Saturday, January 27, 2018

Andy Tillison Teases New Direction for Solo Project The Kalman Filter

What's going on in this image? What secrets reveal themselves if one gazes steadily at the lower left portion of the rectangle? Apparently, the answer is that one will have obtained some kind of insight into the story behind the music of The Kalman Filter, or at least strained their retinas on the new album's new cover.

Having originally announced a new ambient electronic album inspired by his walks around Yorkshire reservoirs, Andy Tillison has teased a change in direction for this 'solo' musical project. Now, the album looks to explore inspiration light years away from the woods of Yorkshire, and the story of how it got there involves underground military bunkers, The Fierce and the Dead, mood boards, and an Unruly Pachiderm. In addition to providing quite a bit of silly fun, Tillison's teaser story seems to contain several clues that are presumably leading up to an official announcement for The Kalman Filter album's record label, release date, and possibly some guest musicians. Whatever its ultimate form, this debut release from Andy Tillison's new project (complementing but not replacing his work with The Tangent) is available for pre-order, including the option of hearing early demos that will probably differ greatly from the finished album. We can only hope that those Unruly Pachiderms overseeing the album's release will have the good sense to release Tillison' music and accompanying novella in a proper vinyl package.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Vinyl in Sight: The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery by The Tangent

'The Album' as a musical format was born on vinyl, and it continues to lead an active, fulfilling life there. On this edition of Vinyl in Sight, we take a look at EU Proggers The Tangent's latest masterpiece, The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery (or, "Where Do We Draw the Line Now?")We have a full review essay for TSROFM over at Progradar, but the artwork and vinyl experience for this album are so fantastic that the LP deserves its own review. This is in large part due to the stunning images from Mark Buckingham (comic book art for Generation X, Fables, covers for The Fierce And The Dead, etc.), though the overall design and sound recommend themselves highly.

On the Platter

Buckingham's art (with colours by Chris Blythe) perfectly captures and re-expresses the political and emotional core of the album: Too much talk, not enough heart. "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaketh," says what some call The Good Book. What then of those who spew hot gas, whose blow-hardiness is a defining feature? Rhetoric without Logic is bad enough, but perhaps there is something worse: perhaps Heartless Speech damages Humanity worse than any concrete wall or mere political disagreement ever could. This sobering truth asserts itself in the gatefold:

 "The ACTUAL Story" is their story; it's the story we hear when we listen to the oppressed with open ears and open hearts. When we insist on inserting ourselves into the story, when we dictate the meaning of the story, we set ourselves up as a barrier to Humanity itself.

In this spirit, the art & packaging for the vinyl LP open space for the album's story with numerous cartoons and annotations along with full lyrics that develop the background and details for the songs beyond what is sung. The labels for each side are clean, vibrant, and unique though centered around a common aesthetic. Andy Tillison & Co. have a bit of fun here, as well. Guitarist Luke Machin is credited with lyrics for the instrumental "Doctor Livingstone (I Presume)," while the label for "A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road" pokes the bear a bit by crediting Tillison only with the arrangement—a cadre of particularly rancorous politicians and media personalities are named as the writers of the song. The discs themselves are clean, well-pressed, and feel substantial in the hand. They really didn't require any cleaning before play, and the holes were cut perfectly (secure but not too tight on the spindle). As usual, Inside Out Music releases only the highest quality vinyl pressing and packaging. The only disappointment in the packaging is that it lacks one or two illustrations from the CD digi-pack version, as well as the list of pre-pre-order supporters and a two-page (in the CD booklet) essay, "Where Are They Now?" Given the high cost of new vinyl compared with other formats, it's unfortunate when design elements have to be left out in the name of not raising the price further.

Oh, and there's a bit of an Easter egg on the label for Side 2 of LP 2—Side forty eight, eh? What's that all about? A song for The Remainers, perhaps?

In the Grooves

As we've already reviewed the music at Progradar, we'll focus here on the sonic experience of the album on vinyl. First things first: Jonas Reingold deserves to be heard in this medium. Of course, vinyl enthusiasts will be familiar with its advantages for reproducing low frequencies (given a good master), and that advantage is on full display on The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery. Reingold's bass is so massive, forceful, and acrobatic all over the album, and it's especially punchy and prominent in the LP grooves. On the high end, Machin's piercing guitar leads and Theo Travis' whirling wind instruments are wonderfully defined and sustained. The vocals benefit as well, especially when Marie-Eve de Gualtier and Tillison are singing together. Gualtier's voice sounds all the more delicate and atmospheric in the warmth of the vinyl. For those tired of hearing about the medium's 'warmth', let's say that there is a spaciousness and quality of air here that augments the clarity and tone of the complex and sometimes dense musical performances.

Again, the only drawback to this edition of the album stems from what is not included, namely, the excellent and very fun "Basildonxit" from the CD digi-pack edition. It would have been a tight fit and probably ill-advised squeeze without an additional side of vinyl, but it would be nice if the song had appeared on the CD included in the jacket pocket. In a more perfect world, the song would have accompanied the album as the A side of its own 7" record, backed perhaps with a short edit from the epic "Slow Rust." Nonetheless, the overall quality of The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery on vinyl warrants its purchase, even sans the bonus track. Our favourite album of 2017 paired with our favourite way to listen to music? Recommended without reservation.

The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery by The Tangent is available via the band's own webstore or, with a lower shipping cost for those in North America, from LaserCD.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The October Playlist: A Journey Through All Hallow's Eve

The Night of the Great Pumpkin is upon us once again, and you'll be wanting some music to accompany your celebrations. We've got you covered with a playlist to guide you through the four stages of an All Hallow's Eve, so please enjoy this carefully curated selection of ghoulish and goofy tunes as you bob for apples, full-size candy bars, or perhaps something a bit stronger.

Trick or Treat
"Keepin' Halloween Alive"—Alice Cooper
"Skullivan"—They Might Be Giants
"I Love You So Much (It's Scary)"—Boyz 4 Now

Halloween Party Games
"Vampolka"—Devin Townsend Band
"Zombies in the Mall"—Gizmodrome
"Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)"—David Bowie

The Witching Hour
"Dead Eyes"—Casualties of Cool
"Spooky"—Starflyer 59
"The Great Gig in the Sky"—Pink Floyd

Early Morning Cocktails
"Great Pumpkin Waltz"—Vince Guaraldi Trio
"Damned and Divine"—Tarja
"Devils, Angels & Saints"—Dead Artist Syndrome

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Album Review: Sugar Skull by Sleepy Driver

With their 5th studio album, Americana-Rockers Sleepy Driver have retained all the rollicking energy of their first release whilst adding nuance in their arrangements and sound textures. Built on the solid foundation of another ten great Peter Hicks songs, Sugar Skull displays the talents of a band in full swing across ballads, garage rockers, anthems, and progressive moody compositions. In short, it's a lovely album that encapsulates the spirit of Sleepy Driver for old fans and new listeners alike.

Opening track "Unpromise" begins with tentative acoustic guitar and rolling organ before settling into a mid-tempo jaunt. Halfway through, guitarist and co-producer Ethan Young-Lai launches the first of Sugar Skull's many perfectly-toned melodic solos; by the end, the sax and trumpet accents of the chorus take the spotlight for some singing and swaying of their own. This adds just a bit of a Country & Western feel to the proceedings. Lyrically, "Unpromise" is a great example of Hick's reflective yet direct style as the song's character turns from an initially regretful/cautionary tone--"It's what you can't unpromise/it's what you can't unsay/it's what you can't take back"--to the hopeful first steps of a new beginning--"I'm going to make that promise/I'm going to take that vow/I'm going to change my ways and get you back somehow.

This new approach seems to pay off with the heart-on-the-sleeve declaration of love that is "Finer Things" before taking a downward turn in "The Last Heart." Previously released in a nascent acoustic version and now the first single for this album, "The Last Heart" is a gorgeous and textured exploration of the phenomenology of broken hearts and shattered dreams. Dave Palmer's pedal steel solo and John Heinstein's organ bed take the lead in expressing these emotions, but there's an ambiguity in the song's ending. Barry Hughes and Mike Hathaway charge out of the chorus with their drums and bass as another guitar solo ends things on an elevated note; perhaps the emphasis of "Must be the last heart that's breaking" is more on the certain pronouncement that this is the last breaking heart than on the tragedy of their breaking in the first place.

The Americana lilt of the album's early tracks does not quite prepare for the scorching groove of the title track. Every instrument dances its own strong magic around a simple but aggressive lyric. The drums and bass are barely constrained in their tight pocket, the vocals spit and leer, and the listener is treated to a jazzy Rhodes solo, searing guitar solo, and the funkiest pedal steel run this reviewer has ever heard. "Sugar Skull" is a sock on the jaw in the best way, and would make quite the parting shot for a live set. The band bring a similar noisy energy to "Radio Dial" and "Lucia," the latter of which continues Hick's lyrical fascination with the subject of murder. In this song, the focus is on the paranoid tensions running through an entire town after a group of children discover the young "Lucia at the bottom of the well." 

Sleepy Driver can pound and they can coo, but on the moody, progressive centrepiece "Believe/Belong" they show that they can slow burn, as well. The attention to production detail evident on this year's earlier Decomposed album is turned toward a proper song here, and the results are arresting. Finger-picked acoustic guitar and punctuating piano carry the song's beginning moments as ominous buzzes and swirls fill the soundscape like a portentous fog. Juanita Bourque's backing vocals sound less like a harmony than a beautiful haunting in the dark ambiance, and again the listener faces an ambiguity in the song's extended ending of wailful pedal steel and nuanced percussive work. Throughout, every sonic element is crystal clear while taking on the character of the darkest, haziest night. Songs like this one and the title track really beg for a proper vinyl release to tease out the details and the spaciousness of the music, and of course that cover art deserves to be experienced in 12" by 12".

Sugar Skull is quite the feat; Sleepy Driver have managed to incorporate all the best elements of their past work while moving forward to fashion an album that occupies its own creative space. Really, the only drawback is the album's brevity. At 34 minutes, Sugar Skull leaves this reviewer wanting more, and the fade-out on closer "Rubies, Diamonds and Pearls" doesn't sound like a closing statement to such a strong song sequence. Nonetheless, the album succeeds on several levels: the band is both mature and experimental, the sound is powerful and clear, and the songs are complete in themselves while also holding together as a set. Recommended for fans of Country, Americana, Rock and Roll, a Good Tune, or just those looking for a good CD to play on repeat while driving the back-roads.

Sugar Skull released on October 20, 2017 and is available via Bandcamp