Featured artists: Neil Campbell & Nicole Collarbone | Steve Broomhead | Pandamoanium | Nevrness | Exowst || In this ADA (shorter reviews update) TPA’s Bob Mulvey checks out recent Albums, EPs & Singles from:
• Neil Campbell & Nicole Collarbone – Berlin Suite & Other Short Stories [EP]
• Steve Broomhead – Solo 1 [EP]
• Pandamoanium — Skellington Quay [EP]
• Nevrness – Reorient
• Exowst — 23 | 33 | 299792458 [Singles]
Have you ever listened to an album where the opening track simply compels you to replay it before moving on to the next track? It’s happened occasionally to me over the years, the most recent comes from the Berlin Suite & Other Short Stories EP from Neil Campbell and Nicole Collarbone. The title track, Berlin Suite, is a delightfully organic piece and features Neil’s distinctive and unique classical guitar, sublimely interwoven by Nicole Collarbone’s imaginative cello. Although there’s no mention of ‘movements’ in the title itself, Berlin Suite is a wonderfully evolving composition made up from contrasting and dynamic sections. Neil’s intuitive guitar and Nicole’s cello weave effortlessly together throughout the ‘suite’ creating a musical dialogue that can be sweet, melancholic and dramatic, as and when the music requires it. Simply stunning!
Regardless, I must move on, and as the EP title implies we have a number of ‘short stories’ accompanying the suite. Four in fact, two featuring Neil and Nicole and two guitar pieces. The winsome Ode to A Penguin opens the ‘short stories’ and is again a truly stunning piece and one that resonated immediately. Finally the penny dropped – I had first heard a guitar version on the 2004 Night Sketches album, which Neil later reworked with Nicole, appearing on the excellent 2006 Fall album. The second collaborative duet is the darkly lilting Hoobie Tango, and mention here of the subtle percussive textures provided by Jon Lawton. Completing the ‘short stories’ we have two alluring guitar duets, In the Moment and the captivating and tranquil Yachts 1959…
The Berlin Suite… recordings were rudely halted due to the pandemic, but like all good things it is well worth the wait, and there may be more. In fact there is to be more as Berlin Suite & Other Short Stories acts as a precursor to two new releases from Neil in 2022. Scheduled for November is Faldum – a musical suite based on Herman Hesse’s fairy tale of the same name, and which will see Neil teaming up again with Nicole Collarbone, along with Amy Chalmers on violin. Looking ahead to December there will be a live release from Neil, recorded in May of this year at Liverpool’s Prohibition Recording Studios…
Steve Broomhead will be a familiar name to those acquainted with Woolly Wolstenholme’s Mæstoso albums, and for those with a slightly longer memory his involvement with Mandalaband II. Along with those two, Steve lists a few others: Playing At Trains, Cygnet Ring, National Pastime, Rhythm Party and North Story. I cannot say I have any prior knowledge of any of these, however as the latter two are on Steve’s Bandcamp page, I had a listen. Rhythm Party’s Zed is full of catchy pop songs indicative of the era they were written (circa 1987-1990) – Go West springing to mind often. The eponymous Dark the Sky EP released in 2017 was a great find – three wonderfully ethereal tracks, featuring the delightful vocals of Isabel Keyes.
Moving to 2022 we have Solo 1 featuring three absorbing tracks. Spanning many years in gestation and originally destined as part of a full-length album the tracks on Solo 1 are ones that Steve feels comfortable committing to release. Setting the tone is the EP’s instrumental opener 12 String (Part 1 & 2), and yes, the track is rich with twelve-string guitar, complemented with multiple layers of electric guitar, keyboard strings/choirs/drones, airy synth leads and propelled by a steady drum beat. Magic!
Steve adds his warm vocals to track two, World Spins ‘Round, and along with a gentle undertow of organ, it conjures the music of Pink Floyd. The fact that Steve is a versatile and thoughtful guitar player strengthen this notion. Concluding this all too brief EP is Garden. Again Steve’s engaging vocal delivery accompanied by a rich bed of harmonies are delightful – shades of Yes, Mr Wolstenholme and of course BJH? The close out section is particularly moving…
The EP is available on Bandcamp (linked below) and well worth investigating. Late night headphone listening – highly recommended.
Instrumental ‘power trio’ Pandamoanium return with Skellington Quay, the follow up to their 2020 debut album, Paradigm Shift, and, as the band’s debut slipped TPA by, perhaps a few words about the musicians and their debut before we tackle the new EP.
Pandamoanium are based in the UK seaside town of Herne Bay and feature Paul Mitchell (guitar), Alec Tappenden (bass) and James Barber (drums & acoustic guitar). Almost from the outset the trio made the bold decision to follow an instrumental path which, to these ears, embraces the power rock trio format, along with blues rock, space rock and a fair smattering of progressive rock. The band’s debut, Paradigm Shift neatly encompassed all the above elements, the end result giving the band a rather distinctive sound. On the upside, I found the tracks well composed, varied in texture, and given the perceived limitations of the trio format, without vocals, memorable. Of particular note are the album opener Prognosis, two shorter tracks Chin Tickler and Dummy Button and finally Jimmy. The downside was the production and mixing – however as I doubt the Pandas had much of a recording budget, in all consciousness I can’t hold it against them.
Production wise, the Skellington Quay EP does not suffer the same fate and the music benefits from a sympathetic mix and a complimentary studio sheen. The musical palette has also been strengthened by the inclusion of subtle keyboard and additional guitar layers. This said the guys have kept a keen ear on the live delivery of the tracks, so the strong riffs intermingled with the sweeter notation remain a strong component. Pandamoanium have also looked to stretch out on Skellington Quay with the opener clocking in at just under ten-minutes and the EP closing track, over thirteen.
In truthfulness, I was a little sceptical about the extended structures, however the use of repetitive motifs coupled with an ebb and flow format works really well, particularly in the title tune. The rhythm section of James Barber on kit and bassist Alec Tappenden are key here, lifting the end section, with James’ increasingly powerful fills and Alec’s ever busying bass parts, (which as an aside brought to mind Andy Fraser), take this section to greater heights. Paul Mitchell’s sympathetic, rising guitar lines are the icing on the cake.
With Skellington Quay, Pandamoanium have neatly bridged their stage performance and the studio environment. Interesting to hear where they go from here…
“You wanna hear some bass? Do ya wanna hear some really good bass?”
I quote Pete Haycock, introducing Livingstone Brown’s bass solo on Dr Brown I Presume, recorded during the The Night Of The Guitars concert back in 1988. And the relevance? Just a cunning intro to Nevrness which comprises solely of compositions by Japanese bassist Bitoku, who presents us with this thirty-two minute, twenty track instrumental album. So in a nutshell, all the music you hear on Reorient is performed on bass guitar and drums.
Almost universally the tracks clock in around the one to two-minute mark and in the main Reorient is a fairly aggressive, djenty affair played on six-string bass, which to these ears is not in a standard bass tuning. The album rocks and grooves pretty much throughout, with the guttural bottom-end countered by some neat themes and melodies. So across the album we have a series of hard hitters which Bitoku nicely tempers with some nifty soloing and/or sweet ‘top end’ bass.
Album opener Unorthodox, followed by the equally belligerent Alphametic sets the tone. And this yin and yang approach is pretty much adopted across the album, with the exception of a couple of more delicate tunes, Cloudscape and Birthnight, which appear towards the end of the album.
A curious offering, however I remember thinking the same when I first came across Carlos Soto’s Tribal Behavior back in 2004, which followed a similar ‘bass and drum’ formula, although it treaded a different musical path. An album I still enjoy on occasions. Similarly, and on paper, Reorient may not have grasped the attention, however the album turned out to be a curious and fascinating listen. All the tracks are succinct and the album itself kept to a realistic length. Personally I would have preferred a few more tracks like Cloudscape and Birthnight, which would have added a broader contrast, but a minor point…
So… do you want to hear some bass? Yes? Well this album could well be one for you…
Here we are with the third ‘quarterly instalment’ featuring the single track releases from Exowst. To elucidate – in January 2022 Exowst announced the release of one track each month across the year, and as we simply don’t have the capacity to review singles we elected to review three at a time. Parts one and two can be found HERE and HERE. So here we are in October and a brief look at the third quarter, covering July, August and September.
As with all the previous tracks they are denoted only by number, leaving the whys and wherefores to the listener, and as with the previous ‘singles’, the significance of the numbers is open to various interpretations. A common theme might be found in numerology or Angel Numbers, but not wholly. So 23, released at the end of July, immediately said prime number to me. Is it relevant? Probably not. Musically 23 features an ear-friendly, percussively bouncy and percolating rhythm, created by synths and with further contrasting layers added into the mix. All of which is in stark contrast to the anguished lyrics…
Again, released at the end of the month, August’s 33 in some respects follows 23 as both have rhythmically dynamic, synthesised structures, however the treatment of those parts is significantly different. 33 particularly rewards multiple listening as it’s one of those tracks that the more you listen the more you hear, and reflects the craft and subtle depth of all the parts. Lyrically perhaps a cautionary note from Exowst: “The Rising Tide. Temptations Rise. Moving Into Position.”
The number 33, well once again the permutations are endless – 33 rpm; Arsenic in the periodic table of elements; the number of bones in the vertebrae; the boiling point of water in the Newton scale…
Concluding this quarter is 299792458, and a number which immediately clicked as the distance light travels in meters, per second (in a vacuum) if we are being precise. Again how the number relates to the track isn’t obvious, although the accompanying video perhaps offers some insight with the light shining through the trees, accenting subtle imagery as the film evolves. Musically I imagine a twisted relationship between Vangelis (Albedo 0.39 era) and the mighty Tony Iommi discovering dropped tunings.
Look out for the final instalment review some time late 2022 or more likely in early 2023…