Outside In are a rare beast indeed, as not only are they a progressive rock band, but they are a progressive rock band from New Zealand! Our wonderful country has a geographical mass a little larger than the UK, but less than five million people live here, and while a third of that population can be found around Auckland, realistically there is an incredibly small market for both live work and recorded material. But there are some who cannot help themselves and just have to perform, whatever cost and hard work that entails. The band came together with a while back, releasing an EP as long ago as 2015, but there have been the usual issues with any new group and it is only fairly recently that the line-up stabilized around Mikey Brown (vocals and harmonies, lyrics, synthesizers, keyboards, guitar), Jonnie Barnard (guitars), Adam Tobeck (drums), Elliott Seung Il Park (bass) and Joe Park (guitar). Here is a band that are determined to do things their way, so even before they had an album deal they recorded a series of three videos that tell a story and should be watched in the correct order (to see what I mean take a trip over to https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWIwBrxGaiovJ9_nG7-BaLSq96fJbfebg). They have since signed a deal with TeMatera Smith at AAA Records, and the result is ‘Karmatrain’.
The obvious musical influences are Porcupine Tree and Radiohead, although some have also been pointing towards the likes of A Perfect Circle or Karnivool. In many ways, the album revolves around the vocals, and Mikey Brown is one of the most exciting new male singers I have come across for a while, with the music swirling around so it all comes together. Just listen to the outro of “Mushrooms” to hear what I mean, where the vocals mingle, rise and swell. But the reason the vocals are allowed to shine is due to the music, which is always the perfect accompaniment, so guitars can be staccato in one place to provide some emphasis or they can be more in the background. There is not much space in the production, but somehow there is still a great deal of clarity and no muddiness in the sound, it is just that to get the correct effect it needs to be all-encompassing. When going through a collection of potential songs for the album, Mikey realized a few were lyrically influenced by a novel he had read while on holiday in Nice about ten years ago, Hermann Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’. The themes being fairly universal he decided to incorporate more of the book’s influence into the writing process until eventually, it was obvious that this was becoming a concept album. The album has ended up with each of the 12 songs representing one of the 12 chapters from the book. Each song has a story that relates to that chapter but also has a parallel story from his own experiences. It just gradually became a more conceptual thing that provided a framework to pin ideas against.
I’ve sat and listened to the album back to back four times today, and each time not only do I get more from it but I am amazed that the music is so polished and finessed from a band that very few have come across before this. I had not, and I work in the same city! It was also self-produced by guitarist Jonnie Barnard (then mixed and mastered by Dave Rhodes), yet this sounds as if it could have come from a top studio. There are strong dynamics, shifts in tempo, and powerful performances from all the players. Listen to what is going on behind the lines and there are some simply stunning bass lines from Park while Tobeck is never settled and is constantly shifting the percussive approach. This means that some bars may be hi-hat/snare, others may just be cymbals, and he is putting in fills everywhere. Then on top of a complex foundation, the two guitarists mix and mingle.
This is crossover progressive rock for the 21st century, influenced by more recent acts than many within the scene, creating a sound that is looking both to the recent past and also for the future. Outside In, the prog band from the end of the world you have never heard of. Outside In. Karmatrain. Investigate them on YouTube, then get the album. 9/10 Kev Rowland
In 2015, after a gap of some sixteen years, Drifting Sun returned with their third album. Keyboard player Pat Sanders had decided it was time, and created a brand-new version of the band, with himself being the only person who had appeared on the two albums in the Nineties. Making up for lost time they have released four acclaimed albums since then, as well as a number of singles which have often included bonus songs which were not available on a physical CD and were only available as downloads. So, a decision was taken towards the end of 2019 to release a physical album (and download of course), containing 12 songs ranging from solo piano pieces to full-blown band numbers, plus some interesting demos and various outtakes. Full details of where each track originally appeared are included in a 6-panel Digipak along with a full-color 12-page booklet.
In my humble opinion Drifting Sun’s last album, ‘Planet Junkie’, is their best album to date and one of the few to get full marks from me, and I am sure many people have discovered the band because of that release and hopefully, they will be looking back through the catalog. But there are distinct and different areas of the band, and this collection only includes rarities from the time when Peter Falconer was singing with Drifting Sun, who appeared on the albums ‘Trip The Life Fantastic’. ‘Safe Asylum’ and ‘Twilight’. Having played this a lot now, one has to wonder just how so many of these songs did not make it onto a full album yet given their release rate they are already putting many other bands to shame. Yes, some of them are solo pieces, and to my ears, there is probably more piano than normal, but there are some real delights on here. It is a nice bookend to Falconer’s time with the band, as he is a wonderful singer, melodic and emotional, and while there have been a few line-up changes even during that short time, there is a restrained beauty as everyone comes together.
Musically it is often based on piano, with those lush vocals, and then the other guys coming in and out as the need arises. Sometimes their contribution to the music is by not taking part at all. Take for example “Atlantis” which originally featured on the “Remedy” single: this song is basically Peter and Pat who provides piano (plus there are some strings) and is simply stunning. Harmonies abound and I fall into the music headlong, immersing myself in the emotions. I really enjoyed the solo piano pieces such as “Bubble” – I could listen to a whole album of music like that (Pat – are you reading this?) – and although the album is slightly more fractured due to coming together from different musicians and time periods the overall result is something which is a delight from start to end. There are some gems on here to be discovered, and it is great they have not been “lost” in the world of digital downloads but are available in a physical form all in one place. More crossover to my ears these days then neo-prog, this is a rarities compilation worth discovering for the quality of the music and not just the scarcity of the material. 8/10 Kev Rowland
I am very used to being late to the party, especially with living at the end of the world, so I have only just come across this album which was released in 2012. It was the debut album from German band Effloresce, following on from a 3-track EP and according to their website, it was very well received at the time, even being voted best progressive metal album of 2012 by some. But their site has not been updated since 2016, although I have tracked down singer Nicki Weber and found a post from 2018 where she says the band will still do a second album, so there may be hope yet. Hope? Yep, I want to hear more from these guys as unlike many bands within the spectrum who either embrace metal so hard they forget the prog or vice versa, these guys have a strong grip on both sides of the spectrum moving along the scale as it suits them.
This means we can get numbers that are quite neo-prog in many ways, except often with more metallic drumming, and then we can go into full-on metallic-style prog with the band fully firing. Then at the front, there is Nicki, who often sings like an angel but can also growl when she needs to, immediately making me think of Angela Gossow. There are times when they remind me somewhat of Lacuna Coil, which did make me wonder if the album title is a tip of the hat to the 2002 album ‘Comalies’, and like them, they have a very diverse approach to the job at hand. The sound and production are superb, but one would expect nothing less seeing as how the mighty Dan Swanö mixed and mastered the release. It is polished, interesting throughout with plenty of movement and change in the overall approach, by a band who are skilled and a great singer. It never sounds like a debut by an unknown band but instead by one who has been around for years and is at the top of their game. Why they have not been picked up by a label such as Nuclear Blast is something of a surprise, and one can only hope the second album is still a possibility, as this is a band with a lot to offer. 8/10 Kev Rowland
I have been writing gig reviews for more than 30 years, but always from notes taken at the time which act as memory joggers, so this is the first time I have ever written a full review while the concert itself is still taking place! With the current restrictions in New Zealand, and in many other places in the world, live music has stopped overnight as gatherings are not allowed. Originally on this date South African-born Lee Martin was supposed to be playing a gig with her full band, and as that wasn’t possible, she decided instead to host a gig from her house. It felt intimate, and very special, yet she also ensured the sound was going to be as good as possible, utilising her normal PA and mix so her vocals had just a touch of reverb and bounce. I soon realised I needed to find some way of capturing what was taking place so out came the laptop and I am watching the gig on my TV, writing the review as it goes.
By the time it started there were already more people viewing than she expected to attend, and with the help of a glass of red wine she took us on a journey. We started with “Thinking About You”, the lead track from her ‘Lost Girl’ EP which came out last year, which really set the mood. This was followed by a new song, “When I Was Still At Home”, which talks about her emotions at being away from her family as she now lives in New Zealand, and about a lucid dream where she thought her recently departed grandfather was in her room talking to her. As with all her songs, there is a backstory and she made a point of telling us these which adds so much to the experience.
“What If I Die?” is about living your life to the fullest, and not having regrets. Lee has always wanted to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and visiting Italy and the Greek Islands, and she started to think she might never achieve those things if she didn’t organise them. So earlier this year she actually booked the flights to make her dream a reality. Of course, they have now been cancelled but at least she tried 😊. Lee has a very warm and welcoming style, and her friendly and engaging manner combined with her clear and strong vocals means she is a singer-songwriter who the audience warm to immediately, even if they don’t know the material.
“That’s How It Goes” is far slower, sung in a lower register, much darker and I was immediately reminded of Johnny Cash. “Brave Train” is more upbeat, all about doing the right thing when the time comes. Given the only feedback she was getting were from comments on the Facebook page, Lee was performing as if there was a live crowd in front of her, interacting with comments between songs but without losing the flow of the performance itself. It really did feel like Lee was performing just for each viewer, but without any of the awkwardness which comes when you are sat in the front row of a plane and unable to see the safety video to the stewardess does a presentation just for those three people.
“Whiskey and Red Wine” is another song from the EP and is about a very personal experience from Lee when she was attacked at night and is how she got through it with the love and support of her family and friends. Another slowie, quite country in many ways, it moves around in tempo and feel, as Lee shares yet more emotion. “I Miss You” is her latest song, literally only finished the day of the gig. This is quite different in approach, almost a rock number played on acoustic, with vocals quite breathy and quiet, packed with emotion, just coming to the fore during the bridge and chorus.
“I Can’t Wait Forever” apparently works better when everyone is drinking and swaying, and works much better with a full band, and is another Cash-inspired slow number full of emotion and heartbreak. This was one of the highlights for me, as it really takes the listener into different world, where the guitar and voice, especially the voice, are all that matters.
“Finally Going My Way” is about balancing dreams and personal life, and how friends can be lost while dreams are pursued. Another slower number, with Lee singing in a lower register, she somehow comes across with an American accent, which given she is from SA is not what one expects. But this number soon wakes up, and we get some Joplin-style power. Americana rock, all performed with just vocals and an acoustic. “Kiss My Lips” was originally supposed to be the final number and is a love song as one would expect from the title, but again feels very personal and that Lee is singing to each individual. She then started taking requests, and first up was “Head On My Shoulders”, one of her older numbers and one I hadn’t heard before. This one is upbeat and bouncy, and given she hadn’t played it in years and certainly not rehearsed, sounded mighty fine indeed.
“Lost Girl” was the title of last year’s excellent six-track EP and is probably the slowest number performed tonight. Packed full of emotion it contains many long-held notes and there is no room to hide if a singer can’t maintain pitch, but there is never a problem for Lee who really shines when she gives her voice the room to swell. “I Know You’re Sleeping” is another old one I hadn’t previously come across, a love song written when she was living in New York and her boyfriend was back in South Arica. There were loads of comments coming into the thread, with more and more requests, so Lee kept extending the set, with the next song being “Thunderstorm”, one which Lee wasn’t convinced she would be able to remember more than a verse and chorus as it was so long since she had played it. All about finding the right man to dance with her in the rain, it is more upbeat than many, and yet again once she got into it the memories kicked in and she made it all the way through with no issues. We even got a snippet of a song she wrote in Afrikaans which originally appeared on the Southern Soul ‘Package’ album in 2006, before finally getting to the end of the set with “A Way Out Of Here”, again from the ‘Lost Girl’ EP.
There were many requests for “Hallelujah”, a song she plays in her covers sets, which she very much makes her own with sumptuous vocals. She finally finished what was supposed to be an hour-long set, with a repeat of her very latest song, “I Miss You”. 100 minutes just swept past, and lock down all of a sudden didn’t seem so bad
Babal – The Big Everything – Melodic Revolution Records
Released at the beginning of 2020, ‘Frank’s Lament’ is the third of the EP’s completing the second part of the trilogy, which will be finalized with the release of the ‘(I’m Just A) Spirit In A Meat Suit’ later this year. Singer Karen Langley suffered a potentially terminal blood cancer in 2019 (she undertook extensive chemo, which was brutal, and a stem cell transplant), and she is now in remission. Because of this, the band has made the decision that all profits from this release will go to Macmillan Cancer Support. The last EP featured just two songs while this one has four, with the opening title cut being the longest at more than 9 minutes. A couple of shorter numbers then lead us into a live version of “Endless Re-Run Society”.
The three EP’s every run to more than 20 minutes in length, combining together to form one full-length album, so perhaps it isn’t surprising they are similar in style, although “The Axe” is quite different to the others with a concentration on Karen’s vocals combined with whirling synths. It makes me think of a very modern folk song in terms of its lyrics and approach, not something I would normally associate with this band. Karen is often using her voice as an instrument, challenging norms, so it is nice to hear her singing with emotion in a more “normal” manner. “Bones & Blood” starts off almost orchestral in fashion, but soon we get the jagged edge and syncopation as Rob and Jon come in to turn it into something quite different. Their music is a combination of performance art, space rock, krautrock, Talking Heads, RIO and experimentation and this all comes to a climax in the live cut which ends the EP. The three EP’s together make quite a set, certainly worthy of an investigation who wants their progressive rock to sound nothing like Genesis.
One of the unexpected side benefits from my books being published is that I am being contacted from even more bands than before, and such is the case with PsychoYogi. I heard from Chris Ramsing, who wrote all the songs on this album (and also provides vocals and guitar), who asked if I would be interested in hearing their latest album, which was released in 2018. I of course said yes and was aware that the name of the band had alerted something in the deepest recesses of my musical brain. It didn’t take long to realise that some six years Paradise 9 announced that the replacement for Carl Sampson (who for me I will always associate with Casual Affair) was Justin Casey, who also played in PsychoYogi. I don’t think Justin is still with Paradise 9, but he certainly is still there in PsychoYogi, and along with Chris, Izzy Stylish (bass) and John Macnaughton (alto and tenor Sax) has produced an eccentric, eclectic album which is right up my proverbial street.
Chris told me they are influenced by Zappa, Beefheart, King Crimson, Gong, etc., but that “etc.” includes a myriad of other areas such as the Canterbury Scene (especially anything involving Robert Wyatt) and a huge chunk of Cardiacs. This is not music which will ever find much airplay on a “normal” radio station, as they weave musical threads together in unlikely patterns, underpinned by a very melodic bass line. It is this which often keeps the music contained and allows the guitar and sax to move and find new directions when the time is right. The drumming is rarely rock oriented even in the progressive sense, and has far more in common with jazz forms, and this all combined with music which I found to be incredibly inviting and enjoyable on first hearing has made for a fascinating album indeed.Complex and complicated, this is music which needs to be sat and listened to, concentrated on, as while it isn’t heavyweight in the normal sense of the word, it isn’t something which can be left in the background. Listeners will be richly rewarded and given this is their fourth album I look forward to investigating more of the music of PsychoYogi. 8/10 Kev Rowland
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