Published on 24th June 2021
A Different Aspect #60
In this update we feature:
• The Samurai of Prog – The Lady and the Lion (And Other Grimm Tales I)
• Triangle Singular – Starbreaker
• Joe Devine – One Foot Forward [EP]
• Anthony Béard – Les contes de nulle part [EP]
• Band of Weeds – The Greenhouse Phenomenon (Live at Stavanger)
• Billy Yfantis – Noises From The Outer Space
The Samurai of Prog is a multinational symphonic prog rock project dating back to 2009, led by Finland-based Italian composer and bassist Marco Bernard, with permanent members Steve Unruh (vocals, violin, flute & guitars) and Kimmo Pörsti (drums & percussion), along with a raft of guest musicians and vocalists, many of whom have appeared on earlier releases. The Lady and the Lion is the first volume of a new series based on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.
As someone fairly new to this project, I found much to enjoy with the ensemble work across the six tracks with a running time of 42-minutes. Bernard’s bass and Pörsti’s drums drive impressively through most tracks, with Unruh’s violin, flute and guitar lovely additions throughout.
Into the Woods is an atmospheric introduction to our journey into the world of magic with the whispered ‘Once Upon a Time’ vocal welcoming us into the concept. The Three Snake Leaves is even better, with Unruh’s vocals combining well with some powerful and dynamic instrumental prog, retro keyboards mixing fluidly with soaring guitar runs, driving bass, violin and flute supporting this mini-epic. Iron John is an uplifting, cinematic instrumental, written by Kayak’s Ton Scherpenzeel, with glorious sweeping keyboard and moving violin to end. Long-time collaborator David Myers delivers a beautiful and melodic solo piano piece, The Lady and the Lion.
However, the two narrative-led tracks, A Queen’s Wish and Blue Light, might be more of an acquired taste for many symphonic prog listeners. A Queen’s Wish is a very literal rendition of the tale of Snow White – and unfortunately the excellent and impressive instrumental work is rather dominated by the theatrical vocals and spoken words. Phideaux’s Valerie Gracious has a powerful and expressive voice, but in this context her Kate Bush-like Evil Queen portrayal feels akin to a commentary over a provincial theatre or children’s television Christmas pantomime. Blue Light closes the album and fares a little better, but still suffers from that same melodramatic vocal style at times. However, if you are at ease with that story-telling approach you might have no reservations and enjoy it, as musically, the album cannot be faulted.
The second volume, The White Witch, is due out in July. If they continue with the strong compositional work and can find a better balance between the impressive instrumental symphonic prog, and restrain the theatrical vocal performances, the Grimm Tales series might be worth persisting with.
Russian band, Triangle Singular have released a very enjoyable album of sci-fi post rock, with spacey blips and bloops giving a ground control long distance calling ‘Major Tom’ vibe. There’s a really nice depth and heaviness to their music that I often find missing in a lot of post rock bands. There’s nothing shallow or superficial here, and the sound feels like it goes on for miles beneath the surface. A lot of this is because the band has added a large dollop of sludgy doom to their post rock mix – but if this is desert rock, it is the desert of a rock in a far off galaxy, baking in the glare of an alien sun (or suns). There is so much spacey sound in the music of Triangle Singular that were it not for the heaviness it would be easy to imagine it as a soundtrack for a film set in the depths of space. Underneath the heaviness is an ambience that feels stark and sparse.
What I really like is that regardless of how many other styles seek to intrude, the post rock always prevails. Ironically, it’s perhaps the title track where the post rock comes close to taking a background role, as the pounding desert riffs roll over in waves. But again, that sense of the alien is ever present. There are metallic industrial drones and electronic squawks from the guitar, so that not only does it always feel set in space, but the further through the track, the further it feels we’ve travelled. There is a palpable sense of slow progress across vast distances. It sounds amazing through headphones, too. With no other releases that I can find, I’m guessing Starbreaker is Triangle Singular’s debut, and if that’s the case, then this is certainly a band to watch.
Starbreaker is a confident and assured slab of post rock, inspired by space rock and desert rock, adding elements of both of the latter to a base of the former. While there are some stunning post rock bands out there, many play it by numbers and without any individuality. Triangle Singular add both oomph and interest to their post rock sound, creating something that sounds quite unique. Even more impressive, to me, is the way that they can evoke such a sense of the vastness and hostility of space, and how small and insignificant we are in it. It gives the haunting idea of space I expect from sci-fi, but bathing the usual more ambient soundtracks for space vistas with swathes of heaviness. If you enjoy post rock with a more progressive outlook, Starbreaker is definitely worth checking out.
In a recent ADA review I commented, in a somewhat uncomplimentary manner, about the plethora of guitar instrumental albums offered to TPA. The following day Joe Devine’s One Foot Forward arrived at TPA HQ. Stay with me here, Joe…
But I’m a sucker for guitar instrumental albums. In fact I have hundreds, from the early Al Di Meola, Allan Holdsworth, Paco de Lucia, Jeff Beck, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson… and across the interim years the list has grown exponentially. So regardless of the opening comment, I know I’ve just gotta press that play button! I’m now listening to the title track from Joe’s debut EP and my interest is piqued enough to check out Joe.
His bio tells us that he is a London-based session musician who has had a diverse career to date. Very evident in the strength and maturity of the compositions on One Foot Forward. Joe also mentions DispersE axeman Jakub Zytecki and Australian guitarist/songwriter Plini – good, as both players also feature in my burgeoning collection.
The EP opens with the title tune – tasty, very tasty and here I’m minded of Thomas Blug or perhaps Jan Cyrka, which is very good company to be in, in my book. In fact, the whole EP is skilfully written and executed, and therein lies the crux. It’s not just about technique, sweeping arpeggios, or even notes per beat – with the bottom line “is it listenable?” ( even if you’re not a guitarist!).
To illustrate, in recent times we’ve covered a diverse range of guitar-centric releases: Mark Vickness, Steve Howe, John Irvine, David Hepling, Jon Gomm, Neil Campbell, Steve Hackett, Plini, Timo Kämäräinen, and I’m sure there are more – none of which overlap stylistically, but what they do have in common is that they use their main instrument to write music.
The simple answer is, yes, Joe Devine’s One Foot Forward is very listenable. Five strong and varied compositions, encompassing numerous styles and influences, catchy melodies, great phrasing, atmospherics, sweet tones, and the guitar – well, the icing on the cake.
Great tunes, heartily recommended!
A name that has popped up from time to time is guitarist Anthony Béard. Possibly best known to me through French quartet Ni, who write and perform an avant garde, jazz, math rock, ultimately uncategorisable mélange of complex but fascinating material. My introduction to Ni came with their 2012 II then later in 2019 with Pantophobie. In the interim period, Anthony Béard turned up in the equally tricky – musically that is – PiNioL, an amalgam of Ni and the RIO, zeuhl influenced (apologies for the over generalisation here) PoiL. PiNioL’s Bran Cuckoo from 2018 is well worth checking out – and here’s a LINK to Mimolle from the album. Bloomin’ marvellous.
Thought you were reviewing Les contes de nulle part?
Oh yes, sorry… “The tales of nowhere”, as I believe it translates, is a four track EP released in June 2021 which sees Anthony Béard on solo acoustic guitar. Initially I wasn’t sure whether or not Les contes de nulle part was a planned solo release or a result of the enforced incarceration of the 2020 plague. Apparently not, as following the release of Ni’s Pantophobia it appears Anthony had planned on a solo release, which would also coincide with him writing “a collection of surrealist poetry”.
Given his previous output, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what we have on Les contes de nulle part are four absorbing tracks, not without complexity and experimentation, pieces that provoke at times, but also rest easily on the ears at others. The most obvious and simplest to reference here would be French composer Erik Satie. Anthony offers Cuban composer Leo Brouwer and French classical guitarist Roland Dyens. Let’s add Philip Glass, Steve Reich and, to my mind, English composer Neil Campbell.
“The tales of nowhere are as mysterious and colorful to our ears as a surrealist painting would be to our eyes.”
The words of Anthony Béard, which nicely tie in with the striking album artwork by Martine Planet. A perfect way to spend twenty minutes of the day…
It’s that time of the year when poppies begin to colour our landscape with their vibrant hue. Poppies are technically weeds (to be precise, an annual broad-leaved weed), but more often considered wildflowers. Realistically, the term ‘wildflower’ is merely an arbitrary description given to some weeds just because they have been deemed more attractive. The music of Band of Weeds (comprised of experimental musicians from Finland, all well known in their own right) probably fits in that grey zone where what is weed and what is wildflower is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Caught somewhere between ambient and noise music, Band of Weeds are an experimental, conceptual band who create all their sound from… well, weeds. Although this live recording was released in August last year, it somehow seems more appropriate to review it now, as the green spaces around my village are filled with wildflowers. Even as my eyes and nose stream from seasonal rhinitis, my ears can delight in the music of plants.
From the Bandcamp page, “All the sound material is recorded from the plants using the method developed by the Soviet botanist Ivan Gunar. Ionised liquid is run through the plant tissues and the changes in their electro-magnetic field can then be converted to the sound range audible to the human ear. Band of Weeds uses microvolt sensors to record changes in the magnetic fields of plants and then produces musical works from the collected biodata.” The results are quite fascinating, and while they will not be for everyone, some will recognise the beauty of the recordings, and be willing to see the sounds of these weeds for the wildflowers they are. I love that each of their recordings utilises plants particular to the concept of the project. In this case, introduced species that grow around Lake Mosvatnet, in Stavanger, Norway.
The live sound performance of Band of Weeds captured here was presented at the Stavanger Art Museum on 18th October 2019, and afterwards, integrated into the a sound installation located on the façade of the museum. Now it’s available for all to hear, courtesy of the Sudenmarja record label. I find it a fascinating and absorbing piece that I lose myself in. It holds my attention and interest throughout, which is certainly not ambient music as Eno envisaged it. I can’t really conceive of listening to this as background music. It’s akin to reading a book you can’t put down until you reach the end. Truly captivating and entertaining, and definitely far more so than I expected it to be. I guess I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t to enjoy this as much as I do.
“Inspired by the universe and tempted by the noises of the Outer Space…”
The above is taken from Billy Yfantis Bandcamp Page and in a nutshell captures the essence of Noises From the Outer Space. In a little over an hour he offers six evolving space-scapes, depicting an aural perception of the universe. Reminiscent of those atmospheric sounds you might encounter during a Sci-Fi movie or cosmological documentary. Here, Yfantis’ sounds depict his vision of the noises of the electromagnetic spectrum which exists in spacetime. All with the suffix Noise, Yfantis offers six spectral interpretations – Astral, Cosmic, Galactic, Interstellar, New Moon and Planetary.
To achieve this, Billy Yfantis mixes numerous layers of electronically manipulated sounds into an amorphous, evolving framework. There are no discernible melodies or rhythms, however the end result, I have to say, is more musical than it sounds – and definitely otherworldly.
Combined with images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Noises From the Outer Space can be extremely pacifying. Which is perhaps a little strange, especially if you consider how unimaginably fast everything is travelling in spacetime. In the time it took me to listen to this album the Sun had covered just under fifty thousand miles, the Milky Way had covered 1.3 million miles and light had travelled in excess of 670,000,000 miles.