This is the seventh studio album from the Bristol-based, Canterbury-scene influenced, quintessentially English Schnauser --their first since 2017’s Irritant. (Full disclosure: I briefly worked with the band when they were on the Bad Elephant label.)
Now down to a four-piece following the departure of Holly McIntosh, they include Alan Strawbridge (guitar/bass/vocals), Duncan Gammon (vocals/keyboards/organ/synths), Jasper Williams (vocals/percussion), and Dino Christodoulou (tenor and soprano saxophone). Their latest creation is self-released, and features influences from psychedelia to the Beach Boys' vocal harmonies and the Bonzos' eccentricity. Obligations kicks the album off in fine style. Alan and Duncan's vocals are nicely counterpointed, while a blend of guitar, keys, and sax creates a mighty sound and adds an element of soul to the lyrics' English wordplay and idiosyncracy. There are some further wonderful Schnauserisms on Daddy, The Crane, and Twisted Solar.
Altogether the ten tracks clock in at over forty minutes, and in contrast to their previous two releases, this album contains no massive prog epics. However, the minimalist approach --the longest track is just over six minutes long-- serves this release well, and raises the question, is this Schnauser's 'pop' album? Followers of their career (and indeed of Duncan’s pre-Schnauser work on his highly acclaimed solo album Lord Gammonshire's Guide to Everyday Sounds) will know that they've always had a (somewhat wonky) pop sensibility (see Good Looking Boy, Buon Natalie or Have You Got PPI), and that rich vein continues here on the cracking lead single Do the Death, which comes with a great video featuring 1960s archive surfer footage and features more of those fantastic harmonies. Schnauser pack more ideas into this brief album than some bands manage over ten releases, and their sense of fun and experimenentation is to the fore throughout.
Since Duncan Gammon joined Schnauser in 2013 for the highly acclaimed Where Business Meets Fashion, the band haven't let up ploughing their own unique furrow of English new psych, and this new release is an absolute delight from start to finish.
Great North Star 'S/T Album'
Dean Thom and Phil Considine, otherwise known as Great North Star (the name was inspired by their interest in astronomy) describe their sound as “music from the moorlands” on their Bandcamp page. This album of ambient music resulted from an invitation to put together a portfolio for potential TV work: the muse took over, and the end product is this absorbing, intimate, and reflective album of purely instrumental pieces.
As the two interweave their instruments, they manage to create a much fuller sound than you would expect from a duo. Thom's guitar glides throughout the album, particularly haunting on the gothic Deus Ex Machina, which has atmospheric organ sounds and shimmering percussion reminiscent of Pink Floyd's soundtrack work from the late sixties/early seventies.
Very much at home in the atmospheric post-rock arena that also includes bands like And So I Watch You From Afar and Jilk, Great North Star show what can be achieved by two extremely talented musicians bouncing ideas off each other and letting the songs go where they want, while avoiding overdubbing or grand statements. Instead, the pared-down approach allows their virtuosity to shine through, so that each piece sounds effortless, immersive, and immediate, a testament to the skill and innate musicianship of Thom and Considine. A superb album.
Kaprekar’s Constant The Murder Wall
One of the most interesting and original progressive bands to appear in the last few years, Kaprekar’s fans will be glad to hear that their recently released third album does not disappoint. The Murder Wall is a full-on concept album, focussing on the North Face of the Eiger and those who have tried (and failed) to make the climb --a subject that has long fascinated songwriter, bassist, and keyboard player Nick Jefferson.
The real-life stories are brought to life by the wonderfully textured sounds that this incredible collective pull together. Bill Jefferson and Dorie Jackson's voices work beautifully together throughout the album, while David Jackson (Dorie's father) adds an extra layer to the soulful music with his unique sax playing. With each new release, Kaprekar's Constant raise the bar a bit higher.
It is really difficult to pick favourites on such an immersive album, since the entire record demands your full attention. Throughout, the band members' multi-instrumentalism is deployed sensitively and intuitively; nothing is overdone. The piano backing by Mike Westergaard complements Dorie Jackson's vocals on the plaintive Failure Takes Care of Its Own, a beautiful piece of work, while the piano intro to Third Man Down is also lovely. Judie Tzuke provides a haunting guest vocal on the sublime Years to Perfect, the band providing space for her voice to soar as they create emotive music behind her. There are some wonderful lyrics all through the album, such as on Another Man's Smile. The album tracks subtly segue into each other, and the drumming of Mark Walker helps to anchor the expansive sound.
The entire album is a very emotional experience, with its tragic stories and some superbly-realised musical moments, such as the joyously uplifting opening to Victorious. The arranging is extremely sophisticated, particularly Dorie Jackson's vocal arrangements, and the songwriting team of Nick Jefferson, Al Nicholson (guitar/piano/mandolin/keyboards) and Mike Westergaard (piano/keyboard/guitar/backing vocals) bring extraordinary deftness to these compositions.
Kaprekar’s Constant appeared fully formed from nowhere a few years ago, blowing us away with their musical vision. Now they have done it again, with a brilliant concept that takes the listener along for the highs and the perils of trying to scale the Eiger. I cannot fault this album, an absolute triumph of the genre.
Nektar ...Sounds Like This Esoteric Recordings ECLEC22796
Although formed in Germany, Nektar were a very innovative English progressive rock band. The original line-up of Roye Albrighton (guitar/vocals), Derek ‘Mo’ Moore (bass/vocals), Alan ‘Taff’ Freeman (keyboards/vocals), and Ron Howden (drums) was augmented by non-performing member Mick Brockett on lights.
After they had cooked up a storm on the Continent, their third record ...Sounds Like This was their first release in their native England on United Artists. It was a double album to best showcase the Nektar sound, recorded live in the studio and featuring nine new compositions. In this newly remastered version, the entire album is on Disc One, whilst Disc Two contains alternative takes and outtakes.
This release really brought the band to the record-buying public's attention, containing tracks like the epic twelve-minutes-plus Day In the Life of a Preacher. The centrepiece 1-2-3-4 is pure prog heaven, while the brief but mighty Wings shows the band on fire. The power and precision on these complex pieces are even more impressive when you consider that they are virtually as recorded on the day, with no major remixing or overdubbing. This release demonstrates why they were becoming so popular as live performers in Europe. Esoteric's remaster really brings the sound out, while the additional disc shows how the songs and sounds developed into the finished product on Disc One. With additional sleeve notes, excerpts from Mick Brockett's diary, and plenty of additional photos, this is the definitive edition of ...Sounds Like This, an album that was like nothing else around at the time of its first release, which is why it still stands up so well today.
Twelfth Night Smiling at Grief Revisited 40th Anniversary Edition
This is not a replacement for the definitive Smiling at Grief remastered double CD set that is still available from the band. Instead, to mark the forty-year anniversary of this seminal album's release, the band invited prog luminaries to work with the original masters and put their own unique spin on these classic tracks. The guest list of remixers reads like a Who's Who of contemporary prog, with Steven Wilson contributing three tracks, while the other names include Stuart Nicholson and Lee Abraham from Galahad, Simon Godfrey, Tim Bowness, Brian Hulse, Andy Tillison and Gareth Cole.
Of course, the lynchpin of the early Twelfth Night albums was the vocals of the late, great Geoff Mann, and these are enhanced on the tracks, whilst the original band are also present: Brian Devoil (percussion), Clive Mitten (bass/keyboards), Andy Revill (guitar), and Rick Battersby (keyboards on Creepshow, Three Dancers and Makes No Sense).
The album starts with the iconic East of Eden, and Steven Wilson sprinkles some of his sonic magic all over it without diluting the essence of the music. His further two versions of both Three Dancers and Puppets (and, as a bonus track, an extended East of Eden to round the record off) show his respect for the source material. All his contributions sound absolutely gorgeous.
Simon Godfrey tackles the epic Creepshow with his usual aplomb and skill. Meanwhile the work that Tim Bowness and Brian Hulse do on Makes No Sense really extends the brief to create an updated version, retaining only Rev's guitar work and some of Geoff's vocals, that is still in keeping with the overall style of the album. Andy Tillison reimagines The Honeymoon is Over, whilst the unique Gareth Cole sound enhances Three Dancers. This riveting homage to the original Smiling at Grief is a fantastic way to celebrate the album's four decades.--James R. Turner