|> CD Collection|
End - The Lower Depths
Review No: 248
Mark Lavalle: Drums, Percussion
Jeff McFarlane: Vocals, Guitars
Cathy Alexander: Vocals
Bruce Soord: Vocals, Guitars
Steve Anderson: Guitars
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 is a very apt name for this record label as it is completely one eyed about the sort of music it releases. If it is not progressive rock it will not be on the Cyclops label. As all us girls and boys in Thailand like a bit of progress, this makes Cyclops just about the perfect record label for us.
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’, whilst others did not quite come up to expectations, ‘Credo’ being an example here. 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.
If you look up progressive in the dictionary you will
read something along the lines of: Adjective: advancing; continuing; developing;
growing; not standing still; not looking back; radical; forward looking;
open minded; approaching new and different things; to reach out. So when
you buy something under the progressive rock banner do not expect pop
Plundering The Depths
‘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.