Saturday, 31 August 2013

Haken - The Mountain

When a good friend from the prog reviewing community told me that some of this new album by Brit heavy prog act Haken reminded him of Gentle Giant I had to laugh. However, after I stopped smirking I was intrigued enough to investigate further. Haken were a band that, although I could see where their appeal lay, never really tickled any of my odd musical fancies to any great degree. I always found their sound a tad bombastic, and far too tainted by the dreaded "prog-metal".

Indeed the only track I could access before getting the album was Atlas Stone, which you can hear below. While showing an undoubted compositional flair exceeding anything I had previously heard by the band, albeit my opinion is only based on cursory listens to their earlier work, it still seemed to be in the same vein, but with a far defter touch. Once the review copy arrived, to say it confounded my expectations is somewhat of an understatement, and I am glad I followed up my instincts to delve deeper.



The review copy I have is a 192kpbs mp3 download. It is perplexing quite why any label would send out such a low quality review copy of something that patently has high production values, although their reasoning may be obvious. The argument that review copies end up on file-sharing sites is fairly spurious as far as I'm concerned. We do it for the love of the music, for free, often taking hours of our own time on each review, so we, of all people are most unlikely to "bite the hand that feeds", so to speak.

The band praise the efforts of prog-metal sound guru Jens Borgen on their website in helping them craft this sonic epic, but with this copy his work is lost in the distortion evident at anything above moderate volume. However, for you dear reader, I shall persevere.

Countering my argument is the label's contention that once they stopped sending out CD copies the number of pre-release shares dropped dramatically, although I can safely say I cannot think of any reviewing colleague, and I know a fair few, who would stoop so low. Maybe the problem lies closer to home, too? 

Right, that's got that particular pesky little monkey off my back, on to the album. Like I said, it confounded my expectations, and then some.

Opening with a melancholic piano-led piece, we are off on a trip of joyous musical complexity and lyrical striving against adversity. Then, the aforementioned Atlas Stone sets the scene and meanders off down an almost jazzy path after a straightforward enough beginning. The guitarist slots in a Brian May-like short solo before the turnaround.

The song bemoans carrying the weight of the world, but rises above the usual "woe is me" lyrical obsessions of many in the modern prog fraternity by defiantly also stating that the protagonist will "rise to the challenge I set myself". Good on, yer, fella!

Then...the first surprise. Cockroach King does indeed sound like Gentle Giant in its convoluted vocal construction, the initial call and response cyclical section reminiscent of Cogs. "Prog metal" this isn't. You, see, that worn out and deeply rutted musical ginnel, for me at least, and I'll admit I'm no expert, seems to be overpopulated with two kinds of sound. The first is a "look at me, can't I play fast and complicated" ego-stroking, originally popularised by Dream Theater. I like my complexity fired up with a bit of soul, or at least a smidgeon of a sense of humour, something painfully absent in most of the bands who choose this diversion. The other variety is the lumpen-prole rifferama that has been done to death, revived, and flogged around the studios of the world, and killed again, the cycle repeated forever and a day. Frankly, it is very very dull.

There I go again; well, it's my blog, and I'll moan if I want to. Back to the fabulous construct that is Cockroach King; the Gentle Giantisms continue, and Kerry Minnear must be quietly smiling to himself. Suddenly, three minutes in, we briefly turn left into a jazz club, and it doesn't seem the slightest disjointed as it might in the hands of less dexterous musicians than these. Things get even more complex further in and sections take a detour down my favourite bewitching musical tributary, ending up in the wondrous land of avant-prog. No, really!

It transpires that Cockroach King is the best song on the album for me, but there are many other highlights. All the multi-tracked vocals on this complete musical experience of a song were provided by Ross Jennings, but have no fear, for the band have done the acapella thing live before, so we should be able to hear the song live in all its glory.

The others in this band include keyboardist/guitarist Richard Henshall, bassist Tom MacLean, who are both also in prog metal act To-Mera, raved about by a good colleague of mine; maybe I should venture there, too? And then we have drummer Ray Hearne, guitarist Charlie Griffiths and keyboardist Diego Tejeida completing the picture.

Now into their third album, often a significant point for any band, this for once stable line up, a rarity with bands these days, obviously know each others' playing inside out. This is highlighted on a song like Because It's There, another peak of musical achievement, if you'll excuse the pun. Starting with another acapella sequence, some lovely harmonising reprising the theme from opener The Path, leading into the intertwining and sinuous playing of the band, each instrument with its distinctive role combining in a whole that stands proud as an example of highly skilled writing and arrangement. I must see this live...but not on a boat; that's another bugbear, but luckily for you I won't go off on one here about the trend nowadays for "prog at sea", which as far as I'm concerned means as much metaphorically as literally.

I am told that the longest song on the record, Falling Back To Earth references Dream Theater, but to these ears it sounds less deliberately "flash" than the somewhat overbearing Americans. I can hear Rush in here, too by the way. This song is undoubtedly well arranged (again), but is not really my particular cup of lark's vomit. Strangely I don't actually mind it at all, particularly when it goes a tad "odd" three minutes in. This is not your standard spotlight-grabbing showing off prevalent in the metal community, the interplay makes me smile, snatches of "Gentle Giant with balls", as another colleague rightly puts it, flying across the stereo spectrum.

I could almost imagine Freddie Mercury singing the short and sublime ballad As Death Embraces in one of his more introspective moments, and it is a much needed respite from the full-on attack of the tracks that surround it.

Personally I find that the album loses focus a little after the middle. Falling Back To Earth is maybe a touch too long, but Pareidolia is more interesting, with its massed bouzouki section, and a middle song section that reminds me of Bruce Swoord from The Pineapple Thief. In fact when he's not harmonising or multi-tracking, vocalist Ross Jennings' voice is very similar to the Pineapple man.

More Gentle Giantisms return in the vocals of album closer Somebody, that ends with a big production brass section arranged with some aplomb by drummer Ray Hearne, who earns a crust playing tuba in various orchestras.

Ending the album with two long tracks has the effect that by now I'm feeling a bit ear-weary, which admittedly might be down to the poor quality copy I've got rather than anything that could be laid at the band's door. There are still bags of originality and power in those last two songs, but maybe the last half of the album has too much to live up to?

Sisyphus, depicted on the cover, was punished by the gods for living a life of wicked deceitfulness, something you could never accuse Haken of. Wearing their countless influences proudly on their collective sleeve, there is never any attempt to bury those traits in layers of fancy production or over-complicated musical convolutions. In a similar fashion to The Mars Volta, although the end result is markedly different, Haken have taken a trolley-dash through the supermarket of prog, grabbing every influence they can get their eager little hands on, sometimes wholesale, and the end product is dizzying in its ambition and scope.

And therein lies the only drawback to this jaw-dropping album; maybe, just maybe, it tries just a little too hard? As far as the future goes, how on Earth, or anywhere else for that matter, do Haken follow this? Let us hope that unlike Sisyphus they are not condemned to never reach the top of the mountain.

Tracklist:
1. The Path (2:47)
2. Atlas Stone (7:34)
3. Cockroach King (8:15)
4. In Memoriam (4:17)
5. Because It's There (4:24)
6. Falling Back To Earth (11:51)
7. As Death Embraces (3:13)
8. Pareidolia (10:51)
9. Somebody (9:03)

Total running time - 62:15

Line up:
Like I said up there ^


Haken website

More info at Inside Out 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Juxtavoices - Juxtanother antichoir from Sheffield

In my never ending quest for new music, sometimes something turns up unannounced and unbidden. A couple of months ago I had a review published on DPRP of the feral noise burst that is Combat Astronomy's Kundalini Apocalypse. Contributing rasping reeds and howling and buzzing electronica to that dense, odd and rather good album was one Martin Archer, the man behind Juxtavoices, who made a contribution to one track on the album.

Martin has since kindly sent me armfuls of CDs, including this new release by his "antichoir", as it is described in the title. I was wondering where to start with his intriguing catalogue, and where better that this latest release?

Firstly, may I just say that this is completely unlike anything I have heard before, and I have heard one or two things in my time on this planet.

Juxtavoices sprung from an idea of Martin's back in 2010 to assemble "thirty people...one Saturday morning to try out their voices to see how they might sound together". That sounds fairly straightforward you may think, but, "only a few of the thirty were experienced singers. They found themselves performing alongside musicians from the improvising scene...a few poets, visual artists" and other "less rarefied souls" who came along for the ride.

Martin's co-director Alan Halsey wrote the first piece, Oneverlastartletterminaliendlessong, which begins with strange staccato call and response from lone female and male voices, others joining in as it slowly resolves itself into a harmonic anti-melody, before dissolving into a kind of agitated chatter. Thus we enter the odd world of Juxtavoices.

Evidence of live performance, something that I would imagine is a strange but satisfying experience, is supplied by the photos in the tri-foldout digipak. This evidence shows that all this is scripted, and, having once been in a choir, I cannot imagine how this is written down, but written down it is!

The texts to each piece are written by a number of people, some of whom are in the choir. Three Iterations of a Poem by Samuel Beckett is exactly what it says, the poem readings backed with exclamations, confirmations and sighs from the choir. Other writers who have their works interpreted by the ensemble are artistic polymath Gertrude Stein, and sound poet Bob Cobbing. The latter wrote the text to Are Your Children Safe In The Sea?, which sounds like it was once the introductory line to a news item. The line is repeated by various voices using numerous inflections and emotions, some treated electronically, over more impressionistic declamations and vocalised punctuation. The cumulative effect is very unsettling, and indeed, like being in a small boat a bit too far offshore on an increasingly choppy sea.

This is not easy listening, and it is a work in which one has to invest some concentration. Nine Entries From the Encyclopaedia of Sexual Relations is self-explanatory, the chapter introductions initially read and then semi-sung by choir member Christine Kennedy, the rest joining in, the whole piece ebbing and flowing to the pull of an unknown moon. Again this is a highly experimental piece and no less "difficult" than the rest of the album. You wouldn't want to make love to it, that's for sure!

Choir member Geraldine Monk's She Kept Birds features the verses in unison chanting, then different sections of the choir interact with their own text selections. Although not in the least conventional, with no actual melody, more obviously than some of the other pieces the arrangement has its roots in traditional choir structure and so comes across as a more "normal" work.

At least that is how it starts. A section that swoops up and down is backed by low volume timpani, eventually joined by chattering choir members evoking a gathering of small birds at a feeding frenzy. There is a humour at work here too; when you allow yourself to get lost in the complexity of this number you cannot help but smile.

Gertrude Stein's Susie Asado has some "electronic realisation of guitar music" included, but as one would expect, not in a manner that renders the tune hummable. This song reminds me of the wilful anti-music Scott Walker has a fondness for, and I've no problem with that at all.

When describing his motivation for this project, Martin says it was "the sheer inability to control the music fully which appealed to me", but it has to be said that the end result, although it is as I said before unlike anything I've come across previously, sounds remarkably controlled. Of course, underneath that is the feeling that it all could collapse in on itself at any minute.

Suffice to say this is not an album that I will find myself playing with any regularity, as it needs to be listened to properly with no distractions, and how often does anyone get the opportunity to do that these days? There is a list of gigs printed on the CD cover, and I note that the last one in Sheffield on 6th October has yet to take place. I will make every effort to be there for what should be a surreal and entertaining experience.

Listen to extracts HERE

Find out more HERE

Tracklist:

1. Oneverlastartletterminaliendlessong (6:42)
2. Three Iterations of a Poem by Samuel Beckett (4:40)
3. Ha Nu (13:49)
4. Are Your Children Safe In The Sea? (6:40)
5. Nine Entries From the Encyclopaedia of Sexual Relations (12:11)
6. White Persimmon (7:15)
7. She Kept Birds (14:18)
8. Susie Asado (3:49)
9. Drawn from No Well (10:19)

Total running time - 79:48

Line up:

Juxtavoices were directed by Martin Archer and Alan Halsey, and they are:

Julie Archer, Martin Archer, Jon Ashe, David Bartholomew, Ian Baxter, Mick Beck, Nathan Bettany, Geoff Bright, Clinton Chaloner, Laura Cole, Julie Cole, Emma Cooper, Paul coope, Jonathan Curley, Edward Eggleston, Sharon Gill, alan Halsey, Sarah Henderson, Lyn Hodnett, Ellie Johnson, Charlotte Jones, Richard Kedward, Christine Kennedy, Bo Meson, Tamar Millen, Geralidine Monk, Rick Moran, Carol Passingham, Tim Plant, Mike Reid, Marion Rout, Wolfgang Seel, Walt Shaw, Jan Todd, Jane Tormey, Caroline Veal, Peter Veal, Linda Lee Welch, Helen White, Gillian Whiteley

With:
Martin Archer - Electronic realisations

Friday, 23 August 2013

Fantômas - Delìrium Còrdia

Mike Patton - avant dilettante magpie or musical polymath? I prefer the latter, but in any low profile genre there lurks a fanboy (and it usually is a boy) or two who are so incredibly precious about their particular dark corner of inaccessibility that they take umbrage at anyone perceived as an outsider that has the temerity to meddle in their territory. Even worse if said intruder is mega-rich off the back of a successful for career in something
...heavens forfend...popular.

Such a target for unjustified abuse, not that I imagine that it even registers with him, is Mike Patton, ex lead singer of popular alt-metal combo Faith No More, who, in my humble opinion, made the best metal album of the 90s with the utterly fab Angel Dust.

Scratch below the surface of that unearthly slab of strangely melodic feral noise and you can begin to see why Mr Patton took a left turn, first with the alternately annoying and brilliant Mr Bungle, a band that actually existed prior to FNM but had to wait until after FNM's first burst of success before releasing their first album, and later with his solo project Fantômas. Of course, Patton has been involved in dozens of other projects covering many musical styles, far too numerous to go into here. Suffice to say, good old Wikipedia has the answer.

This band/project have produced four albums to date, each entirely different to the other, and all of them are worth investigating, but this is my favourite. It was originally released in 2004, and I only discovered it this year, and I consider it worth of exposure to my three readers, who may well know it anyway, but what the hell...

In case you were wondering, I am writing this while slightly drunk on red wine, so at least I have an excuse for my rambling syntax this time round. I am listening to the cacophony on the headphones while my better half sleeps. This is probably the only way to do it!

Delìrium Còrdia is the soundtrack to an imagined horror movie featuring surgery without anaesthetic. The soundtrack features screams, sometimes upfront, sometimes buried in the mix, the sounds of draining liquids, combined with dark ambience, lounge muzak from Hell, snatches of metal riffing, tribal chanting, and sudden changes in volume and pace to jolt the listener from any complacency.



The album begins with the sound of a stylus hitting the run in groove, and after a lone piano tentatively steps through the dark to the patient on the slab, his arhythmic heart beat and the draining of fluids leading into a Gothic choral sequence, we know we are in for a strange trip indeed.

...which, having now finished the bottle I can't be bothered to explain, find out for yourself if you're still with me. The end of the album is worth a word or two, though...

At exactly 55:09, after a repeated punch to the guts from a nasty slow metal riff, the album "ends", the stylus hitting the run out groove ad infinitum. We've all been there, too much smoking or drinking or whatever, and the lights go out two thirds of the way through side two, you wake up with a start half an hour later, wipe a trail of drool off your chin, turn the hi-fi off and go to bed. Or in this case, 20 minutes later a military voice, probably Patton (Mike, not General, one assumes) barks "One, two, three, four" and the stylus is knocked across the inner label and abruptly the thing ends. Bit of a clever bastard, our Mike...

If you want to be scared witless by some frightening noise, then this should do the trick, especially if you concentrate on the gory pictures within the high-art booklet. As far as I know Fantômas have been on hold since the album Suspended Animation in 2005, but having only just discovered them I want more, now!

Also, it has to be said that the creative world needs more people with the vision and "fuck it, let's do it" attitude of Mr Patton, despite what some keyboard warriors would have you believe. More power to him and his like, I say.

Tracklist:

Delìrium Còrdia - 74:17

Line up:
  • Mike Patton – vocals, samples, producer, arrangement, design/layout
  • Dave Lombardo – drums
  • Buzz Osborne – guitar
  • Trevor Dunn – bass guitar

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Daymoon - Fabric of Space Divine

One of my earliest reviews on this blog of an album that was sent to me for that purpose, as opposed to a review of something from my own collection, was Daymoon's debut waxing All Tomorrows. One would like to think that both the band and myself have progressed from stumbling beginnings.

Well, I don't know how I've fared in the interim, only you, dear reader, is in a position to judge, but Fred Lessing, leader of this Portuguese band of merrie proggers used to describe his band's sound as "regressive", whereas now it's "transgressive". Let us attempt to find out what this means, if anything at all.

Never one to shy away from a big idea, or several big ideas at the same time, a problem highlighted in my review of the debut, Fred has admitted in the past that he occasionally needs his rapacious creative instincts reining in a tad. So, with that in mind this time round the concept is the merely "the history of the Universe". Made me smile, that did!



Checking the band's website, it seems that this album was written before the debut, and so any attempts at plotting a progression are foiled from the outset. Oh well, onwards and...sideways; maybe this is the "transgression" we were told about?

In fact, so prolific is Fred that a third album Cruz Quebrada is already at the rehearsals stage, and promises to be a bit different from previous recordings as the songs deal with Fred coping with the sad death of his wife Inês; but that is a another story for another time.

Back to the history of life, the universe and everything...after a fairly low-key Big Bang we get into the album proper with Seed Of Complexity which has an almost folky feel to it and would be reminiscent of The Strawbs were it not for its restlessness and its refusal to stick to any theme for more than a handful of bars. There is even a harmony section about halfway in that borrows heavily from Chocolate Cake, the first track from Woodface by Crowded House. At nine minutes long it displays a schizophrenic ability to shift from the aforementioned Strawbs/Crowded House folky feel to almost avant reeds and woodwinds over a shifting heavy bass line, and back again. This song has the atmosphere of a film soundtrack rather than a song, changing pace with the scenery. It seems Fred is still throwing in the kitchen sink and appears to be constantly at the mercy of his skittish imagination.

Beyond Nature is a homage to the Sun, sung in a menacing fashion by Michael Dorp, to an Eastern flavoured backing, and it is my favourite piece of music on the album, as it manages to stay focused and keep its eye on the ball, being all the more satisfying for that.

The vocals were not a strong point of All Tomorrows, and the same is true of this album, particularly on Seed Of Complexity and Beyond Trinity. Having been blessed with perfect pitch, although I sometimes wonder if the right word is "cursed", there are moments in both songs that make me wince. With Beyond Trinity we have the added problem of the lyric which nails its religious colours firmly to the mast. There are even some cheesy church organ sounds to end the thing. This "history of the Universe" was certainly not written by Stephen Hawking, although the author does qualify it by saying it is "profoundly misunderstood by Fred Lessing", so full marks for humility.

This song had me worried that this history of the universe was going to turn into a Christian treatise, always a turn off for me, but in fact the themes of the album later expand to include other religious and scientific viewpoints. However, tackling such complex subject matter is probably a mistake, for unless the author has a vast intellect and can offer both physical and metaphysical explanations without sounding contrived, the end result is always going to sound trite.

However, fair play to Fred, who has this to say about the concept:
"the concept behind the album is based in part on stephen baxter's mind-blowing scientific-philosophical fiction and non-fiction (any speculation about the future, however ‘scientific’, is of course fiction; and when you think about it, so is the past – even our own). my ramblings about the various religions are in part based upon histoire générale de dieu by gerald messadié for the christian part, my wife inês, who was wise and ridiculously well-read, for the part about ancient egypt, and a variety of sources for the islamic part, including extensive listening to beautiful turkish religious music.
this album stands for our secret hope that all of mankind will one day Get Together, or at least get its act together. musicians from 5 countries did so to get this album together"
At this point I would point out that I do not have the CD to hand, my review copy suspended somewhere in transit, so I am not privy to any further insights into the themes and subtexts of the album that may be explained in the booklet. This review is based solely on the Bandcamp streaming.

Let it be said that there are some interesting musical moments on this record. Anthropocentrics is a far too short funky sax workout, that should have been at least twice the length, and then there is the quite odd instrumental Beyond Good And Evil which meanders about like a Mike Patton avant-garde experiment left on the cutting room floor of a Fantomas album session.

The half way point of the album see us entering a surreal parallel universe Lloyd-Webber musical as a middle aged man searches for the meaning of life, whimsical acoustic guitar and orchestral ballet sequences'n'all! The transition from Beyond Good And Evil to Middle is as bizarre as it is jolting; like a train jumping the points. The one thing I will say is that so far, none of this sounds anything like Genesis, in the slightest, for which we can all be grateful. In fact musically the album shows a lot of skill, in inverse proportion to the lack of tact in the arrangement department.

Entering the second half of the album, lost in the labyrinthine tunnels of Fred's imagination, we are immediately presented with a song that Boney M could have had a minor hit with in 1978. No, really! It's all up there on the Bandcamp streaming link if you don't believe me. Following Rivers of Babylon b-side-that-wasn't Ice Prospector, Digital ponders the question of the disengaged human mind lost in the silicon synapses of the modern world. I know how you feel!

The ice prospector has landed his probe on Europa, and the filmic Beyond plays out atmospherically to a mission control narration that declaims "We are not alone". Fred has now left religious musings behind and takes the human race beyond the constraints of space and time, concluding "Time to fill the universe, with ever more complex life, time to shape all that is". The music here should really be a full-blown space rock opera, but it sounds a bit flat. Maybe Fred has finally mined to exhaustion his seemingly limitless seam of ideas?

The problem with this album is that there is too much going on, and the snatches of classical influence, medieval music, Iberian folk-tinged passages, Arabic camp fire music, a bit of near avant reed blowing, trad rock interludes; all these and more collide and bounce off one another to leave the listener cast adrift in the asteroid belt, not knowing which way is up, and feeling slightly queasy into the bargain. Fred makes no apologies for his capricious style, which he expands on in detail on the band website in typical self-deprecating fashion, and why should he? It's just a bit much for poor old me, that's all!

I never got into the grandiose and pretentious faux-classical concepts foisted on us back in the day by the likes of Rick Wakeman and The Alan Parsons Project, and Daymoon appear to be forging a modern equivalent. It would seem the much needed musical director that All Tomorrows cried out for has not been hired, and the seed of complexity has bloomed into an impenetrable dark forest. Somebody get me a torch...

Tracklist:
1 Singularity To Sol (3:48)
2 Seed Of Complexity (9:17)
3 Evolution (1:45)
4 Beyond Nature (5:29)
5 Beyond Trinity (5:26)
6 Anthropocentrics (1:42)
7 Beyond Multiplicity (3:30)
8 Beyond Good And Evil (3:59)
9 Middle (4:30)
10 Ice Prospector (3:14)
11 Digital (3:43)
12 Beyond (3:40)
13 Grasping The Fabric (2:37)
14 Twisting The Fabric (4:12)
15 Beyond Zero Kelvin (2:30)
16 One (0:58)

Total running time - 60:40

Line up:
Fred Lessing - production, vocals, guitars, percussion, keyboards, woodwinds and reeds, angklung
Mark Guertin - production, bass
Davis Raborn - drums
Jeff Markham - vocals
Paulo Chagas - reeds and woodwind instruments, percussion
André Marques - production, drums, percussion, some keyboards
Joana Lessing - percussion on Complexity, backing vocals on Ice Prospector
Adriano Pereira - clarinet
Paulo Catroga - piano on Beyond Trinity
Bruno Evangalista - vocals

Guests:

Michael Dorp (of German prog act Flying Circus) - vocals
Hugo Flores (of Portuguese prog act Factory of Dreams) - vocals
Helena Madeira - celtic harp
Vasco Patrício - guitar solo on One

Daymoon website

Monday, 12 August 2013

Progstravaganza 13

Artwork by Chris van der Linden
The thirteenth part of Prog Sphere's continuing mission to unearth the new, the strange, and the oddly normal has hit the digital highway a mere three years after the first one knocked the unsuspecting sideways. I don't know how they do it!

Progstravaganza 13 is rolling down your aural highway like a Panza Division. A colossal behemoth of a thing, some 76 bands have contributed a track each, covering all possible varieties and sub-genres of that much maligned musical madhouse, prog rock. OK, "scurvy-prog" may have been omitted, but I'll admit I've not had the time to listen to all 9½ hours (!) of it, so there could be some scurvy, or possibly even rickets-prog lurking in a dusty corner.




It's free, too, so don those asbestos gloves, stock up on vitamin D tablets and dive in! :)

While you're at it, check out Prog Sphere's new streaming service Progify, currently featuring the new albums by Daymoon, Ysma, Midnight Moodswings, and Dead End Space.

Don't forget to find the time to eat....

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Dark - Round The Edges

Back in the late 60s and early 70s there were many UK bands without record labels who made private pressings of albums, primarily to get the attention of record companies and secondly to give to family and friends. Last on the list and usually an afterthought was to make back some of the recording costs by selling copies to fans.

The print runs were never more than 99 copies to avoid Purchase Tax, the forerunner of VAT. The copies that were neither given away or sold to their usually very localised and therefore relatively small fan bases probably ended up in lofts up and down the country, forgotten until the record collecting boom of 90s took hold.

Private pressings covered every conceivable genre of music, and all of them have been sought after over the years, but the jewel in the crown as far as collectors of prog and psych rock are concerned, for no discernible logical reason, other than it looked and sounded great, is Round The Edges (also known as Dark Round The Edges) by Dark, who just happen to hail from my hometown.

Formed by guitarist Steve Giles in 1968, Dark built up a loyal local fanbase here in Shoesville, UK, but they had to wait until 1972 before recording their one and only LP at S.I.S. Recording Studios. The building is now long demolished, the site now occupied by a terrace of houses that stands almost opposite our old pub quiz venue of many years, meaning there I was attempting to drag long forgotten snippets of useless info from my addled synapses just yards from where record collecting history was being unwittingly forged nearly 40 years earlier.

Although websites like Discogs claim to know the number of copies made, Steve tells me otherwise:

"Always take these kind of 'facts' with a pinch of salt. Nobody - but nobody - knows exactly the quantities of each version. Crikey - even I can't remember, and I made them. If I had known at the time there was going to be all this furore over them all these years later, maybe I'd have made a note. 
All I know for sure is that there were 2 pressing runs of 30 albums each + 2 test pressings with each run meaning there were only ever 64 originals in existence.

I know that 12 of the first run were colour gatefolds. The rest were either single sleeve or gatefold B&W - but I do not know what the ratios were. At a guess I'd say 20 were single sleeve B&W on the first run and the 2nd run were 12 B&W gatefold and 20 single sleeve B&W - but that IS ONLY a guess.It won't be far wrong though. Expense was a governing factor over why there weren't more colour versions. I'm sure I didn't do any single sleeve colour versions."

However, as an example the record's collectability, these are the latest known sales of the record, info garnered from collectors almanac Popsike:

Aug-11: Single sleeve b&w version, in what is advertised as "EX" condition - £3300
Jul-08: Single sleeve b&w version, which, reading between the lines appears to be only slightly better than knackered although the seller optimistically listed it as VG- - EUR2210 (!)
Mar-06: Colour gatefold, but don't get excited, it's the sleeve only, and no booklet. - £560 (!!)
NB: See Addendum - at the bottom, naturally!

Lord knows what an original colour gatefold with the booklet, and with the record in at least VG+ would fetch, but given that there does not seem to have been a copy of any sort put up for sale in two years, the likelihood of one ever coming up for auction is remote. On the plus side, a collector would probably pay you £250 for that "warped so bad it's unplayable" copy buried in the junk box in your damp cellar!


Watch Steve unpack a box! The excitement is almost too much, so there's the track Darkside from two minutes in, to calm you down... :)

Although the band continued to gig after the album's release, and some studio sessions were laid down, which many years later would see release on various LPs and CDs, both official and unofficial, the need to earn enough to eat meant that the group sadly fizzled out.

It might be that had they sent out their record to the likes of Vertigo, Harvest, Island, say in 1968 instead of 1972 they may well have been given a deal. Being a former Vertigo "spiral" collector I can easily see them fitting into that roster, alongside the likes of Clear Blue Sky, May Blitz and Still Life, for example.

As drummer Clive Thorneycroft puts it "We often wonder what might have happened if we had met the right people, but we missed the boat". It has to be said that Northampton has never been at the centre of the musical universe! Back in 1998 when this quote originally appeared in an article in The Telegraph* newspaper of all places, Clive was the only band member who then still owned an original of the colour gatefold. If he still has it, it should at least should keep the wolves from the door.

This new reissue, from equally new American reprint specialists Machu Picchu, features improved artwork courtesy of Steve and Photoshop, restoring the colour to the rather washed out look of the earlier band approved Akarma version. The gatefold cover now replicates the original in that the band name and album title are not on the front cover, and the black border, the "dark round the edges" that was strangely omitted from the Akarma issue, is now fully restored. The labels on the actual record are reproductions of the originals too, all unlike the previous version. The Akarma vinyl might be slightly heavier, but it is difficult to tell, there isn't much in it for sure.

The lyric booklet has been expanded to include a potted history and previously unseen photos including recording logs and invoices from S.I.S. Recording Studios. The album cost the princely sum of £121.85½p to record and produce! That might not sound like a lot, but don't forget that was over 40 years ago, and as Steve was the only one working, he seems to have paid it all, a band whip round garnering enough tobacco for a couple of roll-ups. I may have made that last bit up, but it probably isn't far from the truth. The CD faithfully reproduces the gatefold sleeve, and the booklet in...err...CD size! You'll see all this on the video above.

The sound has been cleaned up too, and gone are the previous clicks from the rhythm track that occasionally showed up. The remastering has evened out the sometimes lopsided stereo image of before, and the whole thing is a great little package.

The music is an amalgam of psych and hard rock, with a 60s US acid rock influence always just below the surface. Opening with the seven and a half minute Darkside, we are taken on a languid trip through hard rock's dusty back pages, and I can well imagine the band being on a bill with May Blitz in particular, being a less frenetic and more laid back take on a similar sound. Steve tends to play the more melodic solos, while second guitarist Martin Weaver contributes the "raucous" plank spanking, as the sleeve notes accurately tell it.

Live For Today would not sound out of place on a Man album, and R. C. 8 features some humorous loo flushing as a rhythmic counterpoint. Heavily featured throughout the album is the good old fuzz pedal, a staple of hard rock bands of the time, used sensibly rather than drowning everything in grunge, and it works a treat. Of course wah-wah is also present and correct, placing the album firmly in its time.

This record is a must for collectors who want a more faithful repro than has previously been offered, and the sound on this new one is much better than on any previous issue. Fans of late 60s and early 70s hard rock/psych who have not come across this before should dig it, too.

This reissue is dedicated to Steve's daughter Carly who died suddenly and unexpectedly a couple of years ago, prompting a one-off reunion gig raising £3000 for the local hospital. They even managed to get second guitarist Martin to come over from Bulgaria, to where he had emigrated. A great time was had by all, and good things were born of tragedy, on what must have been a highly emotional evening for Steve and his family and friends.

That, unfortunately, will be the last we will probably see of the original line up, but Steve and Clive still play together in a new band, so you never know what may come of that.

* I assume this to mean the daily paper of choice for the UK's ruling elite, and not local evening paper The Evening Telegraph! :)

Tracklist:
Side 1
1. Darkside (7:27)
2. Maypole (5:02)
3. Live For Today (8:08)
Side 2
4. R.C.8 (5:05)
5. The Cat (5:21)
6. Zero Time (6:48)

Total running time - 37:53

Line up:
Steve Giles - vocals, guitar
Martin Weaver - guitar
Ron Johnson - bass
Clive Thorneycroft - drums

http://www.darkedges.net/

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Buy HERE if you're in the USA

Buy HERE if you're in the UK

Addendum, from Steve:

A B&W Gatefold was sold from France via eBay in March 2010 for 9999.00 euros.
A B&W Single sleeve sold in Northampton (of all places) on eBay for £6,600 on 28th Feb 2011 - 2 days after Carly died.
and April 22 this year again on eBay another B&W single sleeve version sold for 3499.00 euros, once again in France.

That article was in The Sunday Telegraph, December 20th 1998.

Clive does still have his original Colour Gatefold which is in Very Good Condition.

He doesn't plan to sell it.

Any offers, bearing in mind the price the B&W gatefold achieved (which wasn't owned by a band member), would have to be 'Astronomical'!

We did record a second album - Anonymous Days - during late '95 early '96 at Far Heath Studios, Guilsborough. (2 tracks were laid down at 'Outrider Studios' in Northampton, just before it closed down).
The album was financed by deals from licensing the rights for 2 or 3 re-issues of Dark Round The Edges.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Midnight Moodswings & Seiswork - The Dopamine Recursive EP

Midnight Moodswings is, as they put it on their Facebook page "... an increment from the confusion and seclusion that "Radio for the Daydreamers" have created. Imaginary people telling imaginary stories to imaginary listeners."

Keeping up the highly enigmatic front that RftD presented, attempting to find info on "Midnight Moodswings" leads to one chasing one's tail. Is Midnight Moodswings a band or a person? I've no idea, but I suspect that RftD and MM are one and the same, as both have their cover art contributed by Fractured Fractals aka Aki Srivastava...possibly, and of course, he may even be the protagonist. Maintaining such an air of mystery can be no easy thing in this day and age of instant access to information, and that is probably the point, so I will forgive what I may have initially thought to be merely a pretentious ruse.

"Seiswork" aka Clément Parmentier (no chasing shadows there, then) is a Belgian producer and musician who has loaned his knob-twiddling, and no doubt, mouse pad abilities to the project, having already worked with RftD, and Aphex Twin amongst others. 

Of course, identity mysteries aside, what we're here for is the music...



While the name "Midnight Moodswings" sounds uncannily like a Herb Alpert album title, the music here is coming from a much darker place, as Fractured Fractals' splendid artwork attests. These sombre minimalistic vignettes of urban angst and displacement laid bare before us are best summed up by the band themselves with a quote like "The pavements are stitched together with one predicament after another", as they put it on the Bandcamp page.

With one-off lines like that it is a shame that there are no lyrics on this album, as Mr Moodswings appears to be more than capable of writing introspective and enlightening poetry if the whole passage I lifted that quotation from is anything to go by.

A weary piano motif forms the backdrop for subtle percussion and effects on opener The Floor Is, and anyone familiar with RftD's sonic palette will know what to expect, albeit bolstered by Seiswork's modernistic flourishes that serve to inform the aural canvas with some intricate and diverting details.

Hints of children's voices fleetingly swirl through A Good Place and for a brief moment optimism emerges blinking into the shrouded halflight.

The overriding instrumental backdrop to this EP is indeed minimalistic and mostly minor key piano and sometimes guitar, overlaid with ghostly electronic atmospherics, and on To Sleep I am put in mind of Robert Smith's more darkly ambient moments from the Pornography era.

It is probably intentionally ironic that dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres, as fun seems in short supply. When You Cannot briefly lifts above the gloom to become merely melancholic, which in the context of this work is as close to upbeat as you're going to get.

Recursive of course is a word that describes the nature of stories (for example) that borrow from one another, and in that sense the themes throughout are reflecting each other. You can tell that Seiswork has collaborated with the Aphex Twin in the past from the repeated polyrhythms that appear on that same track, When You Cannot, and in other bursts of electronic percussion throughout. 

Tell The Difference has a rhythm track that sounds like it is based around the percussion of a dead-eye pool ball shot, and is really quite effective. The music in this piece reverts to the stately piano with guitar, this time joined by a bass guitar set to high treble. Overlaying this is either synth noises or treated guitar notes. The whole thing while musically simple is highly atmospheric.

As with everything here, it is best listened to with some concentration on headphones. As background music it will simply pass on by without making much impression. But, that's how I like my music; it should be there to be thought about, as well as satisfying some inner need. This is music as art, and the mystery surrounding this "band" (let's assume it is a band) is all part of the package.

Suddenly there is a voice...Between Night And Day commences with a pulpit preacher intoning through the murk "How terrible it will be for those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness", which is a Biblical quote from Isaiah. The tune itself delves even deeper into Robert Smith's history, the slightly flanged bass guitar being highly reminiscent of Faith-era Cure. Ironic that, given the Bible quote, don't you think? I almost hope it was intentional!

All in all The Dopamine Recursive is a highly atmospheric introduction to the unfathomable world of Midnight Moodswings, as we leave stage left to the sound of high pitched synth winds. Herb Alpert was never like this.

This EP is a taster for a full album, which should be worth a listen, methinks.

Tracklist:
1. The Floor Is 5:33
2. A Good Place 3:27
3. Interlude- Numb As Numbers 2:09
4. To Sleep 4:52
5. When You Cannot 4:03
6. Interlude- Alas! Time Never Flies 2:09
7. Tell The Difference 4:52
8. Between Night And Day 3:50
9. Outro- My Problem With Daylight 2:24


Total running time - 33:25

Line up:
To paraphrase Toyah, "It's a mystery"

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