Stelios Romaliadis – flute; loops
David Jackson – saxophones, flute (4, 6, 8)
Lisa Isaksson – vocals; ac. guitar; flute, glockenspiel (1, 5)
Akis Boyatzis – vocals; bass; keyboards, electronic percussion (3, 8)
Eleni Adamopoulou – vocals; keyboards, electronics (7)
Nikos Fokas – Mellotron, synthesizers (9)
Prolusion. LUUP (meaning ‘loop’) is a project of Greek flutist Stelios Romaliadis, who is also a member of the experimental ambient band Yellow Elephant Ensemble. “Distress Signal Code”, released by Musea Records in October 2008, was recorded in Greece and Sweden with the help of a number of guest musicians, including legendary former Van Der Graaf Generator saxophonist, David Jackson.
Analysis.Every once in a while any dedicated music listener will come across an album that, in spite of being quite different from what they are generally used to, will capture their attention and strike a chord deep inside them. “Distress Signal Code” is one such album – an album of light and shade, deeply haunting and full of delicate nuances, so very unlike the overwrought bombast of many recent progressive rock offerings. This is music to be approached with patience and dedication, not just left to run in the background. Luup is the project of one man, which unfortunately is not always a guarantee of positive results. Too many musicians who record albums without any external help end up falling short of real quality, seen as it is very rare for someone to be able to handle everything equally well. However, this is not the case of this album. Instead of trying to play every instrument with varying results, Stelios Romaliadis limits his contribution to what he can do best (that is, flutes and loops), availing himself sparingly of the help of guest musicians. Consequently, here you will not find lush orchestrations, sweeping keyboards, and head-spinningly complex time signatures in the standard prog tradition – each of the tracks is pared down to the essential, focused on creating atmospheres rather than on impressing the listener with displays of technical skill or complex song structures. “Distress Signal Code” opens with the hauntingly beautiful Through Your Woods – one of two tracks to feature the exquisite vocals of Swedish singer Lisa Isaksson, whose lyrics, a perfect foil for the music (mostly flute and acoustic guitar), suggest a sad, autumnal mood. Isaksson’s pure tones also grace the ethereal From Here, sung this time in her native language over a delicate background of faintly tinkling glockenspiel and haunting flute loops. These two songs, together with the slow, soothing Water, with its melody recalling the motion of the surf, are the most ‘mainstream’ offerings on the album, displaying a relatively conventional song structure – unlike the remaining tracks, which take a definitely more experimental route. It would not be too far off the mark to define most of the compositions on “Distress Signal Code” as tone poems in the late Romantic musical tradition. Indeed, the discerning listener may find that they are meant to evoke images, landscapes and situations – not coincidentally, the album’s centrepiece is called Sketches for Two Puppets, a title that brings to mind many classical music pieces produced in the years between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Clocking in at over 14 minutes, and divided into three separate movements, the track is a mesmerizingly beautiful yet demanding listen, a novel take on the old, tired idea of ‘prog epic’ based on a dialog between Romaliadis’ flute and David Jackson’s saxes, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to one of the most distinctive, best-known tone poems in classical music – Claude Debussy’s flute-led “Prelude a l’Apres-midi d’Un Faune”. The 9-minute-plus title-track, also featuring Jackson’s contribution, is in a similar vein, though somewhat harsher and more dissonant; while Urban Legend sees flute and sax interacting in the foreground, with drums and bass providing a muted yet distinct backdrop. Given the long-standing relationship between progressive music and the visual arts, a mention should be made for the album’s stylish artwork – sepia-toned photographs of two clowns, Toto and Carolo, reinforcing the impression of the music as the ideal soundtrack to a black-and-white, art-house movie light years away from the sound and fury of Hollywood blockbusters.
Conclusion. While lovers of atmospheric, impressionistic music will be won over by “Distress Signal Code”, those who prefer a more traditionally ‘rock’ approach to music may be disappointed and find the album one-dimensional, if not positively boring. “Distress Signal Code” is about moods and textures, an album that needs intensive listening in order to be fully appreciated. At any rate, it is an authentically progressive, exquisitely crafted offering, one of those rare gems that deserve far more exposure and attention than what they are likely to get on the modern music scene.