Sand – A Sleeper, Just Awake.

25 09 2016

cover_275lA Sleeper, Just Awake is the second album from Sand, the solo project from Sam Healy of North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).

I bought the first Sand album in 2013, and it didn’t grab me straight away, but I rediscovered it recently and its had lots of plays particularly the haunting A Pill to Keep the `plane from Crashing (a track so good it appears on the forthcoming North Atlantic Oscillation compilation).

So I was pleased to find out that a new Sand album is on the horizon. A Sleeper, Just Awake builds on the primarily electronic vein of the debut album, but has much more variety in its choice of instrumentation and hit home much quicker than the first album.

Mayfly is a powerful opener and a real beauty – with a stunning arrangement and percussion that reminded me of Talk Talk and Steve Jansen / late period Japan. As with NAO, there are twists and turns and a great use of power followed by restraint that keeps you hooked throughout the songs.

L.T.G.B. has intriguing lyrics (I can’t wait to see them in the CD sleeve-notes) and is presumably a play on the term LGBT.

“Comic opera brought you here, months too late”

One of the first things that attracted me to NAO was the complex, often manic drums that topped a modern, progressive sound palette. Sand offer equally ambitious percussion, mainly using drum machines, which adds to the different taste between the two projects. Commitment to the Bit reminds me a little of Danish pop proggers Mew. I love the almost overloaded mix on this track, as it breaks down to a synthy, reverb-laden middle section, as the brief respite allows you to appreciate the songs power.

The awkward time signature of Seldom Used Furniture adds to the tracks charm, and at the moment, its my favourite track on the album. A slowly evolving arrangement in a song devoid of an obvious chorus makes this song stand out as one of the albums key tracks. Every single time I play Seldom Used Furniture I silently exclaim to myself “those synths”. Its a stunning piece of music, and one of Healey’s greatest songs.

“Knock yourself out”

Talking of time signatures, berceuse is a style of composition that is a lullaby, usually in 6/8 time. Sand’s Berceuse is instrumental for the first half of the track, before deep, heavy instrumentation and vocals disturb the arrangement before it shifts back to its almost mantra-like song structure.

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Embers ushers in one of the albums more atmospheric arrangements. Sparse guitar and synth populate the verses, with an almost Beatles / Lennon like chorus.

Initial has a Nine Inch Nails meets David Lynch vibe, with danger and disquiet hiding behind the almost cinematic string arrangement.

“First I damage you, then you carry me”

The album draws to a close with its two longest tracks. Coward builds from swirling organ and a click-track percussion track into an arrangement that blurs the boundaries between Sand and NAO.

“We’ve come to rest, at the edge of the air”

One of my favourite parts of the album is the quiet section just after 4 minutes into Coward. An almost no-man, Returning Jesus sounding section – just drums, bass synth, piano and distant, discordant guitar carry the song to its final destination.

The album ends with its longest piece, Earth Mound Square. I love the mixture of hard-sequenced synths and acoustic instruments that drive the first section of this track. I’m a sucker for songs that mix electronic and natural sounds, so I was always going to be a fan of A Sleeper, Just Awake.

The arrangement shifts, sways and evolves slowly, maybe mirroring how landscapes evolve over time through the gradually changing seasons. The end section has some moving, minimalist lines that bring the album to its conclusion.

Earth Mound Square is a well-chosen ending to a beautiful, moving and varied album by Sand. A Sleeper, Just Awake is already well on its way to being my favourite release from the North Atlantic Oscillation / Sand catalogue.

A Sleeper, Just Awake along with Hannah Peel’s similarly titled Awake But Always Dreaming, must surely be a contender for best electronic album of 2016.

A Sleeper, Just Awake is released 30 September 2016.

Buy the album

Buy the CD / download directly from Sand

Buy the download on Amazon

Buy the first Sand album on Amazon

Buy North Atlantic Oscillation – Lightning Strikes The Library – A Collection from Amazon

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The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness

17 08 2016

Your WildernessYour Wilderness is studio album number 11 from The Pineapple Thief, and is shaping up to be my favourite release from the band since Tightly Unwound from 2008.

Some of the pre-release press hinted at a return to a more progressive sounding album, but to me, its dialling in the classic rock element more than a progressive leaning.

Album opener In Exile has no build-up, and launches straight in with razor-sharp guitar lines and some wonderful drumming from Gavin Harrison (King Crimson / Porcupine Tree). The adrenaline rush of In Exile‘s end section remind me why I love rock music so much, with guitar work that is reminiscent of Steven Wilson and his heavier work with Porcupine Tree (yes, I know hesmovedon).

No Man’s Land ushers in some warm West Coast harmonies that are one of the album’s strongest weapons. A lot of the performances are driven by quite restrained / sparse instrumentation, so when the drums and deep bass kick in on No Man’s Land‘s mid-section, its a powerful and moving moment.

That Shore is a beautiful track, with a lovely use of delay and hanging notes underpinning the slow-building keyboards. Bruce Soord’s work on the Wisdom Of Crowds album (with Jonas Renkse) seems to have informed some of the soundscapes on Your Wilderness, specifically on That Shore.

Take Your Shot features some of my favourite guitar parts on the album, and blasting out through an amp and speakers (as opposed to headphones / MP3) the love and attention given to the album’s mix and mastering shines brightly.

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The Final Thing On My Mind is the album’s “epic” track, even though I can’t help thinking Joe Jackson’s Different For Girls is about to kick in during the first few sections of the opening riff.

“How did we get to be this cold?”

By far the most progressive track on the album, The Final Thing On My Mind has a powerful arrangement, especially when the instruments are pared back to the core of guitar, piano and vocals, making the heavier instrumentation all the more effective. This is the track I have found myself returning to the most when listening to the album. I can’t help but play it again and again!

Where We Stood closes the album on a sad note, with touching lyrics of regret and forgetfulness.

A special mention deserves to go to the design of the deluxe edition of the album. The 11″ book that houses the discs contains album credits, lyrics and some wonderful pictures from the Carl Glover archive. If you are a fan of Steven Wilson and no-man, you will be aware of Carl’s work, and these pictures of a long-lost USA – of family gatherings, cars on the Hoover Dam, family holidays in the 1950s and lonely motels, suit the album so well.

As well as containing a DVD with 5.1 mixes, the deluxe edition includes on CD 2 an album’s worth of new material (8 Years Later) that is often built from ambient / found sound flourishes and arrangements that veer towards Soord’s more electronic side, rather than the song based / rock elements of the main disc.

8 Years Later works well in its own right, but the main Your Wilderness album is arguably the best release from The Pineapple Thief to date.

Buy Your Wilderness on CD from Amazon

Buy Your Wilderness Vinyl from Amazon

Buy Your Wilderness (limited Edition) from Amazon

Buy Your Wilderness (limited Edition) from Burning Shed

Buy Wisdom of Crowds from Amazon





Knifeworld – The Unravelling

27 07 2014

Knifeworld "The Unravelling"The Unravelling is a wonderfully psychedelic, progressive album. Tracks veer from Pretty Things influenced 60s pop, to all out progressive tinged epics, often within the same song!

The album’s opening piece, I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight, sets the scene for the whole album, with shifting time signatures aplenty and a neat segue into the album’s shortest track, The Orphanage, which thunders along driven by some great new wave guitar.

Don’t Land on Me is a wonderfully progressive piece, with a feel of King Crimson in some of the instrumentation. The switching of lead vocals between Kavus Torabi and Melanie Woods works really well, especially on this track.

This Empty Room Once Was Alive is the most disturbing track on the album. Simple instrumentation underpins a song that at first listen seems to be a song about being haunted, but soon reveals itself to be about the deep pain of loss and the loneliness that follows bereavement.

“And all I am is frightened, I’ll forget just what we had”

Another track to be filed under disturbing is The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes. Shifting rhythms, spidery rhodes and an imaginative use of brass provide the backdrop to a gothic horror story. A track that works really well with the lights turned off.

Destroy The World We Love reminds me a little of the mood of Mansun‘s Six album. An infectious guitar riff underpins the song, indeed the second half of this track is one of the highlights of the whole album.

“You hold a secret in your hands”

Album closer I’m Hiding Behind My Eyes is my favourite track on the album, and is sequenced well, as the most traditional sounding track on the album. The song benefits from an even pace, only going off piste for a brief period in the tracks mid-section, as it builds to a perfect album finale. I love the interplay between piano and guitar in the first section of  I’m Hiding Behind My Eyes.

“In this cold galaxy, you and me,
Could form another world now.”

On first listen, you might be put off by the complexity of The Unravelling, but stick with it and you will be rewarded with a rich album filled with moving, haunting, imaginative stories set to powerful music that dips in and out of the decades for it’s inspiration.

Buy “The Unravelling” on Amazon





Storm Corrosion

5 05 2012

Storm Corrosion is the collaboration between no-man / Porcupine Tree‘s Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth.

Their self-titled album is released on Roadrunner, and has been described as being part of a trilogy (Opeth’s Heritage and Wilson’s Grace for Drowning being the other two albums).

Stripped of the metal flavouring of some of the duo’s work in their main bands over recent years, Storm Corrosion is a natural progression from both Heritage and Grace for Drowning.

The heavy guitars may not be in evidence, but the music remains dark, atmospheric and at times almost sounds like the soundtrack to a twisted, avant-garde European film that’s yet to be made.

Opener Drag Ropes has hints of the minimalism of no-man’s together we’re stranger album in the end section (especially with the light-touch percussion), and features some delicious string arrangements by Dave Stewart. The vocals are shared between Åkerfeldt and Wilson, with Åkerfeldt taking the lead for most of the song.

“I was immortal but I am your friend
To stay and be beside you”

The album’s title track takes it’s rhythm from the backing of gentle rain and distant thunder, and features Wilson on lead vocals. It’s a song of two halves – the gentle, mostly acoustic opening section soon mutates into a twisted, clattering diversion, before the strings and guitar return for the end of the song.

“Someone is calling her shorewards”

Elements of the real world seep into some of the songs – the weather in the title track, laughter in Hag, and on several occasions, you can hear the musician’s react to their performance, which displays a real sense of spontaneity in these recordings.

Hag is a mellotron and piano heavy piece, and features some off-kilter drums from Gavin Harrison, and a nagging bass-line.

Happy is the albums shortest track, and lyrically, doesn’t live up to it’s name! Like most of the tracks on the album, Happy starts off fairly serene, lulling you into a false sense of security, before disturbing strings usher in a darker section.

Storm Corrosion January 2012. Picture Naki Kouyioumtzis © 2012

As you would expect from a Wilson / Åkerfeldt collaboration, the production and mix is immaculate. Mastered at a sympathetic level, highs and lows appear organic and are given space to breathe and hit you on an emotional level, which does not really happen with the current trend for brickwall, in your face mastering.

Lock Howl is an instrumental track, with one of the guitar riffs reminding me of a late 60s Pretty Things track, that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Give me time, I’ll identify it!

Lock Howl shifts and changes several times during it’s 6 minute stay, sometimes exuding a middle-Eastern flavour and again making use of a poweful, emotive string arrangement.

The final (and longest) track on the album is Ljudet Innan, featuring a fine falsetto lead vocal from Åkerfeld in the first section. After a few listens (the CD only arrived from Burning Shed today), this is shaping up to be my personal favourite track on the album. Its a classic album closer, and the middle section (with some fine guitar-work from Åkerfeldt) lifts your mood after the much darker tracks that came before.

The title in English is “ancient music” which fits the song perfectly. The mid-section’s spacey, choral synths give way to a bluesey end section, with truenorth (no-man) influenced scattering percussion, before passing the lead vocal baton back to Wilson. Both Åkerfeld and Wilson’s reverb-heavy vocals on this track tread new ground, displaying an almost soulful feel.

Whilst I think Storm Corrosion will appeal to fans of later Opeth and Porcupine Tree, the album thankfully has its own unique identity. An Opeth / Porcupine Tree hybrid would have been a safe option, and probably a disappointment. This multi-layered, pastoral flavoured debut release from Storm Corrosion offers hope for further albums from the duo, and reveals new depths on repeated listens.

Buy Storm Corrosion (Special Edition) on Amazon

Buy Storm Corrosion (CD) on Amazon

Visit the Storm Corrosion website





Gazpacho – March of Ghosts

9 04 2012

March of Ghosts is Norwegian progressive band Gazpacho‘s 7th studio album, and the second for the excellent Kscope (home of Anathema, no-man, Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree & The Pineapple Thief) record label.

The album opens with the instrumental Monument, which seques into Hell Freezes Over I – with its naggingly addictive guitar line and jittery percussion intro setting the scene for the album.

March of Ghosts is a mixture of progressive elements with an over-riding pop sensibility. Whereas a lot of modern progressive music uses keyboards, particularly the mellotron, to decorate recordings, Gazpacho use violin and real strings which add a sense of warmth to their compositions.

Black Lily is one of the most immediate tracks, with a killer chorus, whilst still underpinned with the recurring guitar motif from earlier in the album.

Gold Star adds a celtic feel to the music, that continues through several songs, with some lovely percussive bells, and brass instruments (and possibly accordians somewhere in the mix), so it’s clear the band are keen to steer clear of obvious and cliched instrumentation.

Mary Celeste is one of my favourite tracks on the album, reminding me a little of Peter Gabriels OVO soundtrack at times.

“When they found us on the water
They didn’t see our faces
I hear the voices in the warmth
But we can’t get outside”

The inclusion of uilleann pipes works surprisingly well towards the end of Mary Celeste. After suffering uilleann pipes in THAT Celine Dion Titanic song, that’s a sentence I never thought I would write.

Listen to Gazpacho – March of Ghosts (Album Montage)

What Did I Do? is built around a simple, uncluttered arrangement, coated with rich warm vocal harmonies from Jan Henrik Ohme on the chorus. Oh dear, I’m starting to sound like I’m reviewing the other Gazpacho, the spanish soup!

The Dumb has a wonderful middle section, with dreamy descending piano over a gorgeous fretless bass-line.

“Stories left untold…”

The albums longest track closes the album, as Hell Freezes Over IV brings back the main guitar riff that under-pins the album, and March of Ghosts ends on it’s heaviest arrangement.

The bands Thomas Andersen describes the theme of the album – ‘The idea was to have the lead character spend a night where all these ghosts (dead and alive) would march past him to tell their stories.’ 

The lyrical themes are not too obvious, and leave plenty of room for personal interpretation, which is always a good sign for music that can be re-visited and re-discovered.

Watch the video for Black Lilly

Buy March of Ghosts from Amazon

Buy the previous Gazpacho album Missa Atropos from Amazon





White Willow – Terminal Twilight

28 10 2011

White Willow - "Terminal Twilight"I must admit, I’d not heard any of this Norwegian band’s music before, though I did buy the Night Blooms album by The Opium Cartel (another project from White Willow’s Jacob Holm-Lupo) but I was keen to hear the album due to the involvement of no-man’s Tim Bowness on the track Kansas Regrets.

The album appears to be based on an end-of-the world concept (a progressive concept album, oh no I hear you cry!), but it works well. Yes, it’s a very progressive album, awash with retro synths, mellotrons and shifting time signatures, all trademark progressive tools, but it’s also made up of some very strong songs and one of the best productions I’ve heard so far this year.

The albums second track Snowswept is driven by a powerful drum track and a crystal-clear vocal from the bands singer, Sylvia Erichsen.  The third track is co-written by Tim Bowness, who takes over lead vocal duties on Kansas Regrets.  The most acoustic, and at the same time probably the least progressive sounding track on the album, Kansas Regrets is a highlight nonetheless.

“Those country boys just left you cold
The local girls they acted old.”

The track features some gorgeous vocal harmonies and lovely harmonics scattered amongst the guitar playing.  Have a listen to the full song in the video below, which was  filmed, edited and directed by Dion Johnson.

If you are a fan of Bowness or no-man, Kansas Regrets will probably be the track that appeals to you straight away.  If you have any appreciation of progressive music, and the wide, colourful musical palette used in this genre, Terminal Twilight will quickly become one of your most cherished albums.

Red Leaves is streamed in full on the White Willow website – I’ve added a link below.

Red leaves by White Willow

There are times (especially on this track) when I’m reminded of Jeff Wayne’s War of The Worlds album from 1978, though the story on the White Willow album is told through the lyrics and the music only, no need for narration and so thankfully no appearances from David Essex required!  Some wonderful Gilmouresque guitar solos round off Red Leaves.

Floor 67 is fast becoming my favourite track on the album.  The lyrics really set the mood on this track, and capture the feeling of isolation and despair, as the apocalyptic weather destroys all in its wake, whilst the subjects of the song try to ride out the storm living in their own world, stocked up with alcohol in a high-rise building.

“But we stayed on through the winter
As the empire crashed and burned
And we heard the world grow quiet
And the voice on the radio said its goodbye.”

The chorus is very moving and I love the way the song ends, with snatches of ghostlike voices, almost like lost radio transmissions.

The mostly instrumental Natasha of the Burning Woods leads into the longest track on Terminal Twilight, the 13 minute Searise, the heaviest track on the album, which lyrically hints at the outcome of the song subjects quest for survival. Terminal Twilight closes with A Rumour of Twilight, a drone / acoustic guitar led instrumental piece.

So a new group for me to investigate, and a surprising contender to become one of my favourite albums of 2011.

Tracklisting:

Hawks Circle the Mountain
Snowswept
Kansas Regrets
Red Leaves
Floor 67
Natasha of the Burning Woods
Searise
A Rumour of Twilight

Buy Terminal Twilight at Amazon UK
Buy Terminal Twilight at Amazon US
Buy Terminal Twilight from The Burning Shed

http://www.whitewillow.info/








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