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Marc Carlton - Reflex Arc CD (album) cover


Marc Carlton

Crossover Prog

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4 stars From the opening notes of One to the gentle dying away of Sixteen's final echoes, Reflex Arc demands the listener's full attention. and the listener is not disappointed, being given the opportunity to travel on a journey through human perception, reaction and reflection.

Each track on this wholly instrumental album explores a facet of consciousness - a grand aim that may seem ambitious but that is fully and beautifully executed, with the artist performing all parts himself with his usual virtuosity.

Those who fully give themselves up to this aural experience will be rewarded with immersion in magnificent vistas of emotion, the lack of track 'titles' as such encouraging the listener to explore their own reflexes and reactions to the music. I found my own response to the album immediate and powerful, encountering sonic landscapes ranging from the poignant, romantic, and heart-wrenchingly melodic of Four, through the dark, exploratory, searching insistence of Ten, and the triumphant, impassioned force of Fifteen.

On this album Marc Carlton has achieved musical eloquence seldom encountered. His music is affecting: intense, touching, and ultimately vital.

This record is no more and no less than the soundtrack to human experience - hyperbole does not apply. Listen and re-experience how wonderful, beautiful, direct and essential music can be.

Report this review (#53119)
Posted Monday, October 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Reflex Arc is one of my favorite albums, and a surprisingly successful use of music for narrative purposes. The sixteen tracks--which are numbered, not titled, emphasizing that they're parts of a whole--bring across a very clear "storyline," with a variety of moods and a wide set of recurring themes and styles. It's something like a film soundtrack, but released from the mundane duty of inflecting individual shots. Instead, the music is its own subject, and each passage depicts an "event" without ties to anything more concrete.

Musically, Reflex Arc has many inspired moments, but more importantly, the larger context gives these moments a sense of purpose. Tracks like "Four," "Ten," and "Thirteen" evoke detailed emotional states, but they aren't mere isolated objects of beauty. Like events in fiction or reality, they influence and contrast what comes after them.

Carlton creates an impressive range of effects with guitar and keyboard. There's often an appealing feeling of musical meritocracy, a willingness to use whatever techniques fit his dramatic intent. At times, the limits of his tools become apparent, though. In an album where the deliberate feel of the notes is important for the effect, some of the more automatic synths are jarring. This is a minor point, though, and it's only relevant to a few tracks.

I'd recommend Reflex Arc to anyone interested in the storytelling potential of music, and anyone looking for some progressive improvisation and artistry.

Report this review (#82325)
Posted Friday, June 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
The Rain Man
4 stars Marc Carlton is as underground as you can get when it comes to who's heard of his music. But unlike some bands/artists that lay undiscovered for a reason, i.e. they're rubbish. Marc's music is so far from mainstream, it's like visiting the remote parts of Greenland; endless beautiful landscapes with not a McDonalds in sight. It is a place where few people ever venture but for those that do, are rewarded with an unforgettable and mesmerising experience.

This is the 5th album proper Marc has made or the 7th if you include soundtracks. In true Mike Oldfield style, Carlton plays all the instruments appearing on the album, including a range of different guitars including 12 string, classical, electric and acoustic. This works well in particular where the guitars are layered with the different guitar lines on top of each other to achieve a fuller sound. The synthesiser is the other key instrument on the album which he creates some very nice effects. There are some tracks which are more synth focused than guitar which I thought brought a nice balance to the album as a whole.

Reflex Arc has a nice flow about it and there are no parts which feel like they are out of place. The vibe I get when listening to the album is one of peace and harmony. That is until track fourteen comes around! If you do reach the dreamlike state like I did when listening to this album and I still get caught out. Track 14 will certainly wake you up, as the electric guitars really kick in before mellowing out again almost creating a kind of soft opera singing style effect using the synths in track 16. For me it acts as a great closure for the album.

Although divided into 16 tracks, named 'one' through to 'sixteen'. It is in effect one long track called the album title 'Reflex Arc'. With the state of the record industry these days failing to take in to account tracks do last more than 5 minutes, never mind the 65 minutes that this song lasts. If it was released as one track, it would be classed as an EP, which really doesn't feel right, hence why the album was split into different tracks. However in saying that, the tracks do act as good reference points for the album. For example instead of saying "Yeah the bit from 32 minutes to 34 minutes and 21 seconds, the guitar playing is legendary"; you can say "Track six is has got some amazing guitar parts in it".

In this day and age, talent like this is wasted on most people, as they are not willing to give the time or the effort to unlock this gem and appreciate it in its true splendour. I think it is one of those albums that takes a lot of listens to fully appreciate. In saying that, I feel that the album does work on a very simple level as background music too. Although doing it this way is a start to unlocking the album, I think you really need to sit down and listen to it properly to really get into it. To explain this I'll go back to the Greenland analogy I used at the start. Thousands of people every year go over Greenland every year on planes. For those who look out the window, almost everyone I come across looks at the view in awe. People know this kind of place exists and realise this where the true beauty lies, but are too attracted to the more popular/easy to get to destinations which are safe, established holiday locations. They don't see it as a challenge to get to Greenland; in fact most people would not even give it a second thought. The people, who do indeed see it as challenge and actually go, are the ones that in the end get the full reward.

Overall a very satisfying album which I doubt I'll ever be able to unlock fully. But for me it is all about the journey in trying to get there is what this album is really all about.

Report this review (#135495)
Posted Thursday, August 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This fifth solo effort by UK musician and composer Marc Carlton is a rather nice effort; perhaps not the best music made for attentive listening but superb as relaxing and contemplative uses.

Mellow, melodic explorations is the deal, and the compositions are mostly performed by synths and guitars; with the latter as the most prominent instrument. Carefully crafted melodic themes are served up by the guitar, and quite often additional layers of guitars are utilized to deliver details and nuances, some soloing or a few musically contrasting elements. On select occasions the dark remnants of an electric guitar will sludge by; creating a dark, gritty an ominous sounding atmosphere for those brief moments.

The synths are mostly used in a subservient manner on the album; although floating synth layers or the piano is used to open quite a few tunes they will most times fade to background as guitars take over. Apart from that, synths and keyboards most times resides in the back or middle of the mix, delivering rich, majestic features with the same ease as careful and fragile moods.

It's an intriguing affair, but more so for those who are looking for music for meditation and relaxing than concentrated listening. Worth checking out if this sounds like something one might appreciate.

Report this review (#202241)
Posted Monday, February 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars In Reflex Arc Carlton continues the shift away from earlier minimalism that began with Still. In sound Reflex Arc is immediately more accessible than its predecessors - more fleshed out, more richly textured - but it would be a mistake to infer from this that the themes are proportionally simpler or more superficial.

In fact, Reflex Arc is Carlton's Ulysses, it has a stream-of-consciousness feel which allows it to meander and reflect on itself whilst remaining deeply touching and poetic, brimming with all the different faces of human response. Carlton's choice not to name the tracks is not a lazy one, it is a clever move from a musician who believes in music as it removes the possibility of audience bias, instead forcing the listener to pay attention to the musical language itself to interpret each track.

The album quickly moves from deeply peaceful opening tracks through landscapes of exhilarating wonder to the more turbulent, flighty middle section and this is where the album's increased accessibility breaks down somewhat. The music becomes demanding, alternately building and breaking down, reprising earlier phrases in completely different tones. Parallel to the stream-of-consciousness idea I think you can also make a good argument for interpreting the album as an aural coming-of-age, from early naivete through disappointment, doubt, and the discovery of reality to the eventual reaffirming of vitality in the determined, joyous mission-statement that is Fifteen.

I would heartily recommend this album particularly as an introduction to Carlton's music. It is an excellent way to challenge and hone one's listening skills in preparation for some of his more obscure work!

Report this review (#229902)
Posted Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Contains some fine numbers

Released in 2005, a year after "Still", "Reflex arc" may perhaps be labelled as an abstract concept album. This is the only album to date not released by Marc through his own label, "Reflex arc" being distributed by Musea Records. The track titles give no hint as to the themes which link the tracks, as they simply restate the track numbers in narrative form from "One to "Sixteen".

According to Carlton, "this project carries the multifaceted theme of human responses; some unconscious, some we are aware of, but all of which make up who we are." The relative brevity of most of the tracks confirms that the album is intended to be heard as a complete piece, similar to many of the works of Carlton's inspiration Mike Oldfield. As with the work ethic of Oldfield, Marc once again plays all the instruments here, the emphasis being on guitars and keyboards.

Right from the opening track, ("One"!) it is apparent that Marc is seeking to distance himself from the new age nuances which were a feature of previous albums. Here, improvisation plays a much greater part, at least in the compositional phase. The sounds and themes are far more varied this time, with little in the way of overt repetition.

Highlights include "Three", where choral keyboard effects and melodic guitars combine in a beautiful cacophony of sound, and "Six" which sounds like it could have been lifted from Oldfield's "The songs of distant earth", the lead guitar here being particularity effective. The album is brought to the perfect conclusion with the ethereal "sixteen".

Overall, while this album has obvious structural similarities to the work of Mike Oldfield, I actually find it reminds me more of some of Anthony Phillips best works such as "Slow dance". The music here is that of a talented composer who is able to work within his own strict quality controls to create an album of great beauty and imagination. Recommended.

Report this review (#301429)
Posted Friday, October 1, 2010 | Review Permalink

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