Friday, April 25, 2014

North Sea Radio Orchestra - Birds (2008 England) @320 [AvantProg]

Let’s start with the name. North Sea Radio Orchestra has to be one of the most evocative monikers in recent years, conjuring up all kinds of images, ideas and emotions - incurably romantic. This romance aims much farther than a pleasing title though. As on their eponymous 2006 debut, the group draw on English poetry for lyrical inspiration. On Birds there are three pieces by William Blake ('The Angel', 'A Poison Tree' and 'The Wound'), one by Chaucer ('Now Welcom Somer') and one by Tennyson ('Move Eastward Happy Earth'). Then there's the music: made up of classical and acoustic guitars, chamber organ, many solo voices, piano, various woodwind instruments, percussion and violin, North Sea Radio Orchestra couldn’t sound more out of time. This is not to say that they feel dated, it's just peculiarly not now. But this isn’t so simple either, as there is a feeling within the music that could only come from now. Despite their entirely non-rockist existence, it’s their ability to bend their compositions into song form that see them being praised to the heavens.

And if there is ever a whiff of austerity, its counterbalanced by the sheer listenability of the music. You could play this to the family on Christmas Day and everyone would probably love it. Equally, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such unforced music - no matter what conceptual considerations might have gone into this, it just sounds so… natural.

But equally, English ‘tradition’ has never been more prominent than now. Ghost Box and the whole Hauntology genre, the newly-reissued Robert Wyatt and a heightened interest in obscure folk make North Sea Radio Orchestra a lot less anachronistic than they might have done a few years ago. Yet tradition is warped a lot more obviously by those mentioned above. The North Sea Radio Orchestra are certainly original, but their twists in England’s fabric are blessed with far more subtle.

1. The Angel (2:13)
2. The Wound (3:55)
3. Copt Gliders (4:49)
4. Move Eastward, Happy Earth (4:08)
5. A Poison Tree (2:16)
6. The Flower (3:54)
7. Harbour Wall (3:58)
8. Guitar Miniature #2 (1:22)
9. Phantom (2:11)
10. Personent Hodie (3:25)
11. Now Welcom Somer (6:15)
12. Golden Cage (2:48)

Nicola Baigent: clarinet
Luke Crooks: bassoon
Ben Davies: piano, chamber organ
Harry Escott: cello
Craig Fortnam: guitars, chamber organ, piano, voice
Sharron Fortnam: lead voice
James Larcombe: monosynth, chamber organ
Sarah Longe: violin
Dug Parker: voice
Geraldine Peach: oboe
Hugh Wilkinson: percussion
Brian Wright: violin

Monday, April 21, 2014

North Sea Radio Orchestra - I A Moon (2011 England) @320 [AvantProg]

North Sea Radio Orchestra are an experimental chamber group whose sound draws heavily on elements of British folk, orchestral music (both classical and contemporary) and art rock. They are primarily a vehicle for the compositions of Craig Fortnam, with his wife Sharron Fortnam on lead vocals (sometimes accompanied by The North Sea Chorus). They are a primarily acoustic ensemble, featuring strings, woodwind, acoustic guitar, organ, piano and percussion as well as prominent use of analog synths.

Often cited influences include Benjamin Britten, Vaughn Williams, Tim Smith (of Cardiacs) and the much-loved British children's television composer Vernon Elliot, whose work NSRO have occasionally played during special concerts. They have also been compared to the likes of Frank Zappa, Henry Cow, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Kate Bush and Neu!.

Lyrically, their first two albums consist mainly of settings of texts by pre-modernist English poets such as Yeats, Blake, Tennyson and Chaucer. Their third album, I a moon, differs from their previous releases by featuring lyrics of a more personal and introspective nature written by Craig and Sharron Fortnam.

North Sea Radio Orchestra are a unique and irrepressibly English force in contemporary music and their carefully balanced blend of folk, chamber and psychedelic sounds ought to enchant any open-minded prog fan.

01. Morpheus Miracle Worker 5:20
02. I A Moon 2:22
03. Guitar Miniature #3 1:43
04. Heavy Weather 8:07
05. Berliner Luft 6:11
06. Morpheus Drone 2:22
07. The Earth Beneath Our Feet 5:31
08. Ring Moonlets 3:16
09. When Things Fall Apart 4:33
10. Mitte Der Welt 6:09

Nicola Baigent / clarinet, bass clarinet
Luke Crooks / bassoon
Ben Davies / piano, organ
Harry Escott / cello
Craig Fortnam / guitar, voice, organ, percussion
Sharron Fortnam / lead voice
James Larcombe / monosynth, organ, hurdy gurdy
Dug Parker / voice
Hugh Wilkinson / percussion
Brian Wright / violin, viola
Guest musicians:
Matt Shmigelsky / extra bells
Sarah Cutts / backing vocals on track 1
Jo Spratley / backing vocals on track 1

Minimum Vital - Capitaines (France 2009) [ProgRock] @320

French outfit Minimum Vital is yet another example of a band that have produced a strong album in 2009. There has been quite a few of those so far. In this case we're served a delightful, beautiful blend of folk music and symphonic progressive rock. Wandering, acoustic guitar motifs and hand drums makes up most of the folk aspects of this production, with some flute soloing as an additional trait. Fluent guitar soloing and lush keyboard textures makes up most of the symphonic aspect of this excursion, with a few examples of dramatic, staccato tangent explorations and rich, multiple layered and epic soundscapes presented on occasion too.

The compositions are mostly freely flowing affairs, light and positive in mood. 
Mellow, subdued passages are blended with pacier energetic ones, and the band comes cross as experts in the art of taking a song from a low key, sparse beginning to a rich, orchestrated ending. And while most of the tracks blends the two stylistic expressions they explore, we're alos served some compositions with an emphasis on either one or the other genre.

These light, fluid ventures might not be to everybody's taste; but personally I found them to be a pleasing and intriguing experience - to be filed under positive progressive rock.

1. She Moves Through The Fair (4:12)
2. Avec Uppsala (6:43)
3. Mauresque (5:48)
4. En Terre Etrangère (4:28)
5. La Croix De Bourghi Bandô (3:30)
6. Le Chant De Gauthier (7:21)
7. En Superbô (5:24)
8. Capitaines (6:53)
9. La Route (7:08)

Jean-Baptiste Ferracci / vocals
Sonia Nedelec / vocals
Didier Ottaviani / drums, percussion
Jean-Luc Payssan / guitars, mandolin, vocals, percussion
Thierry Payssan / organ & synthesizers, vocal, percussions
Eric Rebeyrol / bass

Ratings by outbrain