Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Trance Lucid - Palace of Ether album review

Trance Lucid is a suitably enigmatic name for a band that plays music that is defiantly their own. Anyone expecting grandiose metal with gothic imagery, as suggested on the album cover, will be in for a surprise. A three piece from Oakland, California, featuring Dave Halverson on guitar, Terry Lee on percussion and Richard Bugbee on keyboards, “Palace of Ether” is their fifth release, and can be summed up as a carefully crafted collection of memorable, and sharply intelligent, selections of raw funk underpinning complex arrangements, which may be categorised as “jazz funk” or “jazz prog” if such a label were necessary.

Opening with “TM” which scythes a gorgeously angular riff across rock solid beats with attitude and careful consideration, “Palace of Ether” progresses with music that deviates in depth and complexity. “Spyglass” utilises a similar “funk” template but adds guitar soloing of fire and intensity. “Illumination” and “Pocket” bring to mind the work of guitarists such as John McLaughlin or, to some extent, Jeff Beck, albeit with a tension and an abrasiveness that gives these pieces their distinctiveness. Anyone concerned with the possibility that “Palace of Ether” may feature guitar soloing that never fully reaches a satisfactory conclusion, will be happy to know that each piece on this release is no more five or six minutes long. Conversely, anyone concerned with the possibility that these pieces may not be self indulgent enough will be pleased to know that within that tight framework there is economy of composition to allow liberty of expression.
Elsewhere, the album has been criticised for allowing the instruments to disappear before they have fully established themselves in the music, which may or may not be the charm of “Palace of Ether”. Each piece is almost a vignette in sound evoking a mood or situation individual to the listener. Listening to a piece like “The Crossing” illustrates this perfectly, there is space within the piece, almost stark in its’ instrumentation, but the space is used efficiently. There may be a rough edge to the production, but there is also fragility as evidenced on a piece such as “Many Rooms”. Occasionally the essence moves away from what could be described as “jazz rock” to a more straight ahead blues influence. Indeed, it seems as the album progresses, so the myriad influences seem to slide carefully in to place...

Monday, 21 October 2013

Devin Townsend Project - The Retinal Circus album review

ne of the first things to strike this reviewer, on hearing this audio recording of theDevin Townsend Project, is how much of the overall experience is lost without visual accompaniment. Recorded live, in October 2012 at The Roundhouse in London, at a concert that was simultaneously broadcast online and featured circus performers, puppets, fire breathers, pole dancers, a choir and a giant vagina and inflatable penis, all narrated by Steve Vai, there is no doubt that this was a performance that had to be seen to be believed. There is a palpable sense throughout that there is something going on onstage that we the listeners are not a party to, but leaving that potential disappointment aside “The Retinal Circus” is essentially a musical utilising Devin Townsend’s material over the years. But this is in no way a simple “Best Of” project. “It’s a musical, how gay can you get? …Right?” he declares during a thunderous version of “Planet of the Apes”. This is precisely the right way to approach this set. “It was an absurd project to start. But it was an even more absurd project to finish”.
Apparently conceived over a year and rehearsed in one and a half days, “The Retinal Circus” is “a story about a young man who goes to sleep and through characters dreams and the emotional metaphors that climax into the realisation that life is all about relationships”. As the journey begins with “Effervescent/True North”, the songs narrate the saga with equal part humour and sincerity. “Lucky Animals” features a beautifully catchy sing-a-long chorus that bounces along taking the willing riders along with it. This is grandeur theatrics that, in the hands of any other artist, could potentially be an embarrassment, but in the hands ofDevin Townsend is a glorious occasion. “Planet Smasher” is dark and severe but still maintains a tongue in cheek edge and helps illustrate the breadth and depth of Townsend’s vocal ability.
There are some stunning performances cherry picked from a variety of sources throughout Townsend’s catalogue. “Lucky Animals”, “Kingdom” and “Grace” from the more recent “Epicloud” are boisterous in performance, whilst live versions of “The Greys” and “Colour Your World” from his “Ziltoid the Omniscient” project are surely a treat for listeners familiar with his work. The “Infinity” album is well represented by “Soul Driven”, “Truth”, “War” and “Colonial Boy”, with “War” providing evidence again, if it were needed, that Devin Townsend can pull off an unruly good time song with assurance. The atmosphere is given depth however with the inclusion of songs of a more affectionate nature such as “Ih-Ah!” from the “Addicted” album. There are a number of performers who will be familiar to the devotee, Anneke Van Giersbergen is a Devin Townsend Project regular whilstStrapping Young Lad’s Jed Simon takes the stage in the second half of the show....

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Russian Circles - "Memorial" album review

The label “post rock” is one that is rather dissatisfying when it is levelled at so many artists who create broad guitar based soundscapes. This generalisation will most probably be used to define the sound of Chicago based three-pieceRussian Circles. “Memorial” is their fifth release, and far from feeling formulaic, the album shows a band that have many disparate layers of sound at their disposal.
Opening with the gently lilting ‘Memorium’ which weaves an almost sinister guitar line through fragile layers of keyboard, ‘Deficit’ fills the space with a downpour of guitar, bass and thundering percussion. Chord progressions aggressively propel the tune forward, increasing passion and tension, and leaving nothing in their wake.
“Post rock” can be characterised by a sense of drifting in sound and intensity, whereas the overall sense here is impetus and pushing ever onward. The tension is broken on ’1777′ but the underlying unease remains. The overall ambience could not be described as heavy and dense, as the guitars in particular have a heavy lean towards the treble, but the ethereal is never far from the mix. Again, the intensity builds, ebbs and flows, which holds the concentration and the attentive listener....

Monday, 7 October 2013

Momentous - Leeds Millenium Square October 2013

Hawkwind - Spacehawks review

A difficult task, when writing a piece on a band that you have followed for many years is casting an impartial eye on the material presented to you. This latest collection from Hawkwind presents one such initial dilemma; who is the collection aimed as specifically, and can this collection be seen as merely another collection of odds and ends pieced together to form an incoherent whole? Thankfully, for the Hawkwind devotee, and the casual observer, “Spacehawks”, conceivably aimed at the American market, can be regarded as a summing up of where the band are at this moment. It could be argued that such a release is unnecessary, which is a fair point. But with a band such as this, with a back catalogue so enormous and diverse, taking stock periodically may be regarded as essential to their development.
For those intimate with the Hawkwind catalogue there a few treats, “Where Are You Now” blended onto the end of “Assault and Battery” and “The Golden Void” previously available on a “Weird Tapes” release, “The Demented Man” and “We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago”. “Seasons”, which opens this collection, is a reworking of the opening track on their “Onward” album, and in its’ rough and ready format here, is a characteristically forthright introduction to the collection. The version here of “Sonic Attack” is as demented a commotion, and laden with electronic white noise, as any self-respecting fan would expect. “We Two Are One” is undeniable Hawkwindmomentum and repetitive motifs knitted together to create a sonic juggernaut. “Master of the Universe” has the fluidity that comes with familiarity, and again suggests the question “Do we need to hear another version of this tune?” If there is something fresh and innovative brought to each version, then this in itself could be a justification. This particular version also adds poignancy to the collection as it a studio recording featuring guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton who sadly passed away in 2012...