Album Review: Strawbs – Settlement

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Strawbs: Settlement (Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Records)

The Strawbs are one of those bands where the term “rock royalty” might easily apply. They began in 1964 as The Strawberry Hill Boys, named for a region in their native England where they originated and frequently played. In 1969 they shortened their title to Strawbs and released a debut album that same year. The abbreviated moniker seemed to follow their musical shift from a strictly bluegrass and folk-oriented trio to a quintet that integrated more rock and progressive sounds. The current lineup of the band features founder David Cousins (guitars/vocals) and long-time members Dave Lambert (guitars/vocals), Dave Bainbridge (keyboards), Chas Cronk (bass/vocals), and Tony Fernandez (drums and percussion). Guests include former Strawbs regular Blue Weaver on keyboards, mastering and production, with another long-time associate John Ford on guitar and vocals, Irish singer Cathryn Craig and South African bassist Schalk Joubert.

Strawbs – Settlement

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Strawbs have traditionally blended many musical styles, with always provocative and socially relevant lyrics. Conceived during the early pandemic months of 2020, Settlement is a full-length collection of well-crafted songs that rank with some of their best. Cousins’ reedy tenor envelopes the very topical and driving sentiments of the kick-off title track “Settlement.” He sings like a man possessed, “There comes a time when every settlement is due. No compromise, no other point of view.” Cousins is letting you know from the get-go there is some urgency to his message and he means business. And then he expresses thoughts born out of quarantine and a sense of a bigger picture, “Strapped down in a cold town, dying to pay the rent, what the masterminds are selling you is Heaven sent, ring around the rules, we’re nobody’s fools.” The weight of robust acoustic guitars mixed with mellotron, slide guitar and organ bring things to a fever pitch.

“Strange Times” follows and is another Cousins track that shifts, in mood and style, to more poignant and reflective. Again, the songwriting is totally on point as Cousins makes observations on occurrences in the present day, “Times of glory, times of pride, times for conflict set aside, times of danger, times of grief, such are these strange times.”

“Judgment Day” has a percolating, funky underbelly to it. Again, it’s a blend of acoustic and ambient sounds where Cousins is able to sing with pause and purpose. The song is a commentary on what social distancing has done to humanity on an emotional level. “Walk down the street, people I meet, step away as I pass by, know how I feel, down at heel, been known to break down and cry.” But the tune is not without a bright side, “Try to forgive, learn how to live, know in my heart where I’m going, hope and pray, on judgment day, they reap all the seeds they are sowing.”

John Ford collaborates with Cousins on the track “Each Manner of Man.” It is spiritual and observational, with a classic sound and a haunting quality. It’s a song that seems to address the humanity that connects us all. Ford and Cousins sing, “If ever the doubt shall still remain, the days gather pace like a mighty express, reminding us all to reflect on our ways, nothing more, nothing more, nothing less.”

Lambert’s “The Visit” sounds like a traditional Celtic folk song. It’s a story tune featuring shimmering mandolin and acoustic guitar, with a catchy chorus. This leads into his brief instrumental “Flying Free” that expands on an indigenous U.K. vibe.

“Quicksilver Days” is a vivid and somewhat somber ballad. It has a Gothic quality that stands with classic highlights like their own “Hero and Heroine.” Its fluid and surreal imagery is made even more relevant by the timeless Beatle-esque/King Crimson-like flute mellotron passages throughout.

Cronk’s “We Are Everyone” features splendid harmonies by himself, Cousins and guest vocalist Craig. It’s got a slow burning build that addresses the universality of the human race. The lyrics are simple and undeniably direct as they sing, “All bear witness, we are not lost, come together, join together, we are everyone.” It’s a goose bump-inducing piece that’s followed by Cronk’s dramatic and austere instrumental “Chorale.” It’s got a rousing Bach/Mozart pomposity that really makes a statement and brings the vinyl portion of the album to a satisfying close.

The CD version of Settlement contains three bonus songs under the heading “Off the Beaten Tracks.” They are the mini-epic boxer scenario “Champion Jack,” the seemingly auto-biographical “Better Days (Life Is Not a Game)” and the hopeful “Liberty.”

With multiple songwriters and vocalists in the band this is surely a true collective effort. It’s an amazing achievement considering it was created, in large part, through virtual means. Bravo!

Album Review: Sumo Cyco – Initiation

Sumo Cyco

photo by Francesca Ludikar; photo courtesy of Napalm Records

Album Review of Sumo Cyco: Initiation (Napalm Records)

Sumo Cyco has moved in and out of my awareness over the years, always attention-grabbing while clearly honing its sound with each successive release. Sumo Cyco is a heavy rock band with a raw metal edge and a punk attitude. Sonically, the band has the aggression and speed of many bands in its musical neighborhood with a world-class lead singer (Skye “Sever” Sweetnam) capable of bringing a level of tunefulness and softness to the mix, exploiting the ability to provide greater contrast to her raw, roaring metal vocals. In other words, range. The ability to achieve that range provides interesting contrasts within individual cuts but also the capacity to deliver a broader range of songs within an identifiable Sumo Cyco heavy rock style, satisfying core heavy rock fans while appealing to perhaps a broader demographic, particularly on individual tracks. Of course, “Sever” doesn’t achieve that range of musical styles all by herself. Serious props to the rest of this band: Matt “MD13” Drake (lead guitar), Matt “Trozzi” (drums), and Oscar Aneset (bass). You all know by now how much I love versatile bands like this, and upon sampling a couple of songs on the new album, Initiation, I knew Sumo Cyco had delivered a musical collection I needed to write about.

Sumo Cyco – Initiation

image courtesy of Napalm Records

Like any good heavy rock band, Sumo Cyco kicks the album off with a couple of its most aggressive songs, appropriately greeting listeners to Cyco City with “Love You Wrong”. This track begins with a crash and rawly shouted vocals, and throughout the song the tempo and vocal aggression suggest mosh pits and a frantic, fear-filled confused rampage, but the lesser-instrumented verses and monster hooky chorus more welcomingly reel the listener in. Yes, the chorus is primarily “Not gonna love you, not gonna love you wrong” repeated several times, but damn, it’s an earworm. With each successive listen, this increasingly becomes a favorite. Then again, that’s true of so many of the tunes on this disc.

Perhaps the next-most-rough-edged song on the disc, “Bystander” aggressively urges actively taking part in your life, as if you couldn’t guess from the title. Worth noting is the rhythmic drum-driven bridge that accompanies the lyrics “We are uninvited, watching from afar. We are all misguided, divided, falling apart.” The most infectious part of “Bystander,” though, is its unrelenting, insistent pace.

Next up, “Vertigo” shows shades of Lady Gaga-meets-Gwen Stefani through the lens of a ’90s pop-punk-influenced mainstream heavy rock band. It’s all beat and rhythm atop grinding guitar and a wall of staticky background vocals. Very effective… and sound effect-ive.

Sumo Cyco

photo by Francesca Ludikar; photo courtesy of Napalm Records

The end of “Vertigo” flows sonically directly into “Bad News,” with rhythmic vocal verses ultimately combining with another one of those monster hook choruses. Actually, something you might find at a dance club in a vampire movie, an intense, energetic rock track with a sort of underlying club mix vibe.

Next, “No Surrender” thrashes tunefully, before “M.I.A.” follows with a rhythmic spoken-song effort that, of all the songs on Initiation, most closely resembles one Gwen Stefani would perform. But, of course, Sumo Cyco-style. Lyrically, you’ll find yourself hooked on “Do you remember? ‘Cause I forget.”

The back half of this album begins with “Cyclone.” The speed-guitar runs and aggressively, sneakily melodic verse are among this track’s standout features, though the softly sung “I can’t help myself I’m falling, in a downward spiral I’m falling…” will also pleasantly catch you off guard.

There’s a reggae-esque opening to “Run With the Giants”… up until the ripping guitars and sirens. But you can hear and enjoy the meshing of reggae and hard rock throughout – an enjoyably, intentionally harsh transition between the styles at times, smoother at others. The driving chorus is supported by a full, distorted heavy rock sound while implanting in your brain the memorably repeated “Gotta run with it, gotta run with it, yeah we’ll run with the giants!” You’ll be singing along by song.

“Overdrive,” next, has a serious funky rhythm and dancefloor vibe that almost overrides (overdrives?) its rockin’ guitar line, while “Power & Control” has just a hint of a soul-rock vibe, especially where Skye/Sever lets her voice soar a bit… with, you know, a much thrashier music bed.

One of the most memorable songs on the album, though, is “This Dance is Doomed.” You’ll frantically sing along with “doom da da da doom da da da day,” sometimes hours or days after you actually last heard the song.

The album closes with bonus track “Awakened,” which you’ll not find on every release. This song opens catchily with a tuneful “My heart’s been awakened…” It then flows into a classic-cool heavy rock vibe, yet still a bit sidewinding, befitting Sumo Cyco’s trademark style. It’s a fun, energetic way to end an album, though the prior song, if that’s the last on your version of Initiation, also provides a great final sendoff. They both encourage another listen. Immediately. Over and over.

In the end, Sumo Cyco is a unique band. One of a kind. The kind of band whose music deserves a spot in a well-rounded playlist. If you love it loud, you’re gonna love this heavy rock masterwork, Initiation – some songs immediately while others will grow on you like a fungus. But you won’t have anything else quite like Sumo Cyco’s music in your collection, and once you’ve heard it, you’ll occasionally crave it.

I’m hoping to get a chance to catch Sumo Cyco live one of these days. They do a great job of transferring their energy into their recordings, but I can only imagine how much they must rock the room live. For those of you in the UK, there are some dates listed on the “events” tab of the band’s Facebook page – a late October/early November tour with Wednesday 13. As always during a pandemic, double-check event status before leaving the house.

Post-Publication Addendum: It looks like the Sumo Cyco/Wednesday 13 UK tour has been postponed until 2022, per this Facebook post. COVID-19 strikes again. Yep, always a good idea to double-check (ahead of time and even day of show) before traveling any distance to a concert during a pandemic. -GW

Album Review: Laura Meade – The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Laura Meade – The Most Dangerous Woman in America

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Laura Meade: The Most Dangerous Woman in America (Doone Records)

Laura Meade is a vocalist with the modern New York-based progressive rock band IZZ. Coming off her 2018 solo release Remedium, Meade returns with a powerful statement tailor made for the #MeToo movement. The astute and perceptive singer-songwriter summarizes her latest release this way: “There have been so many people throughout history – many of them women – who stand up for themselves, stand up for what they believe in, and experience great pain and suffering for doing so; their memories lost along the way to gossip and rumor. I hope that this album, in some small way, honors and gives voice to the forgotten.”

What began as a concept album exploring one singular female icon’s struggles and challenges in life became a series of songs that address the body politic of women, at large. Meade is joined on the album by fellow IZZ counterparts John Galgano on guitars, bass and keyboards, Tom Galgano on keyboards, and Brian Coralian on drums and percussion. Following a brief sound byte “On the Shores of the Seine,” the track “Leaving” addresses the price of fame and sticking up for oneself and one’s convictions. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition for the subject in this song as Meade sings, “Back against the wall, kind of had no choice, I knew it would be right, I knew it would be wrong.”

“Burned at the Stake” suggests reference to Joan of Arc in this song, as the protagonist feels the pressure of being under the public and media microscope. “Watching you, watching me shouting out so critically,” states Meade. “Scared like rabbits on the screen hiding out, embarrassing. I took the risk, I took the dive, iconoclast I have arrived, cut my hair, designed my taste, I can’t come out I’m such a waste.”

“Iconoclast” follows and seems a continuation of the storyline and emotions established in the previous track. Again, this addresses the dark side of fame. Meade sings, “Now that I’ve made it, every single glance is a perfect glance, and the way you walk isn’t left to chance. Destroyer of convention, a lover never mentioned. Forty times around the sun and no one paid attention.”

“End of the Road in Hollywood” is the diary of a generic movie star, or anyone that tries to buck the system and not sell out. Interesting sound design and rhythms frame the stark words and images in a very cinematic and self-reflective manner.

“Doesn’t Change a Thing” is all about picking up one’s personal spirits and carrying on in life. The chorus says it all: “Every day is another day to choose, every day is another day I win or lose, every day is another day to see, every day is another day I learn to be.”

The title track “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” is deadly serious, yet somewhat tongue in cheek as well. If being dangerous is synonymous with being resourceful and learning how to survive then that correlation makes sense. There is a sense of desperation and bravado in Meade’s voice as she sings: “There’s no way out of this alive, a glimpse of the ghost of me that survived… They say that I’m not tame, using my weapon for fame, It’s your obsession to blame, I control the game!” The music matches the tension in the lyrics, with a rapid up tempo keyboard pattern reminiscent of neo-noir cinema meets ‘80s synth-pop.

“The Shape of Shock” further explores a woman standing tall in the face of adversity, with the declarative chorus “I’m Still There!” The bank of keyboards and fullness of sound recalls early Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Genesis mixed with an enveloping wash of electronica. Meade embodies the character of the song when she sings: “The shape of shock is worthy of a face, just the type you’d like to see erased.”

“Forgive Me” is, perhaps, the most overtly prog-oriented track, with driving piano-fueled grooves, orchestral textures and oscillating synthesizers. Again, the protagonist here is trying to make a stand and represent her place in the world. Meade sings: “This is getting out of control. I wish I was younger, I wish I was older. No one here can love or comprehend me…Boisterous winds and Neptune’s waves have tossed me to and fro, and far below.”

“Tell Me Love” builds to a dramatic coda that shifts from solemn to revelatory. Meade concludes with cool observation and sage advice: “Don’t believe my biography, it’s just gossip, a ghost of me. It saves time, prevents us from thinking.” And later in the song she asks: “What should I do? Give in or stand fast? Live a long life or die young, burned at the stake? Tell me, love!”

Laura Meade has created an insightful and very personal piece of work here. Like all great music and literature its intentions and message will make their impression and resonate with the listener for a long time to come.

Looking Ahead

Though no live dates are currently listed, you can find future performances, when they’re scheduled, listed on the “Shows” page of Laura Meade’s website or the “IZZ Live” page of the IZZ website.

Album Review: District 97 – Screenplay

District 97

photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of District 97: Screenplay (MindScan/Cherry Red Records)

District 97 is a progressive rock band from Chicago that has been on the international scene since 2006. They started out as an instrumental group but really began to flourish as a more melodic entity after they brought singer-songwriter and American Idol semi-finalist Leslie Hunt into the fold. The current lineup of the band also features guitarist/vocalist Jim Tashjian, bassist Tim Seisser, keyboardist Andrew Lawrence, and drummer Jonathan Schang. The group has released a series of studio and live albums since 2010. Their last studio recording Screens dropped in 2019. The current one here is a double disc that serves as a curious document of various live performances – both original and cover songs – dating back to 2011, with Disc One a live track by track rundown of their Screens album performed at a venue in The Netherlands in 2019.

Disc One opens with the track “Forest Fire.” It is a multi-layered piece blending dense vocal harmonies, fluctuating tempos and Tashjian’s experimental noisy guitar riffs. The result is an exciting balance of dissonant and consonant sounds.

“Sheep” is a Sessier/Hunt composition that seems to address portions of society that tend to follow more than lead. The somewhat obtuse and fanciful lyrics perhaps make a comment on media consumption and compliance: “You’re living your best life. The blue glowing light redeems you, feeds you, numbs you… The blue glowing light has changed you, claimed you, drained you. It’s counting you as sheep.” Hunt rides a smooth vocal wave here as Tashjian and Sessier offer tasty guitar and bass breakdowns, respectively.

District 97 – Screenplay

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Sea I Provide” is somewhat of a straight-ahead rocker, with prominent cascading key passages from Lawrence. Metal-tinged guitar provides a thick wall of crunch that gives way to jazzy chords in the bridge. “Bread & Yarn” features sophisticated vocalizing between Hunt and Tashjian. It’s kind of a song cycle, with several thematic sections that drift from sedate to thunderous. The band deftly stacks a bunch of ideas in very compartmentalized fashion. It’s a real spotlight for the whole band.

“Trigger” keeps you on the edge of your seat, with its catchy harmonies, ear candy melodies and intrepid unison legato guitar and keyboard lines. The bass instrumental “After Orbit Mission” is a brief Jaco-esque vignette that leads into the aptly named “Shapeshifter.” With its many evolving musical detours and mind-bending lyrics the song indeed takes on a myriad of forms. In it, Hunt sings: “Blend with paper walls, I’ll change into something more comfortable to ignore. While you’re waiting for the form you’re expecting, but haven’t prepared for blow your lover has stored. Fully formed, you’re not who you were before.”

“Blueprint” starts out as a mellow and jazzy type of tune. Hunt sings surreal and dark lyrics through a barrage of altered changes, chords, and layers of sound. This one is not so much about blazing solos as stitching a number of vocal parts and thematic dynamics together smoothly.

The sides longest and final track is an ominous one called “Ghost Girl.” The 13-plus minute piece plays out as a short supernatural and suspenseful horror story. Hunt sings “How’s a girl to sleep at night with demons all around? They encircle me and then my bed lifts off the ground. They suffocate me, lacerate me across my naked flesh.” But then the supernatural sensibility hits home in, perhaps, a very real double-edged commentary on child abuse: “Mother, oh mother; I’m starting to see who was behind what happened to me. What was a little girl meant to do, when mother the only demon was you.”

Disc Two is a mix of live dates, from the U.S. and Europe, featuring early original songs from the band and an extensive covers set. In particular, District 97’s choices of artists and songs span an interesting and historically reflective gamut. The set list, assembled from several performances over the last decade or so, comprises a laundry list of key progressive and classic rock gems from the ‘70s and ‘80s. And the list is not without a few surprises. Jim Tashjian sings a very convincing solo version of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” The band also covers a brilliant take on U.K.’s “Presto Vivace.” There are a couple back-to-back Bill Bruford songs that make the cut.

A real showstopper is a 2013 performance featuring District 97 backing the  legendary John Wetton singing lead on King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” But the absolute curveball in this whole package has to be an unlisted bonus rendition of that ‘80s perennial “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. It’s a faithful studio cut they tack on at the end of Disc Two that legitimately rocks! Who says prog bands can’t cut loose from the norm every once in a while? Highly recommended!

Looking Ahead

District 97 has a few upcoming concerts listed on the “Shows” tab of the band’s website. On October 28th, you’ll find them at the Brass Mug in Tampa, FL. On October 30th, they’re scheduled to perform as part of Progoween on the Ranch at the Crimson Sky Ranch in Masaryktown, FL. They’ll be back at their home base in Chicago, IL, on November 19th, at Reggie’s. And District 97 is scheduled on the Cruise to the Edge May 2nd-7th, 2022, departing from Port Canaveral, FL. For additional details and new dates as they’re added, keep an eye on the District 97 website and its Facebook page. (The Facebook page, for example, lists a November 1st gig at the Sweetwater Bar and Grille in Duluth, GA.) As always – and especially during a pandemic, when calendars and policies are constantly changing – double-check with a reliable source before heading out to a concert.

Single Review: beauty is the end – “helplessly hoping”

beauty is the end

photo courtesy of beauty is the end

Single Review of beauty is the end: “helplessly hoping”

We’re reviewed the music of bandleader Clint Degan here before, in the role of Body English’s vocalist and guitarist, when I reviewed Stories of Earth. This, however, is a truly original, unique sound worth approaching with a fresh palate, featuring Cullen Corley on percussion and multi-instrumentalist Degan recording the remaining instruments and vocals. So grab some ginger and be prepared for a fresh musical dining experience on “helplessly hoping.”

beauty is the end – helplessly hoping

image courtesy of beauty is the end

This song is timeless. But beauty is the end delivers an updated version of this Crosby, Stills & Nash classic. The harmonies are replaced by instruments or perhaps just less volume, serving up a modernized sound, adding a hint of progressive instrumentation, softening the harsh harmonic edges of the original with a thinner, more sensitive vocal line and softened transitions. This version completely changes the feel of the song without touching the main melody, and in the process of modernizing, it actually recalls a completely different set of ’70s bands. Call it a two-way transportation through time, if you want, landing at a different destination.

Whatever it’s quite cool and really pleasant, enjoyable listen, gradually becoming a favorite on my playlist. To be honest, after acclimating myself to the beauty is the end version, I find it hard to listen to the original. I’ve come to expect this version’s softness to the extent that Crosby, Stills & Nash’s harmonies in the original startle me. Yeah, yeah, I know. I should show more reverence to the trailblazers, but I really dig this version. Check it out for yourself.

To keep up with beauty is the end, follow the band’s Facebook page.

Single Review: Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box – “Pyrrha’s Song”

Troubleshooting Pandora's Box – Pyrrha's Song

image courtesy of Potter’s Daughter

Single Review of Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box: “Pyrrha’s Song” (Melodic Revolution Records)

The first song from the Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box project, spearheaded by Melodic Revolution Records founder Nick Katona, is “Pyrrha’s Song.” It features Dyanne Potter Voegtlin (keyboard, vocals) and Jan-Christian Vögtlin (bass, guitar, keyboards) from Potter’s Daughter (whose recent album I reviewed) with Jimmy Keegan (drums).

An edgy, symphonic-leaning progressive rock number, “Pyrrha’s Song” is purposefully tense and uncomfortable. Or, rather, never quite comfortable. Stray notes pop up suddenly and harshly within the melody to keep the listener off-balance and paying attention, while the drums crash and vocals test the song’s upper sonic limits, all set interestingly to a laid-back bass line.

This is what progressive rock is all about, putting great musicians in a situation to pursue a concept – not always an unsettling concept, but sometimes and in this case – and try to tell its story through music, typically in unexpected ways. “Pyrrha’s Song” is a cool song and a fun, interesting listen, though by necessity it’s an active listen. If you dig this sort of music, this Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box release is a fine example of it and well worth your listen.

More info about the project (Troubleshooting Pandora’s Box) and the song (“Pyrrha’s Song”) can be found here on this page of the Melodic Revolution Records website.

Album Review: Carl Verheyen – Sundial

Carl Verheyen – Sundial

image courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

Album Review of Carl Verheyen: Sundial

There was a time when more rock ‘n roll albums blended catchy melodies and progressive guitarwork, energetic hook-driven tunefulness and meandering noodling, rock ‘n roll with both a soft touch and a musical passion. Carl Verheyen‘s Sundial harkens back to those ’70s and early ’80s albums on which rock music wasn’t as stylistically compartmentalized, especially when featuring a lead axeman capable of such guitar wizardry as Verheyen.

Carl kicks things off with the fun title track. “Sundial” recalls a Stranger-era Billy Joel tune, but with progressive rock-style guitar occupying the solo and bridge slots, constrained within the package of a broad-appeal pop-rock song. It’s a very cool, groovy, cheerful tune with a great big sound.

The cheerfulness carries on into the following song, the bright, happy, energetic guitar instrumental “Kaningie,” a song with a catchy beat and plenty of character. Something about the energy of this track reminds me of the sorts of energetic instrumentals Bob Malone sneaks onto his albums, daring you to notice – rarely on the first listen – that there weren’t, in fact, any lyrics.

You can hear the funk meet the blues in “Clawhammer Man,” a true ’70s-styled funk-rock attitude-filled gem.

Carl Verheyen

photo by Rainer Hosch; photo courtesy of Glass Onyon PR

“Never Again” seems like a song you might have heard from Styx. A forceful musical beginning opens into a softer, lush, musically smooth chorus. If it were a Styx tune, I’d expect a faster tempo, while “Never Again” has a more blues-based, takin’-its-own-sweet-time vibe, but the blend of guitar and organ mix and verse-to-chorus transition “well, never again” recall something one might expect from the aforementioned Second City rock heroes.

“Garfunkel (It Was All Too Real)” maintains that same laid-back tempo, but it returns to a style in the neighborhood of late ’70s radio-friendly soft rock, recalling those nostalgic numbers that seemed to be telling a story in black and white. This track features plenty of keyboard but also leaves ample room for Verheyen’s guitarwork to dance through the melody, as well it should.

Verheyen cranks up the energy again on his cover of the Rascals’ “People Got to Be Free.” Mixing a ska rhythm, a faster-than-the-original tempo, and overriding rock guitar lines and vocal wails, this fun reimagination comes across as a completely different song than the original.

Next up, “Sprial Glide” is a tightly-structured, well-composed, mellow, progressive soft rocker, a 7-minute epic with recurring note-bending guitar and keyboard hooks holding it together before and after the mid-song guitar solo. “Sprial Glide” is the sort of musician-based masterwork you think of when you hear the phrase “album-oriented rock.”

“Michelle’s Song” is more of a crossover pop/soft rock number, the sort that used to dot pop-rock radio playlists, a song where folk-structured lyrics meet pop songwriting sensibilities and rock ‘n roll musicianship.

“No Time for a Kiss” is the last full-length song on the album, a progressive rock-flavored not-quite-ballad designed to showcase a melancholy wailing guitar line that complements the similarly-pained vocals.

The last track on the album is the minute-and-a-half “Sundial Slight Return,” tying the album together with the instrumental melody of the opening track, putting a bow on the release as you’d expect from a thoughtfully assembled album. Also, coincidentally, it offers an opportunity for prepare you mind to return to song number one, particularly helpful if you’re playing Sundial on repeat. And why wouldn’t you?

Looking Ahead

Carl has a lot of gigs scheduled this summer and fall, beginning in Westlake, CA on August 29th, followed by September 4th and 5th gigs in Seattle, a couple more California shows, and then a European tour. You can find details about upcoming dates on the “Tour Dates” page of Carl’s website or on the “Events” tab of his Facebook page.

Album Review: Zanov – Chaos Islands


photo courtesy of Rock Rose Music

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Zanov: Chaos Islands

Pierre Salkzanov (aka Zanov) is a French electronic music wizard who has been on the ground floor of the synthesizer-driven music field since 1976. From 1977 to 1983, he produced three albums for the Polydor and Solaris labels. After a 30 year absence from the scene, he returned in 2014 with the album Virtual Future and in 2016 released Open Worlds. Both of these recordings came out on his label Zanov Music.

Zanov – Chaos Islands

image courtesy of Rock Rose Music

This latest release is a continuation of electronic exploration and sound design that is cut from the same cloth as fellow artistic comrades such as Tangerine Dream, Maurice Jarre, Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schulze and Eberhard Schoener. As is the tradition with much of progressive and experimental music of this type, the album follows a conceptual path. That path is comprised of seven signposts or tracks that are built around the perspective where order and chaos combine to generate surprising beauty. Hence, each track is rooted in melody and rhythms, but there is a pervasive serendipity and unpredictability there as well.

Track one is called “Edge of Chaos Island.” According to the liner notes, the tune describes Chaos Island as a region, or state of mind, where “creative and decisive changes are taking place in the transition from order and chaos.” Zanov’s synthesized wall of sound envelopes the listener from all directions. What keeps the music flowing and together is an oscillating mid-tempo loop that ebbs and shifts, with changing themes and melodies.


photo courtesy of Rock Rose Music

On “Inception Island” there is a surreal soundscape that’s created inspired by the cult film Inception. Nothing is what it seems with this track. It’s kind of cerebral, with fractal bits of thematic material and obscure sounds weaving in and out. Subliminal sounds permeate underneath other sonic layers on top.

Track three is called “Strange Attractor Island” and has an almost meditative or sci-fi feel to it. The mid-section is in ¾ time while various melodies emerge, build and fade away. But as soon as one melody diminishes, a counter theme develops.

“Three Body Island” sounds semi-classical. It’s rather slow and pensive, with mood shifts at the half mark that surrender to multiple counter melodies and arpeggiated chords.

On “Phase Space Island” the liner notes state: “At a glance one can see all possible states of a system, leaving out time.” The piece is a nice mix of a swirling sonic wash, with recurring themes and bubbling rhythms. True to its title there is the swell of phase shifting here.


photo courtesy of Rock Rose Music

“All roads lead to bifurcations, some of them leading to perpetual change,” on “Instability Island.” To a degree this is true. But the overall track harbors a smooth and calming melody that is woven within. This provides an anchor that keeps the entire piece intact.

In regards to the seventh and final track “Emergence Island,” Zanov states it is “very complex and beautiful where surprising structures can emerge from a very simple iterative process.” This piece sounds somewhat reminiscent of German outfit Kraftwerk’s early work on their international hit “Autobahn.” There is a strong rhythmic undertow that consolidates this whole conceptual package in an assured and mechanized manner.

Zanov creates music that is lush, fills your speakers, expands your mind and transports the listener to another level of consciousness.