Friday, June 29, 2012

Johииy Hαtes Jαzz - Turи Bαcк Tнe Clocк (1988)

One of the unlikely success stories of the late 80's New Romantic FM world and a prime example of that intriguing subgenre known as "sophisti-pop", JHJ's 1988 one-shot is mostly remembered as an interesting footnote here in the U.S. due to the #1 status of hit single "Shattered Dreams", a textured slice of Yamaha-led fun that still holds up rather well today.

That being said, this album is severely underrated within the context of the time period as whole: it's right up there with the best material of Swing Out Sister, Prefab Sprout and even The Blue Nile in sheer sonic crafture. Lead vocalist Clark Datchler is confidence personified and a minor songwriting genius: he wrote or co-wrote every cut here, including the shoulda-been-a-hit-but-wasn't 'Listen' and minor-key curio 'Don't Let It End This Way', which features a strangely haunting keyboard refrain between verses. His smooth tenor gives even the ballads, particularly the title track, a kick they wouldn't have had with a lesser singer.

Bubbling synths, layered guitar, gated drums and plenty of personality: you guys know the drill. Evidently they're due for a brand new record sometime this year after a two decade hiatus: we can only hope it lives up to the commercial appeal that these cuts have in spades.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Tony Stone - For A Lifetime (1988)

Born Tony Devenport at Battersea, South London (where the famous power plant on Pink Floyd's Animals was immortalized) and growing up with soul, pop and blues at equal lengths, tonight's star player adopted the stage name Tony Stone as a youngster and began something of a solo career at whatever pub might have him, bringing his Steve Winwood meets Bill Withers to many a delighted attendee wherever he happened to be performing.

After making friends with Westcoast luminary Ned Doheny and a number of others through the years, 1988 saw the release of this unusual fellow's one and only studio outing For A Lifetime to little fanfare on either side of the Atlantic despite lots of catchy, intelligent songs that fall in some wonderful space between L.A. and Motown circa 1979.

Crossover territory along those line is best illustrated through songs like 'My Good Friend James', with its soaring bridge and pulsating groove, but there's plenty of fun to be had in the occasional left turn sonically: 'Perish The Thought' is a Hi-Tech midtempo romp that should have put Tony right up there on the art-pop map alongside Yes and The Outfield: smooth as smooth gets, fellas. 

Despite a couple of questionable ballads and R&B elements throughout, Mr. Devenport was certainly more interesting than a lot of crooners from the late 80's, and although he's been fairly low-key musically since this came out, he's welcome back to it anytime!


Friday, June 22, 2012

Uиitopia - Aяτificiαl (2010)

One of the best progressive rock bands on the planet today happen to be Australian, led by the charismatic, Gabrielesque tone of Mark Trueack, eclectic soundscaping (think the pop sensibility of The Alan Parsons Project colliding headlong with Rush) and, in the context of this particular album, a surprisingly literal take on the concept of an overly-artificed world that has alienated your average person due to excessive technological and multimedia innovations and associated baggage.

Fans of modern progressive rock with big ideas, assloads of sax and a surprisingly immersive sense of songwriting, the line starts here!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

REVIEW: Sonic Station - Sonic Station (2012)

The pet project of guitarist/producer Alexander Kronbrink and singer/songwriter Marika Willstedt, this modern day Westcoast/AOR offering certainly couldn't have come at a better time: stalwarts in the genre such as Toto aren't recording new material, and the international commercial landscape musically has gone through some major continental driftage -- the decade where sumptuous stuff like this ruled the charts is already ancient history.

Featuring three other vocalists besides Ms. Willstedt and a surprising amount of variety as far as the tracks themselves go, I found myself glued to my speakers, salivating all the while: opening number 'Love's Gonna Show The Way' is straight out of 1988 with those blazin' keyboards, an infectious rumbler that wouldn't have been out of place on The Seventh One or that debut by fellow Swedish luminaries Time Gallery. Wow!

Four of the tracks here are led by the previously mentioned Marika Willstedt, and all in all she's probably an AOR fan's top reason for tuning in at all: Carole King don't got nothin' on this talented lass, and her voice is heavenly on songs like 'I Wish I Could Lie', 'Last Refrain' and 'Running Through The Night'. Earworm choruses I tell ya, earworm choruses!

The record is shiny enough to eat off of, immaculately produced and coated with a modern sheen that enhances the mix immeasurably. It's at least on par with Ole Borud's Keep Movin' mixwise, and the majority of the songs prove just as catchy and mesmerizing as any of the Westcoast classics of the early 80's, or, hell, even Jay Graydon's flawless work with Airplay and related studio work.

From ballads to highway groovers to fist-pumping anthems that validate every goodhearted feeling you've ever felt towards the world, Sonic Station stands alone in 2012 as an AOR release that goes the extra mile, even when you least expect it.

Buy It Here!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Яetuяn To Forεvεя - No Mystεяy (1975)

Classic fusion delicacy from the masters of space and time. It's a bit more funk oriented, (and, dare I say it, heavier) than their past or subsequent albums circa 1975, but that's definitely not a bad quality to have under any context.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Splεndεr - Hαlfwαy Down Thε Sky (1999)

Along with Vertical Horizon, pop savvy alternative rockers Splεndεr had a brief moment there at the end of the 90's where the public was warming up to anything commercially viable that wasn't techno, Britpop or Nirvana. The other factors involved here, such as catchy songwriting, admirable performances, and the legendary Todd Rundgren at the production reins don't really hurt either. Have fun!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

REVIEW: Suspyre - Suspyre (2012)

Few bands in the progressive metal spectrum showed as much promise as Suspyre did when they stormed the world with 2005's The Silvery Image. That particular debut was a brilliant monstrosity, off kilter whilst remaining nigh-classical in its curious contortions and motifs. They drew favorable comparisons with everyone from Dream Theater to Meshuggah, and have since continued to refine and reinvent themselves as an entity beyond that crop of colleagues.

Thus, we come to their self-titled here in 2012, and in doing so have not only shattered expectations, but have gone far, far beyond their peers into places mostly unexplored in a metal subtext, bringing in everything from bossa nova elements to beach pop...hell, even smooth jazz. The riffs dazzle, the keyboards accentuate the instrumental crossfires, and vocalist Clay Barton has evolved into a real wonder over the last seven years, a soaring talent capable of handling everything from radio-friendly melodic material ('Divided Son', the beach-metal 'Cancun') to more challenging blitzkriegs that harken back to the over-technical velocity that turned these boys into a household name in the first place ('Tranquility And Stress', 'The Man Made Of Stone').

All in all, these songs prove to be some of the coolest and catchiest Suspyre have put to posterity as of the present, and the whole album thrills the senses even at its strangest, unmetallish moments. I honestly can't recommend it enough!

Buy It Here!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sqυαckεττ - A Lifε Wiτнin A Dαy (2012)

Melding progressive rock with audience grabbing popcraft is one of those things that mostly went out of style twenty some years ago: the stuff of daddies and mommies heading into middle age such as The Alan Parsons Project, Asia, It Bites, Marillion and God knows how many other talented acts. Buzz and fuzz prevailed over synth-laden complicatives and layered harmonizing, and for better or for worse the world moved on.

Thankfully, the Noughties are and continue to be an extremely fractured era in music, the kind of world where anyone can reach anyone they please, a glorious landscape where progressive rock stalwarts like Steve Hackett and Chris Squire (of Genesis [guitarist] and Yes [bassist] respectively) can work together for 4+ years on mindblowing little albums like this one without giving two shits about the market.

These two masters have been doing session work together off and on since Hackett's brief stint with GTR back in the mid 80's, with this record being something of a culmination of their friendship and uncanny synergy. It's one hell of a potent combination, with a couple of tracks in particular like the single-worthy 'Sea Of Smiles' and acoustically alchemical 'Aliens' being earworms on par with anything done back in the late 70's-80's by any of the best of those bands who dared tread that elusive border between the commercial and convoluted. Squire and Hackett's voices rise like a mist above lush audio jungles, awash in thudding guitars, keyboards and the usual instrumentation, but the songwriting is top-notch and coalesce these familiar elements into vibrant sonic fantasies, grand enough to satiate even the pickiest of euphonic connoisseurs.  

Needless to say, progressive rock has a long shelf life ahead of it if electrifying records like this continue to propagate throughout the fringes and into the lucky souls of those blessed few who hold their antennas high. Magnificent.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Single Mothers - Indian Pussy (2012)

Primordial, filthy and sounding like something fresh out of an archeological dig for some kind of badass Californian pharaoh, Single Mothers are an L.A. act (led by singer-songwriter Harry Cloud) who are pioneering new, whacky ways to grind your brain to mush with their bizarre, yet beautiful take on buzzed out, modern day psychedelia.

Sonically, there's a billion comparisons but no true parallel within these seven cuts. There's a haziness throughout that brings back fond memories of everyone from Sleepy Sun a few years back to Kyuss, the Melvins... and even some of the more bizarre collectives out in Japan such as Acid Mothers Temple and Ghost. Unlike some of these aforementioned acts however, Cloud and co. never repeat themselves, and demonstrate diversity without fail: 'Tae's Watch' is comes across as gloriously pastoral despite some spaced out vocal madness early on, culminating in a blissful guitar solo in the second half of the piece, while instrumental 'Drowning' oscillates waves and waves of distortion that slowly gives way to soaring, choral serenity that soars above the noise.

My favorite cut, however, is the anthemic, chest-thumping 'Helicopter', a song that sounds straight out of the mid 90's in the best way possible. It's marijuana-laced pond scum with a pop sensibility, and I can think of a thousand bands out there who'd have killed to write something this good.

While I'm sorry to say I've never been to L.A., bands like Single Mothers keep giving me reasons to go and stay for a show, and that's not something I can say for just anyone.

Don't wait. Get this NOW...or regret it later!

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Coммodores - S/T (1977)

Classic 70's funk milestone, full of zoomin', brick houses like women, and the home of that prototypical lounger that launched a thousand radio plays, Lionel Richie's 'Easy'.

These fellas have done over a half a dozen fine, fine records since 1974, but this is an excellent starting place for anyone new to these guys.

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