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Prog Round-up: Summer 2012

Album Review

Geoff Barton on new releases from Astra, Pete Bardens, Fruits de Mer, The Skys and Echo Us

Astra: The Black Chord

Astra’s first album The Weirding (’09) placed the San Diego combo firmly at the forefront of the SWOPP (Second Wave Of Psychedelic Prog) movement. For this follow-up the band have really cranked up the cosmology, while also allowing some of their more eccentric influences (Magma, PFM, Van der Graaf Generator) to come into play. Opener Cocoon begins like a fast-paced, intricate hybrid of Floyd and Hawkwind before becoming ever more intense and challenging, its frenetic jazz passages and ramshackle drums evoking the spirit of Hatfield & The North. The title track – all 15 minutes of it – is nervy and jarring, awash with humming Mellotron and militant Moog. It’s a bit of a shame, actually, because dense, hyper-trippy guitaring was such a strong characteristic of the debut; there's not nearly enough of it here. Having said that, the level of musicianship never dips below stellar, particularly on brief-but-blistering instrumental Bull Torpis. But our fave track has got to be gossamer ballad Drift, which is almost Styx-like in places. (7/10)

Pete Bardens: Heart To Heart

The keysman in Camel from their 1973 self-titled debut up to ’78’s Breathless, Pete Bardens quit after a bust-up with guitarist Andy Latimer. This solo effort came out in ’79 and is more restrained than Hannibal Lecter after a brain-eating bonanza. The playing is immaculate in a ‘muso’ sense but Bardens’ fingers appear to have been replaced by feather dusters. Snoozeworthy in the extreme. (4/10)

Various: Sorrow’s Children: Songs Of SF Sorrow

The Pretty Things’ psychedelic rock opera SF Sorrow has been lovingly recreated by a motley collection of bands including The Luck of Eden Hall, King Penguin and The Loons. It’s like listening to a warped-vinyl version of the original: everything’s twisted and topsy-turvy. Bonus track of the PTs themselves playing Loneliest Person at the 100 club. (7/10)

The Skys: Colours Of The Desert

Established in 1995, The Skys are Lithuania’s No. 1 proggers. Colours... features a host of guest stars including Dave Kilminster (Roger Waters’ band) and Anne-Marie Helder (Mostly Autumn, Panic Room). Key to the band’s appeal is the male-female vocal interplay, and a musical approach that’s both expansive and ethnic. Nuostabus! (Lithuanian for ‘amazing’.) (8/10)

Echo Us: Tomorrow Will Tell The Story

Echo Us is the ambient atmospheric brainchild of Ethan Matthews, guitarist and producer of Portland, Oregon-based proggers Greyhaven. Tomorrow... is the follow-up to ’09’s The Tide Decides and is the second release in an evolving three-album suite. Part Jean-Michel Jarre, part Enya, part Peter Gabriel, it veers alarmingly between accessible and impenetrable. (5/10)

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