Born in Sweden in 1943, trumpet player Bengt Ernyrd is not the sort of person you'd expect to be producing ambient electro. Nor would you expect any ambient electro he might produce to sound as modern as this. A Glass Of Wagner To The Rising Sun is an intriguing blend of classical music, electronica and jazz, with Ernyrd's formidable trumpet playing taking centre stage.
While some of the electronic elements do occasionally sound a bit 'stuck on', particularly on the first track, for the main part they work very well. 'In Memory Of...' sounds, at times, not unlike the break in an LTJ Bukem tune, and 'Inter-mission' is the sort of song you wouldn't be surprised to hear on a contemporary trip-hop album.
Without a doubt, though, it's Ernyrd's trumpet and flugelhorn antics that are the focus here. His technical ability is in no doubt, but he is also cable of dropping the notes-per-second rate in favour of playing something more sympathetic to the music. I'm not sure that every track here really works, but when the electro sounds and jazz playing come together and gel, Bengt Ernyrd's music is surprisingly fresh -- even more so coming from a sexagenarian. Chris Korff
SOS Forum regular C Calam has produced a beautifully packaged debut album, and you get the impression that an equal amount of hard work has been expended on the music. That work has paid off in many areas, most notably the synth programming, which yields dense arrangements brimming with imaginative sounds and textures. At the same time, though, we've all had the experience of getting so bogged down in detail that we lose sight of the bigger picture, and I wonder whether that might be the case here. For example, C often processes each element of the drum kit as though it was a completely separate instrument. He comes up with some neat flanged cymbals and glitchy hihats in this way, but the drums as a whole don't always gel, with wildly different panning and reverb settings on display within a single kit, and the hi-hats often more prominent than the snare.
Two of the tracks were mixed by James Thompson, and show the value of a fresh pair of ears at this stage. Most of C's own mixes are based around acoustic and electric guitar parts, which can sound a little pedestrian beside the other-wordly bleeps and swooshes. Thompson, by contrast, chucks out the real instruments altogether and takes the music into the realms of full-blown electronica, which definitely plays to C's strengths. The guest mixer also brings C's vocals right to the front of the mix, applying a luxurious combination of reverb and delay. C might not be the most confident singer in the world, but it's always better to make a feature out of an unconventional voice than to apologise for it. Sam Inglis
The title suggests that Season's album should have a placid, calming effect, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Almost every song here is a blur of Animalesque drumming and crunchy guitar riffs, overlaid with emotively charged male vocals. For all their sound and fury, though, I can't help feeling that Season's music doesn't signify quite as much as they would like to think.
They claim that Bromide 'will take you on an emotional ride', but in truth, it's not a ride that visits an awful lot of destinations. There's a throwing-the-dummy-out-of-the-pram quality to Season's music that begins to grate fairly quickly, and the lyrics offer empty, angst-rock cliche rather than telling detail or fresh observation. Sonically, the album has a raw quality which I liked, but there's little of the experimentation that can help to make modern rock ear-catching and fresh. Sam Inglis
The three members of this lighthearted, quirky band are not, as their name suggests, mice. They are, in fact, proper musicians, and they're obviously well-rehearsed. Their songs sound like songs should, but remain sufficiently unpredictable. All 14 of them feature intros, verses, choruses and even bridges, plus melodies, harmonies and rhythms. Production is consistently good, with interesting instrument choices and techniques that blend well with the conventions associated with a drums/guitar/bass/keys kind of line-up. It's good. I'd even go as far as saying that I'd buy it.
Although it sounds quite 'old' (by which I mean that you'd be more likely to hear it on Radio 2 than on Radio 1), I'm not sure it matters, as I doubt the band are aiming for an entry into the pop charts. Guests on the album include some fairly high-profile session musicians, such as guitarist Milton McDonald (Take That), vocalist Peter Cox (Go West) and drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree), plus the affable collective that go by the moniker Class 1GP of Hurst Primary School, Bexley.
If there is one negative point about this album, it's the slightly grating conspicuousness of the vocal harmonies. They're considerably multitracked, widepanned and really overproduced: techniques that, in my opinion, are good every now and then, but should be used in moderation. Having said that, I only really noticed it after about six songs! Check out their web site for details of their next gig. I bet they do a good show.
Aspiring songwriter Paul Mason apologises for his 'limited' production skills, but he doesn't seem to have had any difficulty recording Lucy Bowler's lead vocals, or getting a decent balance at the mix stage. I think his real problem is that he needs to develop his own arrangement ideas more fully. The first track, for instance, consists mainly of drum loops and brass licks which sound as though they have come straight off sample CDs.
If so, it's a pity, because underneath the prefabricated elements, there's a neat majortominor chord progression involving some cool auto-panned guitars, which is potentially strong enough to be a production hook in its own right. Speed the whole thing up a bit, replace the dull root-note bass line with a decent (or indecent) synthbass part, get your hands dirty doing some imaginative drum programming, write a better chorus, and you'd have something you could pitch to Girls Aloud without shame.
The other two tracks are more confident from an arrangement point of view. They still rely on the same pleasant-but-anonymous drum sound, but there are nice touches like the Leslie guitar on 'Earth Blues' and the heavy phasing on 'Everything Will Be Alright'. Unfortunately, both songs are plodding blues numbers which are too slow and long to have any obvious commercial potential. Sam Inglis
"Deep abyss! It can smell our blood!" Yes, that's right, Another Dead Hero are a metal band. A melodic prog-metal band, to be precise. What this means, in practice, is that they tend towards switching gratuitously between different time signatures, write abstract and meaningless lyrics like "Distension feels ethereal fire", and are apparently incapable of producing a song less than five minutes long. That said, however, they could be a whole lot worse.
Granted, opening track 'Inanition' drags a bit (in fact, they could probably lose the first half of the song altogether), but when they eventually drop the 7/8 nonsense and start playing intuitively, they actually sound like a pretty decent metal band. Likewise, 'Hydrophobia' has plenty of good ideas, just not enough to justify all 10 minutes of it. Since much of the song is just repeated phrases, it could probably be shortened significantly without losing too much of the 'jamming' vibe.
They find their groove with 'Deon' though. It might be a blatant rip-off of 'Snowblind' and 'Children Of The Grave' by Black Sabbath, but it definitely benefits from not trying to be too clever. By contrast, their 11-minute instrumental only gets interesting after about five minutes, and the last three contain nothing but feedback.
They've certainly got potential, but if they could just drop the 'melodic' and 'prog' bits and stick to the metal, they'd do a much better job of holding the listener's attention. Chris Korff
If The Plastic Spacemen have achieved nothing else, they've certainly managed to send in the strangest demo yet featured in this column. Theirs is a song with a story, and the story is that the figurines you find in the bottom of your cereal boxes are alien warriors waiting to take over the Earth. The Plastic Spacemen Battle Hymn is, apparently, their call to arms. Its un-named creator tells us that "a lot of calculations with paper and pencil" were required to record the vocals, which have been deliberately sped up to create an authentic singingplastic-spaceman vibe.
What's really strange about this song, though, is the way that these vocals are plonked on top of a backing track that sounds like a badly rendered Standard MIDI File from a littleknown children's musical. The heavily processed and effected vocals are odd in their own right, but hearing them supported by Casio drums and GM pianos compounds the 'What the hell?' factor a hundred times.
I can only assume that The Plastic Spacemen are targeting a novelty hit along 'Star Trekkin' lines. They've unquestionably got the novelty angle sorted, but I have a feeling this might just be too weird even for the Great British Public. And if this does become a hit, God only knows what they have planned for their second single.
The best CD reviewed each month will win a Line 6 Toneport UX1 recording interface, plus the complete set of expansion model packs and the Gearbox Plug-in feature, giving the winners a comprehensive range of amp and effects combinations to use with their computer recording system. Toneport includes meticulously crafted models of premium tube studio preamps, vintage guitar and bass rigs, and sought-after, personality-rich effects, while the Gearbox software provides complete control over your sound, with a unique low-latency monitoring option.
This month's lucky winner is Bengt Ernryd.