Featured artists: Neil Campbell | Captain Cougar | Hely | Hats Off Gentlemen Its Adequate | Malcolm Galloway ||:
In this ADA update of bite-sized reviews we take a look at some of the recent releases albums, EPs and singles from:
• Neil Campbell – Journey Into Space
• Captain Cougar – Bonnie
• Hely – Plode
• Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – Burn the World [Single]
• Malcolm Galloway – Metazoa One [EP]
Inspired by the poetry of Seán Street and comprising of twelve short instrumental pieces, Journey Into Space is the first 2023 release from composer, multi-instrumentalist and guitarist extraordinaire Neil Campbell. The tracks will later feature in a live environment when Neil and Seán partner for “a sequence of poetry readings with live and recorded instrumental music”, as part of this year’s Liverpool Writing on the Wall Festival.
Regardless of the future project, Journey Into Space is an album in its own right with twelve hypnotic and charming pieces to transport the listener into their own ‘space’. Whether this is via the delightful transit which starts the journey, or the atmospheric and textural amino. Or, with tangible links to epic The Mountain, the fou- part mobile vignettes, and specifically mobile 1 (fragment) and mobile 4 (fragment), took this listener back to last year’s excellent Faldum album.
This brings me to the album’s title and its perplexing cover, which to my mind harks back to the aforementioned Faldum‘s mountain cover artwork and is less about my initial preconceived ‘Hubble’ perspective of space. The first clues to my misconception came from the track titles – no cosmic references here, so the journey into space is perhaps a voyage into space inexorably linked to time. Returning to the final piece on Faldum, and in particular The Mountain, space and time are interlinked with the mountain’s entropic demise, so the correlation of time and space are key throughout the album and reflected in its unhurried, absorbing atmosphere.
Neil Campbell is, of course, no stranger to the TPA review pages, including a previous collaboration with Seán Street in 2017’s Estuary – featuring guests Perri Alleyne-Hughes and Marty Snape. Should a collaborative version of this album become available it will be interesting to hear how the music and poetry integrate.
Bonnie is the fourth album from Finnish ‘ambient/post/folk-rock’ ensemble Captain Cougar and the follow-up to their Åkerblomrörelsen concept album released in 2014. The accompanying press sheet for Åkerblomrörelsen suggested the album’s opening track, Maria, as starting point, although noting it may not be fully representative of the album as a whole. Maria‘s simple arrangement and hymnal quality was captivating, prompting me to dig into the rest of the album, which I have to say turned out to be a varied and absorbing listen.
As with their previous album, there is not a ‘typical’ song on Bonnie and therefore it’s an album that has to be listened to in full before any viable opinion can be formed. Opener Places, for instance, starts with floaty ambient soundscapes and reverb drenched vocals, whereas Sister is pulsed by percussive synths and an intriguing layered arrangement. This develops and grows across the song, at times driving although not heavy, and with thoughtful textures from the band. Great stuff indeed…
Listening to Bonnie I felt the need to revisit Åkerblomrörelsen, as an aide memoire. What is immediately apparent is that Captain Cougar have honed and refined their sound, much I would suggest is down to the stable core line-up which remains unaltered – except for second vocalist Julia Vuorinen. Speaking of vocals, new on Åkerblomrörelsen was vocalist Laura Lehtola. Some nine years later she is fully integrated and delivers many memorable moments. The atmospheric Liquid Helping Hand with its thoughtful lyrics is a standout, as is the vocally rich Weightless, Loveless, Bloodless. Similarly, Spaces (a personal favourite), the album’s title track, along with the album closer Walk Away are all outstanding.
Bonnie is chock-full of cleverly written and arranged songs, performed by extremely accomplished musicians who intuitively know how to create atmosphere and dynamics – from delicate to grandiose and covering a range of styles and genres. It’s all on Bandcamp – start at track one and stop at the end track nine. You will be glad you did…
Hely return with their fourth album, the follow up to 2018’s Borderland. Hely are a Swiss based duo consisting of Lucca Fries on piano and Jonas Ruther on drums and Plode sees them continuing their polyrhythmic, minimalistic explorations.
Jonas Ruther is a new name to me, however at 36 years old his résumé is very impressive indeed, with appearances on more than 40 recordings. Pianist Lucca Fries is a familiar name as he is part of the excellent Zürich based, contemporary groove jazz quintet Ikarus. His lyrical, metrical piano immediately resonated as the duo launch into imago, the track sounding like an oddly metered, but finely balanced, ‘dance’ between two partners – a Lindy Hop which sees both partners swapping the ‘lead role’ with consummate ease and perfect understanding, something Jonas comments on:
“We created a rhythmic concept for every tune, a kind of game rules for us to play. For example, it could be that the drums are unpredictable and erratic, but the piano sticks to a predefined pattern.”
Hely’s music is a difficult one to categorise, a sort of dichotomous blend of minimalist classical and avant garde jazz, ‘precise jazz’, perhaps, if such a thing exists? And Plode demands your full attention as it’s not the easiest of listens, but it is truly engrossing and challenging and that’s not a bad thing in my book.
Plode is released through Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin Rhythm Records label who look to “support creative music between new minimal, funk und ritual groove music”. This makes Hely a perfect fit.
TPA sadly does not have the capacity to review singles, or for the most part EPs, although there have been exceptions – and that’s one of the reasons we created the ADA Reviews section. So, with all the proceeds from both these releases (on Bandcamp) going to the Prog The Forest fundraising campaigns, we are more than happy to report on these latest releases from HOGAI and Malcolm Galloway.
Fittingly, Burn the World is a poignant reminder that should mankind continue to ignore the compelling evidence, we will soon pass the point of no return to stave off the effects of climate change. Burn the World takes “the point of view of someone in the future regretting the changes that we didn’t make.” Lyrically we are straight to the point:
Where an island used to be
The coral bleached
The sandbags breached, long ago
The lamenting lyrics are splendidly captured by the music which is ambient, mournful and atmospheric. I hope the guys don’t mind the analogy, but in some respects I found the overall sound and delivery reminiscent of Tim Bowness. Taking the track out, Malcolm Galloway delivers a fine melodic guitar solo, before concluding with the closing line:
My first introduction to Malcolm’s solo work came about with a similar (almost) concurrent release, Feeling Good / WASP 76b, back in 2020. The initial interest sparked by the title, which refers to the Hot Jupiter exoplanet discovered some 10 years ago, but that’s another story…
For those unfamiliar with Malcom’s solo project, broadly speaking it falls under a classical/minimalist umbrella. Early exponents Tangerine Dream or Brian Eno may offer some insight, along with inspiration derived from Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Now here’s a curve-ball: after the ethereal opening, the following sequence brought to mind – albeit briefly – the extended middle section of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again!
I digress. Here on Metazoa One we have multiple layers of repetitive, intermeshing sequences, underpinned with cohesive chordal sub-structures to solidify the sequences. Across the seventeen minute duration there are numerous breaks in the sequencing, adding light and shade, whilst allowing the track to evolve. Along with the aforementioned, numerous musical embellishments are added bringing all the parts into focus. Immersive…