My musical influences are very broad and I'd like to share some of my favorite songs with you all.
Me and my Mukka went to HRH Progfest in Wales last year, we picked up on loads of bands who we had never heard of before. One of the bands were Southern Empire an Australian Prog outfit. They wowed us and everyone in the audience so much so my Mukka went to see them a few days later at The Robin 2 in Bilston and myself and the missus to The Joiners in Southampton. Here is one of my favourite songs from the band.
Review of the Southern Empire album – Civilisation
by Geoff Bailie
Back in 2010 I attended one of the best gigs that I have ever been to. Unitopia and The Tangent played upstairs in a London pub to a (surprisingly to me) quite small crowd and, following the release of Unitopia’s “Artificial” album. It seemed like the start of something great for the band but instead was followed by a period where it felt the band faded… a promised but delayed covers album and suddenly they were no more – and for me that seemed like the end. I lost touch with the paths of the ex-members until earlier this year when someone recommended the, then 2 year old, Southern Empire self titled debut album I liked what I heard and so it’s a bonus that there is already another new album here.
“Civilisation”, on paper, is a prog fan’s dream – 2 x 10 minute, 1 x 20 minute and 1 x 30 minute songs – a recipe for success surely? Well I am glad to say that (disregarding prog fans’ song length preconceptions) this album is a winner and a worthy follow up. Southern Empire have a trait that the previous and this album both display which I love – for me, a key element of prog is the fusion of a variety of types of music into one style-shifting whole. I will not name names, but too many times in recent years, I have listened to recommended prog albums, only to find that they are stuck within familiar frameworks and lack musical and melodic inventiveness. Not the case here. “Goliath’s Moon” kicks off with a funk-type groove, mashed up with heavy guitars, and interwoven vocals which are strong, cutting but avoid “rawk” cliche. Being a multi-vocalist band, there is a melodic, stripped back interlude which brings the vocals to the fore, before moving into a more jazz style keyboard solo. Southern Empire’s strengths is that they are experts of musical dynamics, which means that all the sections flow or clash, depending on what the desired effect is. I have to admit, I was won over by the 9 minutes of that opening track, and anticipating what was coming next!
The tone moves to “Cries of the Lonely”’s “techno” opening, before the violins kick, and a style shift to an angular rock tune with cool intervals and time signature shifts – feeling the prog here, especially once a killer, speaker shifting Mini Moog solo kicks in! The 20 minute track has an epic chorus, eastern stylings, a strident choir, along with intricate bass drum work, and orchestral powerchords. Musically there is just so much going on in this track, it’s hard to describe it in a review other than to say it’s breathtaking. This is exciting music and the band show themselves to be in the league of the modern prog greats.
The album’s epic is next… “The Crossroads”… and if it sounds familiar, then that’s maybe because you heard it on the 2017 “Live @ HQ” – or perhaps you are familiar with “Travelling Man” from the Unitopia connected – United Progressive Fraternity album. Well let’s leave the politics to one said for now, save to say, that many flowers have bloomed from this particular seed and there’s space for them all in the Garden (inside joke for Unitopia fans!). Once again there is an Eastern influence in the chordal structure and melodies in this track that give it the feel of a real epic – which it is! It’s also a showcase for the musical skills of the entire band: the colours in Sean Timm’s keyboards; Danny Lopresto’s commanding lead vocals; the variety of musical stylings that Cam Blokland extracts from his stringed instruments; Brody Green’s drums that provide back bone when fused with Jez Martin’s bass, but which also shift from straight ahead to cinematic in their moods. And just when the intensity of the epic exhausts, we are in jazz-mode, with percussion, a sax solo and some jazz runs… leading to nylon string acoustic and wind instruments… before an epic ending – you can almost see the raised swaying hands as Lopresto sings “I’m holding on to your love”. I want to hear it again but….
… there’s one more track to go! “Innocence & Fortune” closes things off and is probably the most relaxed song on the album. Acoustic and pastoral in places, they realise that to follow an epic like “The Crossroads” you need to change it up. There are ‘Wind and Wuthering’ elements here, as well as some great rhythmic patterns and interplay. Again the shifting styles just work! And the journey ends on a Mellotron chord – definitely prog!
You can tell by now, I like this album but I am also conscious that, like the debut, even after several listens there is still more to discover in here. Some prog albums that I listen to, I like straight away and that’s that. Some I don’t get first time and think – ‘I need to listen to that again’. “Civilisation” for me, gives the best of both worlds! Definitely worth a listen.
Released on July 20th, 2018 on Giant Electric Pea
1 Goliath’s Moon 9:12
2 Cries For The Lonely 19:13
3 Crossroads 29:15
4 Innocence And Fortune 10:22
– Danny Lopresto / lead & backing vocals, electric & acoustic guitars
– Cam Blokland / electric & acoustic guitars, mandolin, backing vocals
– Sean Timms / keyboards, electric & lap steel guitars, percussion, backing vocals
– Jez Martin / bass, flugelhorn, backing vocals
– Brody Green / drums, percussion, backing vocals
– Steve Unruh / violin, flute
– Marek Arnold / soprano sax
– James Capatch / tenor & soprano saxes, flute
I saw a band called Beardfish back in 2014 supporting Spock's Beard at
The Robin 2 in Bilston. They blew my mind and I have been a fan ever
since. Unfortunately they have now split up but here is one of their
songs that is always in my head.
Here is a review of the album I found:
They originally were just going to call this "Comfortzone" but they thought they'd make it a little more personal by putting the area code of their home town in Norway in front of it(+4626). This is a concept album about the negativity of being comfortable. One of the band members said that Comfortzone is that invisible protective suit of negative thinking. So it can be in relation to staying in your home town your whole life, or staying in that relationship or job that just isn't good for you but it's comfortable so you stay in it. The surreal cover art depicts someone who lives on a lonely planet with Earth off in the distance.
"The One Inside Part 1: Noise In The Background" is a short intro track of less than 2 minutes in length. I like how this sets the album up with the spoken words, and the strings are a nice touch. "Hold On" has such a great sound to it to start with the guitar and bass especially. Vocals before 1 1/2 minutes with intricate guitar and a beat standing out. This is a catchy track with some uplifting sections.
"Daughter/ Whore" is a barn-burner with some massive opening bass lines. Passionate vocals here as well and check out the guitar solo after 3 minutes in the incredible instrumental section that follows. I like how the vocal melodies cry out here too. The vocals are back before 5 minutes. "If We Must Be Apart(A Love Story Continued)" sounds amazing once it settles in. We even get some clapping. Too much fun here. After 3 minutes it sounds like a stadium full of people. It's so catchy a minute later, just a great tune.
I think it's kind of ironic that the music of BEARDFISH is comfort music for me. I think what they are trying to say is that I should move on to music that takes me out of my comfort zone(haha). A really nice album, in fact these Swedes have carved out a very good career for themselves and I for one want to thank them for all the great music.