Music Blog

All the music-related posts gathered together in one place.

Polar Bear, XOYO London

Polar Bear at XOYOPolar Bear have garnered a lot of critical acclaim over the past decade with their distinctly 21st century take on jazz with considerable crossover appeal. Their appearance at XOYO in north London on April 2nd attracted a big and varied crowd, with older bearded real ale drinkers rubbing shoulders with the younger and more fashionable.

Support act Shiver were an electric power-trio, with an energetic rhythm section and effects-laden guitar. There was even a guitar passage recalling Rush’s “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” at one point. There was a moment where the whole thing sounded like electronic dance music; the drummer playing electronic drums, the bassist using effects that made his playing sound like an electronic rhythms, and the guitar swamped in effects. They are a band wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a more experimental progressive rock bill, but nevertheless made an interesting and entertaining sound.

Polar Bear aren’t quite your traditional jazz combo either. They have a frontline of two tenor saxes, and a rhythm section that includes not just bandleader Sebastian Roachford’s drums and Tom Herbert’s upright double bass, but the fifth member of the band, Leafcutter John, producing beats and effects from a laptop and an array of electronics. Not only that, Tom Herbert played his acoustic bass through the sort of pedal board you normally associate with prog-rock guitarists, and saxophonist Pete Wareham also treated his sound with a battery of electronic effects.

Polar Bear at XOYOThe bulk of the set came from their new album “In Each And Every One”, the opening number with its mournful sax melody set against a synthesiser backwash recalled none other than the opening section of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”. From then on things built in intensity. The blending of electronic beats and live percussion worked remarkably well, and the Latin rhythms late in the set got parts of the audience dancing.

Their kaleidoscopic set shifted through many musical moods. There were moments where the combination of abrasive saxophone and electronic effects recalled early Hawkwind. There were eerie sonic soundscapes with bowed bass through lots of effects producing sounds that resembled whale songs. There were classical sounding melodic sections with intertwining sax lines, where the contrasting styles of Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart’s tenor saxes complemented one another in the same manner as the twin guitars of a classic rock band. Then there were passages of atonal avant-garde noise with squalling sax and storms of percussion, the whole thing finally ending with howls of feedback from a sax against the monitor.

Polar Bear are billed as a crossover act with rock and electronic dance influences rather than a traditional jazz band, and what the packed XOYO saw was a performance that lived up to that billing. This was jazz, but it was jazz with the raw energy and ferocious intensity of a rock show.

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Record Store Day

Today is Record Store Day. You could of course spend the day buying the albums you loved on vinyl but never owned on CD, or fill in the gaps in the 70s Jethro Tull back catalogue. Or even waste your money on cynical cash-in box sets.

Or instead you could buy some exciting new music released in 2014. At least some of these albums have been seen on the shelves of my local HMV.

  • Panic Room, Incarnate – A little more stripped-back, intimate and confessional than the wide-screen rock of its predecessor, their fourth album is a beautiful work which may take a few listens to fully appreciate its subtleties.
  • Gazpatcho, Demon – Dark and sinister folk-prog from Norway. At times it sounds like Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis fronting The Decemberists, at times there are strong echoes of Marillion. This is another of those records that will reward after many listens.
  • Matt Stevens, Lucid – An ambitious and varied instrumental album that defies easy pigeonholing. The London-based guitarist has been one of the more interesting, innovative and genre-busting artists in the contemporary progressive scene for a while now, and this album sees him raise his game to a new level.
  • Halo Blind, Occupying Forces – Combines indie-rock guitars with progressive rock atmospherics. Shimmering summery pop numbers with a hint of darkness and melancholy flow into one another to build into something more than the sum of the parts.
  • Bigelf, Into the Maelstrom – Imagine the melodic ear of The Beatles, the sense of doom of Black Sabbath, the theatricality of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the musical ambition of King Crimson, and the lack of restraint of early Queen. That’s what this album sounds like.
  • Morpheus Rising, Exmimus Humanus – Classic old-school twin-guitar hard rock given a modern makeover.
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The Reasoning tour in the Autumn

The Reasoning have announced a short tour in late October and early November, which represents their first live shows apart from a couple of one-off appearances at festivals since their “Adventures in the City” co-headline tour with Touchstone back in 2012

Six dates are announced so far, with the possibility of further dates to be announced.

  • Talking Heads in Southampton in Friday 24th October
  • Venue 2 in London on Saturday 25th October
  • The Duchess in York on Thursday 30th October
  • The Railway in Bolton on Friday 31st October
  • The CFM in Cardiff on Saturday 1st November
  • The Robin 2 in Bilston on Sunday 2nd November

Support for all these dates will be Hekz.

The Reasoning will also be playing a support for Lifesigns on Sunday May 11th at The Robin in Bilston, as well as their previously announced slot at Trinity Live at Leamington Spa a week later on 18th May.

Sebastien Flynn-Goze

The band will be augmented on stage by vocalist Sebastien Flynn-Goze, which answers the question “How will they do the older material justice” since the departure of Tony Turrell who had handled the male vocals originally recorded by Dylan Thompson and Gareth Jones on stage.

Though their email newsletters speak excitedly of activity behind the scenes, The Reasoning have kept a low profile of late compared to some of their peers, with just a single gig in the whole of 2013. This tour, and the forthcoming as-yet-untitled fifth album ought to go some way towards regaining forward momentum.

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Uriah Heep announce new album Outsider

Uriah Heep Outsider Uriah Heep have announced the tracklisting for their new album “Outsider”, their first release since the death of long time bassist Trevor Bolder.

It’s released on June 6th in Europe. The album will be available in both CD and vinyl, both with the same track listing though the running order will be slighly different.

The eleven songs are as follows:

Speed Of Sound
One Minute
The Law
The Outsider
Rock The Foundation
Is Anybody Gonna Help Me?
Looking At You
Can’t Take That Away
Kiss The Rainbow
Say Goodbye

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Riverside – Islington O2 Academy

Riverside at The O2 Academy Islington

Poland’s Riverside came to Islington O2 Academy as part of their brief UK tour. having established a strong reputation in prog-metal circles. Their highly-acclaimed fifth album “Shrine of the New Generation Slaves”, appeared on a great many people’s album-of-the-year lists, making their tour a highly anticipated event.

Fellow Poles Votum began their support set at the ridiculously early time of 6:40pm, a consequence of the venue turning into a nightclub after the gig. Unfortunately this resulted in a sparse crowd at the beginning. The six-piece played a short but very entertaining set of highly melodic prog-metal, complete with a small amount of cookie-monster vocals.

But by the time Riverside came on the O2 Academy was heaving.

Riverside have sometimes been compared to Porcupine Tree, and seeing them on stage the comparisons don’t end with the sound. There’s a lot of Steve Wilson in Mariusz Duda’s appearance and stage manner. And just like Porcupine Tree, their often complex and atmospheric music comes across very powerfully live.

Not that Riverside could be described as any kind of derivative copyists, they’re a band with their own sound, built around spiralling bass riffs and swirling keyboards. Mariusz Duda’s bass came across the main lead instrument with Piotr Grudziński’s guitar in a supporting role providing textures and colour when he’s not soloing. Michał Łapaj’s keyboards were prominent in the mix, with big walls of Hammond with the occasional spectacular moog solo. Some of the heavier moments featuring a lot of Hammond were more that a little reminiscent of Deep Purple in their pomp.

Riverside at The O2 Academy Islington

With the sort of complex bass parts typical in modern prog-metal, it’s rare to see someone combine the roles of bassist and lead vocalist, and it’s even rarer to see someone combine them as well as Mariusz Duda does. His melancholy but melodic vocals have a lot in common with the clean vocals of Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt’s.

The lengthy set drew heavily from their newest and strongest album “Shrine of the New Generation Slaves”, opening with “New Generation Slave” and ending with the epic “Elevator Shrine”. Songs from “Second Life Syndrome” also featured heavily with the title track making a strong final encore. You could tell this was a prog gig by the way an extended bass solo in only the second song earned a round of applause.

With their combination of dense, swirling sound, great musicianship, and very strong songwriting, they’re a band who manage to combine being very prog yet remain powerfully rock’n'roll at the same time. They are indeed an ideal band for the many people still missing Porcupine Tree, but on the basis of performances like this, they’re far, far more than that.

Poland’s best band? Quite possibly.

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Foss Patterson leaves Fish

Fish at HRH Prog 2

Fish announced today that keyboard player Foss Patterson, who has been part of his band for many years, is leaving. He made his last appearances with Fish at a couple of festival appearances in Wales and Mexico in March and April this year.

His replacement will be Mike Varty, best known as the keyboard player for Credo, and ironically also depping for Fish’s one-time Marillion colleague Mark Kelly in DeeExpus. He makes his live debut with Fish on the UK tour in May.

Credo at the 2011 Cambridge Rock Festival

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It’s a shame you can’t even have a strongly positive article about metal in the mainstream press without ignorami in the comments dismissing the entire genre as misogynist. It’s as if some people’s knowledge of metal doesn’t extend beyond thirty year old Mötley Crüe videos. And this is a world where Robin Thicke exists…

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Knifeworld – Don’t Land on Me

A taster from Knifeword’s forthcoming album “The Unravelling”, due in the Summer. You want bonkers psychedelic rock from an eight-piece band with a brass section and a bassoon? Of course you do!

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Polar Bear

Polar Bear at XOYO

A couple of photos of Polar Bear at XOYO in London on Wednesday April 2nd. This gig was a real challenge to photpgraph with the atmospheric and moody lighting, so in contrast to the hundreds of good photos from HRH Prog a few days earlier I only managed to get a handful of usable images.

As a jazz act they’re well outside my usual comfort zone, but I still found them a very entertaining if challenging live band. There will be a review in due course.

Polar Bear at XOYO Polar Bear at XOYO

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I have written about the need for better music criticism. This piece by Everitt True about Kurt Cobain is the sort of thing we need less of. It’s the epitome of everything I loathe about the hipster-punk school of music writing. True is a talented writer, but he is not actually a music critic. That’s because he doesn’t write about the actual music. Whatever the nominal subject, the piece is ultimately all about himself. And it’s an school of writing that’s ultimately responsible for bigging up more terrible music than 70s prog-rock could ever dream of.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 1 Comment