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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kurt Michaels

Outer Worlds

Review by Rick Damigella

If there is one thing that I really enjoy musically is a great mixture of guitar and electronic instrumentation. Whether it be classics like Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, the ambient recordings of The KLF or even the new age dreaminess of the music of Lanz and Speer. The new release from Kurt Michaels called Outer Worlds features elements of all of these styles of music in various forms. The album has a decidedly spacey, new age quality to it with some truly inspired guitar sections throughout. What is positively unique about Outer Worlds as a listening experience is the fact it was recorded live. Not just live in a studio mind you. These improvisational recordings were done on stage, which you would never guess at first since the recordings are so clean. There is not a bit of the airy feel of a concert recording so one can only imagine the sound comes from a direct mixing desk recording. The first three tracks were done when Michaels toured in support of The Syn, featuring Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes. This might be going out on a limb, but the music really feels like a living, breathing entity when you listen. It evolves and changes shape at random like sonic chaos theory come to life, yet with such melody that the term “chaos” doesn’t fit. It pulsates, drones and sings. It rises and falls. It breathes in a sense. Indeed, Michaels has been quoted as calling music “a force of nature” and it would seem from this release, he has helped bring to life a truly unique being and listening experience.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Senor Wences
Doubtfully this song has anything to do with the only genius in Hollywood (please see “America’s Sweethearts” if you don’t get the joke). Starting off with shimmering ambient synthesizers, the “4th dimensional” guitar of Kurt Michaels joins the sound very quickly. Dreamlike, trancelike and spacey, the overall sound is quite unlike anything you are likely to hear anytime soon. This piece would be an amazing thing to visualize in a classic Lazerium show. Running nearly 14 minutes in length it is by far not the longest piece here, but it is one of the most complex and well composed.
Lamb Chop
Where the synths on the previous song were purely spacey in nature, here they are a bit more watery and new agey in feeling. The guitar of Michaels is once again soaring, wailing and altogether otherworldly. One might almost think they were synth based too, except that midway through the piece, you can hear actual picking as opposed to the long, melodic notes he holds and bends in his unique style.
Chucky
A much more mainstream sounding melody opens this piece, not surprisingly as it sounds very much like Michaels is riffing on the song “Linus and Lucy” (perhaps more popularly known as the Charlie Brown Theme) by Vince Guaraldi. The shortest song on the album, it is also the most mainstream sounding because of the popular source material.
Jade Princess
The sound of this number is even more unique in its Eastern flavor. One can almost imagine seeing the Princess walking amongst the temple gardens at the break of day whilst listening to this composition. The soaring, multi toned guitars are back on this number. I mentioned earlier the new age music of David Lanz and Paul Speer. This number more than any other reminds me of their style however the sound overall is uniquely Kurt Michaels.
Hitch Hiker On Venus
The dissonant, stretched guitar notes are not nearly as dreamlike and spacey here. Relying much less on synths and more on his six-strings, Michaels paints an ambient picture of the planet as a lonely and mysterious place. It's one where the hitch hiker is likely not to find a ride any time soon.
One
Wow - just wow. This is a nearly 44 minute long epic. Yes, that long. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to see this performed live. Frankly the audience should have sat riveted to their seats as Michaels and his keyboard accompaniment gently flowed their way through this lengthy number. It features more shifts in style than you can realistically keep track of. Very ambient at its core, this features a wonderful mixture of synth and guitar. At one moment it is quiet and almost still in its sound and the next it has transitioned into a tone that could have come from a late 70’s sci-fi movie. Minutes later you are led back down a photo realistic green garden path in the dew kissed morning only to be taken quickly into a realm of dreamlike bell tones. This barely begins to touch on the myriad of moods which Kurt Michaels brings to life. What is quite astounding about this particular piece is that, despite the numerous stylistic changes, the performance holds together quite well. None of the shifts are jarring or take you out of the moment. That is exactly what a progressive ambient number like this should do. It's challenging to the ear yet relaxing at the same time. This is not recommended while behind the wheel, but gets the highest possible recommendation for listening with ear phones so you achieve the full effect.
 
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