Music Reviews



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Artist: Accolade (@)
Title: Legends
Format: 12"
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Accolade is an independent formerly San Francisco, now Seattle-based band founded by classical singer Stefanie Reneé and multi-instumentalist Aaron Goldstein. They are joined on 'Legends' by Cade Burkhammer - drums and percussion. 'Legends' is their second full-length album. The idea behind 'Legends' was inspired by the group's visit to the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, England, a place rich in Arthurian legend and pagan traditions. At the top of the one-sheet which accompanied the album, under the band name it says GOTHIC ~ ETHEREAL ~ PROGRESSIVE ROCK. Some of that 3-word description is fairly accurate, although I'm not so sure about gothic, and Accolade aren't exactly your typical prog-rockers, although I don't think there are too many bands releasing albums with a single lengthy song comprising the B-side these days.

The first thing you will notice on 'Legends' is Stephanie's stellar soprano voice; it swoops, flutters and glides soaring like a bird over the music. She also plays recorder, tambourine, and tom drum in places. The accompaniment is also very good; Aaron multitasking on acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, bass, and keyboards (sometimes with samples of period instruments such as ocarina and zither) and Cade playing both period appropriate percussion and modern drumkit when called for. You may recall Trevor Jones' "Gelfling Song" from The Dark Crystal movie, a brief,light, atmospheric tune highlighted by a wordless soprano voice. It's the opening of 'Legends' and a nice intro to the magical world of Accolade. "Elf King" shows what the band is capable of in its folk-rock ouevre, and I'm reminded of Mike Oldfield circa his 'Ommadawn'/'Incantations' period. "Hymn to the Moon Goddess" is the oldest known song in the world, dating back to 1400 B.C., found on tablets that contained cuneiform signs in the hurrian language in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit. Here, Stephanie's voice flies even higher than previously embellishing the original simple melody, and it is some feat the band managed to bring this relic to life. It is sounds not nearly as primitive as you might think!

Unfortunately, "The Journey" shows some chinks in the group's Arthurian armor. It begins well enough in its moody folk vein, but when this nearly 12 minute piece cranks up the prog-rock element, the sweet began to turn sour. It is the clichéd chordal progression that works against it. Too bad, as I was beginning to like every aspect of this band. I can't fault the vocal or the lyrics, but my sensibilities (yeah, I'm an old prog-rocker at heart) had me scratching my head wondering why they'd taken that tack. The (mercifully short) bass and drum solos didn't help either.

Fortunately, all was vindicated on the B side of the record, a 21 minute epic (and I do mean EPIC) - "The Lady of Shalott",
based on Tennyson's poem of the same title. This is an incredible feat- coming up with melodies enchanting and intricate enough to hold the listener's attention throughout this span of time, the drama and changes of the music in all the right places, and work in the progressive rock element so that it seemed something new, different and vital. Truth be told, there are passages in this work that recall the band Renaissance, but this is more in the medieval-renaissance vein than the classical-tinged prog-pop Renaissance is known for. "The Lady of Shalott" is more than the icing on the cake; it is the whole darn bakery!

Some thoughts in conclusion- There will inevitably be comparisons of Accolade to Renaissance, especially in Annie Haslam and her five octave vocal range, and Stephanie's ultra soprano, which seems like it can even go higher. Most of Stephanie's vocals are in the upper register on 'Legends' and one might get the impression that her voice is a bit airy-faery. Not so. If you have any doubts, check out their cover of the Renaissance song "Black Flame" (from their previous album, 'Festivalia'), one of that band's more powerful numbers. Accolade nailed it and made it their own. If you enjoy artists such as Estampie, Qntal, Loreena McKennitt, Medieval Baebes, Blackmore's Night, Steeleye Span, the Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and of course, Renaissance, you need to add Accolade to your playlist. There are few new bands these days with this much potential- too much to ignore.
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Artist: Death Shanties (@)
Title: Crabs
Format: 12"
Label: Bomb Shop
Rated: *****
I remember Alex Neilson's name as well as his "encroaching" sticks on "Camber Sands Sunday", one of the countless live record by Stelring Richard Smith's Jandek, while I've never heard before the names of Sybren Renema (alto and baritone sax) and Lucy Stein, whose painted projections play an important role during live sessions and embellishes the cover artwork of the debut album by Death Shanties by means of food residues, images whose immediacy could surmise cave painting, and her own hair. Some people who saw them playing on live stage report really incendiary free-jazz sessions and besides this aspect, this debut dazzles in its originality for a bizarre melting pot of free-jazz and 6oies psychedelic fire music with references to sea shanties (songs like "The Life Of A Wave" could render a pirate ship in the middle of sea-storm), legendary standards (it's almost heart-rending the reversed tribute to legendary New Orleans drummer Baby Dodds on "Baby Dodds Is Dead" where Neilson seems to emulate some of his unforgettable drum improvisations), Medieval folk music, field hollers and work songs ("Come Sunday", "Stumps") that reaches their acme on the lovely final "O! Where Is Saint George". Crabs manage to catch listeners in their pincer by a vibrant nd somehow original (in the field of free-jazz) style that they wisely described as "mixed media balls-to-the-wall free-jazz" which deserves some attention.
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Artist: Parzival (@)
Title: Casta
Format: CD
Label: Mighty Music/Target Group (@)
Rated: *****
Holy crap! Why have I never heard, nor heard of these guys before? Parzival has been kicking around since 1992, first under the name Stiff Miners for a couple of releases in 1994 and 1997, then (fortunately) changed their name to Parzival, based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th-century German poem by the same name. Since then Parzival has had a slew of releases over the years, this being the seventh under their current moniker. The core of the band is vocalist Dimitrij Bablevskij, originally from Russia, and the rest of the guys are Danish - Oleg Namov - drums, percussion; Michael Hedelain - drums, percussion; Tim Ellgaard - bass; Jens Hansen - keyboards. On this album they are bolstered by several Indian sikh folk musicians on sarangi, taus, shehnai, sitar, tabla, sarod, tanpura, flute, cellos, viola, shepherds horn, violin, and valdhorns, plus three female operatic vocalists. With that in mind, can you picture where the music is heading?

Yes, of course it's martial, neoclassical, industrial, in an Einstürzende Neubauten sort of way, but so much more. From the opening bars of "Kalachakra" with it's pounding percussion, smashing gongs, and wailing shehnai riding over the top of a sonorous vocal drone, you've been transported to another place in another era, my friend. Bombastic and cinematic, this would be the perfect soundtrack to a Viking invasion of the Holy Land, a crusade for Odin, if you will. Dimitrij's operatic basso profundo vocals are as deep as the sea this crew is sailing on.

What is truly amazing is how well this all works together. The more often present than not Indian instruments lends an air of the exotic to what otherwise might be an exercise in sturm und drang. Of course, it's all sung in German, and has such an operatic quality that even Wagner might be impressed, were he still around to hear it. I checked out some of Parzival's music prior to 'Casta' and it was pretty good, but this album is absolutely amazing from start to finish. It's dark, complex and melancholy, yet strangely uplifting, never lacking in drama and pathos. Parzival has been compared to Laibach by some, but I always considered Laibach somewhat "tongue in cheek" never taking themselves too seriously. They can have their "lite beer"; this goes better with Nordic grog.

The album is available on (limited) gatefold double vinyl (preferred) or CD, and likely digital download as well. Whichever format, just get it. You won't be sorry you did.

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Artist: Thomas Köner
Title: La Barca - complete edition
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
This must-listen release for all ambient lovers directly comes from German media artist Thomas Koner, who decided to reissue a complete edition of "La Barca" whose first edition in 2009 got sold out. Beyond the audio tracks of the first edition, where your mind will be placidly brought over the twelve places (Tokyo, Nice, Cairo, Rome, Manhattan, Damascus, Paris, Spitsbergen, Jerusalem, Venice, Montenegro, Barcelona which got identified by geographical coordinates on the original version) by means of a cinematic dream-like amalgamations of field recordings, fluctuating harmonies, static sounds, silence and other aural hints, this FLAC digital version includes the five bonus tracks of the extended double LP and five previously unreleased tracks as well as a video of the visuals of the Tokyo part that he originally presented at the Nam June Paik Award 2012 exhibition at Art Museum in Bochum, Germany. Even if the title of this release could let some Italian or Spanish readers think about a reference to the hallucinogenic psychonavigation that Thomas' sonic art could inspire as it means "the boat" in both languages, according to his own words "La Barca" refers to "the solar barque, or sun boat, which passes through the realms of the underworld (Duat according to Egyptian mythology) each night to reappear in the east every morning" even if he explains that he experienced a sort of "feeling of displacement" when he describes the above-mentioned Tokyo part ("It appeared to me as if the railway car moved like a slow boat, and the announcements at the stations sounded like invocations. I realized: 'In a barque she sails across the high lands of the past. The barque heads shimmer and glow at stern and bow, and that lights her unseeable passage. She calls to the spirits of this hour, and that is how we come to even hear her voice.'"), so that this sonic cartography that Thomas collected while globetrotting in a couple of years could inspire mental journeys where the etheric body of the listener stroll down those places without being seen.
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Artist: Oren Ambarchi
Title: Quixotism
Format: CD
Label: Editions Mego (@)
Rated: *****
A persistent, relentless and other than obtrusive pulsation, which could remind the clatter of a diesel engine, opens the first part of this lovely workout by Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi and its hiccuping that gradually let resurface melodic traces or single eveanescent tones from John Tilbury's piano, Eyvind Kang's strings and Iceland Symphony Orchestra under the wise conduction by Ilan Volkov as an upwelling from the sea bed, might listener fantasize about the sudden onset of a hunch during an unexpected eureka moment. This tapping pulsation, that permeates this return to minimalism by Oren Ambarchi, comes from Thomas Brinkmann whose electronic drums has been wisely linked to an application to Hilbert's Entscheidungsproblem (German for "decision problem") that should well-known by mathematicians and computer scientists and sounds like a mighty fancy clockwork whose form got altered on the following four parts of "Quixotism", which could be perceived more as an assay of musical mechanics than just a minimal composition even if it stains different stylistical shores - smooth jazz ones on Matt Chamberlain's drums driven Part 2, progressive techno-dub on Part 3, abstract electronics on Part 4 and pure synth music on the final wonderful fifth part (featuring U-zhaan on tabla and Jim O'Rourke on synths) -. Beyond more or less poetical interpretations, this rarefied amalgamation of computational time processing, minimal flaws and phantasmagoric melodic entities provides a sort of guideline to the aesthatics of this brilliantly imaginative composer.
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