Monday, December 19, 2005

Riverside ~ Second Life Syndrome

This Polish band made quite a splash with their debut album, “Out Of Myself”. This second album follows on thematically from that and seems to be part of a proposed trilogy of linked albums. Now signed to InsideOut, this second album is much heavier and complex than their debut, but none the less impressive.

The title track itself is a sprawling 15 minute epic, where the band use the space to fully explore the style developed on their debut. That is, atmospherically charged contemporary rock with a solid prog metal element to it. On the surface these guys are from a similar stable as Porcupine Tree, RPWL, Opeth and Anathema and will appeal to fans of those bands.

The key instrument is the guitar of Piotr Grudzinski which is sharp and sustained. Singer Mariusz Duda is moody and sad. His bass playing is pretty impressive too, really to the fore on certain tracks. But for me the standout musician is drummer Piotr Kozieradzki. As this music is heavy you would expect the drumming to be pounding, but it’s not. It’s loose, restrained, detailed and thoughtful. Really gives the group an unusual depth to their sound.

Standout tracks are “Volte-Face” which is a real tour-de-force, the aforementioned epic title track with it’s Floydy opening guitar intro and the very catchy “Conceiving You”. Heck, the whole album is impressive!

The superlatives that have been bandied about for their debut and now this second album are very well deserved. This is modern, dynamic rock music of the very best and without doubt Riverside are destined for much bigger things in the future.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Albums Of The Year 2005

Twenty five of my favourites from this year. In no particular order!

Arena ~ Pepper's Ghost
Spock's Beard ~ Octane
The Mars Volta ~ Frances the Mute
Kino ~ Picture
Porcupine Tree ~ Deadwing
Lana Lane ~ Lady Macbeth
The Tangent ~ Pyramid and Stars - Live
Shadow Gallery ~ Room V
Kaipa ~ Mindrevolutions
Dream Theatre ~ Octavarium
Mostly Autumn ~ Storm over Still Waters
Brian Eno ~ Another Day on Planet Earth
Tomas Bodin ~ I A M
Glass Hammer ~ The Inconsolable Secret
Wobbler ~ Hinterland
Lands End ~ The Lower Depths
Opeth ~ Ghost Reveries
Nine Horses ~ Snow Borne Sorrow
Manning ~ One Small Step…
Carptree ~ Man Made Machine
Riverside ~ Second Life Syndrome
Pallas ~ The Dreams Of Men
Neal Morse ~ ?
Roine Stolt ~ Wallstreet Voodoo
Bill Nelson ~ The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bill Nelson ~ The Alchemical Adventures Of Sailor Bill

I have been a follower of Bill’s music since Be Bop Deluxe’s “Modern Music” way back in the late 70’s. I have followed his every twist and turn since then: his solo albums, his work with David Sylvian, Harold Budd, Channel Light Vessel and others.

Presently he is releasing albums at an alarming rate as limited releases on his own independent labels. Mostly these are instrumental based albums, though last year saw the release of his best song album for many a year, “Satellite Songs”. This was a precursor to some live work with his ad hoc band “The Lost Satellites”. Now he gives us another song based album “The Alchemical Adventures Of Sailor Bill” and this one is sensational! A suite of songs and instrumentals, this album is Bill’s most personal and his most adventurous of his career. Evoking childhood memories of seaside holidays in the 50’s and 60’s Bill brings us a sort of musical postcard from those bygone days, when life was much simpler and innocent.

The music on the album is richly textured and multi-layered. Using a Yamaha Motif ES8 keyboard to produce the beautifully complex orchestral sounds, Bill has produced an unusual symphonic music which points to the past as well as the future, augmented by his trademark guitar playing throughout. Vocally he has never sounded better. Vocals are well to the fore and Bill sounds so confident and you can tell that these songs are important to him. This has been a labour of love. There is a sense of poignant nostalgia which weaves throughout this album, not just for the funfair rides and seaside piers now long gone, but also to the music of the day, the burgeoning rise of rock and roll which would prove so influential to a young Nelson.

This is without doubt Bill’s most personal albums and without doubt, one of his most inspired and adventurous too. Sail on Bill!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Manning ~ One Small Step...

After last years almost perfect “A Matter Of Life and Death”, my expectations for this new album were very high indeed. I really thought that Guy would have a hard job equalling, never mind bettering the quality of songwriting and playing on that disc. But he has and how! Whereas “A Matter of Life and Death” was rigidly structured and very electric, “One Small Step...” is looser and more acoustic. The opener, “In Swingtime” does indeed swing. A rousing start with a typical Manning chorus that is ever so catchy. Laura Fowles sax is a key feature here and of course Guy’s distinctive vocal tones are ever welcoming. The following “Night Voices” is achingly haunting, written about a friend but echoes to us all who go through painful personal experiences in life. “No Hiding Place” is the most overtly progressive piece. It has an excellent instrumental section with synths and saxes well to the fore. “The Mexico Line” is another rocker before entering the centrepiece of the album, the 30 minute title track. This ambitious piece is made up of a suite of eight interlinked songs, each one flowing seamlessly from one into the next. As the title suggests this epic composition explores the idea of man looking to the future of travel into space as a potential holiday destination, but are we ready yet. As a race, what baggage would we take with us? Guy uses his trusty acoustic guitar throughout the interlinking songs, keeping the arrangements basic using slight embellishments with mellotron, organ, flute (played by IQ’s Martin Orford) and suchlike throughout. It’s only when the track reaches the “Black and Blue” section does the full band come in. It’s a bold move using such simple, acoustic instrumentation over such a lengthy piece. But Guy’s deft handling of the different lyrical themes and strong compositional skills ensure that the listener’s attention never wavers. The rich musical themes are what we have come to expect from Guy and “One Small Step...” may be his crowning achievement to date.

Special mention must go to cover artist Ed Unitsky. This BeloRussian artist is quickly establishing himself a strong reputation through his sleeves for The Tangent and The Flower Kings amongst others. For this and Guy’s previous album Ed’s vivid use of colour, typography and images linked to the lyrical content of each song which graces the CD booklet brings to mind the wonder and excitement I remember from youth as I would peruse the gatefold sleeve of a classic album cover by the likes of Roger Dean. This is beautiful, fantastical design which is seen all too rarely today.

So all in all this latest album is more than a fitting follow up to “A Matter Of Life and Death”. Though Guy Manning is considered to be working within the progressive rock arena, he has clearly shown from this and previous albums that his songwriting is far broader than that genre may imply. His style is now so well defined and he is such a distinctive, intelligent composer and storyteller that his name can be added to that list of maverick British artists who have travelled their own, inimitable path such as Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Roy Harper and Peter Hammill. He is truly one of the great voices in modern songwriting and should be championed as such. So go on, take that “One Small Step…” and experience something really special.
Free Hit Counter
Free Counter