Category Archives: Crowdfunding

Re-re-‘Sized

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If you loved Oceansize you’ll love The Demon Joke, the new album from former frontman Mike Vennart. The swathe of Unfamiliar material was a bit much for me to take in at the Brighton gig a couple weeks back – the potential was clear, but this isn’t music that gives of its best up front; it requires patience, the better to tease out the intricacies.

If you’re not familiar with Oceansize I’d fall back on ‘it’s Elbow (heartstrings) vs Mastodon (asskick) spiced with a little Faith No More (contrariness)’. And as much as I adore Oceansize‘s expansiveness I love that Vennart can satisfyingly cram as much into 4 minutes as his former band did into 8.

Mark Heron was all over the kit for four albums and as many LPs, and his Moon/Portnoy presence would be missed if new boy, Denzel’s math-y economy didn’t chime so well with the new music.. ‘He nails it, does he not’ opined Vennart at the gig: quite so.

The polyrhythmical plod of Duke Fame reels out tentacles of appealing melody whilst the easy singalong remains tantalisingly just out of reach, in the fine tradition of Money, or Turn It On Again. My favourite song here.

And maybe it’s the weight of taking the helm, but Vennart‘s vocal is suffused and enhanced by a new soulfulness previously only touched upon. FNM‘s Mike Patton was a discernable influence on Vennart‘s earlier work with Oceansize, and one that he audibly digs into once more, with added conviction. For the great soul singers – Gaye, Knight, Turner, Simone – sweetness and simmering aggression were like yin and yang: always in balance, even when unevenly distributed. Great rock singers, from Glenn Hughes, thru Morrissey, Mike Patton, Maynard Keenan to Andrew ‘Darroh’ Sudderth draw on this tradition; and Vennart exhibits it here too. Check out Don’t Forget The Joker.

Amends has the gravitas and compelling art-mospherics of the best of the ‘Size’s‘s closing epics, condensed into less than four minutes.

Sometimes less really is more. Vennart has succeeded in inhaling all that was great and memorable about Oceansize and expressing it with yet greater feeling, brevity and wit. ‘Prog’ doesn’t have to impose on our time to make its point.

This is possibly his best album… he compared it in recent interviews to the mighty, Everyone Into Position, which I still recommend unreservedly; though TDJ certainly gives it a run for its money…

Pono-mo revision #622

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How far the mighty have fallen

…and honestly, how far can you trust a man with a 50-year history of rockin’ it live as an arbiter of sound quality? If your nose is twitching to the pulse of marketing BS, there’s probably a reason for that…

Further reading…

 

 

3rd time lucky: Pripyatic

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Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery has a new instrumental side project The Ghosts of Pripyat scheduled to be released in September of next year. It’s his first solo outing proper after a couple ‘false starts’…

‘I had an offer to record a solo album from EMI during the recording of Misplaced Childhood in 1985. However it led to a strong disagreement within the band and the idea was shelved. While recording the Brave album at Miles Copeland’s chateau in France I was offered a deal to make an instrumental album for his “No Speak” label, however, I decided to record the first Wishing Tree album instead. Fast forward another twenty years and I’m invited to play at the annual Plovdiv guitar festival in October 2013. Having committed to the festival it left me with the small problem of what to play for an hour. “Blues in A” just wasn’t going to cut it. I had a few strong ideas and got together for a couple of writing sessions with my good friend and fellow guitarist Dave Foster. Dave and I have a great musical chemistry which brought forth a lot of amazing music. After a couple of days rehearsal with the fantastic rhythm section of Leon Parr and Yatim Halimi I realised this was going to be something really special. The live album and video from the performance gives you an idea of where the finished album, “The Ghosts of Pripyat”, will go…’

He’s financing the release via Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding platform that so resembles Marillion‘s long-established business MO and it surpassed its (modest) funding target on launch day (yesterday and also the man’s birthday). But don’t that let it stop you from chipping in if you like what you hear…

Unrestrained by the structural demands of Marillion‘s familiar songwriting style, Rothery‘s playing takes on a different dynamic; a melodic lead that is by turns less fiery and more richly-realised . The above montage of clips evidences a sound somewhat removed from his day job, though fans of that band might notice passing similarities to past instrumental breaks such as The Opium Den and Cathedral Wall. The harmonic choices and elegant phrasing are identifiably Rothers yet… different. Bold, languid and, dare one say, a little indulgent. White Pass (below) begins with chords that faintly remind of Jordan Rudess‘ opening to the Someone Like Him section of Dream Theater‘s Octavarium; noodles gently awhile before subtly gaining momentum.

It’s plaintive and gently compelling, and whilst I could have survived with a couple minutes less noodling in the early part of the song it effectively showcases the tasteful mastery of mood that Rothery brings to the table at The Racket Club. If I have one overarching criticism it’s that the ululating crescendo never really reaches a satisfying climax: it just kinda peters out awkwardly and abruptly; the ‘great chemistry’ Rothers alludes to (above) failing to coalesce into a stable musical molecule.

So this is not about tight, technically-adventurous musical showmanship so much as carefree, melodic rambling to stir the soul. In a way, it falls between two stools; insofar as it’s a bit too interesting to serve as ambient chill-out fare, whilst not demonstrating the full-blooded chops that will start the virtuoso-twitchers stroking their beards in wonderment. It possesses a little of the gently psychedelic quality of early Porcupine Tree, something that Rothery‘s Marillion bandmate, bassist Pete Trewavas explores with his Edison’s Children project.

Speaking of Mr Trewavas, and full-blooded chops; Transatlantic (his collaboration with Mike Portnoy [Dream Theater, Winery Dogs, Flying Colors], Roine Stolt [Flower Kings, Kaipa] and Neal Morse [Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors]) are set shortly to unleash their forth studio project, Kaleidoscope upon the world . The pre-order opens on December 10.

So, a good time to be a Marillion fan and/or an aficianado of what was once dubbed ‘underground music’. Underappreciated? Maybe. Priapic, sorry Pripyatic? Sure. But go knock yourselves out…

Hold your breath … ’til you feel it begin…

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Further to ‘Lightbulb Moment…’ here’s a taster for the upcoming Edison’s Children album The Final Breath Before November:

The Final Breath is the opening cut from the new album and hints at something darker than In The First Waking Moments, pushing further into ‘gothic’ territory: in particular (singer, Eric) Blackwood‘s breathy vocal is faintly-reminiscent of Fields Of The Nephilim‘s Carl McCoy.  Musically I’m also reminded of the lush, spacious textures (that band) peddled on The Nephilim and Elizium, also by Levitation especially on the moodier second half of Need For Not, and Gazpacho‘s Night conceptual opus. These are albums that build intricate layers of sound into immersive mood trips, whether by alternating post-rock style repetitive riffs with explosions of muscular prog or interpolating evocative tonal details and haunting synth washes.

Pete Trewavas and Eric Blackwood are no slouches in the musicianly stakes, but it was utilizing these kinds of writing and recording ‘tricks’ that made In The Last Waking Moments such a memorable album, rather than in yo’ face showboating. Conversely, whilst neither are technically-proficient singers, their pleasingly-raw delivery and sincerity impart real character into the songs.

Here’s hoping their ‘Final Breath…‘ is nothing of the sort…

This track does it’s job as a teaser well: it gives little away yet leaves an indelible impression. I want to hear more…

Lightbulb moment (his Children’s children)

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This is kinda one of my ‘Fresh From The Vault’ posts by any other name, albeit with benefits and shiny pre-order knobs on. One of my favourite albums of last year (it was recorded and released in 2011, I was a little late to the party) was the transcendental In The Last Waking Moments by Anglo-American duo, Edison’s Children.

Never heard of them, right? Fair enough, no reason you would’ve; but within the demographic best-predisposed to like them they’re already superstars. The other half, alongside singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Eric Blackwood, is Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas, and few bands do audience-engagement in the internet era as effectively as Marillion. It’s the ’80s band that refused to die – should’ve, some might say – but in spite of having had its commercial heyday some two decades previously, its never been in better musical and financial health. Of the five-strong membership, Trewavas has long been the most musically accomplished and promiscuous, and like his best-known extra-curricular projects, EC fits in somewhere on the prog rock spectrum, albeit a million miles away from anything he’s recorded with Marillion, Kino or Transatlantic. It’s closer in tone to early/mid-period Porcupine Tree – before Steven Wilson got chummy with Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) and imbibed a draft from the poisoned spring of Death Metal – and the widescreen Gothic melodrama of Fields of the Nephilim, minus Carl McCoy‘s ‘from beyond the grave’ baritone. That said, there’s more than enough originality there for the project to stand on its own merits; and it possesses certain qualities rare enough to be considered remarkable in today’s – more than ever – saturated musical marketplace

ItLWM is a real headphones album, a seductive, immersive sonic universe that is almost fiendishly well imagined.  Although the pace rarely rises above that of a leisurely ramble across the moors (80bpm, say) there’s an understated, rolling urgency in its beats and chords that sweeps up and carries the listener as surely and powerfully as a driving trance anthem or moshpit filler. It’s just not possible to hear this as a set of stand-alone songs: in an iPod age where the album form has been eroded by download-overload, ItLWM remains stubbornly shuffle-resistant. Cue up Dusk and you’ll find yourself in it for the (70min) duration – which is no mean feat. Wall-to-wall brilliance was rare enough in the age of the LP: 35-40 minutes of flawless composition and performance is a big-enough ask and the number of consistently-listenable double sets even in that golden age a select group. The advent of CD made the 60, then 70 and now 80 minute – effectively double – albums a possibility and in some quarters an expectation. Quality was bound to suffer, if not always, then often: Prog rock aside, Hip Hop and R’n’B records have been especially prone to padding out decent records with material that, in days gone by would have been relegated to single b-sides.

So It’s notable that the final running order for ItLWM was culled from an initial burst of creativity that ran to nearly 50 demo’d songs: hard work, great chemistry and also quality control made that album what it is. The songwriting is consistently strong, and whilst it’s ostensibly a concept album – Sci-Fi gubbins themed around alien abduction; plenty of scope for pitfalls into stinky, cloying Gorgonzola already; deftly-avoided, mind  – it’s the strength of its musical themes that lend it coherence as a piece. The four part Fallout sequence dispersed thruout the album recalls the similarly-structured Marbles theme from the Marillion album of that name; still regarded as a high-watermark of its 30-year career by many. There’s a whiff of Another Brick In The Wall in Fracture. A Million Miles Away  comes from the same stable of confident, mature pop rock as Don’t Hurt Yourself – albeit with a darker edge – also from Marbles. The album is rich in intriguing sonic detail: back-projected, tinkling, burbling samples, squeeks and washes that convey atmospheric depth – this an obvious point of comparison with the aforementioned Nephilim – and impart a sense of unity to the collected songs. The middling pace is broken on occasion: Outerspaced is a demented stomp rocker; Aerosmith in their drug-addled vintage transported to the restaurant at the end of the universe. And The ‘Other’ Other Dimension almost overplays the gently psychedelic element that elsewhere simply suffuses and underpins the songwriting. Totally overplays it, actually, it’s a bit silly, in a Viv Standhall-as-Dr Who kinda way. But these diversions just serve to add colour to an already rich palette in the end. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable journey, all told. The story, such as it is, remains as opaque as Dream Theater‘s Scenes From A Memory was until I looked it up on the Wikipedia page; but I still feel I was taken somewhere, which after all is what the best prog – hell, music – is supposed to do.

So I was understandably excited to receive today’s email from marillion.com updating me on the progress of Edison’s Children‘s sophomore release. It’s going to be called The Final Breath Before November. As before, it’s predominantly the work of Trewavas and Blackwood – with the duo handling all the guitars, keys and digital wizardry, vocals, recording and production – plus support from a handful of collaborators including Henry Rogers (DeeExpus/Touchstone) on drums and Wendy Farrell-Pastore on additional vocals. With Trewavas fielding a full schedule touring with his day job and working intermittently on the next Transatlantic album the man is clearly on fire, and if the last album is anything to go by, Blackwood makes for him an excellent creative foil. As Marillion have previously done since 1997, EC are employing a crowd funding model and fans wishing to buy-in early can support the upcoming release by heading over to the EC pledge page HERE .

TFBBN has a lot to live up to and I don’t mind stoking the flames of expectation a little higher.

p.s.

Having mentioned Kino and Transatlantic up top, it seems churlish not to include a little of their brilliance into the mix. Check ’em out too:

(Bit of an epic this one – amazing gig, though; and I can vouch for that cos I was there 😉 )