Prog Round-up: September 2011

Geoff Barton on new releases from Cranium Pie, Earth & Fire, Split Sofa, Nine Stones Close and Greylevel

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Cranium Pie: Mechanisms (Part One)

We’re used to listening to bonkers concept albums here at the prog column. Comes with the territory, obviously. Having said that, we were still surprised by Mechanisms (Part One), which tells the tale of a civilisation of lobsters (yes, lobsters) rising up against an evil tyranny of robots. Off-the-wall subject matter aside, this is a masterclass in hyper-eclectic prog, with Ron Appleton (purveyor of “synths that make the stomach turn inside out and your ears reach into infinity”) and space-ace guitarist Tim Bray excelling in their respective roles. Opening track This Was Now - The Awakening Of The Birds sounds like Pink Floyd playing Riders On The Storm (thermi-Doors, anyone?); Rememberrr (sic) is based around a sprawling Caravan-style keyboard solo; Zones - Mothership (Reprise) reveals that when lobsters speak they sound very much like underwater Daleks. The album reaches a claw-clenching climax with the clunky Hawkwind-isms of Run To Survive (Scuttle, surely? – Ed.). Conclusion? Cranium Pie are as mad as fishes. Well, crayfishes, at any rate. (810)

Earth & Fire: To The World Of The Future

Earth & Fire (Wot, no Wind? – Ed.) were a combo from Holland fronted by alluring female singer Jerney Kaagman. This, their fourth album, was first released in 1975. Full of hippy-dippy attitudes and often reminiscent of a funky Jefferson Airplane, we suspect generous amounts of flapjacks and shigarettes were involved in the recording process. (510)

Split Sofa: The Gathering

Split Sofa, formerly known as Chair, are from the East Midlands and describe their music as ‘psychedelic progressive pop’. Coming across like a hybrid of Pink Floyd and The Outfield, their songs are instantly accessible and full of memorable hooks. Highlights of this hypnotically commercial offering include Circles, U Will C Me and Before The Storm. (710)

Nine Stones Close: Traces

Traces, we hear, “is a journey through loss, growing up and getting older… understanding that being alive sometimes means hurting”. It’s brooding, desolate and at times quite brilliant. Stand-out tracks include the heart-wrenching Threads and the 14-minute mourn-fest Thicker Than Water. If you like early Porcupine Tree, you’ll love this. (710)

Greylevel: Hypostatic Union

Vancouver’s Greylevel spent two years making this album, and their dedication shines through on this impeccably crafted offering. Sparse, delicate songs such as Memory Remains and Pale Blue Dot grow steadily in stature, eventually becoming overrun by crunching Alex Lifeson-style power chords. A commanding piece of work. (810)

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.