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Patchwork Cacophony - Five of Cups CD (album) cover


Patchwork Cacophony

Symphonic Prog

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4 stars Review # 37. Benjamin Bell is an English songwriter, keyboard player and multi-instrumentalist, and the mastermind behind Patchwork Cacophony; his personal project. He released his debut album under the name "Patchwork..." in 2014, and that was the first time I listened to his name and his music. It was a mostly instrumental, keyboard-driven album, with nice melodic passages and some interesting compositions.

Currently, 2 years later since that release, Patchwork Cacophony is back with a new album, named Five of Cups. The official release date of the album was set for November 7th, and as far as I know, it will be available in digital and physical format respectively. Trying to compare these two albums, I must say that Five of Cups is a more "serious" and "mature" work. The compositions are better, more complexed (in a good way), and the overall outcome is better. Also, this time Ben is singing in most of the tracks.

The album opens with the 16-minute-long Fairytale, a melodic and "proggy" composition in 4 parts which offers an initial idea of what is going to follow. And what follows is a well-structured album with lots of piano/keyboards, beautiful melodies and memorable passages. Fairytale is followed by Choices, a rather "catchy" tune, which can be used as the album's "hit" song. Then Counting Chickens comes; the only song that reminded me of Ben's previous album. Next comes Maybe, a Rock tune, not based on keyboards, but including a beautiful guitar work instead. Another "catchy" tune. Every Day is one of my favorite songs in this album. A 9-minute long song, kind of melancholic, but so beautiful... Chasing Rainbows is an upbeat tune, which in my opinion is the "weakest" song of the album. It includes some nice moments, here and there, but nothing special. From the Spark is an instrumental piano tune, which is absolutely wonderful! A dreamy and melodic composition that I can't stop listening to! The album's final song is the 12-minute long Brand New Day which, along with Fairytale, constitute the "proggiest" songs of the album. One of my favorites without a doubt.

So, let's sum up. Five of Cups is a really good and serious album, suitable for listeners with "open earminds"! It includes beautiful moments, some dreamy and melancholic tunes, and some Rock and easy listening moments. The compositions are improved in comparison with the previous album and this is definitely a sign that Benjamin Bell is moving forward. All those who enjoyed Ben's debut album should buy Five of Cups without a second thought. As for those who don't know him, maybe it is time to discover him. My rating would be 3.5 out of 5.0 stars. Kudos to Ben! And once more: Why we can't have the option of giving half points as ratings? It is real pity!

Report this review (#1640356)
Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars PATCHWORK CACOPHONY is not a band as such, but the solo-project of very talented musician, songwriter and singer Ben Bill who has managed to do all himself in a classy and professional way. The use of piano, Hammond organ, Rhodes, Mellotron, Roland, Tambourine, cowbell, acoustic and electric guitars, fretless bass, drums could give you clues to its direction. After favorable comments on the eponymous CD two years back, Ben comes up with a second offer titled 'Five Of Cups'. The material contained therein, is reminiscent of symphonic prog luminaries from the 70's epoch. This new embodiment of retro-sound melds diverse ingredients into fantastic combination that's built around improvisational prowess and emotive singing. So, welcome to the show which begins with 16+ min. epic 'Fairytale'. Accentuating the events that should unfold, the lengthy track is comprised of four sequential parts: 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?', 'Once Upon A Time', 'The Wonder Of It All' and 'Life Is Not A Fairytale'. Every piece on this puzzle bears the mark of exceptional mastership, to impress anyways. A genuine Floyd-ism crops up initially. Though, instead of Gilmour-like passages, what emerges soon is a stylish piano accompaniment, leading up to the occurrence of grand keyboards alongside rhythm throbs and undercurrent guitar work. Counter-melodies are mixed to lead vocals and lovely harmonies. Thus, the things turn into a wholly different pattern (one might suggest a reference to Cressida). Some minutes later, Bram Stoker gets the homage - with intention to move toward a soothing, five-minute conclusion that has the exquisite traits of Supertramp. Ben Bell's vocals convey much of passion. Just to leave you pondering a scale of virtuosity, the intricate 'Choices' delivers the vintage fashion a'la Keith Emerson, modified for the musical fabric of Patchwork Cacophony. The arrangements focus on ELP- allusion creating an overall effect upon which the sundry colours dance and play. The instrumental tune 'Counting Chickens' switches to realm of Alan Parsons Project. This one is followed by mid-tempo 'Maybe'. Yet again, there're echoes of Pink Floyd here. The guitar excursion of special guest, Marcus Taylor, succeeds to help the flame burning. Full of contrasts, 'Every Day' is another surprise. It sounds like a joining of Pink Floyd, Manfred Mann's Earth Band and Genesis (in their prime). The glorious keyboards are still front and center delivering a great performance. Next up, 'Chasing Rainbows' which tends to a principle of vigorous couplets followed by sedate refrains. The perfectly timed piano interlude guarantees a touching moment within the texture. Melodically fabulous instrumental 'From A Spark' has a sheer classical flavor, being perhaps a nod to Frederic Chopin. It's a soft kind of music that glides gently into ears and slithers into brain, taking up residence. Awesome!.. The album reaches its worthy final with an expansive composition 'Brand New Day'. Returning to the ELP legacy and adding occasional flashes of Rick Wakeman, Patchwork Cacaphony provides the varying hues of Camel, while the skilful Tim Hall injects his guitar solo. And for sure, the memorable voice of Ben Bell is an important factor. Sum up. Devotees of the progressive rock groups mentioned above, must be among the first to give this new release very serious consideration. Those aficionados who appreciate CD 'Pilgrimage' by the British band Pilgrym, will enjoy CD 'Five Of Cups' too.. Check it out!
Report this review (#1669896)
Posted Tuesday, December 20, 2016 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal and Heavy Prog Teams
3 stars Take 2 for Ben Bell and his Patchwork (and certainly not!) Cacophony alter ego. As with the debut album, ''Five of Cups'' builds on 70's progressive (and here a bit more on classic) rock. Keyboards being Ben's instrument, one could not but expect that this sophomore release is very keyboard-driven. And that is actually very pleasant to my ears.

There are two main moods here: one is the melodic, sophisticated piano-driven, clearly shown in the instrumental highlights ''Counting Chickens'' (with a hefty dose of Mike Oldfield-ian passages) and the more classical-music inspired ''From a Spark''; the second is a much rockier/more maverick approach which ties in with Ben's vocals in a similar vein. See for example the dance-like ''Choices'' and ''Chasing Rainbows'' and ''Maybe'' with bluesy and rock-n-roll glimpses filtered through a prog lens of (mainly) Gentle Giant with sparkles of Genesis and Pink Floyd.

The sound is (pleasantly) dominated by a very characteristic hammond organ, which seems to be Ben's trademark. It is this that provides a bit of uniqueness to the sound and some welcome nostalgia. With it comes the ''rough-around-the-edges'' and DIY feeling that was also apparent in the debut album. I guess this works to an extent as the album comes out as a very honest effort of musical expression and not necessarily to impress. This may slightly disappoint the listener looking for a polished production.

Where everything meets is the opening epic ''Fairytale'' which is probably the most intricate and interesting of the compositions (Gentle Giant, Genesis and Beardfish all dancing together) with plenty of mood variations, reminding me of ''Brinkmanship'' from Ben's debut. Although the debut sounds a tad proggier than ''Five of Cups'', there are individual moments here that may surpass it in quality. Another very good release from Patchwork Cacophony that boasts of determined musicianship. Worth a try.

3.5 stars

Report this review (#1670343)
Posted Wednesday, December 21, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Multi-instrumentalist Ben Bell is back with a follow up album to 2014's self-titled debut "Patchwork Cacophony", with a definite upgrade in terms of consolidating his impressive skills and pushing the envelope even further. "Five of Cups" is a thrilling progressive ride that features superlative keyboard technique, highlighted by piano and organ work that definitely is world class , as well as showcasing Ben's rather impressive vocals skills, which can run the gamut from Roger Hodgson-like sweetness to a more pronounced tone a la Guy Manning. Different moods, alternate feel and deeply personal music.

This new release opens up with a four part epic suite 'Fairytale" that seeks to set the mood for what is to come. The organ-driven "Once Upon a Time" is a fine example of what Ben can do both on his keyboards as well as vocally, further delivered by a multi-faceted keyboard section ("The Wonder of It All" ) that infuses piano, organ, synths and mellotron, in a very Supertramp-ish display that pleases the ear. The gorgeous piano etude "Life is not a Fairytale" has aromas of Frederic Chopin, liquefied ivory pearls that would make Rick Wakeman blush with jealousy. Vocally, Ben hits all kinds a lofty high notes with apparent ease, making this section quite a cracker, drenched in a placid melancholia!

The sprawling "Choices" is a straight forward, organ fueled piece that also incorporates rollicking piano sections and off-kilter drum fills with Ben singing with a sense of urgency (the Manning reference), the Hammond solo seeking to touch emotionally rather that technically, with background choir to add to the suspense. "Closer, closer and closer"?he intones.

The slick "Counting Chickens" suggest a different tangent altogether, jumpy piano leading the way in an instrumental showcase that hints at Geoff Downes' New Dance Orchestra or Alan Parsons Project, something he did on the previous album as well on the track "Dance". The bass guitar takes in a brief ray of the spotlight, fluttering rather effectively below the synth lead, leading the intricate web of keyboards into a majestic foray of sound and delicacy. Definitely a climactic track.

"Maybe" has the guest guitar of Marcus Taylor rasping ahead of the Bell onslaught, a rather rockier affair that has an overt dissonance not unlike Gentle Giant, the focus on the slippery guitar solo and the raspy, bluesy vocal that hints at Mike Patto (Spooky Tooth) . This is definitely not an overtly polished affair, which gives it a sense immediacy and natural flow that is most welcome.

The 9 minute "Everyday" is a wistful slice of what Ben does best, a temperate sonic zephyr guided by windswept lead and backing vocals, a serene pulse adorned with twinkling piano ripples and a permeating prog essence. Placid, hypnotic and deeply melancholic, this is perhaps the finest moment on the album, insistent synths lines a la Manfred Mann fighting with Hammond organ bravado. Utterly delicious.

Changing the pace with "Chasing Rainbows" was dynamically a good move but it's the only weak moment here, initially starting out as a simplistic song that would have benefited with a less sharper tone but that is only my opinion. That being said the piano and bass work make up for the lack of dynamism as the piano solo mid-section is drop-dead gorgeous and most unexpected. Ben struggles a bit with the vocal on occasion, which is not an easy one to begin with, demanding some acrobatics that may have proven to be too difficult to master.

Never one to falter, the all-piano jewel "From a Spark" reverts to an insanely beautiful passage that rekindles classical music of the highest order, a scintillating piece of memorable melody and dexterous playing. Loaded with elongated chords that resonate deeply, this is a masterful and never dull gem of a piece, stamping his talent as undeniable.

A nice epic farewell ends this opus, offering up the dozen minutes of the ELP tinged "Brand New Day" , having saved this fluid melancholy 'for a rainy day', adorned by rumbling bass undertow, fluffy piano undulations and eccentric guitar showcase. Tim Hall is another guest guitarist, who gets to unleash a long and furious solo that spirals, weaves, loops and swerves perfectly, the Hammond giving a strong push forward. Great finale.

As mentioned by other reviewers, Patchwork Cacophony is a very personal, under polished progressive rock manifestation that might not appeal to the overtly technical production fans but its deeply honest, heartfelt and well meaning. The slight and very occasional weaknesses here and there only serve to underline the true nature of Ben Bell's muse and craft. This is no 'cacophony' and definitely not 'patchwork'. On the other hand, if you are looking for perfection, good luck.

Lastly, the artwork is absolutely spectacular, making this a thoroughly entertaining package.

4 mugs

Report this review (#1672665)
Posted Monday, December 26, 2016 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Patchwork Cacophony's 2016 album is FIVE OF CUPS and is once again a polished production of symphonic prog mastered by Ben Bell. Bell plays most instruments but is joined by vocalist Emily Bell, and guitarists Tim Hall and Marcus Taylor.

This latest release is a concept album about fairy tales mimicking life until the fairy tale dies and reality sets in; people chase rainbows which is a dream never realised and finally we live happily ever after, as long as we don't spend our future looking backwards because you don't get a chance to press rewind, rather you must wake up and live for today. A good message and one I can relate to.

The music is permeated with lashings of Hammond organ which is a sheer delight. Mellotron and synth provide a soothing scape and there are layers of guitars.

The opening 16 minute multi movement suite is an epic in 4 parts. It is a beautiful adventure into instrumental breaks fractured by vocal parts and progressive time signatures.

There are some excellent songs on this album. Choices is a highlight with slamming Hammond and wonderful vocals.

The 9 minute mini epic Every Day is also a great track with haunting piano motif and captivating lyrics. The bass line is also well executed. The extended break has a progressive feel that locks into an odd sig sounding like Camel or Eloy. Glorious reverberating Hammond pounds in, and I love that swirling synth. Then it moves back to the main melody. Definitely the best track at this point.

Chasing Rainbows has a rhythm akin to Yes' Roundabout. Later it moves to a piano concerto interlude. Ben Bell is great on keyboards.

From a Spark is a pretty keyboard instrumental with a piano waltz sig. I like the flourishes up and down the keys like Keith Wakemans style.

Brand New Day closes proceedings with a 12 minute mega track. Opening with a shimmering Hammond and then breaking into a strong rhythm. The lyrics are thought provoking about the years passing by, missing the chance and losing the dream once the moment is gone. Yet if we wake up and stop worrying about yesterday we can embrace a brand new day, with new dreams and new hopes. I love that message, it's uplifting and soul stirring. The music is also uplifting here, a catchy melody locks in before an instrumental break dominated by piano motifs and synth lines. The tempo quickens as hope is injected. At 6 minutes the music stops and reverberates into an ethereal hum and lonely piano. The melancholy atmosphere builds into a steady rhythm and the vocals conclude your story's halfway through, but you have more chapters left to write. Life goes on. The music continues with Hammond chops and guitar embellishes building into a final statement.

Overall FIVE OF CUPS is a great album with a positive message. There is enough here to recommend it to those who like melodic prog and especially if you're a Hammond addict like me. Grab this one and see for yourself.

Report this review (#1673923)
Posted Friday, December 30, 2016 | Review Permalink

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