Notes In The Margin
Abstract Expression
with Electrum:
Standard Deviation
Frames Of Mind
as guest musician:
Global Resonances
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Orbis Terrarum
Sphere Of Influence

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Dave Kulju - Notes In The Margin Reviews

Rick Tvedt (Progression Magazine)

Rating: 15 out of 16

Known primarily for instrumental prog with his band Electrum, Dave Kulju presents his second solo album, which thematically affirms the common man's struggle to realize his artistic vision amidst the setbacks of everyday life. The title refers to that struggle but also to the literary influences inspiring each track.

Opening instrumental "Skating on Europa" (Arthur C. Clarke) is a tour-de-force, cued from an indecipherable otherworldly phone message. Porcupine Tree motifs abound, especially the Richard Barbiere-like keyboards, though Kulju successfully melds his many influences into something uniquely identifiable.

The nearly 30-minute epic "A Poet's Talespin" is very well conceived, and the brilliant adaptation of two poems by Amanda Joy (sung by Annie Oya) make Kulju's first foray into lyrical matter a triumph. Equally adept at guitar and keyboards, Dave excels at transitioning between the two.

Elsewhere, "Get the Hell Off My Lawn" (book on organic lawn care) exhibits symphonic rock grandeur, while "Know Again" (Greek Tragedy) is another excellent instrumental.

Notes in the Margin is a labor of love that is surprisingly strong and bears repeated, joyous listening.

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Jon Neudorf (Sea Of Tranquility)

Dave Kulju is a multi-instrumentalist hailing from the United States and is a member of the New England band Electrum. Notes in the Margin is Kulju's second solo album and is the follow up to Abstract Expression.

This is the first I have heard of Kulju and listening to Notes in the Margin was a pleasant surprise indeed. Kulju is a talented musician playing a variety of instruments including electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, keyboards, guitar synthesizer, sound fx and programming. Frank Basile adds his expertise on the drumkit and Annie Oya provides guest vocals on "A Poet's Talespin". Ian Cameron adds violin on "Know Again". Kulju began working on Notes In The Margin in December, 2007 with the final product finally released this year. The time was well spent as Kulju exhibits a tremendous attention to detail throughout the album's nine tracks. His guitar playing is top notch and clearly emanates from the Dave Gilmour school of guitarists and I mean that as a compliment. While Kulju can play at a faster pace he chooses a more refined approach with languid lead lines that drip with emotion. His guitar rhythms and dynamic lead work give these compositions plenty of texture adding layers to an already rich sound. The music on Notes in the Margin is clearly entrenched in progressive rock in the vein of bands like Pink Floyd and Rush. While his guitar playing is a highlight throughout this CD one cannot overlook his use of keyboards which flesh out the sound rather nicely and are never over bearing.

Lush keyboards and sound effects begin the Floyd-like "Skating on Europa" where spacey soundscapes and edgy guitar rhythms are commonplace. Besides the spacey undercurrent there are also elements of post rock. "Know Again" takes a slightly jazzier approach with spacious guitar rhythms and drumming to match. The music slowly builds becoming more intense as the seconds tick by. Ian Cameron's violin is a nice touch.

For me the albums best song is the multi part epic "A Poet's Talespin", based on two poems by Amanda Joy. The song's theme is that of a poem unfolding from a dream and how a poet can create a totally different world than the one he or she lives in. Melancholic piano melodies with a classical bent and Floydian guitar work is what you will mostly find here. Kulju's lead guitar playing is a highlight as he has a tremendous feel for the instrument demonstrating that sometimes less is more.

The heavy "Get the Hell off my Lawn" is another slice of melodic progressive rock featuring more stellar guitar where the atmospheric rhythms are slightly blurred, again recalling Dave Gilmour. The album ends with the pastoral "Counted the Stars" featuring sound effects over a bed of gently flowing keys.

Kulju has made an excellent sophomore effort with Notes in the Margin. Fans of Gilmour inspired guitar work and melodic progressive rock will surely want this in their collection and I can see this one getting plenty of more spins in the days and months to come.

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Geoff Feakes (Dutch Progressive Rock Pages)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Very few debut albums have managed to grab my attention in the same way as Dave Kulju’s impressive 2007 release Abstract Expression. He originally came to the attention of the DPRP five years earlier as a member of the band Electrum and their album Standard Deviation. In the ensuing years Dave has forged ahead with a solo career resulting in this latest offering Notes In The Margin. Hailing from Rochester in the USA, he is a talented guitarist, composer and producer who also plays’ bass and keyboards. So what’s new, I hear you ask? Well from Dave’s perspective quite a lot. His previous album for the most part occupied retro prog territory whereas Notes In The Margin has a more contemporary feel albeit in a progressive rock context. More importantly he maintains his flair for producing beautifully melodic and structured music with near perfect execution. He is not alone in his endeavours and once again receives solid support from contributors Frank Basile (drums) and Ian Cameron (violins).

Opener Skating On Europa is a powerful statement of intent with a gutsy guitar riff that’s both urgent and intense but somehow still melodic reminding me very much of Gazpacho. Given the modern European (as opposed to American) tone the title is very apt although I’m not entirely convinced that there’s quite enough variety or development to fully justify it’s near 10 minute length. That being said even after repeated plays it’s still very much a grower which is always a good sign. Know Again is more laidback to begin with but soon develops into a heraldic main hook (in a Mike Oldfield vein) with Cameron’s stirring bowing underpinned by Kulju’s searing guitar.

Tracks 3 to 7 combine to produce the 30 minute centrepiece A Poet's Talespin which also contains the albums only vocals courtesy of Annie Oya. Following the tranquil piano overture Half-Slept Moments, her velvet tones lend a folky Iona and early Mostly Autumn ambiance to Soft Collisions. The soaring guitar solo that follows is a real joy with a superb proggy interlude driven by Basile’s solid drumming before returning to the plaintiff vocal/piano theme. The Bridge opens with a strident and strangely hypnotic acoustic guitar riff before building slowly with layered guitars and voices to an infectious coda in true prog fashion. I Write has a stately almost orchestral quality courtesy of keys (or is it guitar synth?) that opens out into a sunny but serene vocal melody. Annie’s voice is totally captivating here, double tracked for maximum effect. The final segment In The Shadows changes the mood with the introduction of a jangly riff in the style of The Edge (otherwise known as David Howell Evans to his mum) alternating with a sustained wall of sound usually associated with Porcupine Tree and Riverside. The compelling ringing guitar hook blossoms into a melodic and spacious Floydian solo that Mr Gilmour would be proud of before revisiting previous themes to play out.

The two concluding tracks don’t quite live up to the majesty of what’s gone before although they both have their moments. The splendidly titled Get The Hell Off My Lawn is a mostly heavy rock instrumental that opens out into more expansive and colourful soundscapes. In contrast, the prologue Counted The Stars is a moody, ambient affair with a deep and sombre string sound appropriately described by DK himself as a “Pseudo-tone poem”.

Once again I feel Dave Kulju has produced an instantly accessible album that satisfies both the head and the heart. And whilst it builds on the solid foundations of his previous work it demonstrates that as a musician he is not standing still and in the true spirit of progressive rock is prepared to explore different horizons. It also benefits from his wonderfully spacious production, adding that extra polish that music of this quality richly deserves.

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Steve Roberts (ZNR Records)

The second solo release from the guitarist of Electrum finds him in much more prog territory, as contrasted with the elegant prog-inflected fusion of his first outing. The epic "A Poet's Talespin" with its beautiful piano lines and wonderful female vocals recalls the best of contemporary progressive rock. Clocking in at just under 30 mins it is the epitomy of prog. The remaining four tracks range in length from the brief closer "Counted the Stars" at a minute and eighteen seconds to the nine & a helf minute opener "Skating on Europa". Kulju's guitarwork recalls many of the greats from Jeff Beck to Roine Stolt without ever becoming just another copyist! And he proves that he is more than adequate on the keyboards as he contributes tasteful piano and synthesizer parts throughout. Dave plays everything himself except for the drums which are played by Frank Basile (www.livestudiodrums.com). And he is joined on "A Poet's Talespin" by vocalist Annie Oya (www.voxinabox.com) and on "Know Again" by violinist Ian Cameron (www.efiddler.com)This CD is a pure joy from beginning to end and a welcome addition to any prog fan's shelf. Highest recommendation!

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Marc M. (MusicWaves.fr)

Rating: 8.5/10

C'est fin juin que Dave Kulju, toujours en vacances d'Electrum, a enfin sorti son deuxième album solo. Et le moins que l'on puisse dire, c'est que "Notes In The Margin" est aussi diversifié que novateur et remarquablement bien produit. On retrouve de nouveau le batteur Frank Basile, déjà présent sur "Abstract Expression" et le violoniste Ian Cameron sur un titre. Kulju prend toujours en charge la totalité des guitares et des claviers, la basse et les programmations. Cette fois-ci, la surprise vient du fait que l'album n'est pas totalement instrumental. Kulju a composé une grande suite de 30 minutes en 5 parties où figure une chanteuse à la voix angélique, Annie Oya (un nom d'emprunt pour une artiste indépendante qui œuvre d'habitude dans un autre style).

Les influences venues de Rush sont toujours là mais bien digérées et intégrées avec d'autres éléments bien différents. C'est le cas par exemple sur le long morceau d'ouverture "Skating On Europe" avec ses couches de guitares électriques et acoustiques superposées à la façon d'Alex Lifeson et son côté space rock, alternant riffs fiévreux et parties mélodiques éthérées, soutenues par des nappes de claviers orchestrales et un peu de mellotron. Le morceau semble un peu long au départ mais ses variations subtiles se révèlent peu à peu à chaque écoute. "Know Again", une pièce plutôt lente et planante, est peut être plus proche de ce que faisait Electrum sur son second CD, avec des guitares cristallines, soutenues par un orgue, du piano et des nappes orchestrales aux textures abstraites, sans oublier le violon de Ian Cameron, une fusion d'où émanent des échos de Pink Floyd et de Rush comportant plusieurs soli de guitare aériens. Même si Dave est un guitariste très compétent, il ne se sent pas obligé de le prouver sans cesse et sur cet album, ses parties solistes sont peut-être moins fréquentes qu'auparavant. Par contre, il joue davantage de piano et de synthés, alternant sonorités classiques (orgue, mellotron), boucles électroniques, orchestrations de cordes très réalistes et textures plus abstraites.

La grande nouveauté est la présence de la chanteuse Annie Oya sur "A Poet's Talespin", qui dure près de 30 minutes ! Sa voix médium claire, profonde et caressante est une révélation. Le morceau est basé sur un poème d'Amanda Joy. Son introduction mélancolique au piano se fond dans une seconde partie nettement plus contrastée, d'abord menée par le piano seul, bientôt rejoint par la section rythmique sur un rythme lent. Une guitare jouée glissando s'immisce au milieu et la voix d'Annie Oya s'élève sur une superbe mélodie interprétée avec beaucoup de sensibilité. La chanteuse rappelle un peu Mary Fahl (ex-chanteuse d'October Project). Elle ne se limite pas à une seule ligne vocale, ajoutant des harmonies, des mélodies en contrepoint. Cette seconde partie évolue ensuite vers une section un peu plus rock, proche de Rush encore, avec un son réverbéré comme au sein d'une cathédrale. "The Bridge" démarre ensuite en acoustique comme du Led Zep avec une basse ronflante, puis arrivent piano électrique, guitare électrique, synthés vaporeux puis le chant... Une troisième partie bien contrastée. Ensuite, "I Write" est un retour à l'ambiance mélancolique, une sorte d'adagio aux influences classiques comportant des nappes de violons majestueuses, qui laisse place au piano et au chant sur une mélodie déjà évoquée auparavant. Enfin, "In The Shadows" voit la guitare revenir au premier plan avec plusieurs soli lyriques sur cet instrumental planant et lyrique qui fait ressurgir plusieurs thèmes réarrangés.

Après cet énorme pièce, Kulju a voulu surprendre avec le plus bref "Get The Hell Off My Lawn", un morceau nettement plus rock, du moins au début car là aussi, les gros riffs et la rythmique plus véloce sur lesquelles éclate un solo incisif s'adoucissent au centre pendant une section lente et mélodique, sans parler d'harmonies à plusieurs guitares, etc… encore un titre qui n'est pas tout à fait ce qu'il paraît être au début ! Le disque s'achève sur le très court et rêveur "Counted The Stars" où violons et violoncelles virtuels mêlés de bruitages tracent un thème qu'on aurait aimé voir se développer bien davantage.

"Notes In The Margin" possède un atout très intéressant et finalement assez rare : sa grande diversité. Ces influences venues de Rush, de Police aussi bien que du folk et de la musique classique sont inhabituelles. Pas question ici de copier les ténors en vogue du moment comme Spock's Beard ou Porcupine Tree (qui eux-mêmes ont largement puisé l'inspiration chez leurs aînés). Evidemment, Kulju prend le risque de déconcerter l'auditeur, mais l'amateur de rock progressif n'est-il pas très éclectique par définition ? Avec une production impeccable et des arrangements aussi variés, cet album rivalise avec les meilleurs groupes du moment. Inclassable sans doute, mais également plein de classe !

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Ulf Backstrøm (Merlin Prog)

I slutten av juni 2010 slapp multiinstrumentalisten og den tidligere Electrum gitaristen Dave Kulju sin andre soloskive. Electrum var for øvrig et såkalt crossoverprog ensemble fra hamburgernes hjemland. De gav ut to fine plater i form av ”Frames Of Mind” fra 1998, og ”Standard Deviation” fra 2001 som begge har blitt rosende omtalt. Electrum er stilmessig i nabolaget til artister som for eksempel Rush, Brand X og Bill Bruford, men uten vokalinnslag. På Dave Kuljo sin nye skive er det denne gang antakeligvis til stor glede for mange valgt å bruke vokal. Det er det den engelske vokalisten Annie Oya som står for, og hun er et virkelig godt valg i så måte. Skiva har fem låter hvorav den episke og 30 minutter lange ”A Poet`s Tale” skiller seg ut. Nevnte låt er for øvrig basert på den australske poeten Amanda Joy sitt arbeid. De øvrige fire låtene er instrumentale og pent varierte hvorav for eksempel ”Skating On Europe” er inspirert av Rush men med en finurlig og lekker utførsel. Låten er også noe spacerockstenket og med fine harmonier. Fabelaktig utført fiolinspilling av Ian Cameron er med å prege den fusionlegerte ”Know Again” som er en knallbra låt med mye smakfull gitar. Frank Basile står for tromminga, og gjør så absolutt en meget god jobb, spesielt i kontrast til det å velge å bruke programmerte trommer. Vi tar opp dette fordi denne skiva jo som nevnt er utstyrt med en ekte og virkelige god trommeslager. Albumet er i sin helhet innspilt i Kulju sitt hjemmestudio, og i en slik kontekst er det ofte praktisk og mye billigere å velge programmert rytmikk. Heldigvis er alt at tromming på ”Notes In The Margin” ekte saker. Ekte saker er så absolutt dette albumet som klokker inn på såpass mye som 51,22. Det går bra fordi musikken er såpass variert og med nok av fine og spennende stemninger. Den tidligere nevnte episke låten ”A Poet`s Tale” er et virkelig høydepunkt. Ikke for det de øvrige låtene er også av meget god kvalitet, og for eksempel på” Get The Hell Off My Lawn” finnes de tøffeste gitar- og bassriffene. Musikken på ”Notes In The Margin” gir oss visse assosiasjoner til Thieves Kitchen siste utgivelser, og noen få plasser faktisk også til Opeth. Det er et kvalitetsstempel for oss da nevnte band har levert mye lekkert i dens enere tid. Likevel så lever denne skiva trygt sitt eget liv, og er breddfull med smakfulle, kreative og melodiske partier. Skiva har nesten ikke dødpunkter og det er et meget solid håndverk i alle ledd. Et flott fokus på balanserende elementer og dynamikk gjør at interessen til lytteren alltid opprettholdes, og det gis passelig med rom for flotte solopartier. Vi håper inderlig at progpublikummet trer inn i Kulju sitt ofte behagelige men aldri likegyldige musikalske univers, og ikke ignorerer en flott artist som har flust med talent og låtskriverevner.

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