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Sky - 2000 - "FM Sky Pieces"

(44:22, Unreleased)


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TRACK LIST:                                 

1.  Where Opposites Meet I 11:15
2.  Where Opposites Meet II 8:12
3.  Fifo I 6:42
4.  Fifo II 2:29
5.  Fifo III 4:20
6.  Fifo IV 3:50
7.  Dies Irae 7:34

LINEUP:

Francis Monkman - keyboards; guitars
Kevin Peek - guitars
John William - guitars
Herbie Flowers - bass
Tristan Fry - drums

Prolusion. Formed in 1978, English band SKY soon got to be a very popular act. Their first two albums were extremely popular in Britain and Australia, but their mix of rock, classical and jazz also gave the band a solid following internationally. After multi-instrumentalist Francis Monkman left the band in 1980, Sky started to take on a more pop influenced style of music. Their popularity slowly started to fade, and the band officially disbanded in 1994, seven years after the release of their last recording, The Mozart Album. "FM Sky Pieces" are compositions Francis Monkman wrote for Sky, which he has remastered himself in later years. Sadly, it seems theres hasn't been much interest in releasing these remastered versions so far, but die hard fans have managed to get hold of these tunes (which, as internet discussions indicate, have been in circulation since about 2000), subsequently spreading them on CD-Rs to interested parties.

Analysis. Personally I am not that familiar with Sky, and the one album I have, Sky 4: Forthcoming, has never really made a strong impression on me. Getting familiar with the compositions of this compilation thus became something of a revelation. When reading up on the band, I saw many mentions of the music being easy listening. When talking about Sky 4, the album I had previously heard, I tend to agree. For the three multi-part compositions here I don't. They are catchy, melodic, accessible and easily listenable, but not easy listening as I define it. True enough, the musicians play relatively simply: you won't find many instances where they play around with disharmonic layers, odd meters contrasted by a straightforward bass-line or vice versa, and neither is the main melody challenging in terms of how you would define an actual melody. But even so I am of the opinion that these compositions are both complex and challenging in their own right, if given attention while listening to them. In terms of technical prowess, the interplay between guitarists William and Peek with the keyboards of Francis Monkman are delightful to listen to as well as analyze. There are several segments where the main melody actually is conveyed by way of melodic fragments from all three musicians, each instrument playing brief melodic bursts where one part of the burst slots in at an available space in the melody, while the rest of it underscores the other small fragments that makes up the part of the melody before and after that specific part filled by this specific instrument. Whether intentional or not, weaving melodies in such a manner takes a great deal of skill, especially making it sound melodic rather than cacophonic. Adding to the complexity in these parts is the extensive use of layers for the various instruments; especially Monkman's contributions appear to be highly multi-layered. It takes a lot of skill to make this sound right even when in a studio with an extensive set of tools to place these layers correctly in the soundscape. A lot of skill and a good ear for music in general and melody in particular. Of course, there are just as many parts and segments here where one or more instruments deliver the main melody lines in longer themes too, and not in fragments pieced together. And there's a high degree of skill present in those parts too; harmonic parts where keyboards and guitars jointly produce melodies, with at times a great amount of subtle detail placed in the soundscape to add life and texture to the melody. Drums and bass guitar aren't as adventurously used as guitars and keyboards, at least not as often. Frequently they make out the foundation of a song, making a solid platform for the more adventurous escapades from the other instruments. Musically, Sky is all about instrumental rock, heavily influenced by classical music and with some influence from jazz, and as described, not overtly complex on the surface, but with a plethora of particulars to be discovered in the details of the compositions. When Opposites Meet, here divided in two parts, is probably the most challenging composition of the three present. The first part will give great pleasure to people enjoying analyzing music, in particular when contrasted slightly by the more melodic and seamless second part of the composition. The four-act composition Fifo, as well as the last tune Dies Irae, are more accessible tunes, with a higher degree of catchy grooves, strong melodies and energetic playing. For anyone unfamiliar with the band these pieces are probably a good place to start if you want to get familiar with this outfit.

Conclusion. First and foremost, I do hope that this album at some point in time will be officially released, so that the public at large can get the chance to reacquaint themselves with this band. How much of a difference Francis Monkman's remastering of these compositions has made I don't know. I would guess that the details in the texture have been given more space to come forth here when comparing with the production of the Sky tunes I had previously, and I suspect that the soundscape overall has been modernized slightly, as these tunes sounded much fresher than those on Sky 4, released a few years after the songs on this album originally were issued. If this one ever becomes officially available, fans of instrumental rock mixed with classical influences in particular should line up to purchase this release. Jazz and fusion fans of liberal taste as well as people into symphonic rock might also find this album to be highly fascinating.

OMB: May 28, 2008


Related Links:

Francis Monkman


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