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Album review: TROY REDFERN – …The Fire Cosmic!

Troy Redfern - The Fire CosmicRED7 Records  [Release date 06.08.21] ‘…The Fire Cosmic!’ is the album Troy has always wanted to make. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s proud, it rocks hard and he achieves his goal of making a big impact. His imperious power trio … Continue reading

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Synthetic Villains: Obstacle Navigation Album Review

Synthetic Villains synthtic villains obstacle navigation

Obstacle Navigation (Bandcamp) CD/DL/Streaming

Released: August 2nd, 2021

7/10

Synth pop with rhythm for a year of blues.

Synthetic Villains – the solo side project of Three Dimensional Tanx  member Richard Turner – release their follow up to 2020’s eponymous debut album which we reviewed here. Much has changed in the world since then and the album’s title reflects that, described as ‘the determination required in life, journeys, and even the process of getting to make the album itself’.

Obstacle Navigation is, at its heart, great synth-pop, with lots of emphasis on the beat, mixed up with great hooks and an array of different instruments which creates a nuanced musical landscape that repays repeated listens.

Opening track, Valentina, has a Kraftwerk and early Ultravox feel. The layers of sound build up, like a train journey picking up various beats and melodies on the way. It ends with a lonely piano and mashed up sounds. Eighties boom box sound with layered chords over the top, and then riffs of Asian sounding pixels bopping around the screen, are next with the aptly titled Arcade. It captures the 80’s arcade excitement, the lost hours of a twilight world with flashing lights and digi-pop whines and howls. The music evokes the flashing lights of the arcade spilling across dark streets, enticing you in with ear worm music, explosions and the concentration of the shadows locked in an embrace with joysticks; man and machine as one. A threatening, big, heavy sound introduces the big boss showdown with a really cool riff, ending with the sound of pixels being killed. Game over, man.

Ghostly Shadows has strange jerky sounds, with a haunting piano playing riff over the top. There are dramatic strings building up, like a march of the dead in a lonely, stair creaking house. There is a spooky sadness here, as there should be in all good horrors. Computertune is a jingly Spectrum like little number, whilst I Can Hardly Wait, sounds anticipatory, with drums like a pounding heartbeat and expectant ethereal voices.

Panic Attack Kids has a riff of danger. The deep drums are like the beat for chained rowers on some ancient ship. There’s an Arabian sounding riff. This is a synth pop tune to throw weird shapes to on the dancefloor. Sunbeam Flyer has a warm sounding riff with human beat box noises underneath. There are sounds like solar flares jutting off into the endless expanse of blue sky. It feels like a drive in an open topped car on summer roads.

No Funfair has a rather creepy sounding calliope. It is ominous with a dark, twisted ring master conducting, as hands grasp for money and cons are a black art. Energy Exchange sounds like business being done, with a bass riff like Axel F, over a teletype beat. The album ends with Wander Off, Wondering, which has a Blade Runner score sound with its bleak cityscape feel and slightly Asian sounding riffs, as our hero wanders off alone and thoughtful into the night.

Obstacle Navigation is an album that melds synth pop with organic sounds to create a nuanced musical soundscape that is well worth checking out.

Obstacle Navigation by Synthetic Villains

You can find Synthetic Villains on Bandcamp.

 

All words by Mark Ray. More writing by Mark Ray can be found at his author archive. And he can be found on Twitter, Instagram and WordPress

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Album review: VARIOUS ARTISTS – Separate Paths Together (An Anthology Of British Male Singer/Songwriters 1965-75, 3 CD set)

separate paths anthologyGrapefruit [release date 30.07.21] Hard to see how an anthology could get any more specific. And interesting that it’s a companion piece to 2017′s female version. Well, interesting that the female version came first. In those ten years that spanned … Continue reading

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Album review: AMANDA LEHMANN – Innocence And Illusion

AMANDA LEHMANN - Innocence And Illusionwww.amandalehmann.co.uk [Release date 20.08.21] It must be nice to have such close supporters as Steve Hackett and, via his connections, Nick Magnus, Rob Townsend and Roger King.  All heavyweights who will assure the sonic qualities of any enterprise.  But it … Continue reading

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Album review: EDDIE 9V – Little Black Flies

Eddie 9V - Little Black FliesRuf Records [Release date 28.05.21] The explosive Eddie 9 Volt (real name Brooks Mason), is a man on a mission. He’s the personification of a post Covid cathartic release. After all, what is there left to do after a year … Continue reading

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Album review: JAGGED EDGE – Fuel For Your Soul / Trouble (Remasters w/bonus tracks)

JAGGED EDGE - Fuel For Your Soul / Trouble (Remasters w/bonus tracks)Bad Reputation [Release date 30.07.21] A cracking little package: 2 CDs remastered and laden with bonus material, from Eighties’ hard rock band, Jagged Edge, brought to us by French label, Bad Reputation. The band, formed by guitarist Myke Gray in … Continue reading

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Ultrasound release deluxe version of their classic debut album Everything Picture

Some bands should have been big but for acts like Ultrasound for all sorts of complex reasons it just never worked out.

And now music fans get a second chance to judge how good they were as they issue a  deluxe boxset version of their debut double album Everything Picture, including an extra two records featuring a variety of B-sides and singles plus a CD of live and session tracks. As an added bonus a 26-page booklet and poster is included in the package released by One Little Independent Records.

Formed in 1996, the Wakefield quartet were quickly courted by major labels and earned media attention with their grandiose glam-meets-prog live performances. Three years later they released their ambitious, monolithic debut on Nude Records, which earned them a dedicated cult following, and now maybe the long-term critical acclaim they always hoped it would.

That’s because Everything Picture remains a bold record full of distorted guitars sweeping over anthemic choruses and a rock solid rhythm section.  Cross My Heart is a big opener as larger than life singer Andrew ‘Tiny’ Wood lets rip, before the tight vocal harmonies of Stay Young and the bass led Fame Thing.

“Everything Picture was made with future generations in mind”, says Tiny. “So it is so appropriate that it should be re-issued, in a more complete form, to be discovered and re-discovered in future times.

“We were aware that the post Britpop present of the early millennium might not ‘get’ it. Many did, and many more grew and developed with it as it grew and developed a life of its own”.

The pulsing Aire & Calder opens the second record, and the band have released a never-before-seen video made two decades ago with legendary director Gerald McMorrow who worked with Catatonia.

“Finally it’s here” notes Wood. “The single that was due to be released in 1999 before the band unwisely split up. The song that may well have spiralled up the charts and confirmed the status of the band as living legends, or more likely a few collectors would have bought it to complete their collection.”

Ultrasound are also fondly remembered for a performance at Glastonbury Festival in 1998 during a torrential downpour, and a live recording of that legendary show is included in this reissue.

After the release of Everything Picture, and a myriad of press attention, the band broke-up just the big time beckoned so this reissue may gain Ultrasound a new generation of fans.

Everything Picture is reissued on September 24.

You can follow Ultrasound on Facebook and Twitter.

Words by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here.

 

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Various – Taking Some Time On – album review

Various – Taking Some Time On

Esoteric Recordings

4CD/DL

Released 30 July 2021

New collection from Esoteric subtitled Underground Sounds Of 1970, bringing together much of what was happening in progressive, hard and art rock during those formative 12 months. Artists featured include Deep Purple, Hawkwind, Kevin Ayers, Family and The Pretty Things. Ian Canty sets a bit of time aside to take in the post-psychedelic UK music scene…

As 1969 drew to a close, a new sense of realism flooded into the underground of UK popular music. It has become perhaps a bit flippant to say that the rose-tinted idealism of the latter part of the swinging decade swiftly dissipated under the shadow of the tragedy at Altamont and the Manson Family murders. But this statement no doubt had a fair element of truth in it, as the naïve notions behind flower power took a hefty blow. The seemingly endless realm of opportunities that psychedelia appeared to offer had already started to decline after the summer of love, with the more fanciful aspects of optimism that accompanied it beginning to look decidedly quaint by 1970. A hard-bitten, cynical feeling became a dominant feature of the UK in general and the rock scene was not immune to this.

Despite the onset of these somewhat reduced circumstances, many bands and artists were still seeing how far they could push things in the spirit of experimentation. The underground almost became a genre in itself. This is something that the parade of progressive bands, arty musos, hard rockers and politico upstarts that populate Taking Some Time On, a new CD set covering 1970, seeks to illustrate.

The collection begins with the riffy and very enjoyable title track by Barclay James Harvest. If you had written them off post year zero as mild-MOR types, you will no doubt be surprised at how much Taking Some Time On has in common with the Madchester sound of 1989. Following on in similar, “debunking their current reputation” fashion are Fleetwood Mac, a different band with Peter Green at the helm on the tough blues rock of The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown). Deep Purple’s Black Night will be of course familiar to most as it is gone down as a heavy rock milestone and it is followed by a couple of prog pop masterclasses in Refugee, by John Lydon favourites Van Der Graaf Generator and Geordie heroes Lindisfarne’s Lady Eleanor.

Atomic Rooster are caught in a laidback mood in Winter, with high voice, rumbling percussion and pipes building slowly and skilfully. Hurry On Sundown, Hawkwind’s debut single, may be a long way from the space rock they later became standard bearers for, but it’s still a mighty good acoustic blues ‘n’ harp stomper. The breakneck fuzz of See My Way by Blodwyn Pig provides a welcome blast of energy after a series of more reflective numbers, which included Jethro Tull’s pleasant and folky top five hit single The Witch’s Promise. T2, an outfit with links to Bulldog Breed and Gun, impress on No More White Horses. This one positively fizzes, powerful strumming and hammering drums conducted with an almost heavy metal-style abandon, then coming right down to a pretty acoustic setting for the verses.

It would remiss of me not to mention Egg’s The Song of McGillicudie The Pusillanimous (Or Don’t Worry James, Your Socks Are Hanging In The Coal Cellar With Thomas), trailblazing the long song title years before The Freshies, furious drums and odd organ stabs making for a satisfyingly hyperactive art rocker. This disc ends in style with The Shadows and Captain Beefheart crashing head-on amid Apache Dropout by the Edgar Broughton Band and Patto’s very cool and explosive Sittin’ Back Easy.

Disc two of Taking Some Time On gets underway with the quite brilliant Singing A Song In The Morning by the mighty Kevin Ayers, off-kilter soul pop with massive appeal. Even so, it’s just a small sampling of Ayers’ huge talent. Warm and lovely keyboards herald the start of Traffic’s very catchy Empty Page and the gentle and stately UK top 30 single Sympathy by Rare Bird is totally disarming.

Though Locomotive had started with strong ska influences, even having a hit with Rudi’s In Love in 1968, by the time of the glistening prog pop of Rain they had altered beyond recognition. The change clearly suited them. Canterbury’s Caravan are represented by Can’t Be Long Now/Francoise/For Richard/Warlock, a suite of songs from their second album If I Could Do It All Again, I’d Do It Over You that shows a whole range of imagination and flair in the jazz rock riffage stakes.

The excellent Stray from West London show up with the classy late psychedelic pop of Around The World In Eighty Days and Family’s A Song For Me finds Leicester’s pride and joy in hard rockin’, grandstanding form. One can readily imagine them blowing the roof of a gig venue sky-high with this monster. The Pretty Things were, in my opinion, one of the very best musical groups this island have ever produced. Grass, their contribution to this disc, is a very cool example of how well Wally Waller and Phil May combined post-S.F. Sorrow, elegantly marrying up power and beauty. Procol Harum’s Whaling Stories has some great crunchy guitar from Robin Trower and reveals itself in both noisy and quiet sections to be stirring stuff indeed.

At the tail end of this disc we have two bands who arguably had to be present on any set attempting to cover progressive music in 1970: Wishbone Ash and Yes. Ash’s evenly-paced 10 minute plus Phoneix grants ample opportunity for the twin guitar attack of Andy Powell and Ted Turner to soar effectively and on this reflective piece they are very much aided by the nimble bass moves of Martin Turner. For their part Yes on No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed are all about fast moving, keyboard-driven fun, with the western theme of The Big Country playfully tagged onto a Richie Havens number.

Named after the classic 1960s sci-fi series, Quatermass’ Black Sheep Of The Family starts off disc three of Taking Some Time On fittingly comes with a very futuristic intro, before morphing into a wailing and attractive slice of blues rock ‘n’ roll. They were led by singing bassist John Gustafson, who also featured in The Big Three and Roxy Music among others. Dave Edmunds’ band Love Sculpture give us an ornate post-psych pop wonder In The Land Of the Few, the opening track from their second LP. They return at the end of this disc to regale us with the rock-solid Why? (How – Now).

Things May Come and Things May Go, But the Art School Dance Goes on Forever by Pete Brown and Piblokto! has neat echo effects on the guitar sound which jousts with the keys until tailing off at the end into Dixieland jazz of all things. Fresh from their stint in prog mainstays King Crimson, McDonald & Giles don’t stray too far away from their previous band’s sound on the rhythmic Tomorrow’s People – The Children Of Today, but it is still a goodie.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer are another band who had to be here and Lucky Man, their offering, was apparently written by Greg Lake as a schoolboy. It’s a flowing piece of pop quite unlike their later, more bombastic offerings. Kevin Ayers, this time accompanied by his band The Whole World, give us the punky Lunatic’s Lament and the big and soulful Three Sisters by Affinity swings nicely, with the added bonus of Linda Hoyle’s excellent vocals, a joy to hear.

We reach the final section of Taking Some Time On with High Tide’s busy and nicely unusual post-psych folk rocker Blankman Cries Again. They were a band with links to The Misunderstood and Hawkwind, but the fresh and bracing sound they achieve here is what they deserve to be remembered by. With its relentless violin this tune reminded me a little of the great King Of The Slums and the track concludes perfectly with a bloody great explosion. Next Stray gives us another gem in the fiery All In Your Mind and Michael Chapman’s Soulful Lady rocks along in a steady fashion.

Curved Air are always a delight to find on this type of comp and this time out Situations ensues from a serene basis and then fleshes out with strings into a beautiful and inventive symphonic rocker. Family are again found in incendiary form on a live Good News, Bad News and The Pretties’ October 26 is an effortlessly cool drift of a song with a ringing guitar piece. Love Like A Man is a fairly routine blues rocker by Ten Years After, but What? by The Move shows the shift of power the band underwent, with Jeff Lynne’s ornately orchestrated sonics taking centre stage. It feels entirely right that Yes bring down the curtain on Taking Some Time On with Jon Anderson’s pleasing rhythmic shaker Astral Traveller.

Presented in a sturdy and well designed clamshell box that helps to give Taking Some Time On a truly weighty feel, this set could well work as an attractive starter pack for anyone keen to dip a toe into the more cerebral strands of early 1970s UK rock. I found this on the whole a very enjoyable collection, the only real criticism I can think of is that perhaps it would have been enhanced by having more bands and artists included, rather than a fair few featuring twice. Nevertheless most acts acquit themselves admirably. There is very little of the showing off for its own sake which became more prevalent later on, here things are all kept reasonably fresh. All of which goes to provide lucid picture of an inventive underground music scene and there’s many a twist and turn that may both surprise and delight.

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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Album review: CATS IN SPACE – Diamonds (The Best Of)

CATS IN SPACE - Diamonds (The Best Of)Harmony Factory [Release date 10.09.21] The last time I saw CiS was in December 2019 – little did we know that a few months later the live music scene would change dramatically.  A pre-Xmas gig it certainly emphasised just how … Continue reading

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Album review: TOBY HITCHCOCK- Changes

TOBY HITCHCOCK- ChangesFrontiers Records (Release Date 09.07.21) Less than a year after the latest Pride of Lions album and only two after his ‘Reckoning’ release, powerhouse singer Toby Hitchcock is back in fairly short order with his third solo album. After using … Continue reading

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