Quick plays: SONIC TOOLBOX, THE MAGNETIC SOUTH

SONIC TOOLBOX - A Space In Time

SONIC TOOLBOX A Space In Time

Double Dutch, anyone?  Sonic Toolbox, a fairly grizzly pair of old proggers (?) from Denmark who – on the cover art – look like Boris Becker and Robert Plant after a night on the town (and on the reverse, Boris and Glenn Hughes).  You wouldn’t want to open your wardrobe and find either of these guys lurking.

The pair’s second album, opens with ‘Your New World Order’  a broody, moody Depeche Mode sort of number – dark keys-dominated meanderings with melody provided by the vocal lines.  ‘When You Go For The Rich’ brings a playful, almost pop groove to proceedings, and ‘I Can Do It’ is an unquestionable toe tapper, with ‘Love Your Life’ even featuring some decent lead guitar lines.

But quite where Lars Boutrup (vocals, keys, guitar and bass) and Michael Miller (drums, percussion and keys) sonic meandering fit in today’s bewilderingly broad music scene is something of a conundrum.  Their keys dominated sound will almost certainly appeal most to those still rooted in the 80′s.

‘Wonderful Time’ is almost ethereal, ‘A Light Song’ a bit [spaced out] Beatlesy, and ‘Big Cigars’ (instrumental) has an almost Peter Gunn beat, which wouldn’t be out of place in an Art Of Noise set.

Is this prog?  Fresh back from HRH Prog VI, I have to confess, I no longer know.  ***

Review by Pete Whalley

THE MAGNETIC SOUTH  Sea Level

Formed in 2015 by LA based singer/guitarist John Sperger and bassist Steve Giles in 2015 based on a shared appreciation of progressive rock bands, The Magnetic South offer extended work outs of heavy and atmospheric music.

The opener ‘Porcelain Branches’  a six minute instrumental piece is a signal of intent shifting seamlessly through the gears from ambient, to heavy, and then heavier.

Influenced by progressive bands like Porcupine Tree and Tool, and more intimate artists like Elliot Smith, the album has been carefully layered creating, at its heaviest moments, dense walls of sound that serve as a counterpoint to more pastoral meanderings.

‘Sunrise And Gravity’ starts with a throbbing ‘engine room’ beat, discordant guitars provide menace as the number descends from a mid-paced groove, to a deep, heavy, grungy core.  There’s plenty of noodling, gloomy atmospherics, and bombast.  Vocals, delivered Dave Gahan style, provide melody.

Dreamy, quiet and ambient one minute, then a tsunami of riffs the next, it’s an atmospheric ride that’s been finely crafted and beautifully recorded.  It’s a sound you’re going to probably going to love or hate.  I suspect there’s no middle ground, but unlike some acts at HRH Prog VI, it’s unquestionably ‘prog’.  ***

Review by Pete Whalley

MARY GAUTHIER Rifles & Rosary Beads www.marygauthier.com [Release date 26.01.17]

Mary Gauthier’s latest album was written along with veterans and their families who form part of Songwriting With Soldiers (SW:S). It is a thought provoking and at times difficult listen due to the honesty and real life captured within these songs.

Opener ‘Soldiering On’ sets the scene, how a veteran tries to cope with life after the army and it contains the poignant line ‘What saves you in the battle can kill you at home’. There are 22 veterans who commit suicide everyday in the US. This is a subject touched upon again on ‘The War After The War’ where the mournful pedal steel resonates throughout the song. ‘Iraq’ tells the tale of a female army mechanic and the abuse and intimidation she received from fellow soldiers. The musical accompaniment matches the tone of the lyric, a harsh harmonica and sorrowful fiddle.

Mary Gauthier has a real down to earth singing style, no need for vocal histrionics and she gives the lyrics the respect they deserve. A mix of country/Americana and a dose of the blues in its purest form runs through the album. ***1/2

Review by Jason Ritchie


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