Lesser-Known Gem: Czesław Niemen – Niemen vol. 2 & Niemen vol. 1 (Marionetki)

Artist: Czesław Niemen | Album:Niemen vol. 2 & Niemen vol. 1 | Genre: Avant-prog, Jazz-rock | Year: 1972

From: Stare Wasiliszki, Poland (now Staryya Vasilishki, Belarus) | Label: Polskie Nagrania

For fans of: Van der Graaf Generator, Pink Floyd c. 1969-1970, Area, King Crimson’s ‘70s stuff, Miles Davis

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Halloween is on a Monday this year, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to get spooky with a Lesser Known Gem. I compiled a short list of about ten albums from which to choose. Some, like Jacula’s In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum, were written to be as occultic and creepy as possible. Others, like Message’s From Books and Dreams, were considered more for their album art. In the end, I decided on a pair of Czesław Niemen albums, Niemen vol. 2 and Niemen vol. 1.

Czesław Niemen (pronounced roughly Chess-woff Nyem-en) is an artist I’ve wanted to talk about for a while. Sort of like Guruh Gipsy were a big deal in Indonesia while remaining obscure elsewhere, Niemen is a major figure in the history of 20th Century Polish music. The National Bank of Poland has released three commemorative coins with his likeness, multiple streets around Poland bear his name, and his childhood home in modern-day Belarus has been converted into a museum.

After starting out playing straightforward rock and soul in the 1960s, his 1970 album Enigmatic saw him radically shift his style to the emergent genre of progressive rock. From 1971-1973, his backing band was the Silesian Blues Band, who eventually shortened their name to SBB and became another highly-influential prog act in their own right. (They are also a band I’ve considered for a future Deep Dive, though that’s far from imminent.)

Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Czesław Niemen – Niemen vol. 2 & Niemen vol. 1 (Marionetki)”

Album Review: Knekklectric – Alt blir verre

Band: Knekklectric | Album:Alt blir verre | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2022

From: Bergen, Norway | Label: Apollon Records

For fans of: Once and Future Band, Beardfish, PFM

Bandcamp

I have repeatedly raised the point on this site that Scandinavia (or the Nordic countries, or however you want to define Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) punch above their weight in the world of rock music. Based on their populations, those five countries (though less so with Denmark) comprise a disproportionately large chunk of my library. Today I’m specifically focusing on the Norwegian act Knekklectric.

Alt blir verre (Eng: Everything Gets Worse) is their first new full-length since 2017. The brand of music they play is fun, clever, and overall relatively sunny, especially when compared to some of their compatriots. Their lyrics are also in a non-standard dialect of Norwegian (the sociolinguistics of Norwegian are quite complicated), so I had to make some slight guesses when translating song titles.

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Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gatherum

Band: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard | Album:Omnium Gatherum | Genre: Psychedelic rock | Year: 2022

From: Melbourne, Australia | Label: KGLW

Bandcamp

I hesitate to use a label more restrictive than “rock” to describe King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. These astonishingly prolific Aussies have one of the most diverse back catalogs in modern popular music, ranging from garage rock to prog to thrash metal to synthpop to microtonal music and beyond. Their latest release is a dizzying encapsulation of their always-shifting style. The appropriately-titled Omnium Gatherum (a faux-Latin phrase meaning “a collection of many different things”) is a sprawling, 80-minute record that has a bit of everything.

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Album Review: Regal Worm – The Hideous Goblink

Band: Regal Worm | Album:The Hideous Goblink | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: Sheffield, UK | Label: Republic of Music

For fans of: Caravan, Diagonal, Egg, Wendy Carlos

Bandcamp

Regal Worm is a solo project by Jarrod Gosling, one half of the duos I Monster (trip-hop) and Cobalt Chapel (psychedelic rock). Regal Worm blends Gosling’s usual psychedelic leanings with more progressive and ambitious song structures. His last release under this moniker, 2018’s Pig Views, was my favorite album that year, so I naturally had high hopes for this release.

The album cover for The Hideous Goblink lives up to its name. It is an ugly piece of art and not nearly as enchanting as the art on his past releases. However, this is an instance where that old axiom about book covers and judging them holds true.  Regal Worm’s fourth full-length release is a fantastic collection of songs which sound like one unified whole. The six compositions here all work in harmony with each other to deliver something fantastic.

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Album Review: Nolan Potter – Music Is Dead

Artist: Nolan Potter | Album:Music Is Dead | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2021

From: Austin, USA | Label: Castle Face Records

For fans of: early Frank Zappa, Foxygen, Ty Segall, Once and Future Band

Bandcamp

Nolan Potter is a Texas-based multi-instrumentalist, and Music Is Dead is his second full-length release. His 2019 debut was a strong collection of tracks which blended together a healthy melange of influences, like psych, folk, pop, prog, and experimental music. Music Is Dead further improves on that strong debut, and Potter demonstrates some serious instrumental and compositional chops.

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Album Review: Perilymph – Tout en Haut

Band: Perilymph | Album:Tout en Haut | Genre: Space rock, Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2021

From: Berlin, Germany | Label: Six Tonnes de Chair

For fans of: early Pink Floyd, Patrick Moraz, Phideaux

Bandcamp

While I purposely use pretty broad, amorphous genre definitions on this site, I generally aim to highlight acts who are musically adventurous or inventive. A common way artists spice up their music is through various forms of contrast. This is especially common in metal and various subgenres which start with “post,” where it’s often a harsh-clean contrast. Another dichotomy occasionally used is an electronic-acoustic one.

I’ve previously covered Perilymph, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Fabien de Menou. The band’s last album, Deux, was a wonderful blend of synth-led space-kraut balanced smartly against pared-back acoustic passages. Tout en Haut (Eng. On Top) follows in a similar sonic and textural path.

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Odds & Ends: April 5, 2021

Band: Grorr | Album: Ddulden’s Last Flight | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Grorr are clearly trying to conjure up vaguely “Eastern” aesthetics on this album. The band’s logo evokes Chinese seals, and the album art draws from Chinese and Japanese styles. This continues in the music, though the influences are muddled and slapdash. The opening track is mostly scene-setting, but it give the listener musical whiplash by swirling together the entire continent of Asia. It’s got throat singing (from Mongolia and southern Siberia), sitars and tablas (from the Indian subcontinent), and the melodies are stereotypically “Chinese.” (Instruments which sound like guzhengs and erhus can be heard later on the album.) Moving beyond this mish-mash, Ddulden’s Last Flight is an alright album. The metal is melodic, and there are some inventive riffs. I’m especially impressed with the textures and timbres deployed here. After a while, though, the Oriental instrumentation becomes distracting. I absolutely hated the sitar by album’s end. And that’s unfortunate because Grorr demonstrated that they’ve got a creative vision and that they’re capable of composing some strong cuts. Ultimately, this record’s overbearing and half-baked Asiatic flare is what does it in. I really wish they would have toned it down a bit, or at least shown a bit more geographic restraint.

Score: 58/100

Artist: Jean Pierre Louveton (JPL) | Album: Sapiens – chaptire 2/3: Deus ex Machina | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

When I saw JPL is the leader of the band Nemo, I didn’t get my hopes up. Nemo is an alright act, but I classify them in the same group Spock’s Beard and other schlocky, overblown retro-prog acts. Thankfully, this album wound up being a pleasant surprise. Sapiens is a bit more metallic than Nemo’s usual fare, and while there’s plenty of pomp and show-off-y instrumental moments, it mostly avoids needless indulgence. Jazzy touches are present throughout, and the overall bloat is minimal.

Score: 75/100

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Album Review: Once and Future Band – Deleted Scenes

oafb

Band: Once and Future Band | Album: Deleted Scenes | Genre: Progressive pop, Jazz-rock | Year: 2020

From: Oakland, USA | Label: Castle Face Records

For fans of: Steely Dan, Electric Light Orchestra, Roxy Music, The Alan Parsons Project

Bandcamp | Spotify

Deleted Scenes is the second album from Oakland prog-pop outfit Once and Future Band (hereafter called OAFB). I was introduced to them via their self-titled 2017 album, which was their first full length release. Their self-titled is a sunny slice of prog-pop with ample jazz and folk touches. However, almost every song on that album felt one to two minutes too long.

The songs on Deleted Scenes are more focused than on OAFB’s self-titled, much to this record’s benefit. Rich electric pianos and synthesizer tones take center stage for most of the album, and vocalist Joel Robinow has just the right tone and timbre to complement it. Continue reading “Album Review: Once and Future Band – Deleted Scenes”