(All Album Reviews by Vinylroolz)
Matthew Parmenter was the brains behind the much-unheralded American band Discipline, which released two very good albums in the 90s: Push and Profit (1994) and Unfold Like Staircase (1997). While obviously (and unashamedly) influenced by greats like Genesis, Peter Hammill, King Crimson and (gasp) Gentle Giant, Discipline represented a fresh face in an otherwise terribly boring American Prog scene. After a 1999 live album, they ceased to exist. Unfortunately, they were just ahead of their time.
So, five years later, Matthew Parmenter has released an album under his own name titled Astray. Parmenter composes, sings and plays all instruments except bass guitar, which is aptly handled by his Discipline mate Mathew Kennedy.
The density, complexity and interplay of a full band is obviously missing here, but Parmenter is talented enough to fill the holes for the most part. He's primarily a keyboardist, and obviously a big mellotron aficionado, but his guitar playing is more than adequate.
The first track, "Now" sets the tone for the CD. This is going to be an album of the classic introspective singer-songwriter variety and all the angst that goes with it. The first half reminds me (in a good way) very much of a young Peter Hammill ("and still you feel at odds with your beliefs and with your instincts") with the instrumental second half being a "CSN&Y Wooden Ships meets Pink Floyd and takes a mellotron to lunch". Really. And that's not a bad thing. I'm hooked.
The second track, "Distracted" features a great 11/8 groove with nice tron and good use of marimba sounds. The dynamics of the production perfectly match the ADD lyrical content: "I blame the circus side show clowns/I blame the advertisers' verbs and nouns"..."grasping at the corners/searching in the fog/for something is there". Really nice stuff.
Maybe this should have been an EP, because the next 4 tracks are totally forgettable. It's an almost endless period of self analysis that both Hammill and Gabriel have done before, and done better. Although the too-obvious instrumental Beatles reference in "Dirty Mind" is kind of fun. By the time Track 6 is halfway over, the lyrics say it all: "There's nothing between me and the end".
Then the last track, the 21 minute pseudo-epic titled "Modern Times". Let's just say that it falls about 15 minutes short. The first two minutes and the last two minutes are the best parts, being instrumental in the symphonic mode, with another couple of instrumental minutes in the middle that have nothing to do with anything, while everything else alternates between minimalist music and psychobabble. The last parts contain a serious Steve Hackett style motif that segues into something that the Enid might have done. It's a very fragmented, incongruous, over-reaching piece that has some good ideas but doesn't quite get there.
Matthew Parmenter is a gifted composer and lyricist with an excellent voice. However, he can't do it all himself. Perhaps, if I hadn't heard his work with Discipline, I'd have a different opinion. Astray stands alone as a very good CD, but he's capable of so much more. I'll give this two stars out of a possible five.
(All Album Reviews by avestin)
Have you ever felt your life has been going off-course? Do you feel that despite your efforts and wishes you have come short of achieving your goals, out of tune with your life? The seven songs in this album by Matthew Parmenter present each a story of such a case; seven tales of being and feeling Astray.
After being completely captivated by Unfolded Like Staircase, the album by Parmenter's band, Discipline, I decided to get his solo output. I thought it would somewhat simpler, less dense and layered than Discipline, but what I hear here, while not as complex and intricate as Discipline's material, is nonetheless, as rewarding, rich sounding and well done. Matthew Parmenter sings and plays all the instruments (and there are a lot of those accounting for the rich layering) aside from the bass, played by Mathew Kennedy.
In fact, Astray has quickly risen to be a personal favourite of mine. Each of the seven songs has a simple basic theme to it, which is then expanded into a wide musical landscape depicting a story and emotions. The way Matthew sings the lyrics merges perfectly with the melody. The pathos in his voice in convincing as if the story told is his own. The melodies start out in a simple yet charming way, often with the use of the piano, and are then built upon with additional layers of instrumentation, though not excessively, and building up to emotional climaxes.
There is a verse-chorus-verse basis but it is played around with, to not sound straightforward, so as to not be dull. The result is an album that manages to sound personal, beautiful and simple and yet be elaborate and varied. The opening song, "Now", is the best example of a relatively simple tune that is developed further and built upon with more layers; it ends up in an lush sounding instrumental segment where the main theme is initially played on piano and then joined by the drums, bass, guitar and mellotron.
This delicate balance is well maintained throughout the album, even in the closing 21 minutes song, "Modern Times", which may be the most Discipline-like song here in scope and to a lesser extent, in writing style. A superb song, it runs the gamut from the simple piano lead section to full-blown progressive rock epic with rich instrumentation and magical instrumental segments.
The most simplistic structured song is "Just Another Vision", but it as well, along with its lyrics, is a beautiful song, which doesn't change its pace and in which the chorus and verse have the same melody. The organ here adds a richness that lifts the whole song up a notch and along with the vocals have a hypnotic effect. The same mood is continued in "Some Fear Growing Old", which again, doesn't show much diversity in terms of composition, but more so in terms of instrumentation, where, for instance, the violin makes an appearance. The level of intimacy is deepened with the beautiful and highly emotional song, "Between Me and the End", where Matthew accompanies himself on a piano (except for two moments where more vocals and a saxophone join in), singing about his loneliness, a sensation of being lost, astray and of not much to live for, feeling near the end.
To continue this, there are, not surprisingly, similarities in sound to Discipline, particularly when it comes to the powerful sound of the keyboards which are a dominant part of Unfolded Like Staircase and the same is true here (organ, mellotron, synthesizers, piano)., Matthew uses these to create a melancholic and gripping atmosphere, with long brushes to accompany his singing; he then uses them to draw a more precise and detailed picture as they come to the front and lead the composition. The additional instruments play a significant role as well, contributing distinct parts and ornamentation; such an example is the marimba in "Distracted".
On a different note, I take my hat off to Matthew for the making this album sounding so well and tight, especially considering he played all instruments except the bass, and managed the engineering and mixing roles.
I hope I got my enthusiasm of and love for this album through this review. It is a beautiful and striking intimate album, and for me serves as much a way to connect to personal pain as it is to serve as a cleansing experience.
(All Album Reviews by Boceephus)
Many influences abound on Matthew Parmenter's first solo release. The Genesis school of theatrical music, VDGG's pain and anguish (Parmenter occasionally sounds very much like Peter Hammill) and early King Crimson's aural soundscape (heavily mellotronised) and even a glimpse or two of Jon Anderson styled lyric lines (in my head I could hear Anderson singing some of the vocals. Not timbre, mind you, more inflection). All in all, a healthy prog soup.
Except for the bass, all instruments are played by Parmenter. Drums, percussion, vocals, keyboards, violin, sax, guitar... It has such a live feel, it's hard to believe everything is totally overdubbed. Each instrument is played with finesse and the conviction one puts into being adept at only a single instrument. This guy could be a member in any band. Versatility is an understatement.
This album is a grower, each listen (about 15 for me) brings forth new elements and wonders. By the third or fourth listen, I was captured.
Vocally, Parmenter can be a chameleon. He changes styles and tones in an instant. From Hammill's melodrama to Anderson's wispy naivetÚ to Gabriel's storytelling characters. Personally, I would be appreciative if he dropped the Hammill persona. It comes across as almost too imitative, rather than personal. I researched other sites regarding this release and some even credit Hammill as singing on this record. Believe me, Hammill''s name does not appear on the CD sleeve, nor on the MP website. Strange? I'll say. Discipline's last studio release, Unfolded Like Staircase features some Hamillesque vocals as well.
Musically, Astray doesn't get as heavy as the Discipline albums. There are many softer interludes and rarely does the tune reach any climatic crescendos. The music lilts and flows. It will not lull you, however, it's piques your interest and carries you along. This is what progressive music should do. This is visual art for the mind. It's not always pretty, but it screams to been seen.
High points? The longest track, "Modern Times" has many movements, plenty of mellotron and some King Crimson power chording and eclectic themes. Over twenty minutes of shifting textures, martial beats, apocalyptical lyrics and a stunning guitar solo finale. "Dirty Mind" features wonderfully irreverent lyrics and a playful piano accompaniment. "All my thoughts turn to dirty thoughts." Wickedly fun. "Distracted" gives me the Jon Anderson image. Too bad YES doesn't get this charged lyrically anymore. "Now" has a heavy Hammill vibe in the lyrics and delivery.
It's a strong disc. There is a lot to absorb and many sights to see and hear within the music. Just like the old Ragu commercials, "Try It, You'll Like IT."