Pin Ups? Yes, Pin Ups

The first 42 years of my life I largely ignored the fact that a Mr. David Bowie existed. The reason was very simple: at the time I was a teenager getting into the likes of Van Halen, Iron Maiden and Metallica, he came up with songs like Let’s Dance and Little China Girl. Not bad, but certainly also not what a ‘guy like me’ was looking for. The only song that did somewhat hit home with me was Space Oddity, captivating as it is.


About a year ago, that changed, as I was introduced to his older materials, through songs like Five Years, Rock ‘n Roll Suicide and the somewhat more recent Sound and Vision and Station to Station. Those I liked so well, that after some (well guided) touring of Youtube and Spotify, I ended up hunting down his first 14 albums on vinyl. No need for original pressings, but these I needed with big sleeves, lyrics sheets and the whole thing. Just to have something to hold while listening to some brilliant music that had escaped me for too long.

So, tonight I feel like listening to some of that again, and I had pick a number from 1 to 14 for me. Outcome: 6. Corresponding album: Pin Ups. Interesting, an album full of covers that received, and still receives mixed responses. Not surprising, given that it was released not long after Bowie decided to kill his break through character Ziggy Stardust, by one evening simply announcing to his audience and band that ‘this will be the last performance of Ziggy Stardust’. A cover album, as follow up to such massive success? Well, I enjoyed a large part of it last time I played it, and so I will enjoy it again tonight. In between all the attention that goes to the little ones in the shadows, tonight it is time for a very big one.

Murky Red – No Pocus without Hocus

Sometimes, it’s hard to get into an album – as a listener, or as a reviewer. And in other cases, it just happens naturally. The latter is the case with Murky Red‘s new album No Pocus without Hocus, and album that I could listen to since 4 weeks before the official release. [acfw id=2]


Album cover – click for hi-res image

With this album, it is clear that Murky Red have grown since their debut – or maybe they just stopped being shy and are no longer holding back on what they have been wanting to play all the time. Of course, they still mix rock and blues, more elements have been added now. Heavy guitar riffs, mixed with melodic guitar solos, a well educated organ, and some nicely mixed in percussion are used to build rock walls, which are interleaved with psychedelic sound trips (no, not soundscapes), surrounding the hypnotising voice of Stef Flaming.

All of that is immediately part  of the opening track Pixelated Friends, a slow, dragging piece that only speeds up briefly in the end. The topic of the track is clear from the single line “I smoked all my hashtags with some pixelated friends“, which is also a good indication of the looseness and humour the band puts in their lyrics.

This is no different in Stoned And Horny, which talks of similar experiences, but musically is almost a tribute to The DoorsGong and maybe even some Deep Purple. After a rather rocking, shining opening (the horny part), it moves to the slow, spacey stoned part before exploding again – as if the Unknown Soldier was mixed with The End, after adding bits of Mule. Served in a tea cup… and followed by the indeed hypnotising, Sweet Dark Hypnosis.

It’s not all humour though, Murky Red does have a serious side, which shows in the care taken to compose their music, but also in the lyrics of She’s Crying Diamonds and Collateral Damage.

The first talks of a woman who seems to have lost a life of luxury, ending in the gutter, where ‘the people in the street no longer care‘. This is accompanied by a piano, dark guitar riffs and percussion that was described by a listener on my ISCK Rock Radio show as if ‘cannibals are playing the drums while making dinner’. With an instrumental midsection that features alternating guitar and keyboard leads around that same rhythm pattern, this is best described as a sad song transformed to psychedelic rock.

The second of these two, Collateral Damage, is an 6.5 minute musical description of the madness of war. Starting out rather melodically, with some guitar parts played by guest musician and producer Colin Tench, it builds up a darker and gloomier mood, with varying guitar parts, war sounds in the background, and a short eight line verse that was written already in in 1993, and that perfectly summarises the madness this is track about:

Hear the soldiers sing
Songs of hope
And songs of suffering
Hear the children cry
See the widow’s tears
Fill her near-dead eyes
This is the pain of a nation
In times of war

The rockier, more straight forward side of Murky Red shows on tracks like  Nothing Can Go Wrong, the story of Delilah, which is centered around a heavy, fuzzed guitar mixed with an organ. The instrumental part contains a funny, jumpy bass line that made me skip back a few times. This continues into A Wooden Groove, which is 70s space rock transferred to the 21st century. The lyrics of this one are written by one who smoked too many pine needles, first singing of a tree, then explaining that the remainder of the song (a good 3 minutes) are indeed instrumental.

The last third of the album consists of four quite different tracks, starting with  Bad Wolf of the Pack, which opens with a slow Gilmouresque guitar – returning to the old Murky Red adagium that they mix Pink Floyd and blues. Slow vocals, a clean guitar and simple but very fitting percussion (bongos) do the trick here. Not a complicated song at first listen, but I bet every cover band would get it wrong.

Wild Flower has vocals that are carried by keys, drums and bass –  and almost no guitar – while the instrumentals feature once again some Flodyian guitar sounds. Over time the track moves away from that sound, without loosing coherence and power. This track was the first single from the album, about 6 months ago, and made a promise that came true now.

Then with Mermaids, the band takes us to the movies, with a piano opening that seems to announce the exciting opening scene of a motion picture that has no Disney label on it. The structure of this song is build around guitar riffs, with the keys playing counter melodies and the bass seems to sing its own melody underneath. I wrote in my review notes that this is music a group of hippies could play on the beach – provided there was power available to plug in their amps.  There is no beach in the town of Helecine, where the band comes from, but there is a corn field, so I guess this was recorded there instead.

To close off the album, Elena is nothing short of an ode to Focus, with a guitar and organ driven beginning and end, soldered together by a slow, instrumental mid section where an acoustic guitar plays a melody resembling vaguely Für Elise, before the organ joins in to build a psychedelic sound trip. A sound trip to the ancient city of Troy, that burns for Elena’s love. A fitting end to a nice musical journey.

This album is a worthy successor to 2012’s Time Doesn’t Matterand it shows a more out-of-the-trodden-path Murky Red. Brilliant guitar work, great organ and bass work, non standard drumming and percussion and a nice mix of humorous and serious lyrics make for a nice musical journey. The production by Colin Tench is on par with that of his own band’s Corvus Stone Unscrewed, to complete the picture. No lack of dynamics here (overall Dynamic Range of 12). To top it off, the beautiful, fitting art work by Stef Flaming himself makes the main character Maurice LeMurk into the new band mascotte.

This is not a new master piece, and it wasn’t intended to be. Like any human product, it has its flaws, and most of these I expect to be subjective to the listener. I enjoyed it, the past few weeks and will enjoy it more I’m sure.  A big step forward for the band, and a big step away from the more straight forward rock on their debut album. Highly recommended.

Kinetic Element – Travelog

Some music takes time to grow, both when being written or performed as when being consumed. With Kinetic Element, that was clear already with their debut album, which took the best part of three years to write and release (2009). Their second album, Travelog, was released in June of this year, taking another 6 years out of the band members lives to complete. [acfw id=2]

cover image jpgStyle-wise rooted in the early 1970s rock of Yes, Genesis and perhaps a bit of Jethro Tull, with forty years of musical evolution thrown on top, as well as some folk and jazz, Travelog is a 70 minute listening experience. A attentive listening experience as well – with the shortest of the five tracks being running for just under 10 minutes and the music taking many turns. This is obvious immediately in the 20 minute opening track War Song, which starts as a symphonic rock piece, but then switches to something between rock and Scottish folk (bagpipe synths) when the war starts.

The vocals of Demetrius LaFavors (who also sings on Travelog and Vision) fit the story of the song very well, taking it from rock to a folk like ballad and back. A nice detail is that the main guitar riff that comes back a few times, gets copied by the bass near the end.  The bass plays a lead role on this album anyway – and in War Song there’s even room for a bass solo.

All tracks on the album have their own signature, which is not unusual, but in this case it shows the diversity of what Kinetic Element is capable of. Where War Song mixes rock and bag pipes, Travelog is more folky and sometimes pastoral in style, with beautiful classical guitar in both the intro and outro (accompanied by flute there) – with one again Demetrius, one of three guest vocalists, on vocals.

Vocals are taken over by Michelle Schrotz on Into the Lair. A track with a jazzy folk feel in the beginning (bass, gypsy guitar and beautiful vocals), but building up to a full rock piece before going back to where it came from. The keys – piano, keyboard, and organ – are in control of the instrumental part. The keys are also very present in Her, sung by Mike Florio, which has a jazzy feel due to mainly the drums, and develops into a ballad with frantic keyboards underneath. That jazzy feeling is also present in Vision of a New Dawn, which is an 18 minute jazz rock journey – for me the best track of the album.

As mentioned the vocalists are all guests, although Mike Visaggio (keys) and Michael Murray (drums) also perform some backing vocals. Instrumentally, each band member gets his own place in the music, as said there was even room for a bass solo on War SongMike Vissagio in his playing makes no secret of his love for the 70s keyboard heroes, and Michael Murray is not afraid to put in some jazz drumming instead of straight forward rock, which works out really well here. The bass (Mark Tupko) is ever present, and adds it’s own melody, as it should. Todd Russell on guitar then adds tunes and leads with great feel, for example in the solo on Her.

The art work is plain and simple, nothing fancy – no lyric sheet is included. The band clearly choose to let the music speak, and in that they succeeded. This album with its long tracks may not be everybody’s cup of tea, with modern attention spans reducing rather than growing, but it’s a more than decent piece of music. Highly recommended!