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TravelHouse - Mind Mapping CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.44 | 9 ratings

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3 stars REVIEW #14 - "Mind Mapping" by Travelhouse (2008). 08/10/2018

My random journey through the ever-expanding prog universe has brought me to an obscure work of crossover out of the Eastern European nation of Bulgaria. Travelhouse only released one album in its existence, that being the 2008 album "Mind Mapping". The band is led by keyboardist Kalin Tonev, whom alongside guitarist Biser Ivanov, are the two main musicians on this album, with the bass and drums largely being programmed in by Tonev. That being said there are two songs on this album that feature an organic quintet, but the bulk of the rhythm section on this album is coming from the computer.

Travelhouse markets itself as a crossover prog band which fuses many different styles from the genre. The two most evident faces of this band are the seventies-style synth based keyboard style of Tonev obviously drawn upon from genre legends such as Wakeman and Emerson, and the heavy industrial guitar riffs of Ivanov which will command comparisons to 90's-00's King Crimson or even Tool. Throughout the course of "Mind Mapping" these styles collide with each other; this is an entirely instrumental album outside of some programmed vocals in the beginning, and the band takes great care in ensuring each song has its own unique atmosphere. Travelhouse's music is very accessible on a musical level, with the band making use of catchy instrumental motifs which blend the old analog style of prog with a modern rock twist that is very refreshing to listen to.

The band starts off with the expositional "Route No.1" which opens in an ambient haze alongside an ad nauseam repetition of the track title. When the music hits, we are treated to a very heavy guitar riff with some rather simple and prodding drums in the background - typical of the drum machine. Tonev comes in with some well-placed and catchy synth interludes that diversify the soundscape in a good way. The band blends the old and new of prog with these dynamics; it's not a bad opening track at all. After about three minutes they make a hard shift, stopping the music entirely before embarking on a gradual reprise coda that brings us to the end where we segue into "A Guru In Love." This is a rather radical changeup from the rocking title track, as we drift away from dark and industrial themes and towards a more upbeat and symphonic style. Here we get a lot more of the synth in a rather fleeting tempo that evokes images of a Bohemian valley; one good thing Travelhouse does is aptly naming their pieces in a way that fits with the overall mood and tempo. Not only does this help the listener keep track of the movements the band goes through over the course of this hour-long album, but it also gives the listener a canvas on which to envision a subliminal theme to go along with the instrumental music. For example, we can imagine a more psychedelic landscape on this tune. While the band is notably doing work on this tune, the overall motif is retained over the course of almost seven minutes, which rather tapered my interest as I dug into the middle portion of this one. I feel that Travelhouse is definitely better off in that industrial fusion groove that we saw on "Route", and at this point I was sort of rooting for the band to return to those motifs later on in the album. My request is partially granted with the third track "Black Coffee Mornings" which features more of that burly guitar. Similar to "Guru" we get a fast-moving tempo on which the band moves over at a good pace. At this point it seems that Travelhouse moves off in a more modern and digital direction; I'm not trying to say that the previous piece sounded old-fashioned, but rather the band seems to be exploring themes that we would commonly see in modern lounge rock while giving it a progressive twist. In many ways the band tows the line between progressive and peasant rock, but they definitely make an effort to challenge the listener, which is good to hear. I generally like the themes on "Coffee" and the abject length of the tune does not make me weary as the band projects more of that heavy modern prog onto my eardrums. Tonev provides a very solid keyboard outro; I feel that when the keyboard is used sparingly at the forefront of the music, the band gets the best results. We get a shorter yet equally modern interlude track titled "Clouds" where the band brings on another guitarist in Daniel Eliseev; one major thing I sense from this performance is that it draws heavily upon the work of rather mainstream rock guitarists such as Satriani. It's not the style that is being copied here but rather the general theme of eloquent, soft, and cool twenty-first century guitar work; that being said the song title makes sense. Not much else to say on this one.

I feel that the band begins to get a little off track with "More Magic From Oz", which is notably more experimental and evokes rather scary and dark musical themes with the keyboards to boot. Out of all the tracks on "Mind Mapping" this was the one I was least impressed with; I just feel there's no method to the madness despite such progressive dissonance. It's almost as if Travelhouse was trying too hard to be progressive here, but I think the biggest issue I had with this track is that it features too much keyboards just like "Guru". We get some sporadic guitar here and there, but this is largely a keyboard-centric piece. The nine-minute "Dark Gentleman", the longest track on the album, provides much more alluring sound structures. Immediately we get this eclectic intro that rings heavy in your ears, and you can tell that the band is going to delve into the heavy side of their music right before the riff hits. This ring goes in tandem with Ivanov's riffs to make for a really grandiose background. As is the case with prog songs that vault the eight- minute mark, there is a lot to absorb, but Travelhouse keeps it strictly dark and industrial. This is really where I feel the band is at their best, and they milk every second of it. One thing you will immediately notice with the band's individual tracks is that they don't feature radically different parts that are separated by interspersed tempo breaks, but rather each song works off the same motif for the entire run time, something we would associate more with generic rock music. Overall "Gentleman" is a very solid track, which provides a solid rebound from its predecessor. To cap things off we get another short fleeting interlude in the one-minute "Blink" which is like a less-interesting version of "Clouds" without the guitar. Not much else to say about it.

Now that we're about 2/3 of the way through "Mind Mapping" we delve into the first part of a three part series titled "Archived Travels: Neutron I" which lasts for just over six-minutes. We immediately get thrust into a rather erratic guitar intro that is backed by some organic drums. Yes, for the first time we get a real drummer in Pavel Milenov alongside a return performance by Eliseev; only the bass now is programmed. Travelhouse delivers once again with some well-timed riffs and Camel-esque symphonic style which makes for an enlightening listening experience. The advent of double guitars works very well, and when the three-minute mark rolls around I am blown off my feet by perhaps the most sick Ivanov riff of the entire album - too bad it only lasts very shortly. If this track is any first impression as to what this prog-style musical mini series pans out to be, then it makes a very good one, and I'm cautiously awaiting the other two parts which make it up. However, before we get to that we are treated to "Travels of a Son of a Gun [Dark Gentleman Unleashed]" which presents itself as a sequel to the nine-minute tune we listened to a few tracks ago. It opens up with a brief reprise of the "Route No.1" programmed vocal recital, before giving us a teaser of "Gentleman's" motif, namely the industrial drum-driven part. I was personally expecting a little bit more from this reprisal, as the band ultimately decided on replaying sounds that we've already been introduced too without much modification. Even the ambient keyboard part which I enjoyed the most from that song is only sparingly used and hardly elaborated upon, and really, things don't get much better as we pull into "Keeping the House: Neutron III [Coda]" which I consider to be a part of the "Archived Travels" series. In reality, the band uses the song as a musique concrete closing piece which reuses many themes from previous songs. Given that this is supposed to be the official end of the album, I strongly feel that it wasn't as strong as it could have been, even though I applaud the effort to go with musique concrete as I typically feel it is a safe way to end an album in a unique way.

The band does add a bonus track which completes the link between the "Archived Travels" series, that being "Archived Travels: Neutron II" which is finally performed by an entirely human band, with Mario Ivanov entering on bass behind Milenov on drums and the double guitar formation. With a quintet assembled, the band gets to work making what is probably the strongest song on the album, even though it is ironically not "actually" considered to be a part of "Mind Mapping" in its original incarnation. Seriously, I would consider this to be an amazingly strong song by general prog standards; it continues on the path set by the first part but is way more aggressive, which really suits the band's sound. There is an obscene amount of guitar on the first part, and after a hard tempo break we get a very spacey sounding middle section which immediately screams David Gilmour; once again I am impressed as the band really takes all of the raw materials at its disposal and constructs them properly throughout the entire runtime. I feel that if you include this piece as an actual part of the album you get a much more cohesive and grand ending to the entire shebang if that makes any sense.

Travelhouse's sole studio album is a rather pleasant listen out of the crossover sub-genre. It is a good collection of instrumental music that is easily accessible and listenable. Kalin Tonev organizes a sound that fuses traditional keyboard-driven prog with that of modern prog metal, and it comes out rather refreshing, but sometimes monotonous and unchallenging. I think the biggest drawback apart from some rather long and unimpressive songs is that of the lack of a true bassist or drummer throughout the album's duration. This problem became immediately evident on "Neutron II" which is by far my biggest takeaway from the album. With the real people playing instruments, you get a deeper and more eclectic sound that cannot be reproduced by a computer. I feel that if Travelhouse featured the lineup from this tune across all the songs we would have had a very solid album, but otherwise it is a "good" piece which really fails to resonate. Surely there are some good motifs used here, but it is not really worth delving back into an obscure album for it, as it seems there are a plethora of bands making this kind of modern sound these days. I give "Mind Mapping" a respectable three-star (72% - C-) rating that shows it can compete with contemporaries and even some average works by the prog elite, but lacks the oomph that allows it to separate itself from the pack in a very large and diverse prog universe. Would recommend to any fan of lighter prog metal with a retro-prog touch.

SonomaComa1999 | 3/5 |


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