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Lands End - The Lower Depths CD (album) cover

THE LOWER DEPTHS

Lands End

Psychedelic/Space Rock


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Dan Bobrowski
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars First of all, when it comes to getting ones monies worth, Lands End really comes through. Two discs of top-notch progressive rock played with passion, skill and a keen ear to melody and nuance, and more than a few surprises. Lands End pulls out all the stops.

Interestingly, Lands End has not been together in the same room since 1998. The Lower Depths was recorded from various parts of the globe. Las Vegas, UK, Rio de Janeiro... a very global album, no? Not all of the tunes are strictly Lands End, in a "band" sense. Some collaborators were called in to paint their signatures on the overall portrait of modern prog. All to good effect, I must say. The Morrigan's Cathy Alexander adds some smooth, silky tones over Fred's deft keyboards on Digital Signatures and New World Order. Francisco Neto steps aside for Sphere3's guitarissimo, Steve Anderson, who duets with Cathy on New World Order and solos exclusively on Indoctrinated. Bruce Soord adds his Pineapple Thief touches to a radio- friendly Why Should I? This tune could pull down some chart attention on the college circuit. Bruce and Cathy add a certain quality that should open Lands End to a wider group of prog fans. To add another "strange" note, Why Should I? was penned by Francisco Neto and Jeff McFarland and neither appear on the track... Limelight dodgin' and open minded proggers? Whoddathunk, eh!

Jeff McFarland, one of my fav modern prog vocalists, makes his presence heard through the Lower Depths. Jeff combines alternative vocal timbres with prog's lyrical wit. Making statements, both political and emotional, with heartfelt zest. You can feel the belief in his words.

Some older Lands End tunes resurface on disc 2. Eyes of Venus and This Addiction brush the shoulder lint away as they breathe fresh air. Acquiesce to the Martinets Precept, clocking in at 53 minutes, shows off Lands End's penchant for the epic. A kitchen sink tune, which allows each member the space to explore his craft in depth, or should I say Lower Depth, in an open format. This track requires a huge amount of the listeners time and should be heard a few times to capture it's grandeur. Massive, yet compelling. Neto's parts should garner special attention. The guy ROCKS with wild abandon.

Recommended to lovers of the EPIC, creative nature of progressive rock. Lands End delivers in spades.

To Fred: thanks for the words, you keep prog rockin'.

Report this review (#53254)
Posted Monday, October 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Lands End's sixth album release is a double CD affair, also being the one hundred and forty second release on the Cyclops label. Cyclops was started by Malcolm Parker in 1990 as an off shoot of his mail order company GFT. Over the years Malcolm has nurtured along the careers of many fine bands, including 'Grey Lady Down', 'Grace', and 'Nice Beaver' amongst others. Some with great success who have gone on to bigger and perhaps not always greater things such as 'Mostly Autumn', some have burned brightly, before imploding like 'Abbifinoosty'. But nothing will stop Malcolm from keeping on trying, as if you cut his particular stick of rock it would have progressive stamped all the way through it.

'Lands End' fit the category of progressive rock perfectly; the music can be best described as mind expanding. The band came together under the 'Lands End' banner in 1992 when Fred Hunter joined Mark Lavalle in his band and forged an immediate song writing partnership. By 1993 mercurial guitarist Francisco 'Kiko' Neto and vocalist Jeff McFarland had been brought in to the band, and the way was clear for what should have been a startling successful career in rock music.

Their debut album was released on their own independent label in 1994 'Pacific Coast Highway' - a remarkable journey into the land of progressive music. Consisting of six songs, one of which is just over two minutes long, whereas the title track weighs in at over fifteen minutes, it also includes the Lands End classic 'The Last Word'.

The longer the band stayed together the further their song writing abilities grew with all four members of the band now taking their share of the responsibilities. The American rock scene being in the doldrums somewhat at this time, it was necessary for the American Lands End to get themselves over the pond to sign up with British label Cyclops, a perfect match up. More albums were to follow: 'Terra Serranum' (1995), 'An Older Land' (1996) a collection of live and re-recorded older material, 'Natural Selection' (1997) another highlight. Then a live album 'Drainage' (1997). As 'Lands End' have only played about twenty five live shows in their entire career this was something of a treasure for their die hard fans.

1998 was not a good year for 'Lands End', although the albums were selling well, with all the band members having young families, it was still necessary for all the band members to ply their trade in other fields apart from music to keep roof over head and bread on the table. This meant in some cases relocation, so geographically 'Lands End' ceased to exist, although all of the parts remained friends, all four putting parts onto Fred Hunter's next musical project 'Transience' releasing 'Sliding' (1999) and 'Primordial' (2003). Both were good albums, but again without much live representation, they were not exactly setting the charts alight.

Now miraculously seven years after all the four members of 'Lands End' were in one room together we get a new 'Lands End' album. With Fred Hunter coordinating everything from his home base whilst the others literally phone their parts in. Do not be put off by this as they still sound like a very tight unit, and you would never know when listening to this album that it had taken five years to come to fruition, and had been recorded in such diverse places as Yeovil UK, Las Vegas Nevada USA, and Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

Originally supposed to be a single CD, Malcolm Parker managed to persuade Fred Hunter to add a bonus CD onto the original 'The Lower Depths'. The second CD is called 'Plundering The Depths'.

It is without doubt the best 'Lands End' album so far. There are a few changes that have occurred over the years, but this has been made an advantage. When certain musicians were not available to do their parts friends were brought in to fill the gaps, and this has only added to the depth and texture of the music.

After a little dabbling with 'An Accident' which opens the album up, we get the first epic 'Digital Signatures', a Hunter/Lavallee song, which has all the trademarks of 'Lands End'. The other two musicians on the song are Bruce Soord from 'Vulgar Unicorn' and 'Pineapple Thief' on lead guitar, and the amazing voice of Cathy Alexander from folk/rock band 'The Morrigan' on lead vocals. Cathy Alexander sings on 'Digital Signatures' which clocks in at over fourteen minutes long and on 'The Lower Depths' major epic 'A New World Order' which comes in at over twenty four minutes, so you get nearly forty minutes of Cathy Alexander's dulcet velvet tones for your buck. That alone is worth the money for this CD.

As Cathy Alexander's voices drifts off after the opener, next up is more familiar territory with Jeff McFarland taking over vocal duties, whilst Mark Lavalee puts the sticks to the drums. A drummer always has a better time the more pomp and circumstance there is to the music, and let me tell you that Mark Lavalee is really enjoying making these recordings. You can hear his smile coming out of the grooves.

Meanwhile, Fred Hunter plays all the other instruments on this song. 'Why Should I?' is the first contribution from Francisco Neto on the album, although he still does not make a musical entrance as he does not play a note. Instead he co-wrote the song with Jeff McFarland, who does not appear on the song either, as it is sung in plaintive terms by Bruce Soord. Certainly no clash of egos between these progressive rockers, what ever sounds best do.

'Hope Springs' eternal is a great 'Lands End' song sung by Jeff McFarland. Still, no guitar work from Francisco Neto though. To make up for this the epic 'A New World Order' features the guitar work of Steve Anderson. Steve Anderson is the axe slinger in 'Sphere3' and was also in 'Grey Lady Down'. To hear more of Steve Anderson's wall flattening guitar work have a listen to the 'Grey Lady Down' live album 'The Time Of Our Lives' (1998).

To close the first CD is a nice little Jeff McFarland song, a fitting close.

The second CD, 'Plundering the Depths', starts off with one of two songs brought out and dusted off from the Lands End scrap book: 'Eyes Of Venus' (1995) and 'This Addiction' (1996). In between is a good 'Lands End' rocker 'Indoctrinated', again featuring Steve Anderson on guitars.

There is also a little bit of nonsense called 'The Philosophy Of Containers 2' which takes longer to read than it does to listen too, clocking in at just 23 seconds. Quite the reverse of the last number, 'Acquiesce To The Martinets Precept', which thunders in at fifty three minutes. Every facet of 'Lands End' and progressive rock are shown off during this time. If people say music cannot be fascinating, have a listen to this, there are so many colours, shades, emotions and depths to this music that it bears repetitive listening.

It also ably demonstrates why the rest of the band were quite happy to wait for Francisco Neto to send his guitar parts. At times here his guitar playing is simply jaw dropping. A fitting climax to a marvellous album.

I hope this will not be the last 'Lands End' album, or for that matter I hope we hear more from all those participating on this album. Malcolm Parker should be given a hearty slap on the back for his wonderful Cyclops label. If you would like to know more about Cyclops and its mail order service GFT, please look up their very extensive website at www.gft-cyclops.co.uk. Their delivery service is the fastest in the west.

Report this review (#54049)
Posted Sunday, October 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars After a long hiatus since the last studio recording (Natural Selection from 1997), I think it's fair to say it is the band's best release so far. Production in general was improved as well as song writing and band performance. A great album from beginning to end. Intricate melodies and great synth sounds from Mr. Hunter. Thanks for technology, the band was able to record this great album, even being continents apart. It took a long time to record and release, but it was worth the wait, totally worth. Cathy Alexander's (new guest singer) voice reminds Jon Anderson, and he sings the two longest songs in the album ("Digital signatures" and "A new world order"). Digital signatures is a great song, maybe my favorite in the whole album, followed by "Hope springs eternal". Bruce Soord from Pineapple Thief is another guest member helping out on guitars. It takes a lot of sacrifices release prog music, and I know this album was no exception. Congratulations to Fred, Mark, Jeff and Kiko for a job well done. Hope you guys do not surrender. This is a great album and you should be proud of it. Spread the word !
Report this review (#54167)
Posted Monday, October 31, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is an excellent prog double CD. It is hard to believe these guys can put such superb music together without being in the same studio together. That is a tribute to Fred Hunter. I will not go into the band's history, as it is available above.

The first CD starts with "An Accident..." which flows into the absolutely superb "Digital Signatures". My CD player got stuck on this track, as I kept repaeting it. Fred's keyboards are fantastic, which is also true with "Behind The Iron Gate". Mark Lavalee's drums are really in synch on this track. "Why Should I?" is a sofeter rock track with real neat guitar. "Hope Springs Eternal" is just a flat-out great ballad. " A New World Order" is a 24 minute epic, starting as a ballad, and getting quite a bit uptempo. CD 1 ends with "Believe In What", another soft ballad with great guitar.

CD 2 is a real nice bonus. Tracks 1, 2 and 4 continue the enjoyment (track 3 is 26 seconds), Track 5 "Acquiesce To The Martinets Precept" is a 53 minute epic-jam session, where the band gets to show off all their talent. I was really impressed with the percussion on this track. The mood swings often and It all comes to a great crescendo.

I highly recommend this CD to everyone. "Digital Signatures" alone is worth the purchase price. These guys are great musicians and deserve to be a major player in the Prog community

Report this review (#60732)
Posted Sunday, December 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars I bought this cd on the back of Malcolm Parker saying it was brilliant and it is. The different vocals and style of songs do not disrupt the enjoyment of the two cd's. It is one of those cd's that hit you straight away making it permanently left in your cd player. I bought 2 other cd's at the time and they have not had a look in yet. Let's hope the next one doesn't take so long.
Report this review (#65453)
Posted Thursday, January 19, 2006 | Review Permalink
tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I have been a fan of Lands End since their very first album, the charming and very sincere "Pacific Coast Highway" back in 1993, despite certain amateurish tendencies when compared to the technologically wealthy powerhouse legend, Pink Floyd. This multi-national musical friendship has made some wonderful albums since, namely Terra Serranum (1995) and Natural Selection (1996). But keeping together a French Canadian drummer, a Brazilian guitarist, an American singer and a transplanted Brit keyboard-bassist is not an easy chore what with family and day-job obligations. Hence, too many quiet years went by with sheer silence from these talented musicians but in 2005, the wait was finally worth it with this extensive 2 CD that has revived their status as ongoing prog stalwarts. The first CD "The Lower Depths" considers the latest configuration of Lands End bringing in some fine outside help such as inventive vocalist Cathy Alexander of The Morrigan, guitar slingers Bruce Soord of Pineapple Thief/Vulgar Unicorn and Steve Anderson from Sphere in replacement of Francisco Neto. Over an hour of masterful compositions, with two long epics liberally featuring all the newbies, first with the glittering modern prog of "Digital Signatures" starring Hunter's signature key work, weaving a simply astonishing Alexander vocalization and a typical dastardly Soord solo, as well as "A New World Order", a 24 minute three piece suite that would make a Saville Row tailor blush, chock full of artistic prowess from all the players, spotlight firmly aimed at Steve Anderson's slowly building and sizzling guitar circle ("It's musical haute couture, madame Progue"). There is little here to dislike for the same consistent reasons as before: the noncommercial, very personal adventure continues with the same aplomb, worthy of our patience. Even the shorter pieces exude a distinct quality that certainly strikes a deep chord, such as the unbridled moody simplicity of "Behind the Iron Gates", the psychedelic-pop dreaminess of "Why Should I?" oddly penned by Neto and singer Jeff McFarland both of whom do not appear on the track, replaced by supremely talented Bruce Soord or even the melancholic "Hope Springs Eternal" with its endless cascades of atmospherics emanating from Hunter's keys, the beseeching vocals hinting at some late model Talk Talk album, traversed by a simple synthesizer solo that needs little added drama. The second CD "Plundering of the Depths" is more a series of past recordings that stayed archived with particular mention of oldies "Eyes of Venus" a much improved remix from 1995 and the synth-bass driven "This Addiction" from 1996. Though some perfectionists severely dismiss any kind of "old tapes found in the attic featuring extended meaningless jams", the truth is that some super-jam bands deserve to express what they do best and the gargantuan and pantagruelic 53 minute behemoth " Acquiesce to the Martinets Precept" surely highlights those qualities that make this band so special with a mesmerizing ride, replete with insane improvisations from both Francisco Neto on shrieking guitar and Fred Hunter on a vast array of keyboards (for you perverted fans of Taurus pedals: this is an ORGY!). Drummer extraordinaire Mark Lavallée unashamedly displays his Michael Giles influences and Jeff vocalizes with total abandon. Overblown, pompous and exalted? You bet and thank you. After listening to over 2 hours of this amazing testament to prog patience, I can only rejoice in the knowledgeable soothing of one ancient, tried and true Italian adage" "Che va piano, va sano" and sit back in continued proggy amazement. 4.5 slowly sifting hourglasses
Report this review (#163720)
Posted Tuesday, March 11, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars LANDS END's most recent studio album is a double with the first disc coming in at over 65 minutes and the second disc over 71 minutes.That's a lot of music. As usual the enviroment is the subject matter with this California band. Some guests here including Cathy Alexander from the Folk band THE MORRIGAN on vocals, but more importantly to me we also get the great Bruce Soord on guitar for two tracks, and he sings also on one of those. I must admit i've always had some issue with this band. Either the sound quality or the poor sounding vocals, thankfully this sounds fine but I must admit that I don't like the female vocals or the regular singer Jeff McFarland. So yes this is a long freaking recording to sit through which i've done about 5 times now. I really like the cover art though.

"Digital Signatures" kicks in before a minute followed by a beat. Female vocals as it settles before 3 1/2 minutes. Synths before 7 minutes give us a Neo-Prog flavour. It settles with guitar a minute later. "Behind The Iron Gates" opens with birds singing and they hang around for some time as the music continues. "Why Should I?" is the only track i like and Bruce sings the lyrics and plays some guitar on it.

"Hope Springs Eternal" opens with synths washing in. They leave as vocals and piano come in around 2 minutes. Lots of synths late. "A New World Order" features those female vocals.They come and go throughout this over 24 minute track. I like the bass after 4 minutes and the spacey synths too. A good sound 19 1/2 minutes in as well as the guitar comes to the fore but unfortunately it's brief. "Believe In What" features acoustic guitar and reserved vocals throughout. Disc two if anything is not as good. There is some good stuff in the over 53 minute "Acquiesce To The Martinets Precept". Of course at that length i'd hope so.

Fans only.

Report this review (#293534)
Posted Thursday, August 5, 2010 | Review Permalink

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