Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kultivator ~ Barndomens Stigar (2008 Remaster)

Reissue of the year so far. Kultivator only recorded one album which was released back in 1981. They soon disbanded after, the musical climate not just in Sweden but everywhere else had changed dramatically and bands like Kultivator, producing technically complex music were out of fashion. Shame, as this album is brimming with energy and fantastic music. Many have cited their mixture of Zeuhl and Canterbury style, which is true but this kind of music somehow could only have been made in Sweden, like Trettioåriga Kriget or Kaipa.

The CD of their album has been unavailable for many years now. Thankfully the excellent Mellotronen label has made it available again and what a stunning job they have done. The original album has been beautifully remastered, with 3 very worthy bonus tracks. There is also a 2nd CD, an ep of newly recorded material. Like Trettioåriga Kriget the new material shows they are even better now than first time round. Kultivator should do a full albums worth of new stuff.

The discs are presented in a lavish, glossy digipack together with a 20 page booklet featuring an informative essay, full credits, archival photographs and lyrics to the new material. I cannot fault this re-issue in anyway. Fantastic!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pregnant Rainbows For Colourblind Dreamers ~ The Essence Of Swedish Progressive Music 1967 – 1979

Over the last few years there has been a plethora of exceptional progressive rock artists emanating from Sweden. Just take the following list as examples of some of the best I have come across: Carptree, Paatos, Magic Pie, Sinkadus, Beardfish, Ritual, Moon Safari, Liquid Scarlet, Brighteye Brison, Par Lindh Project. The seed which allowed these bands to proliferate was generated in the 90’s by the likes of The Flower Kings, Anglagard, Anekdoten and Landberk. But it seems the Swedish progressive rock scene has its roots much farther back than that, as evidenced by this fantastic box set. This set has been produced as a listening companion to the equally impressive book; The Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music 1967 – 1979. That book is a gloriously colourful and exhaustive overview of the Swedish progressive rock movement. A hardback volume of some 230 pages all in full colour. Over 400 artists are overviewed, with album covers re-produced together with photographs of the period. This is a highly informative and sumptuous read without a doubt.

The music scene in Sweden was obviously highly productive and inventive as the 70 artists represented in the 4 CD box set indicate. It’s quite extraordinary the majority of artists on show here are completely unknown, except to those few who are true connoisseurs of early 70’s Swedish prog rock. It’s also beguiling that those artist’s music has never been made generally available on CD before.

So this box set is the only place to really appreciate what gems have been long forgotten. Some names will be familiar like Kaipa, Bo Hansson, Samla Mammas Manna and Trettioåriga Kriget but its coming across the likes of Solar Plexus, Baby Grandmothers and Life that’s the real joy of this compilation. There is also a 48 page booklet, presented in a similar fashion to the book which gives overviews of each of the artists presented.

The book and box set are obviously labours of love by the authors and the attention to detail has to be admired. Both have to be purchased together and really highlight what a fantastic music scene existed in Sweden in a time when all eyes were looking at Britain’s burgeoning progressive rock scene. It seems there was a lot going on up North. Now, if only someone would do something similarly comprehensive for the Italian progressive rock scene of the 70’s!

Pure Reason Revolution ~ Live At NEARfest 2007

Its been a good few years since Pure Reason Revolution released their full length debut album “The Dark Third” to much praise. Since then, a combination of personnel changes and being dropped by Sony have delayed further recordings. But its seems the band is now just about to release a new studio album at last. Before that, NEARfest records have just released this live document from the groups appearance at last years NEARfest prog festival in Philadelphia.

This CD impressively showcases the bands powerful live performance. The familiar studio tracks are given a punchy workout with some new additions, particularly there are lots of guitar effects used throughout in a thoughtful manner. As well as tracks from their debut album, there are a couple of new pieces which are from the new album. These tasters bode very well for that indicate the band has certainly matured their songwriting and arrangements. I was particularly impressed by Chloe Alper’s powerful bass playing and how the band expertly recreate those delicious harmonies which are such a strong feature of the studio recordings.

The production on this live album is superb and is for me the best sounding Pure Reason Revolution yet captured on disc. Much of the credit must go to Echolyn’s Brett Kull who recorded and mastered the album. For those longing for something new by the band, this live album is a must. But roll on that second studio album.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Classic Rock Magazine ~ Prog Spawn

The latest issue of Classic Rock Magazine has a cover mounted CD devoted to new prog acts. The title and cover illustration of the disc is awful, but the music is uniformly excellent. A lot of it I have heard before, but it is gratifying to see this stuff get a wider exposure. It is just and right that acts like Big Big Train, Touchstone and Manning in particular have a forum like this to reach a much wider audience. They all deserve to be heard and hopefully pick up some converst on the way.

I was particularly impressed by the opening track by Mystery who appear to be a Canadian band. Haven’t heard them, but their “Travel To The Night” from their latest album was very tasty indeed. So need to check them out. I am not sure on the inclusion of Odin Dragonfly, the duo of Mostly Autumn’s Heather Findlay and Angela Gordon. This is nicely acoustic, but prog? Also, the very excellent No-Man have a track from their latest album here, but I wouldn’t class them as prog and I am surprised Steven Wilson approved the inclusion as he has in the past vocally distanced himself from the prog tag for his band Porcupine Tree. Maybe he is mellowing a bit.

A great little taster/compilation this and does indicate how strong prog rock is in the UK at the moment. But that title!!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Penguin Cafe Orchestra ~ 2008 Remasters

Just released are remastered versions of the first five albums by the Penguin Café Orchestra. The brainchild of the late Simon Jeffes, PCO released a series of wonderfully eclectic music, all of which defied description. This was not difficult music, but the mix of unusual instrumentation and Jeffe’s deft handling of highly memorable tunes was a winner. PCO pieces constantly turn up in TV commercials and movies, the most famous being “Music For A Found Harmonium” from the “Broadcasting From Home” album.

These new issues have been remastered by Tony Cousins, overseen by Jeffe’s son Arthur. According to the PCO web site they have been remastered using 1-bit technology which I take as meaning DSD mastered. The sound is crystal clear and dynamically rich in any case. The packaging is very nice. All discs are packaged in glossy digipaks, with the artwork reproducing very clearly the original album artwork. There are no sleeve notes or bonus tracks, simply the recording presented as originally intended. This is a real classy job.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dead Can Dance ~ SACD Remasters Released

Ok they are out now, so what’s the consensus. Well, I don’t have a SACD player, so I can only comment on the CD portion of these discs. On that I must say the sound I very good indeed. The original CD’s sounded pretty good, but these are definitely a step up on those. Very full, detailed sound.

The question I have who remastered them? Now that may on the surface be a silly question as much has been made about the involvement of audiophile outfit Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL). But it seems to me that they only were involved in mastering the SACD layer of the disc. On the albums “Spleen and Ideal” and “Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun”, they booklets state the CD’ were remastered by John A. Rivers in 2007, who was the original engineer/producer on those recordings. Nothing is stated in the booklets for the other albums on who mastered the CD layers. Maybe it was MFSL, but its not clear. I emailed both 4AD and MFSL for an answer to that but haven’t received an answer.

As these have been only released in the mini-LP format, what’s the packaging like? On the whole very nice. The outer sleeves are manufactured in hard cardboard with the discs housed in protective plastic sleeves placed inside reproductions of the original inner sleeves. The booklets also reproduce the original LP labels and include credits and lyrics, though not complete. For some reason the lyrics to “Indoctrination (A Design For living)” from “Spleen and Ideal” and “Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book” from “Aion” are not reproduced.

No bonus tracks included, though “Bird” and “Spirit” are included in “Toward The Within” and it’s nice to have the EP “Garden of Arcane Delights” available separately so that you get the original artwork.

4AD have done a really excellent job in giving the Dead Can Dance back catalogue the quality re-release it truly deserves.
addendum 16th July 2008: Just had an email from MFSL. Apart from the two titles mastered by John Rivers they mastered the CD portion of all the other titles.

Henry Cow ~ 40th Anniversary Box Sets

News of the year is the recently reported 2 box sets of 9 CD’s in total of unreleased Henry Cow live material together with a live performance DVD. This project has been on the go for many years (15 years to be precise) overseen by Henry Cow drummer and head of ReR records Chris Cutler. Now at last the whole thing is seeing the light of day. Though I am sure nobody expected 9 CD’s!

The whole thing is being mastered by Bob Drake who did such a wonderful job of the Art Bears box set of a few years back. Even now he is still tweeking the sonics of the 1st Cd to be released in September ahead of the actual box sets later in the year.

Without doubt this will be an important musical document. Henry Cow are still regarded as one of the most original and extreme forces in rock music that emerged in the 70’s. They are best known for their studio albums, but its their live work where the band really cut loose on some of the most radical, improvisationary material which is only hinted at on the “Concerts” recordings. These live CD’s should show the band in a completely new spotlight in a similar way which “The Great Deceiver” recordings did for mid 70’s King Crimson.

We wait on the release of these with baited breath!!
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