Category Archives: album stream

Colin Edwin Interview

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Interview with sesssion basssist Colin Edwin, discussing his ongoing relationships with singer/songwriter Steven Wilson and also Eraldo Bernocchi. Album review (of his latest work with producer, Paul Mex and performance poet, Bernadette Cremin) to follow.

Return of The Mex

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2014 has thusfar resounded to the sound of long hiatuses coming to noisy, and much talked-about ends: forget The Stone Roses, or even Guns’n’Roses; Pixies released their first LP since 1991, the acclaimed Indie Cindy; whilst Kate Bush announced her second string of live dates since her groundbreaking 1979 European tour. The pre-order for the ‘new’ Pink Floyd album, The Endless River is open… And whilst this might signal the rude heath of art rock per se, Mex may be less the household name, outside of studio personnel circles. Nonetheless, his 2014 album, Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde ends an in-studio silence, at least under his own name as singer-songwriter, but one year short of Bush‘s onstage one. Aided and abetted by a talented cast of collaborators including bassist Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree/Ex Wise Heads), guitarist, Gordon Russell (Dr Feelgood), visual artist, Nick Egan (Clash, Ramones, Alanis Morissette) and avant-garde poet, Bernadette Cremin, he presents an engaging album of intermittently angry and lovelorn – though ultimately uplifting and cathartic – emotionally-charged pop/rock.

A concept album of sorts, …Jekyll… is nonetheless miles from the overwrought prog indulgence of The Wall or …Topographic Oceans, rather more akin to the wilful eclecticism and compelling grooves of David Holmes Bow Down To The Exit Sign or Typewriter‘s Skeleton Key. Albeit as otherworldly as neither, and refusing to venture as far from conventional song structures, there’s the same sense of a single guiding creative light, similar wild mood swings between fuzzed-out dirty pub-blues ditties and cool, effects-laden atmospheres.

Mex‘s often heavily-FX’d vocals – pitched somewhere between Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) and Nick Barrett (Pendragon) – tell the story of a love affair gone awry, with attendant reflections on age, alienation, regret and possibilities. The pace of the album is perfectly-judged, making it an easy, even fun listen. Occasional lapses into lyrical cliché, far from being a detraction, reflect the album’s confessional style (the lyrics were drawn from the performer’s diary during a period in therapy). In an age where singles reign supreme, it’s a joy to land on a body of work that deserves beginning-to-end listener attention. There’s a good reason why the album is a dying art-form; and I see no mileage in being a fuddy-duddy about that; it’s a trend that opens as many doors as it closes: equally, it’s satisfying to hear said form being handled so deftly and respectfully.

Some cuts stand out, though: From Nought To Sixty mixes snappy punk riffing with mature reflection; Think About It sets poet Cremin‘s ‘angel on the shoulder’ conversational tones to Edwin‘s bass groove to great effect, and Catching A Train has a pleasing whiff of Psychedelic Fur. Mex is an exponent of the punk days, but this is an album that could only have been come to fruition in 2014, incorporating well-judged references from intervening years: from shades of artful and more emotionally-literate post-punk à la Furs and Bunnymen to the neo-diy facilitated by affordable digital home-recording technology: the quality of the songwriting now shines thru, rather than musters out; even cheeky stabs of squawking sax (Everybody Has A Book Inside) enhance rather than come off as ’90s cheesy.

You can purchase the full album here.

http://www.mexonerecordings.co.uk/dhe.html

Dream Theater – the Opus is upon us

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Dream Theater‘s self-titled 12th studio album is due to be released this Monday; in the meantime I’ve been enjoying the stream via Prog magazine‘s website. It’s been up a few days but due to technical issues I’ve only been able to listen since yesterday. Nonetheless I’ve had a few listens right thru and initial impressions are, if not great then certainly not bad either. Here are a few thoughts on each song…

False Awakening Suite is the title of the previously-mooted instrumental intro. As intros go it’s ok; cycling in short order (2.41) thru a series of contrasting dramatic themes. Think a compact variation on the 6DOIT Overture. By comparison it suffers somewhat from its brevity: there’s scarcely time to appreciate the merits of one theme before the next one kicks in. I can see it working well as the live intro it’s reportedly been written to be, though.

My initial thoughts on first ‘single’ The Enemy Inside are here. Sufficed to say, although – like many songs – its placing within an album context changes the listening experience somewhat, and its metal directness makes it both a strong opening cut proper after the tease of False Awakening and an effective contrast to some of the more proggy and balladic moments.

Instant impression of The Looking GlassRush! Definitely a melodic tip of the hat to the Canuck power trio here (they do it again later in the intro for Surrender to Reason, too). Probably the most immediately-impressive song so far to my ears, as it happens.

Enigma Machine is the second instrumental track: a showboating interlude that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Awake, or even Scenes From A Memory: like Erotomania or The Dance of Eternity it demonstrates the band’s instrumental and compositional prowess without pushing the bounds of indulgence or outstaying its welcome.

There are hints of of …Puppets era Metallica and latter-day Pendragon in Behind The Veil and that’s no bad thing, and where the contrast between crunchy riffing and sweetly-melodic sections come off as disorienting and jerky elsewhere they’re really effective on this track. Another highlight for me.

Neither Surrender To Reason nor The Bigger Picture have really made much impression on me yet. I’ve listened several times but nothing’s sticking and they kind of exemplify the ‘mushy’ comment below…

Along For The Ride is a short, quietly-epic ballad with a feel not unlike This Is The Life from the last record. Wasn’t hugely keen when RR released it as the second album trailer but it grew on me pretty quickly with each listening and tracklisting-wise it provides a welcome moment of pure calm prior to the full on prog-ness of Illumination Theory. Nice solo spots from Petrucci and Rudess too: economical and understated by their standards and all the more effective for that.

Illumination Theory is the album’s only real excursion into the extended, symphonic mode, and as such it’s a daunting, multi-faceted beast of a track. Of all the songs here, it’s probably going to require the most digesting so take this early analysis with a pinch of salt. I’m reminded a little of song suites including Marillion’s Gaza, Fair To Midland‘s The Greener Grass and Frost*s Milliontown insofar as there’s a definite sense of disparate sections stitched together in a way that’s not initially pleasing to the ear: a jerky start-stop-start feel which contrasts poorly with previous DT epics such as Octavarium and The Count of Tuscany. Those songs, though equivalent in complexity and ambition clicked pretty much right away for me. Having said that, Gaza, …Grass and Milliontown now rate amongst my very favourite ‘epic’ prog workouts, so only time will tell whether Illumination Theory will become a favourite also. And speaking of Milliontown, that song sprang to mind when the false ending gave way to Rudess‘ piano fadeout.

To briefly summarize; the intricacies of this album will perhaps assert themselves more strongly over the course of time and repeat playing; I certainly hope so, because at the moment, a few highlights aside there’s a mushy, blandness to the album as a whole which after the near-triumph of ADToE I wasn’t expecting at all. It’s almost paradoxical, insofar as generally, DT have pulled back from the extended and twiddly prog workouts – for which they are both reviled or revered in certain quarters – and distilled their essence into more compact, more conventional songs. The average track length here is around the 6-min mark, for a start. Somehow though a number of the compositions feel unnecessarily cluttered and somewhat jerky, with few immediate hooks standing out. So what?! I hear prog fans snorting dismissively – this is DT not 1D right! Fair enough, but the two aren’t mutually-exclusive, as ADToE and much else of DT‘s best work attests. What made ADToE such a breath of fresh air was the ease with which it flowed as a complete piece: there were few gnarly moments of musicality for its own sake and it was chock full of memorable melodies and occasions for each player to shine. DT feels less well-balanced, though compliments are due to both Mike Mangini and James LaBrie who have certainly pushed themselves here. By contrast, Jordan Rudess and John Myung are afforded less prominence, which is a shame because their more up-front presence was again one of the most appealing aspects of ADToE.

False Awakening and Illumination Theory aside, the emphasis on this album is definitely on the hard rock rather than the prog side, albeit with a healthy smattering of ballad-ness and plenty of musicianly detail to make multiple listens a necessity. It’s perhaps closest to Awake than any other of their albums in this respect and yet nothing like that album in so many ways (Illumination Theory, for example has a feel very much at odds with anything they recorded with Portnoy, featuring shocking contrasts of crackling aggression and soothing lushness that bring to mind Oceansize or even Between The Buried And Me).

DT are buggers for defying expectation, though, which is precisely what keeps them interesting; and ensures that they never manage to please all the fans all of the time. If nothing else, DT (the album) offers further proof that those who wrote the band off in light of Portnoy‘s departure were mistaken: they certainly haven’t run out of ideas, it’s merely a question of which ideas resonate with, and stand the test of time for, whom.

Back to the listening booth, then  😉

Alternative Oz – sweet as…

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REVIEW – HONEYWHEELER (EP) by HONEYWHEELER

Australia isn’t necessarily the first country that springs to mind when one thinks of world-class rock bands, but cast your eye down the following list – AC/DC, Midnight Oil, INXS, Crowded House, Silverchair, Karnivool, Pendulum and Tame Impala – and it’s evident that for a sparsely-populated nation it certainly punches above its weight. The two decades-old (fuck me! Was it really that long ago? Seems like last week) explosion of Grunge/Britpop clearly left its mark on the Antipodean musical consciousness, if this eponymously-titled EP by Aussie rock four-piece Honeywheeler is anything to go by: the Bandcamp blurb describes lead singer Angel Love Owens as an ‘unabashed ’90s kid’, and knowing – by way of her blog –  of her feminist inclinations I mentally put two and two together and came up with L7. In fact, the songs on this EP bear scant similarity to the tampon-flinging LA Grunge rockers save for occasional excursions into a dirtier, riffier guitar attack on Best Thing and Eat Your Heart Out: which is not to suggest that the …Wheelers lack Yankee, Riot Grrl attitude; rather that it’s tempered with a more characteristically-British sweetness and light…

Because this ‘Alternative Rock’ which soundtracked my mis-spent teens and early twenties developed independently on both sides of the Atlantic, and Honeywheeler takes its fair share of inspiration from each scene; and whilst it would be a stretch to say the band have created much that is truly original, they’ve clearly put in their 10,000 hours and then some: there’s no denying that they understand the mechanics of a good pop tune, and know how to capture it crisply and powerfully on ‘record’.

And if it seems unfairly reductive, not to say a tad sexist, to trot out a slew of comparisons to female-fronted Indie bands, Honeywheeler does wear its Alt-’90s heart on its plaid-clad sleeve: whilst listening to this EP I had a mental image of a young Owens practising her Justine Frischmann and Louise Post moves in front of a dressing table mirror. And if she stops short of Donita Sparks‘back the fuck up’ snarl, it’s clear she ain’t got no truck with your lily-livered, whiney-ass mansplainin’, either and you’d best listen, dammit! She does sweet and sardonic; hard and heartbroken with equal ease and conviction. The musical backing is, for the most part, capably-executed and not short of hooks, and though Owens takes the songwriting credits on all tracks, three of the four members (also comprising Chris Ellis [Gt], Andy Coles [Bs] and Damien Grove [Dr]) contribute guitar so it’s a hard job to assign proper credit for individual performances.

Two of the five tracks on offer here do step some way outside of that (’90s) mould, though. Lyrics aside, I Don’t Love You could be one of Grant Hart‘s more cheerful offerings from Hüsker Dü, circa Warehouse: and driving closer, I’m Over It (by far the best thing on here) shows musical ambitions outside of straight pop. Its nearly-five minutes allow room for guitar histrionics without succumbing to cheesy rock-god posturing and Owens‘ delivery is both urgent and impassioned, with guest vocalist Michael Strong (…And The Ghost Anyway, The Disappointed)  adding louche, gravelled counterpoints: their interplay is reminiscent – though only a little – of Pure Reason Revolution‘s Jon Courtney and Chloë Alper which is no bad thing in my book. And I love the quirky little synth outro on Another: although Owens‘ is credited with keys, those parts are mostly understated. These moments hint towards a more expansive rock sound and the benefits of additional synthetic ear-candy and suggest two potential directions the band might explore to expand their musical palette.

Here’s a link to the EP via their Bandcamp page – style gurus note the ‘fridge magnet’ option – the coolest rock accessory since Mastodon‘s The Hunter key chain 😉 Enjoy!

Charterhouse days re-revisited

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Fans of ex-Genesis guitar virtuoso Steve Hackett will be aware that he’s been revisiting the back catalogue of that band to an ever increasing extent in the last few years at his live shows. Hackett finds himself in much the same position as his old bandmate Mr Collins, insofar as he has continually enjoyed much respect from his musical peers (notably Eddie Van Halen who credits him with pioneering the tapping technique utilised to much-admired effect on Eruption) whilst being virtually ignored by the mainstream press. Unlike his former colleague, he has managed to avoid the frankly hysterical levels of media hostility and also in contrast to Collins and fellow guitarist Mike Rutherford he has continued to plow a musical furrow that prioritizes exploration, challenge and technique over singer-songwriting convention or radio airplay. For all the critical vitriol spat upon Genesis and Collins in the last two decades, their megastar status during the ’80s remains undeniable: indeed, their refusal to be swept away by the New Wave and actually grow in popular stature is undoubtedly at the heart of much of their, frankly unjustifyable vilification.

Whilst much of ex-Genesis singer, Peter Gabriel‘s solo catalogue has been defiantly progressive in spirit, and the Collins-led trio continued to dabble with long-form, complex composition right up to the end, Hackett stands apart among that band’s former membership with respect to his flying the flag for prog rock per-se; and revisiting the early Gabriel-fronted albums in particular. In 1996 he released Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited which featured new studio arrangements of material from the first seven albums, plus two previously unheard recordings, to mixed but generally positive acclaim from critics and fans.

18 years later he’s doing it again, teaming up with a newer generation of musicians, along with some scene veterans. This second chapter of covers – imaginitively-titled Genesis Revisited II – features a dazzling array of contemporary prog talent, including Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth, Bloodbath), Conrad Keeley (…Trail Of Dead) and Simon Collins (son of Phil); as well as long term studio and live collaborators including Amanda Lehmann, Nick Beggs and Hackett‘s flautist brother John; and prog-loving pop veteran Nik Kershaw (further boosting his prog credentials following last year’s guest spot on DeeExpus‘s King of Number 33).

As was the case with volume one, the new arrangements are variously similar and significantly different to the original versions. In general the songs sparkle with new embellishments; Hackett‘s playing is tighter and cleaner than in days of yore and, of course, the recording, production and mix are up to a contemporary standard in contrast to the sometimes woolly  sound of the ’70s. What really impresses, though, are the songs themselves: as much as Genesis was a leading exponent of the art/prog rock movement and as such, aspired to high standards of musicianship, they were always songwriters first and foremost. Consequently, whilst some of the more outre experimentations from the ’60s and ’70s has come to sound clunky and willfully obscure, Genesis‘ output for the most part stands up really well: even signature, symphonic extravaganza Supper’s Ready still boasts enough by way of melodic hooks and hummable tunes amongst the widdly-diddly to ensure that its 23-minute duration feels much shorter.

Genesis fans will undoubtedly love this; but even if you’re not a fan this is an excellent opportunity to dip your toe into the dark and mysterious currents of an exceptionally-creative and much-maligned chapter in British rock music.

And you can try before you buy: Prog magazine are streaming the album from their site here