Posts Tagged ‘ Psychedelic Rock ’

Album of the Week 38-2017: Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”


Some people are so talented that it is borderline ridiculous. Donald Glover is one of those people. He first came to my attention as an actor in my favorite tv series ‘Community’, but is an outstanding comedian and writer himself and (as Childish Gambino) an interesting rapper and – as “Awaken, My Love!” proves – even a fine singer. With his trusted musical partner Ludwig Göransson – who also worked on ‘Community’ as the series’ main composer – he put together a surprising record full of psychedelic soul with hints of neo-soul and modern R&B. The hiphop influence is minimal, but that does not make the album any less impressive.

The closest reference for the sound on “Awaken, My Love!” is obviously Funkadelic. There are fuzzy guitars, spacey vibes and a production that sounds quite similar to that band’s mid-seventies heyday all over the record, but the record is more than a George Clinton tribute – despite prominently featuring a sample from ‘Good To Your Earhole’ in the frenzied masterpiece ‘Riot’. For starters, “Awaken, My Love!” is considerably more consistent than any Funkadelic record both in style and quality. In addition, there are some songs that can be considered a departure from the futuristic retro funk – I don’t know if that’s a thing – that defines the album.

First single ‘Redbone’ may be the most distinct example. With Glover’s falsetto – which I swore was pitchshifted until I saw a live performance of the song – over a smooth, sexy soul groove, memories of Prince are never far away. ‘California’ sounds incredibly sunny – maybe a little too sunny for a record with such a dark vibe – and the low-key ‘Terrified’ and the gorgeous closer ‘Stand Tall’ really bring to mind some of the Soulquarians productions of the late nineties, while the clavinet in ‘Baby Boy’ reminds me of a few of Allen Toussaint’s productions from the early seventies.

When “Awaken, My Love!” is in full psychedelic soul mode, however, the album is at its best, especially with the amount of variation on display here. Sometimes it’s a monstrous groove (‘Boogieman’), sometimes it’s the slow build up (the gorgeous ‘The Night Me And Your Mama Met’, which features Gary Clark Jr. on guitar) followed by a sudden burst of energy (opening track ‘Me And Your Mama’), but there is always something that gives the songs an idenity of their own. Glover’s vocal prowess is impressive too. Sometimes I think his acting background may contribute to his dramatic readings, most clearly on the awesome ‘Zombies’.

Although Glover – or Childish Gambino – was primarily known as a rapper in the world of contemporary music, “Awaken, My Love!” truly shows how much the guy has to offer. The album is a work of art that took me completely by surprise and sounds like a pretty spontaneous effort by Glover and Göransson to capture a certain vibe rather than desperately trying to fulfill certain expectations. This is truly progressive and forward-thinking music, despite the strong retro vibe on the record. And the sense of dynamics heard here is simply incredible. Highly recommended to fans of all genres and artists mentioned in this review.

Recommended Tracks: ‘Riot’, ‘Zombies’, ‘Boogieman’

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Album of the Week 37-2017: Fields Of The Nephilim – Elizium


Some bands go out while they’re on top. Goth masters Fields Of The Nephilim was one of those bands. ‘Elizium’ is a masterpiece that was far ahead of what any other band in the genre – even The Sisters Of Mercy – were doing at the time. The album has a dark, ethereal atmosphere that makes listening to it an incredibly immersive experience. Maybe working with Andy Jackson, famous for engineering Pink Floyd, has contributed to the flawless production on the record, but the incredible song material and Carl McCoy’s cleaner and all around better performance should all be credited to the band.

While containing eight tracks, ‘Elizium’ really consists of four long suites, the longest – and best – two being split up into several parts. I would not be too surprised if this was an attempt to trick the record company into believing the album was more commercially attractive, but this album is not about singles. It is about setting a certain mood that the listener cannot help but being carried away on. The psychedelic, in deed Floyd-ish elements that were always in the sound of Fields Of The Nephilim are somewhat amplified here without sacrificing their dark, sometimes twisted goth roots.

Fields Of The Nephilim never was a band with songs in which a lot happens, but ‘Elizium’ really lifts their art of slowly and carefully layering and deconstructing parts to a new level. Their sense of dynamics is impeccable here as well. Though I have a strong preference for the slow, moody, almost depressive sections, a passage like ‘At The Gates Of Silent Memory’ would not work anywhere near as well if it was not surrounded by more uptempo, yet equally dark moments like ‘For Her Light’ and ‘(Paradise Regained)’. Likewise, ‘Submission’ comes alive due to a few histrionic lead guitar climaxes.

The 14-minute diptych that closes the album is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Again, not much happens here; Tony Pettitt only changes his bass riff when ‘Wail Of Sumer’ morphs into ‘And There Will Your Heart Be Also’ and even then the difference is not that big. There is a climax where you expect the riff to go to a G, but it ends up going to an E instead and there are some simple, but heart-wrenchign solos, but it moves along at a similar pace for its entire playing time. And still, this suite grabs you and will not let you go until it is over. There is a sense of post-apocalyptic romanticism in it which really profits from the fact that McCoy dropped the gruff take on Andrew Eldritch and went for something truly original. Not the most uplifting music in the world, but so profoundly beautiful…

As much as I have written about the genius of ‘Elizium’, it truly has to be heard – or rather experienced – to be believed. It takes gothic rock far beyond its post-punk roots, but nowhere near the fusion with metal it would soon meet, not in the last place because of McCoy’s own Nefilim project. Though the album does not really do anything radically different than the past works of Fields Of The Nephilim – the middle section of ‘Sumerland (What Dreams May Come)’ has Pettitt working with a delay effect on his bass part not unlike the brillian 1989 single ‘Psychonaut’ – it just highlights a few of the best elements of the band. The band split up not long after the release of ‘Elizium’, which still stands as one of the ultimate goth rock albums ever.

Recommended tracks: ‘And There Will Your Heart Be Also’, ‘Wail Of Sumer’, ‘For Her Light’

Album of the Week 35-2017: Living Colour – Shade


With ‘Shade’ only being the third album in the 17 years since Living Colour reformed – and the first in eight years – expectations were high. What exactly I expected, I don’t actually know, but it certainly wasn’t an album that sounds as raw and “live” as ‘Shade’ does, as ‘Collideøscope’ and ‘The Chair In The Doorway’ were both albums with a notable emphasis on the production. This shift in approach has pros and cons, which makes ‘Shade’ a bit of a confusing record, but it is a fact that Living Colour hasn’t made a record this lively since their early nineties heyday.

There is a bit of a drawback here, as the looser arrangements sacrifice a bit of memorability of Living Colour’s earlier work. None of these choruses will stay with you as long as ‘Cult Of Personality’ did. In addition, some of the songs are just too long. The bluesier tracks ‘Invisible’, ‘Who’s That’ and the Robert Johnson cover ‘Preachin’ Blues’ in particular outstay their welcome, all of which would have been fine tracks had they been a minute and half shorter. Especially the unlikely marriage of New Orleans music and grooving heavy metal riffs on ‘Who’s That’ is interesting enough.

However, ultimately ‘Shade’ is a successful album. There are not many hard rock bands that groove as mercilessly as Living Colour does, as evidenced by songs like the excellent ‘Program’ and the Notorious B.I.G. cover – no, seriously – ‘Who Shot Ya’. ‘Come On’ seems to successfully blend the visceral live feel and the more produced nature of the previous two records and ‘Always Wrong’ sort of shifts back and forth between a psychedelic rock song based on a driving bass line by Doug Wimbish and a power ballad. Again, the combination of styles seems unlikely, but works miraculously well. And that is, of course, Living Colour’s trademark.

Moreover, the album takes an interesting turn about halfway through. There are a bunch of really cool experimental tracks on the second half of the record, starting with ‘Blak Out’, which seems to have developed from a dubby jam of Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun until Vernon Reid’s massive guitar riff takes over. Reid also really shines on the dreamy, almost spacey closing track ‘Two Sides’. And to keep that part of the album from losing itself in experimentation, there are heavier tracks like ‘Pattern In Time’ and ‘Glass Teeth’ to restore the balance. The latter in particular is an awesome track, even with its borderline silly chorus.

In the end, there is an excellent 40 minute record in ‘Shade’. The only problem is that it is almost ten minutes longer. The performances are as good as you would expect from this group of geniuses. Corey Glover still sings as good as he did on ‘Vivid’ almost three decades ago and Vernon Reid has a surprisingly bluesy, melodic approach here. It’s amazing how much he still sounds like himself even without all the atonality he has extensively toyed with. Avid fans of Living Colour can blindly purchase ‘Shade’. Casual fans may want to give it a listen before purchasing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Blak Out’, ‘Two Sides’, ‘Glass Teeth’

Album of the Week 27-2017: Jeangu Macrooy – High On You


Initially, it was Jeangu Macrooy’s voice that drew me towards his music. It strongly reminded me of Bill Withers in terms of timbre, power and intimacy. But a great voice only gets you so far. Luckily, Macrooy is an excellent songwriter as well. He mixes up many different genres, but instead of incoherent genre-hopping, Macrooy creates a smooth, listenable blend of soul, jazz, rock, pop and some Carribean influences. Last year, his ‘Brave Enough’ EP was an excellent introduction to what Macrooy was able to do, but his debut album ‘High On You’ really shows the full scope of his musical ambitions.

On ‘High On You’, it is possible to listen to three different songs and hear five different genres. However, things never get disjointed. It is quite clear that a lot of effort went into the arrangements, but it also helps that Macrooy has an excellent band behind him, consisting of musicians who are simply looking to upstage the songs rather than themselves, displaying an impressive amount of versatility. Macrooy himself does some nice work on the acoustic guitar as well. The fact that all the songs have a similar approach sonically positively influences the listenability of the album’s multi-genre approach.

Macrooy’s voice is on full display on the spiritual sounding opening track ‘Aisa’, but he also takes center stage in the folky ‘Circles’ and soulful ballads like ‘Antidote’, ‘Sleep You Off’ and the title track. But even the singer/songwriter himself has no problem taking a back seat to the generally relaxed, shimmering grooves of songs like ‘Tell Me Father’ and ‘Crazy Kids’. The vocals find a comfortable place within the mix, but Macrooy’s lyrics come across really well. On the EP, there were some interesting references to the history of his native country of Suriname, but he seems to have gone for words that are highly personal, openhearted and honest this time around.

While ‘High On You’ is consitently amazing, there are some standout moments. I personally think the seamless blend of light funk and dark, somewhat psychedelic rock that occurs in songs like ‘Fire Raging’, ‘Head Over Heels’ and the somewhat more subdued ‘One Way Ticket’ is an extremely interesting approach that has not been attempted very often since the days of psychedelic soul in the early seventies. The rhythms of these songs are not exceptionally propulsive, but have a very pleasand drive to them. But the true highlight is ‘Step Into The Water’. The song sort of ties together all the influences on the album into a concise, amazing song with a highly memorable chorus. Truly this year’s best single out of the Netherlands.

Every once in a while, an exceptional talent appears who proves that contemporary music is not as stuck in a predictable pattern as much as I sometimes say it is. If it is done this way, I do not mind being proven wrong. Jeangu Macrooy and his band have made an excellent album that manages to be a pleasant listen and a musically challenging piece of art simultaneously. It has been a pretty good year for Dutch music already, but ‘High On You’ might just top everything else. This record deserves to be appreciated internationally.

Recommended tracks: ‘Step Into The Water’, ‘Fire Raging’, ‘Head Over Heels’

Album of the Week 36-2016: Marillion – Marbles


Last week, I wrote my review on Marillion’s new record ‘F.E.A.R.’ for Gitarist. Without giving too much away: I called it their best record since ‘Marbles’. Which may have been a bit lazy, because ‘Marbles’ is the designated “best since” reference for the Brits, since they’ve moved a bit too close to alternative Pop on subsequent releases. Those influences are quite prominent here as well, but somehow they blend with Marillion’s progressive roots much better here. Ironically, while it sounds less cliché Prog than some of their peers, it made Marillion one of the few bands to actually do something progressive in the 21st century.

As musicians, Marillion has become increasingly understated since the early nineties. Steve Rothery is one of the world’s most tasteful lead guitarists, but most of the time, he takes a backseat to the song and provides color through sounds that sometimes don’t even sound like a guitar. But most illustrative of the musical development is Mark Kelly. Remember the somewhat shrill keyboard leads on their eighties output? Kelly went along with the times and is more interested in laying down textures these days. The relevance of no one taking the spotlight can’t be emphasized enough.

Centerpieces on ‘Marbles’ are – maybe somewhat predictably – the three epics. ‘Ocean Cloud’ – the longest, clocking in just under 18 minutes – is perhaps the most traditionally progressive of the lot, with it’s clear movements, distinctly Pink Floyd-like ambient sections and quiet-loud dynamics. Closing track ‘Neverland’ is a downright beautiful ballad with one of Rothery’s finest guitar solo’s of all time and though the band hasn’t sounded like Genesis for the better part of three decades, I consider ‘The Invisible Man’ the ‘Musical Box’ of this century; singer Steve Hogarth’s emotional range strengthens the increasing intensity in the music and the band very creatively links highly different sections together.

The shorter songs lack the lasting power of those three monuments, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Influences from U2 (‘You’re Gone’) and The Beatles (‘The Damage’) are quite obvious, as is Radiohead’s influence on the sonic possibilities of the instruments, but Marillion stubbornly refuses to copy a formula and consistently turns it into their own thing. Highlighting the more concise side of the record are the jazzy psychedelia of ‘Angelina’ and the schizophrenic composition ‘Drilling Holes’, in which highly rhythmic sections with excellent bass work by Pete Trewavas are contrasted by calmer, late sixties Beatle-esque passages. The four short titular interludes are nice, calm pieces of music as well.

Make sure you check out the double cd version of ‘Marbles’, or else you’ll miss four songs, one of which being the amazing ‘Ocean Cloud’. Also, albums like these are just worth hearing the way the artists intended them to. It never was artistic vision that Marillion lacked and ‘Marble’ is one of the best examples to illustrate that fact. While it’s not their best record – ‘Brave’ will forever hold that title for me – it is one of the very few satisfying examples of a band with a “progressive” label actually still progressing. And one of the few that can make simpler songs work.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Invisible Man’, ‘Neverland’, ‘Ocean Cloud’

Album of the Week 32-2016: Porcupine Tree – The Incident


For a genre with “progressive” in its name, there have been relatively little young progressive Rock heroes these last years. Steven Wilson has been the last man to be widely accepted as a Prog guru and even though he doesn’t look like it, he is in his late forties. A more positive explanation would be that he set the bar incredibly high and although people like Wilson – to no fault of their own – have an army of admirers incapable of criticizing him, they may be right in this case. Of all his project, Porcupine Tree is easily my favorite, because of its use of dynamics.

Despite being released seven years ago, ‘The Incident’ is Porcupine Tree’s most recent work and features probably their most fully realized material. Personally, I really enjoyed its predecessor ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, but that record was quite driven by the Metal elements that have been present since current drummer Gavin Harrison joined the band and Wilson has been producing Opeth around the turn of the century. ‘The Incident’ truly has the band moving from the calmest Folk sections through the most spacey, psychedelic passages to some surprisingly heavy riffing. As a result, the album stays interesting throughout its entire 75 minute run – spread out over two discs.

The centerpiece of the album is the 55 minute titular “song cycle”. Their words, not mine. It’s not one of those “one song albums” in a strict sense. In fact, the approach more closely resembles a traditional concept album with recurring themes, atmospheric interludes, but also expertly written songs that work very well as stand-alone songs. The dark, melancholic vibe, occasional Pop hooks and the way the obvious musical prowess of the instrumentalists generally a backseat in favor of the actual songs make the cycle feel like a modern take on Marillion’s ‘Brave’, albeit with a vastly different sound.

While I would generally prefer a powerhouse singer over this type of material, Wilson’s soft voice actually works really well with the introspective nature of the music and especially the lyrics. His guitar work is usuall simple, but brutally effective. He doesn’t play a lot of notes – Harrison is the only one who sometimes does – but what he does play resonates icredibly on an emotional level. The middle section of the 12 minute ‘Time Flies’ is the perfect example. This approach has an advantage; when the band does fire on all cylinders, like they do on ‘Octane Twisted’, it sounds highly overwhelming, even though it isn’t particularly complex in terms of composition or musicianship.

After the emotional roller coaster that is ‘The Incident’, the four songs on the second cd sound slightly out of place. It’s not like they’re bad songs; in fact, the abstract rocker ‘Bonnie The Cat’ and the powerfully built-up ‘Remember Me Lover’ are excellent, but they feel a little tacked onto the end of the record because… Well, let’s face it, they are. They may have worked better as a separate release without an epic, mind-blowing 55 minute journey fresh in mind.

Naturally, the conceptual nature of the record helps ‘The Incident’ have a consistency that many of the more disjointed modern progressive acts lack. Most of Wilson’s records do. What makes ‘The Incident’ so strong, however, is the fact that it manages to move all over the stylistic map without ever losing its focus. There’s the Folky feel of early Genesis, the layered Pop of the latter days of The Beatles, the riffy propulsion of Heavy Metal and even the Krautrock influences that were more prominent on Porcupine Tree’s oldest records haven’t faded away entirely. Combine that in a way that won’t make the listener lose his way and you’ve got an excellent record on your hands.

Recommended tracks: ‘Time Flies’, ‘The Incident’, ‘Octane Twisted’

Album of the Week 15-2016: Santana – IV


While Santana the man hasn’t ever really been away, ‘IV’ is definitely the comeback of Santana the band. The first real Santana album since their untitled third record from 1970 or maybe, if you’re being lenient, ‘Caravanserai’ (1972). What apparently started as Journey guitarist Neal Schon stalking Carlos Santana has turned into a full-fledged reunion of all but one of the surviving band members from the 1970 lineup and they’re not being subtle about it. Just look at that beautiful album cover. If that doesn’t breathe the atmosphere that fans of the original band have been craving for years, I don’t know what does.

‘IV’ isn’t a full throwback, however. Sure, it is the first time in years that Carlos Santana sinks his teeth into the band’s exciting and highly original combination of psychedelic Rock, Blues and Latin. There’s wild lead guitars and percussion augmenting the drums. But at the same time, this is something fresh. Santana never sounded this Funky and modern production techniques allow for a brighter polish this time around. Also, the guitarists have a much more pronounced sound than they had in the past: Schon’s beefy Arena Rock sound provides a perfect contrast to Santana’s trademark sharp, yet smooth tone.

Most of the album sounds like the material was born out of spontaneous jam sessions. Not just because the band members themselves have pointed out this spontaneity in interviews – if anything, that could be a reason to be suspicious – but the songs sound alive and energetic, while it does feel like the musicians are moving along with each other when there are shifts in dynamics or intensity. Nonetheless, it’s obvious that quite a lot of time has been spent on the production, especially on the relatively modern sounding ‘Choo Choo’ and anything that is lead by Gregg Rolie’s vocals.

Generally, I prefer the less direct and accessible songs on the record. The long tracks ‘Fillmore East’ and ‘Forgiveness’ highlight the band’s psychedelic, almost jazzy side of the band with amazing lead guitar work by both Schon and Rolie, the appropriately titled ‘Sueños’ (“dreams”) features Santana’s beautiful work on the nylon string acoustic guitar front and center, ‘Echizo’ is a remarkably well-written instrumental and the strongly Afro-Caribbean opening track ‘Yambu’ feels like it was meant as an intro track, but quickly proves to be possibly the best composition on the record. Whatever your take on the track, it sets the mood for ‘IV’ perfectly.

Anyone who enjoyed ‘Abraxas’ and the two self-titled Santana albums would do himself a favor by checking out ‘IV’. As mentioned before, it’s not a complete copy of the old Santana sound, but it’s as close as it gets and that slightly more contemporary edge to the recordings gives the album a relevance beyond nostalgia. Everyone is simply in top form here, with special mentions going to – naturally – the guitar duo and Gregg Rolie, who manages to keep the band grounded. My only criticism would be that the album could have a little of its fat trimmed, but don’t let that keep you from enjoying ‘IV’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Yambu’, ‘Echizo’, ‘Fillmore East’