Mangala Vallis Dreams

Mangala Vallis
The Book of Dreams (2001)

If Jon Anderson were singing on this CD, you would swear it was a new Yes album. I think this is mainly due to the distinctive Rickenbacker bass. Despite being an Italian band the singing is in English and very good.

Reviewed by: Clayton Walnum, June 2002
Italy has a new progressive-rock band, but the group sounds decidedly un-Italian. Instead, these folks sound very much like the English prog of the 70s, Genesis in particular, though you can also hear dashes of Yes here and there. According to the band’s website, “Gigi, Mirco and Enzo developed the idea of Mangala Vallis in 1998. The band wandered in the world of progressive rock, and the result of three years of hard work is The Book Of Dreams, a concept album inspired by the fantastic book-writer Jules Verne and his great books. Completely in love with the sound of the early 70’s, Mangala Vallis is influenced by the music of that golden era, even if its music is filtered through its own taste and vision.”

So there you go. The band’s description of themselves is entirely accurate. If you like 70s style Genesis and Yes, you’ll probably go for this album. A caveat though: While Mangala Vallis does a good job of reproducing that 70s sound, the songs here aren’t as intense as the ones after which they are modeled. Also, although the compositions are long, they are less complex than the stuff Genesis and Yes were doing back in those golden years. The resultant sound is actually more neo-prog, with a strong 70s flavor.

A case in point is the track “Is The End The Beginning?”, which starts off sounding like Spock’s Beard doing Yes, but soon turns to a Genesis-inspired instrumental section. Maybe “Genesis-inspired” is actually an understatement, because this section’s rhythms are taken almost directly from Genesis’s magnificent “Apocalypse In 9/8” [section of “Supper’s Ready”] on the Foxtrot album. The instrumentation here isn’t as complex, though, and doesn’t build to anywhere near the intensity of the original. There are, in fact, several places where the band lifts almost directly from Genesis. For example, parts of the song “The Book Of Dreams” will more than bring to mind Genesis’s “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” and “The Journey” has a guitar part that sounds suspiciously like something from “Watcher Of The Skies.” Still, while Mangala Vallis draws boldly from yesteryear, on several tracks, they do attempt to forge their own way, albeit much in the style of Genesis. The tracks “Under the Sea,” “Asha (Coming Back Home),” and “A New Century” probably represent best Mangala Vallis’s own sound. The songwriting and performances on these tracks (and on other tracks, except where that borrow heavily from Genesis) demonstrate that the band knows what they are doing and have a lot of potential.

Mangala Vallis is a three-piece with a drummer, guitarist (who doubles on bass), and a keyboardist. Guest vocalists, including Vic Fraja, Matteo Setti and Bernardo Lanzetti (of PFM fame), provide the singing. In many cases, the vocalists go for a Peter Gabriel sound, both as far as their tone and their expression go. Let’s just say that Mangala Vallis may love English prog in general, but there’s no doubt who their favorite English group is. The frequent lack of originality notwithstanding, the band sounds very professional, playing well together and putting together some terrific vocal parts. The band’s guitarist is no slouch either and churns out some tasty solos. The recording is crisp and clear, with every instrument easily audible.

All things considered, I like this CD quite a bit. Maybe next time out, Mangala Vallis can drop the imitations and go for the real gold. I know I plan to keep my eye on this band.

From Space

When They Came from Space
by Mark Clifton (1963)

The spacemen attacked with Earth’s own weapons: big bombs, brass hats & Hollywood press agents. The spacemen had mastered all the tricks of Hollywood press agency. They were conquering heroes, who had just saved the earth from destruction. They looked like men–young & handsome, brave but modest. They acted as if they wanted the whole world to like them. Two men knew it was too good to be true. One understood power, & could see that these visitors were experts in his own techniques of manipulating public opinion. The other man believed in the dignity of the human race, and hated to see people being fooled. He had to fight for his–& everyone’s–right to choose their own destiny.


Review

It starts OK, in first person narrative about an unfortunate person who is mistaken for someone else. Unfortunately it switches to third person in sections. This just allows the author to rant on about his personal problems with everyone else.

Too much of the story relies on a lot of people doing dumb things with only the main protagonist  knowing what is going on. All the exposition stretches out what should have been a short story to novel length. It’s not even funny. A lot of authors would have done better with the same material.

 

Whackadoodle

Whackadoodle Times
by Kim Antieau (2012)

Brooke McMurphy is having one helluva week. Brooke’s well-constructed dysfunctional life in Hollywood begins to unravel when a homeless woman comes to live with her and her family and the studio asks her to sex up her husband’s script for Zombie Town-the movie he believes will save the world. Then there’s the raging wildfires, earthquakes, and zombies, oh my! It may be just another week in Hollywood, but for Brooke, it could be the most important week of her life.


Review
The book starts out well, it’s written in first person and has a sharp, witty and sarcastic tone. Given the cover and blurb, I was expecting a comedic farce. And at first that is what it is. Brooke turns out to be a drunk, egotistical manic and soon it’s apparent she is an unreliable narrator. So the first half of the book is promising and fun. Then in the second half things change, the tone becomes more serious. Her relationship with son, daughter and (many) men comes to the fore and soon it loses it’s edge and becomes more of a romantic story with an attempt at an uplifting ending.
It’s not that the book is a failure. The writing shows some real narrative skill in prose, pacing and characters. But the author seems to be wanting to do too much in this short novel. The problem here is that the anticipation conveyed by the marketing and initial chapters just isn’t carried out to a fulfilling ending.

 

Lana’s Ballads

 

Lana Lane
Ballad Collection (2000)

More of the same from Lana Lane, this time focusing on slower songs. I like her version of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” better than the original.

Reviewed by: John “Bo Bo” Bollenberg, March 2001
Prog diva Lana Lane has already made her mark with her superb voice and matching compositions backed by husband Erik Norlander and fellow Rocket Scientists cohorts. One of the first countries to really appreciate Lana’s output was Japan, a country known for its avid fans, and ditto collectors. Hence the idea to release a Ballad Collection solely for the Japanese market way back in 1998 (sounds a long time ago doesn’t it?). Because of the great success in the land of the rising sun, the band and Lana decided it was time to release the album also for the rest of the world and to do so they opted for a double disc.

Going back to the Japanese single release, … that one consisted of the best ballads from Lana Lane’s then three studio albums, augmented with three bonus tracks recorded especially for that release. The opening song “Avalon” not only uses the same name as the band’s Japanese record company, it’s also a Rocket Scientists song from their debut album Earthbound. However, this time around guitarist Neil Citron has joined, plus we certainly have to mention the incredible violin played by Novi Novog. The acoustic beauty “Athena’s Shadow” was written by Lana on acoustic guitar and nicely executed here by Neil Citron, Don Schiff and Mark McCrite.

Another Rocket Scientists “classic” is added in the form of “Stardust,” re-recorded in 1998 and sporting some wonderful mellotron sections. The rest of the material comes from the Love Is An Illusion, Curious Goods and Garden Of The Moon albums, but once again strictly ballads! For this new release this disc sports an extra track in the form of “Season’s End,” a great cover from a Marillion highlight which is hinged around acoustic guitar with some outstanding bass lines, lush mellotron and sparse synthesizer sounds.

To make this set more interesting Lana has added a bonus disc entitled “the 2000 sessions” which includes brand new recordings and covers recorded just after Secrets Of Astrology (or you take the “1998” disc as the bonus disc whatever way you want to look at it). Here she tries her hand at many well known classics in the field of ballads. First up is Dan Fogelberg’s “Nether Lands” title track. Once again husband Erik Norlander adds a fair amount of mellotron which kind of lifts this song from the ground so it can view the world from up in the blue sky! The military drums introduce Lana’s melodic singing. Superb organ sounds fill the newly penned “Hands To Heal” written by the Winfield/Schiff household who previously wrote Lana Lane classics such as “Cold Outside,” “Let Heaven In” and “Take A Breath”. Again Neil Citron adds a great sparkle by means of a tremendous guitar solo. Great! Next up is a small tribute for Elton John whose “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” apparently wasn’t just my favourite but also one of Lana’s. To give it a new “look,” Erik decided to substitute Elton’s piano for a Hammond.

Sitting under the elderly oak in her own backyard, Lana strummed the acoustic guitar playing two new compositions which strangely seemed to fit together hence the medley of the new songs “A Place In Time” and “Nevermore” both sporting great orchestral arrangements. “Critical Mass” opens in true barbershop style with loads of different voices blending nicely together before culminating into “Wind On The Water” which has Lana’s voice create the waves on the musical ocean. Initially recorded by David Crosby and Graham Nash this is indeed a song which perfectly illustrates the quality of the voice. Written in 1947, “Autumn Leaves” is probably the first jazz standard ever to be committed to the Lana Lane CD collection. The nice melody is taken over by Neil Citron whilst Norlander delivers some whirling Hammond to add extra depth. It’s also interesting to hear how the drunken voice of Tom Waits is replaced by the velvet sounds of Lana during “Innocent When You Dream.” The disc ends with the Supertramp classic “If Everyone Was Listening.” Knowing how high pitched Roger Hodgson sings the original of course Lana has no problems what so ever singing this little gem.

I keep finding it difficult in order to find an explanation why Lana Lane still hasn’t made it in a big way. At the same time I still doubt whether at all this music is progressive rock or not. For all I know this is great rock music with superb arrangements unworthy of only selling a handful worldwide. If you have never heard Lana Lane before then this is the best possible release to get into Lana’s spell. The only setback is that once you’ve heard her sing, she becomes very addictive indeed and with a remarkable CD output already it might look like an expensive experience. However for the time being you get two discs for the price of one. Who can argue with that?

More about Ballad Collection:

Track Listing: Disc One: The 2000 Sessions : Nether Lands / Hands To Heal / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road / A Place In Time / Nevermore / A Place In Time Reprise / Ghost Beside My Bed – To The Last Whale / Critical Mass / Wind On The Water / The River Maid / Autumn Leaves / Innocent When You Dream / If Everyone Was Listening

Disc Two: The 1998 Sessions : Avalon / Athena’s Shadow / Stardust / Season’s End / Through The Fire (Acoustic Studio Version) / When Time Stood Still / Clouds (Abc Mix) / Heart Of Dawn (Abc Mix) / Take A Breath (Abc Mix) / Across The Universe / Avalon Reprise

Musicians:
Lana Lane – voice and charisma
Erik Norlander – keyboards, moral support, lover

Guests:

Mark McCrite – guitar, vocals
Neil Citron – guitar
Tony Franklin – bass
Don Schiff – bass
Greg Ellis – drums
Tommy Amato – drums
Gregory Phelps – vocals
Tully Winfield – vocals
Novi Novog – viola

Website: www.lanalane.com

Discography
Love Is An Illusion (1995)
Curious Goods (1996/2002)
Garden Of The Moon (1998/2002)
Echoes from the Garden (1998)
Live in Japan (1998)
Love Is An Illusion 1998 Version (1998)
Ballad Collection (1998)
Acoustic Live in Tokyo (1999) promotional release only
Queen Of The Ocean (1999)
Echoes From The Ocean (1999)
Secrets Of Astrology (2000)
Ballad Collection (2000)

Kaipa Notes

Kaipa
Notes From The Past (2002)

This is very similar to the Flower Kings, but with different vocalists.
Again, Roine Stolt is the genius behind it all.

Reviewed by: John “Bo Bo” Bollenberg, February 2002
Those of you who had the pleasure of checking out the Kaipa albums when they were released on CD, courtesy of Musea, might have felt saddened by the fact that they only got to know about these guys way after the band had disbanded. Out of the Kaipa ashes The Flower Kings was founded, yet guitarist Roine Stolt remained good friends with Kaipa keyboard player Hans Lundin, so much so that both musicians agreed to unleash yet another Kaipa album to the world. With the addition of the talented bass contributions from FK and session musician Jonas Reingold, the drum madness of Morgan Agren, who’s known from his stint with Zappa and Mats & Morgan, and the vocals of Ritual singer Patrik Lundström, Notes From The Past continues where albums like Kaipa, Inget Nytt Under Solen and Solo left off. In fact, Kaipa released two other albums that in every respect were not worth being re-issued on CD because they didn’t contain enough good material to get the CD treatment. On both Händer and Nattdjustid you’ll find a couple of good tunes, but you can hear the band was searching for a more commercial sound in order to sell more albums. Sadly it didn’t work out. Looking back at what went wrong, both Roine and Hans could now learn from their mistakes and thus steer the material for the new album in a direction which comes close to the nucleus of the first three albums. The distinctive guitar sound of Roine will nevertheless take your mind back to some of the Flower Kings highlights, which I feel is an obvious reaction, as FK has been going strong for the last couple of years, not forgetting Transatlantic, of course.

A perfect example of what to expect throughout the entire album can be found in the opening thrack “Notes From The Past – Part 1,” which kind of sums up all of the influences we will encounter on this new Kaipa journey. Especially the intro for “Night-Bike-Ride (On Lilac Street)” has this déja vu feel to it. Lundström illustrates what a great singer he is during the wonderful, melodic “Mirrors of Yesterday.” Lundin introduces the immortal mellotron rather heavily during “Leaving The Horizon,” a 14-minute plus epic that again holds a lot of the Flower Kings trademarks, although all of the material has been penned by Lundin (who certainly must have listened a lot to the FK output, learning his lessons from the band’s current success). But then again maybe one can say that Stolt “borrows” a lot from the vintage Kaipa period in the FK music, so who was first: the chicken or the egg? The folk influence is heavilly present during “Folke’s Final Decisio”‘ although some heavy blues is introduced as well. The main melody here alternates between keyboards and guitar delivering a fresh sounding tune.

One of the highlights of the album and certainly one that will please many guitar fans has to be the epic “The Name Belongs To You.” With Lundin’s mellotron sounds opening for Patrik’s vocals, the song evolves in a rather strange way in order to find the right “hook” on which to hang the entire song. In between Patrik’s vocal acrobatics we witness a rave collection of guitar solos brought to you buy the one and only “king of Swedish guitar playing” Roine Stolt. Several sounds from the magical mellotron are used to underline the symphonic nature of “Second Journey Inside The Green Glass” which holds a lot of Ars Nova elements. Meanwhile the first chord sounds almost like “Watcher Of The Skies” revisited, before once again the guitars go completely wild.

We welcome nice female vocals in “A Road In My Mind” courtesy of Aleena Lundin & Tove Thörn Lundin adding a nice ballad to the already impressive collection of wonderful tunes on this album. Containing a slightly country-ish feel, the song is taken into overdrive by means of the organ before calm sets in once again in order to let the vocals shine. “Morganism” is probably the weirdest track on the album, introducing a horn section and fuzzy wah-wah sounds, not forgetting a section where the rhythm goes completely over the top. Again guitar and keys work tremendously well together, adding a fantastic vibe throughout the song, often getting close to the better parts of the impressive career of the band Chicago. At the end of this song Kaipa has added something that doesn’t really fit the atmosphere of the song, but hey this is prog remember? The album closes with a rerun from the main theme as delivered in the opening track. So it’s vintage sounds galore once again with some stunning keyboard interventions by Hans Lundin, backed at first by soft acoustic guitars that soon switch towards distorted guitar. The album ends with the sound of the wind blowing through the Skandinavian countryside, opening plenty of opportunities for a follow up. No doubt this album will please Flower Kings fans the world over, as the music sounds so very much like FK all over the place. Let’s say that it’s more FK than Kaipa. Luckily the inclusion of singer Patrik Lundström adds an extra flavour to the music, making it a splendid release. Now if Roine Stolt can take some time off between FK and Transatlantic commitments maybe he can take Kaipa on the road, a thing that will certainly be appreciated the world over. NEARfest 2003 anyone?

Musicians:
Hans Lundin – Hammond, synthesizers, mellotron, piano, vocals
Roine Stolt – electric and acoustic guitars
Morgan Agren – drums
Patrik Lundström – vocals
Jonas Reingold – bass
Aleena Lundin and Tove Thörn Lundin – additional vocals

Website: kaipa.info

Discography

Kaipa (1975)
Inget Nytt Under Solen (1978)
Solo (1978)
Händer (1980)
Nattdjustid (1982)
Notes From The Past (2002)
Keyholder (coming fall 2003)

Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five
by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of Billy Pilgrim, from his time as an American soldier and chaplain’s assistant, to postwar and early years. It is generally recognized as Vonnegut’s most influential and popular work. A central event is Pilgrim’s surviving the Allies’ firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner-of-war. This was an event in Vonnegut’s own life, and the novel is considered semi-autobiographical.


Review:

This novel is supposed to be Vonnegut’s best work, funny and satirical. I found it neither.  As the main character keeps moving through time, there is no plot development. Things just happen and the indulgence of the writer is to fill-in and expand of each of the events in Billy Pilgrim’s life. It’s not badly written, the prose is usually sharp and to the point and at just over 50,000 words it’s a quick read, just not a very memorable one.

Star Metal

Arjen Anthony Lucassen
Star One/Space Metal 2002

This was the first Ayreon/Arjen Lucassen album I purchased. The first CD has great symphonic rock songs with memorable lyrics and great melodies (listen to the subsequent live CD with the audience participation).

The second CD contains Hawkwind covers with Dave Brock singing. The final “hidden” track is Arjen’s observation on space travel and is a real hoot.

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam #1)
by Margaret Atwood (2004)

Oryx and Crake is a love story and vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.


Review:

This was read as it was recommended by the
Science Friday Podcast.

The story begins in some unknown place and time.
No information is given about the character of Jimmy/Snowman. Then, through flashbacks of his childhood his past is revealed. He is the child of genetic engineers. His mother has some mental problems (probably depression) but his father continues work, merging genetics to create unusual animals.

When he enters school he befriends Crake. Then about a third of the way through the book the narration turns in to focus on the character, the plot slows to a halt. At this point it becomes a chore to get through, boredom sets in and I gave up.

Galactic Anthems

Galactic Anthems
Galactic Anthems (2002)


This immediately reminded me of the early Tangerine Dream albums (like Zeit) . It’s all synths, sequencers & spaceships.
Not as upbeat and pop-like as Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis, but more ambient and laid back. More like the soundscapes of Robert Fripp or some of Brian Eno’s work. It works on two levels, at low volumes as ambient noise and louder where you can hear the details in the compositions.

From Aural Innovations #22 (January 2003)
This is the debut release by a fellow from L.A. named Glen Adams, and on this he flirts right on the edges of what I like about ambient synth music and what drives me nuts – namely, the need to ÿspice things upÿ by adding all kinds of other influences. If you are gonna float then just do it! To whit, the second track, Orbital Bop, is exactly what you might guess from the title – spacey jazz-fusion. Miles Davis this ainÿt, which is too bad. Things also veer a little too close to ambient techno (is that a genre? Hell, I don’t knowÿ) on “Tortured Souls”. On the positive side, when he loses the beat and just floats (Journey) things get quite nice, and toward the end of the CD some of the more dissonant tracks such as Way Out There and especially Black Nebulaÿ are really excellent, and reach the Hearts Of Space vibe that Mr. Adams is pretty obviously after. Galactic Anthems is a mixed bag, but there is definitely some interesting motion.

For more information you can visit the Galactic Anthems web site at:
http://www.galacticanthems.com

Evanescence

Evanescence
Fallen    (2003)

Everyone should have seen this CD by now. It’s in all the CD shops and even in supermarkets. I came across this band when searching for gothic bands (see http://www.soniccathedral.com/). I would describe this as being hard rock with female vocals, like Garbage & Stellar. Unlike other gothic bands (After Forever & Nightwish) the vocals are not in the operatic soprana style, some of it more closer to screaming.

But if you like Bands like Stellar, Garbage & The Cranberries you should like this. The songs are definitely above average and very polished. They probably need to sell a billion copies to pay for all the work done on the CD and music videos.