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If you have found this blog, it probably means you were searching for something that isn’t in the public eye. My intention is to promote awareness of artists that you would otherwise likely never know existed. If you like what you hear, support the artist by purchasing their music so that they can continue to create, and enjoy the release in the quality they intended.

Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Axis of Metal.

Kyoto Jazz Massive – Spirit of the Sun

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 24 June 2010 0 comments


Kyoto Jazz Massive – Spirit of the Sun – 3.5/5
Link

Formed by two brothers in the mid-80s, they began showing their eclectic style of music crossover by DJ-ing at the now renowned club “The Room” in the new bastion for all things wacky and weird, the Shibuya district in Tokyo (which is unsurprisingly where the 'Shibuya-Kei' movement began, combining jazz with pop). Yet despite their early beginnings, and even proving pivotal to pioneering the style of music now played at their local club on a near-daily basis, it wasn't until the late 90s that this style reached the hands of busy UK executives and the rapid decision to get them to record an album, the result of which is on review now and still the only full-length release to their name.

If anyone remembers my remarks regarding the nu-jazz duo Sidsel and Bugge I pointed out the natural shunning of their brand of jazz, mixing in electronica influences to revive the genre, but this discovery goes well beyond mere 'influences' right to the other side of the spectrum. This feels more akin to house music (as a best guess – it really isn't my area of expertise) slapped with some old fashioned jazz showmanship; replacing that monotone drum beat with an actual drummer and having a keyboardist and every so often a saxophone produce the tones the format requires. This all results in a release that genuinely feels like a 'best of both' situation, finding a balance between the repetitive electronica and the unnecessarily complex and egotistical jazz that is often remembered to create something original if not altogether unfamiliar.

Whilst it all manages to display a decent level of funk in the bass lines, shadowed by the smooth grooves much of the release can neatly be sliced into two styles; that with guest vocalists and that without. With recording occurring in the western world, it makes a nice unexpected twist to feature two British female soul vocalists – Vanessa Freeman and Maiya James – who do justice to the backing provided, which has naturally been toned down somewhat in order to allow them to carry the focus. Whilst not alone on the bill of guest vocalists, their powerful opening succeeds in diminishing the attention from the vocalists that follow, yet provide a gentle transition into their world.

Much in a similar manner to the vocally orientated tracks, the instrumental performances feel polarised; the precision performances from the keyboards, drums to drool over and that deeply felt funk bass lines that conjure images of a Herbie Hancock's “Chameleon” all over again prove just how powerful the style can be in the right hands, but the somewhat 'smoother' rides that emerge, slower and more reliant on more basic loops simply fall into the trap of monotony. This makes for a release that is somewhat depressing to mark as when it all comes together the result is nothing but brilliance, but sadly for too long things are allowed to wither into mediocrity.

Highlights: The Brightness of these Days, Mind Expansions, Eclipse, Substream

Area 51 – Goddess

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 20 June 2010 0 comments


Area 51 – Goddess – 4/5
Link

It's been two long years since their last album was released (and 18 months since I first found them) and it certainly feels as though their absence has been too long, as once again they prove themselves to be one of the most exciting offerings to emerge from the Japanese PM scene in recent years. Suffering the loss of their vocalist shortly after their debut, they returned with a new face and succeeded in surpassing their previous effort. Now with the departure of the bassist and drummer they find themselves relying on session musicians and yet, quite impressively, their third offering feels their strongest to date.

As you might expect much of the attention feels focussed on the combination of guitars and vocals, neither of which disappoint. Anyone familiar with past work will have no reason to find flaws with the delicate vocal lines, working her familiar soprano range with a surprising range and fluidity. And the guitars have also managed to once more raised the bar on their capabilities, adding a eloquent neo-classical flair that feels upbeat and yet with melodies so well crafted that it manages an oddly simplistic beauty, and with his ability to consistently provide a fitting solo that often becomes the track's highlight his abilities as a guitarist would seem to be underrated.

But that's not where his role ends; as the last remaining original member he finds himself burdened with much of the duties of writing the compositions, and yet the variety between the styles presented is still impressive, ranging from the almost 'Heavy Metal' overtones, instrumental interludes, quiet choral works and subtle keyboards emphasising the atmosphere. Whilst it never feels complex or a departure from their familiar style it maintains a continuation of their old formula, working on the individual elements to return with an marked improvement.

Yet, for my praise of these two musicians there is to my mind an unquestionable third presence from the producer, Jens Bogren. Comparing this release to their last reveals how much of a difference he has made on their sound; the guitars have a richer and more powerful crunch to them, the drums fire away with a biting intensity that was simply absent before and the presence of the bass has been raised to the point that “Daemonicus” feels remarkably tinny when placed side by side. There aren't many bands that can claim to genuinely improve on each release but Area51 have earned that right, and with some mild concerns about a stagnating sound I now await number four knowing it couldn't come too soon.

Highlights: Regret et Larme, Begins of Dissolution, Sincerity

Haken – Aquarius

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 10 June 2010 2 comments


Haken – Aquarius – 5/5
Link

Adagio. Redemption. Ayreon. Opeth. Dream Theatre. These are all names that any self-respecting prog fan should know and know well, and Haken deserve to be the next name on this list. A bold claim, given that there is little here that feels revolutionary, taking the same basic format used by others and performing much within its framework, layering classically inspired keyboards and a fusion frenzy of solo's to produce something oddly refreshing. Hardly surprising that this debut release feels so strong given that two of their members are no stranger to the genre; both guitarist and keyboardist from To-Mera resume their roles here as bassist and guitarist/keyboardist respectively, yet they are certainly not the only members here with talent.

In fact it is the untested vocalist that provides the biggest surprise, capable of offering the occasional growl and snarled line but altogether reliant on his more than impressive tenor capabilities and strength of voice, capable of both delicate and soft lines as well powerfully soaring vocals, and it's this versatility and emotion that comes across that place him amongst the best the genre has to offer. There is another pivotal point of versatility within this artist's construction though; the inclusion of the multi-instrumentalist keyboardist/guitar player, “Hen.” His role could easily become superfluous given the presence of a keyboardist and guitarist already, but his ability to 'float' between instruments allows for any number of tones to emerge; synths behind a neo-classical piano melody, acoustic guitar behind a gentle passage, organs, flutes, violins or whatever accompaniment the music benefits from can all be included to lend another dynamic.

There is no slack in the rest of the instrumentation either, each musician knowing their place and contributing to the end result; a fact highlighted in the two minute solo for 'Eternal Rain,' with each instrument taking it in turns to perform and demonstrate their own abilities. As much as knowing when to play, just as important is the fact that they also know when to move back in the piece's construction allowing what could easily become jarringly complex harmonies seem fluid and come across naturally; the bass comes forth in times of aggression or to produce a funky fill between passages but then is able to step back and let others steer the course of the track, and when combined with the finely tuned production, the result is a release that never feels anything less than harmonious.

To refer to them as prog metal feels a little out of place; between the “Redemption” like vocal lines, “Liquid Tension Experiment's” tendency for virtuoso performances and “Spock's Beard's” ability to get stuck in your head, the whole piece feels more suited to the rock genre. Many of the legends that make up this genre have existed for years – decades in most cases – and even fewer of them succeeded in making waves as early as their debut; both facts that make this all the more exciting as Haken is quickly shaping up to be a strong potential contender to their throne. I'll be damned if this isn't a shoo-in for my favourite album this year.

Highlight: Eternal Rain, Celestial Elixir

Level 42 – Level 42

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 4 June 2010 0 comments


Level 42 – Level 42 – 3.5/5
{Link removed due to Request}

Initially intrigued by the sublime bass work of Mark King, this is one jazz-funk band that - despite the high level of talent shown by its members - results in a listen that feels too ‘easy,’ or too simplistic. As though they have failed to truly push themselves to the limits of what they are capable of producing, and despite a number of strong tracks results in an album that somehow feels below what they are capable of.

The bass succeeds in being fairly prominent, if perhaps not quite prominent enough, as it is often his bass lines that supply most of the boisterous funk groove that is so integral to many of the tracks. No stranger to the ‘slap and pop’ technique, his presence is often the most technical feeling, and despite this never feels pointless, the melody being the focus. Vocals are featured on roughly half the tracks, and never become too dominant. With a smooth tone it really assists the flow of the slower tracks, and creates something emotional, even if not a dominant presence.

The keyboards are often used an atmospheric backing, though occasionally get to strut their stuff (e.g. Almost There), and they often succeed in adding depth to what could otherwise be quite a thin sound, but too often fail to add something memorable. Similar can be said for the guitars, taking notice of the distinctly clean sound, and how it allows them to easily sit in the final mix with an easily heard, yet at no point dominant manner, something which would perhaps be interesting to hear of in metal more often.

In fact, if anything is to be commended, it is how everything is worked together. By retaining a clean tone to the guitars and bass, everything can be layered on top of each other and retain a certain clarity, at no point does any instrument become difficult to discern, each performer contributing to the end result. It’s just the often fairly lengthy tracks (most well exceeding the 5 minute mark), where little in the way of change in style or tone occurs, that leads to an album that wears too thin too quickly, the funk groove not capable of sustaining interest for repeated listens. Nonetheless, an interesting listen, if perhaps on reflection not as impressive as I once hoped.

Highlights: 43, Why are you Leaving, Heathrow

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Guide

Guide to the Ratings
0/5 - This caused me physical pain
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.

I cant guarantee all reviewers adhere to these guidelines, but work as a general guide.

Author's credit is given on all posts.