Lands End - "Natural Selection" (Cyclops 1997, CYCL 047)
Transience - "Sliding" (Cyclops 1999, CYCL 084)
From Aural Innovations #11 (July 2000)
Based in California, Lands End plays classic keyboard-heavy symphonic progressive with a full majestic sound that took me back to the 70's, but manages to avoid the generic neo-prog sound. Scattered throughout the disc can be heard brief freaky synth bits and Tangerine Dreamy keyboards that give the music a spacey edge similar to the way 70's band FM had crossed over slightly into the space realm. The band consists of Jeff McFarland on vocals, acoustic guitars, and bass, Francisco Neto on guitars and guitar synth, Fred Hunter on keyboards and bass, and Mark Lavallee on drums and percussion. "Natural Selection" is Lands End's fourth release (they have five total).
I read on the Lands End web site that they started out as a psychedelic band having played such covers as "Careful With That Axe Eugene" before evolving into a more classic progressive sound. Early Genesis is the comparison that most comes to mind, but Mexican band Cast is the 90's band that would be a good comparison. Beautiful soaring guitar leads that typified classic progressive are here, along with solid arrangements that develop smoothly as numerous themes are developed on the CD's extended tracks. "My Home" is one of my favorite songs with its stinging wah guitar on an interesting track that combines raw jamming psychedelia with the band's trademark progressive sound. A powerful tune.
The CD's title track is the longest at 30 minutes, but in my opinion is the one weak point of the set. It takes about 9 minutes to get going, the first portion feeling like a lot of slow-going noodling about. But once it kicks in it becomes quite intense and the remainder of the song includes jarring start-stop rhythms and the guitar sound is darker, rawer in spots, and more aggressive like on "My Home". But while the song has lots of solid segments and numerous good ideas, what we really have here is two or three solid tunes and several minutes that could be dropped.
In summary, Lands End would most certainly appeal to fans of classic 70's progressive rock. Knowing they started out as a psych band kept me on my toes listening to any returns to their roots, but don't let the few psych references I made give you the idea that's what this band is about. It's not. But even a few hints help to give Lands End an edge that pushes them well beyond the crop of standard neo-prog filling up the market.
Transience is a solo project from Lands End keyboardist Fred Hunter. The cd is a concept work about "places"... that is, places Fred has been and the resulting musical impressions. Among the standout tracks is "At Squaw Peak" which features bits of blues guitar and a great screaming rockin' solo near the end of the track. The title track has a very cool blend of Spanish guitar (really cookin' stuff) and light keyboard melodies and textures. "Desert Falls" is a slow-paced, dark tune that reminded me of Van der Graaf Generator. When the sax came in I thought it would complete the VDGG style but is far too flowing and melodic for VDGG. But there are some trippy synths that I enjoyed.
"The Seven Pools" is the album's tour de force at 19 minutes. The first 6 minutes of the song are like an extended intro in which the music travels through... "places"... just like the album's stated theme. An easy-paced journey that explores simple but enjoyable melodies and ever-changing classical progressive themes that helped keep my attention. At about 9 minutes vocals take the lead for a simple but entrancing melody and pleasant lyrics. Shortly after the band kicks in and the music takes off on a keyboard-led excursion that recalled the best of Genesis during their Trick Of The Tail/Wind & Wuthering days.
The Lands End web site point out that Hunter's influence brought the band away from psychedelia and toward classic progressive rock, and that influence is apparent on "Sliding". Very enjoyable music though I think the Lands End disc is stronger as the other member's interests help to make the band's music more adventurous and exciting.
Lands End's cd's are distributed by Cyclops.
You can visit Lands End at thier (fan produced) web site.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz