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Archive for the ‘Psychedelic’ Category

TRACKLISTING:
1. High Pilots (32:30)
2. Space Jazz Jam 2.2 (17:35)
3. Who Tripped On The C(h)ord? (10:35)
4. Dead Man In Space (3:02)

LINEUP:
Stefan – guitar
Kaufmann – drums, percussion
Dr. Space – synthesizer
Thomas – bass (1)
Jocke – guitar (1)
Magnus – guitar, synthesizer (1)
Pär – bass (2,3)
Mogens-  Hammond, synthesizer (2,3)
Anders –  saxophone, effects

As their name suggests, Öresund Space Collective are based on both shores of the straits separating Denmark from Sweden (now spanned by a bridge opened in 2000). Founded in 2004 by keyboardist Scott Heller (aka Dr. Space), they are a multinational group of over 30 musicians who are also members of other bands. Their loose configuration reflects the totally improvised nature of their music, and their lengthy jam sessions have provided material for numerous CD, LP and DVD releases (many of them recorded live during their extensive European tours).

The flame kindled decades ago by legendary bands such as Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles is kept alive today by a myriad outfits and solo projects that maintain a strong network of connections. This thriving psychedelic/space rock scene seems to be particularly lively in northern Europe, though it has a keen following in other countries as well (including the US) – and that in spite of being undeniably an acquired taste. Indeed, the subgenre’s quintessentially loose, unscripted nature runs counter to the highly structured, tightly arranged quality of traditional progressive rock.

Öresund Space Collective’s uncompromising approach has made them very popular with dedicated fans of space rock. With over 10 albums released since their debut in 2006, you would expect the band to stick to a tried-and-true formula – a bit like Ozric Tentacles have done throughout their career – and therefore any of their albums to be a worthy “gateway” experience for the newcomer. On the other hand, while OSC have their own recognizable sound, they are also capable of branching out with less predictable productions – as witnessed by one of their  most recent releases, the excellent West, Space and Love, strongly influenced by Indian music.

Dead Man in Space originated from sessions played by the band in 2008, which also provided material for two other albums, Slip Into the Vortex (2010) and Sleeping With the Sunworm (2011) It was originally released as an LP in January 2010, then reissued in CD format with a longer version of “High Pilots” (here clocking in at a hefty 32 minutes instead of just 22) and an additional track, the 10-minute “Who Tripped on the C(h)ord?”. With the exception of the short title-track, which closes the album with a collection of whooshing electronic effects and a muted recorded voice relating the tale of the titular dead man in space, all the tracks follow a similar template. Over a steady, unflagging bass/drum backdrop, electronics and guitar take turns in the spotlight, describing hypnotic cadences designed to evoke the mystery and vastness of space and expand the mind almost like an LSD-fuelled trip.  The somewhat raw sound quality adds to the appeal of the music, increasing the impact of the swirling guitar patterns underpinned by the low rumble of the Hammond organ.

The sprawling 32-minute guitar-synth jam of “High Pilots” offers a series of variations on the same mid-paced, trance-inducing theme. Though the weird electronics may occasionally be annoying, the subtle shifts in tempo and the alternating roles of the two main instruments hold the listener’s interest – though in a markedly different way than the twists and turns of a conventional prog “epic” of the same length. The 22-minute “Space Jazz Jam 2.2” is exactly what the title promises – a slow, surging duel between guitar and sax in the best Hawkwind tradition, with a tantalizingly mellow hint of Eastern spice contrasted with the increasingly distorted growl of the guitar. “Who Tripped on the C(h)ord?” makes effective use of the muted, chiming pace of iconic Pink Floyd compositions such as “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” or “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, bolstered by eerie organ runs and whistling synth to create a melancholy, meditative mood.

Dead Man in Space is a must for fans of vintage psychedelic/space rock,  as are all of Öresund Space Collective’s albums. While a bit too rambling and unpolished (and perhaps monotonous) to suit the tastes of the more traditional-minded prog fans, it will provide a refreshing change of pace from the often overwrought efforts of far too many celebrated artists.  On any account, Dead Man in Space provides an interesting insight into the work of one of the leading bands of the current space rock revival, and a celebration of the joys of improvisation – so often stifled by circumstances.

Links:
http://www.oresundspacecollective.com/

http://www.myspace.com/oresundspacecollective

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Ordinary Li(f)e (8:00)
2. A Sea Without Shores (3:45)
3. In Circle (9:01)
4. Lying on a Pink  Cloud (12:38)
5. Acid Carousel (3:50)
6. Ashes (3:49)
7. Night Euphoria (6:27)
8. Outside the Rain (6:41)
9. Colliding  (7:00)
10. Starseeing on the Shore (8:53)

LINEUP:
Francesco Bassoli – guitars
Tiziano Cofanelli  – drums
Luca Guidobaldi – vocals
Luca Parca – bass
Claudio Stasi – piano, keyboards

Formed in 2006, when the four former members of a prog metal cover band called Kimaera  Project joined forces with vocalist Luca Guidobaldi, Rome- based quintet Seventh Will debuted in 2007 with the demo Pink Clouds and Heavy Rain. In the following years, they concentrated on the realization of their first full-length CD, an ambitious concept by the title of Ordinary Li(f)e, eventually released in 2010.

For many progressive rock fans, the Italian scene is almost automatically associated with the so-called “symphonic’ bands of the Seventies, all operatic vocals, sweeping keyboards and lush arrangements. However, in the second decade of the 21st century Italian prog does not seem to be stuck in a time warp, and bands such  as Seventh Will show that there the Seventies model is not the only blueprint for acts hailing from the boot-shaped peninsula. In fact, a first-time listener may notice that Ordinary Li(fe) does not sound typically Italian – and not only on account of the English-language lyrics. While quite a few contemporary Italian bands display that timeless sense of warmth and melody that is one of the hallmarks of Italian music, and that seems to complement progressive rock so well, Seventh Will have chosen to tread a different, more international-sounding path.

Ordinary Li(fe) is a very ambitious undertaking, based on an elaborate concept (one day in the life of Will, an archetypal “ordinary man”), illustrated in detail on the band’s blog. With a running time of 68 minutes, and most tracks over the 6-minute mark, it inevitably features some filler material that might have been left out without detriment to the album’s overall structure. Moreover, the longer tracks, particularly the 12-minute “Lying on a Pink Cloud”, occasionally suffer from lack of cohesion, sounding at times like a collection of separate passages strung together without an actual plan. Luca Guidobaldi’s high-pitched, vaguely plaintive vocals  belong to the Thom Yorke/Matt Bellamy school of singing – with a pinch of  Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s more aggressive tone thrown in – with only his accent giving his non-English origin away.

While the band’s previous prog metal matrix– represented mainly by sharp riffs and sudden accelerations – occasionally emerges, most evidently in the intense yet atmospheric “Colliding” (which made me think of Riverside circa Second Life Syndrome), on the whole the album comes across as a rather eclectic effort. Indeed, its basic Pink Floyd/Porcupine Tree inspiration is enhanced by nods to vintage hard rock (as in the title track, which opens the album with Hammond organ swirls offset by more subdued passages), or to more avant-garde acts such as The Mars Volta or Mr Bungle, complete with slightly dissonant passages (as in “Night Euphoria”). The band’s liberal use of quiet-loud dynamics indicates the band’s allegiance to the post-prog aesthetics embodied by most of the acts on the Kscope roster, including their fellow Italians Nosound. US band The Tea Club might also provide a useful term of comparison, especially on account of the similar vocal style and the use of slow build-up leading to powerful climaxes – as exemplified by “In Circle”.

On the other hand, a couple of contiguous pieces, “Acid Carousel” and “Ashes”, draw upon Pink Floyd’s late Seventies heyday – the former echoing the theatrical scope of The Wall (hard not to be reminded of Roger Waters’ commanding performance in “The Trial”); the latter patterned on melancholy acoustic pieces such as “Wish You Were Here”. Album closer “Starseeing on the Shore” offers a sonic rendition of the lovely cover image with a slow-burning, atmospheric ballad driven by acoustic guitar, piano and vocals, and synth effects evoking the sound of the surf.

Though, as is very often the case with debut albums, Ordinary Li(fe) is still very much of a “work in progress”, and inevitably derivative in parts, it also points to a promising band that is trying to break free of the  “retro-prog”  mould. It is to be hoped that they will adopt a more streamlined approach to songwriting in their next recording effort. In any case, the album is likely to appeal to fans of modern progressive rock, with particular regard to Steven Wilson’s numerous projects and most of Kscope’s output.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/seventhwill

http://seventhwill.blogspot.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Orbitary Volcano (7:11)
2. …Phantom Wakes (12:26)
3. Cosmic Train to Anticreation (7:41)
4. Trinity Quadrilogy (10:53)

LINEUP:
Tuomas –  electric and acoustic guitars
Sini  – saxophones, percussion, mallets, tubular bells
Marko – drums, percussion
Teppo – keyboards, voices
Ville – bass

With:
Antti – trombone

Known only by their first names, the five members of Dasputnik hail from the former Finnish capital of Turku, where they first got together in 2005 as a jamming project called Mystery Space. They became Dasputnik during the following year, which also saw their first live performance. After two demos (titled Demo and Blatta Caverna), they finally released their debut album, Parapsychosis, in 2009, followed by Cyclokosmia in the spring of 2011.

With its stunningly bright-hued artwork (apparently based on the Garden of Eden)  and song titles such as “Cosmic Train to Anticreation”, Cyclokosmia proudly declares Dasputnik’s allegiance to the time-honoured school of psychedelic/space rock – which,  in this second decade of the 21st century, is enjoying something of a revival both in Europe and in the US. Scandinavian countries, as is so often the case in the variegated world of progressive rock, seem to be at the forefront of this movement, with outfits such as Øresund Space Collective, My Brother the Wind and Dungen (to name but three) attracting quite a lot of international attention. Finland’s remarkable contribution to this thriving subgenre, while perhaps not large in terms of sheer number of bands, has been remarkable, includes names such as cult trio Kingston Wall in the early Nineties, and, in more recent times, Hidria Spacefolk and Taipuva Luotisuora.

Many of the bands adopting the psych/space aesthetics, both in the Old and the New World, blend trippy jams in the iconic style of Gong, Steve Hillage and Ozric Tentacles with the harder-edged, fuzz-heavy suggestions typical of stoner rock – via the subgenre’s founding fathers Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. However, the average first-time listener will not fail to be impressed by the mature, almost understated quality of Dasputnik’s music. Rather than pushing screaming guitars to the forefront in quasi- metal fashion, the riffing is employed judiciously, often kept in the background to add some bite to the other instruments’ mellower, Eastern-tinged efforts. Various percussion instruments, including mallets and tubular bells, join their warm, organic sound to the swirling electronics that are a key ingredient of any self-respecting psych/space band’s toolkit. The impression of naturally flowing smoothness is compounded by the prominent role of Sini’s saxes, occasionally complemented by the solemn voice of the trombone.

While, in compositional terms, the four tracks on Cyclokosmia share the typical features of the subgenre – developing slowly but relentlessly, with instruments playing in parallel and repeating the same tune with minor changes, with a rivetingly hypnotic effect (as exemplified by the stately closing track “Trinity Quadrilogy”) – the music is rendered in surprisingly sophisticated terms, with the instruments contributing their own individual voices, yet striving together to produce a harmonious whole. Sax and electric piano are responsible for injecting hefty doses of heady melody, balancing out the more free-form passages (as in the 12-minute “…Phantom Wakes”, the album’s longest track). Opener “Orbitary Volcano” is introduced by gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios with a faint Spanish flavour, then organ and synth take the lead, alternating with sax and electric guitar. Surprisingly, it is one of the two shorter tracks – the previously mentioned “Cosmic Train to Anticreation” – that packs the most variation in its nearly 8 minutes, juxtaposing harsh, churning guitar riffs with an almost funky bass line, then introducing a brisk, dance-like Eastern European motif as a surprise factor.

Clocking in at under 40 minutes, Cyclokosmia (which was also released as a vinyl LP on the band’s own label, Art Safari Records) combines vintage psychedelic suggestions with thoroughly modern production values that enhance the mix of sophistication and intensity in Dasputnik’s music. While it does not substantially deviate from the well-established psychedelic/space rock canon, the album is nevertheless highly recommended to fans of the subgenre, and it also has the potential to appeal to most lovers of progressive rock, regardless of niches and labels.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/dasputnik

http://equaldreams.com/artsafarirecords

http://eetupellonpaa.deviantart.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Into the Subatomic (5:21)
2. Free at Last! (5:17)
3. Mud Becomes Mind (5:14)
4. I Don’t Believe (5:53)
5. Matter Is Energy (4:55)
6. Comprehensible (6:38)
7. Infinite Strength (8:05)
8. Where No One Can Win (8:05)
9. Step Out of Your Body (5:12)
10. The Cauldron (15:18)

LINEUP:
Copernicus – poetry, lead vocals, keyboards
Pierce Turner – musical director, piano, Hammond organ, percussion, backing vocals
Larry Kirwan – electric guitar, vocals
Mike Fazio – electric guitar
Bob Hoffnar – steel guitar
Raimundo Penaforte – viola, acoustic guitar, cavaquinho, percussion, vocals
Cesar Aragundi – electric and acoustic guitar
Fred Parcells – trombone
Rob Thomas – violin
Matty Fillou – tenor saxophone, percussion
Marvin Wright – bass guitar, electric guitar, percussion
George Rush – tuba, contrabass, bass guitar
Thomas Hamlin – drums, percussion
Mark Brotter – drums, percussion

The thirteenth album by New York-based performer-poet Copernicus (aka Joseph Smalkovski), and the third released by MoonJune Records (which is going to reissue the artist’s whole catalogue), Cipher and Decipher is definitely not your average ‘progressive rock’ album, ambitious but ultimately accessible. In fact, is one of those records for which the expression ‘acquired taste’ seems to be tailor-made, and which is at the same time easy and difficult to describe: easy if you want to simplify matters, and say that it is based around a somewhat loopy guy’s ranting and raving over a rather free-form musical background; difficult if you want, instead, to avoid platitudes and offer would-be listeners a more in-depth, nuanced analysis.

Needless to say, even from a quick perusing of the release notes it should be clear that Cipher and Decipher is not for the faint-hearted, or those who like carefully structured music, engaging melodies and conventional singing. This is the archetypal underground production, a marriage of music and poetry steeped in the American beat tradition, dripping with existential ennui and metaphysical musings, in which the music often feels like an afterthought, often sharply diverging from the vocal parts in a sort of schizophrenic effect. Clocking in at slightly under 70 minutes, and barely offering any respite from Copernicus’ over-the-top vocal exertions, it sounds more than a bit daunting (even for a forward-thinking label like MoonJune) and as such quite unlikely to appeal to casual or mainstream-oriented listeners.

And yet, in spite of all these drawbacks, Cipher and Decipher exerts a weird sort of attraction. After a while everything seems to click and, so to speak, begins to make sense. Even as Copernicus’ voice may rub you the wrong way, and make you wish he limited himself to publishing books of poetry like most other people would do, the music perversely sucks you in, and you may find yourself actually enjoying the experience – almost in spite of yourself. At times Copernicus’ secular-preacher recitation blends with the music, at others the two go their separate ways, in a somewhat frustrating fashion. He roars, cajoles, whines, chants, emotes like a Shakespearian actor, leaving very little breathing space to the listener, repeating the key words around which his whole work seems to revolve with a sort of incantatory effect, often augmented by the loose yet oddly mesmerizing nature of the musical accompaniment.

Regarding the concept on which Cipher and Decipher is based, my readers will be able to find all the background information they need in the links I have provided at the end of the review – as well as in the album’s very thorough liner notes. While other reviewers have dedicated at least some space to the album’s lyrical content, I would rather concentrate on the musical aspect, even if I realize it is far from easy to divorce the two. Generally, I do not particularly care for nihilism, and have to admit not being too interested in speculations about the nature of the universe, though neither aspect disturbs me as other kinds of content (i.e. overtly racist lyrics) would. My main interest here is the music, and this is why I would rather avoid launching in any detailed analysis of Copernicus’ message which is much better presented elsewhere.

When listening to Cipher and Decipher, it is important to bear in mind that the music and the vocals often seem to be at odds with each other instead of working together, as would happen in more mainstream recordings. This means that special attention to the musical part is required, and it obviously helps if you like almost completely unscripted music as opposed to the carefully constructed patterns of most conventional progressive rock. Provided by a veritable orchestra of 15 outstanding musicians (including 4 guitarists and almost a full horn section) led by long-time Copernicus associates, expatriate Irishmen Pierce Turner and Larry Kirwan (the latter, together with Thomas Hamlin and Fred Parcells, a member of Celtic-inspired band Black 47), the musical accompaniment to Copernicus’ proclamations is a wildly eclectic mix of influences ranging from experimental free-jazz to early Pink Floyd-style psychedelia.

Organ-drenched opener “Into the Subatomic” immediately sets the scene, both musically and lyrically, followed by the lovely but somber “Free at Last!”, the most genuinely Pinkfloydian number on offer, embellished by some noteworthy acoustic and electric guitar work; while “Mud Becomes Mind” sports a cheery, Afro-Brazilian vibe. The disc’s central section owes quite a lot to free-jazz, rather gloomy in “I Don’t Believe” with its lonesome-sounding trumpet, sparse yet upbeat in “Matter Is Energy”. On the other hand, “Comprehensible” superimposes an overt homage to Pink Floyd, with Larry Kirwan repeating “set the controls further out of the sun” (a paraphrase of the title of one of their most iconic early compositions) to the somewhat chaotic free-jazz template, and “Infinite Strength” (based on Van Morrison’s celebrated “Gloria”) sounds like something out of the Blues Brothers soundtrack – making you want to dance in spite of Copernicus’ weighty proclamations. More Latin influences surface in the funky “Step Out of Your Body”, and the references to Iraq and Afghanistan in “No One Can Win” are aptly punctuated by Middle Eastern echoes conjured by flute and strings. The album climaxes with the sonic and verbal apocalypse of the aptly-titled “The Cauldron”, a 15-minute, voice-driven space jam.

As the previous paragraphs clearly illustrate, Cipher and Decipher is a very peculiar effort, targeted to adventurous listeners, and likely to send the more conservative set of prog fans running for the exits. This is not background music, and is definitely not relaxing – on the contrary, it can easily become a tad wearying, especially on account of Copernicus’ very idiosyncratic vocal delivery and apocalyptic lyrics. The album’s running time can also be an issue, so those who find it hard to concentrate for long might want to avoid tackling it in one go. However, its somewhat sneaky allure may well win over those who are not afraid to get acquainted with less predictable approaches to progressive music.

Links:
http://www.copernicusonline.net

http://www.moonjune.com

http://www.progarchives.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=74511 (interview)

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Lake of Fire (4:22)
2. Money Speaks (4:40)
3. You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe (5:22)
4. Stars of Sayulita (6:12)
5. Warning (4:20)
6. What Have They Done to the Rain (4:56)
7. Abandoned Mines (5:45)
8. Suicide Train (4:23)
9. Telstar (3:55)
10. Dateless Oblivion & Divine Repose (1:54)

Bonus tracks:
11. Abandoned Mines – Forest Fang Remix (8:26)
12. You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe – Alternate Mix (5:48)
13. Lake of Fire – Evan Schiller Remix (4:21)

LINEUP:
Barry Cleveland – electric & acoustic guitar, electric & acoustic 12-string guitar, Moog guitar, GuitarViol, sampled percussion, sampled Mellotron, voice (8), bass (8)
Robert Powell – pedal-steel guitar (1-5, 7, 9, 11-13), lap-steel guitar (4)
Michael Manring – bass (1-9, 11-13)
Celso Alberti – drums, percussion (1-4, 6-9, 11-13)
Amy X Neuburg – vocals (1, 2, 6, 9, 10 & 13).

With:
Harry Manx – vocals (4)
Deborah Holland – vocals (4)
Artist General – voice (5)
Erdem Helvacioglu – acoustic-electric guitar, electronics (3,13)
Rick Walker – chain-link drums, teapot (5), congas (4), dumbec (7)
Gino Robair – dumbec, kendang (6)

As anticipated in my previous post, here is my third review in a row of an album released in 2010 by MoonJune Records – and, like its predecessors, definitely one of the top releases of the year. Hologramatron, the fifth album credited to the name of San Francisco-based guitarist, composer and journalist Barry Cleveland (currently Associate Editor for Guitar Player magazine), has recently been submitted for the Grammy Award as “Best Alternative Rock Album of 2010” – and deservedly so.  A labour of love, whose recording took several years to complete, Hologramatron (whose title, according to the artist himself, means ‘whatever you need it to mean’) is one of those rare musical efforts that manage to sound like very little else. With derivative acts a dime a dozen on the current music scene, listening to such an album can be an exhilarating experience. Although Barry Cleveland’s name may be the most prominent on the cover, unlike your average ‘solo pilot’ release this is very much a collective effort, in which the input of each member of the band is recognizable, yet at the same time meshes with the others to form an organic whole.

Unabashedly eclectic,  Hologramatron has been called a modern ‘protest album’, and with very good reason – though only part of the songs have an unmistakable socio-political bent. However, it is first and foremost a collection of inspired, thought-provoking compositions performed by a group of amazingly talented, experienced musicians who manage to come across as an extremely tight unit rather than a combination of over-inflated egos. While vocalist Amy X Neuburg (a classically-trained singer, and a truly serendipitous find for Cleveland) may be relatively unknown outside dedicated avant-garde circles – in spite of an impressive curriculum as a composer and ‘avant-cabaret’ artist – the name of bassist Michael Manring is nothing short of legendary among four-string fans, and both drummer Celso Alberti and pedal-steel guitarist Robert Powell can claim a number of prestigious affiliations. When such collective talent is gathered together, the results may often be a tad underwhelming – especially when musicians forget that they are at the service of the music, and not the other way round.

Thankfully, this is not the case with Hologramatron. The impressive cohesion between all the artists involved, band members and guests, results in 10 tracks that display a remarkably original approach, even when external influences can be detected . While listening to the album for the first time, the closest comparison that came into my mind was with the late ‘90s – early 2000’s incarnation of King Crimson – and Robert Fripp is undoubtedly one of Barry Cleveland’s most noticeable sources of inspiration. In contrast with the majority of prog albums released in the past year or so, Hologramatron is based on relatively short compositions, none longer than 6 minutes –  and, indeed, half of the tracks are songs with a more or less ‘conventional’ verse-chorus-verse structure. The album might even be seen as a lesson on how to produce music that does not rely on 30-minute epics or convoluted concept stories in order to be progressive.

As I previously pointed out, eclecticism is the name of the game, with the hard-hitting earnestness of tracks like “Lake of Fire” or “Money Speaks” relieved by the inclusion of two covers of Sixties hit songs (which, in my personal view, do not really fit too well with the rest of the album), or the gentle yet emotional content of “Stars of Sayulita”. The psychedelic-meets-ambient component of Cleveland’s creativity (which was brilliantly showcased in the band’s live performance at ProgDay 2010) is here represented by the instrumental tracks, namely “You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe It” and “Abandoned Mines” – where Cleveland’s array of traditional and electronic guitars, effectively supported by Robert Powell’s pedal-steel guitar, Manring’s stellar bass and understated percussion patterns, weave subtly entrancing, multilayered textures.

On opener “Lake of Fire” (whose firebrand lyrics point a sharp finger at Christian fundamentalism),  Amy X Neuburg adopts two sharply different singing styles in the verse and the chorus – soothing, almost seductive in the former, venomously aggressive in the latter. The splendidly bass-driven “Money Talks” and the haunting “Stars of Sayulita”, graced by the warm, bluesy vocals of Harry Manx and Deborah Holland, follow a similar ‘mainstream’ pattern – as, obviously, do the two covers, “What Have They Done to the Rain” and “Telstar”, whose cheerful nature contrasts almost jarringly with the rest. Two of the tracks with vocals, however, diverge quite sharply: the ominous, electronics-laden avant-rap of the aptly-titled “Warning” (with vocals courtesy of long-time Cleveland collaborator Michael Masley, aka Artist General), and the tense “Suicide Train” (interpreted by Cleveland himself), an effort that borders on metal, featuring a beautiful, hypnotic guitar solo bolstered by crashing drums.

Running at around 64 minutes, Hologramatron is nowhere as cumbersome as many other current releases, though the three bonus tracks tagged at its end do not really add a lot (unless you happen to be a staunch completist) – with the possible exception of the remix of “Abandoned Mines” (nearly three minutes longer than the original), which possesses an eerily cinematic quality.  A masterful blend of mainstream sensibilities, socially-aware lyrics, intriguing atmospheres and stunning instrumental and vocal performances, this is a unique album that is warmly recommended to progressive music fans.

Links:
http://www.barrycleveland.com

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Tracklisting:
1. Son et Lumiere (1:35)
2. Inertiatic ESP (4:24)
3. Roulette Dares (The Haunt of) (7:31)
4. Tira Me a las Arañas (1:29)
5. Drunkship of Lanterns (6:20)
6. Eriatarka (7:06)
7. Cicatriz ESP (12:29)
8. This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed (4:58)
9. Televators (6:19)
10. Take the Veil Cerpin Taxt (8:42)

Lineup:
Cedric Bixler-Zavala – vocals
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – guitars
Juan Alderete – bass
Flea – bass
Jon Theodore – drums
Ikey Isaiah Owens – keyboards
Jeremy Michael Ward – sounds

After inaugurating my blog with a series of reviews of classic albums ranging from the late Sixties to the early Eighties, now it is time for me to tackle a modern classic – one of the albums that, in my view, define modern progressive rock, and one of the few really ground-breaking releases of the first decade of the new millennium. Like many masterpieces, it is a divisive effort, and the band itself – the brilliantly-named The Mars Volta, a bunch of extremely gifted musicians led by volcanic guitarist and composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – almost a textbook definition of the expression ‘an acquired taste’.  On the other hand, it is undeniable that the release of  De-Loused in the Comatorium set new standards for contemporary prog.

This album was not my first experience with The Mars Volta (TMV for short). On the strength of some very positive reviews, some months before I had bought Frances the Mute, which I immediately loved  in spite of its shortcomings. However, De-loused in the Comatorium, the Hispanic-American band’s first full-length recording, is quite a different story – one of those almost perfect debut albums that it is often impossible (or at least very difficult) for a band to top.

Hate them or love them, it is hard to deny that The Mars Volta are progressive in the true sense of the word. Born from the ashes of post-hardcore band At The Drive-in, they are not afraid to take elements from such disparate genres as prog, punk, metal, jazz and Latin music, and throw them together in a metaphorical blender, stamping their individual seal over the end result. The band’s display of dazzling musicianship, left-field lyrical concepts, stunning cover art (courtesy of legendary graphic artist Storm Thorgerson, better known for his work with Pink Floyd) and no-holds-barred songwriting are the hallmarks of a first-rate outfit that is ready to push prog – that stereotypically earnest, stuck-in-a-time-warp musical genre – right into the 21st century.

Most of the tracks on this album are over the 5-minute mark, with “Cicatriz Esp” clocking in at over 12 minutes. Both band mastermind Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala wanted to expand their horizons after leaving At the Drive-In, as shown by the clear influence of such giants of progressive rock as King Crimson and Rush. In time-honoured prog tradition, De-Loused… is also a concept album, relating the tale of Cerpin Taxt’s week-long, drug-induced coma and subsequent suicide (a story inspired by the death of former bandmate Julio Venegas).

Even if Omar and Cedric’s original punk roots rear their heads every now and then, they add a measure of spice to the exotic mixture that is TMV’s sound. The musicianship is first-rate throughout, with a special mention for inventive, powerful drummer Jon Theodore, whose rhythmic sparring partner is on this occasion a very special guest, Michael Balzary aka Flea of Red Hot Chilli Peppers fame (one of the best four-stringers on the market, even if you are not too keen on his mother band). The crisp, clear production values further enhance Theodore’s intricate, occasionally explosive drumming, as immediately shown by  killer opener  “Inertiatic ESP” (preceded by the deceptive quiet of “Son and Lumière).

In my personal opinion, though, the real strength of TMV lies in the supercharged vocals of Cedric Bixler-Zavala, whose banshee wail, interspersed with more reflective, almost lyrical moments, provided a textbook example of  really expressive singing. A richer, fuller version of Geddy Lee, he stamps his mark all over the album, perfectly complemented by his partner in crime  Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s wildly atmospheric guitar playing. Unlike on follow-up  Frances the Mute, here the band keep the use of weird, electronic noises to a minimum, with epic “Cicatriz ESP” ‘s middle section being a prime example of how such sounds can be used sparingly to their maximum effect.

With such an overall strong album, it would be difficult for me to pick any standout tracks, apart from those I have already mentioned. Haunting ballad “Televators” is a much better effort in this sense than “The Widow” on Frances the Mute; while “Eriatarka”, “This Apparatus Must Be Unearthed” and album closer “Take the Veil, Cerpin Taxt” brim with energy and freshness, Cedric’s manically brilliant vocals soaring above the band’s unleashed instrumental fury.

A brash, loud, yet sophisticated statement of intent, De-Loused in the Comatorium was clearly not conceived with mass appeal in mind – even if The Mars Volta have become a relatively successful act in their field. This is thoroughly modern progressive rock, and a must-listen for all serious devotees of the genre – weird and wonderful, and a really wild ride, but also one to enjoy to the fullest.

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Tracklisting:
1. Let There Be More Light (5:38)
2. Remember a Day (4:33)
3. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (5:28)
4. Corporal Clegg (4:12)
5. A Saucerful of Secrets (11:57)
6. See-Saw (4:36)
7. Jugband Blues (2:59)

Lineup:
Syd Barrett – guitar, vocals
David Gilmour – guitar, vocals
Nick Mason – drums
Roger Waters – bass, vocals
Richard Wright – organ, piano, vocals

Needless to say,  Pink Floyd do not belong to the contingent of lower-profile or just plain obscure bands that are often featured in blogs like mine. On the contrary, their fame is such that, outside the restricted circles of progressive rock fans, they are considered as mainstream an act as the likes of Madonna or Michael Jackson. However, with A Saucerful of Secrets we are as far removed as possible from the stadium-filling phenomenon the band would become just a few years later. This a disc of whose existence most fans of the band’s best-selling albums are barely aware, and that gets unfairly overshadowed by the cult status achieved by The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Pink Floyd’s sophomore effort is undoubtedly an album that can polarize listeners’ opinions. Some see it as dated, or lacking in cohesion, since it was released at a turning point for the band, when Syd Barrett, who was slowly descending into mental illness, was being gradually replaced by his friend David Gilmour – which involved a significant shift in the band’s overall sound. In my personal opinion, though, it is one of the great unsung masterpieces of  progressive rock.

No mean feat for a band specialized in killer openers, A Saucerful of Secrets can boast of one of the strongest opening tracks ever committed to record.  “Let There Be More Light” is the archetypal psych/prog composition, with weird, mesmerizing, Eastern-influenced sound effects, and vocals alternating between chant-like whispers and shouts. Together with the album’s best-known song, the equally iconic and hypnotic “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” (whose definitive version appears on the “Live at Pompeii” movie), the track was written by Roger Waters, who was well on his way to becoming the band’s true driving force. Those who maintain that Waters was a less gifted composer than Gilmour should probably take a careful listen to both songs.

The mood changes almost abruptly with the following number, the Richard Wright-penned “Remember a Day”. With soothing, wistful vocals that match the nostalgia-filled lyrics (which seem to foreshadow Wright’s untimely passing), it is a delicate, charming piece that is definitely easier on the ear in a musical sense. In a similar key, the lullaby-like “See Saw” (also written by the late keyboardist) is not, however, equally successful, and is, in my view, the weakest track on the album. On the other hand  “Corporal Clegg” and “Jugband Blues”  hark back to the whimsy of much of the Floyd’s debut album, with endearingly zany vocals, odd noises and ironic, nonsense-filled lyrics. “Jugband Blues”, which closes the album in stark contrast to the eerie soundscapes of the opener, can be seen as Barrett’s testament, and feels particularly poignant nowadays, four years after Syd’s demise.

An album’s title-track often acts as its focal point, and this is particularly true of the schizophrenic masterpiece that is “A Saucerful of Secrets”. Over 12 minutes long, the track is introduced by an uncontrolled chaos of weird noises and hypnotic percussive patterns, a sonic storm that suddenly abates to be replaced by a solemn, organ-driven section, featuring wordless singing somewhat suggestive of a church choir. In a way, the song reflects the nature of the album itself, and the circumstances in which it came into being.

For those who have come to know Pink Floyd through their milestone albums of the Seventies, this record may well turn out to be a disappointment, since it is in no way as accomplished, let alone as polished as regards production values. A Saucerful of Secrets is a child of the late Sixties – raw, experimental, slightly incoherent – and as such captures the essence of an era in which creativity and envelope-pushing were rife. It also captures Pink Floyd’s full potential just a few years before the quantum leap that would lead them to conquer the world. An essential listen, and – incidentally – my own favourite  release by the band.

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