Posts Tagged ‘Ken applin’

By Ken Applin, May 31, 2020 for the music website/podcast/show “In Memory of John Peel”
(Zopp was featured on the May 06, 2020 show)
Album released April 10, 2020 on Bad Elephant Music

“Zopp” is the debut album by the band of the same name. Zopp is also the musical outlet of Ryan Stevenson, a multi-instrumentalist from Nottingham UK. The album features the Canterbury Sound, a subgenre of progressive rock (prog).

Background: The Canterbury Sound developed in the late-60s through the mid-70s in Canterbury, a college town in Kent England. The sound is generally defined as more whimsical than standard prog with an emphasis on the avant-garde, jazz-style improvisation, evolving compositions, and psychedelia (in both sound and related artwork). Some of the key musicians in the original movement include Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, Steve Hillage, Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge, and Robert Wyatt.

The Musicians: Zopp’s key personnel are talented and generally well-regarded in prog rock circles.

Andrea Moneta: drums and percussion. Moneta is also the drummer for the band Leviathan. Disambiguation: The Leviathan referenced here is the prog band from Rome Italy (and not the myriad of punk, metal, and other hardcore bands that have taken the same name in the US, UK, and elsewhere). Their albums include “Heartquake”, “Bee Yourself”, and “Volume”.

Ryan Stevenson: keyboards, guitars, bass guitars, voice, percussion, and co-producer. Stevenson is a multi-instrumentalist, creator of the Zopp project, and primary songwriter for all songs on this album. He is also an award-winning composer; in May 2019 he won Best Score in the IMDb industry-recognized American Tracks Music Awards for his work on the highly regarded documentary “The Perfect Gangster.” For the most part, the Zopp album remains true to the classic sound of 70s prog instrumentation. Stevenson’s keyboards listed in the album’s credits include Mellotron M4000D, Hammond organ (with Leslie amp), Arturia analogue synthesizer, Korg CX-3 organ, Hohner Pianet T, Nord Electro 5d, piano, etc. In a recent interview on Progressive Rock Central he is quoted as saying: “I run them through various fuzz pedals and a wah pedal to get the right sound.” For the full interview:

Andy Tillison: Engineer, co-producer, and musician including additional piano parts, additional Hammond organ, Leslie processing, synth, and effects. Tillison is a widely respected musician and producer playing with bands such as Parallel or 90 Degrees and most notably 10 studio albums with The Tangent. In 2018, Tillison was voted “Keyboard Player of the Year” by Prog Magazine. Another Stevenson quote from the same interview cited above: “Andy was an obvious choice as a collaborator because he understands my musical references; you can hear it in his own writing.”

Additional musicians include Theo Travis, flute; Caroline Joy Clarke, vocals; and Mike Benson, tenor saxophone.

The Music: One of the qualities of this album that makes it especially interesting is that each song sets a unique mood. For example, in the first half of this album, the listener is taken on the following journey:
“Swedish Love”, the album opener, sets the stage with a whimsical, laugh-filled jaunt projecting the aforementioned Canterbury Sound of such artists as Gong.
“Before the Light” evokes the soaring joy it must bring the musicians to play it. It exemplifies the positive energy of old-school prog as opposed to the darker feel of neo-prog.
“Eternal Return” depicts a battle between melodic good and discordant evil in a call & response format.
“Sanger” strikes a Gentle Giant balance: one moment classically influenced, the next jazz, then on to rock, and back.
“Sellanrå” is a short interlude with birds singing and calling in the background. It feels like you are sitting in a shady courtyard during a gentle rain as the piano and guitar trickle and drizzle droplets in an almost hypnotic design.
And that’s just the first half of the album. Production is clean and crisp throughout the entire recording which lets each of the different instruments be easily identified and have their moment in the spotlight.

At over 9 minutes “The Noble Shirker” is both the final track and the highlight of the album (it was featured on the May 6 edition of “In Memory of John Peel”). It is less Canterbury and more jazz/rock fusion. The mood of this musical river’s course changes and evolves both dynamically and thematically throughout. Keyboards lead the listener through swirling eddies, and around each bend is something new to be discovered. Most notably, the introduction of the tenor sax, played by American Mike Benson, elevates the jazz side of the fusion in several key passages. Finally, guitars rush in each time rapids are hit; for instance, at 5:19, Stevenson’s solo has sound and texture worthy of Robert Fripp. Quite the musical odyssey.

Zopp’s eponymous debut is not an album for every moment of every day. For instance, it is not a road trip singalong, and it is definitely not a Friday night dance party. However, it is an album that sets an interesting mood that varies with each song (and often within a song). It is an album to put on when you are sitting by yourself and you want to feel or reflect. It is an album that will, if properly applied, make a few moments even more special.

RIYL: Gong, Soft Machine, Mahavishnu Orchestra

Ken Applin

Creative Commons – repost ok, keeping all credits in tact.

Review: “The Other Side” Nektar
by Ken Applin

Album released January 2020 on Cherry Red Records

Nektar, the legendary Prog Rock band, recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of their founding in 1969. To further commemorate this landmark, the band started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for their 14th studio album titled “The Other Side”. The project raised over $33,000 allowing the album to be completed for release this month.

A bit of history: Nektar was founded in Hamburg Germany and later moved to the US. During the late 60s and early 70s, popular music made a huge shift from AM-radio pop singles to FM-radio deep cuts (also called “Album-Oriented Rock”, or “AOR”, by the recording industry). This was a magical time for Prog Rock that lasted until the mid to late-70s when Disco, Punk, and New Wave (all simpler and more accessible music styles) took over the airwaves. During this magical period, Nektar released their first 7 albums, 5 of which made it onto the US Billboard Top 200. Their 4th album, “Remember the Future”, climbed all the way to #19 in 1973. In the 80s, musical tastes shifted even further away from complex musical styles evidenced by the rise of MTV which was dominated by 3-minute videos and Hair Metal Bands that had “the look”. It was extremely rare that Prog bands got any airplay at all. As a result, Nektar went through numerous lineup changes (19 are noted on their Wikipedia site) and disbanded at least twice. It was a time when most other Prog bands “sold out” adopting more commercially viable music styles to keep going. This makes it even more triumphant that Nektar has released this gem of an album so far into their career.

The perfect trifecta: “The Other Side” sounds like it could have been Nektar’s 8th album set to continue their string of successful releases in the 70s. In fact, if you dig around, you’ll find that the band admits that many of the songs and musical ideas were written in 1978. Add the fact the band members now have a literal lifetime of musical chops, and that this album was recorded in 2019 with modern recording techniques that have vastly improved during the last several decades, and you’ll find that “The Other Side” is an amazing achievement and a rarity in this day and age: an album that brings back the positive energy of Prog’s heyday, played by talented and experienced musicians, properly recorded to bring out the best in the music. Even the album artwork rings true as it was created by Helmut Wenske, the German artist that created many of the intricate covers for Nektar’s original albums.

The lineup for the new album combines 3 founding members with 3 “newer” members. Derek “Mo” Moore (bass & vocals), Ron Howden (drums & vocals), and Mick Brockett (lyrics & visual conceptions) were part of the original band. Ryche Chlanda (guitars & vocals) comes from Fireballet and Nektar’s 1978 lineup, Randy Dembo (bass & 12-string guitar) was a member of the 2005 lineup, and newcomer Kendall Scott (keyboards) has been added. This version of the band is tight and talented. The only thing missing is some of the flashy synthesizers and sound effects that Larry Fast brought to several of the 70s albums, although the song “The Light Beyond” comes close. With that said, the fact that the band has opted for a straighter-edged Rock sound feels clean and well executed.

The proof is in the music: the first chord of the first song, a track titled “I’m on Fire”, immediately sets the stage for the rest of the album. It’s played on a Hammond B3 organ, the seminal keyboard of 70s rock (think Jon Lord of Deep Purple). It’s hard to ignore. Guitar feedback is quickly overlaid upping the ante and grabbing for more attention. The rest of the band then kicks into gear with an upbeat staccato anthem that just gushes energy. Throughout the rest of the song, the guitar and keyboard trade solos as the rhythm section actually slows the pace like an experienced jockey holding back a thoroughbred racehorse champing at the bit and wanting to race. I can’t imagine a better live show opener on their current tour. The band is hitting many US cities in February and March (see for more information).

Overall, the album includes 66 minutes of music in 8 songs which average over 8 minutes per song and is typical of prog’s lengthier, evolving compositions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t potential singles or bathroom shower singalong moments: “Skywriter” and “Y Can’t I B More Like U” are just a couple examples. The album strikes a good balance between accessibility and virtuosity. For the Prog veterans out there, “The Other Side” has enough chops to keep it interesting. For those new to the genre, the album is very listenable and a good place to start. Recommended.

Ken Applin