Wendy & Lisa
When the Clouds
A Whisper in the Noise
Rick Wakeman (UK) see:
Happiness With Minimal Side Effects (2003, 47.11) ***½Too Much Dogma
Castaway + (instrumental outro: Tai Phun)
I Can't Breathe + (instrumental intro: Network News)
Captain of Industry
Pilgrim's Progress + (instrumental intro: Dis Traction)
In progressive circles, Ian Wallace is best known for his brief tenure with King Crimson (1971-2), but his CV encompasses his work with Bob Dylan (Street Legal period), Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne and dozens of others. Around the time he joined The 21st Century Schizoid Band, replacing Michael Giles for the second time in their respective careers, he released his lone solo album, 2003's Happiness With Minimal Side Effects. The album owes a partial debt to, not 'his' version of Crimso, but their mid-'90s resurgence, particularly opener Too Much Dogma, its excellent lyrics taking a heavy, yet intelligent dig at organised religion. Wallace turns out to have a fine singing voice, only one guest vocalist credited on the album and then only on one track, while two other ex-Crims (Ian McDonald and Pat Mastelotto) turn up, although Wallace played with neither at the time. The rest of the material's not at all bad, although personally, I'd have quietly dropped jazzy closer Pilgrim's Progress, the album's weakest track.
Wallace is credited with 'Mellotron', although it's quite clearly nothing of the sort, with strings on Too Much Dogma and possibly Castaway. So; a pretty decent effort, particularly for Crimson fans, given the quality of Wallace's sidemen. Incidentally, with a terrible irony, given that this album's I Can't Breathe includes the line, "We've got a cure for cancer", Wallace died of the oesophageal variety in early 2007, mere months after his old Crimson bandmate Boz Burrell, wiping out half of their mark two lineup at a stroke.
See: King Crimson | 21st Century Schizoid Band
A New Order Rising (2004, 55.33) **½
Have You Ever
Maker of Time
Riverrun By Night
Washington seem to be the Norwegian equivalent of a slightly more interesting Keane, as far as I can work out; other pointers tend to be Coldplay, Radiohead et al., which should be telling you 'slow, stately and rather empty' (Radiohead honourably excepted). Even Pink Floyd have been quoted, probably for Washington's lap steel and gentle Hammond use. A New Order Rising is their debut album, five years into their career and is a perfectly respectable record, without running any risk of triggering any adrenaline in its listeners. Of course, that's the whole point, but I personally find nearly an hour of rather dreary indie drags somewhat, especially as vocalist Rune Simonsen sounds rather too close to Keane's Tom Chaplin for comfort, unless, of course, you happen to like that kind of overwrought over-emoting...
Lars Lien (Dadafon, 3rd & the Mortal) produced and plays keys, including what I'm quite sure is a sampled Mellotron on a handful of tracks, with a very upfront flute part (and background strings) on Have You Ever, 'are they/aren't they?' strings on Bluebird and some distant choirs on Velvet Room, the last chord on the last-named overrunning the 8-second limit in true sampled fashion. The 'Mellotron' use only slightly enhances a rather drab album, to be honest. Dull.
The Watch (Italy) see:
The Astral Factor (2006, 43.21) ***Mountains
The Astral Factor
Painting Without Colours
Imaginative (2007, 48.49) **½Vision or Void
The Angels and the Fireball
A Journey to the Center of the Soul
Waterclime are one of several Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund projects, a (deep breath) heavy/psych/folk/prog outfit, who've released two albums to date. The first, 2006's The Astral Factor, is completely divorced from Hedlund's usual metallic leanings, shifting stylistically between the 'Uriah Heep-go-folk' of opener Mountains, the '70s retro-rock of Midnight Flyer and the jazzy (!) Scarytale. 'Mr. V' (i.e. Hedlund) plays nearly everything, including the overt (and obviously sampled) strings that open Floating, not to mention the strings and flutes on just about every track here, overused in classic 'we've got a sample set and we're gonna use it' stylee.
His/their second album, Imaginative, appeared the following year, essentially more of the same, but less so, exposing a rather unfortunate tendency to add (synth) brass to several tracks. No, that does not make your album sound like Blood, Sweat & Tears. More overused samplotron, mostly strings and choir this time round, for what it's worth. I hate to be down on these albums, but while Hedlund is aiming in the right direction, he seems to be missing his target by some way. Both records commit the cardinal sin of being boring, admittedly one more than the other, making me think that one disc of shorter versions of some of their better material might make for a more interesting listen.
Wooden Arms (2009, 45.13) **½
Big Bird in a Small Cage
Down at the Beach
|Man Like You
Where the Wild Things Are
Machinery of the Heavens
Canadian singer-songwriter Patrick Watson's third album, 2009's Wooden Arms, is quite infuriating in its own way; moments of genuine beauty (Sarah Pagé's harp on Down At The Beach, Man Like You's guitar intro) are indiscriminatingly slotted in amongst acres of weedy falsetto and cod-indie rhythms (for want of a better phrase). The overall effect is of an album that could've been good, but simply didn't try hard enough.
Watson is credited with Memotron, but with real strings on the album, it's impossible to say where it might be used. Does it matter? Not really, no.
Hold Me (2004, 31.18) **½
Hold Me/Popcorn Trees
Holy Train Wrecks
Ribs & Wrinkles
Weird Weeds seem to do a variety of post-rock that makes very little sense to my ears, I'm afraid; maybe you have to attune yourself to this kind of stuff, but the 20th-century classical influences to be heard on 2004's Hold Me tend to grate on my ears, although I doubt if that's the desired effect. I find that any one track played at random sounds OK, but the cumulative effect of an album's-worth set my teeth on edge after a while, even though this is the shortest modern album I've heard in a long while.
Sampled 'Tron on two tracks, with dissonant flutes on Soda Jerk, although the album's crowning fakeotron moment is the actually very beautiful first minute or so of opener Paratrooper Seed, which is nowt but solo polyphonic flutes, far too smooth to be real, which probably means they are. I didn't really like this, but you might, and its first minute really is a corker...
The Mollusk (1997, 43.54) ***½
|I'm Dancing in the Show Tonight
Polka Dot Tail
I'll Be Your Jonny on the Spot
The Blarney Stone
It's Gonna Be (Alright)
The Golden Eel
|Cold Blows the Wind
Pink Eye (on My Leg)
Waving My Dick in the Wind
She Wanted to Leave (Reprise)
White Pepper (2000, 39.28) ***½
|Exactly Where I'm at
Flutes of Chi
Even if You Don't
Bananas and Blow
Back to Basom
She's Your Baby
Quebec (2003, 55.27) ***
|It's Gonna Be a Long Night
Among His Tribe
So Many People in the Neighborhood
Tried and True
Happy Colored Marbles
Hey There Fancypants
I Don't Want it
The Fucked Jam
If You Could Save Yourself (You'd Save Us All)
I've always mixed Ween up with Weezer, for obvious alphabetical reasons, but it seems there are few points of contact between their styles, which has to be a good thing. Ween are the duo of Aaron "Gene Ween" Freeman and Mickey "Dean Ween" Melchiondo, plus whoever they're working with at any given moment. If it's comparisons you're after, try 'a bit like They Might Be Giants' in their overall quirkiness and fanatical fanbase, which isn't to say that fans of one will necessarily like the other.
The Mollusk is an intriguing album, referred to (admittedly by fans) as their Sgt. Pepper, which is probably going a bit far, to be honest. It's certainly an eclectic mix of styles, with the vaudevillian I'm Dancing In The Show Tonight contrasting sharply with the irritating novelty number Waving My Dick In The Wind or the psych/prog monster Buckingham Green (surely the album's best track?) 'Mellotron' from an unknown player, presumably one of the 'twins', with a major string part on the old English folk of Cold Blows The Wind, that, although it sounds raw enough to be real, has a final note that hangs over the eight-second limit, making me think it's probably samples. Muted choirs in Buckingham Green and strings on She Wanted To Leave (Reprise) all sound good, if not entirely genuine.
2000's White Pepper is less, er, conceptual than The Mollusk, although still wildly eclectic, covering neo-psych (Flutes Of Chi), ELO-ish pop (Even If You Don't), pseudo-calypso (Bananas And Blow) and metal (Stroker Ace), and that's just in the first twenty minutes. 'Mellotronically' speaking, there are possible skronky flutes on opener Exactly Where I'm At, with very upfront ones on Ice Castles and Back To Basom. Y'know, they sound so wobbly on Ice Castles that I'm beginning to wonder if it's samples put through some kind of modulation, the pitch wavers up and down so badly. Badly and suspiciously regularly...
2003's Quebec is a bit more laid-back than its predecessors, with little that stands out on initial listens, although the ghostly Alcan Road's psychedelia and the proggish The Argus are worth hearing. The rest of the album's as eclectic as ever, just less appealing than before. Maybe too much variety? Very little sampletron this time round, too, with a brief string part on Transdermal Celebration being the only obvious sighting, although it could be buried away elsewhere, too.
Of course, now I've put Ween here, someone will write with hard evidence that the 'Tron's real, even if not on all the above albums. I'm sticking by my theorising two paragraphs up until/if I'm told otherwise, though. As far as the actual albums go, their star ratings tell the story better than more pointless verbiage. As for the fakeotron, The Mollusk and White Pepper are fairly equal, with the most upfront part probably being the latter's Ice Castles.
Twenty-Four Seven (2004, 42.02) ***½
|See for the First Time
One Sweet Nothing
Lines You've Crossed
Sex & the Suburbs
Press Begin to Play
|The Great Equalizer
Something on Your Mind
Bleed on the Outside
The Well Wishers are effectively Spinning Jennies' Jeff Shelton's powerpop project, whose debut, 2004's Twenty-Four Seven, is a fine example of the style, all breezy sunshine melodies and jangly guitars. Shelton plays with the genre a little, tackling old-school punk (well, sort of) on Sex & The Suburbs and even country on Something On Your Mind, while adding monosynth to a few tracks in true Cars stylee. Highlights include opener (of course) See For The First Time, Bustin Up and Press Begin To Play, but little here disappoints.
Someone (presumably Shelton) adds clearly sampled Mellotron strings to Dead Again, particularly obvious on the low notes, with possibly a little more on closer The Game. No matter; this is a most worthwhile album, faux-'Tron or no faux-'Tron.
White Flags of Winter Chimneys (2008, 41.56/60.44) ***
Salt And Cherries (MC5)
You and I
|White Flags of Winter Chimneys
Sweet Suite (Beginning at the End)
[Download-only bonus tracks:
Niagara Falls (demo)
The Dream (demo)
Viste (home recording)
Waiting for Coffee (demo)]
Wendy (Melvoin, sister of The Smashing Pumpkins' Jonathan) and Lisa (Coleman) were, of course, integral members of Prince's Revolution in the '80s, going solo in '87 after falling out with the Great Man (cough). Unbelievably, 2008's White Flags of Winter Chimneys (from a line in Joni Mitchell's Hejira) is self-released, as a duo of their standing aren't on a label; OK, that has its advantages (some would say, "Considerable advantages"), but there are reasons artists sign with large companies. It's actually a fine album of singer-songwriterly material, with unsurprising '80s touches in places, better tracks including the all-acoustic You And I and the excellent, almost proggy Sweet Suite (Beginning At The End), complete with its beautiful opening piano solo.
One (or both?) of the duo add Mellotron samples (admitted in an online interview), with choirs on Ever After, Salt And Cherries (MC5), Red Bike, the title track and Sweet Suite, sounding neither particularly authentic or inauthentic. Overall, a long way from the kind of sub-Prince nonsense you might've expected, which has to be good news. Almost prog in places (gasp!), this is a very listenable album, albeit one without too many defining features.
Under the Red & White Sky (1994, 53.12) **
|Into the Night
None So Beautiful
Waiting for the Sun
She Said No
The Last Light
To Reach Out
Rome is Burning
What You Really Want
Cuttin' the Tree
John Wesley was the eighteenth-century minister and theologian who founded the Methodist church. He... Er, sorry, that's what comes of relying too heavily on WikiPedia. This John Wesley (Dearth, a.k.a. Wes Dearth) was apparently Marillion's guitar tech in the early '90s, for his sins; his band certainly opened for them at the time, while he later joined Porcupine Tree as their live second guitarist, alongside his solo career. I'm afraid to say, however, that his solo debut, 1994's Under the Red & White Sky, is an album so insipid that it makes Marillion's contemporaneous work sound raw and edgy; this is bland, AOR/soft rock for the most part, Cuttin' The Tree and the Americana of closer Silver being the nearest this gets to 'dynamism'. Worst tracks? Most of the rest, frankly. Sorry.
The 'Mellotron' strings and flutes on None So Beautiful are fairly obviously sampled (no good samples around in '94), quite possibly the 'first generation' ones Marillion apparently made from an associate's machine and used on a handful of albums around the same time, not least the same year's Brave. I'm sorry to be so hard on this; Wesley strikes me as a decent chap and an excellent musician, but this kind of 'nothing music' does him no favours whatsoever. He's made most of his back catalogue available free of charge from his website, though, so you can decide for yourself without having to splash out.
See: Marillion | Porcupine Tree
The Longed-for Season (2010, 29.13) **½The Dawn and the Embrace
The Place Where This Path Leads
The House of Sleep
Going by what appears to be Francesco Galano's solo project, When the Clouds' debut release, 2010's The Longed-for Season mini-album, he/they play an entirely generic form of post-rock, which I've insultingly seen compared to Sigur Rós. OK, I suppose it's mostly harmless enough, but what was original in the mid-'90s is now unutterably clichéd, all wispy glockenspiels and plangent guitar lines. Yawn.
Although there are Mellotronic strings on Flooding River, a high cello line on November Song and strings on The Place Where This Path Leads, the '...ic' is the giveaway; there's no way that these are a genuine Mellotron, I'm afraid. The strings on the first two tracks could be the same samples, but manage to not even sound Mellotronic, for what it's worth. Maybe not, then.
As the Bluebird Sings (2006, 49.27) ***
|The Tale of Two Doves
As the Bluebird Sings
The Carpenters' Coalmen
Through Wounds We Soon Will Stitch
Hell's Half Acre
Until the Time it's Over
The Sounding Line
The Times They Are a-Changin'
Dry Land (2007, 54.46) ***
|As We Were
Awaken to Winter
A New Dawn
This Time, it's
You, the Orphan
True Love Will Find You in the End
A Whisper in the Noise almost define the phrase 'gothic post-rock', with their gloomy evocations of something or other, set to zero b.p.m. Their second album 'proper' (excluding a collaborative effort), 2006's As the Bluebird Sings, replete with lashings of solo orchestral instruments (violin, French horn) and massed vocals, comes across as the kind of things that goths should listen to, as against Bauhaus and The Mission. Mainman West Thordson (other members: Hannah Murray on suitably ethereal violin and Matt Irwin on drums and programmes, probably more of the latter than the former) plays Chamberlin samples on a handful of tracks, with distant male voices on the title track and Until The Time It's Over, while the credit for 'Chamberlin loop' on their superb version of Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' presumably refers to the cello-ish drone running right through the song.
The following year's Dry Land isn't actually bad, just slightly stifling, lacking the variety a band needs to really carry this kind of thing off. Murray's inventive violin work is possibly the most important component of their sound, even more than West's rather tortured vocals, although it's probably Thordson adding the fairly obviously sampled Mellotron flutes and choirs to A New Dawn. Suffice to say, if you're of a gothic persuasion, you may well go for this, although, like so many similar, it's distinctly overlong. Guess what colour their website's background is? Clue: it's not fuchsia.
Drill a Hole in That Substrate & Tell Me What You See (2004, 62.39) ***
|Static on the Radio
Combing My Hair in a Brand New Style
That Girl From Brownsville Texas
If Jesus Drove a Motor Home
Objects in Motion
Buzzards of Love
Phone Booth in Heaven
Land Called Home
Jim White's third album, 2004's Drill a Hole in That Substrate & Tell Me What You See, manages to mix Americana, electronica and Tom Waits into a rich, southern gothic gumbo without sounding clichéd or naïve, which is quite a trick. I'm not sure if it's an album that will bear repeated listens; even on a second play, the programmed percussion and synths were beginning to get on my nerves. However, you couldn't say he sounds particularly like anyone else, which is worth celebrating in these days of 17th-hand borrowings and copies of copies of copies of something that wasn't that original in the first place.
'Mellotron' on a couple of tracks, notably the strings on Static On The Radio (spot Aimee Mann on vocals) and the flutes on Combing My Hair In A Brand New Style, but it all sounds rather distant and sampled to my ears. Anyway, an interesting, if flawed record, with several tracks that won't drive you up the wall. At least he's doing something different.
People Now Human Beings (2005, 48.01) **
JD, Meet the Andromeda Strain
Nick the Sailor
She Paints the Daytime Black
The Expanding Sea
Well, I don't know what's happened in three short years, but the White Birch of 2002's Star is Just a Sun have completely lost it, 2005's People Now Human Beings being a noisy, overproduced mess, incorporating elements of post-rock, hip-hop and other hyphenated genres. Most of the album irritated me intensely, although, oddly, their influence seem to come together on closer The Expanding Sea, making it a rather more palatable listen.
The album features occasional clearly sampled 'Mellotron' use, notably the insanely over-extended flute note on Satellite, although, as on Star is Just a Sun, it's hardly a defining feature. I'm afraid to say I found listening to this a real chore; when you have to keep fighting the urge (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep jabbing at the 'next' button, you know you're in trouble. Very dull.
See: White Birch
Family Perfume Vols 1 & 2 (2012, 79.48) **
Swagger Vets and Double Moon
Long White Curtain
Balance Your Heart
Do You Know Ida Know?
Take Away Lifes Endless Take
Hope! (Servatude, I Have No!)
|It Will Never Be
Soaring, Daily Pique Num. 2
A Hermes Blues
Hey! Roman Nose
I'd Sing This Song
It's Confusing When You Wake Up
|A Good Night
I Am a Sunday
Be at Home
Makers Nest, and Words Freeze
King of the Decade
White Fence are Californian Tim Presley's lo-fi indie project, whose third (and fourth) release (excluding live albums and collaborations), 2012's Family Perfume, is a pair of vinyl-only LPs (now on one CD), stuffed to the brim with Presley's unique brand of something that some commentators are calling 'psychedelia'. Personally speaking (shall I say 'me, personally'? Thought not), I'm not at all sure what's 'psychedelic' about any of this; call me an old fart, but what I'm hearing is a bunch of intimate, personal songs (Presley calls them 'diary entries'), wilfully badly-played and recorded, complete with tape-slippage and other technical hitches. I'm not advocating the smooth, West Coast sessioneering approach, but is this attempt to sound 'authentic' a case of trying too hard? I'm all for rawness, if the results justify the means, but this comes across to the unattuned ear as amateurish. Uncool, aren't I?
'Mellotron strings' on a handful of tracks, in the background on opener Swagger Vets And Double Moon, upfront (and very badly played) on Daily Pique, murky on Groundskeeper Rag and more distant on closer King Of The Decade, but I'm really not holding out any hope that they're real. I feel like a proper old geezer now; "Well, it ain't proper music, is it?", but I simply don't get it. This is where old age starts.
H-p1 (2011, 71.47) ***The Condition of Nothing
No Other Way
I Need to Know
Hand in Hand
Frying on This Rock (2012, 44.23) ***Song of Everything
You Dream You See
Pads of Light
I Write a Thousand Letters (Pulp on Bone)
White Hills are a New York-based space-rock outfit, although most reviewers label them 'psychedelic'. Yes, I suppose their second (?) album, 2011's H-p1, is, but first and foremost, its churning, repetitive riffery is really only categorisable as space-rock. There's a quite blatant Hawkwind influence throughout, particularly obvious on the lengthy closing title track, while several of the synth-heavy tracks sound like Warrior on the Edge of Time outtakes. Best track? Probably the relatively concise Upon Arrival, although full-blown psychonauts may prefer the ten-minute blitzkrieg of No Other Way or H-p1 itself. One Dave W is credited with Mellotron strings on opener The Condition Of Nothing, but its smoothness, not to mention sounding exactly the same on every repeat, ring warning bells on the sample front, which probably means I'm wrong.
2012's Frying on This Rock is an easier listen than its predecessor, partially due to being a sensible 'single album' length. Musically, it mines the same seam as H-p1, but the trancelike repetition of Robot Stomp and fourteen-minute closer I Write A Thousand Letters (Pulp On Bone) loses this listener's attention, although Pads Of Light is rather more varied. Samplotronically speaking, we get a screechy string part on Robot Stomp, but that appears to be our lot.
H-p1's somewhat overlong, at least it's the kind of music that fits the format, although I'm not sure I can say the say for Frying on This Rock. Are you doing the same drugs as White Hills? And if not, why not?
Sweet Mental (2006, 42.32) ***Crash Hit
Travel With You
It's All Here
Two With Nature
I've seen Norwegian trio Wibutee described as 'electro jazz', although their sound on their debut, 2006's Sweet Mental, also features elements of avant- and chamber-prog, amongst other styles. Moments of quiet beauty (SORPI, closer The Ball) rub shoulders with sax-led jazzy pieces (Aalo, Stereo Plains), ensuring that few people will really understand where they're coming from; a pity, as there's a lot to like about the album, depending on your tolerance for jazz.
Although Håkon Kornstad and Rune "Sternklang" Brøndbo are credited with Mellotron on two tracks, the speedy flute part on Aalo and strident string line on SORPI lack that ring of authenticity, so into samples this goes. To buy or not to buy? How much do you like jazzy avant-prog? That's probably your benchmark, then.
Crazy Technicolor Delirium Garden [a.k.a. From the Purple Skies] (2003, 52.42/78.23) ****
|From the Purple Skies
The Elephant Stone
Queen of Violet
Across the Sunrise
|[From the Purple Skies adds:
Forever My Queen
Return to Uranus]
Witchflower (2006, 79.02) ***½
|Through My Love
A Child and a Mirror
Here Comes the King
Before the Morning Light
Black Capricorn Fire
|The Court of the Satyr
Soldier of Fortune
Wicked Minds formed in the early '90s, apparently shifting into a psychedelic hard rock direction after supporting Monster Magnet, although it took them until 1999 to release Return to Uranus and another four years to produce their first 'proper' album, Crazy Technicolor Delirium Garden. You like Uriah Heep? Deep Purple? Atomic Rooster? You'll love Wicked Minds. The album's a full-on heavy psych-fest, chock-full of Paolo "Apollo" Negri (Link Quartet)'s ripping (very obviously real) Hammond work; listen to the intro to Drifting to get, er, my drift - he keeps the Leslie switched off for twenty seconds or so, then switches it on in a way that emulators have never fully captured. The material's good all round, if (unsurprisingly) a little unoriginal, but as with, say, Black Bonzo, that kind of accusation could be construed as seriously missing the point; of course something emulating a thirty-plus year-old style isn't original, it's what the band does with it that matters.
Most of the album's keyboard work is, of course, Hammond, although there's a little samplotron, with brief string parts on The Elephant Stone and Across The Sunrise, although you probably wouldn't miss them if they weren't there. Just to confuse matters, no-one seems to've spotted that the following year's From the Purple Skies is no more than a resequenced reissue of ...Delirium Garden with three extra tracks, the short Forever My Queen (slotted in as track five), a ripping cover of Heep's Gypsy and the massive, jammed-out, eighteen-minute Return To Uranus (stop laughing), reiterated (and presumably re-recorded) from their out of print debut, adding more 'Mellotron' strings. As a result, don't even bother looking for the original release, as the reissue's far better value and that final track is completely essential.
2006 brought Witchflower, another full-length CD of presumably mostly new material, although Burning Tree is doubtless a re-recording of their debut's Garden Of Burning Trees. The songwriting quality has largely been maintained, highlights including the epic Scorpio Odyssey, although somehow it's a fraction less joyous than before, accounting for the dropped half-star. We get another cover, too, with a piano-led take on Purple's Soldier Of Fortune, although vocalist J.C. Cinel, while perfectly competent, is no Coverdale. Negri's expanded his instrument base, adding a Moog and a (Solina?) string machine, although the solo 'Mellotron' strings on Scorpio Odyssey give the 'Tron sample game away, with more of the same on A Child And A Mirror and some terrible choirs on Soldier Of Fortune.
All in all, an excellent band, if you're as stuck in the early '70s as
me some. The lack of real Mellotron shouldn't be considered a disadvantage (what, it isn't?), given the definitely real Hammond overdose effect on both these releases. So; don't forget: From the Purple Skies, not Crazy Technicolor Delirium Garden, even if it's got a better title.
Willowglass (2005, 46.14) ***½
Interlude No. 1
Tower of the King's Daughter
Into the Chase
A Blinding Light
|Waking the Angels
Book of Hours (2008, 49.47) ***½Argamasilla
The Maythorne Cross
Book of Hours
Willowglass are the latest in a run of progressive one-man projects, this time the brainchild of Yorkshire's Andrew Marshall, who plays everything except the drums on his project's eponymous debut. In many ways, this is prog as it was, not is, so there's a refreshing lack of ferocious guitars, hammering drums and screaming vocals (or indeed, any at all). Influences are the gentler end of the usual suspects, not least Genesis and Camel, with plentiful use of good old-fashioned melody, with tasteful, 'slightly distorted' guitar leads and heaps of acoustics. Best track? Hard to say, but A Blinding Light particularly caught my ear, although it cuts Genesis a little too close in places.
Andrew, by his own admission, uses the M-Tron, which is all well and good, but he commits the usual sample-related offence and sticks so much of it on that its deficiencies become overly obvious. The near-solo strings in Remembering, say, are lovely, but they're too high in the mix and too 'clean' to be real. In fact, he uses the M-Tron on most tracks, only avoiding it on the opener, closer and the classical guitar solo, Interlude No. 1, with strings everywhere you look and choirs on most tracks, too, plus the occasional appearance of the flutes. For what it's worth, if you want a real 'giveaway' moment, the string pitchbends in Garden are far too smooth to be real and don't even sound like the Mellotron pitch control. Still, nice to hear the sounds used with taste, even if they could've done with being scaled back slightly. Oh and also for what it's worth, the Hammond is a real L100.
Three years on and Book of Hours appears, another beautiful, very tasteful album, if once again rather lacking in originality. Marshall's decision to use a real drummer makes all the difference on the subtlety front, as listening to albums by prog bands using programmed drums will attest. Yes seem to've crept in as an influence this time round, with moments on opener Argamasilla that made me think of the words Khatru and Siberian, though not necessarily in that order, but generally speaking, this should be guaranteed to keep sympho-heads happy, as long as they're not too bothered about where they might've heard the odd chord sequence before. Loads of M-Tron again, of course, used without restraint, but it's difficult to deny it sounds rather nice, however inauthentic it may be.
So; two nice (albeit not very original) albums, tasteful, tuneful and relaxing, which is NOT a synonym for 'boring'. Plenty of fake 'Tron, which probably isn't going to change in the near future, as Andrew tells me there's no way he can afford a real one, which is understandable. Go on, make his day and buy copies.
Insurgentes (2008, 55.17/79.42) ***
Veneno Para las Hadas
No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun
|Get All You Deserve
[Special ed. adds:
Grace for Drowning (2011, 82.57) ***½
|Grace for Drowning
Deform to Form a Star
No Part of Me
Remainder the Black Dog
|Belle de Jour
Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye
Leader of the Starry Skies: A Tribute to Tim Smith: Songbook 1 (2010) ****½[Wilson contributes]
It's difficult to have any connection with modern progressive rock without knowing something about Steven Wilson: founder of both No-Man and Porcupine Tree, his side-projects include I.E.M. and Bass Communion, while he plays with and/or produces Blackfield and Opeth, amongst others. It's rumoured he actually has a private life, although how he finds time for it is a mystery.
Maybe surprisingly, 2008's Insurgentes is his first album under his own name, although his gasmasked visage on the sleeve tells you everything you need to know regarding his semi-legendary views on fame and privacy. Categorising the album's about as difficult as you might expect, elements of prog, metal, post-rock and ambient all battling it out, albeit mostly very quietly, better tracks including the dynamic No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun and, from the special edition's bonus disc, Puncture Wound. Wilson is credited with 'Mellotron' on one track on the regular release plus two bonuses, with nothing obvious on Get All You Deserve, distant choirs and strings on Puncture Wound and strings on Collecting Space. Actually, this is almost a primer, style-wise, for Wilson's entire back-catalogue, encompassing elements of almost everything he's done in the past, if only tangentially.
2011's two-disc Grace for Drowning (disc titles: Deform to Form a Star and Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye) is, in many ways, similar to Wilson's solo debut, determinedly eclectic and obstinately anti-easy-listening, I'm pleased to report. Highlights include the inventive Remainder The Black Dog, the faintly Cardiacs-esque Track One (Wilson is a fan) and deranged, twenty three-minute avant-prog epic Raider II, but nothing here disappoints, making this a rather better listen than recent Porcupine Tree albums. Samplotron on a few tracks, with strings, choir and flutes on Sectarian, Deform To Form A Star and Raider II, but it's far from a defining sound on the album.
Do you buy these? Are you a fan of Wilson's various projects? All of them, not just Porcupine Tree? Then yes.
See: Steven Wilson | Porcupine Tree | No-Man | Blackfield | I.E.M. | Opeth | Leader of the Starry Skies
Black Clouds in Twin Galaxies (2008, 41.20) ****
Life Was So Simple
Mark My Word
Two Wrongs Make a Right
I'm a Destroyer
Did Me in
Black Clouds in Twin Galaxies
Winters are a London-based 'stoner' outfit, whatever you take that to mean, who have clearly found their spiritual home on Lee Dorrian's Rise Above label. Amusingly, their list of 'artists for inspiration' doesn't mention their one overriding influence, Black Sabbath, although appalling NWoBHM also-rans Witchfinder General get a namecheck. Black Clouds in Twin Galaxies sounds like Sabbath fronted by a fey and frequently (deliberately?) off-key indie-kid, which is honestly better than it sounds, largely due to the songwriting, which is several notches above just about everyone else in the field and a handful of killer riffs (notably on Endless Fight), even if they do sound like Mr. Iommi noodling about. Question: if the entire neo-prog 'movement' is based on Tony Banks' keyboard solo in The Cinema Show, is the whole stoner/doom thing based on Iommi's monster verse riff in Iron Man? Discuss.
Drummer Andy Prestidge (now of the reformed mighty Angel Witch) is credited with 'Mellotron', but I've been assured it's just the usual plug-in nonsense; given that these guys know my brother, a real one could've been provided... Budgetry restrictions, I believe. Anyway, Andy gets some flutes and strings in on Life Was So Simple and some surprisingly authentic-sounding strings on the closing title track. So; if you have any interest in old-school hard rock at all, I can recommend this, despite its unusual approach on the vocal front. Makes a change from some twat trying to be hard with his 'cookie monster' grunting, anyway. Several good songs, several great riffs and a bit of sampled Mellotron. Just one improvement needed there, then.
Diorama (2009, 36.30) ***
Imaginary Friends With Benefits
Raised in a Zoo
Hailey Wojcik's second album, 2009's Diorama, fully deserves the much-abused term 'quirky', although I'm not sure how she might feel about the intended accolade. Personal, self-deprecating lyrics combine fruitfully with oddball, frequently ukulele-fuelled tunes, better examples including Good Friday, closer Model Aeroplane and Raised In A Zoo, which sounds like its backing track is provided by an early '80s Casio. Maybe it is?
Dan Romer (April Smith) supposedly plays Mellotron, but the massed strings on Pumpkinteeth don't sound much like a real machine to my ears. Anyway, an unusual album that might just appeal to those with an ear for something a little different. Either way, Ms Wojcik should be lauded for refusing to spit out another identikit piece of weepy singer-songwriter crud. Hoorah!
An Introduction to the Black Arts With Cough & The Wounded Kings (2010, 34.37) **½The Gates of Madness
Curse of Chains
The Wounded Kings, named for a figure in the Grail mythos, are based on Dartmoor, south-west England, an eerie, ideal setting for a doom outfit. After all, when the only inspiration you need stretches away at the bottom of your garden... An Introduction to the Black Arts is a split LP with US doomsters Cough; although they're credited first, The Wounded Kings have (allegedly) used a Mellotron, so this is where it goes. To be honest, I found it difficult to tell the stylistic differences between the two bands' side-long pieces and I'm supposed to know something about the heavier end of things... Actually, I can no longer claim that distinction; modern metal is so far removed from the hard rock of my youth that it might as well be an entirely different genre.
Anyway, The Wounded Kings' Curse Of Chains is a fifteen-minute dirge of sludgy, grindingly slow, Sabbath and their successors-inspired doom, with a reasonable helping of keyboards thrown in, distinguishing them from most of their contemporaries. Think: Sunn O))) with drums but less silly. George Birch is credited with Mellotron, but the reverbed-to-death choirs that echo in and out of the piece don't sound especially authentic to my jaded ears; the studio used by the band boasts of owning plenty of vintage gear, but a Mellotron is not among it... As a result, I'm afraid this can sit here until kingdom come or someone tells me otherwise, whichever may be the sooner.
So; UK doom, as against any other form, assuming you can actually tell the difference. Probably fake Mellotron, but if I should hear otherwise, I'll move this into the 'regular' part of the site.
The Final Catastrophe (1997, 58.47) ***½Armageddon
Phantoms ~ Lizards
All of the World
The Final Catastrophe
The Wyzards were formed in 1980 by Steve Babb/DeArqe, David Carter and Bill McKinney, splitting later that decade, although Babb soon brought Carter into his new project, Glass Hammer. After a couple of successful albums, they decided to resurrect their old band, if only to preserve their material for posterity, bringing McKinney back on drums, two of GH helping out for the recording. I believe most of 1997's The Final Catastrophe was written 'back in the day', with a little later tweaking, sounding next to nothing like GH, being more of a Rush/Heep/Purple/early Priest cross than anything, predating what we now call progressive metal by the better part of a decade. But is it any good? Overall, yes, within its limitations; were this a British NWoBHM-era album, it would probably find itself referred to as a 'lost classic'. As it is, it's a welcome revival of an otherwise lost band; why doesn't this happen more often? Money, of course.
GH's Fred Schendel plays fairly crummy Mellotron choir samples on Armageddon, Generation X, the 'side-long' All Of The World and the closing title track, although they're buried deeply enough in the mix to make verification difficult. I'm not sure you can still get copies of this, but it's worth hearing for fans of the more progressive end of late '70s/early '80s hard rock.
See: Glass Hammer