White Willow – Future Hopes

6 03 2017

Future HopesFuture Hopes is the follow up to the mighty Terminal Twilight from 2011 (one of this blogs earliest reviews)- so its been a long wait for new music from White Willow, the Norwegian progressive and (increasingly) electronic band.

Album number seven revolves around core members Jacob Holm-Lupo and Mattias Olsson and features for the first time vocalist Venke Knutson, who has had several pop hits in her native Norway.

Deep bass synth lines usher in album opener Future Hopes. It’s clear early on that the metal leanings of earlier White Willow albums have largely given way to a more progressive palette, topped off with layer upon layer of synths. Don’t worry, this is not a guitar free zone by any stretch of the imagination. The title track Future Hopes has some moving guitar solos towards the end of the track.

Silver And Gold is the most stripped back arrangement on the album – with just Venke, Jacob and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen performing on this track. The 80s music loving fan in me welcomes the Fairlight drums on this song. Silver And Gold is a beautiful piece of music, and Venke’s breathy vocals are perfectly suited to this track.

The prog is dialled back in on In Dim Days, a classic White Willow piece. There is plenty of space for exploration and lengthy instrumental passages on In Dim Days. The bass and drums work really well on the album’s heaviest track, and there is some nice hammond work from Lars Fredrik Frøislie (who has a huge part to play on the CD album’s closing track).

Recent White Willow music (I’m talking to you Floor 57 from Terminal Twlight) has often had me thinking “That would sound great in a J. G. Ballard film adaptation” and Where There Was Sea There Is Abyss is one of those moments on Future Hopes. One of two instrumentals on the album, this short atmospheric piece presses all the right buttons, reminding me a little of the textures and mood of side two of Bowie’s Low. It really sets your imagination flowing, which is always a good sign of potential longevity in a piece of music.

Photo by Dagfinn Hobæk

A Scarred View is the album’s masterpiece. Clocking in at a vinyl side filling 18 minutes and 16 seconds, it has all the time and space it needs to develop from its Vangelis Blade Runner like opening. A tale of arid desolation and drought damaged landscapes, the song contains some of the album’s best vocal and guitar performances. A Scarred View is one of those tracks with so much going on, and so many layers revealing new musical delights on each listen, that you never tire of hearing the song. It really does not feel like an 18 minutes long track.

Old school prog and 70s electronica fans will love the middle section of the song, with its heady mix of hammond organ topped with layers of moog, prophet 5 and especially arp solina (a mid to late 70s Bowie synth staple).  It takes me back to my youth, attending the laser shows at the London Planetarium, to a soundtrack of progressive and classic rock by the likes of Alan Parsons and Yes.

The whole album sounds rich and warm, especially A Scarred View. It is recorded so well, with plenty of space in the mix for the peaks and troughs, and sounds wonderful cranked up loud through a good amp and speakers. Buy Future Hopes on CD and vinyl if you can – not MP3 (I opted for CD but kind of regret not going for vinyl now, as I would imagine the album is made for that format).

Animal Magnetism is a CD bonus track, that was released nearly two years ago – you can read my review of the standalone release of the song, a cover of The Scorpions track. I loved it then and I still love it now!

Damnation Valley is the second instrumental, and another CD bonus track. Possibly a homage to Damnation Alley, the 1977 post-apocalyptic film? A bar-room piano and mellotron soaked piece, its a soothing end to this version of the album.

The album artwork from the legendary Roger Dean, and the quality album mastering by Bob Katz add to the whole album experience, and that’s what I believe albums should be – experiences. If you love the music of Genesis, Alan Parsons, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and all those progressive and classic rock artists from the golden era of the mid to late 70s, then this is an album you are likely to fall in love with.

And if you are already a fan of previous White Willow (and The Opium Cartel) releases – you don’t need me to tell you this is a must have album for your collection. Future Hopes is likely to be considered by many as a career high for the band.

Buy Future Hopes by White Willow on CD from Amazon

Buy Future Hopes by White Willow on vinyl from Amazon

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White Willow – Animal Magnetism (digital single)

20 02 2015

Animal Magnetism is the firswhite-willowt new music from Norway’s prog heavyweights White Willow since the wonderful Terminal Twilight album in 2011. The single is a cover of a song from German heavy rock band, The Scorpions.

Jacob Holm-Lupo and co have replaced the rock guitar of the original song with pulsating hard synthesizer sequences for the most part. The synths remind me a little of Tangerine Dream and the song serves as a fine tribute to Tangerine Dream’s founding member, Edgar Froese, who passed away in January.

Norwegian singer Venke Knutson makes her White Willow debut on this track, and has slotted in seamlessly straight away. The vocals in White Willow songs are usually very much to the forefront, but for this song, they are heavily treated and sit much deeper in the mix than is usual, which suits the claustrophobic, M83 on acid feel.

Don’t think for a moment that White Willow have watered down the song, it’s still very powerful, and the lyrics are very direct. Sirens and deep bass notes give a feeling of alarm, and the middle section of the song has a wild clarinet solo from David Krakauer.

This feels like a real departure from White Willow – and I can’t wait to hear the new album that’s due later in 2015. The album will apparently be part 1 of a 2 part concept album – so don’t be surprised if the prog returns with a vengeance. Welcome back White Willow.

Listen to a stream of the song below – and if you like it, buy the single on one of the links.

Buy Future Hopes – the new White Willow album, that includes Animal Magnetism  on Amazon.

Read the full review for Future Hopes





White Willow – Storm Season (Expanded Edition)

2 01 2015

storm-seasonWhite Willow‘s best-selling album is available again, in a remastered / expanded format from Termo Records.

The 2014 expanded edition of Storm Season includes extras in the form of Headlights (previously only available on the Japanese edition of the album) and excellent demo versions of Nightside of Eden and Sally Left.

The 2014 remaster of the album really does improve the sonic quality. The drum / synth interplay on the outro of Chemical Sunset sounds amazing. So even if you already have the original version of the album, its worth picking up this definitive version.

If you are new to Storm Season, or indeed the music of White Willow, have a listen to the selected Spotify streams in this review and then head over to Amazon if you like what you hear.

Album opener Chemical Sunset sets the scene, with its mix of prog and folk-rock and a slight touch of metal. Storm Season is an album of light and shade, power and calm, and Chemical Sunset is a well-chosen opening track.

Sally Left would not sound out-of-place if played alongside any of the current prog releases. The demo version on the 2014 re-issue offers a more electronic take on the track.

Endless Science is a rare gentle piece, driven by acoustic / classical guitar and awash with vintage analogue synths and real strings.

Soulburn is the centrepiece of the album. A gothic sounding intro gives way to crunching metal guitars. The track is a duet between Finn Coren (who sounds like Peter Murphy from Bauhaus) and principal album vocalist Sylvia Erichsen. I must admit that the metal guitar riffs do detract a little on a couple of occasions in this song, but that’s probably because I was never a fan of mid-90s metal.

Insomnia is powered by organ and a deep bass-line, along with a side-helping of prog’s favourite keyboard, the mellotron. I love the vocal treatment towards the middle of the song. White Willow’s Jacob Holm-Lupo is an excellent producer, I love the way he makes his productions sound so warm and colourful. Insomnia is my favourite track on the album – have a listen below.

The title track to Storm Season would not have sounded out of place on a mid-period Mike Oldfield album (that’s a compliment, if you were wondering!).

“Lost on a raging sea, lost on a raging sea,
I am the voice to lead you home.”

Nightside Of Eden closes the original album. The heavier guitar lines on this track hark back to the early 70s rock riffs of Black Sabbath and Rainbow, more than the 90s metal scene. A wonderful riff crops up on a couple of occasions, most noticeably in the middle section, and reminds me of Blue Oyster Cult.

Take a listen to the wonderful demo version of Nightside Of Eden – if you are a fan of Porcupine Tree circa Up The Downstair / The Sky Moves Sideways, and those album’s heady mixture of psychedelia and dance, you will surely appreciate this track, as it goes off-piste towards the middle of the song.

Apparently Storm Season is the most popular White Willow album. It’s certainly a very good album, but has not quite stood the test of time (due to the metal leanings) as much as earlier releases such as Sacrament, which was also reissued in 2014.

My favourite White Willow album (and one of my favourite progressive album’s of all time) is 2011’s Terminal Twilight. If you haven’t heard Terminal Twilight, especially the beautiful Floor 67, I suggest you rectify that mistake immediately.

A taster of the next White Willow album is due in January 2015, so visit the band’s website and sign-up to their email list if you want to hear when this will be made available.

Storm Season (Expanded Edition) – Buy Storm Season at Amazon UK

Sacrament (Expanded Edition) – Buy Sacrament at Amazon UK

Terminal Twilight – Buy Terminal Twilight at Amazon





White Willow – Sacrament (Expanded Edition)

25 09 2014

White Willow "Sacrament"White Willow’s third album, Sacrament from 2000 has been remastered and re-released in an expanded edition on Termo Records.

The band’s most recent album, 2011’s Terminal Twilight, is one of my favourite albums of the past few years, so I’ve found it interesting to explore some of White Willow’s earlier material. Opening with Anamnesis, all the elements that make up the band’s armoury are here – the flutes, classic 70s keyboards / synths, multi-layered acoustic and electric guitar and the vocals of Sylvia Erichsen, along with a powerful deep bassline underpinning the song. Some lovely subtle percussion drives the middle section of the opening track, before it gives way to a more raw, organic performance, with a real live feel.

Paper Moon has hints of Signify era Porcupine Tree with the emotive, reverb-drenched keyboard sounds. Jacob Holm-Lupo is an excellent producer, and always brings a warm, colourful mix to his recordings, especially with the vocals. If you haven’t already done so, check out his other major project, The Opium Cartel.

“You came, and left too soon”

The Crucible opens with a Hackett-esque (Spectral Mornings era) guitar intro, and keeps a pastoral feel throughout the early section of the only instrumental song on the album, which builds to a powerful, somewhat Floydian multi-guitar ending.

The Last Rose of Summer features Jacob joining Sylvia on vocals, in a moving track, which stands out due to it being one the most straightforward, simple arrangements on the album.

Gnostalgia is another album highlight. A slowly building arrangement, and my favourite vocal performance on the album, it’s simply a beautiful piece of progressive music.

“As echoes in a quiet land, where spirits may grow strong”

The closing track of the album proper is the disturbing The Reach. Setting the scene with it’s “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” opening (the original rhyme is often explained as being about the Great Plague from 1885, history fans), the track twists and turns though time signatures, and is a stark contrast to some of the gentler moments in the album’s preceding tracks. But there is beauty in decay and darkness, you just have to scratch a little deeper under the surface to find it.

“Fragrant night, give me shelter”

The album ends with a couple of demo recordings plus an audience recording from the era, but I prefer to hear the album in it’s entirety without the bonus tracks, though I’m sure long-standing fans will appreciate the extras.

Sacrament is an excellent album, that in this 2014 remastered form, doesn’t sound like a 14 year old album. Maybe it’s time is now?

Buy White Willow’s Sacrament (Expanded Edition) at Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight at Amazon UK

Visit the White Willow website.





The Opium Cartel – Ardor

6 11 2013

"Ardor" by The Opium CartelArdor is the second album from The Opium Cartel, an outlet for the more pop orientated music of songwriter/producer Jacob Holm-Lupo from Norway’s art-rock band White Willow.

Ardor is inspired by the 80s pop of The Blue Nile, Thomas Dolby, Japan, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, as well as drawing on more modern electronic music by the likes of M83 and Air.

Fans of 80s music will also recognise the warm synth sounds of the Prophet 5, Fairlight, Oberheim OB8, and the PPG Wave, that are scattered throughout the album’s 9 tracks.

Album opener Kissing Moon features Venke Knutson and Rhys Marsh on vocals, and features some wonderful, frenetic percussion and the first appearance of those lovely warm synths!

When We Dream (stream the remixed single version below) has shades of Icehouse and a-ha in the vocal performance from Norwegian singer Alexander Stenerud. The most commercial track on the album, with a very anthemic chorus, and an addictive guitar riff. When We Dream bleed’s pure unadulterated nostalgia.

Silence Instead is an early album highlight, co-written by and featuring  vocals from no-man’s Tim Bowness. A slow-burning song, with some delicious guitar work, and a synth sound that reminds me of my favourite Thomas Dolby track, Screen Kiss. Tim is a regular collaborator of  Jacob’s, featuring on the debut album by The Opium Cartel as well as White Willow’s progressive masterpiece, Terminal Twilight.

“The snowdrifts are real but the mountains are fake”

If you miss a-ha (who split in 2011), you will love Northern Rains, which sounds like a long-lost 1980s ballad from Morten Harket & co, underpinned by the Peter Gabriel rhythm section from 1980.

Sorry about all the 80s references in this review, but it’s fun playing spot the influence, and it helps that the 80s homage in the music is not ironic or cheesey, but playful and pays respect to the creativity and exploration of a much maligned decade.

Watch the Ardor album trailer

Revenant features the only vocals on the album from Jacob Holm-Lupo, and is one of the albums more progressive tracks. I don’t know if it is inspired by the recent French TV series “The Returned / Les Revenants” but there are certainly some nods to the excellent Mogwai soundtrack in the instrumentation.

White Wolf was the first song written for the album, and heralds a change in the album’s direction from this point in, with each track getting steadily more progressive. The middle section is very moving, and veers off into Yes-inspired territory towards the end, with a Chris Squire-like strong, melodic bassline.

The Waiting Ground has the classic synths still present, and features a great performance from Henry Fool (and current no-man live band) keyboard player Stephen Bennett.

“If I run, where do I run to?”

Then Came the Last Days of May is Ardor‘s only non-original track, a haunting cover of a classic rock ballad from Blue Öyster Cult’s debut album from 1972. This is one for fans of Opeth’s Damnation album, and a perfect way to set-up the album finale.

Mariner, Come In is the epic that completes the album. A rare vocal outing for Henry Fool’s Stephen Bennett, this track is more in keeping with recent White Willow, and the latter section of the track is most definitely jazz-rock and proud of it! A wild saxophone solo from Harald Lassen on top of layered synths is reminiscent of parts of the recent Steven Wilson album, and after 11 minutes, the track and the album itself, slowly fades to a close.

Ardor is a very different beast to the first Opium Cartel album, and feels more consistent (even though it has a wider variety of vocalists). It should appeal to a wide audience – from the more mainstream fans of modern electronic / pop to lovers of modern progressive music. Oh, and fans of 80s music!

Buy Ardor on Amazon UK 

Buy Night Blooms  on Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight on Amazon UK





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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