7.5 out of 10
Circles End are a six-piece Norwegian band who originally got together as young teenagers at the tail end of 1994. Their first release, an eponymous five-track EP released in 1998, gained critical acclaim, particularly in France, and encouraged the young band to start seriously pursuing a record company contract. A new demo in 1999 failed to elicit any major interest so the group pooled their resources and recorded and released In Dialogue With The Moon as an independent concern at the beginning of 2001. It was another two years before the next release, a 7" single put out as a taster of the new music then being written. The single came to the attention of Karisma, a small Norwegian record company who, suitably impressed, inked the contract for the release of the curiously titled Hang On To That Kite.
Over the years Circles End have had their fair share of line-up changes before finally stabilising on their current configuration. Omar Emanuel Johnsen, Trond Lunden and Jarle Pettersen (guitars, guitars and drums, respectively) remain from the original line-up and are joined by Karl Riis Jacobsen on vocals, Audun Halland on Rhodes electric piano, organ and synthesisers and Patrick Wilder on bass and cello. The album also features guest saxophonist Jon Trygve Olsen.
So what do you get for your money? The album belies the relatively young age of the band, still mostly in their mid twenties, displaying a maturity in composition and performance that many bands don't achieve until their fifth or sixth release. The album displays a band performing as a whole, as opposed to a collection of like-minded musicians laying down individual performances. The players and their instruments gel together superbly - tight ensemble playing at its best with the sum greater than the parts, which is not to denigrate the abilities of each of the musicians! It would be fair to say that Hang On To That Kite is not an album that takes progressive music forward into any new and unchartered territories. The music has definite links to the heyday of seventies prog, although look towards the Canterbury scene and bands like Caravan (for the harmonies and melody) and Hatfield And The North (for the jazz inflections) rather than the more excessive leanings of Yes and ELP, for influences. However, this is no retro release, there is a modernity to the album, which coupled with the sharp, succinct writing makes this a very enjoyable album. Karl Riis Jacobsen has a very mellow, smooth and warm voice that invokes a calmness and laid-back vibe and reminds me in many ways of Shawn Smith from Brad. This is no better exemplified than on At Shore, primarily a blend of acoustic guitar, double bass, cello and vocals that simply flows delightfully. Elsewhere, opening track Echoes is a slice of classic progressive rock, Too Few Feet has a quite funky groove and Peeping Tom mixes the electric piano and electric guitars to great effect. The album contains two instrumentals, Charlie and album closer The Dogfather Has Entered The Lift, which allow the band to let loose, particularly on the former with its twinned electric guitars and prominent organ. Dogfather... has a slow build but really gets going when saxophonist Jon Trygve Olsen begins his solo which escalates into an energetic jam with the rest of the group.
On the whole a very enjoyable album if, like me, you have a fondness for music that is atavistic without being derivative, familiar but different if you will. Anyone who is a fan of the Canterbury scene would find pleasure in this album and to such people I heartily recommend this CD. However, I appreciate it may not be to the tastes of all, being a bit too mellow and considered, and possibly even retro, for many. This is the sole reason I haven't given Hang On To That Kite an overall DPRP recommendation but it is worth checking out the samples on the band's web pages anyway as music is a voyage of discovery! Absolutely terrible sleeve though.
7.5 out of 10
I have to say that the CD cover did bring a smile to my face and therefore it probably accomplishes what Circles End set out to achieve. I do share Mark's sentiments here and if this album was lying in amongst many others in a record shop, I fear I would pass it by for the more "proggy" design. However we are not buying the cover, more the music that is encompassed inside it - the old adage "never judge a book by its cover" does spring to mind.
I pretty much took a liking to this album from the very outset (unusual for me), mainly triggered by the opening track Echoes. From here the album moves through a number of differing styles whilst always retaining an overall sound. For me the biggest asset that Circles End possess is chemistry, and as touched on by Mark, it is the sum of all the musicians input that gives strength and character to their music. This is nicely captured in the brief Tiny Lights, which manages to capture much of the bands flavour in three brief minutes.
Circles End blend mellow and aggressive with great ease, the contrast of Karl Riis Jacobsen's rich and distinctive voice is set against a generally strident guitar background and busy drumming. It is these contrasts that give the music its own particular flavour. The songs have a modern feel but could well have been written many decades ago, drawing influence from the earliest days of prog. The music also draws from many fields and amongst those already mentioned might be smatterings of jazz rock and at times possibly early jazz funk. The overall result I have to say is very rewarding.
The album contains two instrumentals, Charlie and The Dogfather Has Entered The Lift and normally I would lean to these tracks, however on this occasion it is the warm and distinctive voice of Karl Jacobsen which has pulled in the reins. The general timbre and intonation of Jacobsen's voice along with the engaging harmonies did capture my imagination. Back to the two instrumentals and it is not that there is anything particularly wrong with these pieces, they just didn't stand above the other tracks. I found the rhythm guitar tone a little distracting on Charlie, although the track jogs along nicely. The Dogfather... however brings out more of the bands jazzy, Canterbury style to the forefront with the guitars, keys and sax offering a rich and harmonious sound. So (and for a change) the highlights from Hang On to That Kite would be the vocal tracks - first up would be the opening track Echoes, great driving rhythm from the bass, drums and guitar, nice variation in mood and all complemented by Jacobsen's rich voice. Next for me was the gentle At Shore, very laid-back, but with power and emotion. The instrumentation here is splendid with the acoustic guitar nicely set against the double bass, brushed drums and light piano giving a great "jazzy feel". Excellent!
This is a fine album, perhaps nowadays a little lean at just over forty two minutes, but as one who grew up with releases that were pretty much all of this length, I have no problem with it and felt the band had said enough for me to eagerly await their next album.