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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars As the title would have you guess, this is group's fourth album (although one of them is an EP), the now quartet is left without a drummer, even if the departing Dave Murray fills in when needed. The quartet develops their usual ethnic-sounding Avant-prog with the gypsy/East European blatant influences dominating some tracks and much more subtle on others. Their brand of Avant-prog is wide-scoped with pure folk (the opening Greek trad piece) with some wild horns (such as King Krab Battle, my fave), mixes quite easily electric and acoustic instruments, a twist of Flamenco (in the lengthy Hardball), some early (almost doo-wop) RnR (Crystal Blue), some Death/Black/Trash-metal (Jungle Warfare the bad Bodyslam) and rather surprising, it is sung, which is not that often the case.

Although Estradasphere's music is a bit out of the ordinary, it is also nothing groundbreaking, being a cross between some of Quebec's Avant (Miriodor, Rouge Ciel), some of Sweden's Avant-folk (In The Labyrinth and Ensemble Nimbus), Finland's crazy scene (Alamaailman Vasarat and Uzva or Belgium (Cro-Magnon). But nevertheless this is a very good album, with some often-excellent moments, but on the whole it is just another Avant-prog album, with its shares of surprises, but they are not necessarily good.

After this album, wind player Whooley will leave the group, being replaced by two new members making the next album with a very different line up: a sextet where the remaining Harris, Schimmel and Smolens are only half of the group. As for this album, I can't help but feeling that the group is out for a too demonstrative representation of their "huge abilities" and passe-partout easiness, in short: a bit of a show-off attitude that actually un-serves them a bit.

Report this review (#117290)
Posted Wednesday, April 4, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars I am really pleased with this album. This was my first Estradaspere album on my list and i have to say i am happy with it. Although i have heard other songs by them before this album that were on Buck Fever that i really enjoyed, i liked the way they took this album. Soft, it had feeling and life. It's an all around good album. One suggestion for first time Estradasphere listeners, this one is not to be listened to first. Buck Fever and It's understood should be a better starting point. You need to grow into this one.
Report this review (#121351)
Posted Tuesday, May 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars To this reviewer, despite them employing a great cast of multi-instrumentalists and touching on positive influences - particularly Zappa, Oingo Boingo, rock Andaluz and the traditional folk music of any number of countries - Estradasphere's releases always seem like tastelessly absurd and eclectic compilations; in order to enjoy their albums you would need to share their peculiar senses of humour as well as have a taste for their distinctly hit and miss music. Quadropus is no different and there's barely a recognisable thread to the songs to suggest they need to occupy the same CD - had they been released as singles, Estradasphere would look markedly less avant-garde. ;P

The individual tracks are somewhat less experimental than the audaciously assorted way they are presented as a package; the upbeat folk song that serves as an opener is initially refreshing but simply poodles along the same sequence, gradually tiring in vibrancy until its close. Next we have a pseudo-techno-pop vignette seemingly crafted entirely from vocal samples - this song, as well as not being very good the first time and downright tiring on repeat plays, requires that you're in on the Estradasphere all-embracing genre joke. Basically the instrumental version of Weird Al.

"King Krab Battle" is a great piece of filmic orchestral (if medieval) marching score morphing into brassy funk-rock and although it dips somewhat around halfway in, it's the first piece on "Quadropus" that manages to hold this reviewer's attention. An album with tunes like this one throughout would be a much more satisfying listen than the somewhat frustrating pick'n'mix Estradasphere have assembled for us, as evidenced by the next two dire tracks, being a short, inexpertly-sung twelve-string ballad and a woefully overextended piece of ethnic jazz-rock which mostly serves as a bed for a solo that doesn't quite manage to take off.

And so it goes on; an album that offers up one homogenised genre after another yet doesn't allow you to settle thanks to the disjointedness of the whole affair. If you're looking for a CD of stand-alone songs from various genres, each somewhat simplified and made more approachable, then an album by a band such as Estradasphere or Secret Chiefs 3 would be an acceptable purchase - but aren't we already at saturation point with countless Zappa albums, Mr. Bungle's "California" and the more nuanced works of Miriodor? Distinctly second tier.

Report this review (#136330)
Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Estradasphere's 3rd (or 4th, if you count their EP) release is the last we will have with Dave Murray and John Whooley, which leaves the band much at a loss for members. While this album certainly isn't bad, it lacks the flare and creativity of their first 2 CDs.

While there are some wonderful tracks, there are those really don't add anything to the album. Also, the humour has all but left the feel to the album, and while there are some instances, Body Slam always makes me smile when I listen to it, the zany humor has been taken from the overall sound. It also seems to try and rehash some of their older material, Hardball almost sounds like Hunger Strike Revisited, and some tracks just aren't that interesting, like Speck.

However, there are some wonderful tracks to make up for that which isn't all that interesting. King Krab Battle is a wonderfully cheesy Big Band Jazz piece, with some heavy metal near the end, and songs like Junge Warfare and Crystal Blue remind the us of older Estradasphere material. Mekapses Yitsonia is a wonderful folky piece that changes into a hard rocking track halfway through, and Dubway is an interesting accapella piece, by the one and onely Whoohoolicious.

A solid, if somewhat sub-par output by one of my favorite bands.

3 Stars.

Report this review (#141058)
Posted Saturday, September 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Can you unscramble an egg?

This is the question Estradasphere has been posed, or at least try to answer, on their Quadropus (with a wicked picture of the green 'pus fellow on the cover). This cover does look cool, and reminds me of some sort of jade ruin stone, or amulet, something epic-looking, yet sinister and mysterious. It is the harbinger of the cover of the album, with Estradasphere trying to de-mystify their traditional hodge-podge of genres.

The result is that, if taken alone, each song can sound semi-serious to its respective genre. Together, they add a whole new dynamic, and they sort of compliment each other. To really have fun with this album, you must hear other Estradasphere and see how much they meld genres, and switch them abruptly in the middle of a song. Otherwise, you might not really get it, in quotes for lack of a better phrase, and then I don't know really how this album'd sound to you.

Anyhoot, individual track time. Actually this section might seem a little vestigial for Quadropus, as the title of each track gives a comprehensive enough description of it. Digressing from that, the album kicks off with Mekapses Yitonisa, which is a Greek/Gypsy Roots/Folk song and also happens to be one of the better tracks of the album. It is very upbeat, and is a style that Estradasphere can do, while still putting their own flair to it. Next up is Dubway, a beat-box experimental techno thingy, with vocal samples. Not very complex, but something I really haven't heard the band do, and if not good, is cool. Then up comes King Krab Battle which contains some smooth sax, and sounds like a jazz version of a battle theme of a video game. It clocks in at 8 and a half minutes, so it's good there's meat to it. Note that was one of the better (if not best) tracks on the album.

Next are a few jazz rock pieces, and that's the point. A few of them. I guess Estradasphere lost that whole, different singular genre each track thing, as these sound all similar, and should've really just been called a suite. I must admit, though Hardball does a feat, in that it seems eternal, like it will go on forever. It's 13 and a half minutes, which I could tolerate, but this song drags on. and on.

On the other side of this long piece is Crystal Blue, which could be my favorite track off the album. It's a surf rock song with all the cliches of the genre. Think Back in the USSR, the song it reminds me a lot of. The soaring guitar, drums, the backing vocals, all work perfectly. Best case scenario for isolating the genres they play.

One of my biggest gripes with not only the album, but the band itself is exemplified in the next two song, and that is this: PLEASE, stop doing that metal, okay? The growling vocals, the crunching guitar, doesn't work for the band. At all. STOP IT.

Finally, Quadropus ends with At Least We'd Have Today, which seems daunting at 9 minutes in length. It starts off as the most trite, frivolous love song with the most banal lyrics ever. And it doesn't develop over the course of the song. At around 4 minutes it ends. Then the obligatory silence, and the bonus track, which is the same song, except the lyrics, while sounding identical, are switched up a bit, to make it funnier. It ends with the most overpronunciation of the word Today I've ever heard. Then more silence, like 2 or 3 minutes worth, then some sound clip, then the end.

I felt underwhelmed, it didn't really work. Some of the songs are great, there are some experiments, and just more of the same with some. The album was also missing Estradasphere's sense of humor for the most part, and that really detracted from it. It seems like they fluffed up the album to increase it's length and that makes it drag a bit. Overall, not a great place to start listening to Estradasphere. For fans of the band however, it's a fine addition once you've got some of their other works.

I couldn't sleep giving it two stars (as it does have some standouts, like Mekapses Yitonisa, King Krab, and Crystal Blue), but four stars seems like waaaaaaaaaaaay too much for it. Three stars is just dandy.

Report this review (#159596)
Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars Well boys, mark this one down as one of the 'must get' bands of modern prog. Neither they sounds like a clone of an earlier band; rather a mixture of different elements that all come together well.

They are classed under 'Avant-RIO', admittedly a genre I don't know a lot about, but using definitions outside of this they are a blend of Eastern / middle Eastern folk with jazz-rock fusion. death metal (unfortunately) and pop exploration. If I were to compare them to any band that came before, I would say Works-era Emerson Lake and Palmer, in that they sound like an eccentric cacophany of genre's that no-one else want's to touch, at least no one else in the prog world. As no one else in 1977 wanted to touch Rag-Time, Cabaret and the like, very few prog-bands in 2003 would mix Beach Boys send ups with Jazz-rock and Eastern folk music. Even, you wonder if they intended to be 'prog' at all, but that's okay, they're refreshing.

The first song is an interesting Eastern European folk song, it's interesting to hear in a world of organs and Heavy guitars. Th is is followed by one of my favourite songs on the album, 'Dubway'. Dubway is what I would call 'vocal techno', it's techno music but the beats and rhythms are all made by making/singing noises into the microphone. I think it must take a lot of skill to pull such a thing off so well, and actually turn it into an infectious piece of pop music. Followed by 'King Krab Battle', an interesting jazz-rock fusion piece, although there are moments when the song turns into a 'death-metal' song, and I can't see that as being a good mix. 'Speck' is a haunting ballad, like something the Moody Blues would have done in the late 60's (e.g. Candle of life), but it is done poorly. Needs better vocals, at least.

Then comes the highlight of the album, 'Hardball', a twisting turning long song that mixes various Eastern and sometimes middle Eastern folk with jazz-rock fusion, and gets up towards the 15 minute mark. Now I might have been complaining about Yes songs in the mid 70's being dragged out to 20 minutes and it was more of an exercise, and was a chore for the listener to sit through, and maybe some folks might think I'm not a real 'progger', and that may be true... but I enjoyed every minute of Hardball, enjoyed how it kept progressing and felt liek it was working towards something. Now if this song was 24 hours long, no problem! I'd call my workplace up sick and take the time to listen to it! I would sit down for the 24 hour duration and probably enjoy every minute of it. But ten minutes of Siberian Khatru is ten minutes too long.... sorry...

Hardball is followed up by a similar sounding 'Car Ride through Idealistic Ethiopia', though this song is a bit more psychedelic. Actually, it's a breath-taking piece of a mix of styles, and to demonstrate their abilites, they do this 'radio tuning' effect, to make it seem they are changing stations, and when they settle on a new station, it's a different style playing the same melodic theme as was present before they changed stations. So, with those two pieces, there is at least 20 minutes of excellent music.

They are followed by four shorter piece, Crystal Blue, an enjoyable but sloppy Early rock n roll meets Beach Boys tune, A couple of awful piece of 'Death-Metal'; 'Jungle Warfare' (Prog- Metal) and 'Bodyslam' (straight metal) and a Beach Boys ballad send-up 'At least we have today', though this is also sending up Van Morrison, I suspect. Sure, how it keeps restarting after minutes of silence is a bad idea, but the original 2 1/2 minutes is very enjoyable.

From the praise I was giving you may think I would give it ****, but in light of two terrible pieces of metal, I cannot rate any higher than ***. Jungle Warfare is worse for trying to be prog, it shows you can 'prog up' anything, so you could have 'progressive crap' or 'progressive traffic samples' or the like. At least 'Bodyslam' tries to be fun, now wasn't that what rock was suppose to be all about? Of forget that, that's such an old theory, went out-of- date in the early-90's....

But I have to admit, having heard this Estradasphere album, it made me want to go and reduce ratings I had given to bands such as Porcupine Tree and Transatlantic. On 'Quadropus', hear all those different instruments, so many... On a Transatlantic album it's just same old guitar/organ/synth combo, and the synths are strictly Banks/Wakeman retreads. So it's ncie to hear people who can bring more sounds to the table than what has already been.

Report this review (#338976)
Posted Tuesday, November 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
3 stars Here is the perfect example of a band that i really want to like more but they just lack an original edge to put them over the top for me. I immediately get that dejŠ vous feeling with the first track "Mekapses Yitonisa" which immediately puts me squarely in Middle Eastern influenced rock done much better by the Secret Chiefs 3. The fact is i've heard of this band for a long time and sampled a few tracks online and never been blown away but decided to take the plunge having found this fourth album QUADROPUS by ESTRADASPHERE at a ridiculously reasonable price at my local used music store. OK, so i took the plunge.

What i have found is that they fit perfectly on the Web Of Mimicry label for "mimicry' is really what they are all about except that unlike the bands they worship most, namely Mike Patton led Faith No More and Secret Chiefs 3, their influences are a little too pronounced on their sleeves and not weaved together in a brilliant manner. The frustration of this album is that everything is played extremely well and this is a very wonderful listen for every track takes you on a totally different musical journey, it's just that they don't manage to tie it together as beautifully as Mr Bungle and their other offshoots.

The second track actually brings The Manhattan Transfer to mind, while the third track "King Krab Battle" once again uses the SC3 as a template. Track four "Speck" follows the same SS3 although this template is translated into a Balkan Gypsy sound with outstanding instrumental interactions. "Hardball" is the longest track and excels at expanding the Balkan Gypsy sound into nooks and crannies of musicality hitherto unforeseen in the native culture of its origins but once again, this track sounds like an exact pathway that the SC3 would have conjured up.

At the end of the album we get a total change with "Crystal Blue" being a surf rock track that sounds like a hardcore Beach Boys song of the modern age. "Jungle Warfare" is an industrial death metal song that incorporates a nice sax solo and the finale "At Least We'd Have Today" finds the band doing their best Rage Against The Machine impression with some metal rap.

While i find everything on this album extraordinarily played and executed, i find zilch on this album to be very original. There are fine nuances of originality like jazz inclusions on board but each track just exemplifies styles of other artists that have been done much better by the original inventors. Having said that this is not an unpleasant album to listen to per se, but given the copycat approach displayed here i just can't give this album more than 3 stars. I realize that the SC3 similarities are because several members play in both bands but this isn't a satellite band of SC3 and i just wish they would create a distinct band sound since this is a different band.

Report this review (#1386070)
Posted Sunday, March 22, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's damn near impossible to follow up a great album, especially when it damn near breaks every single musical convention you can think of.

Yet I still think Estradasphere did themselves proud with "Quadropus".

Right away, the songs are more static with the genre changes. Sure the opener "Mekapses Yitonisa" showcases their typical eastern influences spiced up with disco and metal flavorings, but right away it's less spastic than say "Meteorite Showers" or "Millennium Child". Even so, the band still figures out different directions to go musically that they haven't tread before. "Dubway" is an a capella outing that features some nasty beatboxing skills and even some hints of Raga? A really cool song with very few equals out there.

"King Crab Battle" begins very dramatically, like something out of a movie before breaking out into some "Incredibles"-style action jazz (one of my favorite movie soundtracks ever BTW). Spice it up with some heavy distorted chords, as per tradition, and end with the same motif as the beginning, but better because death metal. "Speck" follows up with a softer, mysterious approach, with haunting vocals and spooky strings, a strangely serious track from a not very serious at all band.

"Hardball" is the monster on the album, beginning with a fierce falsetto, that classic detective "wakka-diga" guitar tone and back into the eastern dance motifs. It features extended jam sections, heavy distorted chords, mellow atmospheric passages and even a flamenco spot towards the finish. It's not as disjointed as previous Estradasphere songs (the transitions are much smoother and fewer and far between), but it also doesn't add anything new to their sound than we've previously heard before. Not saying that's a bad thing, but I believe that tends to be the biggest knock on this album following such a gamechanger like "Buck Fever".

"A Car Ride in Idealistic Ethiopia" sounds like something you'd hear in a Bond film (or Archer). Dramatic atmosphere, mysterious strings and sax, fitting music for a spy I think. Nothing super crazy but that's ok, because "Crystal Blue" is just a nod to 60's mod rock and surf rock, while "Jungle Warfare" is a death metal brawl and "Bodyslam" is basically Rage Against The Machine meets Beastie Boys meets WWE. It's basically a song you'd walk out to if you were a pro wrestler and you're just ready to kick ass everywhere. The closing track "At Least We Have Today" is a throwaway atmospheric ballad of sorts that's like 2 minutes long with a hidden track halfway through (even though it's basically part 2 of the same song with like two minutes of silence for some reason).

So it is as good as "Buck Fever"? Certainly not, it doesn't span the genre catalog as much and it's a bit more calm and restrained than its schizophrenic predecessors. But because of that, the songs feel even more like normal songs. Each song has its own identity. Sure, you can knock it for not being original, but what's the point. When you're a band that has set its standards so high like this, there's only so many genres, sounds and influences you can add to your repertoire. That's why I like the 60's homage "Crystal Blue", the mosh-pit inducing "Bodyslam" and the a capella "Dubway". It's a series of new and fresh sounds added to their typical menagerie of eastern dance rhythms with jazz and death metal chords.

Say what you want. It ain't no "Buck Fever", but it's still even more polished and focused. Each song has a stand alone identity that's memorable and, like any Estradasphere album, you'll never hear anything like this from any other artist anywhere (unless it's a John Whooley side project).

(side note: check out the Santa Cruz All Stars on the internet Archive, Whooley joins guys from STS9 and Disco Biscuits among others any played only 7 shows with completely unrehearsed improvised jams, they're awesome. They even had an actual DJ scratching away).

Report this review (#2270268)
Posted Wednesday, October 16, 2019 | Review Permalink

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