Featured artists: Liontortoise | Philip Taylor | Procosmian Fannyfiddlers | Exowst Scotland | Quest Ensemble ||:
In this ADA (shorter reviews) update TPA’s Bob Mulvey checks out recent Albums, EPs & Singles from:
• Liontortoise – Sisters [EP]
• Philip Taylor – Rivers and Trees [EP]
• Procosmian Fannyfiddlers – Astonishing Tales of Cod and Plankton
• Exowst Scotland – 45 | 1889 | 1000000000000066600000000000001
• Quest Ensemble – The Other Side Remixes [EP]
Denver based progressive instrumental quartet Liontortoise returned with studio EP ‘number two’ in September 2021, which for some inexplicable reason slipped by me. Surprising really as their debut was – and still is – a regular feature in my listening list. So much so the Photosynthesis EP ended up in my top picks for 2020. I was keen to hear new material from the band and therefore the Sisters EP came as a welcome, if a little belated, surprise. Sisters features six new tracks, although there was a taster back in 2020 when the guys went in to the Dog House Music studio to record a four track live EP. Three tracks aired on the live recordings are now to be found on this new EP.
Sisters is immediately recognisable as Liontortoise – angular guitar riffs driven by the muscular heavy grooves from the rhythm section. Once again, Jeff Riley’s guitar is intricate whilst retaining the melodic sweetness that made the debut so appealing. Changes arrive firstly with the ‘gain’ levels, which seem to have been notched up. Not an issue per se and I mention it as I made reference to the ‘gain’ in the review of Photosynthesis.
The second significant change is in the complexity of the material, proving Liontortoise are not content to simply re-tread old ground, pushing the boat out, both in the composition and arrangements. To this end they’ve kept a watchful eye on the live aspect of the music, whilst introducing more studio trickery and subtleties into the mix. For instance, both Worm Mother and Portree include neat jazzy guitar and piano interludes, adding to the overall dynamic and contrasting light and shade. Similarly, Lakes incorporates piano, keyboard ‘voices’ and sequencer into the mix, before segueing into the ambitious The Third Sister of Scoriag. The band certainly push the envelope here and we are definitely in the realms of complex, heavy progressive rock – albeit with the sweetest of outros.
All of which bodes well for the new release scheduled for August… Once again Liontortoise have wisely looked to keep the tracks around the five-minute mark, which is ample time for the journey, but concise enough to not lose the listener along the road. Roll on August…
As we approached the festive season in 2017 I happened upon the delightful debut album, One Year On, from fingerstyle guitarist Philip Taylor. Philip resides in Saddleworth (UK) and classes himself as an amateur acoustic guitar player who writes his own compositions. Which I suppose encapsulates both the debut and this follow up EP, but be wary of placing any great emphasis on the word amateur.
One Year On contained twelve tastefully written and superbly executed instrumental pieces, and the same applies to the five tracks on Rivers and Trees. The instrumentation is simple: acoustic guitar, no sound effects barring some reverb, no studio trickery and no discernible overdubs. As I commented in my review of One Year On, Philip’s arrangements employ a number of open tunings, deftly played with the emphasis on feel rather than flamboyant displays of technique. The resulting music is melodically vibrant and serenely beautiful…
Perhaps to add context and by way of a pointer, I have recently been listening to Gordon Giltrap & Paul Ward’s The Last of England. The latter part of that album features solo pieces by Gordon, and I might suggest Philip Taylor’s compositions have a similar lyrical charm and persona.
“This is a collection of original instrumental fingerstyle guitar pieces which were inspired and influenced by the area where Phil lives.”. Based on Philip’s soundtrack, it sounds like a somewhere I need to visit.
Scandinavian ensemble Procosmian Fannyfiddlers return with album number eleven, the follow up to 2017’s Happy Accident. Despite a career that now spans 25 years, and with eleven albums under their belt, the Procosmians remain something of an underground phenomena, much of which I suggest is of their own making. The name continues to raise an eyebrow or two, as do the band member names, such as Pornographic Johnson, Fist and Eric The Awful, although the latter band names have been dropped for this album. And finally the ‘tongue in cheek’ track titles – Dental Breakdown, Lady Dung, Still…You Turn Me Off and Rimming the Ancient Mariner. Although they always seem to raise a smirk – and no, Still…You Turn Me Off bears no resemblance to Greg Lake’s Still… You Turn Me On. All of which has perhaps brought into question their credibility over the years, which is a bit of a shame. But as the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover…
Musically, the Procosmians are a wily bunch and amidst the darkly humoured lyrics is some solid musicianship, strong compositional skills and some great music, something I can attest to having reviewed six or maybe seven of their albums over the years. More recently they’re an eclectic and often alluring mix of melodic folk with medieval influences, psychedelic rock and healthy doses of quirky theatrical prog.
On paper it sounds fine, however my criticisms of their earlier albums has been mainly down to frustration. It’s obvious that the Procosmians are a talented bunch, so excusing the often dubious lyrics, my struggle was with the intonation flaws and the poor production values. Not something that is evident here on Astonishing Tales of Cod and Plankton as in recent years the band have engaged Rhys Marsh at Autumnsongs Recording Studio to look after the recording, mixing and mastering, and that’s particularly noticeable on the last two albums. So whilst the music retains its organic and idiosyncratic nature, the subtler elements are allowed to shine through. No longer distracted by the ‘issues’, it is now possible to listen and admire the intricacies, and enjoy the mix of acoustic and electric guitars, Hammondy organ, delightful flutes, fiddles, trombones, (crumhorns perhaps?) and folksy singing…
So if you’ve a fancy for some playful folky prog then jump aboard the good ship Procosmian.
Mentioned in my previous review and marking the first three releases by Exowst, who are planning to release one track each month across 2022, I decided to offer some musings on the contrasting pieces thus far. Well here we are in July and three more tracks to dissect and digest.
As with the previous tracks, they are denoted only by a number, leaving the whys and wherefores to the listener. Kicking off this quarter’s offerings we have 45. It’s a single (45 RPM) perhaps? I doubt it. Based on the previous track numbers I would take a stab at the origin of this 45 taken from the Angel Number 45 in numerology, denoting “a sign that you are on the right track and that there is a positive life change coming your way”.
Released on the last day of the month, April’s track, 45, comprises a series of live takes using “Synthesizer, 8 String Electric Guitar, Drums, Cymbals, Tubular Bells & Vocals”. The accompanying video depicts, for the most part, water running backwards – and therefore up – a weir. Musically we have sustained keyboard chords pulsed by a solid, pedestrian beat and then embellished with down-tuned guitar, assorted percussion, and in keeping with the lyrics, a dirge-like vocal delivery. A twisted relation to Phil Collin’s In the Air Tonight perhaps?
Before moving on, and paraphrasing my previous introduction to Exowst, according to the Scots online dictionary, ‘exowst’ is ‘to exhaust’, which sort of rings true as Exowst is the solo project of Edinburgh-based percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Snow (Alan Emslie) who, like so many professional musicians, has been robbed of his livelihood over the last two years.
Which neatly ties in with, if we adopt the Angel Number theory, May’s release, 1889. There are various permutations, however it infers taking a step forward. “In every setback, challenge yourself to rise and do better. Setbacks are not weaknesses.” Compositionally, 1889 revolves once again around live takes, this time using a synthesiser and one Zildjian oriental cymbal. Reflecting the number, 1889 is full of positivity, with layers of percolating synths and rich soundscapes…
Concluding this quarter is 1000000000000066600000000000001 – the anticipated profits of the top five oil companies in 2022 perchance? No, I don’t know.
Whereas previous track title numbers may have had various permutations, this month’s is perhaps easier to tie down. The number represents mathematician Clifford Pickover’s Belphegor’s Prime, which starts with a one, followed by thirteen zeroes, 666 (the Number of the Beast), another 13 zeroes, and ending in one. So not only is it palindromic, it is a prime number and therefore divisible only by itself, and one. In demonology Belphegor, also known as the demon of inventiveness, is a fiend, and one of the seven princes of Hell…
How all this ties in with the track itself isn’t so clear, however it is fiendishly good. As with all the tracks, they are played live, this time around employing synths, 8-string guitar, drums and percussion. 1000000000000066600000000000001 is a really slow burner – resting on a lush sonic palette, brushed with down-tuned guitar, which allows the finer detail to be added by the drums. As with all the tracks, there’s an accompanying video, this time with an overhead cam of Allan performing the drum parts…
Series two completed – we shall return for series three circa 0b11000111010000110 🙂
There are remixes and then there are remixes. Some simply leave you scratching your head and wondering what on earth changes have actually occurred. Not something that can be levelled at this intriguing three track EP from Quest Ensemble. Taken from their excellent 2020 album The Other Side, Quest Ensemble have selected three tracks and then collaborated with “three ensembles from the UK Jazz, Alternative, and Alt-pop scenes to release an exciting new Remix EP”.
But before moving to the EP, a quick introduction to London-based trio Quest Ensemble, comprising of three classically trained musicians – Filipe Sousa (piano), Preetha Narayanan (violin) and Tara Franks (cello). Whilst acknowledging their heritage, the three musicians prefer to write in a more organic fashion, weaving in a blend of chamber, jazz, minimalist and modern contemporary classical music. Following their penchant for improvising they have brought in three contrasting artistes for this EP.
Bristol-based Mesadorm are first up, who simply do not want to be labelled and introduce themselves as “5 friends in a band”. Five very talented friends fronted by vocalist Blythe Pepino along with four musicians. Mesadorm’s take on Pendulum brings in a heavy bass drum beat and upright bass, analogue(y) synths and layers of electronica, all of which work sympathetically with the original ‘selected’ string parts…
Quest Ensemble’s original…
…and now here’s the remix
Following the low key intro, London-based composer, saxophonist, producer and in demand session musician Samuel Sharp offers a bright and breezy interpretation of Moment. Listening back to the original, it’s truly fascinating to hear his vibrant ‘remix’.
Quest Ensemble’s original…
…and now here’s Samuel Sharp’s take
The third and final track on this EP, Pizz Trance, is covered by Ill Considered, and I shall let them introduce themselves: “Ill Considered are a band comprising of musicians interacting with each other to create freely improvised music, based loosely around simple pre-written themes or composed on the spot. Deep grooves and plaintive melodies ranging from whispered chants to monstrous climaxes, the group react to the mood of the audience and the sonics of the room to create music that is unique to the moment.”
Of the three pieces I was most curious to hear how Pizz Trance would work, as there’s a wonderful tense, rhythmic unease throughout. Well they certainly captured the mood with their opening improvs whilst the later hypnotic, percussive grooves offer a whole new slant to the track.
Finally Quest Ensemble’s original…
…and now here’s Ill Considered’s – well considered interpretation