Once upon a time in the late 70s and early 80s there was a band called ‘Yak’. Bit of an odd name for a band but, from listening to this album, the music that they played wasn’t bad at all. Unfortunately, the band didn’t last long due to circumstances in the lives of the different band members. However, one musician remained with his heart in the music to the extent where he took it upon himself to keep composing and recording: that’s Martin Morgan- an amazing person and extra friendly too! If I were in his shoes, I’d be heart-broken if the band I was in split up, but Martin’s not the type of person to mope about it. Instead he gets down to business when an idea pops into his head and remains prolific in all that he does. As much as I love this album, my stereo hates it. The only radio in my house that this cd works on is a broken one…which is very bizarre indeed. This made it rather difficult to analyze or review as it’s hard to concentrate with little girls running around…but (as you can see) I managed. Probably that’s what happens to cds that have travelled from the other side of the world. Likewise, this is an instrumental album! *SQUEAK* Usually I’m so girly as to focus on the lyrics and the meaning/story behind the song. Of course there’s a meaning behind each piece of music, be it with lyrics or no, but words are one of my focus areas. (I’m a ‘make-believe’ poet. Go figure.) So this is just to warn any readers that if this review lacks finesse- that’d be why. Don’t get me wrong- I love instrumentals! But when it comes to analysing it- I’m a dodo. So here we go…my first take at reviewing an instrumental album…
Theme: This is a very atmospheric beginning to the album. We hear the chink of bells, the type that strangely remind me of Buddhism, and the rushing of winds. The synth-strings play a gorgeous melody with slow crescendos. This track has all the elements of ‘meditation group’ music. When the underlying chord changes we hear the wind again. I give this starting track a full thumbs-up for its beautiful yet strangely spooky chordal progression.
Aragorn: Plonking block-chords on the piano are heard but the synthesized trumpet and the strings in the background emphasize the pianos sound. It’s simple but wonderfully relaxing and it kinda reminds me of The Great Gig in the Sky from Dark Side of the MOON. An electric-guitar-sounding synth improvises with the same melody. When the drums come in, the piece reaches its peak in coolness and the guitar plays an even stylier tune. Flutes are heard afterwards- sounding fabulous as they add an even gentler tone. Then the melody progresses and the drums pick-up again. Here, the flute and guitar improvise and then a synth brings us back to what we heard at the aforementioned ‘peak’. This piece is one of my favourites on this album and very proggy- there are some amazing melodies heard on this one! Apparently he found it helpful to hum good-sounding tunes into a tape-recorder he carried round with him in order to compose this one: an ingenious idea if you ask me. Why did he call it Aragorn? Possibly a love of Lord Of the Rings - which is doubly cool as I love that too.
Leylines of Yak: SUDDENLY!!!…that’s what the upbeat start says to us. Scarily fast drums and what appears to be a programmed-in keyboard heard playing a recurring melody. Then the beat changes and a synth-guitar comes in to show-off. Later, everything quietens down and the synth dwindles off. The bass should be mentioned here- it may be in the background but it’s hard to deny how jazzy and funky it sounds. Guitar comes in, then the drums pick-up again and a keyboard melody that seems to reminds me of Genesis’ Cinema Show dances away- stealing the show. The ending is great: from a deep synth to pretty ‘tinkling’ sounds.
Yakrise: What appears to be a synth-flute sings over the top of a piano playing a happy and scary melody. Plonking block-chords yet again heard on the piano: a technique which is heard often on this album. Normally it would irritate me if it was over-used but Martin sure knows how to ‘feel’ the music when his hands touch the keys. As for the chordal progression…well…it’s all ‘happy and scary’ which makes it perfect for my ears. At the start everything seems rather eerie….but SUDDENLY!!! (aha- I knew that word would pop-up again) the drums come in with a very 80s beat which bring us to an electric guitar which plays over a keyboard and a piano. In other words it’s very ‘altogether now’ at this point. The piano proceeds to play arpeggiating chords with the drums but it returns to block-chords and the key changes after a synth sings over the top of it and the electric guitar begins to whine some more. Again, I am reminded of The Cinema Show. The ending is very apocalyptic- probably to give us the impression of a beautiful sunrise? The wind that we heard in Theme is also heard again. This, and Leylines of Yak, are two tracks that show how much like Tony Banks Martin Morgan can be. However, Martin is unique and, in a way, superior to Tony Banks because he focuses on what the beat gives him the ability to do in his piano playing . He’s much more innovative in this way but not at all pretentious!
Frustration: 80s drums beat and we’re instantly given a melody which is not unlike that of Yakrise. The fast drums sound almost the same as Leylines of Yak but the synth acts differently here. The bass plays a more ‘bent’ melody- jazzy and ‘cooler’. Out of this world, after the synth rises, the crescendo of a sound- effect is heard. At this point, the melody of the whinning guitar from Yakrise and the bass rises too. Then it plays in the background to a repeating melody but a different chord-change. A piano comes in, NOT playing block-chords but changing arpeggios. Here we find another example of how gentle and soulful Martin can be when playing the piano.
Migration: A new kind of drum beat which is snare-rim friendly (I think) is heard with a keyboard. Is that a bird-tweet before the synth which makes its grand entrance? Well…this whole album seems to circulate around BIRDS after all! Martin Morgan puts his trust in the fantastic chord changes for his song. He lets them control the melody. The song reaches its peak when the flutes come in but that’s quite near to the end of the track. The keyboard and drum beat fades out but we hear the sound of Raining!
Earthogrub: The beginning reminds me of the start of ‘I know what I Like’ from Genesis. Its hard not to compare as it starts with that same eerie crescendo of a sound coming from nowhere. Then piano playing arises: very fast like Keith Emerson and very staccato. The synth is my favourite in this track as it ‘flashes’ and makes the music even better. Then the bass changes the beat and the piano plays synchronised block-chords. What appears to be a freaky synth-flute spins a melody over the top. Then another synth with a rather sharp tone plays, hyped-up drums in the background, but only for a short time as we’re brought back to the dying -out synth that we heard coming in at the start.
The Swan: This is that last track and it is the most gorgeous. A sad, tragic, echoing piano plays a beautiful tune. The echoing effects can really get to you. To me, the melody is, not the same, but *reminiscent* of the love theme from The Dark Crystal (I love that film). This seems to be a simple melody: arpeggios in the left hand, passing on to the right and the top of the piano taking the melody. However, I can tell (through experience) that it’s also the type of tune that one sits down to the piano to try and figure out…only to go ‘S**t this is harder than I thought!’ The atmospheric effects used in this piece of music give it the finishing touches- perfect for the ending track of the album. This piece uses the ‘tragic beauty’ convention: the ugly duckling turns into a swan.
Martin Morgan is definitely an animal-lover. Proabably…because that’s his job. When he’s not playing the piano like an angel he could possibly be making another shelter for Shetland ponies. In this album- the concept focuses on birds, or at least that’s what one gathers from words such as Migration, Earthogrub, Swan, not to mention the incredible changing of Pink Floyd’s best album…DUCK! Martin is a great inspiration to me- he taught me how to play what I’ve always wanted to play on the piano and, in a way, got me back into being a musician in general.
This album may take its time to grow on you but when you realise it was all done by ONE MAN, for every single instrument you hear, what can you say? Give it a listen and be overwhelmed!