Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Album Review: Church of the Cosmic Skull 'Science Fiction'

Church of the Cosmic Skull – Science Fiction

Image result for Church of the Cosmic Skull รข€“ Science Fiction

Church of The Cosmic Skull were something of a darkhorse when they emerged in 2016 with their debut album Is Satan Real? Nottingham-based and boasting members of Hellset Orchestra, Dystopian Future Movies, You Slut! and Mammothwing, clothing themselves in a sense of mystique centred on their spiritual principles (The Seven Objects, central to their outlook) and a familiar-but-distinctive heavy 'vintage' rock sound that makes most sense to these ears as an amalgamation of Black Sabbath, Kansas and a gospel choir.  Is Satan Real was a strong release that caught the attention of some of the more mainstream music press. The Church are a solid live band and the question of “what comes next?” is a pertinent one leading into the ‘difficult second album’ which arrived last month in the form of Science Fiction.

The album begins with the title track- a triumphant, vintage-sounding introductory riff leading us through a brief maelstrom of multi-layered vocals and odd time signatures before settling on a piano-and-vocal interlude and then…More. More Black Sabbath-meets-Kansas riff stylings, more harmony, more weirdly utopian sounding lyrics, more everything. There are a lot of ideas packed into these 4 and a half minutes, an impression one returns to a lot with this band’s work.

'Go By The River' is a more straightforward affair, combining a heavy main guitar riff complementing some fancy organ playing, moving from an interesting main riff to guitar lead in the closing section. The Church display the power of repetition here, the lyrics essentially consisting of three (slightly menacing) phrases: “Go by the river, go by the road”; “You run” and “I’ve seen the coming of the storm, I’ve seen the ground beneath you” repeated and filtered throughout the chorus of the song, coming together with the guitar lead at the end.  This adds to the power-through-simplicity appeal of the song.

The Church’s euphoric, utopian vision really comes to the fore with the third track. The overall sentiment of 'Revolution Comes With an Act of Love' is one of determination and hope in the face of a society losing its way but a bit more, y’know, cosmic. Listen along to the final chorus refrain, guitar lead soaring along with beautiful harmonised vocals and not feel at least a bit compelled to bop your head along, I dare you.

'Cold Sweat' adds a bit of pace to the album. The song moves from quiet, muted chords to full, joyous chorus. 'The Others' provides some slow softness with psychedelic musing and an impressive turn from the Church's team of vocalists. 'Timehole' is the album’s most fast-and-furious number, propelled along by a breakneck-speed riff, leads weaving their way around vocal melodies, only really letting up for a smartly applied bit of discord. If this album has a weak point it’s arguably to be found in 'The Cards You’re Playing', a track which feels more like an interlude than anything else and, while allowing for some impressive instrumental and vocal workouts could have done with being half the length. The chord progression in particular feels like it could form a part of something much more substantial.

'Paper Aeroplane & Silver Moon' is a song of real epic scope and competes with 'Revolution' for the high point of the record. Pretty vocal trade-offs backed by the organ in the first two minutes lead into a subsequent four minute trade-off between fast, heavy riff sections and muted lead vocal verses over quiet chords culminating in a chaotic organ solo and heavier instrumental approach to the end. The kind of song that leaves the listener feeling they’ve shared in a journey by the end.

The album closes with 'The Devil Again', which effectively comes off as the 'Cards' formula deployed more effectively. A repetitive main structure with flourishes including a filthy keyboard solo and strong chorus. It at once summarises and closes album in a satisfactory way. This album is a worthy follow-up and provides plenty of individual songs to stand up to the likes of 'Mountain Heart' and 'Movements In The Sky' in terms of quality. This band have already delivered a great deal and appear to be scratching the surface in terms of potential.

I believe.

Score: 4/5

Writer: Craig Stewart

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Review: Sunshine of Your Love - A Concert for Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce was one of the greatest creative forces in twentieth century popular music, yet even now the true impact of his work is hard to assess. He was far ahead then, and it seems he still is today. Putting aside Cream for a moment, the man's remarkable solo output represents a wide embrace of not just rock but also blues, jazz, folk and classical. To these ears, it is some of the finest music ever committed to vinyl.

This evening a few of us are fortunate enough to witness a special screening of Sunshine Of Your Love, a document of the Jack Bruce tribute concert that took place on 24th October 2015, a year after his passing. Directed by Kyla Simone Bruce, Jack's younger daughter, it's immediately clear that this film was made with much love and care.

When the concert was announced, there were those of us who queried the line-up. Several of the artists selected to perform that night at the Roundhouse didn't appear to have any obvious connection to the music of Jack Bruce. Attending the premiere of the film, it becomes apparent that in many senses this assumption was wrong. 

The film is bookended by two archive clips of Jack performing live. Interestingly, the first is a raw harmonica performance of 'Train Time', a tune he'd first recorded in the mid sixties with Graham Bond, while the latter finds him at the piano for a spellbinding rendition of the timeless 'Theme For An Imaginary Western'. For a fan, this footage is fascinating viewing. But for those who know less of the man, it's a way of giving a glimpse into the kind of versatility he demonstrated throughout his career. 

Nitin Sawhney had the unenviable task of musically directing the entire evening, and it seems he did as well as could be hoped. An event of this nature is almost inevitably going to be scrappy. With the constant changes in personnel, the stage presentation often lacked a clear focus. Still, there was an abundance of esteemed artists from different areas of music, and an impressive array of skilled singers in particular. 

The likes of Mark King, Bernie Marsden, Clem Clempson, Liam Bailey, Uli Jon Roth, Phil Manzanera and Ian Anderson all delivered heartfelt performances. Have I missed any names? Of course I have. Let's not forget Joss Stone's authoritative rendition of 'Never Tell Your Mother She's Out Of Tune'. But for many of us there were two unforgettable contributions that stood out. The first was Ayanna-Witter Johnson's unique reading of 'Rope The Ladder To The Moon'. The second was by Jack's other daughter Natascha, who performs under the name Aruba Red. Her interpretation of the beautiful 'Folk Song' was, well... beautiful.

Let's not dwell on Ginger Baker's awkward appearance, or the fact that neither Jack's lyricist Pete Brown nor his son Malcolm chose to participate. As both Kyla and Natscha made clear in the Q & A session afterwards, their primary aim with both the concert and the film was to highlight some aspects of Jack Bruce's music that have been somewhat overlooked. In this, it's fair to say they succeeded.

Writer: George Colwan