Big Big Train – Welcome To The Planet track-by-track album review

13 01 2022

Big Big Train release their new album Welcome To The Planet on their own label, English Electric Recordings on 28 January 2022. The new album comes shortly after their 2020 release, Common Ground, and was completed before the untimely passing of their vocalist David Longdon in November 2021.

David is one of my favourite vocalists, and as each album from Big Big Train is released, it has been a joy to listen to the band progressing, exploring new lyrical themes and musical landscapes. David’s rich vocals, along with his powerful and intelligent songwriting, will be missed by all fans of the band.

Welcome To The Planet is the second album recorded during the pandemic, and with the new line-up of the band.

After teasing us with a series of stand-alone streaming releases, the album was confirmed late last year. Big Big Train founder Gregory Spawton explained the short gap between albums: “The experience of the pandemic has shown us that we need to make the best use of our time on Earth. With that in mind and with new band members on board giving us a fresh head of steam, we decided on a speedy return to the studio to write and record Welcome To The Planet.”

The album opens with Made From Sunshine, a duet between David Longdon and Clare Lindley, the band’s violinist. An uplifting, optimistic take on new life and new beginnings bringing joy. It will bring a smile to your face, and acts as a perfect tonic for these troubled times we find ourselves living through.

“It’s clear to see, we’re on cloud nine.”

The Connection Plan is a Nick D’Virgilio song about connecting with others despite our differences. Driven by an insistent violin and a bass-line that cuts through from Greg Spawton, lovely mellotron lines feature to warm the hearts of the traditional prog-heads!

The vocal arrangement of the chorus is a real highlight of The Connection Plan.

“Kill the spotlight, power and might”

Two Greg Spawton composed tracks take their place in the album’s well-sequenced running order. Lanterna was inspired by the 16th Century Lanterna di Genova (the Lighthouse of Genoa).

Lanterna has a beautiful, slow-paced but intricate introduction section that highlights the warm timbre of David Longdon’s voice, before the tempo picks up and the band kicks in.

The riffs intertwine and fight for your attention, with some of the guitar lines reminding me of the work of Alan Murphy on Kate Bush’s Experiment IV single.

Capitoline Venus is a pared back recording featuring David on vocals / keyboards and Greg on 12-string guitar. A short, sweet and direct love song.

“I have seen enough. And found home”

A Room With No Ceiling is the first of two instrumental tracks on Welcome To The Planet. Written by guitarist/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom, A Room With No Ceiling is a jazz-hued progressive piece that drips with delicious hammond organ and rhodes piano, topped off with accordion and military paced drums. The refrain at the end of this song is very moving.

Proper Jack Froster kicks off the second section of the album. The lyrics tell the tale of Greg Spawton’s early childhood in the Midland’s. The song is a nostalgic and personal track, with a powerful vocal interplay between David and Carly Bryant. Wurlitzer electric piano and sleigh bells feature on Proper Jack Froster, as it perfectly captures the spirit of a 70s winter snowscape.

“Flying down the hills
On a sledge with rusty rails
One last run then home”

The album’s second instrumental is the Nick D’Virgilio penned Bats In The Belfry. One of my favourite tracks on the album, the percussive heavy piece is the most powerful performance I have heard from D’Virgilio as a member of Big Big Train. The drum section after the mid-song breakdown is stunning, and makes you want to go back to the beginning of the track to hear it all over again. And again.

Oak And Stone is the longest song on Welcome To The Planet, weighing in at just over seven minutes, so no “epics” on this album, but this is not an issue as all the tracks are so strong and the album works so well as a complete body of work.

Oak And Stone looks back at a life lived. The warm, laid back drums from Nick and the strong vocal performance from David (with powerful harmony vocals from Nick and David) in the coda make this such an enjoyable track, that will probably be an early favourite for many fans.

“Time to put this thing to rest
Time to leave the empty stage”

The album closes with the title track, and the band have saved the best till last. Written by new keyboard player Carly Bryant, and featuring Carly and David on vocals, the amazing rich harmonies, along with the dystopian lyrics, deliver a haunting track that give me strong J. G. Ballard vibes.

The space in the arrangement, with the sparse lyrics, make this track stand-out in the Big Big Train catalogue, and is a perfect example of how new band members are always welcome to add their creativity and personality to the mix with this most collaborative of bands.

The biggest surprise with Welcome To The Planet is the wide variety of styles and moods that inhabit the album. Having the writing split amongst the band members – both established and new – gives Welcome To The Planet a sense of vibrancy and playfulness that makes it one of the best albums from the band.

Buy the album (vinyl, CD plus bundle packages) at Burning Shed
Buy the CD from Amazon
Buy the vinyl from Amazon

Part One
Made From Sunshine
The Connection Plan
Lanterna
Capitoline Venus
A Room With No Ceiling

Part Two
Proper Jack Froster
Bats In The Belfry
Oak And Stone
Welcome To The Planet





Big Big Train – Common Ground track-by-track album review

4 07 2021

Common Ground, the self-produced new album from Big Big Train is released on 30th July 2021, on CD via their own label English Electric Recordings, and on double LP in a gatefold sleeve via Plane Groovy.

Recorded during the worldwide pandemic in 2020, Common Ground sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.

The Strangest Times is a direct reaction to the worldwide pandemic. Referencing some of the strange changes to our lives (waiting for daily Government press conferences, social distancing), this is a new departure for Big Big Train. Instead of the mainly historical stories, this is as close to home and personal as it gets, with lyrics that reference this time in our history, when so many of us were confined to our homes and missing our loved ones and our way of life that we had probably taken for granted.

Six months ago this song would not have worked, as I think a lot of us were looking for an escape from Covid in our everyday lives and our art and entertainment, as it was all too raw, too over-powering and all-encompassing. But how can artists ignore one of the most significant events in our lifetimes, that touched so many of us in such a negative and personal way? As we slowly see chinks of a semblance of normality on the horizon, its now possible to listen to artists addressing what happened, and The Strangest Times touches on what we all went through, the loss and sacrifice many people endured and how our worlds changed, in some ways permanently, whilst looking to nature to heal us and offer respite from the terrible news that was hitting us from all angles.

The track is musically urgent and reminds me of the All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes period Pete Townshend (who is referenced as one of the influences, along with Elbow, Tears for Fears, Elton John and XTC on the Big Big Train website).

All The Love We Can Give, with its lower register than usual vocals on the verse, contains my favourite David Longdon performance on the album. The song reminds me a little of Mansun’s playful late 90s album Six, with a variety of twists and turns in an exiting and at times visceral arrangement.

I’m going to get shouted down here, but I keep finding myself singing Kids In America during the first section of Black With Ink. Its probably just me, so ignore me (We’re the kids in America, whoa-oh!). The switching of lead vocals to various band members and the darker mid-section makes this one of the most enjoyable tracks from the early part of the album.

Dandelion Clock is the final track that makes up the first part of the album. Drawing on that wonderful pastoral feeling that Big Big Train can dial in at ease, the song feels like it is bringing the power and beauty of nature into a four minute pop song. And before you know it, Dandelion Clock is over and we are heading into part two of Common Ground.

The short, beautiful instrumental Headwaters is driven by reverb heavy, deep piano and sets the scene for the albums second instrumental, Apollo. This is the most traditionally progressive track on the album, and the nearest in sound to previous Big Big Train recordings on an album that sees the band add new colours and layers to their music.

Common Ground was the first track released from the album and has a mid 70s feel that always draws me in. The vocal harmonies are delicious on this track, with lyrics espousing tolerance, kindness and the life-changing power of love.

“We claim our common ground”

In a slight change of tack, this album has fewer narrative led songs, with more personal experiences driving the themes, which is understandable from an album conceived and created during Covid. Deviating from this journey is the tour de force that is Atlantic Cable, a tale of a 19th Century early communication system. Lyrically the song is about joining together, and breaking down barriers, so a very optimistic take on history.

The arrangement transitions smoothly throughout the 15 minute piece, with male and female vocals interweaving. This is the track I am most looking forward to blasting out on my vinyl copy at the end of July.

“The wisdom of strangers, of those left behind
We look up at the same stars…”

Endnotes is a lovely way to end the album, with what feels like a lyrical and musical tip of the hat to early to mid period Elbow. As a side note, Elbow’s Asleep in the Back is an amazing, very progressive album that does not get the attention it deserves.

The lyrical imagery and use of brass lifts your mood on Endnotes, and overall, whilst it touches on some dark and upsetting themes, Common Ground is an uplifting, emotionally rewarding and positive album, and one of the finest releases from the band.

The performances from all band members are strong on Common Ground, and the new members have certainly left their mark, with an interesting tilt of the band’s axis giving Big Big Train a new determination along with a welcome exploration of new moods and musical flavours. Surely that’s the definition of progressive?

Part One
The Strangest Times
All The Love We Can Give
Black With Ink
Dandelion Clock

Part Two
Headwaters
Apollo
Common Ground
Atlantic Cable
Endnotes

Burning Shed Big Big Train store (incl CD / vinyl and merchandise bundles for Common Ground)

Buy Big Big Train’s Common Ground on CD from Amazon
Buy Big Big Train’s Common Ground on vinyl from Amazon





Airbag – Identity (Remastered) CD & Vinyl review

3 06 2021

Karisma Records are releasing a remastered version of Oslo band Airbag’s 2009 debut album Identity in June 2021 on CD and in early August on double vinyl.

The original, according to my Last.FM stats, was my most played album in 2009, so I’m obviously a big fan of this album. Identity has been lovingly remastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel).

Identity is a wonderful mixture of Pink Floyd influenced, melodic prog with quite wide-ranging pop influences such as later period Talk Talk and at times, hints of modern electronica.

Jacob Holm-Lupo’s remaster is a revelation. Comparing the two versions side by side, the new version is less sharp on the ear, the guitars are not always at the top of the mix and there is space for the electronics to breathe. Ride cymbals shimmer, the bass is deep and cuts through perfectly, and production touches such as effects on vocals and keyboards sit so much better in the mix. The original, which sounded pretty good back in the day, has been polished and cleaned, and is now a sparkling diamond of an album.

The instrumental Prelude sets the scene, with emotional solos from guitarist Bjørn Riis. The album is a definite pop your headphones on, sit back and close your eyes, listening experience. If you give the album your full attention, you will be rewarded.

No Escape is one of the key tracks on Identity. The pace is steady and constant, but the arrangement dips in and out of it’s intensity, with a heady mix of David Gilmour influenced guitar lines and simple but effective vocal arrangements. The ending, with processed drums and an emotional piano refrain, is a joy to listen to.

“Why does it feel like I’ve been here before,
please pull me out of this dream.”

Safe Like You has a Massive Attack sounding drum pattern, and infectious keyboard lines that underpin the emotive guitar parts. This is one of the songs that really benefits from Holm-Lupo’s warm, widescreen and colourful remaster.

“My stomach aches when you look at me as if I was fake”

Steal My Soul makes good use of soundscapes and Robert Fripp influenced guitar textures before the more traditional arrangement kicks in. This is the track that is likely to appeal to fans of 70s prog and classic rock.

The remaster of Steal My Soul is another noticeable improvement, and Colours, with its clearer vocal and acoustic guitar mix, sounds like it was recorded yesterday, rather than 12 years ago. How time flies…

The final two tracks – How I Wanna Be & Sounds That I Hear – thrive on the atmospherics, and work as if they are one long piece, rather than two distinct tracks.

Sounds That I Hear is one of my favourite Airbag songs, with delicate organ washes, snatches of distant radio conversations and a powerful classic progressive rock arrangement that sits comfortably (numb) alongside the dark lyrics.

“The memories we had
are left behind”

So if you already own this album, should you buy it again? For me, its a genuine sonic improvement, and the best version of one of my favourite albums of the past 20 years, and so yes I will be buying it again, on vinyl rather than CD. My original copy will go to a charity shop to hopefully turn someone else on to the band. Got to spread the prog love, right?

Buy the Identity (2021 Remaster) CD (available from 11 June 2021) from Amazon


Buy the Identity (2021 Remaster) (Deluxe White Vinyl) 2LP – pre-order (available from early August 2021) from Amazon

Tracklist:

Prelude
No Escape
Safe Like You
Steal My Soul
Feeling Less
Colours
How I Wanna Be
Sounds That I Hear

Identity-era Line-up:

Asle Tostrup – vocals
Bjørn Riis – guitars & vocals
Jørgen Hagen – keyboards
Anders Hovdan – bass
Joachim Slikker – drums





Frost* Day And Age album review

7 04 2021

Frost* release their fourth studio album Day And Age on May 14 2021. The follow-up to their 2016 album Falling Satellites, Day And Age is available as a limited 2 CD version and a 2 LP / CD edition, as well as a digital release.

Now built around the trio of Jem Godfrey, Nathan King and John Mitchell with guest drummers Kaz Rodriguez, Darby Todd and Pat Mastelotto, the new Frost* album has a feeling of dread and paranoia running through its veins. Day And Age feels very much of it’s time, without referencing current events directly.

Opening with the title track, which thunders along at pace, almost like a proggier Synchronicity era The Police powered by John Bonham. The middle section, with its chilling soundscapes and metal leanings, is a delight to listen to, especially on headphones.

“We’re living in a day and age, when the writings on the wall”

Terrestrial lifts the mood somewhat, with a brighter production, and glitchy keyboard motifs. The percussion styles vary from song to song on this album, so having three very different players was a good decision that has paid dividends. The arrangement is very intelligent on Terrestrial, with one of the albums most compelling songs underpinned by layers that reveal themselves on subsequent listens.

Waiting For The Lie was one of my early favourites. The piano, electronics and vocal led song is very dark and bleak, with the rhythm initially coming from synths and a deep bass drum until the song opens up around the half-way mark. The vocal performance is stellar.

“These are the games that we play”

I won’t give away too many spoilers for The Boy Who Stood Still, as it is a song that works best with few preconceptions, and you will be able to hear for yourself in May, but the track is musically very playful, suiting the subject matter of the very unique lyrics perfectly.

“In the long shadows of the day, he would stand, year after year, watching….”

The first half is very electronic, before morphing into a powerful, more traditional arrangement with very insistent guitar and keyboard lines, and an ending that reminded me of the percussive power utilised by Level 42 in Hot Water (spot the connection, pop-pickers). After about three complete listens to the album, The Boy Who Stood Still has become my favourite song on the album.

Island Life channels The Police (I hear their influence a lot in Frost*, is it just me?), Kevin Gilbert, the late Alan Murphy and Mansun and will surely be the next single from Day And Age. The song is so catchy, its criminal. With more twists and turns than should be allowed in a a four minute song, Island Life acts as a palate cleanser for the darkness that informs the rest of the album.

Skywards is a perfect example of the thoughtful arrangements and production. Percussion breaks drop when least expected, and time signatures shift without jarring the flow. The drum sound is a star on Day And Age, and this is surely an album built to be played LOUD.

Photo by Carl Glover

The second longest track is next, and Kill The Orchestra opens with a 10cc like arrangement (from the Godley & Creme years). Another brutal lyric and a slow building performance that makes the hairs stand on end.

“I’ll be singing when they string you up”

This is a track that took a couple of listens to fully reveal it’s charms, and I would not be surprised if Kill The Orchestra becomes a favourite for a lot of fans. The heavier parts on Day And Age are more restrained and used more sparingly than elsewhere in the Frost* catalogue, and this makes them all the more powerful when they are put to use. The Gilmouresque guitar line at the end is short but sweet, and I love the way it fades into an emotional keyboard riff that hits hard. The lyrical violence cuts deep on this one.

Day And Age closer Repeat To Fade seems to continue and build on the story of Kill The Orchestra, with an Army Of Me (Björk) on steriods drum pattern added to the mix. Production touches such as layered, buried voices and sonar beeps give way to static as the song comes to an abrupt end, with the chorus still ringing in your ears.

“There’s only one way out, repeat to fade”

More so than previous Frost* albums, Day And Age feels very consistent lyrically and musically, with a well thought-out flow to keep your interest piqued throughout the 54 minutes running time. The album also contains two of the strongest new songs I have heard so far in 2021, in The Boy Who Stood Still and Kill The Orchestra. Its still early days, but this might turn out to be my favourite Frost* album to date. I can’t wait for you to hear it.

Available as: Ltd. 2CD Edition / Gatefold 2LP+CD / Digital Album

Buy Day And Age (Ltd. 2CD Edition) from Amazon
Buy Day And Age vinyl (Day And Age (Gatefold black 2LP+CD)) from Amazon

Buy Day And Age from Burning Shed

Frost* Day And Age

Day And Age (11:49)
Terrestrial (05:13)
Waiting For The Lie (04:31)
The Boy Who Stood Still (07:33)
Island Life (04:14)
Skywards (04:13)
Kill The Orchestra (09:27)
Repeat To Fade (06:14)

Jem Godfrey – Keyboards, Railboard, vocals
Nathan King – Bass, keyboards, vocals
John Mitchell – Guitars, bass, vocals
With guest musicians:
Kaz Rodriguez – Drums
Darby Todd – Drums
Pat Mastelotto – Drums

Visit the Frost* website





Big Big Train – The Underfall Yard (Remixed and Remastered) Review

29 03 2021

Big Big Train are releasing their 2009 album The Underfall Yard for the first time on vinyl, as a triple 180g LP in a trifold cover. The set is made up of the original album over 2 LPs with a further album containing 48 minutes of material, including a 2020 studio re-recording of the title track preceded by a previously unreleased brass prelude, and a new song Brew And Burgh.

The Underfall Yard cover

The Underfall Yard (Remixed and Remastered) is also available as a double CD.

The Underfall Yard was the first Big Big Train album to feature David Longdon on vocals and also the first to feature Nick D’Virgilio as the band’s drummer. Former XTC guitarist Dave Gregory appears on most tracks, along with Francis Dunnery (It Bites) and Jem Godfrey (Frost*) on the title track. The 2020 version of The Underfall Yard is a remix as well as remaster, so is the definitive version of one of the most popular releases from the band.

Big Big Train

One of the main upgrades in sound is the separation and space offered in this mix. This is particularly noticeable on the album opener, Evening Star. The choral, wall of sound vocals are so much richer, and when the brass makes it’s first entrance half-way through, it really hits the mark. I’m reviewing this from a digital stream, which sounds amazing but I cannot wait to hear this on vinyl at the end of April.

David Longdon’s stunning vocal arrangements on Master James of St George are really noticeable on this remix / remaster, and the powerful instrumental sections, often underpinned by deep bass notes, fly out of the headphones / speakers.

“But lines get broken
Lines get broken down”

Victorian Brickwork is one of my favourite Big Big Train songs, and is all the more heart-breaking when you read the story behind the lyrics in the updated interview with Greg Spawton conducted by Dave Bowler on the band’s UnderFall Yard micro-site.

“Call up the boys, call them now
Time to bring them home
They will call if they want to”

Last Train is the story of the last day at work for a 1930’s station master, and almost feels like a template for some of the music the band has released since this album.

Winchester Diver has a notable upgrade, with the opening synth line replaced by trumpet in the 2020 mix. The mellotron and flute also sound so warm in this 2020 restoration. I have always loved the album, but believe me, you will be blown away when you hear how it sounds now. It’s like upgrading from a Crosley record deck to a Linn!

The quiet section, with Winchester bells, at around the 4 minute mark also has such depth and clarity.

The 23 minute title track, the final track on the album proper, is a joy to listen to. Greg Spawton’s paean to Victorian engineers is a career highlight. Each individual passage, riff and motif flows beautifully from the one before, never out-staying it’s welcome.

“Using just available light
He could still see far”

Just hearing the main album remixed and remastered would justify the purchase of this new version of the album, but the additional tracks are not mere add-on’s, they work well on their own. Sensibly, they are separate from the main album, so you can enjoy the original concept and flow that you already love.

Songs From The Shoreline features a new 2020 recording of Victorian Brickwork married to Fat Billy Shouts Mine (from Far Skies Deep Time), as well as a new version of the title track. Both versions are studio versions that are informed by the live performances from recent years, along with an additional piece, the brass Prelude To The Underfall Yard. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, brass bands were often used as part of the early 70s musical palette and they have dropped off the radar since, which is a real loss. The sound and feeling evoked can take me back to another time and place, and as someone who spent 5 years living in Yorkshire in my formative years, hearing Prelude To The Underfall Yard is an incredibly moving experience.

The album ends with a new song, written specifically for this reissue. Brew And Burgh is a moving tale (referencing lots of earlier Big Big Train songs – Big Big Train bingo if you will!) of friendship and companionship. A warning, the video may make your eyes rain.

So as a final thought, if you already own The Underfall Yard and are thinking, should I buy the album again? My answer would be a hearty yes. It is such an improvement that you will find yourselves falling in love with the album all over again.

The Underfall Yard
Remixed and Remastered
Evening Star
Master James of St George
Victorian Brickwork
Last Train
Winchester Diver
The Underfall Yard
Additional Tracks
Songs From The Shoreline:
(i) Victorian Brickwork (2020 Version)
(ii) Fat Billy Shouts Mine
Prelude To The Underfall Yard
The Underfall Yard (2020 Version)
Brew And Burgh

Buy from the Big Big Train store
Buy From Burning Shed





Frost* 13 Winters artbook / boxset Review

10 11 2020

Frost* are releasing 13 Winters, a Limited Edition Deluxe 8-disc Artbook that contains remastered (and for Experiments In Mass Appeal a remix/remaster) of their three studio albums, plus the previously digital only Others EP, two live albums, the instrumental version of Falling Satellites, a rarities disc along with an artbook.

Frost* were formed in 2004 by Jem Godfrey, who was known for creating chart-topping hits for acts including Atomic Kitten, Shayne Ward and Holly Valance. Godfrey teamed up with John Mitchell (Lonely Robot, Kino, Arena, It Bites…) and other musicians to explore his earlier roots in progressive rock. Whilst modern progressive rock is at the forefront of Frost*, the songs also expose Godfrey’s pop skills, with strong melodies and hooks.

The Milliontown remaster is a subtle upgrade, with better separation and clarity, making the quieter parts more powerful but the heavy patches hit you hard with their renewed energy. This presents the album in its best light, and it is a pleasure rediscovering the band’s debut album. From the slow-building progressive-pop of Hyperventilate, that sets an early blueprint for the breadth of Frost*’s vision, to one of my favourite songs, the warm and nostalgic Snowman.

Black Light Machine highlights the power of this new remaster, and the closing song, the epic Milliontown, sounds stunning.

Whilst not a favourite of Jem Godfrey, I love the band’s second album, 2008’s Experiments In Mass Appeal. It does have more of an alt-rock feel than its predecessor, and is certainly more guitar based, but the pop sensibility remains. The version of Experiments In Mass Appeal in this boxset is a 2020 remix as well as a remaster.

Along with the rock tracks, such as the title track and Pocket Sun, the album delivers some touching slower paced, more melancholic pieces. My favourite of these is Saline. At times reduced to just a solo piano line, this is one of the most stripped back but hard-hitting tracks the band have ever released. When the strings kick in towards the end, you realise that Saline is such a powerful and emotional statement.

“And I don’t know if I can survive the feeling
Losing all that’s mine”

Falling Down is another personal favourite, and has remained so since its release back in 2008. Andy Edwards contributes some great drum patterns on this intelligent arrangement, as it shifts from light to dark moods. Toys reminds me of mid-period Mansun, and is stuffed to the brim with hook after hook. The Secret Song (aka the hidden track on Wonderland) is a fine way to end the album.

“And I’ll be fine
Don’t worry
Remember me…”

2016’s Falling Satellites is available as the full album plus an instrumental version in the 13 Winters boxset. The album features the mighty Craig Blundell on drums, who leaves his mark early on with Numbers and a song that reminds me of The Police in the verses, Signs. There is a strong feeling of consistency throughout Falling Satellites, which comes across as a real band album, and benefits from a subtle and sympathetic remaster.

Towerblock is a song of change and rebuilding, and the loss of the physical places where some of our memories live. A glitchy, stuttering production full of found sounds makes this track unique in the bands catalogue.

“(They’re all gone gone gone gone gone gone)
The height lines on my bedroom door
(They’re all gone gone gone gone gone gone)
My soldiers hiding under the floor”

Lights Out is another quality mid-tempo pop piece, and freshens the palette mid-way through the album.

Closer To The Sun is a late-night chillout track, with mesmerising percussion work, that mutates mid-song, featuring a solo from Joe Satriani as the arrangement becomes more progressive. Mix those genres Frost*! Which is something they do to even more dramatic effect on The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues in 7/8, which starts off like a modern take on the blues genre before shape-shifting into a completely different beast as the song twists and changes.

The album ends with the short and sparse Last Day.

“Handprints in old concrete
Ghosts we leave behind”

Falling Satellive is the Falling Satellites album (minus opening track First Day) in a live performance with the same line-up as the studio album. The live version of Numbers gives off strong Synchronicity 1 (The Police) vibes. The album is a recording of the band’s gig at Dingwalls, London, in November 2017.

Shorn of a lot of the studio production effects, the songs work well live, with a heightened sense of energy and purpose. Lights Out and especially Closer To The Sun work well in a live environment. Be prepared for an interloper at the end of the final track, by the way. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The second live album, The Philadelphia Experiment, was recorded in 2009 and features a different line-up, including Dec Burke, Nick D’Virgilio and John Jowitt. It features one of the best humorous uses of intro music I have heard, and a solid set from the first two studio albums, including a live-looping Snowman and an electrifying Milliontown.

13 Winters features the first physical release for the Others EP from earlier in 2020. Featuring a stripped back line up of Jem Godfrey and drummers Craig Blundell / Andy Edwards, Clouda features wonderful harmonies and Exhibit A pushes the tempo to extremes.

Fathom is an orchestral piece, whilst Eat is a sample driven song, like Art of Noise on steroids. Drown pumps up the electronics and I look forward to hearing more songs that deviate from expectations from Frost* in the near future (a new album is being written and recorded at the moment).

The final disc is This And That – B-Sides And Rarities. Opening with one of the most ambitious Frost* songs, The Dividing Line is a 16 minute plus track that alternates between Goldfrapp-esque glamrock, quasi-classical / music-box breakdowns and some of the wildest riffage in the bands catalogue. The song is all over the place stylistically, it doesn’t follow the rules and shouldn’t really work, but the absolutely manic joy in the performance captures your attention and is a highlight of this set. The Dividing Line is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

British Wintertime is the strongest song on this disc and one of my favourite Frost* songs – a delicate, emotive goodbye. I never tire of this song, its one I often put on repeat. A beautiful, mesmerising piece of music.

There are four songs in demo form on this disc that offer a preview of how the finished studio tracks developed. The Towerblock demo is mostly found sounds, smashing and crashing over a skeletal arrangement. The demo of Closer To The Sun is interesting to hear, as it is even more electronic than the final version. A short demo take of Last Day is the final vocal track on the This And That – B-Sides And Rarities disc. The instrumental soundscapes of Hyperventilate Hypoventilate Paulstretch Test closes the collection, with its dreamlike waves of stretched sound.

Frost* 13 Winters is a quick and easy way to get hold of the band’s back catalogue, and the albums all sound better than they ever have (not that they originally sounded bad!). The set also includes an artbook containing images from the cover-art shots, an honest / self-critical interview with Jem Godfrey and album notes, including lyrics for the studio albums.


Buy Frost* 13 Winters on CD from Amazon

Buy from other retailers


As well as the limited physical release, the individual albums will be available digitally from the end of November 2020.

Disc 1 – Milliontown (2006) Remaster 2020

  1. Hyperventilate (Remaster 2020) 7:30
  2. No Me No You (Remaster 2020) 6:08
  3. Snowman (Remaster 2020) 3:54
  4. Black Light Machine (Remaster 2020) 10:08
  5. The Other Me (Remaster 2020) 4:48
  6. Milliontown (Remaster 2020) 26:09

Disc 2 – Experiments In Mass Appeal (2008) Remix/Remaster 2020

  1. Experiments In Mass Appeal (Remix/Remaster 2020) 7:54
  2. Welcome To Nowhere (Remix/Remaster 2020) 5:32
  3. Pocket Sun (Remix/Remaster 2020) 4:29
  4. Saline (Remix/Remaster 2020) 6:09
  5. Dear Dead Days (Remix/Remaster 2020) 6:50
  6. Falling Down (Remix/Remaster 2020) 5:50
  7. You/I (Remix/Remaster 2020) 1:05
  8. Toys (Remix/Remaster 2020) 3:05
  9. Wonderland (Remix/Remaster 2020) 5:54
  10. The Secret Song (Remix/Remaster 2020) 8:21

Disc 3 – Falling Satellites (2016) Remaster 2020

  1. First Day (Remaster 2020) 1:39
  2. Numbers (Remaster 2020) 4:21
  3. Towerblock (Remaster 2020) 6:13
  4. Signs (Remaster 2020) 6:35
  5. Lights Out (Remaster 2020) 3:51
  6. Heartstrings (Remaster 2020) 6:20
  7. Closer To The Sun (Remaster 2020) 7:20
  8. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues In 7/8 (Remaster 2020) 7:49
  9. Nice Day For It (Remaster 2020) 6:37
  10. Hypoventilate (Remaster 2020) 2:00
  11. Last Day (Remaster 2020) 3:25

Disc 4 – Falling Satellites – Instrumentals (2016) Remaster 2020

  1. First Day (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 1:39
  2. Numbers (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 4:21
  3. Towerblock (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 6:13
  4. Signs (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 6:35
  5. Lights Out (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 3:51
  6. Heartstrings (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 6:21
  7. Closer To The Sun (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 7:20
  8. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues in 7/8 (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 7:49
  9. Nice Day For It… (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 6:37
  10. Hypoventilate (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 2:00
  11. Last Day (Instrumental/Remaster 2020) 3:24

Disc 5 – Falling Satellive – Live 2017

  1. Numbers (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 4:45
  2. Towerblock (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 7:48
  3. Signs (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 7:18
  4. Lights Out (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 5:40
  5. Heartstrings (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 6:02
  6. Closer To The Sun (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 7:35
  7. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues In 7/8 (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 7:49
  8. Nice Day For It… (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 6:44
  9. Hypoventilate (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 1:02
  10. Last Day (Live at Dingwalls, London, 2017) 3:45

Disc 6 – Others – EP

  1. Fathers 4:54
  2. Clouda 6:54
  3. Exhibit A 5:35
  4. Fathom 3:58
  5. Eat 4:39
  6. Drown 5:59

Disc 7 – The Philadelphia Experiment – Live 2009

  1. Intro (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 2:06
  2. Hyperventilate (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 5:55
  3. Wonderland (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 4:56
  4. Black Light Machine (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 10:29
  5. Snowman (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 6:18
  6. Saline (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 6:16
  7. Milliontown (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 25:58
  8. The Other Me (Live at The Keswick Theatre, Glenside, 2nd May 2009) 7:19

Disc 8 – This And That – B-Sides And Rarities

  1. The Dividing Line 16:50
  2. Lantern 3:45
  3. British Wintertime 6:29
  4. The Forget You Song 2:24
  5. Numbers (Day 1 Demo) 4:14
  6. Towerblock (Day 1 Demo) 3:01
  7. Heartstrings (Demo) 5:00
  8. Closer To The Sun (Demo) 7:16
  9. The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light In 7/8 (Day 1 Demo) 7:54
  10. Last Day (Demo) 2:48
  11. Hyperventilate Hypoventilate Paulstretch Test 8:53

Buy Frost* 13 Winters on CD from Amazon





Lunatic Soul – “Through Shaded Woods” album review

16 10 2020

Lunatic Soul release their new album Through Shaded Woods on KScope on 13 November 2020, on single CD, limited double CD and vinyl.

Lunatic Soul is the solo studio project of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Mariusz Duda (Riverside). Album number seven Through Shaded Woods explores the darkness of Slavic and Scandinavian folk.

Previous Lunatic Soul albums have been very electronic affairs. Through Shaded Woods is a virtually electronic free zone, with more acoustic and electric guitars than previous releases and for the first time, Duda plays all the instruments.

Through Shaded Woods opens with the hypnotising and trancelike Navvie, an upbeat and rousing call to arms that conjures up “the souls of the dead” and along with several tracks on the album, signals a feeling of rebirth and positivity. Not a bad feeling in these strange times we are currently living through.

The second longest track on the album, The Passage, is one of the most rewarding tracks as you journey Through Shaded Woods. This is the darkest Duda gets on the album, with a piece that starts off relatively bright and sparse, working towards the razor-sharp dark metal riffs that propel the powerful middle section.

“I’m thinking out loud
passing former gods
turned into trees
am I in the real life
or am I in the realm of make-believe”

The riffs fall away quickly but the tempo remains high on one of the strongest tracks on the album.

The title track twists and turns, with light percussion underneath the trademark Lunatic Soul harmonies and a feeling of paranoia, amplified by the heavily processed lead vocal. Lycanthropy lingers in the dark forests of Duda’s lyric.

“eyes on every corner
shining in the dark”

As we hit the half-way mark, the mood of Through Shaded Woods lifts. Oblivion has a wonderful drum and guitar interplay, as melodies sneak in and out of the intriguing rhythm arrangement. Where previously synths would have laid the textures, on this album the same effect is offered by vocal layers.

Summoning Dance is the longest track, and as throughout the whole album, it offers up its secrets over repeated plays. The guitars give the main rhythmic thrust, underpinned by a simple kick pulse. I dare you to keep still whilst listening to Summoning Dance. The music hints at a simpler, more pagan and earth-connected time, and works so much better if you give your full attention and immerse yourself in the performance.

“so why do I feel
like I already failed”

Photo: Tomasz Pulsakowski

The Fountain features one of my favourite Mariusz Duda vocal performances. There is a real lightness of touch, and a lovely slightly rasping timbre that suits the aching melancholy of the song perfectly.

“stream of sounds
wash away the darkness from my soul”

Through Shaded Woods stands alone in the Lunatic Soul catalogue. It works so well as a complete body of work, as it flows with more consistency than previous albums. It has quickly seeped into my soul and is one of my favourite albums of 2020.

Navvie [04:03]
The Passage
[08:57]
Through Shaded Woods
[05:51]
Oblivion
[05:03]
Summoning Dance
[09:52]
The Fountain
[06:04]

Bonus tracks contained on disc 2 of the Limited Edition CD:

Vyraj [05:32]
Hylophobia
[03:20]
Transition II
[27:45]





Airbag – All Rights Removed & The Greatest Show on Earth limited edition vinyl re-issues

9 10 2020

Karisma Records are re-issuing Airbag’s All Rights Removed and The Greatest Show on Earth on November 20 2020 on limited edition vinyl, with both albums remastered for vinyl by White Willow / The Opium Cartel’s Jacob Holm-Lupo.

Airbag’s second album All Rights Removed was originally released in 2011. The 2020 remaster is released as a heavyweight double vinyl in gatefold cover, pressed on red vinyl.

The Norwegian band’s third album The Greatest Show on Earth was first released in 2013, and this 2020 heavyweight vinyl remaster is pressed on blue vinyl.

Jacob Holm-Lupo has offered a subtle and sympathetic remaster for vinyl. No brick-walling here – there is no real volume difference, just a little more punch and the synths really sparkle in this redux. This is the best these albums have ever sounded..

All Rights Removed sees the band shift their sound up a gear. The album opener is a heady mix of classic and progressive rock, with guitarist Bjørn Riis rising to the fore on most tracks.

White Walls is full of Dave Gilmour influenced guitar runs and textures, and is one of my favourite songs in the Norwegion band’s catalogue. Dim the lights and turn up the volume.

The mid-section bass, keyboard and guitar prelude before the song kicks back into full power is a joy to experience.

“Cos nothing ever stays the same…”

The tempo remains constant with The Bridge, before the space-rock of Never Coming Home (it reminds me of Signify era Porcupine Tree) leads into the atmospheric instrumental Light Them All Up.

The album closes with one of the band’s most popular tracks (in terms of 1 million Spotify streams) with the 17 and a half minute Homesick. The song is stunning and this is the best I have heard this masterpiece sound. Heading off into Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd territory in the mid-section, this is a journey you really want to take.

The Greatest Show on Earth adds a slight metal element to the band’s palette, on top of their more atmospheric layered sound from previous releases.

Redemption is a slow-burning modern prog piece, with spurts of heavy, gasoline fuelled choruses. Silence Grows moves the intensity down a couple of notches, with a powerful song that would not have sounded out of place on David Gilmour’s On An Island album. The instrumental sections sound amazing thanks to the superb Jacob Holm-Lupo vinyl master.

The Greatest Show on Earth is an album built to be heard in one sitting, and so works best in the vinyl format, when you can give it your full attention, and not break into individual tracks on streaming platforms.

There is a great use of vocal harmonies, atmosphere and restraint to build the mood on the albums second longest track, Call Me Back.

Surveillance (part 2​-​3) is the 16 minute album closer. Taking some of the mood of Porcupine Tree’s Stars Die, Surveillance (part 2​-​3) is a story of isolation and moves from an emotive, quite traditional arrangement to something darker and more experimental as it progresses.

“No need for you to be here
The comfort of my TV screen is all that I need”

All Rights Removed & The Greatest Show on Earth are limited edition releases, so if you missed out on getting these wonderful modern progressive albums on vinyl a few years ago, now is your chance. Links to buy the albums on Burning Shed and Amazon are below.





Airbag – A Day at the Beach album review

9 05 2020

A Day at the Beach is the 5th album from Norwegian band Airbag, and is their first studio album in 4 years.

A Day at the Beach features six new songs inspired by the resurgence of 1980s electronica, new wave and movie scores, whilst still retaining the band’s progressive rock leanings.

The album was produced by Asle Tostrup and Bjørn Riis, and befitting the musical content, is lovingly mastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / The Opium Cartel).

Machines And Men acts as a bridge between the progressive rock sound of Identity and Disconnected and a more electronic 2020 direction for Airbag. Guitars give way to Tangerine Dream / New Order referencing synths, but don’t worry, Bjørn Riis is still a strong presence throughout the album. As with all Airbag releases, there is a heavy use of textures, and peaks and flows to keep your attention and hit you emotionally. I particularly love the drum treatments on Machines And Men.

A Day at the Beach (Part 1) is an absolute joy. Decaying guitars and deep bass underpin piano and mid-period Porcupine Tree like synth swirls to deliver one of the most atmospheric pieces on the album.

Into The Unknown continues in a similar, albeit longer vein. The synth riff driving the intro has an 80s Drive soundtrack feel, and the neon pulse and achingly personal lyrics make the track an album highlight. The guitars from Bjørn Riis are restrained but all the more powerful as the track builds, and the drums kick in with a second half that will appeal to Pink Floyd and Prog fans.

Sunsets is one of the biggest surprises on the album,. Opening with an off-kilter drum pattern, and then heading in an almost post-punk direction, with a John McGeoch (Siouxsie & The Banshees / Magazine) guitar sound, before switching to a more traditional Airbag chorus.

The insistent bassline on Sunsets works well with the heavily processed guitar on the verses, and we are treated to a quality Bjørn Riis guitar solo at the half-way mark. Again, the use of textures and ever-mutating arrangements keep your interest piqued throughout.

Listen to an edit of Sunsets below.

A Day At The Beach (Part 2) dials the electronica back into sharper focus, with an pulse-led instrumental conclusion to the song that premiered earlier on in the album sequence.

A Day at the Beach is such a good headphones album, and I cannot wait to hear it played loud through speakers when I receive my vinyl copy in June.

The album closes with Megalomaniac, a slow-building guitar piece that suddenly falls away and then rises powerfully to see the album to it’s conclusion.

“You always get what you want…”

I am a huge fan of electronic music, as well as a lot of progressive rock, and I love it when the two genres intertwine as they do on this album. A Day at the Beach has been a long time coming, but is one of the highlights in Airbag’s catalogue of fine studio albums. The band may have lost two members but they have opened up the possibilities of what they can achieve and how they can tell their stories.

Machines And Men
A Day at the Beach (Part 1)
Into The Unknown
Sunsets
A Day At The Beach (Part 2)
Megalomaniac

Buy A Day at the Beach on CD from Amazon

Buy A Day at the Beach on CD from Burning Shed

Buy A Day at the Beach clear vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy Bjørn Riis A Storm Is Coming CD on Amazon

Buy Bjørn Riis Forever Comes To An End CD on Amazon

Buy Bjørn Riis Lullabies In A Car Crash CD on Amazon





Moonshot – Worlds of Yesterday: A Moonshot Retrospective 1971 – 1992 album review

31 12 2019

The songs on this Moonshot compilation were lovingly curated by Tim Bowness, whose album Lost In The Ghostlight tells the story of Moonshot through the thoughts and musing of lead singer Jeff Harrison.

* To avoid confusion, some of the songs on this compilation have remarkably similar titles, lyrics and music to tracks released by Tim Bowness on his Moonshot inspired Lost In The Ghostlight album, but Jeff Harrison never ripped anyone off man.

Shortly before his final tour and final death, Moonshot mainman Jeff Harrison took to twitter. His confusion in this new digital playground was plain for all to see, and long-time fans were worried, with good reason. Harrison died in suspicious circumstances in January 2019 and it was his wish that Moonshot continue with John Wilkinson as their singer. John was the singer in Moonshot tribute band Apollo 11, and its his voice that delivers the Moonshot classics on this new Bowness curated compilation.

Listening to Worlds of Yesterday, it’s clear that Big Big Train are heavily indebted to Warrington’s finest sons. And a little progshaped bird once tweeted that rock / prog-pixie Steven Wilson has a whole wing in his Surrey Mansion dedicated to his love of Moonshot, the highlight of which is a room filled with 208 of Jeff Harrison’s moth-ridden stage outfits from the ill-fated Rosewater tour of Germany. If that isn’t an endorsement to the genius of the band and their influence, I don’t know what is.

If any members of Genesis heard Worlds of Yesterday, I have no doubt that they would say that this is the best album that Genesis never made. Or they might sue the band. I’m not sure which route they would take to be honest, but I hear Moonshot have the best lawyers Warrington have ever produced and they are poised to spring into litigious action.

On to the music, dear listeners. Album opener Moonshot Manchild is the tale untold of a rockstar out of time and place, a position the many men of Moonshot were likely familiar with. Musically drawing from early Yes, mid-period Genesis and a hint of late period Martin Lee (Brotherhood of Man).

The flashing lights are blinding, you never felt so old”

Stupid Things That Mean The World draws from the shallow-well of Invisible Touch era Genesis, with spurting and spluttering synths hiding the deep pain clearly felt by our prog protagonists. A veritable ear-worm of a song, with a smorgasbord of vintage keyboards powering the track.

Long-time fans of Moonshot will be familiar with the rare band ballad Worlds of Yesterday. Its the sound of a Moonshot wrestling with the changing times, and was a highlight of their many German and Austrian tours. The song was used in a prominent episode of the 80s German TV hit Helga und die Nordlichter, in case you are wondering where you had heard the tune before. The layers of guitar and keyboards on Worlds of Yesterday highlights the links between the world of progressive music and the 80s new romantic / synth bands.

Lost in the Ghostlight is a close cousin of Peter Gabriel’s The Rhythm of the Heat, but is more satisfying as it is shorter. New vocalist John Wilkinson sneers “is it pure or is it art”, a question we have all asked ourselves at some point. Mike Garson-esque piano lines offer solace from the anger in this perky prog-piece. “Is there moooore?” – yes there is, we are only at the mid-point of this compilation. Well sequenced Mr Bowness.

Fans of Phil Collin’s early solo material will love the Roland CR-78 driven bleak as midwinter Nowhere Good to Go. Apparently the lyrics are an apology to Moonshot fans for the many off-key performances and gigs cut-short during the band’s darkest period, when the album sales slowed to a trickle and Eastern Europe became their new playground. Heartbreaking but long overdue, its one of the album highlights.

Many reviewers, on first hearing The Great Electric Teenage Dream, thought Steve Hackett was the guitarist on the song that lit up Moonshot’s later period. This was never confirmed, denied or mentioned again. Prog magazine wrote a lengthy piece on this pastoral beauty, which was sadly dropped and replaced by news of the reformation of Gandalf’s Hoof in 2016. Out-of-time and out of luck once more, the Moonshot madness continued. Fact fans – the mention of “a faceless tweet” in the lyric does not refer to twitter but to Jeff’s love of Owls.

Before That Before became the band’s biggest hit single in the Netherlands. A stripped back power-ballad, with a heavy use of tambourine and reverb-drenched piano, it should have propelled Harrison and co into a Stadium sized orbit, but alas alimony soaked up the proceeds of Moonshot’s final tilt at immortality. Tears are guaranteed to flow when you hear the mournful guitar lines that preface the chorus.

At the time of release, the backing vocals on Before That Before‘s outro were rumoured to be performed by Kate Bush, but they were not.

The album skips towards its end with the prog as your elbow village-fete romp that is The Sweetest Bitter Pill. The original video (look for it on Youtube) featured Harrison stuck on a merry-go-round, that spun for eternity and made him very, very sick. Listening to this new version of the Moonshot classic, it’s clear the song has become a template for many bands, all of whom went onto great success. It would be nice if they gave a little love back, but we know who they are, and the invoice will be in the post.

The vinyl album ends on Distant Summers, a new version of one of the band’s best-loved songs. Welcome back my friends, and get out your lighters, it’s the show that never ends. Stripped of the need to sell records (because, who buys records anymore?), this is Moonshot at its purest. Heavy organs propel the love, longing and a lifetime of regret into a 4.59 progressive rock masterpiece. Listen young pretenders and weep. I’m looking at you Mr White Willow, Jacob Holm-Lupo.

Oh, and the CD version of the album (it won’t be available on streaming platforms as Jeff Harrison did not understand streaming – “if you can’t touch it, how can you hear it”) includes two bonus tracks. The World-Music inspiring You’ll Be The Silence and the theme medley Moonshot Shadows. Can anyone else hear the theme tune to Hill Street Blues in the opening? Nope, just me then. Craftily cutting out recognisable hooks from their lengthy back-catalogue, Moonshot are able to pay themselves extra-royalties, as Jeff Harrison is not listed as co-writer of this track. Resourceful.

So for anyone new to Moonshot, this is a very satisfying introduction to the band. Fans of Genesis, Yes, Barclay James Harvest, The Buggles, The Alan Parsons Project, Argent, Baccara, Genesis, Genesis, BruteBeard, Big Big Train, Caravan, Cloop, Genesis, Christopher Cross, Genesis, Earth and Fire (but not Wind), Egg, ELP, Marillion, Damp, Frost*, Gabriel (Peter), Genesis, Steve Hackett, John Hackett, Henry Hackett, Hackett and the North, I, Genesis, Rodeo and the Trapeze Boy, Grifter, Genesis, Schnod, Flute and many more from the heady progressive era will find much to love in this purposeful masterpiece.

Don’t be surprised if Worlds of Yesterday is crowned Prog album of the year 2020. You have got 12 months to listen, digest and vote! Look into my eyes – vote you will.

Tracklisting:

Moonshot Manchild
Stupid Things That mean The World
World of Yesterday
Lost in the Ghostlight
Nowhere Good to Go
The Great Electric Teenage Dream
Before That Before
The Sweetest Bitter Pill
Distant Summers

Bonus Tracks on CD Album
You’ll Be The Silence
Moonshot Shadows

Buy the album (CD and vinyl) from Burning Shed

* Most of the anecdotes in this review are not true. If you are a fan of classic 70s and 80s progressive rock, I urge you to investigate this album. You know you will love it!








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