Grovjobb - Under Solen Lyser Solen. 2001 Sweden

After first hearing Vättarnas Fest, I wrote an enthusiastic review for both their albums at the time, and couldn't wait to hear a 3rd from them. So when Under Solen Lyser Solen did get released, I snapped it up immediately, and.... well, I didn't write a review, let's put it that way.

Yes, I was sorely disappointed. The album didn't have the dynamism of its predecessors. After a couple of listens, I filed it. Now 16+ years later, here we are again - and I'd gone as far as tagging it "weedout". This could be the final listen.

It won't be. Now it's also been about 17 years since I heard the first 2, so I cannot draw any memorable comparisons. What I will say is that the first word I think of when listening to Under Solen Lyser Solen is organic. This is a very laid back, drawn out, psychedelic work based on Swedish folk themes. There's no rave-ups, or meter shifts, or that much in the way of songcraft honestly. It just sort of drifts along, with quite a bit of repetition, and lovely flute and electric guitar shimmering away. It appears the band knew they were going to sunset, and this was the way they wanted to exit - riding out into the fields slowly as darkness descends. They certainly didn't go out in a ball of flames, that's for sure.

If memory serves, the final track here 'Reflection of Rafi' seems more in line with their other albums, and is the highlight.

Personal collection
CD: 2001 Garageland

Eclat - Le Cri de la Terre. 2002 France

On Le Cri de la Terre, it seems the band has moved away from their Minimum Vital-ish roots, which is to say there is less of the Medieval here. But in its place is a more aggressive kick-ass style guitar rock, with some nice keyboards (though not recommended for digital-phobes). Taken this further, I'd admit that the short electronic pieces are definite minuses here. On the plus side, guitarist Alain Chiarazzo can play with the best of them, his style is very much in the French school, and the Paysson (Minimum Vital) comparison continues on.

Personal collection
CD: 2002 Musea

Sanhedrin - Ever After. 2011 Israel

Sanhedrin are a new band from Israel where guitar and flute are the main thrust of the music. Features Shem-Tov Levi from the legendary Sheshet on flute. Melody is first and foremost, with a strong emphasis on old school analog instrumentation and production values. I'm reminded of bands from the 1980s and early 90s underground that were highly influenced by prime Camel. Groups such as Asia Minor, Minimum Vital, Solaris, and Rousseau all come to mind here. Towards the end of the disc there's a distinct Pulsar (hence Pink Floyd) influence. The modern Japanese group TEE also could be a reference here. A superb debut.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Fading (Italy)

Diagonal - The Second Mechanism. 2012 England

If the debut laid down the premise that Diagonal were to be the retro progressive rock band to be reckoned with, then The Second Mechanism fulfills that conclusion. Perhaps more studied than their first opus, with even more twists and turns to keep the modern short-attention-spanned listener completely enthralled - ironic given Diagonal's 1971 disposition. But such was the state of that era - and ours. Diagonal are a band that have gone from great to greater, and I can only imagine what they will come up with next. Let's hope the group continues to explore these paths that were not as tread upon as many people might initially presume. Diagonal are walking the little known side trails from the main highway. And there are many aural treasures to be found.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 England

Diagonal - s/t. 2008 England

Diagonal are the first modern UK band, that I know of anyway, to truly capture the essence, atmosphere, and sound of the original progressive rock movement from 1970-1971 England. Many groups have come along and tried their hand at generating the sound of Yes, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Renaissance, King Crimson, and Van der Graaf Generator. And while all of those groups are worthy of imitation, they only represented a fraction of the original UK movement. Of course, they were the ones that made the big time, so it's more than understandable how they attracted more admirers than others. But Diagonal has clearly absorbed the record collections of the deep divers - in particular the Neon, Dawn, Transatlantic, Vertigo, and Deram labels and their stable of bands. With Diagonal you'll hear references to bands such as Cressida, Samurai, Raw Material, T2, Beggar's Opera, Gravy Train, Spring, Clear Blue Sky, Diabolus, East of Eden, and Indian Summer. But here's the most important part to understand: They have absorbed the influence, not copy it. And so you get an entirely new album within a familiar context. And because the band has clearly studied this era in depth, not to mention incorporating the period instrumentation (mellotron, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, fuzz bass/guitar, sax), they are able to create an extract of the genre. What that means for us modern buyers is an enhanced product - perhaps even exaggerated. For my tastes, Diagonal have created the perfect retro progressive rock album. An album to be held up as an example of how to do it right. If you're a student of the genre, then let Diagonal be your teacher.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Rise Above

Astrakan - Comets and Monsters. 2012 England

While the first album stayed completely in the underground, at least Astrakan's latest album Comets and Monsters is slightly more accessible, being readily available from online retailers. Musically the band stray further towards the jazz end of the Canterbury spectrum. Adding female vocalist and keyboardist Celia Lu has defined their new direction. She sings in a higher pitched fashion - perhaps even pseudo operatic at times - similar to Dagmar Krause. But with a Chinese accent. It's a bit bizarre to say the least. I personally wish they'd exploit their rock abilities, but it seems Astrakan are more intent to stay within the jazz idiom. Henry Cow circa In Praise of Learning is a major influence on Comets and Monsters, but without the annoying tuneless improvisations, thus endearing the band more to my tastes.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Jaguar Steps

Astrakan - s/t. 2008 England

Astrakan starts afire with 'In & Out', which possesses a distinct Canterbury sound but completely run amok. The shredding wah-wah guitar left me breathless. Too bad there isn't much more of that psychedelic sound present throughout. Have no fear though, the melodic jazz rock that the Canterbury sound is noted for remains intact. The jazz influence becomes more prominent in the middle of the disc. Sax and organ all get plenty of time to shine. I particularly enjoy their extended use of the latter. It's important to note that Astrakan focus more on composition and atmosphere rather than noisy soloing, thus endearing itself to the UTR.

Astrakan says this: "Friends and followers of the band have likened their sound variously to Soft Machine, Zappa, Gong , Dave Douglas as well as to the newer jazz outfits such as Fraud, Led Bib and Get the Blessing." Apparently the band is looking for a bass player as well (now's your chance!).

Highlights: 1. In & Out (4:39); 2. Roundelay (3:50); 5. Andromeda (7:08); 7. Mostar (7:36)

Personal collection
CD: 2008 private

Psycho Praxis - Echoes from the Deep. 2012 Italy

[1971. A major city in the USA] Me and my friend Billy went over to Peaches Record Store and I just bought this great import album by an English band called Psycho Praxis. Dude, I spent 3 week's allowance on it. Looks awesome. A killer gatefold cover on Vertigo, mannn. Features acid guitar, Hammond organ, dreamy/amplified English vocals, fuzz bass, and flute. Reminds me of that other new band we bought called Uriah Heep, crossed with Jethro Tull, Atomic Rooster, and Raw Material. Right Billy?

....Except it's 2012 and they're from Italy.

I'm most anxious to see what they come up with next! Great album.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Italy

Litmus - Planetfall. 2007 England

Continuing on from You Are Here, Litmus ups the intensity level on Planetfall. Once again, Litmus trades in on the Hawkwind meets Omnia Opera market, though this time everything gets the "turned up to 11" treatment. 75 minutes of brain blasting fun. Hard rock thrash, aimless wah wah solos, Moog tweets, mellotron interludes, and monotone vocals. It's sooooo English spacerock. Not sure there's anywhere else Litmus can go with this concept - they've exhausted the possibilities of the style.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Rise Above

Litmus - You Are Here. 2004 England

Litmus' debut You Are Here blazes out of the gates with a monolithic guitar riff, twee-twee-twee Moog knob twiddles, and a neanderthal 4/4 rhythm, I was immediately reminded of those 90s aggressive festival rockers Omnia Opera, minus any of their Floydian cosmic buildups. Or, of course, I could have mentioned the real inspiration at work here – which would be primo early 70s era Hawkwind, if Lemmy ran the band that is. They put the “B” in subtle, and pulverize most of the songs right through the wall. The keyboardist is the same gentleman who runs the excellent Planet Mellotron site, and so no surprise the mellotron gets more than its share of studio time. Though good luck in hearing it over the racket. I like my space rock a bit more cosmic and trippy me-self, but OK, that’s not their bag.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 private

My Brother the Wind - I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity. 2011 Sweden

While the debut album traded in on some familiar modern concepts of space rock, I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity reaches further back into the recesses of time, and adds a dollop of atmospheric Krautrock to the proceedings. This is exactly what the band needed, thus providing the proper context for the inevitable psychedelic jamming parts. There's an art to setting the table before dinner, and it appears many bands just want to jump into a bucket of chicken, and call it a meal. While the first album appears to have been a spontaneous jam session, followed by the idea that maybe it would be worthwhile to edit and release - I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity starts with the knowledge of why the band exists, and where it wants to go. It may be improvised, but this time it was "planned randomness". So a bit more thought was applied before starting, rather than just plug in, find a key to play in, and wail.  The atmosphere here is much more dense and exotic, including a propensity to look East, just as their forefathers had done 40 years prior. My Brother the Wind is bordering on the brilliant here, and one hopes they follow this path further to release something truly incredible. I think this album also benefited greatly from an expansion of the instrumental palette - including Hammond, Mellotron, acoustic guitar, percussion, and electric sitar. So while I have rated both these albums the same (for now that is), I Wash my Soul in the Stream of Infinity is near the top of the range while the debut is at the bottom. Let's see what happens next.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Transubstans

My Brother the Wind - Twilight in the Crystal Cabinet. 2010 Sweden

Formed by guitarists Mathias Danielson (Gösta Berlings Saga, Makajodama) and Nicklas Barker (Anekdoten), My Brother the Wind (named after an obscure Sun Ra album from 1970) exists as the musician's vehicle for improvised space rock. I had feared initially that My Brother the Wind would join the Post Rock ranks, given the lengthy free associated album title favored by the genre, and the fact that Danielson had recently formed (and disbanded) a similar type group with Makajodama. But my fears were wiped away early on, as the guitar sounds are heavily affected in a psychedelic manner, and the group clearly is influenced by the 1970s masters. All the same, Twilight in the Crystal Cabinet takes some concentrated listening to work through the details in your mind. Because of the hour long length of the disc, there are many moments that probably could have been filtered out for a more compact and enjoyable experience. Like with many modern space rock bands, My Brother the Wind subscribes to the "if you can't find it, grind it" mentality to push an idea forward in a non-convincing manner. All the same, over time, I found myself enjoying the album more and more. There's something alluring about the psychedelic in music, a certain sound that makes you want to come back again and again. Interestingly enough, the one band that My Brother the Wind most resembles - and I haven't seen anyone mention this before - is the Californian group Djam Karet, especially if you consider titles such as Still No Commercial Potential. Nearby Oresund Space Collective would also have to be considered a reference, especially in the overall approach department. That is to say: Record hours of improvised space rock, and then edit it down for public consumption. It will be interesting to see where the band goes from here.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 Transubstans

Mathematicians - Irrational Numbers / Factor of Four. 1994; 1996 USA

In the late 1980s through the early 90s, there was a movement for rock/jazz instrumental albums (think mid 70's Jeff Beck here), that brought on a slew of interesting releases, most of which are long forgotten today. The indie label I.R.S. started a series call No Speak, of which the majority of their roster was made up of top level electric guitarists whose commercially viable days were at least 15 years behind them (Jan Akkerman, Robbie Krieger, Wishbone Ash, Ronnie Montrose). They also had a series of compilation albums called "Guitar Speak" that were highly revered back in the day. In parallel to this, Relativity Records was pushing out albums by more trendy artists such as Steve Vai, Vinnie Moore, and Joe Satriani, while also signing up the middle generation guys like Steve Howe and Gary Moore.

Indianapolis based Mathematicians were clearly a product of this movement. It's hard edged guitar fronted fusion, with mild complexity, and a few good melodies. Keyboards are there primarily to provide accompaniment to the guitar pyrotechnics. Make no mistake, Mathematicians aren't a "guitar hero" band, as the compositions are fleshed out enough to enjoy in a listening session rather than as a "how to record" for budding guitarists. While the debut is well done, the level of intensity and songwriting dramatically improves on Factor of Four, and thus is the recommended place to start.

If you're a "man of a certain age", then this review will most assuredly bring back memories of that era, and you'll probably want to investigate these two CDs (or at the very least go digging through your closet for the IRS/Relativity albums you own... somewhere).  I bought these in the 1990s, and they've held the test of time well. In fact, they've improved with age.

Personal collection
CD (Irrational Numbers): 1994 Aljabr
CD (Factor of Four): 1996 Acme

Quaterna Réquiem - O Arquiteto. 2012 Brazil

O Arquiteto is Quaterna Réquiem's first new studio album in 18 years. And really, as far as I'm concerned, it's the first new album by the band since 1990. Quaterna Réquiem has successfully reunited Wiermann and Vogel, along with long time drummer Cláudio Dantas and two new members on guitar and bass, to continue on the legacy they began on Velha Gravura. Unlike the Sithonia reunion that we just wrote about, Quaterna Réquiem eschewed the temptation to go retro with all analog instrumentation. Rather they decided to continue on exactly as if it were 1991 and it was time for a followup album. Still, the production standards are definitely 2012 and the keyboard tones are fatter and better recorded than the 1990 album - so fear not as they wisely upgraded in the production department. The highlight, of course, is the compositional quality which is richly layered and deeply thought out. Violin, piano, synthesizers and guitar all take their turn at leading the instrumental parade. It's a long instrumental album, as 22 years of ideas come pouring out, that requires close listening to fully appreciate. Quaterna Réquiem were at the forefront of the 1990 progressive movement, one that never really had much chance to spread its wings as the commercial neo-prog bands were dominating the contemporary audience at that time. If you long for the progressive rock sound of the 1990 era such as Solaris' 1990, Nuova Era's Dopo L'Infinito, Minimum Vital's Sarabandes, and Tribute's Terra Incognita, then Quaterna Réquiem's O Arquiteto will fill that void. It brought a rush of memories back for me. Highly recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 private

Quaterna Réquiem - Velha Gravura. 1990 Brazil

Quaterna Réquiem were one of the first bands of the late 1980s/early 90s progressive rock renaissance to review the works of the Mediterranean bands such as Quella Vecchia Locanda and Gotic, rather than the standard English "Big 3" of Genesis, Yes, and ELP. As such, their in-depth research of 1970's progressive rock adds a dimension sorely missing from most works of this time frame. Quaterna Réquiem performs a new interpretation of a much missed genre of music - what was once known as "Euro Rock". And the only thing keeping Quaterna Réquiem from classic "retro prog" status, that which is all the rage in 2000+, is the lack of analog keyboard instrumentation. But the compositions, skillful playing, and youthful exuberance carry the day here, so that Hammond organs and mellotrons are hardly necessary. A very fine work from a band that dissolved all too quickly in its original form.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Faunus

My original copy was the LP purchased upon release. It was an easy decision to switch it out for the CD not long after.

Ornithos - La Trasfigurazione. 2012 Italy

Ornithos are a sextet that is culled from the excellent ensemble Il Bacio delle Medusa. Like many new progressive bands from Italy, Ornithos looks back to the classic 1973 era for inspiration. On that front, Ornithos will remind the listener of other such groups like La Maschera di Cera, La Torre dell'Alchemista, and Il Tempio delle Clessidre. But Ornithos doesn't stop there, as they also have one foot in the classic Vertigo label heavy rock sound of 1971 England. In this way, they recall groups such as Areknames (Italy), Diagonal (England), and Astra (USA). With an equipment setup straight out of the 70s (Hammond organ, mellotron, sax, flute, loud psychedelic guitar) along with female/male vocals and a songwriting style from the past, Ornithos are the perfect recipe for a heaping dish of Retro-Prog. So if you have a craving for such a meal, then be sure to stop by Ornithos. They're open all night!

Let's hope that Ornithos doesn't take the classic Italian concept too far - that is to say - we are requesting another album! Too many of the best bands from 1972-1974 Italy were "one and done".

Personal collection
CD: 2012 AMS/BTF

The CD above is housed in a beautiful gatefold mini-LP design.

Sithonia - La Soluzione Semplice. 2011 Italy

It's a rare case indeed when a band that possesses a full 6 piece membership reforms after 13 years with all attendees still accounted for and present. Perhaps even more surprising is that it sounds like Sithonia picked right up where Confine left off, especially from a compositional standpoint. And, best of all, this time the band showed up with some old-fashioned analog gear, allowing Sithonia to showcase their immense songwriting talents with the proper (or preferred I should say) instrumentation. So I had asked the question in my Spettacolo Annullato review what that album would've sounded like with a less tinny and digital sound. And we get our partial answer here. It's different material, but the style is similar, and thus I think we know that the album in question would benefit with the addition of organ and mellotron, as presented here. Not to mention the fatter production.

All the trademark sounds of Sithonia are present: Great songwriting, an impassioned vocal performance (appropriately done in Italian), and excellent instrumental work which also now benefits from a larger palette of sounds to choose from.

In short, La Soluzione Semplice is Sithonia's best album to date. Quite a remarkable achievement for a band that was gathering mothballs for over a decade. Let's hope they continue this reunion with another effort!

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Lizard

Sithonia - Spettacolo Annullato. 1992 Italy

Spettacolo Annullato is Sithonia's sophomore effort and is a huge leap in quality from their good-not-great debut.

In some ways, the band succeeds despite itself. The guitarist plays in that annoying pseudo-metal riffing style, stopping just short of actually being balls-out metal (which would be far more preferable actually), with plenty of pig squeal guitar leads to send everyone racing from the room covering their ears. Worse are the digital keyboards, a set of plastic wonders that A Flock of Seagulls most assuredly would enjoy playing.

With that bit of grime out of the way, let's focus on why the album works. Primarily it's the compositions themselves, which are incredibly well thought-out while constantly on the move, in that classic early 1970's Italian style. There is quite a bit of thematic development as driven by the fantastic acoustic piano work, and the melodies are in your mind long after the music has stopped. With the right editing, and other factors, some of these songs could have been major label radio hits. But perhaps best of all is new vocalist Marco Giovannini's performance. What an outstanding impassioned display he gives here - some of the finest from the Italian progressive rock scene.

I rarely vote for re-recordings, but I would love to hear Sithonia record this album with a instrument setup of all analog gear and perhaps a bit more crispness during the recording. It should prove to be a masterpiece.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Mellow

Lumerians - Transmissions From Telos Vol. 4. 2012 USA

Being the eternal packaging loons that the Lumerians are, they decided to put a mirror image on the different LP covers, so the bird faces a different way on each. The cover above is the French version, since that's all they have on RYM and I'm way too lazy to upload the version on Permanent. Oh, the US version is on white vinyl and the French one is beige. This band loves their packaging details that's for sure.

Putting the baseball card aspect aside for a moment, what about the music? As I'd read prior, this album is indeed more loose in structure. It features 4 long jams, that are untitled. "I mean, that's such a square thing to do man... who names songs anymore? They have no meaning anyway, ya know." Side 1 contains three songs. The first is within their trademark motorik territory, recalling the Can/Neu! sound. Track 2 is really interesting, like a freakbeat 1960's track gone amok. You can just picture the Girl in the Cage dancing her brains out, with the psychedelic liquid light show flashing chaotically behind. Track 3 is the real revelation here. For the first time that I can ever recall, a band has successfully attempted the Middle Eastern psychedelic jamming of Agitation Free's "Malesch". For that alone, the album should be held in high regard. Pounding drums, hand percussion, haunting organ atmospheres, with synthesizer solos laid on top. Breathtaking. What a sublime track! Unfortunately the momentum stops on the side long track for the flip side. I can appreciate a jam with focus, but this one just meanders aimlessly with far too much noise and chaos to have any impact. Such a shame to not capitalize on the fantastic first side. Still a recommended album - just not as much as the potential suggests.

Personal collection
LP: 2012 Permanent

Lumerians - Transmalinnia. 2011 USA

Transmalinnia is the debut full length CD debut from The Lumerians, a new-ish group from Oakland, California who recall both the late 60s UK psych scene as well as the Krautrock masters. The rhythms are pure Krautrock motorik, straight from the Can and Neu! school. The dreamy vocals recall Barrett era Floyd, or perhaps more to the point, the early 90s neo psych of Sun Dial.  But the real highlight is the fuzzy 1960s vintage organ, which has this most wonderful thick and wedgy sound. As the music wears on, the albums goes deeper into the vortex. Pounding drums, celestial voices and the overall air of the original early 70s Kosmiche movement is upon us. The only thing missing is the cosmic blues guitar jamming of a Manuel Gottsching or Ax Genrich. Certainly the closest a modern American band has come to creating the original aura, energy and atmosphere of 1971 Germany. It avoids most of the hipster trappings, though not all of them. It is a bit too self-conscious to be authentic (not sure how one can avoid that 40 years later), but I'm very happy with this sincere effort and look forward to exploring more from the band. If you all are looking for a similar sound, then allow me to recommend Cranium Pie from England, a band that perhaps owes more to '69 Floyd than '67 Floyd meets '72 Can, but you get the idea.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Knitting Factory

Grovjobb - Under Solen Lyser Solen. 2001 Sweden

After first hearing Vättarnas Fest, I wrote an enthusiastic review for both their albums at the time, and couldn't wait to hear a 3rd ...