Laik Tors is the third album from the Sheffield-based trio. It follows their eponymous debut and follow-up “Adios Al Futuro”, both of which featured in Prog Rock “Top 20” charts and helped establish the band as a vital voice in modern progressive music. Both attracted some enthusiastic reviews, neatly summarised by “they seem to encapsulate and deconstruct the entire history of British avant-rock in one fell swoop”.
This new recording is a natural progression, building on and refining their core sound, which features a combination of composed and improvised music. The trio have many overlapping musical influences and a shared love of improvisation. However, it is the melding of their individual styles that brings it together within a modern context.
Commentator Sid Smith says:
“Is it jazz? Is it rock? Is it folk? Is it prog? Is it electronica? The answer is all of the above and probably a lot more besides. Not that Das Rad care and neither should you. Energetic, incisive and infused with an inquisitive, passionate spirit, Das Rad create music that goes where it needs to. Do what you can to join them on that journey.”
Today is the occasion to present DAS RAD’s third album, entitled “Laik Tors”, the same one that was released on August 25 by the British Discus Music label, specialized in spreading avant-garde proposals of various tendencies. DAS RAD is an association of three veteran musicians with great personalities who know how to articulate their performative and creative energies very well within an experimental and eclectic framework where the paths of avant-prog, contemporary jazz based on free forms, electronic and the krautrockera-inspired psychedelic.
The three members are Nick Robinson [guitars, keyboards and electronic resources], Martin Archer [saxophones, clarinet, recorder, keyboards, bass synthesizer and electronic resources] and Steve Dinsdale [drums, keyboards and electronic resources]. In one of the songs on this album, Peter Rophone appears as a guest with his contributions of choral arrangements. DAS RAD began its days in 2018 with a self-titled album that was succeeded two years later by “Adiós Al Futuro” (thus, in Spanish). “Laik Tors” is an album that fully shows the group’s leitmotif as a musical entity that knows how to continually reinforce its avant-garde essence while expanding its eclectic resources and exploring new ways of expression with respect to those embodied in its predecessor works. Well, let’s now see the details of the repertoire contained in it.
The repertoire of the album that we are dealing with now begins with ‘Offtwerk’, a song that lasts just over 7 and a quarter minutes. Its lilting swing and its moderate way of handling the density with which it wraps itself around the harmonic bases refer us to a great hybrid of TORTOISE and PENGUIN CAFE ORCHESTRA with added post-rock nuances. To a large extent, it is the winds who take a more proactive approach when modeling and installing the ornaments that are assembled along the way. Around the border of the fourth minute and a half an increase in expressive tension is noted, but it is only the preamble to an epilogue where a twilight spirit predominates, an epilogue where the initial groove is clothed with nebulous restlessness. The second theme of the repertoire, which bears the challenging title of ‘Satanic Particles’, focuses on an exercise in abstract deconstructions where the interconnections made possible by the instruments build Dadaist subtleties that, to a certain extent, flirt with the gloomy, but which they also exhibit genuine musculature. In fact, this musculature allows this expansion of sonic signals that renounce forms to be able to consistently preserve its heterodox manifestation.
With the duo of ‘Kapow!’ And ‘Lebensmude’, the trio focuses on exploring a more diverse batch of musical settings and resources. The first of these mentioned themes establishes a vitalist cross between krautrock machacón and avant-prog of the RIO trend, something like an unprecedented twinning between NEU !, MASSACRE and THE MUFFINS (early 80s), a very effective twinning. There is a captivating mix of dreaminess and drama in the thematic development that takes place here. The second of these themes, for its part, veers towards a strategy of cosmic tracing where the guitar scraps and the synthesizer layers are entangled to form the central core of the piece. Once the drums establish a recognizable Jazzera groove in certain strategic passages, the sound block is pristinely oriented toward a confluence of contemporary jazz and progressive psychedelia. The final section is notoriously deconstructive, assuming a higher dose of punch than the second piece on the album had. We note confluences with the paradigm of FIRE! and MORAINE, as well as the more ethereal facet of the Crimsonian pattern of the early millennium. We have enjoyed two decisive zeniths of the album in perfect succession.
The fifth track on the album is titled ‘Kopfkino’ and from the beginning it leaves clear evidence that the time has come to put the warmest and introspective cards from the DAS RAD deck on the table. Based on the acoustic guitar, the ephemeral ornaments of the recorder pose a brief pastoral channeling, but soon everything drifts towards a prog-psychedelic scheme that moderately flirts with the post-rock paradigm. The alternations between the guitar and saxophone solos and the appearances of keyboard layers sometimes serve to indicate latent anxiety under the prevailing warm landscape, and at other times they operate as capitalizing devices for a ceremoniously mysterious setting. For the epilogue, the piece recovers the shape of the central motif and takes up some once-abandoned pastoral elements. Quite a beautiful subject, it must be said.
When it is the turn of ‘Mauger Hay’, the group prepares to resume the stately dense vitality that before marked the opening theme, being so now the rock musculature feels increased. Two-thirds of the way down, everything is momentarily interrupted to make way for an exotic chant, but the disciplined beats of the bass synth ensure that the palatial punche will soon take over. The seventh piece of the album is the one that precisely gives the album its title and establishes another culminating moment of it based on an exercise to reactivate the respective legacies of TANGERINE DREAM (69-72), FRIPP & ENO and ASH RA TEMPEL. Indeed, ‘Laik Tors’ is built with futuristic textures, the same ones that group floating atmospheres that combine the candor of the dream and the intensity of the inscrutable within a minimalist scheme wrapped in a very delicate psychedelic exuberance. The emergence of the battery, determined to impose a martial compass, adds a strange agility to such an overwhelmingly lysergic matter. The short piece ‘Kaprise!’ Is a short progressive exercise that pleasantly surprises us with its openly lyrical tonalities. Although it only lasts a minute and a quarter, its coloring leaves a strong mark on the memory of the empathic listener.
Occupying a space a little over 10 and a quarter minutes, ‘Starvation Hound’ stands as the most extensive piece in the repertoire and, incidentally, is also in charge of closing it. The central strategy of this piece is to take up the pending task of the most lilting passages of ‘Lebensmude’ and cover them with space-rock ornaments that pass through the sophisticated filters of contemporary jazz-rock and avant-prog. This plethora of moments in the repertoire (one of many) is committed to finding expressive vigor and exuberance in a twilight and ceremonious terrain, so that the end of the album invokes a sequence that goes from the contemplation of dusk to the abandonment of dreams that it gives us the rest of the night. All of this was what the talented ensemble at DAS RAD brought us with “Laik Tors,” an album that perfectly illustrates the kind of flamboyant and strangely captivating magic that avant-garde progressive music possesses when it fiercely and intelligently explores its eclectic potential. Very, very highly recommended this album … 300%, one hundred for each of the geniuses involved in its gestation.
I suppose it is fitting that this review is being written so close to Halloween, with titles like ‘Satanic Principles’ (track 2) and an image of a devil-like figure carrying on his back a basket of kidnapped children. I also wondered whether, on the sleeve, an image of slightly eerie twin boys holding hands and walking towards the viewer carried echoes of ‘The Shining’ (with its twin girls). But there is always much fun to be had trying to make sense of Das Rad’s song titles and the artwork on their albums; this one also includes the image of ‘marijuana – the smoke of hell’…
The mood of the music and the ways in which the electronic effects distort and deepen the sensory experience of listening to (perhaps a better phrase might be participating in) the tunes are both unsettling and immersive. ‘Kopf Kino’ (track 5), which I think means something like ‘head cinema’ (although I’m not entirely sure what this means, perhaps something like the mind’s eye or more literally a movie that is running inside your imagination?) hints at a folk tune (gently guitar, flute) but this becomes saturated in layers of effects that pulls it off course in the middle section before the theme returns the same but changed. ‘Mauger Hay’ (track 6) works the sort of motoric drumming favoured by German bands from the ‘70s with fuzzy guitar and synth lines.
On the one hand this suggests a gleeful juxtaposition of images and ideas. On the other, the title ‘Lebensmude’ (track 4) was one of the few non-English titles that I was able to interpret and, as this means ‘world-weary’, there is a hint at something darker at work here. On this track (as on several of the others here), there are many musical tropes that you would expect in horror movies, with shimmering whistles and gently undulating rhythms that are set to disturb and disorientate. But, as in previous Das Rad recordings, there is also a strong measure of dub reggae and prog-rock mixed in a style which is uniquely their own and always entertaining.
Chris Baber (Jazz Views)
Unsure what the album title means, but from its cryptogrammic font type and the six-pointed star framing a solitary treetop at dusk, it’s pretty certain your ears are in for a wild, proggy ride. On Das Rad’s third outing, Nick Robinson (guitars, keys, electronics), Martin Archer (woodwinds, keys, synth bass, electronics), and Steve Dinsdale (drums, electronics) further solidify their position as the UK’s best kept secret, but a crime it would be indeed if that secret was kept much longer. Partially improvised, partially composed, the whole damn enterprise is so densely woven together only a forensic audiologist would be able to (possibly) untangle all its knotty, intricate components. Das Rad’s music combines so many disparate categorical elements, be it prog, fusion, avant-gardisms, electronica, etc., they’re practically their own self-minted genre. Don’t know where you’d file ‘em in your local record shop but they sure need to occupy some prime real estate on your home shelf.
Over another dazzling hour-plus of radically invented music, they manage to effortlessly cruise through, abort, and reshape the sounds of eras both bygone and yet to come. Dinsdale’s booming traps help to set alight the Richard Wright-esque keys and Gilmourian guitar refrains of “Offtwerk”, though such Floydian shades of pink are refracted through a prismatic lens of haughty Canterbury and chugging krautrock; the surging mellotrons about halfway through effect a total recall of early 70s British prog nicely, too. “Lebensmude” sharply turns things on its collective ears, its rhythmic martial surge an exercise in delayed gratification as pure, escapist tangerine dreams arise first out of elliptical keyboard effects smudged by Archer’s klaxon fuzz. His shouts into the wilderness coalesce mightily across the lengthy tendrils of the title track, Dinsdale’s tips, taps, twinkles, and twirls basking in spooky moonlight amidst strange atmospherics and the kind of wholesale free jazz/spacerock that wouldn’t be out of place on a lost Amon Düül side. Play this thing over and over because one solitary spin won’t come close to doing it justice—you can go down this disc’s labyrinth of ingenuity for years and hardly ever come up for breath.
Darren Bergstein, DMG
Das Rad’s Laik Tors is their third album in four years and in a way continues their charge into the outer reaches of what a trio can produce when giving full rein to their imagination. Spread across one hour and nine tracks, not only do they veer between heavy rhythmic workouts and less dynamic, more textural numbers, but the pieces themselves often start out in one direction before ending up somewhere else entirely.
Vaporous keys and flute engage with a sinuous rhythm on opener “Offtwerk” and it dances off with a kind of proggy jazz feel, the rhythmic sturdiness supplemented by electronic whispers. Nick Robinson‘s guitar soloing is supple, dropping out and switching places with spiralling keyboards when you least expect it. There is a looser section where the sounds warp and find themselves dragged into a maelstrom of sound, before easing out the other side like a white-water raft.
There is a nice antithesis between one track and the next on this album, as if one were a reaction to the preceding. “Satanic Particles” is all bending and time-warping of sounds as spectral electronics hover in the background, with electric piano lending an air of gentleness to a haphazard chase, while the quasi-medieval string sounds of “Kapow!” come on a little like a spy theme. There is a a circular insistence led by the woodwind and a simple but effective rhythmic drive that uses space to lend an air of tension before the search for an exit leads to an explosive climax; and all this in just the opening three tracks.
The battle between structureless interplay and rhythmic heft is played out across the album. The synth bass of “Lebensmude” appears as if from a post-rock mist, everything in a dew-covered and morning-lit Explosions In The Sky territory in which they firmly stake their claim, before hauling it into an effects-laden crevasse, fuzzed and whacked. “Kopfkino” hints at ancient battles long finished, the crying ranks of guitar ascending from an acoustic guitar and flute intro; while once again I am reminded of Trans Am in the night territory of “Mauger Hay”, its glistening synth glory scrapping with growling guitar and cold urban electronics.
Laik Tors is a dizzying array of ideas and experiments that lead the listener all over the map with little respite. The tribal jaggedness and otherworldly drift of the title track is another unexpected avenue, nipping ghosts of electronics and fractured synths unleashing a guitar shred that seems to come from nowhere. It does feel over too soon, as if they still have a million ideas to unleash and the euphoric feeling that overrides the closing track warms the cockles, its spiralling sax and murky bob and weave highlighting the returning motif; while the real secret is the subtle percussion keeping below the radar but always there, ready for anything.
Mr Olivetti – Freq
Das Rad is a trio from Sheffield, UK and this is their third album following ‘Adios Al Futuro’ which received positive reviews in Prog Rock magazine and other places. A mixture of composed and improvisational music Das Rad is Nick Robinson (guitars, keyboards, electronics), Martin Archer (brass, woodwinds, synths, synth bass, electronics) and Steve Dinsdale (drums, keys, electronics). A good entry point would be the rocky ‘Kapowl’ which features some sterling sax and synth work, although the atmospheric 10 minute ‘Lebensmude’ might give a better idea of what the band is all about, slow-burning expressionism with its subtle guitar and rolling drums.
It’s all about the ambience as on ‘Kopfkino’ as Das Rad build on basic melodies later taken up by acoustic guitar arpeggios, to create a palette of rich sounds, Robinson’s guitar blazing away in the background, woodwinds and sax driving the piece on, the drummer’s role often necessarily understated gelling it together with prominent synth bass lines, a few humorous exchanges thrown in as the music moves into free jazz fusion mode. The stop-start motoric beat of ‘Mauger Hay’ is a nice change of pace and the sustained organ chords supplement the probing guitar lines well on the title piece. ‘Laik Tors’ is a challenging and quixotic but ultimately satisfying album that will appeal to lovers of more adventurous forms of music.
Phil Jackson – Acid Dragon
Confident and brimful of exciting, disparate yet interlocking ideas… Das Rad sound like nobody else… this music has that very rare quality to my ears: edge. Such a delicate balance of equilibrium and free-fall. Consummate musicianship (only to be expected really). Buy it and listen to it often.
John Cratchley via bandcamp
Martin Archer continues to spin the bike himself and offers Laik Tors (Discus 119) the third disc with DAS RAD, the improg trio with Nick Robinson on guitars (who after a young and wild phase with They Must Be Russians in the 80s since the 10s a spring awakening as Nick Robinson Loops and in Lost Garden with Andy Peake). More vital is the harmony with Steve Dinsdale on drums and Archer on Woodwind & Synth Bass, whereby all three still operate with keyboards & electronics.
Their iconography is ambiguous because it leaves open whether they use the hexagram to summon or ban a devilish servant Ruprecht, whether they frighten the children in a riot-fueled manner or, on the contrary, encourage them to play with razor blades and seduce them with the Smoke of Hell. With ‘Kapow!’ and ‘Kaprise!’ In any case, they start a ‘mental cinema’ in which ‘Satanic Particles’ make ‘tired of life’ lively again. They approach their ‘offtwerk’ quite solemnly, as an anthemic triskel with a synth bass pulse and archer as half a brass orchestra, with jazz core cacophony, goofs, crooked tones and beats. Delicately-tempered things spinning to stormy fanfares, synth and guitar sounds are chirped by the keys.
In this witch’s guide, 3 means three times 3, human work and a diabolical contribution that shimmering and clinking drives away any tiredness that gets things rolling. With an undaunted beat, melody-like suction, lava flickered over by the guitar, fragile reminiscences of folklore, with flute and baritone sax, acoustic and trill guitar, glockenspiel and psychedelic intensity.
‘Mauger Hay’ grooves a rocky furrow, melodic-melodic and grumpy, with guitar-like vortex and childlike ghost singing. The title track brings a thin soprano sound and finds its way into a drum march through percussive and electronic turbulence and distorted guitar and powerful organ pathos. ‘Starvation Hound’ as the final long track then pulls out all the stops again, with fuzz guitar, growling bass, highest and anthemic multi-sax tones and again organ in a splendid range and an extreme finish by Robinson. Kapow!
Rigobert Dittmann – Bad Alchemy #112
Sheffield is hardworking. A good year after the release of “Adios Al Futuro”, Das Rad present their third album. Nick Robinson, Martin Archer and Steve Dinsdale called their new work “Laik Tors”, which, according to the band, means ‘marble game’ in the Yorkshire dialect. Echoing sounds of marbles rolling in singing bowls can indeed be heard in the title track.
Again the trio has delivered a well-filled sound carrier. This time the CD adorns a replica of the pink label from Island Records (but with a d instead of an i), with which e.g. the first LP editions of e.g. King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer and If, at least in Great Britain, were provided. If you turn the CD case over, you can see the Fontana Records logo at the bottom left, but ‘discus’ has replaced the ‘fontana’ text. Two homages to previous prog days, but also references to the music to be found on “Laik Tors”.
As on the two predecessors, Das Rad has a colorful mix at the start, which combines retro-prog, jazz-rock, modern instrumental-prog, avant-rock and freer sound tinkering into a homogeneous whole. Voluminously produced, the music surges ahead, sometimes offering free-jazzy improvisations, sometimes varied prog rock, sometimes ambient sound making, sometimes edgy rock excursions, sometimes dynamic jazz rock, sometimes hearty avant-prog. Chinging, cutting and echoing electric guitars, swaying electric piano lines, full Mellotron thrusts, all sorts of blowers (including the recorder), various electronic impurities and free-tumbling to dynamically rocking percussive patterns work closely together here. Stickprog or the more recent music by King Crimson sometimes peeps around the corner and a few Canterbury reminiscences can be made out from time to time, but all in all Das Rad have their own mix at the start.
Das Rad on “Laik Tors” offers a modern, virtuoso electrojazzprog, which does not deny the sources of inspiration or pays homage to them every now and then, but otherwise enriches the genre with its own very convincing prog variant. If you want to hear first-class timeless prog, have no aversions to free-form interludes, electronic distortions and a bit of jazz and can do without vocals, the trio from Sheffield should not be missed. I would almost say that “Laik Tors” is the roundest and best album of the project so far.
Achim Breiling – Babyblau
Out of Sheffield, UK comes DAS RAD, and Laik Tors is their 3rd album so far. The band is formed around NICK ROBINSON (guitars, keys, electronics), MARTIN ARCHER (woodwind, keys, synth bass, electronics) and STEVE DINSDALE (drums, keys, electronics). Although I mentioned somewhere in a review of another DISCUS MUSIC release that the label owner’s Martin usually goes for complete free improvisation jazz direction on the albums where he plays himself, the DAS RAD album on which he plays is going for a slightly different direction. It still is complex and touches jazz here and there for sure (Satanic Particles), it rocks just a bit more and actually feels like an interesting complex instrumental progressive rockalbum with free style jazz parts. It sounds modern for sure, sometimes (post-) prog ish (Kapow!), yet with a 70s jazz-fusion touch for sure like we could hear almost 50 years ago when acts like WEATHER REPORT and BILLY COBHAM released some really adventurous music. On the other hand a song like the electronic Lebensmude reveals pure Krautrock/Synthwave ish influences, kinda like KRAFTWERK meets MAGIC SWORD. It’s hard to just label a certain direction to DAS RAD, because the 9 included songs are very diverse, so open-minded prog, jazz and modern music fans definitely need to check out this original album.
Gabor Kleinbloesem – Strutterzine