I've realised that new releases are getting lost in the murk of thousands of more archival reviews, so this page temporarily showcases recent albums, although you'll find the reviews in their 'regular' locations, too. You'll fine sample reviews quarantined at the bottom of the page to avoid cross-contamination. Items will stay here for a couple of site updates before being moved on.
Mellotronic Belgian Blues (2015, 34.56) ***½/TTT½Gent From Genk
Headless in Camden
Cinco Siglos Igual
Last Tango in Starbucks
An English Werewolf in Woluwe
Lazy Susan (Knokke Version)
Freddy and Marvin (Oostende Healing)
Rocket Man (I Think it's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
Nick's slightly belated follow-up, 2015's Mellotronic Belgian Blues, is more of a 'regular' release, a fairly sparsely-arranged collection of songs betraying Nick's rather peripatetic lifestyle, referencing various European locations over its seven self-written vocal numbers. After tasteful instrumental opener Gent From Genk, the eccentric Neil Young comes as a slight shock, effectively Nick's shout-out to a host of his influences across the years, ditto Headless In Camden's wilful eccentricity, although beautiful piano-and-Mellotron ballad Cinco Siglos Igual (sung by Hannah Friedman, Dean's daughter) and the hypnotic Last Tango In Starbucks help to redress the balance. Without digging out my copy of Close to the Edge (duh, Nick's version), I can't say for sure, but closer Rocket Man sounds like it's been lifted directly from that release; it doesn't fit particularly well here, although I suppose it pushes the release above 'long EP' length. The Mellotron's credited on every track, with faint choirs on Gent From Genk, brass (?) on Neil Young, brass, strings and choir (and a variety of organ?) on Headless In Camden, 8-choir on Cinco Siglos Igual, strings, choir and string section on An English Werewolf In Woluwe, upfront flutes and cellos on Lazy Susan, more flutes on Freddy And Marvin and full-on strings on Rocket Man, although whatever's used on Last Tango In Starbucks is pretty well disguised.
Caviar Bobsled (2015, 72.31) ****/TT
|The Last Song
Discourse on Method
Halfway to Salem
|Into the Night
Alis Volat Propiis
This and That
Hands reformed in the early 2000s, so after a couple of Mellotron-free releases, it's a pleasant surprise to be sent 2015's Caviar Bobsled, Shannon Day back on board. Stylistically, the album covers a fair bit of ground, from the relative safety of opener The Last Song, through the initially gentle Halfway To Salem (before King Crimson inexplicably muscle in for the middle section, in a welcome kind of way) to innovative cello piece Into The Night, the cello-and-multiple-vocal-led Shards and epic progressive closer Busy Signal. Mostly Shannon on Mellotron, with a flute part in opener The Last Song, chordal strings in Heavy Lifting, Like Me and Alis Volat Propiis and string melodies in Talking Points and Busy Signal. Perhaps surprisingly, the album doesn't outstay its welcome, despite its length, its variety and eclecticism working in its favour.
Show Me Where it Hertz (2015, 45.42) ****/T½Entering the Sublevels of Necroplex
Everybody Likes Hornets But Nobody Likes Hornet Egg
The Rage Within the Clouds
The Electric Rectum Electoral
Like Fun You Are
The Current Beneath the Squarewave
Going by its sleevenotes, 2015's Show Me Where it Hertz (v.witty, chaps), while a studio recording, is based around a set the band played in Stockholm that January, concentrating more on the electronic aspects of their work, as against the more typically 'prog' ones. The end result is, unsurprisingly, more of an electronica album in a progressive setting than a prog album per se, vaguely like Tangerine Dream tackling the proggier end of the Kraftwerk catalogue. Personal favourites? Probably Like Fun You Are and The Current Beneath The Squarewave, the latter probably because it's the nearest the album gets to a 'symphonic' sound, whatever you take that to mean. Although Chamberlin and/or Mellotron (presumably played by both members) are credited on all but one track, they're often buried so deeply in the mix that they're near-impossible to spot, more audible parts including the Chamby female voices on opener Entering The Sublevels Of Necroplex, the Mellotron wineglasses in The Electric Rectum Electoral and the string section/choirs in The Current Beneath The Squarewave.
Pure Gold (2015, 33.12) ***½
|It's a Game
Asking Too Much
On the Sidelines
Keep Under Cover
|Close My Case and Move on
Tell Me Your Plans
2015's self-released semi-covers release Pure Gold is a return to form, thankfully. 'Semi-covers'? To quote the album's press kit, "Pure Gold consists of 11 tracks with the majority being re-interpretations of slightly obscure songs by artists like The Shirts, Melanie, String Driven Thing/Bay City Rollers, Paul McCartney". Although it's fun playing 'spot the cover', I rather wish the band had been slightly more specific, forcing me to track the information down on their website. For what it's worth, they are:
Obscure enough for ya? Highlights include It's A Game, Asking Too Much, Beeside, Tell Me Your Plans and the band's own Pure Gold, making for an odd, yet satisfying compromise. Once again, somewhat sparse on the sample front, with rather obviously sampled strings on the title track and flutes on Tell Me Your Plans.
Gentle Knife (2015, 58.45) ***½Eventide
Our Quiet Footsteps
Remnants of Pride
Tear Away The Chords That Bind
Beneath the Waning Moon
The Gentle Knife
Epilogue: Locus Amoenus
At first glance, Gentle Knife look like Norway's latest entrant in the 'symphonic progressive rock' stakes, although, as their eponymous debut progresses, it becomes obvious that the band's influences are more wide-ranging than that relatively narrow field. With no fewer than ten members on board, they have a wide instrumental palette to pick from, members of the woodwind and brass families adding an unexpected jazziness to proceedings at random intervals, while several flavours of prog, hard rock, jazz, folk and other styles worm their way into the compositions, to the point where no one track sounds particularly like any other. The upside? Variety is the spice of life. The downside? Just when you think they've slotted into a groove, they take a left turn, not always for the better.
As for specific influences, Our Quiet Footsteps is reminiscent of ...Poseidon-era closer King Crimson, closer Coda: Impetus is nearer to the early '80s version of the band, complete with some proto-hard rock riffery, while, in places, I'm also reminded of Anekdoten, themselves Crimso-influenced, particularly in the vocal melody department. Highlights include opener Eventide, Beneath The Waning Moon and the appropriately gentle, synth-drenched, Epilogue: Locus Amoenus. If I have a criticism, the band sometimes throw too many ideas into occasionally overlong material, but the pros generally outweigh the cons. They've been refreshingly honest regarding their Mellotron sample use, with flutes on opener Eventide and Coda: Impetus, distant strings on Tear Away The Chords That Bind and more upfront ones on Beneath The Waning Moon and the title track, although you'd rarely call it a major component of their sound. Overall, Gentle Knife's a decent debut; hopefully, the band will sound slightly more cohesive when it comes to the follow-up.
The Clockwork Universe (2015, 51.32) ****Library Song
The Scientist's Wife
2015's The Clockwork Universe continues the band's Brit-prog/fusion journey, now employing no fewer than half of Änglagård's classic line-up, Anna and bassist Johan Brand guesting alongside regular member Thomas Johnson. Stylistically, while opener Library Song is pure fusion, Railway Time and Prodigy have more of a Canterbury-via-Yes feel about them, although my personal favourites are the album's two instrumentals, the piano-and-acoustic guitar Astrolabe and the beautiful piano-and-'Mellotron' closer Orrery (a physical model of the solar system, FYI). Just one real epic this time round, the near-twenty-minute The Scientist's Wife, which does pretty much everything you'd require of a Thieves' Kitchen piece. Thomas' Pinder samplotron strings turn up on every track except Astrolabe, although they're only particularly upfront on Orrery.