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Safe In Conformity
Unicorn Records 2005
The title is to be taken seriously, yet a way back is a chance to savor the past experience.

Mass conservated got released effectively – the next one must explode: this was the verdict to the Canadian band’s debut, "Conservation Of Mass". Five years is a little longer term than needed for a successful follow-up to a successful album, so the high hopes fail at it. Not that ideas sound too elaborated now, no, the opening “Anatomy Of A Dream” introducing a listener to a palatably relaxed instrumental cobweb… and a time-warp to the early ’70s. Call that an evolution! Thus, gentle “24” and catchy “Self-Made Men” could zap harder if not for their Gabriel-isms and tempo changes that are quite hard to follow. Sometimes, like in “Sunburst”, melodies lull so one might even want some spikeness and spookiness to it, but again, no – “One Voice” comes as unsettingly raw as it could be taking it all to the metal territory with the band the wrong guide. The record’s title seems to be literal, as there’s no risk in the music this time, and whether conformity in a progressive rock – an adventurous genre – is good, is questionable. Yet there’s the closing “Omnipresent Umbra” which makes fingers cross for the difficult third album.


My Favourite Vice
T-Rox 2005
If the name sounds soulful, there’s a heart full of soul and a voice that’s pure gold.

These days it’s England that gives birth to the greatest soul singers, and while her name instantly reminds of Sam Cooke, Jem Cooke’s the best thing on the scene since the other Sam: Sam Brown. Yet “The Next Best Thing” isn’t boasting, it’s rather a toast to the future, but there’s a panache in her delivery worth a true star, and Jem’s future is undoubtedly star-ridden. The title track of this, her debut album etches itself on your memory like a tattoo she’s singing about; The Qube producer team may have contributed to the synthesizers and beats mix but it’s ultimately the lady who’s all frontal, vocally and lyrically: the blues of “God’s Asleep At The Wheel” burn hot, while “Didn’t I?” is as confessional as it gets even though the cut takes a listener to a modern disco floor. Too much going on for Ms Cooke – and more to come. Kneel down – a star is born!


Virus Divine
Unicorn Records 2005
Nothing regal, or fairy-tale-ey, but the buzz is alright.

Third album is a quirky beast, a point to prove yourself worthy, and Ryan Rosoff, a man behind El Paso, TX’s LITTLE KING has a lot going about his music, even the lyrical concept: an anonymous man’s moved to change the world having heard of the Columbine high school tragedy. If only there were hooks in this lot… From the opening “All I Need” it’s a radio-friendly fodder with a soft folky undercurrent, but that’s the American radio, and if you don’t get your kicks off Americana you can only respect the substance yet not get the form. The guitar work on display is amazing, though, on par with the prog rock’s best; still, melodies are too elusive to prop the six-string magic against. Until meandering “Second Wind” slithers in, with its sitar-like backdrop and lulling tones that, unfortunately, break into alternative screaming again, and then “Antibodies” which can really jostle its way into one’s head. A quirky beast, indeed.


Naked… And Finally Free
Andy Fraser 2005

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The hushed comeback of the thunder master.

Having disappeared from the public radar twenty years ago, Andy Fraser is back – but not with a vengeance. Not that he’s mellowed – Fraser’s always been very lyrical, which shows in any of the FREE tunes he took a part in writing, a new ballad “Someone Watching Over Me” on par with any of those – Andy’s just different, and that’s a natural progress. And it’s not just his perception of life has changed, maybe it’s America that does this to people; Terry Reid, another blues legend, took a similar musical path. A path which buzzes with polyrhythmic excitement where the famous bass rumbles only in telling “Too Far To Turn Back Now”, while a lead-in single “Healing Hands” gently kicks a jungle feel under the skin. Sting must beware, as there’s a real contender coming whose lyrics, filled with shocking candour as in “Yours Faithfully” that tackles Fraser’s illness, could hit much harder if not for the light-hearted reggae groove. This groove, so delicious in “All I Want Is You” (no, not the one by Andy’s former sparring partner, Paul Rodgers), hardens, roots-style, when “Jungle” brings forth the issue of intolerance. Yet there’s a fun in there, the joy oozing out of the brass-splashed rap of “Family”, and “Standing At Your Window”, one of Andy’s several co-writes with Frankie Miller, is surely chart-bound. He’s unleashed, Mr. Big, he’s happy and he shares this feeling. Thumbs up!


Colossus ADEA
Unicorn Records 2005
Streaming thinking for everybody to join in.

The American power trio’s brew causes a vertiginous effect, as William Kopecky’s (yes, that one) six-string bass shoots through the raving keyboards to the magnetic percussion dance. The insrumental wigouts aren’t for the faint-hearted, sure, while lysergic minds will find a lot of space here to drown themselves in, with the shortage of short pieces. Organ-led “Opposite Of Know” comes off as an exemplary classic progressive rock piece and, with its tempo changes, has something for anybody. Opening with a 14-odd-minute epic which is “Chromanic” might feel quite ruthless, though; still, the music surges, leaving the rhythm behind, only to break over, from funky calamity to piano calm and rocking flight. But the complexity sets a problem: four-part title cut seems unfocused in places, reaching its emotional height with “Into The Depth” female vocalizing, Annie Haslam-way. Tremendous! And then again off into the void where “Casa De Jig” coils encompass Miles Davis-like fusion (drummer Joe Babiak’s one hell of a trumpeter) and real Irish jig. Enjoyable, if bumpy, ride.


Tokyo Rose
Tokyo Rose 2004
A quarter of the century after the first bloom, the thorns are still as sharp.

It’s a rare thing – to have your songs covered but to not cover others’ material, in a studio or live. Ever. So this English band are unique. Which is great. What’s not so great is the fact that the group, formed in 1980, never had a major record deal. But they’re still here, with original members Derek Buckham and Val Ophield, and they have some great music to offer. You can visit to listen to the EP and see what the guys are up to now. You could call it post punk if “Tokyo Rose” the song didn’t bear THE KINKS’ jolly English imprint. It simply rocks and elegantly jives, though not as hard as “You’ll Hang Jack”. “Go For Gold” is contrastingly dramatic and, while the theme is the Olympic games, the real subject might read as TOKYO ROSE life philosophy. They’re not THE JAM, but they deserve to be well-ers.


Me The Enemy
Fluxury Music 2005
No self-loathing, only shapes of things to come.

Four years down the line since "Lunar Escape Velocity", the Dutch combo strike again, and strike hard. While the previous album was all understated music, the follow-up looms large, with this EP the first bite of its taste. Five songs herein aren’t of the same caliber, the title piece packing a mighty punch in the piano dance shot through with guitar slabs and vocals that grow out of synth line, big in a classic prog rock way. The band’s proclivity to get all reflective is still here, though: “After The Revolution” lulls and caresses, its flow palatable even to those whose choice is pop mainstream. Or even classical, as suggests “Light Of Other Days”, where male / female harmonies and bass / piano interplay hint on RENAISSANCE influence. Impressive. The appetite’s whetted – serve up the main course now.


Unicorn Records 2004
No retro and no looking back – but there’s a real headiness.

What a misleading thing it is. If the band, out of Norway, come from the past, it’s only an attitude – that meticulous ’70s attitude which has a thought laid out in wonderful detail – applied with a great skill to this, their first album. The opener, “Earthsong”, gives a good taste of things to come: Tore Bo Bendixen’s silky voice, wrapped in complex honeyed harmonies, revels in a guitar web cut across with gentle synth layers. It’s as atmospheric as it gets without causing the vertigo effect, just a misty-eyed reverie, where even some riffarama feels spicy. Especially when followed by acoustic textures of “Man” and bop-pop-experimentation of “Judgement Day”. And here’s a game called “Guess what’s the next turn is?” – a losing game and, therefore, addictive. It’s easy to get hooked but quite hard to find any substantial humor in this pot o’gold. Definitely a weak spot it is, even though swinging and majestic instrumental passages of “World Reveal” present themselves in an unusual combination. The punch is packed, yet the album’s a couple of tracks too long, so a certain dissipation can’t be denied. Then, it’s the first album, and if this is only a beginning, perspective looks bright.


Classic Diamonds
AFM Records 2004

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Revisiting your back catalogue with an orchestra isn’t a new idea, but there’s a different concept.

It’s a permanent contradiction with the metal ladies: hitting hard with your music while retaining your feminine self. The balance comes with an age of experience, and Doro Pesch is at it now. So, riding on a string sweep wrapped around an acoustic ringing, the opener “I Rule The Ruins” brings a cautious irony set against the titular “diamonds”. The songs gathered here are precious, indeed, and sharp, too; what’s more important, new arrangements serve not as posh embellishment but reveal the real Doro, sensitive and emotional. In this context old WARLOCK’s anthem “All We Are” works a treat as marvelously as a tremulous, adorned with a flamenco trumpet solo, ballad “Undying” from the singer’s last album, "Fight".

The two strains entwine to a great effect on JUDAS PRIEST’s “Breaking The Law”, first slowed down and then shot high duet with fellow German rocker, Udo Dirkschneider. There’s another new song, “Let Love Rain On Me”, possibly the most heartbreaking piece the lady’s ever done – still, both speedy and sluggish-paced numbers pack equal impact, and there’s no flaw throughout, as Doro skilfully eschews maudlin and pathos. It’s this secret spot that elegant songs like “Always Live To Win” or “Metal Tango” emerge from, it’s this secret place that classic diamonds shed a light on, it’s this secret place we’re now privy to. Bold and soft, Doro peeled off the veneer and became more loveable.


Emotional Creatures – Part One
Giant Electric Pea 2005
Hushed and humble, a new shoe-gazing star is born.

Steve who? One could be forgiven for not being familiar with the singing multi-instrumentalist from the South of England – and won’t be forgiven for not paying attention after listening to this album. For one, GEP’s output is scarce yet the label deals with quality material only; then, once the CD is given a spin and you take a look at the players’ list, you’re bound to shout out, “What? How could he rope in such a line-up!”, and push the button again. Yes, it’s understated throughout, but not on the lyrical level, as Thorne comes out bold in “God Bless America” to praise the US with IQ’s Martin Orford‘s gentle flute undercurrent , and pitches his desperation in the real-life routine, rather than realpolitik. Hence “Well Outta That” which cuts deep even without Tony Levin’s bass bottom line. That’s how Nick Drake would have sounded like had he embraced progressive strain – elegant and almost baroque, as in “Last Line”, modern enough to make it to the FM waves and quite grand to house Geoff Downes‘ surging Hammond solo spread over Nick D’Virgilio’s frenetic drumming before Steve unleashes a powerful guitar attack. The narrative may become too murky sometimes: “Therapy” could be very melancholic if not for its harmony filling, whereas “Gone”, in which the singer’s backed by JADIS attempts to rock hard but even thus doesn’t ruin the record’s intergrity. Still, it’s only a Part One. Now that we know the name, another question arises: where’s Part Two?


The Circle Of Madness
Unicorn Records 2004
“In-here” rather than “out-there”, the chaos steps out before the smooth order.

There’s no need for too much complication if the music flows naturally. That’s how it goes along “Eternal Light Avenue”: given that this, the Canadian quartet’s second, album is out some ten years after the debut and twenty years after the band came to be, the lead-in could have been taken with a good pinch of irony, if not for the delicious blend of guitar, sitar and violin it serves – and that’s only the string department. There’s an edge, yet pop hooks are scattered throughout, even in a pure prog of “The Wall Of Silence”, whereas “Crawl” might be an early ’80s dancefloor filler. An energy in the music’s ebbing is matched by immense tunefulness, while a dark undercurrent never falls far, be it a fiddle in “The Waves” or organ of “Say To Me” that turn ballads into poignant moodpieces, with Bernard Ouelette’s vocals no more than another colorization instrument. The second part of the record feels a little bit squashed into the traditional art rock form, still melodies and humor – a smell of rock steady for the catchy title track! – carry it all up to where the greatness resides.


SILO 10 – SILO 10
DogFingers /
Uncle Buzz 2004
Want some real ambience? Get the sound from the very bottom.

Silo 10 is not concept – it’s rather a place, a real one, in San Antonio. The place where James Sidlo continues his soundscape explorations. Yet, unlike his previous experiments with DREAMLAND and RE:COOPERATION, this project adds another dimension to the man’s deep thought: the folk one. While all the signature elements – floating guitar notes, pulsating loops, fathomless spaceness – are in place, an acoustic, John Renbourn-patented ring finds its way into the aural web to weave in the “Therapy Refuge” blurred finale. If that’s an influence of guitarist Warren Rivera, more plaudits, then, to Sidlo again – for his ability to find a perfect partner. The twosome are majestically wholesome in the buzzing “Pulse”, the splinters of a tune working a real acupuncture on a listener’s brain, but there’s no division bells on the record: it swirls and mesmerises constantly. Still, “Trip” and “Wildlife Crossing” that clock in just under eleven minutes each, are mind-bending in their own right and pass before the soul window in a blink of an eye. Well, sitting in a silo one cannot help but navel-zoom – epecially when silo’s a wishing well.


Greetings From Nostradamus
Unicorn Records 2004
Prophetically drumming into the future: insights and delights.

While most of the music becomes stolid, ethnical is solid – that’s where the creative action is today, with drums playing an extremely important role in. Drummer Vladimir Badirov might not be well-known outside Uzbekistan, so shame on the West, then! The East is drawing near in the drones and guitar harmonies of “Dreamway To Scotland”, yet there’s nothing apocalyptical about his music, but this stew of beats and strange sounds which come out of both traditional and electric instruments is red hot. Call it an Uzbek scat, the vocal line of “Nomad In Time”, and you’re indeed feeling your way into that miraculous, jazzy miragey world. It entralls, it lulls, it scares – and you can’t help but enjoy traveling the dunes of Badirov’s mind. Whether it’s a funky fusion of “The Heart” or “Mechanical City” skewed anxiety, the groove is leading the melody – to the grandiose effect in “Artificial Paradoxes” snake-like slithering of oud and the four-part “Greetings From Nostradamus”, the most Oriental-flavored of all and, in “Bottomless Abyss”, most spacey. Mind-boggling stuff that leaves you begging for more soul food.


Winter Wood
Wroth Emitter 2004
Pathetic paganism out of Russian gloom.

It’s dark therein. This kind of music usually comes from Scandinavia, but Slavic lands have no less backlog in their woods. And if this sort of style regularly appears entwined with metal, TUMULUS indeed arose from the ruins of SCALD who folded after their singer’s death. Enough for dark doom – but metal is still here, ringing around art rock dances like in magnificent “Odolen-Trava”. Sung mostly in Russian – the lofty title track and ethereal “The Thread” that are in English strange exceptions – the songs have quite an organic feel to them, with flute and acoustic strumming gently placed amidst the heavy riffing, yet space between vocals and music make it all rather artificial. That’s why “Sviristeli” just doesn’t register, no matter how beautiful its motif is – which can’t be said of the insrtumental passages mix. When it eschews metal, though, a folk masterpiece such as “Yavir”, the band’s vocalist’s Kuchma’s duet with a prominent singer Marina Sokolova, steers its way into a listener’s memory, stripped bare of the pathos which wraps most of the tracks, while All of this is typical for anyone’s debut, and “Winter Wood” is TUMULUS’ first outing. Enough for dark doom, then: don’t miss the bonus cut, “Obereg” – there’s a bright tomorrow in sight.


Unicorn Records
Progression In Balance Vol. 1
Unicorn Records 2004
Unicorns are known for attracting chastity, and the Unicorn Records’ music can’t be anything but pure.

There’s something magical about the digit “9” so, nine years into its existence, the Canadian label checks its records. As progressive as the music is, the chronological current has been cleverly turned off on the Unicorn’s first sampler, with a jazzy slow-burn of ADDISON’S PROJECT’s "Sleepwalking" for a start rather than MYSTERY’s naively yet enticing rocking “Theatre Of The Mind” which has spread out the way for all the other releases masterminded by Michel St-Pere since 1996. It’s not an easy ride – no way! – yet, the rhythmical bumps notwithstanding, very much enjoyable for those able to see bigger designes behind a free form in a free fall, although that’s hard not to fall for misty-eyed anxiety of "Amazed By Beauty" from HEON. "Slow Gin" by SPACED OUT wraps a claustrophobic cloth around your head, while XINEMA’s “Blind Is The Light” throws in a panoramic span of the picture and pulls you up. But closing three-track cycle from HAMADRYAD’s "Conservation Of Mass" steals the scene and once again proves the label’s immaculate taste. One horn is enough if it’s pointed in the right direction of progression.


ECHO US – Echo Us
Absolute Probability 2005
Reflections of the lands uncharted – for who can fathom bottom of their heart?

There’s a danger in this record: it just swallows you. While the "Greyhaven" album saw Ethan Matthews wallowing in the progressive rock contractions to a good effect, here it’s all effects wrapped around his voice. Electronica and synthesizers rule the game in his new endeavour, and the titular “Us” takes a listener to join a misty ride from the opening wave of “My Sirens” to the equally anxious finale, “In The Autumn”. The music bristles, then zips back to serenity, Matthews voice floats around, ethereal and down-to-earth at the same time. Unexpectancy may come awkward, with dancefloor salvo frightening away the majestic organ slide of “Her Heart’s Army” only to usher in the magical guitar solo, but fantastic “Dreaming” has so much going to it to reveal a new stratus on each spin. All of this, though, steps out before pure ’80s electro-pop of “Who Loves You” with its ska underline and classicism oozing out of the “Black Thursday” Jarre-ish buzz, as they’re light. And seeing the light at the end of an echo-ey tunnel makes one savor the journey.


Lightspeed 2004
A rocky road with no bumpy ride, with an escape velocity to keep you on your toes.

Canadians LIGHTSPEED were, then they were not, now they are again – and, hopefully, for long. Formed in the ’70s, split and reformed in the next decade, the band seem to have never lived through streaked and bleak twenty years that followed. It’s not bad – quite the contrary. This, their third album was worth the effort, a titular “Waves Of Emotion” taking in everything the ensemble master: an exquisite balance of progressive harmonies, hard rock impulse and emotive serenity. Here’s the puzzle complete, but any of its pieces is a diamond in itself, and there’s a game in guessing what’s round the bend. “One Last Time” may be a ballad too banal, if only one could escape its poignancy, but the angular “Razor’s Edge” simmers wildly on Rod Chappell’s bass rumble. And while three acoustic guitars and a CSN&Y-esque backing to John Persichini’s lead vocals in “Young At Heart” cool it down, the spicy rawness of “Things To Come” and a vigorous interplay between Gene Murray’s guitar and Gary Chappell’s organ make LIGHTSPEED’s world comfortable. Growing into it, waving, is a great feeling.


Lizard 2004
No shoegazing, no emptiness – and being watchers of the skies is great.

If your influences are right, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The Italian band’s love to GENESIS is too obvious to blame them for it – more so, it would be a crime because all the time changes introduced in “Damage Mode” serve the tunes. The music complexity and, in “Goddess”, quirkiness get behind the melodies, drums ringing delicately thoughout, but there’s a palpable feeling of a group balancing on the brink of good pop, frightened to toe the line. Well, the feat takes an ASIA pedigree to perform. Still, all the elements are in place: emotive voice and gentle flute, loping bass and extravagant keyboards ram “Shining Bald Heads” irony straight home; take the guitar attack out of it and leave the strumming, then cut in three separate songs – and voila! Here goes the hit for everyone – and lush soulful ballad “Deeper Still” is the one – whereas overall there’s a joyful immersion for the serious folks. Shaving the head is not required, though.


Walking On Eggshells
Bronze Records 2004
First release of the re-launched label sees its fire burning gloriously. Ivory hot!

True blues pianists are rare these days; the more sensational, then, seems the advent of this 24-years old English maestro. Superficially a link between Otis Spann and Jools Holland, there’s much more deeper classicism in Paddy Milner’s music – in broad terms – and those in need of reference points should stick to Jack Bruce in his ivory-tinkling stance. And it’s the melodies and vocal delivery which draw such comparisons, not the fact that on half of the tracks Paddy’s tunes demanded lyrical verve of Pete Brown’s. Add here the talents of, among others, guitarist Robbie McIntosh and legendary harmonica player Marc Feltham… and then forget it all for sheer pleasure of the music.

Easing in on samba-tinctured drama of the title piece, Milner breaks out into a scherzo-boogie, and his velvet twilight feels rather warm than neon-cold – more so, the barrelhouse whirlwind of “You Think You’re So Damn Funny” or “Dreamtime” is served hot. And it’s a real fun, when Stax-like brass makes room for waltzes that pull the strings in “Can’t Escape The Song” and “After The Rain” to zoom out from the streets into a star-strewn sky and back home to savour “The Awakening” lull. Paddy’s heart and nerve naturally counter-balance his effortless playing – otherwise, there’d be no playful blues like instrumental “Unsquare Dance” and Gershwin-ish “Beware Of The Groove” or poignant “Run For Cover” where you can’t help but share the man’s loss. That hits much harder than hushed-down, gently jazzy readings of “Rollin’ & Tumblin'” and “Lazy Monday”, yet they – as well as gracefully funky “Falling For The Moon” – are for another, grey mood.

Paddy Milner’s album is a multifaceted thing, so many fantastic colors springing out of seemingly monochrome setting, most furiously in “Back To The Real World” – that’s the way it should come from the black and white keys! There’s a tremendous confidence in his stride on such a fragile matter as eggshells, but ghostly his presence ain’t. The guy came to stay.

BRADY COLE – Sampler
The Scottish rock colors fly higher and higher – look it up over the wall.

There’s no stagnation while the contract’s still to be inked, and this young band turn up a new recording every now and then. Quite logical, as their lava-hot blues-rock best exemplified by “Remember Your Manners” which opens the bunch of songs etched onto tape in September 2004, shouldn’t be cooled. It is cool already. The first glance may reveal no sophistication in its embullient brew, sometimes – like in “Romantic Violence” – careening into the Britpop, but that’s until the tunes crawl into your psyche and guitar web undercurrent makes it to the conscious level. Still, who needs conscious when the visceral packs a punch here, with bass-propelled rock ‘n’ roll of “Chancers” burrowing down the spine to make the feet do the shimmy? Well, retain enough consciousness to play it loud, because even “Secret Life Of He”, building intensity from the acoustic breezing, clinches to your lapel to not let you go. Why bother? – you don’t want to walk away anyway.

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