Sometimes changing a vocalist works and sometimes it doesn’t. While that isn’t the only reason for the almost six years between White Willow albums, the vocalist change certainly played a part in it. Sylvia Skjellestad was back in the fold for the band’s last album “Terminal Twilight” and I really liked that album a lot. Not the least of which was because of her voice.
Skjellestad reminds me a bit of Anneke van Giersbergen in both tone and range. Sadly, Skjellestad left the band for a second time. For the new album “Future Hopes,” the band recruited Venke Knutson, who apparently has had pop singles in Norway. The problem for me is right there. She does sound like a pop singer. Her style is thin and breathy, almost frail. I am not a fan of that style at all.
The album starts off with the title track and then “Silver and Gold.” Each are more on the mellow, folky side of the band’s sound. While these songs fit Knutson’s style, neither of them grab me. Things get vastly more interesting with the expansive “In Dim Days” which has plenty of instrumental passages in it and much more power. Knutson has to muster up more power in her voice and almost manages to pull it off. Sadly, it really points out her limitations. Still, it’s a great song.
Along the same lines is the 18 minute epic “A Scarred View” which is the other track I really like on “Future Hopes.” The album as a whole is more synth based and thus sounds more futuristic. The only issue with the music I have is that the drumming sounds almost mechanical at times. While this might fit the overall vibe that White Willow are going for, it sounds a bit stale and sterile to me.
I was really looking forward to this album because for one, it had been years since the last White Willow album. The band still have that King Crimson meets Tangerine Dream meets Renaissance thing going on but as I said to start out, sometimes a vocalist change works and sometimes it doesn’t. For me, this is just not a good match. I can only imagine the depth that Skjellestad’s voice would have added to these really good songs. We’ll never know. But hey, Roger Dean’s artwork is awesome!
1. Future Hopes
2. Silver And Gold
3. In Dim Days
4. Where There Was Sea There Is Abyss
5. A Scarred View
6. Animal Magnetism
7. Damnation Valley
Label: Laser’s Edge
Pat Mastelotto & Markus Reuter are some of prog’s finest musicians. Mastelotto has been a part of King Crimson for many years now. He has also been in Tuner, Stick Men and The Crimson ProjeKCt with Reuter. So it’s quite clear that these two gentlemen have a chemistry. For those who don’t know, Reuter is a master of the touch guitar, which he founded and has been playing for a long time now.
“FACE” is a 35 minute track/album that was written by Reuter and not only features Mastelotto on drums and percussion but many other friends such as Fabio Trentini of Moonbound (one of my favorite bands of late, Mastelotto and Reuter guested on the last album), Tim Motzer (who has worked with Reuter), The Rembrandts’ Danny Wilde and yes Steven Wilson. Also, the cover painting by Adam Jones of Tool.
The piece of music has taken NINE YEARS to make. To call it an involved piece would be selling it short. However, it’s not a piece of music that ever loses the listener. In fact, it is one of more inviting pieces while still being wildly creative and challenging. I’ve heard something else each time I’ve listened to it and just want to hear it again.
The title is because the music is based on the notes F, A, C and E. And like any successful long progressive epic, it needs to flow well and it does. Regardless if a transition is smooth or even abrupt, it WORKS. There are so many instruments that each had a special color to the piece PLUS wordless vocals as well which make the human voice just another instrument in the arsenal of these true artists.
“FACE” is a true prog journey but unlike some songs that rely on the abundance of notes, this one is about the right note being in the right place with the right rhythm and structure. Honestly, this is one of the most fascinating things I’ve heard in quite a while. “FACE” renews my hope in truly progressive music. This is easily going to be a part of my best releases of 2017. Incredible. NOT TO BE MISSED!
Label: Tempus Fugit
Draw the Sky are a talented French prog band who have serious jazz leanings. Instrumentation plays a big part of that with some fine sax playing through out. Their debut album “Humanity” kicks off with the track “Back” which reminds me a little of Anekdoten, with excellent mellotron and a guitar tone that is definitely a throw back to the 70s. It also has excellent dual playing between the guitar and sax.
They remind me a lot of Gong as well but not to the point of feeling like they are ripping them off at all. Certainly there’s a Magma influence as well. “Reaching the Sun” has a bit of a Canterbury vibe to it. “Liwo” is a dreamy number with a nice flow to it, while “Aquatic Dream” is like jazz on steroids.
Draw the Sky are MOSTLY an instrumental band (and great musicians at that), and I wish I could say they were a completely instrumental band. Unfortunately (for me), two tracks have vocals which don’t stack up as well as the music. “Aicha” is the first of the two and with an almost spoken word vocal, it’s a turn off. The music is also a tad corny as well. I can’t take this one at all. The vocals on the closing title track are flat…I mean flat and weak. It kills the track completely.
It’s a shame because I was prepared to give this album a VERY high score but once again a young band doesn’t stick to what they are good at and take it too far. Six of the 8 tracks are top notch and certain show that Draw the Sky could be a force in the prog world. I am concerned that they might just keep experimenting with bad vocals. That’s their choice I suppose.
2. Reaching The Sun
5. Aquatic Dream