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Archive for February, 2013

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Pea (3:11)
2. Asshole Vote (6:16)
3. Elements (4:17)
4. Tuba Melt (2:04)
5. Small Rome (2:35)
6. Every Dead Indian (8:37)
7. Empty Traps and Nightfall (2:49)
8. Spoken (2:58)
9. The Utopian and the Teaspoon (5:04)
10. Winds Over Iceland (1:21)
11. Knock Knock Hornets Nest (6:29)
12. Notebook Memory (2:04)
13. Last Entry (4:56)

LINEUP:
David Lundberg & Mattias Olsson – keyboards, guitars, drums, percussion, drum machines, electronics, sound effects

With:
Cecilia Linné – cello (1, 2, 5, 6, 13)
Michele Benincaso – bass (2, 5, 6, 7, 9)
Ulf Åkerstedt – contrabass trumpet (2), bass trumpet (2, 4, 9), tuba (2, 4)
Einar Urgur Baldursson – electric guitars, e-bow, electric sitar (9), baritone guitar (10), electric 12-string guitar (11), mandolin (13)
Yann LeNestour – bass clarinet (6, 9, 12)
Ulph Andersson – additional editing (2), reading (4)
Matti Bye – Hammond L-100 (6)
Noah Gest – lap steel (11)
Shep Gest – voice (8)
Elvira de Troia – voice (2)
Akaba & Tiger Olsson– vocals (13)

Necromonkey was born from the meeting of two artists whom a thousand-odd US progressive rock fans had the pleasure of seeing on stage in the summer of 2012. Drummer Mattias Olsson is a household name in prog circles, being a founding member of legendary Swedish band Änglagård (which he left in the autumn of 2012), while keyboardist David Lundberg is one-fourth of NEARfest Apocalypse revelation Gösta Berlings Saga. Olsson (a classically-trained percussionist, composer and producer) met in 2008 during the recording sessions for Gösta Berlings Saga’s second album, Detta Här Hänt, and realized they were kindred spirits. Lundberg was subsequently invited to join the reformed Änglagård as a live keyboardist for their 2012 dates, while Olsson joined Gösta Berlings Saga on stage at NEARfest for the band’s exhilarating encore.

Necroplex, the title of Necromonkey’s debut album (composed and recorded in 2010 at Olsson’s own Roth-Händle studios in Stockholm), refers to the Echoplex tape delay used by many notable guitarists in the Sixties and Seventies. While Olsson and Lundberg handle the majority of the instruments, combining cutting-edge technology with vintage equipment, a number of guest musicians (including Gösta Berlings Saga’s guitarist Einar Baldursson) contribute to the final result with an array of acoustic and electric instruments. Clocking in at about 52 minutes, the album features 13 relatively short, mostly instrumental tracks that – unlike so much of the formulaic, somewhat “safe” fare that seems to be popular these days – challenge prog fans’ irresistible urge to label everything.

Debunking the stereotype of the dour Northern European, Necroplex is pervaded by a healthy dose of slightly absurdist, tongue-in-cheek humour, evident in the track titles and the descriptions included in the CD booklet, emphasizing that the making of the album was a relaxed and highly entertaining process for  Olsson and Lundberg. Though first-time listeners may be disappointed to find a different animal than the bands with which the two artists are associated, successive listens will reveal subtle but unmistakable references to the sound of both Änglagård and Gösta Berlings Saga.

Melancholy and appealingly zany in turn, balancing acoustic, electric and electronic elements with skill and delicacy, Necroplex possesses a hauntingly cinematic quality that hints at Olsson’s experience as a composer of film and theatre soundtracks. Variety is the name of the game, each track telling its own story in exquisitely multilayered fashion. From subdued ambient interludes such as “Winds Over Iceland” (featuring Einar Baldursson’s meditative baritone guitar), the sparse bass solo of “Empty Traps and Nightfall” and the rarefied clarinet of “Notebook Memory” to the free-form avant-garde leanings of the wacky “Tuba Melt” and the surreal narration of the aptly-titled “Spoken”, the album offers a veritable journey through moods and atmospheres as wildly shifting as the clouds depicted on its cover.

The liberal use of drum machines imparts a martial, almost robotic pace to tracks such as the angular “The Utopian and the Teaspoon” and “Asshole Vote”, where it is reinforced by scratchy turntable effects, and softened by Cecilia Linné’s sober cello, while the ever-present mellotron confers to the sound an orchestral quality through an array of choral and string effects. “Small Rome” has the allure of a classical chamber piece, with its cello and flowing piano, while the album’s two longest tracks – the 8-minute “Every Dead Indian” and “Knock Knock Hornet’s Nest” – merge harsh industrial suggestions with the surging post-rock sweep of Gösta Berlings Saga, driven by Olsson’s eclectic drumming and accented by chiming guitar. Closing track “Last Entry”, on the other hand, privileges the warmth of acoustic instruments such as mandolin, vibraphone and glockenspiel, enhanced by gentle chanting and mellotron, introducing a note of folksy Scandinavian wistfulness that evokes Änglagård and Anekdoten at their most introspective.

Forward-thinking lovers of instrumental music will not fail to appreciate Necroplex – an album whose thoroughly modern stance also pays homage to the likes of early Pink Floyd – as will those who have been intrigued by some of the bands and artists covered in this blog, such as Ergo, Knitting By Twilight, Lüüp and the obvious choice, Gösta Berlings Saga. All in all, this is an album that rewards patience, and proves that vintage prog staples and cutting-edge technology can be successfully combined to produce music that is genuinely progressive, yet appealingly down-to-earth. Even if released early in the year, I expect Necroplex to appear in many “best of 2013” lists. Fans will also be glad to hear that Olsson and Lundberg are already working on a follow-up.

Links:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Necromonkey/109218875773387

http://www.youtube.com/user/RothHandle

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Tanto Gonfio Saremo (5:49)
2. La Cumbia Inglés (6:04)
3. Zamba del Chaparrón (6:43)
4. Camino a Dos Rius (4:05)
5. Saracinesca (5:29)
6. Amuleto (3:36)
7. Impro (1:39)
8. Peperina en el Semaforo (6:11)

LINEUP:
Facundo Moreno – classical guitar, charango
Santiago Moreno – classical guitar
Tommaso Rolando – contrabass, electric bass
Marco Ravera – electric guitar
Mattia Tommasini – violin
Santo Florelli – drums
Manuel Merialdo – percussion, glockenspiel

With:
Filippo Gambetta – diatonic accordion (3)
Tatiana Zakharova – voice (7)

Aparecidos were established by Argentine brothers Facundo and Santiago Moreno, who in 2001  had left their home country and settled in the Italian “prog hub” of Genoa, where they had the opportunity to meet other like-minded musicians. The band’s debut album, titled Lo Que Hay en el Charco, was released in 2009 for independent label Dodicilune. For their sophomore effort,  recorded with a slightly different lineup (which includes two members of fellow Genoese band Calomito, guitarist Marco Ravera and bassist Tommaso Rolando), they joined the AltrOck Productions roster – already home to a number of distinguished contemporary acts.

Palito Bombón Helado was released in November 2012, at the tail end of a year characterized by a large number of high-quality releases. Though the album appeared on the market almost at the same time as Mirrors, the highly anticipated live album by AltrOck’s standard-bearers Yugen, it managed to attract the attention of the growing contingent of devotees of the Milan-based label’s output.  Indeed, Palito Bombón Helado – whose title and endearingly naïf artwork refer to the ice cream bars on a stick sold in the streets of Buenos Aires at a time when ice was a rarity imported from the US and England – feels like a breath of fresh air, marrying superb musicianship with the bittersweet combination of wistfulness and joie de vivre typical of Argentina’s rich musical tradition, whose mostly European background mingles with African and indigenous influences.

In Aparecidos’ musical universe, the folk/acoustic and the electric/rock component coexist in perfect harmony, complementing each other rather than competing for attention. An exquisite flair for melody lends the music a natural flow, making it easy on the ear. The compositions emphasize the ties between Argentina and the rest of the South American continent:  “La Cumbia Inglés” draws on a traditional Colombian dance adopted in the Argentine canon, while the prominent presence of the charango (a stringed instrument traditionally made with the shell of an armadillo) anchors the album to the native heritage of the Andean region. The instrument’s  distinctive lilting, metallic tone, introduced to European audiences by Chilean bands Inti Illimani and Quilapayún in the Seventies and Eighties, blends with the intricate classical guitar patterns to perfection. Santo Florelli’s drumming, complemented by Manuel Merialdo’s percussion and Tommaso Rolando’s bass and contrabass, evidences a great sense of rhythm, sometimes imparting a solemn, almost grandiose pace to the music.

Though Palito Bombón Helado is conceived as an instrumental album, occasional vocal touches add to the overall musical texture – such as the vocalizing (courtesy of Tatiana Zakharova)  that enhances the upbeat, march-like pace of “Saracinesca”, or the appealing, Brazilian-tinged warbling at the end of opener “Tanto Gonfio Saremo”.  All of the 8 tracks have their distinct personalities, and feature some spectacular musicianship from everyone involved – warm hand percussion underpinning the seamless interplay of the brothers Moreno’s classical guitars, the crystalline tinkle of the glockenspiel, the accordion’s folksy wistfulness that tempers the joyful bounce of much of the music, the violin’s sweeping lyricism.

Marco Ravera’s elegantly understated electric guitar connects the music to the rock universe, though without stepping too assertively into the limelight: outstanding examples of its role can be found in the afore-mentioned “La Cumbia Inglés” and in the hauntingly beautiful closing track “Peperina en el Semaforo”. Mattia Tommasini’s violin comes into its own in the subdued “Zamba del Chaparrón”, based on Argentina’s national dance, showcasing the effortless nature of the instrumental interplay, with perfect balance between the electric exertions of Ravera’s guitar and the acoustic instruments, and a brief foray into Avant territory towards the end, with drums, accordion and guitar playing in a sort of skewed slo-mo pattern. On the other hand, the short “Impro” is just what the title implies, with a snippet of the iconic “’O Sole Mio” paying a humorious homage to the Italian tradition.

As delightful and refreshing as the delicacy it is named after,  Palito Bombón Helado (mastered by renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran) is stylishly eclectic combination of world music, European folk and jazz with a pinch of Avant-Progressive spice, whose complexity is not immediately apparent, and never contrived. Those who appreciate the work of artists such as Cédric Vuille (his 3 Mice project with Thinking Plague’s Dave Willey and Elaine Di Falco comes to mind) or the late Lars Hollmer will find this album a very rewarding proposition, and even the more “conservative” prog listeners will find a lot to like in these 40 minutes of music, even if they do not reflect the conventional features of the genre. In any case, this is another excellent release from the ever-reliable AltrOck label, which in the past few years has become a byword for music whose uniqueness will please those who are increasingly frustrated by the formulaic nature of so much modern prog.

Links:
http://aparecidos.bandcamp.com/album/palito-bombon-helado

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=eng_&id=203&id2=204

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With the final curtain fallen on NEARfest in June 2012, a void has been left in the once-thriving US progressive rock festival scene. In the past couple of years, the increasing fragmentation of  the target audience – as well as other factors such as the lingering economic downturn – have provided a brusque reality check to anyone daring enough to invest time and money in this often unrewarding task  While the cottage-industry organization of ProgDay is still going strong (probably because of its unpretentious structure), and ROSfest keeps attracting a steady number of devotees to its Gettysburg premises, other more ambitious efforts have ended in failure before they even started. The enthusiasm about Baja Prog’s return after a four-year hiatus was tempered by a lineup that penalizes US bands, and is in many ways a duplicate of the last NEARfest  – not to mention that the festival takes place in a part of the continent that is not exactly convenient for many US dwellers.

However, almost unexpectedly, a new event has stepped in at that particular time of the year, though in no way aiming to fill  NEARfest’s daunting shoes by offering a range of reasonably high-profile bands, including some “bucket list”ones. In fact,  the organizers of Seaprog Music Festival seem to have taken the ProgDay template even further, concentrating almost exclusively on US acts and spotlighting local talent. The event is scheduled for June 28-30,  2013, at Columbia City Theater, a nearly 100-year-old venue in the iconic Pacific Northwest metropolis of Seattle – home to such diverse acts as Jimi Hendrix, Heart, Queensryche and the grunge bands of the early Nineties. Starting on the evening of Friday, June 28, with a free show, the festival proper will be spread over the whole of Saturday and Sunday, showcasing a total of 11 bands.

Seaprog comes with the uncompromising tagline of “not your parents’prog” and a well-articulated manifesto that invites people to be open-minded in their approach to the world of non-mainstream music. In spite of the many attempts to separate “prog” from the original meaning of the word “progressive”, and turn it into nothing more than a codified genre complete with plenty of sarcasm-inducing mannerisms, there are still those who want “progressive” to be much more than a byword for self-indulgence and worship of the past.

The members of the organizing committee are dedicated musicians with years of experience under their belt: guitarist Dennis Rea (of Moraine and Iron Kim Style fame), drummer John Reagan (formerly of Harlequin Mass, now with Dissonati) and stick player Jon Davis (currently a member of Zhongyu with Rea and Moraine’s Alicia and Jim DeJoie). All three of them share similar views on what constitutes “prog”, which may not necessarily resonate with those who espouse the “prog as a genre” theory, but will instead find support in genuinely adventurous listeners. The event is a strictly non-profit venture, and the organizers’s main aim in undertaking this effort, as stated at the bottom of every page of Seaprog’s excellently crafted website, is to offer a world-class music event in a city that is better known for heavy rock and trendy alternative/indie bands.

As can be expected after reading the festival’s manifesto, Seaprog is heavily geared towards the cutting-edge side of the progressive rock spectrum, with seminal RIO/Avant band Thinking Plague  in the coveted spot of Sunday headliner for their first-even Seattle show. The Colorado-based outfit’s latest recording effort, Decline and Fall, was one of the defining albums of 2012, and their triumphant appearance at last year’s RIO Festival helped to consolidate their reputation as purveyors of difficult but highly rewarding music. Thinking Plague’s Dave Willey and Elaine Di Falco will also appear on stage with Hughscore Revisited, a quartet that will perform compositions by legendary Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper, who passed away in 2009. Not surprisingly, Moraine, Zhongyu and Dissonati will also be on board. The other names on the lineup are less familiar to the majority of prog fans: local outfits Alex’s Hand, Monkey Bat Operation ID and Trimtab (originally formed in Minneapolis, but now based in Seattle), and  Italian multi-instrumentalist Jolanda. At the time of writing, the Saturday headliner remains to be announced. Links to all of the artists’ webpages are available on the event’s site. A Kickstarter campaign will also be launched to finance recording of the shows.

After so much fretting about the future of the US festival scene following the demise of NEARfest and the cancellation of OhioProg and FarFest, it is heartwarming to see people take things into their own hands in order to promote homegrown talent, even though on a much smaller scale than NEARfest, ROSfest or Baja Prog. As I have often written on these pages, this is probably the most viable model, which allows the organizers not to be bound by the necessity of filling a larger venue, therefore having to budget for inevitably more expensive “international” bands. Hoping for a healthy turnout that will allow the festival to continue at least in 2014, I applaud the organizers for their bravery and dedication to the cause of progressive music.

Links:
http://www.seaprog.org/

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