Anathema – The Optimist

11 06 2017

The OptimistThe Optimist is the eleventh album from Liverpool’s Anathema, and a continuation of the story told in 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit album.

I hear shades of current bands such as Archive in The Optimist, and from early on its quite clear that this is a much more electronic offering than recent Anathema albums. The 5.1 mix (by Bruce Soord with Vincent Cavanagh) is enthralling – the electronic beats of Leaving it Behind scatter around the speakers – and the audio narrative that is so important to this album feels much clearer in the 5.1 version.

Endless Ways is a beautiful track – I love the Pink Floyd-esque guitar riff, and the emotive, reverb heavy vocal from Lee Douglas sits really well in the mix.

‘The dream I’m creating’

The albums title track is a standout song. Although the band have made the theme of the album clear, the lyrics on the album are open to interpretation – and suggest a story of someone running away and looking for direction, or maybe salvation. The track The Optimist builds with layers of guitar over strings and piano, and the end section is very moving.

My favourite track on the album is the instrumental San Francisco. The Run like Hell inspired guitar riff runs as a counter-play to the piano arpeggio – and when the hard sequencer riff hits, I’m simply in electronica heaven. Giorgio Moroder would be proud of you Anathema! This track has to be heard through headphones or a 5.1 setup to be really appreciated. There is joy in repetition.

The next stop on the journey is Springfield. The guitar and piano lines (with a sweet separation in the mix) evolve until the wall of guitars hit you so hard it hurts.

‘How did I get here
I don’t belong here’

Ghosts has a wonderful Massive Attack (Teardrops) beat and a lovely string arrangement.

Anathema press session © Scarlet Page

Can’t let go is the most uptempo song on the album, and sounds like a hybrid of Radiohead and Tears for Fears – that’s a good thing by the way. The lead and rhythm guitars are stunning on Can’t let go.

The simple and direct lyrics of Close your eyes match it’s atmospheric and disturbing music, as it mutates into an almost Twin Peaks like jazz arrangement. The album artwork maybe displays another David Lynch (Lost Highway) influence.

‘Close your eyes, just dream on’

Close your eyes flows directly into Wildfires, with its heavily treated vocals and percussion, as the track moves towards its powerful climax. The child’s music-box keyboard and guitar underpin the sad ‘too late’ refrain.

‘Who am I?’

The Optimist closes with a solo voice and guitar performance that comes into focus as the full band kicks in on Back to the start. The most psychedelic track on the album, with Beatles like guitar / strings and uplifting harmonies.

“They don’t understand, cos they don’t talk for me”

The Optimist is a powerful and moving album, that really resonates in these uncertain and troubling times. It is also one of Anathema’s finest albums to date.

Buy The Optimist on CD

Buy The Optimist Vinyl

Buy the Optimist Blu-ray (includes mp3 download)





Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare

26 10 2013

Jonathan Wilson "Fanfare"It’s been a week of Wilson’s for me – a wonderful Steven Wilson gig at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday, and a new album from Jonathan Wilson this week.

The two Wilson’s were previously musically poles apart, with Jonathan’s 2011 album Gentle Spirit being a gentle updating of the LA / Laurel Canyon sound, there is now some common ground as the new album from the Wilson of the Jonathan variety has a more progressive feel, with echoes of ELO and Pink Floyd, particularly on the title track.

Fanfare has a much richer palette than Jonathan’s debut album, and this makes for a more rewarding listening experience.  The big drums, aching 70s strings, Fender Rhodes, sax and Floydian vocal line of the title track set the mood for the whole album, which if released in 1977 would have surely been a staple of FM radio for many years.

It’s that wonderful classic rock sound that I love, but with the clarity of 2013 recording techniques (albeit still analog recording). If you don’t immediately buy the album after hearing the stream of Fanfare above, then I will be deeply disappointed in you.

Her hair is Growing Long is a beautiful song, with Danny Thompson’esque bass, intricate guitar lines and harmonics, underpinned by deep pulsing strings, building to a heavily percussive ending.

Dear Friend has some of the best guitar work on the album, and a real live feel to the track, especially the bass / drum interplay in the song’s mid-section, and bears comparison at times to the other Wilson’s recent work in its experimentation with jazz rock structures.

The variety of styles explored on Fanfare is one of the album’s great strengths, and a case in point is Future Vision, featuring former Fleet Foxes member Josh Tillman, who delivers exquisite harmonies.

Starting off almost like a country song, Future Vision is one of my favourite tracks on the album, in no way influenced (coughs) by the fact that it mutates mid-way through into an almost mid-period Steely Dan sounding piece.

Another standout track is Cecil Taylor, which features David Crosby and Graham Nash, so you know the harmonies are going to be pitch-perfect.

“Completely alone, I remember the story
We all see the thunderbolt – we all feel the glory”

Phased vocals, simple percussion and layered picked acoustic guitar give the vocals a real space to breathe.

Illumination has shades of Neil Young, with a deep grungy groove, and a hint of Around The World In A Day era Prince psychedelia thrown in for good measure.

The crystal-clear mix and excellent instrument separation on Desert Trip highlights Jonathan’s production skills. Some fine backing vocals from Jackson Browne and Josh Tillman beef up the latter stages of this trip.

Jonathan Wilson

New Mexico conjures up a dusty, barren desert landscape, and features LA musician Omar Velasco on backing vocals.

“I couldn’t let you into my mind, I couldn’t get you out of my mind”

Lovestrong features some fine piano work from Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Ryan Adams, Stevie Nicks) and a guitar solo from Jonathan that David Gilmour would surely be proud to serve up.

Album closer All The Way Down reminds me a little of my favourite Ryan Adams album, Love is Hell, specifically the powerful tracks Political Scientist and The Shadowlands.

Snatches of abstract radio chatter and background noise seep through the strings, piano and guitar that follows the loping beat.

Fanfare is one of those classic albums that just begs to be played late at night, with the lights dimmed, and no distractions – put down your iPhone for an hour, and turn the music up loud.

All The Way Down is the perfect ending to what is already shaping up to be one of my favourite albums of 2013.

Buy the album on Amazon UK





End of Year Favourites

28 12 2011

It’s that time of year again, and here are some of my favourites from 2011 as it draws to its close.

I’ve tried to include audio or video clips where they are available, but I will not upload unofficial media.  If you like what you hear or see, don’t steal the music, support the artists and buy their albums or films.

Gavin Castleton

It’s been a quiet year from Gavin – sadly no new album in 2011 but a couple of free downloads appeared on Gavin’s SoundCloud account, including one of my favourite tracks of the year, Swim Good.  

Swim Good is a track from Frank Ocean‘s Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape release.  Gavin takes the song to another level, underpinning Ocean’s song with my favourite Portishead track, Roads from 1994’s Dummy album.

Listen to Gavin Castleton‘s version of Swim Good below

Listen to Swim Good on iPhone or iPad.

More Gavin Castleton music on cdbaby or iTunes

The National – High Violet

The album that soundtracked my summer.  And yes, I’m a bit late with this album, as it was released in 2010.  If you don’t already have the album, I’d suggest picking up the expanded version which has 7 extra tracks. Lemonworld is my favourite track on the album:

“I was a comfortable kid
But I don’t think about it much anymore
Lay me on the table, put flowers in my mouth”

Runaway is another highlight, sounding like a song that could have come from any era from the 1950’s onwards. Lovely strings (and a rarity in alternative rock, trumpet) on this track.

Watch a live version of Anyone’s Ghost below.

Buy The National – High Violet (expanded edition) or regular CD on Amazon

Wild Beasts – Smother

Deeper (with its Blue Nile Tinseltown In The Rain sounding drums) and Loop the Loop were the tracks I played most from this 2011 album from Cumbrian band Wild Beasts.

There are echoes of the late, great Billy MacKenzie in the vocals at times, and a lovely warm production on this album that makes Smother a more rounded album than 2009’s Mercury Prize nominated Two Dancers.

Watch the band perform Lion’s Share from Smother on Later With Jools Holland

Buy Smother on Amazon

Niki & the Dove

Swedish electronic duo Niki & the Dove releasedthe 7 track  The Drummer EP in 2011. Sounding at times like Stevie Nicks backed by Prince, I wonder if the duo’s name is some sort of Prince homage (Darling Nikki / When Doves Cry?).

Mother Protect starts off like a Siouxsie & the Banshees track from Ju Ju before turning into a wonderful electronic anthem, with a monumental key-change rounding off the song. Pop music is alive and well in Sweden, it seems.

Listen to Mother Protect from the Niki & the Dove Soundcloud site

Watch the video for The Drummer

Buy The Drummer EP on Amazon

Yes – Fly From Here

My favourite Yes album is Drama from 1980, when Trevor Horn & Geoff Downes of The Buggles were in the band (the Yeggles lineup), so its no surprise that I enjoyed Fly From Here, which has Geoff Downes back in the band, and Trevor Horn back behind the mixing desk.

New vocalist Benoît David sits comfortably in the mix, and the album is built round a track that was written by Downes / Horn prior to joining the band in 1980. The Buggles connection continues with Life on a Film Set, which is based on Riding a Tide from The Buggles second, and final album, Adventures in Modern Recording.

Watch the Fly From Here video below

Buy Yes – Fly From Here on Amazon

Pink Floyd remasters

Some of my favourite Floyd albums were re-released this year, in remastered form, with Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall sounding better than ever.

Granted they sounded pretty good in the beginning, but the 2011 re-masters avoid the common trick of brickwall mastering, when there is no space for the music to breathe or hit peaks and lows, and the end result is a terribly clipped mix.

Watch the Pink Floyd remasters TV advert below (full 2 minute ad)

Buy Dark Side of the Moon double CD
Buy Wish You Were Here double CD
Buy Animals CD
Buy The Wall double CD or pre-order the 3 CD box-set

And some albums I reviewed earlier this year…

White Willow – Terminal Twlight

Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow

Thomas Dolby – A Map Of The Floating City

Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning

Memories of Machines – Warm Winter

Slow Electric – Slow Electric

Releases I’m looking forward to in 2011

    • A new album from Lone Wolf (the follow-up to 2010’s The Devil & I)
    • a duets album from David Sylvian and Joan as Policewoman
    • InGladAloneness the final release from Dalis Car (the late Mick Karn & vocalist Peter Murphy from Bauhaus)
    • Hugh Cornwell‘s Totem & Taboo – which is being produced by Steve Albini in Chicago.  Live version (audience recording) of In the Dead of Night from the album below

Film

The majority of films I’ve wanted to see this year – such as Melancholia, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, I didn’t get round to seeing at the cinema, so I’m looking forward to their release on DVD / Blu-ray in early 2012. Hopefully I’ll review them soon.

Watch The Tree of Life trailer below.

TV

Boardwalk Empire

The quality of the writing, directing and the sets did not let-up for the second season. But in the final episode of the series, they killed off my favourite character.  I won’t give away the identity, but it was a shocker. Oh Nucky, how could you?

Buy Boardwalk Empire Season 1 on DVD or Blu-ray

Watch the Season 2 trailer

The Fades

The Fades is a British supernatural drama, about a teenager who can see spirits of the dead (the Fades). Some of the dead have not managed to make their way to heaven and so remain on earth, and become vengeful towards humans.

The battle between those who can see the dead (Angelics) and the Fades plays out over six episodes, and although the the special effects were not Hollywood quality, it really does not matter as the story was so well written. I’m hoping it pulled in enough viewers to warrant a second series, and a larger audience.

Watch The Fades trailer below

Buy The Fades DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon

Outcasts

Another BBC series was a personal highlight of 2011. Outcasts, a sci-fi drama set in the year 2060, has all the hallmarks of a future television cult classic.

The series is set around survivors from a dying Earth colonizing the planet Carpathia, and the developing conflict between the humans and the Advanced Cultivars (ACs) a group of artificially created humans. Good scripts, strong acting and powerful cinematography (Outcasts was filmed in an alien looking South African landscape), was not enough, and the series finished on a cliff-hanger ending, with no second series.

Watch the Outcasts trailer

Buy Outcasts on DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon





Porcupine Tree – The Incident

1 10 2009
Much has been made of the song-cycle approach of disc 1 (The Incident), and how SW wanted the album to be treated as a
whole.  It certainly pays off listening to Disc 1 in isolation, and in order, but some tracks do stand out in
isolation, especially “The Blind House” and the two most melancholic tracks on the album, Kneel and Disconnect and I
Drive the Hearse.
Kneel and Disconnect is a gentle piano and guitar driven piece, that seems to be refer to the younger Wilson leaving
his steady job and dedicating his life to music.
I Drive the Hearse has already become one of my favourite Porcupine Tree tracks.  There is a real pastoral feel to
this track, with some beautiful layered synths and mellotron from Richard Barbieri.
“You were always my mistake”
As a long-standing Porcupine Tree fan, this, to me, is the album where SW has really found his voice – the chorus of
The Blind House and the delicious close-knit harmonies on Kneel and Disconnect contain the most accomplished vocals
I’ve heard on a PT song so far.
Some sections repeat throughout The Incident, with recycled musical motifs and repeated or similar lyrics in a couple
of songs, but this is not laziness, rather a way of joining all the songs together to make one song cycle, especially
as there is no clear concept to the album.
Nods to SW’s childhood and musical upbringing, especially in “Time Flies” (Beatles, Hendrix & Pink Floyd references,
both lyrical and musical).  Great Expectations was mentioned in an online interview as referencing a childhood friend
whose life followed a troubled path.
“Hey there’s you, with placid eyes
Oblivious to what’s to come”
Drawing the Line features a haunting sample and an uplifting radio-friendly chorus that will surely work wonders live.
“Recording all my problems onto memory cards”
The Incident is inspired lyrically by a fatal road traffic accident that was described by a police sign as an
“incident”.  Musically it’s far removed from any other Porcupine Tree song, and maybe owes a sonic debt to Trent
Reznor, or Berlin era Bowie.
Time Flies was made available as an edit in Classic Rock magazine prior to the album’s release, and if you read fan
feedback on the various Tree forums, wasn’t universally accepted.  The version on the album that weighs in at a
healthy 11 minutes 41 seconds is the real deal though, and it feels like the centre-piece of “The Incident”, lifting
the mood after the darkness of the 8 tracks that preceded it.  Now this IS what I would refer to as Classic Rock.
Octane Twisted is a slow-burner that reveals its charms after repeated listening, and will surely appeal to new fans
that the band picked up from Deadwing onwards.
The Incident was clearly made to be listened to in isolation (you wouldn’t read a book or watch a film whilst checking
your Facebook messages so why do this with music) and it does sound amazing in 5.1, but by the same token over time I
think I will add key tracks to my ipod playlist (no, this is simply verbotten in PT Land!).
I must admit to being disappointed with Disc 2, as the songs just aren’t as strong as those on the main disc. Maybe
its me, but Flicker is a bit too PT by numbers for me. Black Dahlia is the strongest track of the 4, and the only
track from Disc 2 that I play regularly. Remember Me Lover seems to be lacking the magic of the tracks on the main
Incident disc, and whilst its probably a good song to hear live, I don’t choose to play it often.  I think Disc 2
suffers in comparison to the quality of the main part of the album.
The limited edition special edition of the album (the most expensive album, by far, that I have ever bought, so my
credit card statement regularly tells me!) comes with the 2 disc CD of “The Incident” plus a stunning 5.1 mix on DVD,
and a 116 page hardback book that includes lyrics and Lasse Hoile photography, and a 48 page softback of drawings
inspired by the album by Hajo Mueller.  Carl Glover, who produces the excellent artwork for no-man, is responsible for
the graphic design.
Tracklisting: CD1 – The Incident: Occam’s Razor / The Blind House / Great Expectations / Kneel and Disconnect /
Drawing the Line / The Incident / Your Unpleasant Family / The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train / Times Flies /
Degree Zero of Liberty / Octane Twisted / The Seance / Circle of Manias / I Drive the Hearse
CD2: Flicker / Bonnie the Cat / Black Dahlia / Remember Me Lover

The Incident (2009)Much has been made of the song-cycle approach of disc 1 of Porcupine Tree’s new album, The Incident, and how Steven Wilson wanted the album to be treated as a whole.

It certainly pays off listening to Disc 1 in isolation, and in order, but some tracks do stand out in as songs you could listen to on their own, especially The Blind House and the two most melancholic tracks on the album, Kneel and Disconnect and I Drive the Hearse.

Kneel and Disconnect is a gentle piano and guitar driven piece, that seems to refer to the younger Wilson leaving his steady job and choosing music as his full-time career.

I Drive the Hearse has already become one of my favourite Porcupine Tree tracks. There is a real pastoral feel to this track, with some beautiful layered synths and mellotron from Richard Barbieri.

“You were always my mistake”

As a long-standing Porcupine Tree fan, it feels as if this is the album where SW has really found his voice – the chorus of The Blind House is supremely confident and the close-knit harmonies on Kneel and Disconnect totally hit the mark.

Some sections repeat throughout The Incident, with a couple of recycled musical motifs and repeated or similar lyrics in a couple of songs, but this is not laziness, rather a way of joining the pieces together to make one complete song cycle, especially as there is no apparent over-arching lyrical theme to the album.

The are references to SW’s childhood and musical upbringing throughout the album, but especially in Time Flies (The Beatles & Hendrix mentions in the tracks lyrics and the Pink Floyd musical allusion). Great Expectations was mentioned in an online interview as referencing a childhood friend whose life followed a troubled path.

“Hey there’s you, with placid eyes
Oblivious to what’s to come”

Drawing the Line features a haunting sample and an uplifting radio-friendly chorus that will surely work wonders live.

“Recording all my problems onto memory cards”

The lyrics to the title track of The Incident were apparently inspired by a fatal road traffic accident that was described by a police sign as an “incident”, which is a cold, impersonal way of describing something so damaging and catastrophic.  Musically the track is far removed from any other Porcupine Tree song, and maybe owes a sonic debt to Trent Reznor via Berlin era Bowie.

Time Flies was made available as an edit in Classic Rock magazine prior to the album’s release, and if you read fan feedback on the various PT forums, wasn’t universally accepted.  The version on the album that weighs in at a healthy 11 minutes and 41 seconds is the real deal though, and it feels like the centre-piece of the album, lifting the mood after the darkness of the 8 tracks that preceded it.  Now this IS what I would refer to as Classic Rock.

Octane Twisted darkens the mood again, and reveals its charms after repeated listening, and is one that will surely appeal to new fans that the band picked up from Deadwing onwards.

The Incident was clearly made to be listened to in isolation (you wouldn’t read a book or watch a film whilst checking your Facebook messages so why do this with music) and in the order it was sequenced, and it does sound amazing in 5.1, but  over time I think I will add key tracks to my ipod playlist (no, this is simply verbotten in PT Land, what am I saying, forgive me!)

I must admit to being disappointed with Disc 2, as the songs just aren’t as strong as those on the main disc. Maybe its me, but Flicker is a bit too PT by numbers for me. Black Dahlia is the strongest track of the 4, and the only track from Disc 2 that I return to regularly. Remember Me Lover seems to be lacking the magic of the tracks on the main disc, and whilst its probably a good song to hear live, I don’t choose to play it often.  I think Disc 2 suffers in comparison to the quality of the main part of the album. But this is only a minor criticism, as this album is slowly becoming one of my favourites from the band.

The Incident (Special Edition)The limited edition special edition of the album (the most expensive album, by far, that I have ever bought, so my credit card statement regularly tells me!) comes with the 2 disc CD of The Incident plus a stunning 5.1 mix on DVD, and a 116 page hardback book that includes lyrics and Lasse Hoile photography, and a 48 page softback book of drawings inspired by the album by Hajo Mueller.  Carl Glover, who produces the excellent artwork for no-man, is responsible for the graphic design.

Tracklisting: CD1 – The Incident: Occam’s Razor / The Blind House /
Great Expectations / Kneel and Disconnect Drawing the Line / The Incident / Your Unpleasant Family / The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train / Times FliesDegree Zero of Liberty / Octane Twisted / The Seance / Circle of Manias / I Drive the Hearse

CD2: Flicker / Bonnie the Cat / Black Dahlia / Remember Me Lover

Lyrics quoted © Porcupine Tree
Roadrunner Records B002GZQY6Q Release Date 14th Sep 2009
Porcupine Tree website
Buy The Incident on Amazon UK
Buy The Incident on Amazon US








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