Stratus Luna (MoonJune)


I published a few posts a year or so ago centred around the rather self indulgent social media meme of selecting your favourite 5 or 10 somethings, in this case 20 albums which changed my life. A good friend commented that he reckoned every single one of them would be ‘prog’, the inference a good-humoured one that plays on the common parlance that ‘prog’ is something of a four-letter word.

Stratus Luna are a Brazilian band that celebrate all that is good about the genre, rather than a collection of clichés that defile the term. A four piece aged between 17 and 21, this is a compilation of instrumentals of on the one part considerable virtuosity, and on the other hand complex but accessible instrumental compositions. In case you’re wondering about why a review of their eponymous debut album should appear here, then it’s the fact that 3 cousins who have apparently already been playing together since 2007(!)are joined by Gabriel Golfetti on bass who some of you might remember as the son of Gong guitarist Fabio Golfetti, and whose duo electronic album ‘Lux Aeterna’ was reviewed here. Fabio is also credited as mastering the album. No reflection on the excellent work of Gabriel and an extremely tight drummer in Giovanni Lenti , but it is brothers Gustavo and Ricardo Santhiago  who provide the most stellar performances here on keyboard  and guitar respectively – a genuinely astonishing double act.

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If the ‘Lux Aeterna’ connection and some initial keyboard reverbs on ‘Nimue’ suggest this might be purely spacey fayre, the illusion is quickly broken by church organ sounds, clean guitar and sweeping keyboard pastiches. Shades of the Enid, maybe? No, this is much less self-important and with considerably more substance.  Memorable moments are everywhere: the funk bass keyboard section of ‘Nimue’, the gorgeous, haunting two string guitar theme which opens and concludes ‘Onirica’ and the gloriously precocious Ozricsesque flurries which precedes its finale, or the talking wah wah of ‘O Centro do Labirinto’. The closer ‘Efemera’ appears to be set up as the stand out track, with some memorably prodigious guitar soloing which recalls Mike Oldfield soaraway moments high on the fretboard, but it is possibly trumped by ‘Zarabatana’, a 9 minute piece where  sitar and hand drums unexpectedly emerge out of a rocky romp (the Hindustani influences referred to on the band’s website?), with a a hint of ‘Matte Kudesai’ thrown in for good measure before the piece rocks on with another intricately picked out guitar solo.

Meanwhile the slow walkin’ talk bass of ‘Pandoras Voadoras’ is the theme which you will find impossible not to be humming constantly at inopportune moments.  Whilst Gustavo is equally proficient on acoustic and electric piano and those lovely clear organ sounds the killer moments are when he switches to Hammond, where the interplay with guitar reminds me often of that the very underrated Seventies band Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come.

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Another relevant reference point might also, (as with recent albums from Fabio Golfetti’s own excellent band Violeta de Outono), be Khan. The material I review on this blog is without exception ‘progressive’ music, but generally is  characterised by moments of sonic dissonance, or of time signatures which change obliquely at will. Stratus Luna does neither of these things. There are no dud notes, no throwaway filler passages, just a glorious journey of melodic instrumentation which even at the end of May will, I suspect, end up being my favourite album  of 2019. On the evidence of Stratus Luna, if ‘prog’ is indeed a four letter word, then I may need to purchase a swear box!




The Wrong Object: Into The Herd (MoonJune)

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One of the strengths of the splendid DVD (with bonus tracks) ‘Romantic Warriors 3: Canterbury Tales’ was its showcasing of bands very much on the periphery of what is regarded as ‘authentic’ Canterbury scene, whether that be current, younger bands based in Canterbury or artists from further afield clearly influenced by the genre. The highlight of the latter batch of artists, although hardly newcomers,  was Wrong Object, led by Michel Delville, a profilic guitarist/keyboardist from Belgium. Not only have The Wrong Object produced half a dozen albums with recognisably quirky compositions, one being amongst the last recordings of legendary saxophonist Elton Dean (2005’s ‘The Unbelievable Truth’), but Michel has also recorded with Alex Maguire (latterday Hatfields keyboard player and lynchpin of  the recent Phil Miller memorial concert), played a lead role in Comicoperando, a project performing the music of Robert Wyatt; Machine Mass; and Doubt (with Maguire and briefly Richard Sinclair).

‘Into The Herd’ displays a bewildering range of styles, presented in such a way that the whole album is one heterogenous journey, flitting through genres both between and within tracks, with a full range of instrumentation on show. A double sax section, which alternately can solo beatifically (‘Another Thing’), generate atmospherics, or alternatively squawk either atonally Gary Windo style or together etch out a rhythm; keyboards that can move between jazz noodling on electric piano (‘Filmic’) or mellotronics. Guitar that can carefully navigate a route through a piece (‘A Mercy’) or can quickly flip to  screaming out a solo (‘Rumble Buzz’) or indulge in heavy rock posturing (‘Into The Herd’).


If this is to be classed as Canterburyesque, it fits more at the Hatfield or more pertinently National Health end of things rather than Soft Machine (other than a brief but  wonderful blow on ‘Mango Juice’ which could be almost Ratledge meeting Elton Dean  in the afterlife). If that National Health comparison is mainly down to the wealth of styles on display here, then there are more direct references in the slowly building atmospherics underpinned by brooding bass, ever increasing in tempo, on ‘Rumble Buzz’ for example. There is evidence too  of Zeuhlesque discordancy too on the album’s highlight ‘Mango Juice’ which throws in a gutwrenching guitar solo too a la Phil Miller, or in the grumbling wobbly bass of the title track opener.   But elsewhere there are also elements of the warped chamber music of Belgian countrymen Univers Zero (from whom Antoine Guenet is one of the band members), or Balkanesque exuberance in the sheer joy of ‘Filmic’, where the wind section again comes to the fore.

Whilst the review of ‘Into The Herd’ was delayed unavoidably as the Facelift blog rather ground to a halt in the spring, then at least it gave me a chance to give this album a extended listen, which is what it merits.  And it does deserve that because this is highly complex, thoughtful and meticulously constructed music with passages that will immediately resonate with readers here, but also return repeatedly to your subconscious with a bite.

Into the Herd is available from whilst a simultaneous project from a rather different but equally innovative band called The Gödel Codex, also featuring Delville and Guenet, can be heard (and purchased) at


Carla Diratz / Pascal Vaucel: pRéCis​.​AiMaNt

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This is the third review within these pages for projects involving the remarkable French vocalist Carla Diratz, and this one sees a collaboration stripped down once more to bare voice and limited instrumental backup. But unlike ‘The Electric Suite’, with Corentin Coupe, which uniquely matched vocals and bass, this pairs her with Pascal Vaucel, a French guitarist who adds enough additional layers with drum tracks and bottom heavy treatments to make this album sound like the work of a band. If I’d looked hard enough, I would have seen him at Kozfests 2016 and ‘17 performing with Bob Hedger in Phaselock. More fool me – he’s clearly a prodigious inventive talent.

As with all Diratz projects I’ve heard to date, the music alternates between pieces which are carefully constructed to showcase her rich voice in conducive, almost conventional genres (which only serves to accentuate the starkness of her delivery); and tracks which are more freely constructed. Whilst I favour the former, the performances are strong throughout and the freeform numbers for me work better than on any of her other albums, testament to some alternately brutal or eloquent passages from the guitar of Vaucel. In fact, as with Dave Newhouse, Diratz appears to have found herself another kindred spirit, another composer with the virtuosity and versatility to do justice to that unique voice.

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Three original tracks really stand out: ‘Questing Dawn’ with its warm jazz guitar flecks;  the nihilistic, ‘Dharma Song’, dominated by abrasive guitar effects where the Diratz voice reaches its most primeval peak, set against a most industrial backdrop; whilst ‘Blue Drops’ meanwhile, is much more amenable, recalling the gentler, bluesier ambience of Hugh Hopper’s Hughscore, propelled along by simpler guitar lines and relatively gentle percussion. Elsewhere, on ‘Ancora Pier Paolo’ – there are hints of Durutti-column style noodling with multiple call and response vocals and on ‘Movoid Blues’, subtle guitar licks eventually give way to a Hopper-like fuzz bass grind out.

If one needs a reason for reviewing  this fine album on a Canterbury scene blog, then it is for  ‘Sea Song (Robert Wyatt)’, a version which was apparently sent to its author for approval and received it in spades. Tackling a piece which is almost the holy grail of Canterbury tracks is courageous in itself, and whilst the likes of the Unthanks (beautifully) Tim Hawthorn (faithfully) and the University of Errors (authentically) have attempted this, the Diratz/Vaucel version is less diplomatic: gravel voice and heartfelt delivery chill the bones a little, and the scatted coda, which for me in its original form is perhaps the most beautiful two minutes in musical history, is here performed with a hint of menace. It is the most unique re-interpretation to date, and as such works well.

This 10 track album is available digitally at but there is also an 8-track vinyl version available to buy direct from Pascal at, which includes all 6 pieces mentioned above. I used my copy to christen a record player brought out of a cupboard after a dozen years in hibernation – quite a baptism of fire for it!

Gong live at the Wardrobe, Leeds, 18 May 2019

This reincarnation of Gong have rejuventated the spirit of the band so successfully that this was the fifth time I’d seen the band in less than 3 years, in places as far flung as Devon and Northumberland. Tonight was the relatively short hop to Leeds, and given that 2 of my previous viewings of this lineup had been at festivals, and another in a somewhat offbeat location in a village hall, it seemed slightly novel to see the band in an urban stronghold, this time the metropolitan but nevertheless intimate venue of the Wardrobe. Excitement too, at not only hearing their new album ‘The Universe Also Collapses’ performed live for the first time, but to see a star support act, Ed Wynne, also to some extent re-inventing himself in promoting his first ever solo album ‘Shimmer Into Nature’ reviewed here – he is the Kscope stable mate of Gong.


Aside from the impromptu jammed Kozfest performance in 2017, which will live long in the memory, this was the first time I had seen Ed perform live away from the very many times I saw him with Ozric Tentacles, but it was such a joy to see him backed by 3 other live musicians, not just son Silas on keyboards, but by drums and bass too. Ozric Tentacles performances were always all-encompassing but strangely enough Ed’s guitar was often lost in the overall mix – perversely although ‘Shimmer Into Nature’ is very much a multi-layered album, his live band is very much about Ed’s soloing: well up in the mix, centre stage personified – I can’t recall such a joyous outlet for his strident guitar lines. Four tracks from the very fine Shimmer (review here) were aired – I happened to arrive slightly late and walked into my very favourite riff from ‘Oddplonk’, which reassured me that I’d come to the right place. Great to hear this very fine album aired in almost its entirety, but the icing on the cake was the final track, a most unexpected treat from what, on hasty conferral with a fellow Ozrics-fan, to be none less than the title track from the obscure 1988 cassette only release ‘Sliding Gliding Worlds’, reverb heavy and brooding before it culminates in a screaming guitar conclusion. A fabulous ending to a what was much more than an aperitif for the night – I for one would travel far and wide to see this particular band perform in their own right.


And so to Gong. Rumour had it that the band would be performing a 2 hour set, a welcome legacy of the Allen days – rich pickings indeed for an audience who like me were also there for the support act. What’s really impressive about this band is that not only are they penning extremely strong new compositions but have the confidence to go out and back themselves in performing it to an audience weaned on gnomes, pixies and Daevid Allen’s charisma. The classic approach for a band of such vintage is to perform a selection of old classics and throw in a couple of newbies from the latest album to whet the appetite. Not this band: ‘Universe’ was performed in its entirety, with three tracks from the preceding album, whilst the 2 hour timeframe gave the scope to fit in plenty of classics too. Gong have so nailed the merging of identities of the old and new that the transitions are seamless: ‘’Kapital’ sits alongside ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ as a rumbustious anthem; ‘Forever Reoccuring’ is maybe the new ‘Selene’ in terms of its heartfelt invocation, whilst ‘Sawtooth Wakes’ competes to provide the evening’s killer moment alongside ‘Master Builder’. And so the drop dead tracks for me could be taken from either camp. ‘Master Builder’ appears to be ever more outrageous in terms of quite how far the tension builds – it takes an aeon to even reach the IAO chant. Yet in the other camp the incredible closing moments of ‘The Elemental’ competes just as memorably. The recent BBC Radio Session had picked out truncated versions of ‘Forever’ and ‘Sawtooth’ to represent the new album, and I’d wondered if they’d not performed ‘Elemental’ purely because the weirdly striking vocal harmonies would be too difficult to reproduce: clearly not the case. The general consensus is that the new album is even more ‘Gongy’ than the last one – moving away from the often intricate compositions of ‘Rejoice’ towards two key band elements –  extremely tranced out  (in the old parlance) in the case of  ‘Forever’ and muscular ‘Dynamite’-style riffing – ‘Sawtooth’ with it’s repetitive unison theme and scattergun drumming was an extraordinary performance of intense menace.


Highlights were moments as much as tracks: Kauvs Torabi’s stage presence and the many intricate dual lines between his guitar and the sax of Ian East, the latter surveying proceedings impassively from right of stage; Fabio Golfetti, high up in the mix tonight, purveying glissando guitar like no other and also responsible for a memorable second guitar solo on ‘Rejoice’; Dave Sturt’s floor shaking bass lines on ‘Sawtooth’ and ‘Master Builder’; and Cheb Nettles, a colossus throughout, breaking into a huge sweat as he screams out his scatted vocals on the encore ‘Insert Your Own Prophecy’. This band are at once faithful to the vibe, but also innovatively etching out a vibrant legacy of their own.

Gong: The Universe Also Collapses (Kscope)


Album number 2 in the post Daevid Allen era and the press release (plus additional words from frontman Kavus Torabi on the recent BBC Radio 6 session) for ‘The Universe Also Collapses’ makes much of the band seeking to establish its own identity as a unit, away from the ‘guest’ contributions of the last album where Didier Malherbe, Steve Hillage and (posthumously) Daevid Allen all took their bows. In truth that identity had already been marked out definitively on ‘Rejoice I’m Dead!’, as a band with a new effervescent frontman melded trademark Gong angular riffing and spacey glissando with their own complex compositions. Alongside ‘Zero To Infinity’ it was undoubtedly the finest Gong work since the Trilogy era.

More pertinently for me was whether ‘Universe’ could continue this unexpectedly high benchmark. Soundings from those in the know suggested a lot of excitement around this album, which has emerged as a somewhat lopsided 4-track album, which on an old LP would have separated itself into a side 2 of three tracks, with the ‘main’ piece appearing on the whole of side 1. Presumably this is how the shocking pink vinyl version actually materialises.


‘Forever Reoccuring’, the aforementioned  20 minute excursion appears to follow the devotional template Kavus Torabi was setting out on his recent solo EP ‘Solar Divination’, built on a central theme containing hints of more than one classic track from ‘You’ in the way the ambience slowly builds towards its much anticipated break-outs. There’s also a reference, intended or otherwise, to ‘A PHPs Advice’ in one of the riffs. When I first heard this track, I thought ‘wow’, this is ‘A Sprinkling of Clouds’ mark 2.  Then I had my doubts the piece merited its full outing.  But then it slowly ate away at me to the extent that when on checking for the twentieth time to see how good it was, I realised that it had me stitched up like a kipper…  Unlike ‘Clouds’ or ‘Master Builder’, it ebbs and flows, successively crescendoing towards various climaxes before dropping away again. Highlights are the superb obtuse guitar solo when the piece first breaks from Kavus (the only such on the album, a shame as it is arguably his finest suit), and even better, at around 12 minutes in a brief rising soprano sax theme as more and more instruments join the fold, either in accompaniment or as counterpoints. This could well be the killer riff that this opus was crying out for, and incidentally comprised the centrepiece of the condensed version on the BBC Live session. Then to some Hillageesque skysaw soloing from Fabio Golfetti before the piece winds back down into more Golfettti glissando with a vocal section very reminiscent of Daevid’s last outtings with the University of Errors. And then it’s gone, surely not 20 minutes of listening already.


‘If Never I’m And Ever You’ is ‘Forever’’s polar opposite,  a 2 minute piece whose jaunty central riff is about as quantifiably Gongish as it is possible to get, throws in vocal lines from everywhere into the increasing melee and has a rather nice Malherbish fanfare from Ian East to finish. That said, it is relatively benign fayre compared to what is to come next.  For it is clear from the opening few bars of ‘My Sawtooth Wake’ that this could well be the centrepiece of the album. In its 13 or so minutes it rarely deviates from its main premise, a jerky, heavy rhythm which stutters along memorably with all 5 members buying into its magnificence. This is ‘Fohat’ on speed, with disquieting glissando, pounding bass, and screaming solos from guitar and sax. And even when it drops down to moments of vocal reflection, it never quite loses that air of menace before all elements combine in cataclysmic glory. This is marvellous, marvellous stuff with pride of place going to some outstanding drumming from Cheb Nettles recalling Pip Pyle at his frenetic best.


If ‘Sawtooth’ is, overall, the album’s standout track, then the finest moment is reserved for the concluding part of the final track ‘The Elemental’. A pleasing Sixties sounding ditty, Kavus’ harmonium et al, gets ever more rocky before arriving at the heavy crashing guitar riffs reminiscent of ‘Kapita’ on the last album, but of course, as this is Gong, throws screaming sax into the mix too. “Remember there is only now”, sung in (4-part?) dissonant harmony is the album’s evocative crying call, propelled along by thunderous bass from Dave Sturt. The whoop which signals the end of the first round of this unforgettable chorus is one of sheer exultation at the album’s signal moment. Throughout the album it has been clear that, lyrically, the gnomes are long departed, but Gong’s cosmic identity has endured. Far removed from the sharp characterisation of Daevid Allen’s storytelling, this is a much more detached narrative which ponders the science of life. And it did leave me thinking: is ‘Remember there is only now’ an unfathomable cosmic statement about the universe starting or ending in the same moment in time; an imploring for us all to live in the present; or something unintentionally cheeky about this Gong incarnation being here and here to stay? I’ll leave that for you to ponder…


Postscript: the band play this entire album as part of a quite astonishing evening currently on tour around the UK – 2 hours of Gong with support from Ed Wynne playing (with a new band) his superb solo album ‘Shimmer Into Nature’. Remaining tour dates below