Review: “Fog Music 1” by Cousin Silas

a1128683410_10If you’re no stranger to the whole Ambient Netlabel scene, the name Cousin Silas should not be a strange one. You’re bound to have at least come across his series of Dronescapes (19 and counting) on We Are All Ghosts. This latest instalment comes from Aural Films – a label that specialises in thematic or pseudo-soundtrack works.

Fog Music 1 is a single long-form (33½ minutes) piece of music that ebbs and flows gently with achingly beautiful minor-key tones that are as emotional as they are atmospheric. Just as the music lulls you into serenity, you get a tiny guitar or piano motif – just a few notes long – that pulls your attention back into the music for the cycle to repeat.

If you’re one of those who finds music like Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa deeply moving, you’ll get along well with this.

It’s available as a name-your-price download from Aural Films – or you can stream it with the widget below.

 

Looking Back At: “Script for a Jester’s Tear” by Marillion

7056551023_a075f96fb5_bTen years ago, I was something of a Marillion fanboy – much to the annoyance of my then-girlfriend (now wife). My enthusiasm was understandable though – Anoraknophobia and Marbles were arguably the best albums they’d made since Afraid of Sunlight. As time went by,  my sizeable Marillion collection was gradually sold off (did I really need all those live albums?) to the point where, as of last week, it consisted merely of a handful of 7″ singles, Seasons End, a Fish solo album and a copy of Misplaced Childhood given away free with the Express. Prompted by this article I read on Google+, I had a hankering to listen to Script for a Jester’s Tear again; and with pay day approaching, I added it to the shopping list. Much to my delight, the used record shop I visited last Saturday had a pristine copy for a fiver.

Listening to it today, for the first time in several years, I was amazed at how much like early Genesis it was compared to later albums. “Garden Party” and “Forgotten Sons” had something of a “Supper’s Ready”-style jauntiness to them, Mark Kelly and Steve Rothery sounded as complementary of each other as Tony Banks and Steve Hackett were, and Fish’s vocal delivery mirrored several of Peter Gabriel’s quirks – albeit with his incisive, Caledonian attack.

But if those are the similarities, what are the differences? The only major difference was behind the drum kit – no disrespect to Mick Pointer, but I found his drumming style somewhat muddy and unexciting – more John Mayhew than Phil Collins. As a lyricist, Fish demands significantly more of your attention than Gabriel – they’re still somewhat opaque, but you know there’s something there if you dig a little deeper; with Gabriel, they sound almost nonsensical.

I now realise I’ve probably narked off a number of Marillion fans by emphasising their likeness to Genesis, which won’t help their image problem in the media – but I must reiterate that it’s probably their most Genesis-like album. Listen to any Marillion album of the last 25 years, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any resemblance at all. Still, however much you want to downplay the fact, Prog Rock doesn’t carry as much stigma as it did twenty years ago… and Script is a damn good album whether or not you classify it as Prog Rock.

It’s just taken me the best part of two decades to realise that.

Looking Back at: “Nomzamo” by IQ

IQ-NomzamoThe neo-progressive movement of the 1980’s is replete with near-success stories. PallasThe Sentinel was hacked to pieces and released in a form far-removed from the band’s original vision, Twelfth Night looked poised for a career with Charisma Records right up until the apathetic Virgin Records bought them out, and IQ had just signed a deal with Vertigo records… only their iconic lead singer/sleeve designer, Peter Nicholls, had recently jumped ship.

Their first album without Nicholls, Nomzamo, came out in 1987 and – as you can probably gather – flopped… but then, so did many prog albums of its time. Today, it’s something of an also-ran in IQ’s 30+ year legacy since Nicholls returned to the band a few years later – but does it deserve its low place in IQ’s canon?

To be honest, it does; but that’s merely being relative. IQ have never been a band to eek out a batch of lengthy Tolkein-esque epics in 7/8  and have done – the quality of their work echoes the time and effort they spend on it. To be fair, with the exception of Nomzamo and its follow-up, the band were always working for themselves without having to appease the commercial interests of a major label; and it’s these concessions that make Nomzamo a relatively weaker album.

That’s not saying it’s without decent music – “No Love Lost”, “Nomzamo” and “Human Nature”, which collectively make up half of the album, are stand-out tracks. Okay, they’re noticeably more ‘sanitized’ than the Indie approach of The Wake, but they’re not difficult to get into. The side is let down whenever they try and create some kind of ‘single’ – while songs like “Promises” and “Passing Strangers” are okay, they do sound like a band outside of its comfort zone and, as pop singles, they’re not all that convincing. Still, you’ve got to keep the new bosses happy, haven’t you?

But, to reiterate, Nomzamo is only weak compared to the strengths of their more progressive works. It’s not like they shunned their Prog roots and completely sold out – if you can accept that, you’ll find that Nomzamo is the IQ album you won’t reach for very often, but still can’t do without.

First Impressions: “Wunderbar” by Wolfgang Reichmann

MI0000897842Last Friday, I found out I was allowed a free trial at emusic.com – I was a subscriber a couple of years ago, paid up for a few months until I’d downloaded all I wanted, then cancelled. When I saw their catalogue now featured a healthier selection of Fela Kuti albums, I signed up again and was offered the free trial. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I gratefully accepted the 25 free downloads.

I’d also noticed that, in-between memberships, emusic had struck a deal with the Bureau B label – a label I became familiar with last year for their range of classic German rock/electronic music. One of Bureau B’s greatest assets is its re-issues of albums previously released on the Sky label – if you know your German electronic music, Sky and Brain (its parent label), were labels to look out for. This album, the first and (tragically) only album by the late Wolfgang Reichmann, was originally released on Sky records back in 1978 when synthesizer technology, and the music that depended on it, was making some seriously interesting developments.

At least one reviewer compares it favourably against Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine, I’d actually argue that the similarity to Kraftwerk’s music of that era is minimal. I actually hear more Ashra influence in there – particularly on the slower and dreamier cuts – along with some ominous and minimal electronics echoing Tangerine Dream’s early soundtrack work (or, at a push, Edgar Froese’s Ages). One track we do agree on is that the penultimate cut, “Himmelblau”, could easily have fit on an album by La Düsseldorf with its strict rhythms and miniature-yet-catchy melodies. It feels too short, even at eight minutes long, and its melodies were still going through my head an hour later.

It will take a few more plays before I can picture where Wunderbar sits in the grander scheme of electronic music, I can see it working exceptionally well as a gateway album. It feels like it’s drawing influences from all corners of the genre and presenting them in a less-experimental, but not commercially-sanitised, light – so, listening to it could ease the way towards the more involving works of Froese, Schulze, Ashra, NEU! and Harmonia et al.

Well worth a listen.

Looking Back At: “Mr. Bad Guy” by Freddie Mercury

freddie mercury MBGDespite Queen’s ability to deplete an entire nation’s oil reserve by selling huge amounts of vinyl, the solo albums of their members haven’t quite matched the band’s commercial success; yet, to write them off as vanity projects or means of topping up the ol’ bank balance would be both dismissive and inaccurate.

A compilation of Queen hits comes as standard in most households, and it only takes a quick scan through the credits to ascertain just how wide Freddie’s range as a songwriter was.  Granted, he often took something kitsch and turned it into a rock masterpiece (“Killer Queen” springs to mind), but by the close of the 70’s, his prolific songwriting abilities spanned more genres than I can remember.  Yet, for such a prolific writer, it amazes me why he didn’t bring a solo album out sooner.

Freddie’s only true solo album, Mr. Bad Guy, took him in a more poppy direction – plenty of synthesizers, drum machines and not a lot of guitar. On paper at least, it sounded like the true successor to Queen’s Hot Space. Thing is, this was Freddie Mercury – he couldn’t put a bog-standard pop album together even if you held him at gunpoint. That’s why you get such grande and immaculately-arranged epics like “Made in Heaven” and the title track. That’s why you get the razor-sharp reggae of “My Love is Dangerous”. But, ultimately, the album is loaded with four-minute nuggets of well-refined fun.

I have to admit that, when I first heard it, I wasn’t all that impressed. I’d heard the versions released on The Freddie Mercury Album in 1993 and didn’t really care for the mid-80’s production values. Yet, in recent years, the album has really grown on me. It’s one of few pop albums I can plop onto the turntable and enjoy every cut. Okay, it may seem like it needs a Brian May riff-fest, something incisive from Roger and a slab of soul from John; but that’s what Queen albums are for. This is Freddie hanging back and having fun – fortunately for us, it makes a damn good album.