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Archive for October, 2012

TRACKLISTING:
1. Firebears (17:52)
2. The Eternal German Infant (8:11)
3. Mister Freeze (6:49)
4. I Shall Consume Everything (9:26)

LINEUP:
Dan McGowan –  lead vocals (2,3,4),  backing vocals, acoustic  and electric guitar
Patrick McGowan – electric guitar, lead vocals (1), backing vocals, bass (2)
Becky Osenenko – keyboards
Charles Batdorf – bass (1,3,4), guitar (2)
Joe Rizzolo – drums

Additional instruments by R McGeddon

New Jersey band The Tea Club seem to follow a regular schedule in the release of their albums: indeed, their third effort, bearing the snappy title of Quickly, Quickly, Quickly, comes two years after Rabbit , which in turn had come two years after their debut, General Winter’s Secret Museum. In the span of those four years, the band went from a trio of brothers Pat and Dan McGowan and drummer Kyle Minnick  to a four-piece with the addition of keyboardist Becky Osenenko, then, in the months after Rabbit’s release, added two more members (bassist Charles Batdorf and guitarist Jim Berger) and replaced Minnick with Joe Rizzolo. Quickly, Quickly, Quickly was recorded by the band as a quintet, with the mysteriously-named R. McGeddon providing additional instruments. At the time of writing, the band have reverted to a trio format, with only Rizzolo left of all those “new entries”.

In spite of the permanent state of flux of their lineup, The Tea Club have been actively pursuing their own artistic path, which has marked them as one of the most interesting and original acts of the contemporary progressive rock scene. In the two years that have followed  Rabbit  – an album that has earned them the attention of those prog fans that the more straightforward nature of General Winter’s Secret Museum had left somewhat unimpressed – the band have appeared at ProgDay 2011, supported Swedish act Beardfish in their 2012 US mini-tour,  produced a number of videos, and written 80 minutes worth of music for their new album, half of which is featured on Quickly, Quickly, Quicky. As a non-fan of excessively long albums, I commend their choice of splitting the material in two parts – as Radiohead (one of their undisputed influences) did in the early 2000’s with the sessions that led to Kid A and Amnesiac.

The caption “pastoral post-rock blending into proper progressiveness” proudly featured on The Tea Club’s website effectively describes the band’s musical direction, which acknowledges their membership of the vast, somewhat indistinct “prog” universe, while at the same time distancing them from anything smacking too much of nostalgia. Indeed, the band – for all their constant shape-shifting – have succeeded in retaining their own recognizable sound, painstakingly refined over the years, and characterized by a masterful handling of post-prog’s trademark quiet-loud dynamics. The high-pitched but always tuneful voices of the McGowan brothers – often twined in heady harmonies – also anchor The Tea Club’s sound to the modern prog aesthetics, evoking iconic singers such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Muse’s Matt Bellamy or The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord, or even The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala – though avoiding the occasionally whiny, abrasive tones that can make those vocalists an acquired taste. Indeed, the brothers’ voices are treated more like additional instruments than as something separate, complementing  Quickly, Quickly, Quickly‘s largely lyrics-oriented nature.

The Tea Club’s allegiance to traditional prog modes is revealed by the increasing length of their compositions, which comes to full fruition on Quickly. Quickly, Quickly. In spite of the title, the music is anything but quick to sink in, and – as in the case of Rabbit – it may take a while to click. Interestingly, throughout the album the guitars are used more as an accent than as the main event, and the sleek, pulsing interplay of Charles Batdorf’s meaty bass lines, Joe Rizzolo’s authoritative drumming and Becky Osenenko’s layers of keyboards (including piano and Hammond organ) suggest the expertly rendered contrast between softness and angularity of Yes at their peak – though with a distinctly contemporary slant. Rizzolo’s trademark, surging drum rolls, on the other hand,  may often recall The Mars Volta, particularly on their genre-defining debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium.

The band’s choice to open the album with the  18-minute workout of “Firebears”, which somehow sums up the band’s vision and their evolution of the past four years, is undoubtedly a brave move – as epic-length openers all too often render the album top-heavy, to the detriment of what comes afterwards. However, things are balanced by the respectable running time of the  remaining three songs. “Firebears” kicks off in unmistakable Tea Club style, with majestic drum rolls, soaring vocals and jangly guitar riffs, then gradually slows down to a rarefied, pastoral middle section, with half-spoken, almost whispered vocals: then things pick up again, and the final part of the song sees all the instruments converge in an exhilarating, intense climax. Although the song might have benefited by some trimming – as it is packed with good ideas that do not always coalesce into a perfect whole – it showcases the band’s potential in tantalizing fashion.

Like the previous track, “The Eternal German Infant” opens on a high note, building up and then slowing down in an intriguing ebb-and-flow structure. Soothing, almost Beatlesian vocal harmonies (which, together with Dan McGowan’s vocals, put me in mind of Echolyn), pastoral keyboards and gently chiming guitar coexist with tense, jagged moments that, however, do not neglect melody. In contrast, the dark lullaby of “Mister Freeze” reprises the spirit of “Royal Oil Can” on Rabbit, while spacey keyboards and bits of Hammond organ add to the vaguely menacing atmosphere – again, bringing to mind The Mars Volta, and even some of King Crimson’s subdued yet tense pieces. The almost 10-minute “I Shall Consume Everything” wraps up the album by bringing together all the strains and themes introduced by the previous numbers, juxtaposing moments of pastoral gentleness with flares of sheer intensity, surging like a wave propelled by a remarkable instrumental synergy.

With its visionary, sometimes slightly disturbing lyrics, paralleled by Kendra De Simone’s customary quirky artwork, Quickly, Quickly, Quickly is a bold statement that thankfully eschews the pitfalls of  pretentiousness by keeping its running time at a restrained 42 minutes. Not an easy album to get into at first – unlike the band’s punchy, more streamlined debut – but rewarding in the long run, it shows a band that is constantly evolving, in spite of the growing pains manifested in in their frequent lineup changes. In any case, this is a fine release that is likely to be appreciated  both by fans of modern prog and more traditional-minded listeners.

Links:
http://theteaclub.net/

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TRACKLISTING:
Disc One (CD)
1.  Beat Mm (3:16)
2.  Siska (2:02)
3.  Crazy Stuff (1:05)
4. Tyskromans (3:15)
5.  Nyfin (2:23)
6.  Mellan Stol Och Bord (2:30)
7.  Skrona (1:24)
8.  Tages (2:01)
9.  Kanske (1:08)
10.  Den Arga Kvinnan (1:08)
11.  Tivolimarsch (3:32)
12.  Forutbestämningen (Predestinator) (2:50)
13.  Vendelvarianter (2:34)
14.  Okjak (2:41)
15.  Ukuleles (2:33)
16.  Bam ba ra (0:33)
17.  Antilobo (1:31)
18.  Innanpop (2:49)
19.  Proggövergång (0:12)
20.  Talrika (original) (4:36)
21.  Radioyl (2:07)
22.  Aningar (1983) (2:45)
23.  Go to Africa (3:58)
24.  Vandelmässa (1:11)
25.  Franklåt (original) (3:01)
26.  In the R.I.O. (concept) (1:37)

Disc Two (DVD)
Live: Gouveia Art Rock Festival 2005
1. Viandra (3:52)
2. Simfågeldans (4:48)
3. Moro (1:45)
4. Dron (4:20)
5. Tama-Chan Snoa (3:40)
6. Höstvisa (4:09)
With Michel Berckmans (bassoon):
7. Portaletyde (3:41)
8. Nåt (4:13)
9. Utflykt Med Damcykel (6:04)
10. Inte Quanta (2:54)
With Miriodor:
11. Talrika (4:59)

Live: Houwiesse, Weite, Switzerland 2005 (with Fizzè [accordion])
  1. Portaletyde (4:03)
2. Franska Valsen (2:47)
3. Nåt (4:27)
4. Höstvisa (3:42)
5. Boeves Psalm (3:26)
6. Dron (4:31)
7. Inte Quanta (3:02)

LINEUP:
Lars Hollmer – accordion, keyboards, melodic, ukulele, mandolin, percussion, voices, and more

With:
Eino Haapala – guitar (14)

The release of With Floury Hand (English translation of the Swedish Med Mjölad Hand) in the summer of 2012 – three and a half years after Lars Hollmer’s untimely passing on Christmas Day, 2008 – came as a boon to all the devoted followers of the influential Swedish artist who had still not come to terms with his demise. The presence of a 72-minute DVD, capturing Hollmer on stage on two different occasions, both in 2005, makes the album an even more valuable document of the creativity of a musician who, in the almost forty years of his career, managed to carve a niche for himself even when playing music that never pandered to commercial trends.

The album’s quirky title, derived from a recipe that Hollmer’s daughter was reading aloud during a family dinner in 2007, highlights the artist’s keen sense of humour, always a prominent feature of his musical output. As pointed out by its bracketed subtitle, With Floury Hand is a collection of sketches – 26 short tracks (the longest clocking in at slightly over 4 minutes), belonging to different periods of Hollmer’s career, some of them still in a draft state, which showcase the artist’s zest for inventive, boundary-pushing music-making. As both the CD and the DVD poignantly illustrate, Hollmer’s creative spark was clearly far from being extinguished: indeed, unlike in the case of many of his contemporaries, his wide-ranging inspiration and brilliantly eclectic vein had not been dimmed by the passing years.

A year or so after his father’s passing, when the worst of the grief had run its course, Hollmer’s son Gabriel started to delve into the extensive archives that the artist himself had been exploring when, in May 2008, he was diagnosed with the advanced-stage lung cancer that took his life a few months later. The result of this not always comfortable, yet ultimately cathartic process was released three years later thanks to the intervention of Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records, who helped Gabriel give shape to the project. Some of the material that Hollmer had intended for the follow-up to 2007’s somber, subdued Viandra – an album that was to have a very different tone, reflecting the more upbeat, whimsical side of the artist’s creativity – has been included on With Floury Hand. As Gabriel explains in his thorough liner notes, the album as a whole blends finished and unfinished material, experimentation and tradition, melody and  endearing silliness – summing up Hollmer’s artistic personality in under an hour’s running time.

With Floury Hand is introduced by the bracing tune of “Beat Mm”, a jam built around a sequencer theme that Hollmer had conceived as a “car song”. Jaunty, folksy accordion showcases such as “Siska” or the infectious, circus-like “Tivolimarsch” alternate with more sedate, gently melancholy pieces reminiscent of another master of the instrument, Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla – such as the melancholy “Tages”, “Nyfin” or “Vendelvarianter”. The warm tone of the accordion is often complemented by neat percussion patterns, while the liberal use of electronics introduces modernity in a traditional context. Nods to Hollmer’s role as one of the founders of the RIO movement appear in the more left-field offerings, such as “Den Arga Kvinnan” (The Angry Woman”), with its clashing sounds, the eerie electronics of “Radioyl” , and the multilayered, synth-driven “Mellan Stol Och Bord”.

The few tracks that feature vocals reveal Hollmer’s playful side,  like the ‘fake German lied’ of “Tyskromans”, or the ‘stupid and funny’ “Kanske”. On the other hand, the very aptly-titled “Aningar” (Premonitions” exemplifies Hollmer’s darker vein, its menacing. cinematic pace hinting at Univers Zéro; while “Go to Africa”, as the title implies, is a vocal jam over a steady arpeggiator beat that pays homage to the African musical tradition. Finally, the exhilarating “Okjak” – a fine specimen of ‘happy’ RIO/Avant composition – sees Hollmer flanked by his former Von Zamla bandmate Eino Haapala on guitar.

The two performances featured on the  DVD, while quite different from each other, will delight Hollmer’s fans in equal measure. The first half shows Hollmer on stage at the Gouveia Art Rock Festival – first on his own, accompanied only by his faithful accordion and melodica, then by his friend and longtime collaborator Michel Berckmans (of Univers Zéro fame) on bassoon, and finally with Miriodor, for a stunning rendition of “Talrika” (featured on the French Canadian band’s 2005 album Parade, and whose original version appears on the CD). In the second half of the DVD, the artist is captured in the small, intimate setting of Swiss club Heuwiesse, performing as a duo with Swiss accordionist Fizzè.

With its colourful cover artwork (by Hollmer’s daughter Rinda) and heartfelt liner notes, With Floury Hand is a touching homage to a gifted artist who never compromised his integrity, and who would have continued to produce great music if fate had not decreed otherwise. The album is obviously recommended to fans of the original RIO/Avant movement, as well as European folk; however, it can be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in quality rather  than labels or tags.

Links:
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/lars-hollmer-mn0000783767

http://www.myspace.com/larshollmer

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Big Sur (4:51)
2. The Clearing  (2:21)
3. Leaving The Woods (5:40)
4. Symphony Hills (1:07)
5. Lily In The Garden (4:15)
6. Auburn Road (0:43)
7. Mustang Song (5:40)
8. Stay With Me (0:51)
9. A Viennesian Life (3:50)
10. Broome’s Orchard (7:56)
11. ‘Cross The Williamsburg Bridge (1:33)
12. Where Will We Go (6:39)
13. Finale (1:28)

LINEUP:
Janel Leppin – cello, Indian cello, violin, Saarang Maestro DX,  Prophet 5, piano, koto, electric guitar, Hammond organ, Mellotron, harpsichord, vibraphone, detuned autoharp, singing spoon, loops, electronics
Anthony Pirog – electric and acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, electric sitar, lap harp, lap steel, bass mandolin, bass, cymbals, gong, vibraphone, music boxes, loops, electronics

With:
Mike Reina – mellotron (9)

Janel Leppin and Anthony Pirog are two accomplished multi-instrumentalists who grew up in Vienna, a charming Northern Virginia town that is part of the Washington DC metropolitan area, where they attended the same high school. During those years, they began playing together at Leppin’s home village of Wedderburn, though they only started performing as a duo in 2005. Their eponymous debut album was released in 2006, and since then the duo has attracted a lot of attention on the independent music scene. The memory of the two musicians’ idyllic teenage years and the loss of the Leppin family home (converted into yet another housing development) is the inspiration behind Where Is Home, their sophomore effort, released in the summer of 2012 after three years of  steady work.

Janel and Anthony have different, yet complementary musical backgrounds: Pirog, a Berklee graduate, is a guitarist with a jazz background and an eclectic attitude, while Leppin is a conservatory-trained cellist deeply influenced by North Indian and Persian classical music. Those wide-ranging sources of inspiration converge in the duo’s musical output, which even the most obsessive classification geeks would find it hard to label, and even harder to compare to other acts. Seamlessly blending acoustic and electric instruments with cutting-edge electronics, enhanced by  a discreet sprinkling of percussion (though without drums), Janel & Anthony’s music possesses a uniquely intimate charm and gently wistful tone that would make it the ideal soundtrack for a crisp autumn evening. Though the instrumentation featured on the album is surprisingly rich, the compositions hinge on the sleek interplay between Leppin’s cello and Pirog’s electric guitar on an entrancing backdrop of skillfully employed loops. the high level of complexity is realized with an elegant subtlety that contrasts with the over-the-top antics of so many modern prog acts.

The elegiac nature of Where Is Home – steeped in the nostalgia for a bygone era, and suggested by most of the track titles –  unfolds gradually, as opener “Big Sur” is jaunty romp with the heady Eastern flavour contributed by Leppin’s sitar and Saarang Maestro DX (a digital version of the tanpura, a long-necked North Indian lute), while pizzicato cello lends a sharp, almost percussive rhythm that complements the insistent chime of Pirog’s guitar. Then, “The Clearing” marks a shift in tone, introducing a slight element of dissonance in the track’s sedate, meditative mood vaguely tinged with menace – a mood that continues in the haunting “Leaving the Woods”, based on a slow, measured conversation between guitar and cello, which sometimes merge, sometimes go their separate ways. The longer tracks are interspersed by short, ambient-like interludes mostly based on electronics, though the album itself runs at a very restrained 46 minutes – the ideal duration for such a sophisticated, mood-based effort.

While the cello-driven “Lily in the Garden” exudes a lovely autumnal charm, intensified by the almost monotonous pace of the guitar, “Mustang Song” sees Leppin and Pirog engage in a bracing guitar-based duet, shifting from a soothing, melodic tone to a more assertive one. In “A Viennesian Life” two mellotrons (one of them courtesy of sound engineer Mike Reina) are brought in to add further layers to the lush atmosphere of the piece, in which several different strains play at the same time and are expertly meshed by the two musicians. In contrast, the longest track on the album, the almost 8-minute “Broome’s Orchard” has a more straightforward structure, and the many instruments involved act discreetly, without disrupting the sparse, meditative mood of the piece. Finally, the middle section of “Where Will We Go” introduces atonal elements and eerie electronic noises, bookended by more melodic parts.

An exquisite album that conflates impeccable formal skill with genuine feeling, Where Is Home is highly recommended to lovers of chamber-rock and instrumental music that privileges atmosphere and emotion over complexity for its own sake. In spite of the “avant” tag that Janel and Anthony’s association with Cuneiform Records or events such as the Sonic Circuits festival might evoke, the album is surprisingly accessible, and will hold an almost irresistible appeal for those for whom music means more than just a backdrop to everyday activities.

Links:
http://www.janelandanthony.com

http://www.janelleppin.com

http://www.anthonypirog.com

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Crescent Park (2:36)
2. Hodges’ Lodge (4:17)
3. Jaldi (2:26)
4. Togetherness (2:30)
5. Companion Wheel (1:39)
6. Two Trains Passing in the Night (not that many trains pass in my night anymore) (9:39)

LINEUP:
John Orsi – all instruments

Although he would amply deserve to be a household name to devotees of progressive rock in all its forms, John Orsi is quite content to occupy a niche – as he has been doing for the past 30 years or so. The talented multi-instrumentalist and composer, hailing from the historic New England city of Providence, has been active since the early 1980s with a number of projects, which – even though they might have flown under the radar of most “mainstream” prog fans – have been characterized by a constant flow of creative ideas, as well as intensive research into the possibilities offered by percussion instruments, both canonical and unorthodox.

Since 1994, Orsi has been channeling most of his creative efforts in musical collective Knitting By Twilight, as well as a few other projects (such as Incandescent Sky and Herd of Mers), and A Room for the Night is his first solo release in quite a long time. The 23-minute EP –  released in August 2012 , while Orsi and his “guitar mates” were waiting for their respective schedules to be sorted out before taking their music to the stage –has been conceived on a much smaller scale than Knitting By Twilight’s Weathering or Incandescent Sky’s Four Faradays in a Cage. On the other hand, it allows Orsi to indulge in a less formal style of composition, as well as handle all the instruments (both the “proper” and the “improper” ones, as the artist points out in the liner notes with his customary sense of humour).

Those who witnessed Dame Evelyn Glennie’s amazing performance during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics earlier this summer might be intrigued to learn that the Scottish percussionist is one of Orsi’s major influences, together with a host of other artists, some of them quite obscure, others instead familiar to a wider public. Indeed, those who are always looking for terms of comparison will recognize some echoes of Kate Bush’s most experimental work (such as showcased in her 1982 album The Dreaming) while listening to the EP.

While unlikely to attract fans of the more elaborate forms of prog, A Room for the Night is an utterly charming slice of instrumental music that is hard to label, though the ambient component of Orsi’s inspiration is very much in evidence. The six tracks – most of them rather short, with the sole exception of closer “Two Trains Passing in the Night”, which, at over 9 minutes, expands on the themes introduced by the previous compositions, reproducing the motion of a train through the alternation of different rhythm patterns – are like sonic sketches that listeners are almost encouraged to flesh out in their mind. Bound together by discreet keyboards, the music showcases Orsi’s lifelong love of percussion, bringing very unusual implements into the musical arena – such as tin pie plates and metal tubs – as well as more conventional gear, albeit belonging to different ethnic traditions than the Western one. The addition of  recordings of diverse sounds and human voices (taken from real-life situations) produces the sonic equivalent of an artistic collage based on found objects  – riveting to the eye (or, in this case, the ear) even in its somewhat fluid, unplanned quality. The result is 23 minutes of music that shifts from whimsical to meditative, with some occasional forays into vaguely ominous, cinematic moods created by sustained keyboard washes and subtle layers of percussion patterns.

As the previous paragraphs make it clear, a track-by-track analysis of A Room for the Night would be counterproductive, as the EP should be enjoyed as a whole – possibly, as Orsi himself suggests, with the help of headphones, and in the right situation. This is not sonic wallpaper meant to unobtrusively fade in the background, but rather the kind of ambient-tinged music that will stimulate the mind as much as the ear. With Orsi’s usual attention to the visual aspect of his productions, the lovingly-packaged CD comes accompanied by the delightful artwork of early 20th-century illustrator Kayren Draper. A delicate, almost brittle, hauntingly fascinating collection of musical pieces with no other purpose than creative expression, A Room for the Night may not be the kind of release that appeals to everyone across the progressive rock spectrum. However, just like all of Orsi’s back catalogue, it is definitely an effort highly deserving of attention on the part of adventurous listeners.

Links:
www.overflower.com

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