BROTHER APE "Shangri-la"
by Brother Ape's debut cd, count me as one that was really looking forward
to hearing the bands follow up, and now it is finally here. Though there
was a cause for concern, as the band lost a key member, or what would
seem like a key member in lead vocalist/keyboardist - Peter Dahlstrom.
So in his place, the band chose to continue as a trio, with bassist -
Gunnar Maxén taking the multitasking as both bass and keys, and
guitarist - Stefan Damicolas handling the lead vocals entirely. Damicolas
was already the bands' primary songwriter, so that would prove to be a
huge attribute going into the bands second release.
In hearing the cd for the first time, It seemed like a slight departure from the fusion/pop/rock music that magically came from my speakers. Yet with repeated listens ( a sign of a great cd sometimes), the beauty of this cd started to reveal itself. Brother Ape's music is dense, at first listens the vocals are what your senses seem to focus on, yet as you become familiar with the set melodies and vocal lines, the backdrop of musicality takes form, which for those that do not know, is the band's forte. They are musicians with a rare sense of freedom, exploring the articulation of dense arrangements by interaction, and interdependance between the instruments, yet at times they let loose on solos, or more dual lead roles, all with a perfectly complimentary and tasteful feel in context of the song. This band takes challenges that most bands would not, they could easily be a poprock band, yet refuse to leave their fusion and progressive rock influences behind them, that's what makes them the great band that they have become.
This cd takes some time to fully appreciate, I would doubt that any of the bands' music to date would leave an impression on most prog/fusion fans, yet give each cd the ample time to fully digest and you too will be captivated by their magic. No doubt these musicians have spent countless hours mastering their skills on their respective instruments, but that has not mean't losing their capabilities to create lush, varied and complex compositions that are as original as they are memorable. I have seen where Brother Ape has been compared to fellow Swedes - A.C.T. But that comparison is unfair, to both bands actually, as yes, they both integrate a few similar influences such as AOR/Pop and Progressive music, but you would never put these bands side by side and hear any similarities whatsoever. A.C.T. takes more a metal/progmetal attachment, whereas, Brother Ape uses more fusion style phrasings, basslines and drumming, mixed with their poprock/progressive leanings, it's a difficult music to explain, but very enjoyable to listen to.
Shangri-La sees the band continuing in what is already their very own
sound, they are a mature band, that can only do greater things in the
future. Here is music that defies typecasts, has a listener friendly
sound and is impressive from a musicians standpoint, they stand as a
rare sounding band in a day where many are following a set of rules
to qualify themselves as a progressive band, not so with Brother Ape,
as they are rewriting the rules, giving progressive music a new direction
without being obnoxious, angular or strange.
|"It's an intense
joy to listen to this album"
Rating: 10 out of 10
guys of Brother Ape have done it again, after their promising debut On
the other side they have continued on the same track. In the meantime
Peter Dahlström has left the band, this has slightly reduced the
Styx effect. Guitar player Stefan Damicolas now stands in for the lead
vocals, he was already singing on several tracks on the previous album.
His voice leans more towards a mix of fusion and progressive rock, a style
representative for the band. It is clear that the new songs are much more
prog oriented than before and the jazz influences are less present. References
to Saga, It Bites and A.C.T. seem to be obvious, but little by little
the band are getting their own sound. Progress Records becomes a very
important record label in progressive rock thanks to the excellent productions
of Hansi Cross.
After a short acoustic introduction on classical guitar in New Shangri-La the guys are producing the perfect illustration of the sound of Brother Ape, dynamic and melodic no nonsense neo progressive rock. Typical are the flashy duels between the guitars and the beautiful vocals in harmony, as well as the virtuosic and ingenious drum patterns. As In Lunatic Kingdom, where the band sounds a bit like the legendary 10CC, but in the 21st century. It is notable that the guys are not making songs that are way too long, the longest is just over 7 minutes, the proof that good progressive rock can be brought in short energetic songs. Umbrellas could have been a song from Déjà vu by the legendary CSN&Y, excellent close harmony, in contrast with the melodic hard rock of Inside you.
An ambient start in Beams builds up very slowly and contains some impressive guitar solos, Stefan Damicolas proves he can compete with the greatest guitar players, the 3 Steves (Howe, Hackett and Vai) are certainly amongst his influences. Monasteries of Meteora is a rest point on the album, this could have been a score of a movie. In I'll Be Going saxophone samples are being used, in that way this album is much more diversified, there is plenty of room for experiments. Fusion is less present here, the short Tweakhead is an exception, pure jazz rock with excellent shredding of Damicolas. Reason to wake and Timeless For The Time Being are very quiet songs, although the latter has a more aggressive approach in the second part.
Everybody knows the köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs) of Ikea, Ive never thought that this could be the subject of a song. Probably this kind of music can best be described as melodic fusion, if this music does not really exist, then Brother Ape has invented it.The albums ends with a reprise of the starting track, but in a pure acoustic version.
Shangri-La is clearly a new and important step in the evolution
of this Swedish band, perhaps a threat for their fellow countrymen The
Flower Kings. In my previous review I hoped to see them live in
our country, with this album my envy has only increased!
have a favorite song on this CD because simply they all sound good to
me. I like this CD on whole better than their first one. It just flows
a lot better to my ears. Brother Ape has the potential to becoming a name
that will be remembered pleasurably in decades to come.
Theyre top notch symphonic progressive with leanings toward the neo side with some fusion and rock elements thrown in for good measure. This is one CD that I will be returning to quite often so I would classify it as a recommended purchase."
to those who like melodic prog with lots of feeling"
Rating: 12 of 15 points
piece New Shangri-La starts with beautiful acoustic guitar, then
a fluent rhythm with a tight beat an sensitive guitar work that reminds
me of neo-prog band IQ and Pendragon, worked out very tasteful and melodic.
Before you could get the idea that this is just another fine but obviously
IQ/Pendragon inspired band, Brother Ape surprised you with varied songs
that sound very pleasant: from dreamy with wonderful acoustic guitar play
in Umbrellas, Beams (including a strong electric guitar solo),
Monasteries Of Meteora and A Reason To Wake (delicate piano)
to powerful and bombastic in Lunatic Kingdom (harder-edged guitar
riffs and flowing guitarplay) and Inside You (fiery and howling
guitar licks). The track I'll Be Going starts in the vein of Eighties
Rush but suddenly the atmosphere becomes mellow with a spacey synthesizer
solo. In the instrumental Tweakhead the strong guitar work has
echoes from Allan Holdsworth, another composition that prooves the fine
compositional skills by Brother Ape. My highlight on this CD is the final
song, a short one but very elaborate and varied: first twanging acoustic
guitars and soaring keyboards, then a mid-Genesis like beautiful piece
with a great keyboard and guitar sound and finally mellow acoustic guitars.
A wonderful album, full of harmony and melody and with lots of variation
and pleasant climates!"
the fine swedish prog label Progress Records has released a great progalbum.
This time it is Brother Ape with their second album and what a treat it
is! A collection of finely crafted, composed and produced songs. An excellent
blend of acoustic tunes (Umbrellas a cross between Crosby,
Stills & Nash and Marvin ,Welsh & Farrar) and some powerful artrock/prog
songs (New Shangri-La) with awesome timesignatures and superb
vocals (hence the CS&N/MW&F reference) filled with delicious and
excellent guitarplay, both acoustic and electric, courtesy of Stefan Damicolas,
who also delivers some of the finest vocals ive heard in a long time.
But fellow (Ape) brothers Max Bergman on drums and percussion and Gunnar Maxén on keys, bass and harmony vocals, really delivers some high quality musicianship. Check out track 4,Inside you, for powerplay guitar. This track glides into the next one, Beams, with some fancy keyboard-birdlike sound mixing with some real life birdsong. Again a song with some killer guitars. Great stuff. Monasteries of Meteora, a unique track with jazzy undertones and superb vocalising...ooohh goosebumps!! Tweakhead, a short but powerful fusion-like track! Meatball tour another fine track, with some lyrics about a cheesy manager. Timeless for the time being, the longest track on the album, 7:45 min. is yet another fine tune, great vocals and guitars. Final track and final example of superb vocals and music are the 2:35 min. Shangri-La.
What an album, this one´s gonna stay in my CD player for quite
some time. And yes, you´ve guessed it, I have to rate this superb
outing 5 planets. And hats of to Hansi Cross (and the band) for superb
production!! Final words? Well, Go Ape!...this is one album you need
in your fine collection of artrock/progrock."
"Compared to the last 5 years Saga, Enchant, Jadis and CO, this
CD shines like a bright star. A lot!"
"The medieval sounding acoustic guitar in the opening section of "New Shangri-la" is but a teaser as the band soon kicks off in true IQ style delivering a decent amount of power and enthusiasm. The melody is ever so strong it really grabs all of your attention. This is exactly how the current wave of prog should sound: fresh, vital, young and without any compromise! The battle between two guitars is simply awesome and fits ever so well within the total picture of both song and band. Together with the band, producer and label boss Hansi Cross has yet again done a wonderful job as you can hear from the pumping drums and great bass sound in the intro for "Lunatic Kingdom." As opposed to the band's debut album, the line-up on this new album is one member short. It's like you have CSNY and Neil Young has left the band in order to leave CSN for the time being. In fact talking of CSN just have a listen to the acoustic "Umbrellas" where harmony vocals lift the song to the kind of original heights we encountered when listening to the Woodstock giants so many moons ago! Wonderful song with splendid Steve Hackett guitars yet maybe a little on the short side to feature on daytime radio. "Inside You" could well be the kind of material Budgie might have delivered should they have chosen the path of AOR.
With the rather repetitive nature of "Beams," our trio gets close to the feel of Rush. Throughout this album Stefan Damicolas illustrates what a fine guitar player he really is. The guitar solo during "Inside You" even leans towards fusion neatly backed by Gunnar and Max giving it the texture it really needs to perfectly fit the needs of this new album. Later on also the short "Tweakhead" and the typical Swedish entitled "Meatball Tour" fit in the fusion mould. More vocal brilliance in the slightly gothic inspired "Monasteries Of Meteora." Maybe the use of a real choir might have done more to this idea? The guitar however sounds very laidback and reminds me of French movies during the sixties. More relaxing music based around piano and acoustic guitar is delivered in the short "A Reason To Wake" where I once again note some wonderful fretless bass. The acoustic nature of "Timeless For The Time Being" contains much of the atmosphere you discover in Anthony Phillips' work. However, towards the end, the song evolves into more of a rock pattern to fit in nicely with the complete album. Like working with musical bookends the album closes with the main theme from the opening track. In between those elements you are taken on an incredible journey through fantastic compositions and arrangements.
Shangri-la is a more mature album than the On The Other Side
debut album, yet also a very varied album which takes you from rocking
patches to fusion elements by means of splendid ballads. It surely confirms
the quality of the band in terms of songs and technical skills. Compared
to the debut album, the band has lost its bass player and is now restricted
to the trio format. In the recording studio this hasn't prevented them
from recording some ace material, so the only need for a fourth member
to complete the band would merely be for live purposes. As a trio or
quartet I'm convinced the name of Brother Ape is already noted in many
notebooks, laptops and above all
minds! No doubt one of this
year's best albums so far."
"A great second album"
"Opening with the richly melodic New Shangri-La, a
track very much influenced by Steve Hackett, Brother Ape quickly establish
their winning formula of sweet melodies and tight musicianship. Lunatic
King features an interesting arrangement in which a jazzy passage
alternates with arena rock style power chords before Damicolas
voice enters the mix about three minutes into the piece. The band are
not afraid to get heavy as demonstrated by Inside You with
a powerful riff that recalls Led Zeppelins The Wanton Song.
Elsewhere we have the excellent Ill Be Going and a
very short but credible fusion instrumental called Tweak Head.
"Stefan Damicolas is now taking the lead vocals on all the songs
and it is true that his voice is more suitable for the music of the
group as a whole. The jazz-rock parts are much fewer leaving more space
for their progressive sound and melodies."