Rock, October 2023

hfnalbum.pngBig Big Train
Ingenious Devices
English Electric EERCD0033; LP: PLG118

Neo-progressive rock band Big Big Train were dealt a terrible blow when their vocalist David Longdon died unexpectedly in 2021. This album serves as a tribute to him while tying up some loose ends, and looks to the future with new singer Alberto Bravin on a dazzling live version of 'Atlantic Cable'. It's a perfect introduction to this most singular of groups, with new material, and some of their best songs remixed, rearranged and re-recorded with a 17-piece string section. 'East Coast Racer' rides off on exhilarating, high-velocity ensemble playing and 'Voyager', with its lyrical themes of space probe-as-existential-metaphor, builds via strings, brass and Longdon's soaring vocals, to a majestic conclusion. MB


Soft Machine
Other Doors
Dyad DY032

Few groups have gone through as many changes as Soft Machine. They emerged in the heady days of 1967 with a mix of psychedelic pop and free improvisation, and now play an adventurous but melodic style of jazz-rock. There are no original members left, but drummer John Marshall joined in 1972 and guitar virtuoso John Etheridge in 1976. His soloing is beautifully fluid, and he engages in some serpentine interplay with saxophonist Theo Travis. On 'Crooked Usage' a song-like structure bookends an empathetic group improvisation, and they respectfully nod back to times past with an affectionate reading of 'Joy Of A Toy' from Soft Machine's 1968 debut album. MB


Never To Heaven
Default Collective (download only, up to 48kHz/24-bit resolution)

Fassine favour a big drum sound here, and dark-hewed synths reminiscent of Gary Numan and Trent Reznor, with brass for added punch. Vocalist Sarah Palmer explores the ego, including lyrics about President Nixon and chess master Bobby Fischer who inspired 'Fifty-Move Fools'. She sounds like she's running out of patience with these subjects as her voice grows from a sweet coo to a power and severity close to the intimidating tones of Grace Jones. On 'Drerty (Acid Drops)' she warns, 'I will terrify you as your local therapist'. It's high on energy and character, and there's a groovy version of Julian Cope's 'Sunspots' for some light relief. MB


Rain Parade
Last Rays Of A Dying Sun
Flatiron/Label 51 LAB51001CD; LP: LAB51001

Into the 1980s, Californian band Rain Parade were one of the prime movers in the so-called Paisley Underground. Time may have robbed guitarist and vocalist Matt Piucci of his fringe and '60s bowl cut, but he is back together with founder member bassist Steve Roback and this, their first album since 1985, sounds remarkably fresh. The harmonies and guitar jangle of 'Bring You Back' evokes The Byrds and on the title track they unleash some full-bloodied raga rock. There's some exciting guitar interplay on the heavy, brooding 'Got The Fear' and folk and country influences emerge on the acoustic 'Share Your Love', which is garnished by spectral slide guitar. MB