Album review: Iamthemorning, ‘Lighthouse’

lighthouse_coverArtist: Iamthemorning
Album: Lighthouse
Our Verdict: 9/10
Release date: Out now
Find it at: Bandcamp
Review by: Graeme Blackwell

Iamthemorning return with their new album: a heartrending, important and profound work

Iamthemorning’s new album, Lighthouse, is a heartbreaking work of staggering beauty. In it the Russian duo of vocalist Marjana Semkina and pianist Gleb Kolyadin have created a suite of music that coheres in a deeply compassionate and empathetic way around the story of their central protagonist, a character navigating the depths of an unspecified mental illness.

The pair’s third full length studio album, and first for British label Kscope, Lighthouse sees Semkina and Kolyadin drawing on elements of progressive rock, folk, jazz and chamber music to create a poignant soundscape that successfully captures the wide spectrum of emotion and states of being that come with such illnesses, outwardly conveying with grace and humanity what is often an unseen inner journey.

The album’s lyrics having been inspired by the life and works of Virginia Woolf (as well as Sylvia Plath), a foreboding watery theme permeates every aspect of Lighthouse’s being. From the exquisitely rendered cover art depicting a lighthouse positioned on a precarious outcrop and set against the overwhelming power of a tumultuous ocean, through the sound of crashing waves that open the album and on through the at-times-bubbling, at-times-churning piano motifs of the music, nature’s most life-giving and yet destructive force is all-pervading.

Mindful that both Woolf and Plath suffered with life-long mental illnesses and that both committed suicide, Lighthouse offers no easy resolution or fragile, feel-good comfort for either its central character or listeners. Those seeking a narrative that ends bathed in a warm and simple light will not find their solace here. That said, this complex sonic odyssey is not without moments of levity and good humour.

In so skilfully telling the complex story of a character who ultimately succumbs to the darkness of their difference, and in doing so with such understanding, empathy and tenderness, Iamthemorning have created an album that is arresting, heartrending, important and profound.

Connect with Iamthemorning at:

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Album review: SpaceCream, ‘Pterodactyl Sky’

SpaceCream - Pterodactyl Sky - Front coverArtist: SpaceCream
Album: Pterodactyl Sky
Our Verdict: 8/10
Release date: 22nd January
Find it at:
Review by: Graeme Blackwell

Aliens and dinosaurs and glitter, oh my! SpaceCream bring you good tidings of great glam!

If there is a hole in your soul that can only be filled with a large helping of highly imaginative, theatrical, cerebral, glitter-fueled, prog-tinged, sexually charged rock n’ roll, then you may not know it yet but SpaceCream are your new favourite band.

Self-described as “…an intellectually charged revival of stellar rock n’ roll, told from the point of view of a sex-positive feminist revolutionary,” Pterodactyl Sky is set to challenge every norm you never knew to be holding you back.

Following a win at the 2014 Battle for Vans Warped Tour at House of Blues, SpaceCream’s extraordinary debut has been built on the back of two years of creative energy and numerous live shows, taking in legendary venues such as LA’s Troubadour and Viper Room. And it’s a triumph.

David Bowie, Leigh Bowery, Rocky Horror; a little Queen, a little Yes and a soupçon of Morrissey: all are clear influences here, and yet Pterodactyl Sky is much more than a homage to a time and styles long since passed. One listen to the album’s title track, or the likes of “Nefarious Lothario” and “Feel The Light”, demonstrate that this is a group of consummate musicians delivering complex, erudite and scholarly, yet wholly accessible songs of existential depth, empowerment and unabashed joy. Where else would you find a lyric referencing the allegory of Plato’s Cave and a hair raising guitar solo in the space of five and a half minutes?

SpaceCream crop 2016

As well as weaving tales of fearless warriors riding atop Brontosauruses to defeat invading alien hoards, “Pterodactyl Sky” sees SpaceCream visionary and vocalist Savannah Pope deliver a towering performance worthy of the very best rock singers. And nor is that empty hyperbole. We’re talking Ann Wilson, maybe. Or Cass Elliot. A slightly less gritty Joplin or Jett with the range of Mariah Carey. Maybe that sounds crazy, but damn this music works.

In fact every single song here provides more than one Doc Brown-esque “Great Scott!” moment. The heavenly arrangement and celestial choir of the title track; the spine-tingling guitar and slow-burn build of “Feel The Light”; the positively sticky and otherworldly intercourse of “SpaceCream” (both band and, presumably, song being named after THAT scene in the Nicolas Roeg-directed, Bowie-starring The Man Who Fell To Earth, by the way); the electric sparkling funk of lead track “Killer.” This is a shiver-inducing collection in the very best sense of the word.

And whilst it is the class and quality of the music that should – and does – make its mark here, SpaceCream’s philosophy of living your weird and embracing your strange permeates everything that they do. Just take a look at those album covers, or track down a video of one of the band’s live shows. These guys are the living and breathing embodiment of artists fiercely and fearlessly living their influences, passions and visions for the future.

In short, if you have ever felt like you were born in the wrong time or on the wrong planet; that you are simply too weird to live in the realms of whatever passes for ‘normal’ these days; that you’re the proverbial square peg in that uninviting looking round hole, then I implore you, grab a copy of SpaceCream’s Pterodactyl Sky, crank up the volume and drop the needle. This is it, you’re coming home.

“Anything is possible / You can’t conceive it’s beauty / I am a carbon fossil / And I believe it all runs through me / Gaze in the eye that started time / I am made of that explosion / And so my blood is bright.”

SpaceCream officially release Pterodactyl Sky this Friday the 22nd of January with a live show at The Mint on West Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles. Buy your tickets here.

The track list for Pterodactyl Sky is:

SpaceCream - Pterodactyl Sky - Rear cover01. “Killer”
02. “Feel The Light”
03. “Pterodactyl Sky”
04. “Nefarious Lothario”
05. “SpaceCream”
06. “Leave Dracula Alone”
07. “Superstar”
08. “Coyote Morning”

Cover photo by Lori Hutchison / Makeup by Glen Alen / Wardrobe curated by Savannah Pope / Leather jackets and boots provided by Cavaño / Gold wings, headpiece, and anklets by Fashion for the Stars

SpaceCream are: Savannah Pope – Vocals / Dizzy Joan – Guitar / Saul Slotnick – Bass / Zak Ryan – Drums

Pterodactyl Sky was recorded by: Savannah Pope – Vocals / Paul Boutin – Guitar / Nathan York Jr. – Bass / Owen Goldman – Drums

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Album Review: TesseracT, ‘Polaris’

Tesseract-Polaris-Album-CoverArtist: TesseracT
Album: Polaris
Our Verdict: 8/10
Release date: Out now
Find it at: TesseracT’s band store
Review by: Graeme Blackwell

“The UK’s progressive metal progenitors return with their latest, and possibly best, collection so far”

For all their technical prowess, TesseracT have never been a band afraid of deploying a sizeable, accessible melody. In amongst the mind-melting polyrhythms and metallic force of their first two albums, One and Altered State, the UK’s progressive metal finest have always maintained a deep connection to the tunes that underpin their work.

TesseracT’s third and new studio album, Polaris, moves even further along the path, teasing out ambience and atmosphere and paring back some of the more thunderous elements of their sonic pallette. The result is perhaps the most satisfying body of songs the band have recorded to date.

The return to the fold of vocalist Dan Tompkins may have had bearing on the evolution of the TesseracT sound, the group having parted ways with previous incumbent Ashe O’Hara and welcomed Tompkins back after one album away. It would certainly be possible to draw a line between Tompkins’ experience and development with Skyharbor and White Moth Black Butterfly in the intervening years and TesseracT’s progression across these 9 new songs.

Band lynchpin and guitarist Acle Kahney also points to the greater involvement of friend and live sound engineer Aidan O’Brien as being a key influence on TesseracT’s sonic evolution, giving him serious props in a recent interview for the development of the ambient and piano parts that weave their way through Polaris’ bewitching tapestry.

TesseracT 2015

Whatever the driving forces behind TesseracT’s forward march, Polaris is a thing of coherence, power and great beauty. Much has been written in recent weeks about the lack of a full-on metallic onslaught here, but there are perfectly timed passages of taught musical musculature that are unleashed as powerful assaults on the senses: look to “Phoenix” or “Survival” for the evidence.

Elsewhere there are moments of pure Floydian grandeur. Some of the soaring lead guitar lines in “Cages” certainly wouldn’t seem out of place in amongst David Gilmour’s back catalogue, for example. Tompkins’ beautifully timed, rhythmically on-point near-rap in the closing stages of “Utopia” might have, however. Nevertheless, it works perfectly and brings the aforementioned track to a thrilling end.

In songs such as “Tourniquet”, “Hexes” or album closer “Seven Names” the effect is occasionally one of, say, djent scene favourites Periphery being fronted by the crystalline tones of A-Ha’s Morten Harket; something that seems apt given Polaris’ pop-smart, heart-rending lyrical themes of emotional and physical separation and an always evolving relationship with the very nature of truth.

Their sonic explorations having so far yielded an embarrassment of progressive and technical rock riches, and with Polaris being another fine case-in-point, it will be a delight to behold where TesseracT venture next. For now, be content to immerse yourself in one of 2015’s very best.

TesseracT are currently on tour down under and will head to the USA for an extensive tour during November and December. Connect with the band via their official website and Facebook page.

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Album Review: Mark Edgar Stuart, ‘Trinity My Dear’

Mark Edgar Stuart - Trinity My DearArtist: Mark Edgar Stuart
Album: Trinity My Dear
Our Verdict: 8/10
Release date: Out now
Find it at: Madjack Records
Review by: Graeme Blackwell

“An album of quiet power… life, love and disappointment have never sounded so wonderful as this.”

There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the world of American music. It’s a place where I like to think John Prine, Randy Newman and Vic Chesnutt meet and hang out, swapping road stories and strumming guitars whilst writing the kind of poetry that the rest of us can only dream about. And whilst they’re sipping a beer and shooting the breeze, their eyes and ears occasionally touch upon the music of new artists. I can see the three of them now, watching the career of Mark Edgar Stuart, turning to each other without saying a word and silently nodding their approval.

Stuart’s second long-player, Trinity My Dear is a delightful showcase for the man’s skilled musicianship, learned over a number of years as a member of many a Memphis band. In 2010, diagnosed with lymphoma at just 36 and swiftly followed by the sudden passing of his father, Stuart had the time and impetus to turn his hand to songwriting itself and the development of his own voice. Debut album Blues For Lou, ostensibly a tribute to his late Dad, became a critical success.

Trinity My Dear widens the scope of Stuart’s subject matter then, but not too far. Essentially a treatise on the up, down and in-between of long term relationships, the album still feels very much like a personal and intimate collection (“A lot of it deals with some stuff me and my wife were going through at the time,” says Stuart.) But, like the best writing, it also has a timeless, universal quality that makes it completely accessible.

As if to make the point that all of us will experience the dark and the light during the course of our many and varied relationships, opening cut “Ms.America” provides an exquisite juxtaposition of gloom-laden, foreboding lyric (“I see a lot of bad things coming”), and a whimsical oom-pah of a jug-band-esque arrangement, the narrator eventually lamenting: “Ms. America, I’ll never make enough hard money for a hooker like you.” It’s a wry, heartfelt song, full of insight, observation and pathos.

“Killing Spree” maintains the exceptionally high standard. It’s a rich production featuring strummed guitar and breezy organ, and is accompanied by a bewitching melody. The mood is expertly offset by a bruised lyric however, our defeated narrator begging another to quit their destructive behaviour and “give up your killing spree.” If your heart is looking for music that sits somewhere between the merry and the melancholy, then it has just found its gem.

Mark Edgar Stuart

“The most uncomfortable part becoming a singer songwriter was the singing part,” Mark recently told Memphis’ The Commercial Appeal. “I had a lot of downtime while I was recovering, and had this little Zoom recorder. I would just sit there and sing into that recorder until my voice didn’t annoy me anymore.” Every artist will immediately point out the faults and failings that they can see in their own work, but listening to the likes of “Wasted” or “We Were In Bloom” here, it’s mystifying to hear that initial hesitation. Stuart’s voice has a grit and grist that lends these tales an authenticity, and that perfectly complements the new textures introduced in these songs of lap steel and lead guitar lines redolent of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” era.

The voice locks like tongue-and-groove into the funky-sounding “Myra Gale” too, a recounting of Jerry Lee Lewis’ marriage to his young cousin and the resulting furor. The song is both sad and deeply, darkly humorous. It also brings in to stark relief one of the recurring themes of Trinity My Dear; that of wounded men, their fear, and the way they navigate, run from or destroy the root of their misery. “Napoleon Blues” may literally be about a relationship turned sour for example, but it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to hear the wounded pride of a man feeling small of stature, too.

Mark Edgar Stuart need not worry about a Napoleon Complex. Trinity My Dear is far from a small record needing to be overly aggressive to boost its standing. Quite the opposite in fact. In its exquisitely observed detail, spritely shuffles and heart-rending melodies, this album holds a quiet, seductive power.

Stuart said recently that the Trinity explored here was that of life, love and disappointment. Never has it sounded quite so wonderful as this.

Find out more at Mark Edgar Stuart’s official Facebook page.

Check out album track “I Was So Crazy (To Go Crazy On You)” below:

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Album Review: Of Allies, ‘Fragments’ EP

FragmentsDigitalCoverFINALArtist: Of Allies
Album: Fragments EP
Our Verdict: 7/10
Release date: 11th May
Find it at: Of Allies webstore
Review by: Graeme Blackwell

“Towering and explosive from first note to last, Fragments packs one hell of a punch.”

Here in the UK it’s been a week of people having to eat their proverbials; be it hats, kilts or just whopping slices of humble pie. And now all those people who have ever suggested that nothing good has ever come out of Hull should be prepared to scoop up their words, slather them in Grey Poupon and a sprinkling of shit, and swallow them whole.

It’s been a stunning few years for the rock and metal scene in the Ridings of Yorkshire. Some of the county’s finest acts have dropped some of their most remarkable work over the past 24 months, and now you can add to that list Hull’s Of Allies and their new EP, Fragments.

Towering and explosive from first note to last, this five song collection can only help to cement the growing reputation of these Four Yorkshiremen of the Apocalypse. It’s a multi-layered, beautifully nuanced production that packs one hell of a punch.

The opening title track makes clear Of Allies’ intent, immediately delivering an aural assault that has an intensity that most bands could only hope to muster. But far from bursting out of the blocks at full tilt and then rapidly running out of steam, “Fragments” ebbs, flows and then builds again to a stunning breakdown that – if you have ears and a pulse – can only leave your jaw somewhere near the floor. Just listen to that eerie, sustained guitar in the verse that becomes a dynamic, rhythmic roar in the chorus. This is music to move both heart and mind.

“ONE19” doesn’t let up the pace, intensity or quality. It’s a barnstorming track that surges forward under the guidance of Danny Barrick’s ballistic drum work and the fluid interplay of Tom Hewson and Rich Nichols’ guitars. Nichols also shows incredible range and control in his vocal across the track’s 3 minute running time. If there’s one complaint it’s that the whole thing is over just too damn soon.

“Old Bones” shows that Of Allies know how to groove as hard as they rock and, if there’s any justice in the world, will soundtrack a million nights of slam-dancing at rock clubs throughout the land. “Tempers” powers through on a wave of squally guitar and chest-thumping emotion, and the EP is then rounded out by “Call It Home”, a song that begins more gently than most here, before developing in to a Foo Fighters-sized heartfelt, mind-blowing, melodic sonic rush.

A darker, more developed and intricately detailed work than their previous EP Tempers, Fragments marks out Of Allies as ones to truly watch. Highly reco-fuckin-mmended.

Check out Of Allies’ video for their track “ONE19” below and find out more at the band’s official Facebook page.

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