ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


Taylor’s Universe - 2013 - "Worn Out"

(43:31, Marvel of Beauty Records)


Prolusion. The Danish project TAYLOR'S UNIVERSE is, as the name implies, a vehicle for the creative mind of Danish composer and musician Robin Taylor, the sole currently active band of his and one which appears to have steadied itself into a release pattern of one full length album each year by now. "Worn Out" is the latest of these, and was issued in January 2013.

1.  Floating Rats 8:00
2.  Munich 10:24
3.  Imaginary Church 4:24
4.  Cruelty in Words 5:42
5.  Jens in Afghanistan 6:23
6.  Sergeant Pepperoni 8:38


Robin Taylor – keyboards; bass, guitars; percussion
Hugh Steinmetz – trumpet, flugelhorn
Karsten Vogel – saxophone 
Jakob Mygind – saxophone 
Jan Hemmersam – guitars 
Klaus Thrane – drums 
Louise Nipper – voice 

Analysis. Describing the music made by Taylor and his musical partners is a task that is always something of a challenge. Over the years he has developed a certain, specific sound to his music that makes it something of a unique case, and while not going at full speed towards any of the common or uncommon borderlines of what can be defined as music his material tends to shy away from paths much trodden by others as well. Describing the albums by Taylor's Universe as more or lesss typical of their own trademark sound isn't likely to be of much use to those unfamiliar with his previous releases either, so the task at hand is to describe this music without pointing towards other and better known artists for comparison. Taylor's Universe is, by and large, a band that explores the instrumental universe. Voice effects and non-verbal vocals are used sparingly and more often than not as a part of the overall instrumentation or arrangements rather than as dominating features, on this disc limited to the application of the splendid vocal talents of Louise Nipper on Munich, and an effectively utilized sampled voice effect later on in Jens in Afghanistan. Otherwise, this is a production where the instruments do the talking. Layered arrangements of keyboards, analog and vintage at that, is a key feature throughout. Warm and gentle sequences are paired off with colder, distanced atmospheres as well as alien sounding, subtly dissonant sounding themes. The arrangements themselves range from sparse, effective constructions highlighting a particular instrument or a few select lead motifs to majestic ones blending numerous layers of keyboards nicely supported by elaborate rhythms, this time delivered by sticksman Klaus Thrane. The electric guitar is frequently employed to add a darker, contrasting undercurrent, when not adding dominating solo motifs alongside saxophone, trumpet or flugelhorn. One might say that the reeds and brass to some extent replace the role of lead vocals with their mostly improvised runs, supplemented and contrasted by the somewhat harsher sounds of the electric guitar solo. On "Worn Out" we're initially treated to what I'd describe as typical Taylor's Universe constructions exploring these shores in a manner existing fans will appreciate greatly. Floating Rats explores a dual landscape consisting of warm, gentle and melancholic inspired passages paired off with a harsher sounding, darker toned one with a distinct dramatic expression, while the following Munich combines a brooding, ominous undercurrent with soloing runs of a jubilant and positive nature, with individual inserts honing in on either of these moods with variations in pace and intensity focusing on the impact of the individual instruments and their individual motifs. Imaginary Church is more of a peculiar effort, with a distinct start and stop pattern to the proceedings prior to hitting an energetic, organically flowing run in the second half, utilizing a distinct piano motif as something of an identity marker throughout. And for the touch of true musical magic, at least in my personal opinion, we have Cruelty in Words, an item that again sets up lighter toned and positive sequences with darker toned ones of a more ominous nature, the latter more of a dominating presence for this particular piece, emphasized nicely by keyboard motifs that stick to a tonal range and expression I'd describe as sickly sounding. Jens in Afghanistan is a creation with a more peculiar sound to it, the first half in particular with its marching drums and naive flute motif coming across as something that might have been created by the likes of Pascal Comelade or other explorers of the toy music universe, with a layer of sampled talking voices steadily increasing in intensity as a menacing undercurrent that briefly takes over completely. The concluding phase of this composition is very different in sound and expression however, featuring a fixed circulating pattern dominated by guitar riffs and saxophone. Not a piece that managed to intrigue me that greatly, but a fascinating ride and treat for those with a keen taste for the original. Sergeant Pepperoni concludes this disc, and does so in a manner that to my ears is a bit more by the numbers as far as Taylor's Universe is concerned. A fine display of contrasting elements and arrangements, and arguably the piece that brings the greatest amount of variation to the table, but without the emotional impact I'm accustomed to when exploring music by this artist.

Conclusion. Taylor's Universe remains a band that continues to supply the world with high quality music blending elements from vintage symphonic rock with details from jazz and the realms of the avant-garde in a peculiar, likeable and accessible manner. Instrumental progressive rock of a peculiar nature that isn't easily comparable to any other artist, and "Worn Out" is an album that documents the quality and creativity of the musicians involved in this venture in a fine manner.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: May 20, 2013
The Rating Room

Taylor’s Universe - 2012 - "Worn Out"


Analysis. The 6-track “Worn Out” is yet another new release by Denmark’s TAYLOR'S UNIVERSE, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Robin Taylor – creatively the most fruitful musician on the contemporary progressive rock scene. (His overall discography includes more than 30 full-length albums.) With an average track length exceeding 7 minutes, there is certainly enough room for musicians to explore various themes, and they’ve succeeded in this respect. I can tell you for sure that “Worn Out” is one of the most serious as well as original albums by this particular project, often bringing me back to its work in the second half of the ‘90s, when it played a very profound music and never flirted with light genres. The hand of Robin-the-hard-edged is felt in many of the compositions herein (welcome back to your roots, man!), particularly often on the disc opener Floating Rats. Here, the fine-tuned rhythm unit of Robin on bass and drummer Klaus Thrane creates a tight framework, over which the guitar, keyboards and brass instruments paint their colors and textures, while the rhythm shifts very subtly, intermittently and unpredictably, so the whole thing sounds amazing – multifarious and hypnotic or, rather, mesmerizing at once, stylistically bringing together Symphonic Progressive, Jazz-Fusion, Doom Metal-based RIO and avant-garde Art-Rock. A gem: it’s fifth-elementarily :-). The addition of a distinct metallic edge to the composition is the biggest change from the previous album, as well as most of those from the second half of the last decade. The subsequent piece, Munich, is also a masterwork: a truly/highly progressive Jazz-Fusion with a surprise that awaits the listener soon after the tune’s intro, namely vintage-style Hard Rock ornamented by jazz improvisations. Here, Robin’s keyboard work is mostly limited to a support role, providing coloration, background washes and such, albeit there are a couple of organ passages that won’t remain unnoticed, to say the least. It’s the guitar and – to some lesser degree – sax and trumpet that are really driving the show, with dynamic melodics, great tones and effective soloing, once even on an acoustic guitar. It also must be noted that guitarist Jan Hemmersam at times appears as a shredder with blazing Allan Holdsworth-evoking flurries of notes. Contrary to the previously described track, Cruelty in Words finds keyboards (mainly organ and piano) being often at the helm of the arrangements, Robin’s playing simply brilliant here. The style is a blend of symphonic Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion, though there are a few purely sympho-prog moves too. A convenient comparison might be the Japanese band Kenso. Save one of their middle sections where the musicians play impromptu, Imaginary Church and Sergeant Pepperoni are both pretty close to the second track, Munich, in terms of both style and overall approach, still often driven by the guitarist and the brassmen. Robin’s organ and bass playing supports and challenges Jan Hemmersam and brings out the newcomer’s guitar talent (though, of course, there are still plenty of guitar leads provided by the maestro himself). The best thing about the album’s compositions (OK, most of them) is that they’re almost constantly evolving and changing, which bodes well for many listens. What’s also significant is that, while most of the pieces are comparatively long, they never turn into lengthy orgies of musical self-indulgence that is typical of most conventional jazz rock collectives – there is generally almost nothing conventional on the album. Well, “almost” is a tune titled Jens in Afghanistan, the sole track here that isn’t interesting throughout. Besides so-called radio voices and some vocalizations, all I hear during its first half is a synthetic flute soloing tediously to the marching drums. The piece’s second half is in turn excellent and is Jazz-Fusion with some rapid, positively wild sax solos – read: elements of avant-garde jazz.

Conclusion. Having taken onboard a free guitarist and two more brass players this time around, Robin has given more than equal billing to his six collaborators, which is fair given the quality of their performance and improvisational contributions. This also allowed the old-timer Karsten Vogel to return to working in musically more adventurous settings, though the other brass players, Hugh Steinmetz and Jakob Mygind, from time to time venture on frenzy soloing too. Klaus Thrane also has serious chops, and his highly precise drumming is placed well up in the mix. All in all, this improperly titled album is one of the best surprises in recent memory, especially as regards the work of its creators. There’s really enough variety within the six instrumental pieces here to keep it interesting near-throughout. If the intro to the aforementioned Jens in Afghanistan hadn’t covered a half of the track, I’d have rated the CD as a masterpiece. My highest recommendations!

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: May 20, 2013
The Rating Room

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