notation. It’s perfect, but then again, ‘Without You’, sounding like a ‘Katalin Part 2’ is even better.

With ‘Without You’, you have the answer to the world’s renewable energy problems. If something were invented which could harness the power of raw human emotion, this track could power most of the globe without any trouble at all. In short, it’s the musical equivalent of the best sex you’ll ever have. Post-rock’s ability to create cataclysmic crescendos gets the smooth jazz treatment, rising from gorgeous acoustic melodies and arpeggios to entrancing, swirling, magical distorted guitar. Every single note, high or low, crotchet or quaver, is given its own very special meaning. Even the pauses and piano section are immaculately instrumented and timed. It’s impossible to describe adequately, but if you’ve heard Ralph Vaughan Willilam’s ‘The Lark Ascending’, you should know what I’m talking about. If not, then just thing of the most beautiful song you know, and multiply it, say, by infinity. Then add a bit more.

If you hadn’t guessed it yet, this is the ultimate introduction to the smooth jazz genre. Here you will find love, excitement, ecstasy, even mystery, with ‘Behind the Veil’, the detective, snoopy feel of ‘Mr Shady Eyes’ and the paradoxical nature of the final track, ‘Nasir di Nuevo’. It is very much an outro composition, but one that also creates a feeling of emptiness; the individual phrases seem to tail off towards their endings, almost as if the music is fading away in spirit, rather than if someone was turning the volume down. As the music becomes more coherent, the emerging melody furthers the sense of finalisation; a six minute paradox, and a perfect ending to a perfect album.

10/10

Published on sputnikmusic, August 2008 http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?albumid=27699

8TH August, 2008

“ROCK”. “POP”. “Classical”. Sensible and common divisions between quite different styles of music, in the same way that ‘sky’, ‘earth’ and ‘sea’ divide the world into nice broad chunks. However the gods of the genre creation world, having got the basics covered, have now turned their attention to distinguishing one tree from another. This sort of science is in no way fit for the music world. Take, for example, Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies. I checked them out on that Old Testament of music, lastfm. The worthy follower responsible for this verse labelled YMSS as “prog-post-mathcore-rock-stuff”. And what, exactly, is that, other than the display of both sheer desperation, and the taking of music classification a thousand steps to far?

It’s getting out of hand. When something slightly new comes out, there seems to be four options. One; call it alternative or contemporary. Everything is alternative or contemporary, depending on either your taste in music or perspective. Two; shove it in with other genres. ‘Rock’ is now so broad that it’s offensive; I’m sure that Aiden and Cannibal Corpse don’t enjoy being in the same room together, never mind the same genre. But at least these two options are practical. Three; use ‘nu’. We have ‘nu-metal’, ‘nu-prog’, and ‘nu-jazz’. So can we have ‘nu-classical’?. How about ‘nu-new age’? What would they sound like? If this continues, we’ll just be using a chain of comparatives, or even, bizarrely, ‘nu-nu-nu-nu-nu-metal’, and end up sounding like a two-year-old disciple of the Teletubbies. Four; do what some fool did for YMSS and turn a great band into a partial tongue twister.

Granted, we need to separate our music, or else our music libraries would resemble Picassos. Broad genres are unfortunate, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to pin a music style down. Trying to do this merely complicates things far more than is necessary, and actually serves to detract from what music is about; not classification, but enjoyment.