Music Reviews



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Artist: Roman Stolyar (@)
Title: Missa Apocryph
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Electroshock Records (@)
Distributor: DWM Music Company
Rated: *****
Once again Electoshock Records presents another genre-bending album that defies conventional categorization in the form of Roman Stolyar's 'Missa Apocryph'. To break the album down to its basic components- take a base of progressive rock, add modern classical chorale and season it liberally with liturgical Gregorian chant. Yet like many culinary recipes, the dish cannot be solely judged by the sum of its ingredients.

Although most listeners in the U.S. probably haven't heard of the Russian (Siberian) composer Roman Stolyar, I'm sure he is much more known in Europe (and probably elsewhere) especially in Russia. Stolyar's background is in modern (free) jazz piano and classical composition. He studied under Yuri Yukechev and has collaborated with such notables as Anatoly Vapirov, Carl Bergstrom-Nielsen, Hans Schüttler, Lot Lorien (Bulgarian world-fusion band), among other projects such as jazz groups Alter Ego, and New Generation and Shanti, an eclectic music duo with Roman and his sister Yelena Silantieva on vocals. For all of his jazz and classical background, Roman looks and sounds like he could have been in one of any progressive rock bands of the 1970's, although he would have been too young to be there at the time having been born in 1967. Then again, almost any progressive rock musician will have some jazz and classical background, some weighing more in one direction than the other. But the music on 'Missa Apocryph' is more about the vocals than it is about the instrumental aspect, as the chorale work dominates in nearly every way.

'Missa Apocryph' is heavily reliant on the Sharomov Vocal Ensemble consisting of Yelena Zabvarfskaya and Olga Ossipova (sopranos); Ludmila Tyukhaeva (mezzo-soprano); Alexander Zverev (tenor) and Pavel Sharomov (bass) to realize the concept of bringing Gregorian liturgical music into the 21st century. Now this is NOT Gregorian chant, although the lyrics (as well as song titles) are derived from it. There six tracks ' 'Kyrie,' 'Gloria,' 'Credo,' 'Sanctus,' 'Benedictus,' and 'Agnus Dei' that span a little under forty minutes. The music begins with a little atmospheric (and amazingly played) solo alto recorder by Roman before the drums (yes, there are drums, programmed drums, but still drums) keyboard accents and allegro vocals kick in. The phrase 'Kyrie eleison' is done in elaborate near-baroque rondos, but with expression that includes modern jazz as well as traditional classical. For reference, anyone familiar with some of the more elaborate vocal choral work by the prog-rock band Gentle Giant might have a clue as to what's going on here, but the GG boys are rank amateurs in the chorale department compared with the Sharomov Vocal Ensemble. There is a tremendous amount of counterpoint and even operatic phrasing as the Sharamov folks belt it out. This is often enhanced with dramatic keyboard accents among the ostinatos. 'Gloria' is a bit more moderate and grand, but still embellished with contrapuntal vocal accents. To some extent, Roman's orchestration takes a back seat to the vocals but still moves it along enhancing the ambience. At times it could be as simple as a bass underpinning, and at others quite polyphonic, yet never overriding the vocals.

I am wondering if it was a conscious decision on Roman's part to use obviously synthetic sounds for his instrumentation rather than pipe organ, piano and real strings. Even the drums don't sound quite real, although the programming is quite elaborate. Maybe that's the modern aspect he was striving for, but it tends to make it 'prog-rocky' something purists might have a hard time with. Prog-rock aficionados should love it though. There are no instrumental solos or extended passages, only occasional brief interludes. 'Credo' is perhaps the closest piece to modern classical vocal music with its very stylized phrasing, the longest piece on the album with little to no instrumental backing until the halfway point. This sounds like an incredibly difficult piece of music to perform. It's really quite amazing, and I have not much to compare it to, except maybe Brian Ferneyhough, although his stuff is a lot more difficult to listen to. Ferneyhough's 'Missa Brevis' comes close but is a good deal more avant-garde and disjunctive. Stolyar's music has smoothness to its form that makes it much more palatable.

'Sanctus' and 'Benedictus' have a lot of rhythmic impetus to them heightening the drama, and they could stand together as a prog-rock mini-opus. If Wakeman or Emerson were doing music like this, people might be buying their albums again! There is a lot more harmonic unison in the vocals on these pieces than the others, quite effective too. There is also some real piano on this track. 'Agnus Dei' has a cinematic ambience through much of it being dreamlike and very moody. I could easily see it being adapted to a soundtrack.

To sum up, Stolyar's 'Missa Apocryph' is much more than the sum of its components- a rich pastiche of the ancient and modern, a work of depth and beauty. I would have preferred a real drummer and some elements like pipe organ and more piano, and maybe the instruments taking a bigger part in the music (perhaps an expanded edition?) but for what it is, it's great. Something I'd love to see performed live. I doubt I'll ever have the chance though.
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anymore
Artist: Mt. Sims
Title: Revaluation
Format: 12"
Label: Punch Records (@)
Rated: *****
If I'm not wrong this is the first remix release that Punch Records ever released and I think that this is another sign of the change that Tairy started with the CD compilation released back in 2008. Taken from the latest Mt. Sims album released always on Punch Records, the original version "Fragile breaks fragile" opens the A side of this limited to 300 copies colored 12" and it serves as reference point for whom didn't purchase the album, to understand what kind of de-construction did the remixers. Christopher Kah, starts immediately reducing to the bone the same song focusing on few analog synth sounds and on obsessive rhythms. Magas, who released recently "Violent arp" for PUnch, picked up "Fall back" and gave to it the "Violent arp" treatment keeping guitars and vocals from the original tune and substituting bass lines and drum sounds with dirty distorted synthetic ones. Side B opens with the first out of three versions of "Unwound". Adriano Canzian created a great electro/techno blast with distortions and hard beats. Crossover dilated the atmosphere creating a mid tempo menace made of stops and go, reverb... almost a dub electro version. Equitant close the EP with their "Die geistermaschine remix" of the song, they kept the original structure (they only slowed it down) and gave to it a seducing electro flavor. This is another fine release by Punch Records!
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Artist: Ataraxia (@)
Title: Llyr
Format: CD
Label: Prikosnovenie (@)
Distributor: Audioglobe
Rated: *****
A lot of Ataraxia's fans have been worried about their prolonged silence, being their last studio-album, Kremasta Nera issued in 2007, even if they proposed some new tracks, partially included in their brand new release have already been performed on the occasion of some live concerts, but after the issue of a precious collection, Oil In Canvas, including an elegant photographic book, this long wait could be said finished as well as totally paid by a very good release, the 23th added to their rich discography. Their sound has turned into something totally different from stylistic gardens full of dark roses' bunches, planted in relatively recent releases such as Paris Spleen, so that I'm glad to ascertain they've not make the usual mistake, i.e. a certain stylistic repetitiveness, bands with a distinctively recognizable sound like Ataraxia's one normally make as well as I'm glad to notice they've not be submitted to minimalist flatteries! In Llyr, the Gaelic name of the notorious instrument used by bards and Greek lyrical poets whose shape seems to have been inspired by the arch drawn by swans' neck, the darkest side of the band has been mitigated by their renowned interest in shamanism and therapy music, being both elements blown into the record through the narrative trick of telling the story partially inspired by Celtic traditions, pagan myths and feminine celebrations of Nature, whose main character is Siqillat, a fictitious Persian healer travelling across different ages and places while changing his semblances and even their sound appears more luminous and 'narrative' than previous acts as well as enriched by Celtic elements. As usual, their way of composing and performing is just apparently plain as if the listener dwells upon the rich complexity of instrumental (you could recognise 12 guitars, sitar, gamelan, flutes, keyboards, bells, santoor, tablas, boghdan and many other percussions, whose important role in the line-up together with the astonishingly wide-ranged voice by Francesca Nicoli is probably one of the most prominent property of Ataraxia's textures ), he/she could easily understand and appreciate its stature.

There're some tracks such as the title-track and the initial Siqillat where the band seems to brush their 'trademark' sound up, but I personally prefer tracks such the dark-tinged (maybe the darkest parenthesis) Quintaluna or Payatry Mantra where the energy and the impressive vocal extensions ' even in the most 'static' performances she's able to confer an ethereal sense of movement to the composition throughout a wise use of staccato bowing'¦) by Francesca are so evident than someone (including myself) could think other female vocalists took part to the recording sessions! Other evocative sublime peaks have been reached by the very long suite entitled Evnyssien, whose vibrant alchemy is based on appreciable arpeggios by Vandelli and enriched by dreamy and delicate flute inserts as well as by the entrancing closing track, Borrea, another interesting example of the perfect balance between the ethereal smokes coming from the musical pot of Vandelli, Pagliari and the percussionist Spaggiari (recently joined to the band) and the sublime voice by Francesca. Llyr is definitively both close to the enlightened and close to perfection!
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Artist: Phenotract
Title: Shifting
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Three years from the previous "Transient messages" album, Phenotract is back with a new one titled SHIFTING. The new CD brings us ten new songs that dismiss the dance influences to embrace a blend of electronic, new wave and pop music with ethereal atmospheres. The thing that is popping up immediately on SHIFTING are the upfront vocals and the reverb layer that seems to permeate the whole sound. The whole album sounds more intimate but there are also upbeat songs like "Separate places" or "Full circle again" to spice up the atmosphere. Helped by Katharine Heller, Niabi Caldwell, Anaben (from the band By Night With Spear) on vocals and by guitarist Gabriel Dorosz, Eric duets with his guests giving to the whole album a touch of dreamy synthpop where the ambience shift from dark to melancholic. At the moment I think to prefer their old style but if you like intimate electronic wave mid tempos with personal lyrics check SHIFTING. On the band's website you can listen to each track.
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anymore
Artist: Bozzwell
Title: Bits & Pieces
Format: CD
Label: Firm Records
Rated: *****
Vocalist of the The All Seeing I in the 90s and then member of Hiem with Nick "Nico" Eastwood, David Boswell is back with his first album as Bozzwell. The album contains ten tracks in balance from minimal techno and dance. The opening tracks is "Voodoo", a haunting 4/4 techno which mixes bouncing bass lines and minimal synth lines. If you think that it is distinctive for the album, well... you're partially wrong, because already with "Marilena's eyes" Bozzwell shows to its audience its electro side thanks to syncopated rhythms, catchy bass lines and passionate vocals. This mix of minimal techno and electro is the trademark of BITS & PIECES and I like it a lot as vocals and melodies freshen up the obsessive atmospheres of the hypnotic synth sounds creating something new. A bit of piano here and there, hard beats, light distortions will make you enjoy this release make you wanting for more! Available from September the 13th.
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