Brother Ape - On The Other Side

Year of Release: 2005
Label: Progress Records
Catalog Number: PRCD 014
Format: CD
Total Time: 48:26:00

If you think you know what to expect from Brother Ape because they are on the Progress Records label, then think again. The array of songs on On The Other Side, their debut, is a diverse mix of 70s jazz-rock inflected pieces, with a curve or two thrown in. On the one hand, we have pieces that are full and busy without seeming cluttered or chaotic ("The Jerk," "I Freak Out," "Clockworks" and parts of the title track, which borders on fusion); on the other we have languid pieces like "Waiting For The Sandman," "Railways" (one of my favorites), and "This Hour." In this jazz-rock mix you will also detect Yes, especially in the falsetto harmonies, notably at the end of the title track, but also in "Unaccomplished," which could be likened to an amped-up latter-day Yes. High-toned harmony vocals rise above a strident and brash drums and percussion and thick guitars. And throw in some symphonic keys for good measure.

Guitarist Stefan Damicolas has a restrained soloing style that puts the instrument up front, but does not get so far out ahead as to leave the others behind. I make this point in specific because he is the main composer and you'd expect (maybe) that guitar would always be front and center. But the mix is balanced, owing both to composition and production. It breaks out most especially on the title track and "Clockwork."

"Clockwork" is the busiest of the busy compositions, this piece seemingly to dance all over the place in a sometimes herky-jerky manner. So, it's chaotic to some degree, but not in a disorganized, negative way. Damicolas' guitar is the most out-front here, underscoring the sense of urgency that lyrics describe - time is fleeting, there's none of it to waste, and none of it to spend? "This Hour," which immediately follows, is moody, uncertain, and yet also a bit carefree. It is the direct opposite to "Clockworks" in both feel and subject. If in "Clockworks" time was of the essence, then in "This Hour" there's all the time in the world, even as it focuses on one moment in time. If "Clockworks" was impersonal, "This Hour" is intimate. The arrangement itself is sparse, acoustic guitar filling most of the audio space, with the subtle accompaniment of bass (Gunnar Maxén).

I wondered if Brother Ape was thinking of Jackass: The Movie when they wrote "The Jerk" (as it doesn't remind me of the Steve Martin movie)? From the lyrics, you have to think it's at least possible, if not probable. The music itself is strutting, confident churning mass of guitars (Damicolas) and percussion (Max Bergman) that matches the attitude of the protagonist. It's a dense mix, not heavy, where there's a lot going on. I'd say: a brisk Flower Kings or A.C.T., or even Man on Fire, where vocals (Peter Dahlstrom) skate breezily across this jazz-rock inflected flurry of activity. "I Freak Out" is just as busy, but heavier in sound, including a bit of distortion.

You might think that "Farewell Song" would be a sad, melancholy piece full of regret. Instead, this farewell is a happy, jolly occasion, that sounds almost too happy-poppy with cheerful guitars, snappy percussion, and a sunny, breezy vocal delivery that recalls a blessed-out Yes. And you'd swear for a moment that they're going break into a poppy version of Dream Academy's "Life In A Northern Town" (a UK trio who had this single hit in 1985). There are no lyrics, just vocalizations? "sun? nananana - hey-ah-ah" (or close to). Slow it down and you've got "Life?" It's peppy, full of high-energy. "Farewell" suggests that it a breaking free of something unwanted. It's infectious, and is one of the "curves" I mentioned above.

And what of those mellower pieces? Well, there's "Waiting For The Sandman" which is, as I said, languid. Languid in a smooth, pop-jazz style that recalls classic Boz Scaggs material, though Dahlstrom croons like a surer voiced Billy Joel. And then there's the highlight "Railways," a soft, balladic composition with fragile vocals over an occasional piano and snickering percussion that mimics the chugging of a train. Subtle guitar accents complete this watercolour image of sound. The brief, acoustic "Lucky Fool" has a bit of an old world feel, even as it feels modern.

The title track is different from anything else on here, but doesn't seem out of place. For the most part, it eschews jazz stylings. While it still has a bit of a Yes feel (and The Flower Kings), it moves from something that -- well, it brought to mind two references: One, Craig Chaquico, in the guitars. There's a certain full, open, reverberating, steely tone of Chaquico's that Damicolas employs here. The other reference is to Christopher Cross, in the vocals, but also in the airiness of the piece itself (cf. "Ride Like The Wind," for example). (It's just coincidence that both references are CCs). This leads to a section that might be described as RIO-ish or fusiony. It's angular, with frenetic, Latin-esque percussion. Another movement puts guitar front and center, solo soaring like birds with wings at full extension? a celebratory freedom of movement. It's incredibly uplifting, leaving one a high note. And truly, the best comparison is to Yes, it leaves you -- or me at least -- with the same feeling I have after listening to early Yes (Fragile, Close To The Edge, Tales?? that period), exhaulted.

The lyrics are serviceable; that is to say, while they wouldn't win any awards, they do evoke the images they are intended to evoke. And they sound better sung then read. The music is much stronger and surer footed, making this release a winner. I know Jan-Mikael, who also reviewed this CD, didn't much care for the vocals. I'm pretty particular about vocals myself, and didn't have any problems with them here. On "Railways" and "Farewell Song" I'm almost certain there's an uncredited female background vocal. Either that or either Dahlstrom or Damicolas can get their voice to unmanly places (where I don?t think even Jon Anderson has dared go) -- while Dahlstrom sings lead on all but one song, Damicolas (who sings lead on the "one") and Maxén provide backing vocals, although on the referenced pieces, Maxén is not vocally present.

An admirable debut worth checking out, promising great things for their future? a future that has started with 2006's Shangri-La.

Incidentally, the album artwork reminds me of Spyro Gyra's Breakout, though looking at the SG cover, it more different than similar.

The Jerk (5:04) / Waiting For The Sandman (4:37) / I Freak Out (4:59) / Railways (4:50) / Clockworks (5:24) / This Hour (4:45) / Unaccomplished (4:15) / Farewell Song (4:31) / Lucky Fool (2:03) / On The Other Side (7:53)

Max Bergman - drums, percussion
Stefan Damicolas - guitars, vocals
Gunnar Max?n - keyboards, vocals, bass
Peter Dahlstrom - bass, vocals

On The Other Side (2005)
Shangri-La (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin SE

Added: October 16th 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1625
Language: english


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