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Bogdo Ula “Charge”

01 Nov, 2010 Julian Gorman

Mystical melodies float freely from the improvisational wonder that is Bogdo Ula.  Stirring up crazy jams of guitar, bass and drums, the Finnish trio works in the psychedelic rock space left behind by the likes of Pink Floyd or Frank Zappa, minus a singer.  Beautiful minor key knots are untied in unexpected ways as the band progresses from abstraction to a seemingly well-organized song that should have taken months of practice. Charge is an album on the brink of transcending, pushing the boundaries of rock to its limits and beyond exploring the outer space in the genre.

Many of Bogdo Ula’s songs are abstract works of art, meant to be experienced with patient ears.  The progressions are well worth the while, swelling to the point of powerful crescendos indicating their vast technical abilities.  The epic nature of Bogdo Ula is immediately apparent from the start.  The title track opens casually, introducing us to the jam theme.  Little extemporaneous outbursts of sound are held back like the lid on a pressure cooker.  By “Ultraviolet” the anticipation is already overwhelming as the band builds off each other’s energy.  Lead guitarist Samuli Kristian is so intense that at times his tapping technique is on par with Eddie Van Halen, but with more blues and less ego.  This is the stuff guitar legends are made on.

This is especially noteworthy on “Stratosphere” where the guitar climbs as high as it suggests and at blazing speeds.  Yet, the intense forays into guitar madness are always balanced by a return to the jam, making bassist Jean Ruin and Drummer Ivan Horder the rock that brings Kristian back down to earth again.  It is a well attuned band to be sure, that knows what the others are thinking and can anticipate the oncoming music, almost as though they all have a psychic connection to one another.

As all the songs on the album are jams, sometimes the lead guitar does get a bit repetitive, despite the level of proficiency.  Similar themes running through a few of the songs make them difficult to discern as separate entities.  The album does, however, listen very well as a collective work rather then a collection of singles; more like a rock opera.  Almost like movements or modes in classical music, the melodies fit well together on the album, making it great for a long listen.  Even with this slight redundancy, the common theme builds and the zenith is never disappointing.  The amount of care being given to these songs is eminent and it’s hard to ask for more.  However, the difficulty of the lead guitar parts may cause much of their artistic beauty to be overlooked, if not overwhelmed.

“Nautical Twilight” meanders a bit too much.  Through intrepid and curious, the song at times sounds dissonant and random.  Despite a high quality of performance from all the band members, it doesn’t sound as together as some of the other songs.  However, as it is immediately preceded by “Ra-Union,” the songs make more sense together, with the build at the end really getting complex and intense.  The break-down about 4 minutes into “Ra-Union” is truly mind-blowing, with all the artists thundering away on their instruments.  Drums pound up the fervor of the band as the lead guitar rockets off of it, somewhere up into outer space, with agile slap-bass accentuating the intensity and bringing it all in for a landing.  This style is truly soul searching, exploring and curious in nature, yet still abides to proper musical form and modern modus operandi of rock and jazz blues.  Much experimental music borders on cacophony.  However the relationship between these artists is so tight that most of the time one cannot even tell the music is improvised.

Bogdo Ula is playing some overwhelmingly technical music and creating it out of thin air.  One might say it would be more difficult to actually transcribe this music on paper, as the unique quality of the freeform would be lost.  It is the unique sense of mystery that makes Charge so intriguing, when the listener has no idea what is coming next and neither does the band.  There is so much artistic ingenuity that this band has more potential then meets the eye, or ear for that matter.  Despite some lulls in the album, the progressive builds in Charge make it well worth the time.  This is definitely a band to watch as their creative insight into improvisational intergalactic rock grows.

Review by Julian Gorman
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Delta Twins “King-Sized Plan”

20 Sep, 2010 Julian Gorman

51L0IXZ+I+L._SL500_AA280_The Delta Twins have a good solid rock sound defined by live performance and heartfelt blues.  Something like an early Creole Collective Soul with a dash of Stevie Ray Vaughn, the new album, King-sized Plan (live at AJ’s), is an especially cool performance that is nearly perfect in all its gritty glory.  The musical themes are comforting with classic folk elements balancing the heavy-hearted lyrics.

If you’re someone that enjoys singing along to some good folk-rock-blues and looking for something new, The Delta Twins may just have what you’re looking for.  It’s difficult to find music like this in all the super saturate pop-madness.  The lyrics are considerate of the human condition in ways consistent with blues and folk traditions.  These are songs for the working class, not only to inspire but to empower and protect.  “Are We Learning” strikes a chord with the recently disenfranchised manufacturing industry, notably from the Detroit and Chicago areas. “We want more the trite apologies; Six months with no publicity, no.  Just to have them reappear, the same old crap with a new veneer” lobbies for all but unsung heroes of the recession: the actual workers.  A dirge for America’s next generation before they’ve even had a chance to fail or succeed runs a chill up the spine as it hits too close to home.  “Are we learning?” the Delta Twins chorus asks with haunting sage wisdom.  It is reminiscent of a time right before the words of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues were on the tips of tongues and folk was mutating with the blues and rock.

It’s refreshing to hear a live album, as it seems like the majority of modern bands become too reliant on their home computer production studios.  With the Delta Twins, what you hear is what you get.  The honesty of their sound is well surmised by the live album, which if it wasn’t for the audience cheers, would sound like it was cut in a world-class studio.  There is a raw mettle every now and then that is desirable and complimentary to the bluesy style, showing just how tenacious they can be.  It is clear that Delta Twins are equally competent on and off the stage, as musicians and composers of sorts, sometimes playing with up to 6 members on stage at once.  And let’s not forget the Brotherhood, or the back up band for the Twins, who always add wonderfully seamless layers of harmony that give a real professional air to the band.  This is the way that the blues should sound and the jams really let the guitar solos ascend to gritty greatness.  Truly, these are performers as well as musicians, and it shows in both the technical quantity as well as the soulful quality of their music.

Listening to the audience sing along to “Love is the Law” is truly beautiful and the perfect ending for King-sized Plan.  “Love is the law so give all you can!” choruses throughout AJ’s as the perfect ending to a wonderful show.  The Delta Twins are a great band with lots of promise whose wise lyrics, heartfelt performance and consistent live shows make them a great band to follow.  They put on a sweet live show and transcend the need for a studio production.  King-sized Plan (live at Aj’s) is a pleasant surprise that will fill your heart with the blues and put some soul in your shoes!

Review by Julian Gorman

Cinema Braille “7 Hallucinations for Solo Piano”

15 Sep, 2010 Julian Gorman

300x3007 Hallucinations for Solo Piano is a live conceptual album that is a natural duet between two forces of nature; a brooding storm, and the musician, Cinema Braille.  Despite being unable to actually hear the thunder outside, one hears the echo and response in the piano.  Rolling strikes of thunder are balanced by sprinkles of rain drops, rumbling keys roll up from the horizon and quickly overtake the mind as the gale reaches the listener and blasts them with torrential force.  Just over a half hour of experimental classical ambience for piano that demands to be experienced in one sitting, the album is brilliant and worth your full attention.  However, it is also quite suited to multimedia experiences of a dramatic nature, notably suspense and horror genres.  Cinema Braille will run you through the full gambit of emotions without words, just the simple yet strikingly beautiful, if haunting,  piano will have you feeling brave and then frightened, exuberant and then desolate, entranced to be deconstructed, and all in the name of epic story telling with song.

The first Hallucination begins much like the opening credits for Monty Python’s Holy Grail, with a chiming bass and fluttering treble.  This, however, is much more foreboding, as the progression is patient, the piano strings are allowed to sing out until they all but fade, letting the appreciative ear pick up on beautiful note resonance.  There are no mistakes, no hesitations, just raw unfiltered experimental piano composition in real time.  It doesn’t get much more original then this.  The ability to jam out live is on the level with musical great Thelonius Monk, as incredible themes seem to appear from nowhere and the reprise like characters in an epic tale.  Cinema Braille is much more progressive, gradual and ambient then the old bop improvisation masters, but their spirit remains and the hallucinatory states are somewhat similar.  Sole member Stanislav Kozadayev has truly mastered real-time composition for piano.

Much of the music is complex with themes requiring that the audience keep up, lest they be lost in the onslaught of symphonic imagery.  The technicality is especially intriguing by the 6th and 7th hallucinations, if spine chilling.  In Strings and Hammers the inner guts of the piano are played alongside the normal keys to create an especially creepy feeling that is technically stunning.  The macabre corners of one’s mind are enhanced and set free to run amuck in the imagination.  Yet, none of these are bad trips, as it were, but good for their heavy doses of reality.  The truth isn’t easy and Cinema Braille’s sound is real, carrying with it the strength of a realistic visionary.  At times like these Stanislav Kozadayev reminds one of Mozart in Lacrimosa.  It is tragic, epically devastating, but fully expresses how beautiful death can be.  A requiem of transcendental power makes happiness seem irrelevant alongside the truth of suffering, and 7 Hallucinations for Solo Piano has such a supernatural quality.

The progressions of each Hallucination are reminiscent of early horror films, where the theater would have a single piano or organ player provide the silent picture with music.  Images of Nosferatu are accidentally divined from the notes, as though Stanislav Kozadayev is possessed by the spirit of Hans Erdmann.  This album would make a great movie.

It is refreshing to hear great artists exploring the outer stratosphere of music and leading the way for those brave enough to create music on the spot from real inspiration.  Because the 7 Hallucinations are each conceived and composed by piano, they can easily lend themselves to new arrangements.  Indeed it would be quite easy to hear Cinema Braille providing exactly what their name implies for the film industry.  However, it would be quite appropriate for video games, just as composer Nobuo Uematsu did for the Final Fantasy series, or say Koji Kondo and Toru Minegishi of Zelda fame.  These composers have surrounded themselves with various electronic musical devices to mesh with the games, but each song starts as a tune on the piano before it is made digital.

It is easy to imagine Cinema Braille being monumentally successful in either focusing on continued classical brilliance or exploring new musicological frontiers in multimedia, film, and video games.  Whether this music is made for multimedia or stand-alone music performance, the layers of eccentric intensity moves the listener through the full range of emotional experience and back to the beginning, ready to ask for more.

Review by Julian Gorman

Adam Hardcastle “Stille”

24 Aug, 2010 Julian Gorman

Adam Hardcastle’s latest release, Stille, is a minimalist’s holiday in desolation row.  The music is lugubrious; sometimes it’s like notes are being felt out as he goes, impromptu, as though wielding large ambient weapons, honing industrial percussion with an abyss of slow bass.  The feeling is of strange introspective to the point of isolation.

On “Dazed” Hardcastle manages to muster up the emotional range to give us a few tender moments of vulnerability, like Thom York of Radiohead, but it is evident he is struggling with the tone and pitch on occasion.  The countertenor is mostly consistent, giving us a sort of eerie divination of the apocalypse sort of feel.  Ghostly falsetto feels haunting, but the trembling voice borders more on weakness then those transcendent moments.  The whistling is cool, if a bit X-files-ish.  The ominous tone is there but it’s dated and been done before.  Adam is very talented, but this album often sounds like raw live cuts instead of a studio production.  More consistent note resolution, less sliding and tightly focused breath support over time could make Hardcastle quite incredible, but this is more college act quality then stadium tour style.  That can be a very good thing for a growing artist, and it is entirely possible that we may one day look back on these quirks and find them to be simply smaller evolutionary articulations of a greater career.

The low creeping manner of Adam’s music is reminiscent of Nick Cave, but not as well developed.  “The Stoning” reminds one most of Cave’s dark removed perspective, but the lyrics just don’t deliver the same depth for all their attempts.  The song comes off as contrived, even though the gradual pathological lie the character tells is an intriguing example of eroding perspective. Despite this, the transitions from “I think I may have killed a man” to “I think I almost stoned a man” to “I may well be a witness” and finally “I hear a man was stoned to death” are well written, if labored over, and indeed quite clever insights.  As if he desires the cool aesthetic of Tom Waits and simultaneously the edginess of Trent Reznor, it sounds as though he is on the way to finding his voice but it is not quite there yet.

Most of the percussion is good. One loop in particular in “The Sky’s the Same” sounds like a paper jam in a dot-matrix printer. However, the bass lines are uninspired with less energy then Portishead and no progressive interesting changes.  Hardcastle’s limited range means that each song pretty much sounds the same. The drum and bass loops deserve more variation.  A little dynamic adjustment here, a bit of glitching the beats, some key changes, and perhaps a few more drums fills and dynamic riffs would really help the songs have a more full sound. From a minimalist mindset, though, the album is very well crafted, without much flash or bang.

Perhaps the shouting of outside forces has cornered the artist.  In his favor, Hardcastle is trying to do something nearly impossible: communicate solitude to an audience in a public setting, and one has to admire that sort of tenacity.  Most crowds don‘t have the patience for this sort of music, but it appeals greatly to the minds of producers and remix artists a like for layers of pastiche in electronica.  This makes Adam more of an artist’s artist then a musician for just any old venue.  In the right niche, he has lots of potential, especially with brilliant back-up musicians and touring alongside other charismatic inspirations.

Stille is a wonderful artistic endeavor as an indie experiment, attempting to salvage truth and honor of some sort from desolation. However, how much treasure can be found in these cynical musings on humanity will vary by each listener.  Adam Hardcastle is a good poet to watch, but still requires vocal refinement to be a true great. Stille is worth a listen, but quality issues make it tough to recommend to anything but niche audiences.

Review by Julian Gorman

The On Fires “Betrayer”

28 Jul, 2010 Julian Gorman

onfires“Oooooah-ow!!” Explosions of hot charisma! Erupting volcano blasts of grunge indie lava, The On Fires new record Betrayer opens strong, blissfully burning their music into your brain with a great bellowing call.  The Opening track “Coming Home” sets a suprb tone to the album, full energetic sound builds, music wrought on the road, traveling through the triumphs and pitfalls of building fame, these songs are excellent, made to be played live for real fans.  One is often overwhelmed with the euphoria of fuzzy guitars equalizing with robust synths and 16bit video game blips, multi-harmony choruses with vocal ranges that are easy for any voice to sing along to, if indeed yell and shout to in uproarious pub chants, with tremors warm bass and marching, quaking drums.  The On Fires are eminent stadium performers, a lavish punk-rock mutation that must be played as loud as possible. Deserving to be heard the world ‘round, this is a kick in the bollocks that rock is desperately in need of.

Within Betrayer is a tour of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame from the perspective of a homeless vagabond who snuck in to laugh at their rivals and glorify their idols. The On Fires pick and choose from classical anthems as much as they embrace the late punk era.  Guitars are alternatively juicy but never buzzy or annoying.  Producer Rick Parker has a real talent for mastering distortion and taming punk ferocity into an album that is balanced well enough to be turned up all the way.  There is little else better then some of these guitar / synthesizer symbiosis sounds chiming in between frequencies and haunting vocals.  The On Fires have nothing to fear and are ready to set the world ablaze with music.

Vocalists Max Harman and Marty Xennoff are that rare combination; female and male singers who actually sound peerless in duet.  The Harmonies are effortlessly contagious and hum in the memory.  It is easy to pick up on the vibe and start singing along with the melody by the second or third listen.  And it never sounds pretentious of classically choral, always punk harmonies delving into dark minors that resolve with comfort, yet still are quite unique and refreshing.  This musical fusion is sublime, grabbing everyone in the audience and giving them a part to get lost in.  “Sorry Now” is an especially fun song to use for blowing off some steam.  Shouting along is cathartic, just don’t hurt yourself trying to keep up!

Despite being such a strong duo, one feels a little lost sometimes when only Max or Marty sings alone, though usually poetic, the song “Melancholy” doesn’t seem to fit, if still enjoyable.  It seems that Max Harman may run into similar problems as Donna Jean Godchaux did with Grateful Dead Heads, as she’s trying to compete in a genre that is typically male dominated.  Her voice is weakest, unfortunately on “Melancholy” because of the sliding in the chorus, “Mel~lan~choly follows me ~ar~ound,” is reminiscent of a song from 1911 Vaudeville, “My Melancholy Baby,” famous until the mid 40s.  Despite the slides, the song is potently depressing in a very good way, as the emotions are truly real, but one yearns for more vocal precision from Max’s voice, such as in “Arms Open,” where her confidence and strife are powerful.  Harman’s and Xenoff’s vocals both sound best supporting each other, or alternating for dramatic effect.  Xenoff sounds very lonely when he breaks down in the solo to “Without.”  Marty captures the tone of desolation nearly whispering “Got myself another heartache, drive myself to an early grave and if I seem a little restless, it’s ‘cause I can’t see no-” and then yells “Escape!”  These experiences are real and the authenticity shines through their poetry and intensity.  Their accents are quite hip and charming, well suited to the grit and ferocity of their chosen fusion of genre.  Even an ugly American such as me finds their yokel twang swaying to that raw Aussie roar and punkish slang.  Enviably cool sound.

Some of the synthesizers are really inspiring for capturing 80’s retro electro and fusing it to this new punk genre.  In “Sorry Now” guitar and drums mimic a synthetic Thurman like ghostly sound that is incredibly creepy and energizing simultaneously.  The song rolls with ease into “Nobody Wants,” progressively growing into a more tangled frustration “Scratchin’ the walls, should be easy enough to make it,” showing a potential attention to detail reminiscent of anarchistic inspiration within punk and classical rock.  The romping bass of Naomi Brockenshire balances the rumbling drumming of Simon Newberry giving important foundation to the creative expanses of the other two members.  The subtle consistent power of their support really allows for these incredible harmonies to take flight.

The On Fires are doubtlessly a wonderful synergy of musical styles that demand your ears attention.  Betrayer is insightful, funny, punk-grunge anarchy.  A well-rounded band growing into world fame, this album is the best stage for their evolution to really become exponentially awesome.  Little quibblings aside, the honesty and raw indie edge are real and much appreciated in these days of over-produced pseudo-punk.  It is not a perfect album, because that would be dishonest.  The best moments are the little glimmers in-between that may very well be the future of international punk.  The heart and soul of The On Fires is genuine burning desire that puts the majority of pop-rock to shame with their combination of technical skill an musical imagination.

Review by Julian Gorman