Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A Life Within A Day

For someone who's been a fan of both Genesis and Yes for more years than I care to remember (but probably at least 35) the prospect of a musical collaboration between former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett & perennial Yes bassist Chris Squire brought a certain anticipation. Their new recording, as 'Squackett', was released this week: how did it turn out?

Clocking in at just over 46 minutes, the album may be considered a little short by modern standards, though others might see it more as 'classic length'. It certainly doesn't feel as if we're being given short shrift, certainly. The virtuosity of Squire and Hackett are evident throughout the recording, backed up by drums & keyboards.

One of the main features of this album for me is the vocal harmonies that are evident throughout. Hackett & Squire's voices blend very well, and lend a great quality to the songs. Chris's voice comes to the fore on three of the tracks: 'Aliens', a song that he brought to the project and which he has, apparently, performed live with Yes in the past (which, to be honest, I think sounds a bit naff); 'The Summer Backwards', a gentle song that Hackett describes a "a nod to all things psychedelic and the 1960s"; and 'Can't Stop The Rain', which reminded me of Squire's 'The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be' on 'Fly From Here' and of all the tracks on this album evokes the feel of his first solo outing, 'Fish Out Of Water'. There's even a bit of a Steely Dan vibe for me here too.

There are echoes for me of some of Steve's solo work in this collection too: shades of 'Defector' on the title track; a quiet acoustic intro to 'Tall Ships'; hints of 'Please Don't Touch' towards the end of the Byrds-like 'Divided Self'. But throughout the record neither of the two men overshadows the other. There is a strong, driving bass in 'Tall Ships' and 'Storm Chaser' (the heaviest track here), and strong guitar licks in 'A Life Within A Day', 'Sea Of Smiles' (which had hints of 'Awaken' in it for me, particularly in the marimba parts), 'Storm Chaser' and the album closer 'Perfect Love Song'.

An album that grows on me with every listen, I would warmly recommend you give it a listen.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Storm Corrosion

So, what do you make of a collaboration between two of the foremost personalities in modern progressive music? Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt, the minds and talents behind Porcupine Tree and Opeth, have come together to create what has been described as 'a modern masterpiece' in the eponymously titled 'Storm Corrosion'.

I have only a passing acquaintance with Opeth's work, and what I have heard doesn't particularly scratch where I'm itching, musically. I am aware that last year's widely acclaimed offering 'Heritage' was quite a departure for the band, in that it wasn't as harsh as previous albums and was deemed to be more 'progressive' than their other work, but I'm not able to compare Storm Corrosion with anything that Åkerfeldt has hitherto produced. I am, in contrast, very familiar with Wilson's work, both on his own, with Blackfield, and with Porcupine Tree, so I know what he's capable of, and the contrasting styles of music that he can, and has, produced.

Storm Corrosion is quite unlike anything that I've heard before. The songs come across more as soundscapes in places, and the album has a meditative, ethereal quality which becomes increasingly appealing the more one listens to it. One reviewer I've read (on Amazon, I think) has likened the vocal harmonies to Simon & Garfunkel, and I can see what they mean. There are also in places hints of Radiohead, but on the whole the music defied comparison for me with anything that's gone before it.

But then isn't that the point of progressive music? Much that comes under that genre these days is derivative, in that it harks back to a previous 'golden' era of Progressive music, and while I have no problems with that - that being my favoured musical period - progressive music needs to be just that - progressive, rather than regressive.

I'm so grateful to Wilson & Åkerfeldt for this collection of tunes, which continues to grow on me with every listen, and for their attitude which continues to push the scope of rock further afield. Maybe I need to get hold of a copy of 'Heritage' some time.