Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Albums from the Year 2020: Highly Recommended

 More progressive rock album releases from 2020. These are albums that are well worth your investment of time but not belonging in the masterpiece discussion.



TIME STRUCTURE Frih Drah

A truly intriguing offering of eclectically synthesizing music from a young band from Marseille that is flawed by performance and sound issues.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Louise Baudu / synth, piano, lead vocals
- Loïc Gerard / guitar, lead vocals
- Basile Bouteau / synth, organ
- Léo Burié / bass, backing vocals
- Pierre Desormeaux / drums

1. "Falling Structures" (11:05) some AWESOME parts and ideas flawed by engineering issues and lack of practice(?) (17.25/20)

2. "Lizard" (9:58) a bit sprawling--and, again, a bit flawed by production issues (Louise's vocals) but not as badly as the previous song. I really like the shoegazey vocal banks in the eighth minute and the Phillip Glass-like percussive minimalism that follows. Again, some absolutely awesome ideas here that could've been polished and recorded better. (18/20)

3. "Why" (11:02) here I hear the PORTISHEAD influences. The roaring psychedelia in the instrumental part is effective. And then it goes stark silent save for a hard-picking electric guitar, but then segues back into dreamy psychedelia. Then classical piano chord hits with creepy whole-group chanting before shifting into almost Zeuhlish section. Crescendo of cacophony dissipates into PINK FLOYD-ish space-opera music over which buzz-saw electric guitar begins to solo. Very melodic. Interesting and unusual song. (17.75/20)

Total Time 32:05

88.33 on the Fishscales, rated down for brevity = B+/four stars; an excellent addition of eclectic and unpredictable psychedelia to any prog lover's music collection. A band to watch--especially if they decide to really polish the performances of their very refreshing and interesting compositions--and if they want to give the sound engineering the time necessary to perfect their mixes.




ELDS MARK Elds Mark

Half the lineup Norwegian Prog Folk ensemble, Jørdjso, going a bit more to the folk side of prog folk--and instrumental. It's good stuff!

Line-up / Musicians:
- R.E. Turitrøen / Flute, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Hammond Organ, Arp Pro Soloist, Clavinet, Mellotron and Piano
- C.E. Berg / Drums, Percussion, Mellotron and Guitar

1. "Telg og Sti" (5:25) like some of the laid-back music of 1990s band LANDBERK. Nice. (8.5/10)

2. "Stova" (3:24) more gentle relazing music similar to that of LANDBERK or PAATOS--even a little DUNGEN. (8.75/10)

3. "Spor" (4:32) if Landberk merged with Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. (9/10)

4. "Lauvdal I" (2:27) modern-day ERIK SATIE. Nice but a little too repetitious. (4.25/5)

5. "Varder" (4:41) a jazzier side on display here--jazzier than RAGNARÖK. THE AMAZING could go this direction. Very nice. Great drumming. (9/10)

6. "Jordreis" (4:18) more cinematic acoustic jazz. Almost METHENY-HADEN-esque before the flutes and then electric instruments and drums are added. Great little REINE FISKE impersonation. A well developed jazz-fusion beauty. (9/10)

7. "Laudval II" (3:15) bass, high-pitched percussives, and heavily-distorted electric guitar open this one before gelling with and organ into a LANDBERK-like song. (8.25/10)

8. "Vår Skog" (4:04) dull and plodding while allowing the display of synth, electric guitar, and organ. (8.25/10)

9. "Sunket" (1:48) situational cinematic interludepiece. (4.25/5)

10. "Elds Fall" (6:10) now this one sounds like Ragarök! but then it goes full-on FOCUS! (8.75/10)

11. "Vandring (3:25) two (or three) acoustic guitars picking away before multiple flute tracks add their repeating arpeggi. Later the odd presence of a FRIPP-like electric guitar makes itself known. Shades of THE ROCHES Keep on Doing. (8.5/10)

Total Time: 43:29

Overall, the music on this album bears a striking resemblance to the musics of LANDBERK though with a slightly more acoustic orientation than that of the Swedish quartet. 

86.50 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent album of catchy little instrumental Prog Folk ditties for you to check out for yourselves. 



RICK WAKEMAN & The English Rock Ensemble The Red Planet

One of Rick's better solo releases (some say his best!) in which I still find all of the usual weaknesses. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Rick Wakeman / Keyboards
- Dave Colquhoun / Guitars
- Lee Pomeroy / Bass
- Ash Soan / Drums

1. "Aseraeus Mons" (5:52) marching organ chord progression and stereotypic prog tom-tom drum fills open what turns out to be a fairly nice weave of keyboard layers and melodic hooks. A little too syrupy and prog-pandering for me. The best part is the bank of female choir "oohs" at the end. (8.25/10)

2. "Tharsis Tholus" (6:16) opens with a Camel/Babylon familiarity. P
rog lite with some nice codas and bridges, shoddy guitar work, and Rick wailing away on a few of his favorite keyboards. It just sounds tired. (8.5/10)

3. "Arsia Mons" (6:10) starts out as Rick pulling from some of the Tony Banks/Genesis bag of tricks before going sappy David Gilmour acoustic guitar in the second minute. The panning Vangelis synth is cool, as is the chunky bass, and it's pretty, but there's nothing very new or innovative here. Still, this is the first song with any kind twists and turns, which I've been waiting for. (8.75/10)

4. "Olympus Mons" (5:20) Rick's now in full gear, prog rockin' at its fullest--as the drummer and bass player are in full sympathy. The first two minutes kind of noodle around before a shift at 1:55 takes us into a couple new and more lively motifs--the second of which takes us pretty much to the end as Rick loses himself with his Minimoog soloing. (8.75/10)


5. "The North Plain" (6:53) opens with eerie synth and treated piano sounds slowly trailing across the spacey soundscape. At 1:26 drums and a Keith Emerson "Tarkus"/Edgar Winter "Frankenstein" kind of motif establishes itself. Solid play from his bandmates while Rick plays around with a pitch bender and then another synth (Arp?) before everything collapses into a kind of chaotic blackhole. It really sounds as if all of the instruments are being sucked down a toilet! When we finally emerge "on the other side" it is to a thicker, heavier version of the formerly organ-dominated "Tarkus-Franskenstein" motif--this one more in the wheelhouse of Blue Öyster Cult. Nice! (9/10)


6. "Pavonis Mons" (7:13) a bit of a Punk Rock guitar beat opens this one (think The Clash or The Police) before Rick's soloing synths take on the first and then second lead melodies. A plodding 4/4 surprises me--except for the "choruses." The song basically continues on this path with Rick trading keyboard for keyboard every 20 seconds or so for the duration of the song. Too bad! (12.5/15)


7. "South Pole" (7:35) another GENESIS-like opening sound palette leads into a little more VANGELIS territory--which is nice and relaxing but, eventually, a little too simple and New Age-y--despite the fine chunky bass play from Lee Pomeroy. Move to solo piano at the end of the third minute, and we are treated to some of Rick's classically-trained melody-making magic. At 4:20, Lee and the others begin rejoining as Rick switches to more Blade Runner sounds and melodies. A very pretty, nicely arranged prog lite song, it could also almost fit nicely into a CAMEL story. (13.25/15)


8. "Valles Marineris" (10:02) the best drumming on the album doesn't save this rather dull and straightforward song. (17.5/20)

Total Time 55:21


Quality symphonic prog compositions performed very competently just lacking any bite or exposition of anything new or innovative; a rehashing of the old sounds, styles, and motifs. The predominant use of 4/4 straight-time signatures is a bit surprising to me--making it feel more like Prog-Lite.

86.50 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection and one that I would recommend checking out for yourselves.





BENJAM'S KITE Ingenious Cacophanies

A Canadian band that is trying to be heard for its eclectic styles has suffered from questionable engineering and production standards now steps up a notch from previous efforts. Though the music is pleasant and often melodic and engaging, there are still flaws regarding the skill and quality of the engineering and compositional. I decided to check this album out more seriously despite the fact that I had dismissed it after listening to song snippets earlier in the year because reviewer "Zoltan" posted a five-star review on October 8 that piqued my interest. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bryan Vamos / keyboards, voices (5), producer
- Robbie Brennan / guitars & vocals (1-5)
- Zoltan Vamos / drums (2,4,5,6), voices (5)
- Marc Mongrain / bass, engineering
- Robert Leader / drums (1,3,5)
- Peter Szewc / drums (5)
- Robin Habermehl / saxophones, flutes

1. "Widow Maker" (6:09) a pretty standard poppy hard rock song with interesting sound quality and an unremarkable vocal, melody, and chord structure. (7.5/10)

2. "High Water Mark" (6:14) a more engaging and interesting sound palette than the opener, there's a little GENESIS/PHIL COLLINS but more solo DON HENLEY sound and feel to this one. The attempt to pull off a complicated Wind and Wuthering-like GENESIS instrumental passage in the fifth and sixth minutes is commendable but ultimately redundant. (8/10)

3. "One Good Soldier" (5:15) another fairly average attempt at capturing a RUSH/YES-like prog song ends up feeling as if one were revisiting IQ, PALLAS, or PENDRAGON's first demos/albums from the early 1980s. (8.25/10)

4. "Spoken True" (5:21) a more complex-feeling song that really sounds like a BRYAN ADAMS hit ballad. Nice whole-band cohesion and an excellent piano performance. The Bryan Adams treatment of Robbie's voice works nicely. (8.75/10)

5. "Sector 85" (26:32) overall very strong--by far the best work on the album. (44.75/50): 
- i. Transfiguration - opens like a scene out of the Blade Runner soundtrack--one of the one's beneath Deckard's narration. Nice 2:40 instrumental intro. (4.25/5) 
- ii. Emergence - moves into early PENDRAGON territory with vocals and GENESIS-imitation--then full-on A Trick of the Tail teaser of "Los Endos" theme. Nice, cohesive sound and performances here. I really like the CAMEL-like flute-led section that comes next. (9.25/10) 
- iii. The Party - from 9:10 to 13:45 comes a high-speed with aggressive flute and synth soloing. Kind of sounds like something from And then There Were Three... the fast part of "The Lady Lies" perhaps. The lyric part feels consistent with the intro--one of Robbie's better vocals. (Too bad about the pizza order.) (9/10)
- iv. Cascade - at 13:45 there is a complete takeover of "cascading" keyboards--over which the singer fills in a PENDRAGON-worthy performance. Very good band cohesiveness. Nice keyboard work. (8.75/10)
- v. Towards Orion - at 19:04 begins a more laid back, hypnotic guitar arpeggio led section that turns to solo piano by the end of the first minute. Very pretty theme here--with nice synth support/interplay. (5/5) 
- vi. Ascendance - at 21:39 begins the final section, with brief intro that turns to pulsing GENESIS "Eleventh Earl of Mar" or even Duke territory. A nice finish to a great suite (though it is, in fact, the weakest part of the epic). (8.5/10)

6. "Barnard's Loop" (9:28) a simple, bucolic, very pretty and melodic instrumental that features slow 12-string guitar arpeggi, flutes and saxes as the lead instruments. Nice. (17.75/20)

Total Time 58:59

Interesting how bassist-engineer Marc Monrain manages to keep his pleasant bass play up front and center. Would that they had done a better job recording and mixing the drums and vocals. I believe that the band's intentions are pure and sincere--and that they are working hard to improve on all fronts--but, I have to say it, they still have a ways to go to get anywhere "essential:  a masterpiece of progressive rock music" status. I'd love to hear more sci-fi inspired epics like "Sector 85."

86.36 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a fine effort that is definitely worth any prog lover's own review and assessment. The epic, "Sector 85" is definitely worth checking out.





BUILT FOR THE FUTURE Brave New World

Competent guitar-based prog rock from Texas. Interestingly, the band chooses the long-playing song format to express its musical ideas more than not. Also, the band chooses to use some quite simple effects and techniques when recording their tracks.

Line-up / Musicians: 
Patric Farrell: Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Drums Programming, Vocals
Kenny Bissett: Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
David Peña: Guitars, Synths, Atmospheres

1. "Brave New World" (11:51) nice Blade Runner-like atmospherics to open the album. A U2 guitar and PETER GABRIEL-like drum palette join in during the second minute and continue to construct and fill in the song's form (with the help of guitars and excellent bass) and flow until the fifth minute when we see a shift into a more spacious and circumspect accompaniment to Kenny Bissett's lead vocal. Kenny's voice reminds me very much--both in style and effect--of that of the lead vocalist for Dutch band FOURTEEN TWENTYSIX's Lighttown Closure (a very CURE-like album and sound). HIs voice is a bit of an acquired taste--which, after three listens or so, become accepted as part of the baseline fabric of the B4tF sound. (21.5/25)

2. "Breathe" (5:34) a little Tears for Fears and The Cure feel to this one. Nice drums (all programmed?). (8.5/10)

3. "The Sheltering Sky" (7:55) A song that tries hard on many levels with layers of effects and atmospherics but, for some reason, just never completely gels. It's decent, and interesting, just not Earth-shattering or ground-breaking. The vocals (both lead and harmonized background) I think are one of its weaknesses. (13/15)

4. "Zenith" (7:15) sounds like it could come straight off of a Kevin Moore CHROMA KEY album.(13/15)

5. "City of the Sun" (9:54) great PETER GABRIEL/FOURTEEN TWENTYSIX-like opening continues being quite engaging when Kenny's vocals enter. Probably my favorite song on the album. Its main weakness is in the relative monotony of its flow and development. (17.5/20)

6. "Azimuth" (4:08) a quite straightforward song structure which is made somewhat more interesting by unusual sound choices from the various guitars. Sounds like a VON HERTZEN BROTHERS theme. (8.25/10)

7. "Distant Land" (15:18) slide guitar in constant whale-motion in the background is the distinctive feature in the opening section of this other CHROMA KEY-like song. Awesome instrumental passage beginning at the end of the fourth minute in which David's guitar turns to lead and the band takes off in a nice fast pace. The atmospheric slowdown for the eighth, ninth, and tenth minutes is nice in a PINK FLOYD/LUNATIC SOUL kind of way. Nice YES-like section with smooth group choral-style vocals in the twelfth minute is, unfortunately, spoiled by Kenny's lead in the thirteenth. The final two-and-a-half minutes feel like industrial sci-fi soundtrack music within which multi-voiced vocals are implanted. My second favorite song on the album. (26.25/30)

8. "Line of Sight" (12:32) opens with a sound and feel that reminds me of the energy and in-your-face music of Swedish band BROTHER APE's 2010 masterpiece, A Rare Moment of Insight. 
 Over the course of its twelve-and-a-half minutes my assessment changes little (though B4tF's vocals are nowhere in the same league as Brother Ape)--though again I am quite often reminded of Dutchman Chris Van der Linden's FOURTEEN TWENTYSIX project. Nice PETER GABRIEL-like drum programming throughout--and YES-like vocals in the final two minutes. Nice ending to the album. My third top three song. (21.5/25)

There is an unmistakable 80s-ishness to the music here--especially the stylings and treatments of the vocals. I also found myself often reminded of Kevin MOORE's CHROMA KEY project of 1998-2004. Nice music but not quite top tier. There is something not quite right in the recording, engineering, and/or mixing of the vocals. Perhaps they need to have a professional engineer in a professional studio with an outside-the-band producer involved in their recording projects in order to provide some objective inputs.

86.33 on the Fishscales = B/four stars.




PATTERN-SEEKING ANIMALS Prehensile Tales


Second album in two years from these prog veterans from SPOCK'S BEARD.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ted Leonard / lead vocals, guitars
- John Boegehold / keyboards
- Dave Meros / bass
- Jimmy Keegan / drums, vocals

1. "Raining Hard in Heaven" (8:31) a rough start with some very "mainstream" poppy musical themes used to try to hook us into an upbeat feel. There are, however, some nice ideas developed in the second half. (17.5/20)

2. "Here in My Autumn" (7:57) I'm already tired of the "repeat three times" approach to hook lines and choruses used by these guys. Again, the sounds and styles here are all slight variations on that which is already familiar. Nice sound and instrumental performances of a mature composition. (13/15)

3. "Elegant Vampires" (4:30) nice Mediterranean and Celtic flavor to the opening and secondary motifs to this song. I like that they are continued into the singing part. Ted Leonard has a very pleasant voice that I'm getting used to. A pleasant, nonoffensive song. (8.75/10)

4. "Why Don't We Run?" (5:09) even more southern Mediterranean sounds/flavors to this one--until the chorus comes, it sounds like it could come straight off of a MYRATH album! Not very interesting or likable chorus (unless you're still stuck in a Trevor Horn/Frankie Goes to Hollywood 1980s). I especially don't like the near-disco beat that follows and plays out over the rest of the song. (8.25/10)

5. "Lifeboat" (17:20) after a two minute introduction of bombast, the story begins to be told over a sparsely landscaped foundation. Moving into the "everybody into the lifeboats" chorus the band kicks back in with the aplomb of ASIA or PHIL COLLINS. A switch near the five-minute mark comes with a change in perspective from the story teller/singer--complete with its own very Tony BANKSian musical motifs and chorus. (I think he's the stowaway.) At 8:40 we again shift into a new section--this time with a very real "Relax" bass and drum line and rolling piano arpeggio.
     I'm beginning to discover a weakness in Ted's voice in that he's not quite chameleonic enough to pull off the many personality perspectives he's trying to use. Had I not heard so much prog in my life--had I not heard thousands of prog epics over the course of my 50 years as a prog lover--this might come off as a pretty cool, exciting song. Maybe that's the problem with today's prog artists: They have to please us old-timers. Perhaps it'd be better if we either just died off or moved on to derive our pleasure through some other musical form. (30.25/35)

6. "Soon But Not Today" (12:03) an interesting if sedate intro breaks into a DANNY ELFMAN song with the caveat of having the balls to use a near-reggae motif to support it through the second section. Nice instrumental performances through the first instrumental section. At the six-minute mark we slow down and enter BIG BIG TRAIN territory with a spacious folk pastoral soundscape. A minute later we're moving into a more layered, BEATLES-esque theatricity with horns and long, pretty vocal notes and background vocals and GEORGE HARRISON-like lead guitar soli. The BEATLESness seems only amplified by the use of the Greek chorus and celebratory background shouts and screams of the next part of this section (as well as the continued Sgt. Pepper's-like use of horns). As an homage, pretty cool. As an original piece of music, a bit cloying. (21.75/25)

Total Time 55:30

Like the band from which three of these musicians came, I find the music here a "lite" version of prog--one in which most of the sounds, ideas, themes, styles, and even riffs have been iterated and reiterated to death (in the Neo Prog world) so that they now feel old even when you hear them for the first time. Like the Beard, even the lyrics and their subject matter seem hokey or as if they've been created to fit a list of topics that are popular with the masses.  

86.09 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very pleasant collection of eminently listenable and professionally composed and performed melody-based progressive rock songs. 





GIORGI MIKADZE Georgian Microjamz

Line-up / Musicians:
Giorgi Mikadze – Microtonal Keyboards
David Fiuczynski – Fretless Guitars
Panagiotis Andreou – Fretless Bass
Sean Wright – Drums
With:
Basiani Ensemble – Vocals (4, 12, 13)
Nana Valishvili – Vocals (6)

01. Metivuri (3:43)
02. Dumba Damba (9:34)
03. Shedzakhili (1:03)
04. Elesa (8:46)
05. Mirangula (1:10)
06. Moaning (7:08)
07. Racha (1:20)
08. Maglonia (7:25)
09. Gelato (0:35)
10. Kartlos Blues (5:52)
11. Gurian Lullaby (2:45)
12. Lazhghvash (4:22)
13. Tseruli (2:43)

Total Time – 56:00

B+/four stars.




CHEER ACCIDENT Chicago XX

Chicago's finest returns with their twentieth and most accessible (but still laughable) album.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Thymme Jones / vocals, guitar, drums, trumpet, b-vox, synths, piano (7), autoharp (8), moog (8), glockenspiel (8)
- Carmen Armillas / vocals
- Dante Kester / bass, keyboards 
- Amelie Morgan / oboes (1), b-vox (4), electric piano (6), bass (6)
- Jeff Libersher / guitar, bass, synthesizer, keyboards, ersatz cello (7)
with:
- Greg Beemster / vocals (4)
- Todd Rittmann / ersatz mellotron (4)
- Sophia Uddin / viola (5)
- Mark Hagedorn / trombone (5)
- Maxx Katz / flutes (8)

1. "Intijmacy" (2:10) (4.25/5)
2. "Like Something to Resemble" (4:39) (8.75/10)
3. "Diatoms" (2:57) (9.5/10)
4. "Life Rings Hollow" (5:38) (8.75/10)
5. I Don't Believe (7:37)
6. Plea Bargain (4:09)
7. Things (5:50)
8. Slowly for Awhile (4:22)

Total time 38:22

B+/four stars.




JAGA JAZZIST Pyramid

The Norwegian NuJazz leaders are back with another album displaying the progression of their sound. The same rhythm patterns as used in 2015's excellent Starfire are this time enhanced by new,  fresh sounds from both electronica as well as electronically treated voices and instruments.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Lars Horntveth / guitars, pedal steel guitar, clarinets, saxophones, keyboards, synthesizers, vibraphone, piano, programming
- Marcus Forsgren / electric guitar, vocals
- Even Ormestad / bass
- Line Horntveth / tuba, alto horn, euphonium, flute, vocals
- Erik Johannessen / trombone, vocals
- Martin Horntveth / drums, percussion, programming
- Øystein Moen / synthesizers, clavinet, Hammond organ
- Andreas Mjøs / vibraphone, chef
With:
- David Wallumrød / Pro Soloist (1)

1. "Tomita" (13:46) breathy, plaintive saxophone, electric piano, background synthesizer--this sounds like something from either Harold Budd's first collaboration with Brian Eno, Pavillion of Dreams, or one of WEATHER REPORT's classic 1970s albums. Eno/Ryuichi Sakamoto-like programmed percussion and synth horns enter in the fourth minute, eventually receding behind the emerging drum kit, electric bass, and electric guitar play of a lounge jazz combo. Soft, breathy horns and delicate electric guitar play continue into the seventh minute as a jazzy melody is built and embellished. Then, early in the eighth minute, all rhythm instruments cease while horns and guitars continue--kind of recreating the introductory soundscape--until 8:25 when the rhythmists return and the song reconnects with the melodic weave from earlier. All this is interrupted with a quite radical detour in the tenth minute to what sounds like a bridge but then becomes more like the drummer and bass player have gotten stuck in short time loop. Eventually they break the loop and emerge onto a landscape of colorful and joyous sunlight as multiple synths, guitars, and voices celebrate the alien sunset arrival, the end of the world, and the peaceful transition of all life forms to their simplified energetic sources. Nice. Very engaging main weave. (26.5/30) 

2. "Spiral Era" (8:08) the rhythms are the same, purely Jaga Jazzist, but the melodies and spacey textures are different, catchy. (13.25/15)

3. "The Shrine" (9:06) opening with some gently, spaciously woven horns, drums and breathy bass instruments join in (I'm reminded of Markus Pajakkala's 2017 release, Brutiopianisti), gradually moving into a moderately-paced whole-band fabric. At the end of the fourth minute "large" horn section begins adding it's EARTH WIND AND FIRE-like wall of melodies and accents. Despite a few brief dream-like interludes between horn-dominated sections, this is the bulk of the song. Never thought I'd dis a JJ song, but this one does nothing for me. (15.5/20)

4. "Apex" (8:08) marginally outside the realm of disco, there is a very retro-1980s DEPECHE MODE/1970s DONNA SUMMER sound palette to this one. Too bad it lacks any interesting or even moderate development. (A key change in the third minute! The dropping out of all non-rhythm track instruments around the five-minute and seven-minute marks! A synthesizer solo in the bass end during the sixth minute! Some increased filler in the treble clef during the seventh minute!). (13/15) 

Total Time 39:08

The music corresponding to the titles seem mismatched to me. I hear very little Tomita in the opening song. I hear very little Nigerian melody or rhythms in the supposed tribute to Fela Kuti, "The Shrine," and I get very little of a "symphony" feel from the overall feel and flow of the album.

85.3125  on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection, though, in my opinion, not up to the standards of previous JJ releases. 




HAKEN Virus

They're back! 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ross Jennings / vocals
- Charlie Griffiths / guitars
- Richard Henshall / guitars
- Diego Tejeida / keyboards
- Conner Green / bass
- Raymond Hearne / drums

1*. Prosthetic (5:58) full-on djent-metal! I actualy love the distortion effect on Ross's voice--and the opening vocal section. After that it turns into an aggressive KARNIVOOL song. Not bad. (8.5/10)
2. "Invasion" (6:42) cool start before it descends into usual acrid metal. (These plastic-sounding drums are so annoying.) The vocal reminds me of KARNIVOOL's Ian Kenny. In fact, the whole song reminds me of KARNIVOOL. (8.75/10)
3. "Carousel" (10:29) what?! Britain's Got Talent?! Tears for Fears? 0:30:  Oh, good. This is Haken. (Though I still hear so much of KARNIVOOL. And maybe a little of the older LEPROUS.) The chorus at 5:00 is outright lame. The sparse slowdown section in the eighth minute is spoiled by that childish Hallowe'en bass line. Too bad cuz there's some other good stuff going on here (voice, keys, guitar, drums). (17/20) 
4. "The Strain" (5:23) a horrible vocal (partly due to the effect chosen) opens this one before it turns nice-LEPROUS. Ross's voice sounds worn and old here, the chorus like KARNIVOOL's "Whipping Boy." The spacious, slowdown section in this song is better, more atmospheric--and the high octave vocal very nice. (8.75/10)
5. "Canary Yellow" (4:14) the gentler, more sedate side of KARNIVOOL. Wish it was better--more compelling. (8.5/10)
6. "Messiah Complex I: Ivory Tower" (3:57) psych guitar?! Weird! Not a bad song--until 2:15. That guitar riff is horrid--ruins it! (8.25/10)
7. "Messiah Complex II: A Glutton for Punishment" (3:38) continues the drumming here is so off-putting! Then they try to put LEPROUS and QUEEN vocals over the top! No! (7.75/10) 
8. "Messiah Complex III: Marigold" (2:24) the music takes a complete turn here, into soft Neo Prog with some respectable drum play beneath the choral voices. But they couldn't let it go--had to burst into the militaristic heavy metal music. I'm not sure I can take these plastic drums any more. I'm going to have to go listen to some nice 1970s psychedelia just to get over the trauma! (4/5)
9. "Messiah Complex IV: The Sect" (2:02) something cool about all the stop-and-go epithets being spouted out here. (4.5/5)
10. "Messiah Complex V: Ectobius Rex (4:57) great start to the finale turns to DEVY TOWNSEND. They do a fairly good job of it, too! Doesn't save the epic suite, but gives me a shred of lingering hope. (9/10) 
11. "Only Stars" (2:10) are they trying to elevate Ross into the realms of Einar Solberg or That Joe Payne? (4.5/5)

Total Time 51:54

* - "Prosthetic" song is a bridge between the two albums, "Vector" and "Virus"

This year's model shows a continued addiction to loud, violent forms of human expression. And it's so like several other contemporary djenty metal bands. I guess I've been waiting for their album of chamber music. 

85.24 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an album that you might like--especially if you're into the TOOL-DEVIN TOWNSEND school of heavy metal prog.
 



DAVID BRONS Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

If you like your IONA a little heavier, this Celtic-Tolkien rock opera may be your cup of tea. And what a roster of guests helping him out!

Line-up / Musicians
Dave Brons (Celestial Fire): Electric guitar, orchestration, arranging, and easy piano (7,8,9)
John Biglands: Drums and cymbals, acoustic guitar ( 11)
Daniel Day: Bass, low whistle, and classical guitar (5)
Mark Swift: Piano and organ
With
Dave Bainbridge (Iona, Celestial Fire): Mixing, additional keyboards, electric guitar and percussion
Sally Minnear (Celestial Fire): Lady Galadriel narration, lead vocals, ethereal vocal looping,
Catherine Ashcroft: Uilleann pipes and low whistle and tin whistle (14)
Maria Mullen and the Great Yorkshire Chorus: Choir and improvised vocal textures.
Jane Bryan: Flute, alto flute and piccolo.
Ian Brons: Cello
Stephen Bradnum: Trombone, french horn, bass trombone, euphonium, tuba.
John Dey: Trumpets
John Clay: Cornet
David Hogan: Clarinet and soprano saxophone
Frank Van Essen (Iona, Dave Bainbridge, Celestial Fire): Violin, violas and the violin solo (5)
'Red' Rich Davenport: Gandalf narration.
Jaiden Vai Brons: Vocals (9, 11)
Kai Rohan Brons: Frodo's narration (12)

1. The Song Of Illuvatar (4:56)2. EÄ (6:09)
3. Into The Perilous Realm (5:10)
4. Awakened By Starlight (6:19)
5. Under The Same Sun (5:02)
6. The Shire : A Long Expected Party (4:46)
7. The Pass Of Caradhras (3:36)
8. A Prayer For The Fallen (2:11)
9. The Riders Of Rohan (4:18)
10. Minas Morgul (4:30)
11. The Ring Bearers (6:56)
12. The Houses Of Healing (3:50)
13. All The End Of All Things (3:35)
14. White Shores And A Swift Sunrise (6:03)

Total Time 67:21

While it's instrumental performances are impressive, overall the album's string of song all seem to lack something in the melody department for my tastes.

B/four stars.



NIGHTWISH Human. :II: Nature.

Eighty-one minutes of intricately composed and performed music that, unfortunately, I feel I've all heard before. I mean, to my ears, there is never any doubt in my mind, no matter where I "drop the needle," that I'm listening to Nightwish. I love that they think that they're trying to push the boundaries on what they've already done but, in the end, it's still just variations on exactly that: stuff they've already done. 
     This release generated a lot of excitement in the prog and metal communities. To me, it sounds like Nightwish being . . . Nightwish! Tight, even virtuosic performances of strong compositions, it's just that I don't hear anything new or innovative. Even the all-orchestrated second disc is not anything that the band hasn't done before. Maybe it's more polished and concise this time (at 31 minutes) but it was fresher the first time. 
     Floor is amazing. Tuomas is amazing. Emppu is amazing. Troy Donockley is amazing. Marco and Kai are amazing. But these people are always amazing--doing exactly the same thing that their doing here. I think it's time they pull a "Remain in Light" and all do a musical chairs instrument-switch. Then let's see what comes out of Nightwish!
     Excellent and amazing but I'm tired and old . . . I need something fresh and unusual to pique my interest. 
     But of course, I can't help but recommend it to you--for you to make your own judgments. It probably deserves four stars, so . . .

Line-up / Musicians:
- Floor Jansen / vocals
- Tuomas Holopainen / keyboards
- Emppu Vuorinen / guitars
- Marco Hietala / bass & vocals
- Troy Donockley / uilleann pipes, low whistles, vocals
- Kai Hahto / drums 

CD 1 (50:37)
1. Music (7:23)
2. Noise (5:40)
3. Shoemaker (5:19)
4. "Harvest" (5:14) (8.75/10)
5. "Pan" (5:18) (8.5/10)
6. How's the Heart? (5:02)
7. "Procession" (5:32) (8.25/10)
8. Tribal (3:57)
9. "Endlessness" (7:12) a reprise of the music from "Shoemaker" with Marco singing lead instead of  Floor. (13.75/15)

CD 2 (31:03)
1. All the Works of Nature Which Adorn the World
I. Vista (4:00)
II. The Blue (3:36)
III. The Green (4:42)
IV. Moors (4:44)
V. Aurorae (2:08)
VI. Quiet as the Snow (4:05)
VII. Anthropocene (incl. "Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal") (3:06)
VIII. Ad Astra (4:42)

Total Time 81:40

Same old Nightwish: stellar performances of complex compositions but sounding/feeling very much the same as all previous releases.

B/four stars.





LUNAR CLOCK The Scream of Nature

A quartet from The Netherlands uses music to express their interpretations of the works of Edvard Munch--exploring one of the sure-fire domains of the potential of progressive rock:  the interpretation of other art forms through music.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Robin Boer / keyboards, lead vocals
- Shardan Stream / guitars, samples, vocals
- Karsten van Straten / drums, percussion
- Thefar Side / basses

1. Frieze (2:50)
2. Skrik (3:05)
3. Sadness Under the Belt of Venus (3:33)
4. A Winter Storm on Spring Blossoms (4:05)
5. Equal Adoration (4:28)
6. Bridge of Anxiety (2:39)
7. Despair (2:51)
8. Metabolism I: The Tree of Life (2:41)
9. Metabolism II: Mother Nature's Sanctuary (6:03)
10. Metabolism III: Spring (6:42)

Total Time 38:57

B/four stars. Worth checking out!




ETERNAL WANDERERS Homeless Soul

A synth-oriented band from Russia that really intrigued me with their previous release. Let's see if they've lived up to the tremendous potential they showed before.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Elena Kanevskaya / lead vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, samplers, theremin
- Tatyana Kanevskaya / guitars, backing vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, samplers
- Dmitry Shtatnov / bass, keyboards, synthesizers, lead vocal (9), backing vocals, samplers, sitar, custom DSP algorithms
- Sergey Rogulya / drums, percussion
With:
- Zhenya Kanevskiy / vocals (8)
- Kostya Shtatnov / vocals (8)
- Andy Didorenko / Violin (4)

1. "Invested with Mystery (Prologue)" (1:51) accented, heavily reverbed a cappella sung by Elena is eventually joined by subtly emerging synths and incidentals. (4.25/5)
2. "Eternal Wanderer" (4:39) a nice late-70s Renaissance like pop-prog song. Elena's voice sounds like a poor Paula Cole. (8.5/10)
3. "Transformations" (6:55) (/15)
4. "Meteor" (5:46) (8.75/10)
5. The Cradle of a Hurricane (8:13) (/15)
6. I Wanna Give My Life for You (6:40) (/10)
7. Chaos of Reason (6:21) (/10)
8. In Search of the Anti-world (7:32) (/15)
9. Homeless Soul (5:11) (/10)
10. Invested with Mystery (6:04) (/10)


Total Time 59:12

Far more "song"-oriented than their previous release, the band is successful in their growth but still have a ways to go until they've found the compositional, instrumental, and engineering prowess to reach the top tiers of Prog World. 

B/four stars.




GHOST TOAST Shape Without Form

 I am impressed most of all by the dedication to the "loose" concept of this album: both T.S. Elliot's poem "The Hollow Men" and the spectrum of choices that lead to man's "human" and "inhuman" behaviours--despite the fact that this is an "instrumental" album. (There are voice samples from a wide array of film and other media dispersed throughout most of the album's songs). The music is good, mostly heavy, driving its themes firmly and insistently, but there is by no means anything new or extraordinary in either the composition or the instrumental prowess on display. 

This is very good, often engaging music from a fairly new band from Hungary. While I do recommend 2020 listeners to check this album out for themselves, I will continue to watch and await the development of their mastery and hope for a real stunner, a masterpiece, sometime in the future--perhaps the near future.

B-/four stars.



TELERGY Black Swallow

Line-up / Musicians:
- Robert McClung / guitar, bass, violin, viola, mandolin, piano, organ, keyboards, flute, percussion, tenor vocals
With:
- Bryan Hicks / William Bullard
- Pete Peterson / Eugene Bullard
- Champ Hollins / young Eugene
- Rev. Robert Thompson / eulogy preacher, church goer
- Nadine Thompson / church goer
- Emmanuel De Saint Méen / nightclub MC
- Jordan Hall / attacker 1
- Tim Clarck / attacker 2
- Durga McBroom / Marie-Madeleine Fourcade
- Lorelei McBroom / gospel vocals
- Lara Smiles / gospel vocals
- Emily Lynn / gospel vocals
- Stephanie Slabon / soprano vocals
- Dustin Brayley / tenor, baritone and bass vocals, radio newscaster
- Martyna Halas-Yates / hardcore vocals
- Chris Bonito / drums
- Todd Sucherman / drums
- Tony Levin / upright bass
- Michael Manring / fretless bass
- Steve Di Giorgio / fretless bass
- Tony Dickinson / bass
- Mike LePond / bass
- Pete Trewavas / bass
- Dave Meros / bass
- Caith Threefires / bass
- Charles Cormier / slide guitar
- Vernon Reid / guitar
- Phil Keaggy / guitar
- Gary Wehrkamp / guitar
- Timo Somers / guitar
- Stephan Lill / guitar
- Andy LaRocque / guitar
- Jimi Bell / guitar
- Jeff Rapsis / piano
- Rachel Flowers / piano
- Jeremy Heussi / keyboards, organ
- Vikram Shankar / keyboards
- Basil Bunelik / accordion
- Troy Donockley / uilleann pipes
- Magic Dick / harmonica
- Tina Guo / cello
- Adam Nunes / cello
- Tim Nunes / violin
- David Ragsdale / violin
- Mattan Klein / flute
- John Cardin / trumpet
- Mitchel Bailey / trombone
- Gus Sebring / French horn
- Tracy Crane / French horn
- Chip Brindamour / tuba
- Edie Brindamour / euphonium
- Katrina Veno / clarinet
- Thomas Gimbel / tenor saxophone
- Nils Crusberg / tenor and alto saxophone
- Bryan Campbell / baritone saxophone

1. "Georgia" (12:27) (21.5/25)
2. "Scene 1 (1:32)
3. "Chased Pt. 1 (2:53)
4. "Scene 2 (0:59)
5. "Infantry" (9:24) reminds me of TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, DEVIN TOWNSEND, IONA, ASTURIAS (17.5/20)
6. "Scene 3 (0:35)
7. "Take to the Sky" (10:14) this one reminds me of NIGHTWISH, DIXIE DREGS, JEAN-LUC PONTY, and, again TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA (17.75/20)
8. "Scene 4 (0:43)
9. "Marcelle (3:13)
10. "Scene 5 (0:36)
11. "Le Grand Duc (4:12)
12. Scene 6 (0:52)
13. Spy (6:14)
14. Scene 7 (1:01)
15. All Blood Runs Red (7:39)
16. Scene 8 (0:51)
17. Chased Pt. 2 (3:03)
18. Scene 9 (0:48)
19. Honor (3:43)

Total Time 70:59

B-/four stars.




SLEEPING PANDORA Signs in the Sky

Meeting somewhere in between Pink Floyd and Ashra Tempel.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Mathias Rosmann / guitars, synth, piano, programming

1. "Raytracing" (9:03) (16/20)
2. "Mandarine" (11:02) (17.25/20)
3. "Floating High" (16:51) (29.5/35)
4. "Tears" (10:50) (16.5/20)
5. "The Dome" (14:00) STEVE HILLAGE! (24/30)
6. "Touching Moon" (12:08) (20.5/25)

Total Time 73:54

Just a little too "plug in and jam" loose and simple.

82.50 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars.




AESYTHESYS Alignments


Russian band Aesythesys is back with another collection of their unique form of atmospheric Post Rock--an album that I was very excited to hear due to my love of their 2018 release, Achromata.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Victor Krabovich / guitar, keys
- Nik Koniwzski / violin, keys
- Sasha Coudray / bass
- Artem Taganov / drums

1. Exodus (5:21)
2. Black Swans (5:49)
3. 01101001 (4:52)
4. Transcendants (3:30)
5. Hello World (4:00)
6. Replicant Party (4:06)
7. Obey (3:19)
8. Better Stranger (3:46)
9. Me2 (4:33)
10. Amen D (3:41)

Total time: 42:47

Favorite songs:  the race-against-time MIKE OLDFIELD-meets-TEARS FOR FEARS-like "Amen D"; the 1980s DEPECHE MODE-meets 90125 YES-like "Better Stranger"; the Berlin School/Kraftwerk-like "Hello World"

     Though was really enrapt and intrigued by the novel approach to Post Rock that this band exposed me to on their 2018 album Achromata, I have found this album to be either rushed or showing the signs of burnout. There are a lot of themes here that seem to deal with futuristic, film-inspired themes and ideas, but the ideas here are too often either ill-timed or left undeveloped and incomplete. 

I find Alignments to be a huge disappointment as I felt Achromata showed signs of innovation and energy that one rarely finds in instrumental, keyboard dominated Post Rock. 

C/three to 3.5 star album.




BAND OF RAIN Petrichor

So much talent here! Long-time band leader Chris Gill, a talent in his own right, enlists the creative input of legends Jon Camp (RENAISSANCE) and Robert Webb (ENGLAND) and one of my favorite up-and-coming vocalists, Matthew Corry (EMPEROR NORTON).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jon Camp / bass
- Matthew Corry / vocals
- Rick Hambleton / drums, percussion
- Chris Gill / guitars
- Robert Webb (England) / keyboards

1. "Daughter of the Moor" (7:49) Matthew really stretching it out--showing his immensely talented and broad vocal range--but it's rendered so poorly into the mix. And the song is so one dimensional. Too bad. (12/15)

2. "The Craft" (6:34) opens with a band and never goes anywhere from there. As Matthew sings it's as if he's in another universe with absolutely no connection to the music--at least until the music goes soft in the second half. (8/10)

3. "Larkspur" (7:53) finally, something is moving, something is interesting--and Matthew's operatic vocals and lyrics are working within and with this musical tapestry. Great CHRIS SQUIRE-like bass line and love the work of Robert Webb's keys (especially the little clavinet riffs). (13.5/15)

4. "Merlin" (7:18) 2-chord instrumental over which Jon Camp's fretless ambles about. Later, Chris Gill's guitars tear it up pretty good. (12.75/15)

5. "Tupelo" (5:43) an instrumental attempt at uptempo power/heavy prog. Nice sounds and bass and guitar play but otherwise the song has no meat. (8.25/10)

6. "Witchfinder" (7:33) opens with choir and bird noises before band kicks in with slow three-chord blues-rock dirge. Then at 5:10 it's as if a whole other song has been faded into this one to take over. Chris does an admirable job with his axe trying to salvage this one, but . . .  (12.5/15)

7. "Petrichor" (12:11) potential and melding but no direction or ambition. (20/25)

Total Time 55:01

So much aimless meandering! The chemistry of these mega-talented individuals just never seemed to gel. For some reason the band is content on every single song to establish a groove and then stick with that one monotonous for the length of some exceedingly long songs while letting vocalist Matthew Corry create some magic yet recording his voice terribly into the mix. 

82.86 on the Fishscales = C/three stars; an album of interesting sounds and performances that somehow lacks a sense of unified direction and completion.




BREEZE The Fragile Beauty

This is an album--the fourth from this quartet from Germany--that straddles the bridge between prog metal and symphonic prog fairly well--with sound and style similar to bands like EPICA or NIGHTWISH--only without a successful convergence or outcome.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jörg Piron / vocals
- Ottfried Mietzke / guitars, keyboards, orchestral arrangements
- Gunnar Sletta / keyboards, add itional guitars, vocals
- Hansi Arnold / drums, vocals

1. "Portrait" (8:36) great song with amazing keyboard work and orchestral arrangements, a stunning guitar solo, but weak vocals. (18/20)

2. "Circus in Town" (4:55) a very odd musical mix--almost as if part of it came from the 1990s and was trying to be mixed into the . The vocalist is a little better at staying on key than the one on the opening song, but he's not a great lead singer (lacking experience or polish?) It's as if they're trying to be RUSH with a hint of 80s metal. (8.75/10)

3. "Moth in a Flame" (7:48) a fairly pleasant STYX-like song in which several individual instruments feel as if they are working within their own different universes. Are they aware of each other? The way they use keys, space, and melody would lend credence to the possibility that they aren't--including and especially the vocalist. Weird. (13/15)

4. "The Eternal Spinning (6:52) the MIREK GIL-imitating guitarist is going non-stop from the previous song! Forcing everyone else to conform to his key, pace, and melodic sensibility. I think the keyboardist and drummer are both fighting to play louder than the guitarist--to drown him out! And, once again, it just feels as if the vocalist has no clue as to where or what or how to sing with, much less within, this music. He just sings over anything he wants, often butchering the music below. A wild deviation in pace and style at 3:26 forces me to recognize that part of the problem is probably in the over-heavy use of delay and reverb on the keys and guitar. And the fact that the two "matching" vocalists have no regard or respect for the other's style and timing. They will be no COLLAGE. I keep wondering what the music would be like were the band members all on the same page. And what's with the orchestral arrangement? Was it composed for this song--or just mistakenly mixed into it? (11/15)

5. "The Siren's Song" (6:49) two dueling guitars with straightforward prog metal open this beofre dropping away to allow the piano-based, strings-supported soft vocal. The vocalist's voice actually sounds pretty good so long as he stays in the range of his speaking voice--but as soon as he deviates from that octave, things go wonky. Still, without so many divergent ideas coming from each individual band member the song almost works. Almost. It's just too dull--and marred by the flawed vocal. (12.25/15)

6. "Secret of the Sea" (3:58) don't know where they're trying to go with this hand-panned guitar-arpeggio--to which is added a pseudo-classical tenor vocal performance. In the chorus he decays into a kind of Jamee Young (STYX) tone and style. Guitar, 1990s keyboard winds, and orchestral sthrings each seem to be operating in their own isolated vacuum--which is too bad cuz in isolation they each sound pretty awesome; they just don't work together. It's as if you tried to weave together flourescent orange yarn, warm chocolate syrup, and spaghetti (8.25/10)

7. "Boat to Utopia" (7:55) Again! How can they not listen to these master tapes and see/feel the same clash of incongruities that I do? Am I starting to lose it? (11.5/15)

8. "A Drone's Plight" (4:37) trying to overcome their issues with organ and djenty power chords. At least it's all working in the same universe. Could be an outtake from one of COLLAGE's lost unreleased albums from the 1990s. (8.5/10)

9. "The Eye of the Storm (5:52) multiple keys battling for attention with insidious BLACK SABBATH guitar and voice somewhere in there until the keys mysteriously and suddenly just disappear at the end of the first minute. Weird vocal in the soft section in the third and fourth minutes followed by over-acted narration part. Push repeat and then superimpose an over-the-top two-guitar (or guitar and synth) duel in the final minute and you've got it. (or, can anyone every really get this stuff?) (7.75/10)

10. "Lullaby (5:23) more akin to one of STEVE HACKETT's nightmare songs. Again, the soloing guitar track must have been created/recorded in one decade (the 1980s) while the keys and bass were done in the 1990s, the drums and psychedelic vocals in the 1970s, while the orchestra parts could've been done anytime.
     Who are these guys and why can't they get on the same page? Another collection of very pretty tracks in the vein of 1990s COLLAGE that somehow went awry. (8.25/10)

Total Time 62:45

Despite it's wonderful sound palette and amazing talents of guitarist Orrfried Mietzke, the vocals and at-times too-predictable musical flows diminish an otherwise very enjoyable and often-impressive listening journey. Most of the songs are very odd soundscapes in which it feels as if two or three very different song ideas are being forced together. While this results in unusual and, therefore, "new" sounding musics, the differing instrumental tracks often remain very much at odds with one another throughout the song. What really hurts, and why I chose to write and publish this review--is because there are some truly wonderful sounds and ideas here . .  . they're just all jumbled up and spit out in like someone's post-binging vomit. YOU GUYS HAVE INCREDIBLE POTENTIAL. Please, PULL IT TOGETHER--show us what you can really do.  

82.50 on the Fishscales = C/three stars; an unfortunate case of wonderful ideas never coming to common consensual finish.




ZANOV Chaos Islands

1. "Edge of Chaos Island" (7:19) Berlin School takes over Blade Runner (13.25/15)
2. "Inception Island" (6:22) trying to usurp some themes/styles from Inception? Fail! (7.5/10)
3. "Strange Attractor Island" (6:57) slow and plodding; nothing new here. (11/15)
4. "Three Body Island" (6:48) (12.5/15)
5. "Phase Space Island" (8:15) so TD! (Dude:  It's been done!) (17.5/20)
6. "Instability Island" (7:00) some cool parts. (12/15)
7. "Emergence Island" (6:20) so JARRE! (8/10)

81.75 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; a fair contribution to Prog World, one that I would recommend that you try out for yourselves.





LEAFBLADE The Goddess with Child






PSYCHOYOGI Dangerous Devices

Expressing stylistic approaches in the same category as CARDIACS, KNIFEWORLD, and AMBITIOUS LOVERS.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Chris Ramsing / Guitar, Vocals
- Justin Casey / Drums, Percussion
- Izzy Stylish / Bass
- Toby Nowell / Trumpet, Alto & Soprano Sax (1,2,4,5,6,9,10)
- John Macnaughton / Alto & Tenor Sax (3,7,9,11)

1. Dangerous Devices (4:45)
2. One Way Track (3:11)
3. Master Plan (4:08)
4. New Frontier (2:57)
5. Sooner Than Now (4:12)
6. Common As Muck (2:27)
7. Shadows (4:22)
8. Moron (1:46)
9. Tender Loving Way (2:20)
10. Lament (0:53)
11. Words Unspoken (4:14)
12. Plastic Palace (0:22)

Total Time 35:37

B-/3.5 stars.




FRAGILE Golden Moment

Original stuff from long-time YES tribute band. What makes this group and album particularly exciting is the presence of prog veterans Claire Hammill and and, more, the presence of young guitar phenom Oliver Day (John Holden).

Line-up / Musicians:
Claire Hamill - Vocals
Oliver Day - Guitars
Max Hunt - Vocals, Keyboards, Bass, Guitar, Percussion
Russ Wilson - Drums/Percussion
With
Clive Bayley (Mabel Greer's Toyshop) - Vocals (4, 6)

1. "When Are Wars Won?/Surely All I Need" (12:17) (21.75/25)
2. Blessed By The Sun/Hey You And I And (6:40)
3. Five Senses (4:34)
4. Heaven's Core (6:29)
5. Open Space (2:31)
6. Time To Dream/Now We Are Sunlight (6:29)
7. "Old Worlds And Kingdoms/Too Late In The Day" (11:24) (17.25/20)

Total Time 50:24






FRENCH TV 

The 13th album release (12 studio albums) since 1983 from these excellent Lousiville-based Avant/RIO musicians.
 
Line-up / Musicians:
- Katsumi Yoneda | guitars
- Pat Strawser | keyboards
- Mike Sary | bass, loops, samplers
- Jeff Gard | drums (1/3-1/5), all drums (2)
- Mark L.Perry | drums, percussion (1/1, 1/2, 1/6)
with:
- Ludo Fabre | violin (1/1, 1/3)

CD1: SORT OF LIVE IN THE STUDIO: 45:02
1. "Unexpected Secrets of the House of Mystery at the Witching Hour" (8:33) what if ATOMIC APE and 1984 JEAN-LUC PONTY merged? (17.75/20)
2. "This Decadent Poetry Is Awful" (5:01) (/10)
3. "Stubby Index Finger" (7:55) (/15)
4. "The Museum of Worthless Inventions" (7:44) (/15)
5. "That Jigsaw Puzzle is Tearing Our Family Apart" (6:25) (/10)
6. "A Cornucopia of Riches" (9:23) (17.5/20)

CD2: LIVE IN THE STUDIO: 62:59
1. "Ghost Zone/Noble Obelisk" (8:31)
2. "This Decadent Poetry Is Awful" (5:01)
3. "The Odessa Steps Sequence" (9:44)
4. "Look at the Bears! Look at the Bears! Look at the Bears!" (9:20)
5. "Conversational Paradigms" (7:44)
6. "That Thing on the Wall" (8:52)
7. "Black Pit" (3:56)
8. "A Cornucopia of Riches" (9:51) a redo of the same song from CD1. (/20)

Total Time: 108:01

One of their most accessible and best produced albums. Great lineup of musicians Mike Sary has attracted to his studios. 




Q-BIZM Corduroy Shorts

Wonderful psychedelic funk-jazz rock music from Italia. As if enmeshed with 

Line-up / Musicians:
Francesco Corrias - drums
ETN Hunyady - guitars
Filippo Gaetani - bass, guitars, vocals
Francesco Longhi - keyboards
Alessandro Riccucci - saxophones
Stefano Lunardi - violin
Thomas Murley - vocals, sound effects
With
Antonio Denti - spooky guitar (2)
Tommaso Gaetani - acoustic guitar (1)
Valentin Gerlier - acoustic guitar (7)

1. "Black Truck" (3:41) As if a little of the MOTORPSYCHO virus infected King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard while performing the soundtrack for the film, The Commotions. (8.75/10)
2. "3131" (3:58) A little SIMPLY RED fused with THE STYLE COUNCIL for a funky instrumental. Brian Ellis would love this! (8.75/10)
3. "Just A Man" (3:48) The Who? Paul Weller? Tame Impala? Catchy melodies. (8.25/10)
4. "Funkraum" (3:22) P Funk Allstars/Average White Band instrumental. Nice work on the Hammond. (8.5/10)
5. "The Ghost Of Castlesea" (2:19) a very interesting change of pace: acoustic guitar picking! (4.5/5)
6. "Warning" (3:18) this could easily be either THE BEATLES or PAUL McCARTNEY. (8.25/10)
7. "Kyodo Shuffle" (3:27) sounds like something from Nikitas Kissonas' The Fall of Bliss. (8.25/10)
8. "Punkache" (3:50) STEELY DAN "Black Cow" chords and instruments. Very pretty. (8.75/10)
9. "Blues" (3:16) AC/DC!!? or TREE TOPS? Wow! Another song that really surprises me. (8.5/10)
10. "Roggen Roll" (4:12) earlier STEELY DAN with a bit more smooth jazz/adult contemporary feel to it. Jazz instrumental. (9/10)

Total Time 35:11

I must admit that Francesco Corrias' drumming stands out as the wonderful glue it is for this very solid album of psychedelic funk--one that is laced with quite a few surprises. 

B/four stars.




TERRAPIN Zero Repercussions

Greek retro Prog Folk in the folk rock traditions of the 1970s (Strawbs, Eden, Roy Harper)

Line-up / Musicians:
Vassilis Bas Athanassiadis - vocals, electric guitar, 12 string acoustic guitar, cümbüş, Korg Monotron
George Tzivas - drums, percussion
Kostas Sidirokastritis - backing vocals, bass, keyboards, electric guitar

1. In The Fields Of Unknown Graves (5:26)
2. Hymn (5:39)
3. (Prolonged Accusation) Mind Probe (3:26)
4. The Woods (5:54)
5. Infinite Trajectories (5:20)
6. Early Morning (7:10)
7. Epithalamion (4:06)
8. Graciously (4:58)

Total Time 41:59






VESPERO The Four Zoas

Line-up / Musicians:
- Alexander Kuzovlev / guitars
- Alexey Klabukov / keyboards, synthesizer, trumpet, slide whistle
- Vitaly Borodin / violin
- Arkady Fedotov / bass, synthesizer, recorder, noises
- Ivan Fedotov / drums, drum machine
with:
- Alexandra Starkova / cello (4)
- Anna Anshakova / viola (4)
- Evelina Butenko / violin (4)
- Ilya Lipkin / solo guitar (7)

1. "Urizen" (11:48) the first 5:30 is the prettiest, spaciest music Vespero have done for a long time, but then, when things come busing out, it is spoiled. The drums are a disaster--they don't fit. (21/25) 
2. Tharmas (8:29)
3. Beulah (5:27)
4. Luvah (8:44)
5. Urthona (5:59)
6. LOS (8:37)
7. "The Emanation of the Giant Albion" (21:02) nice to hear a proper mix of all of the instruments--and some awesome guitar sounds--and a great final five minutes. (35/40)

Total Time 70:06

on the Fishscales = / stars; 




ABEL GANZ The Life of the Honeybee and Other Moments of Clarity

Line-up / Musicians: 
Davie Mitchell: Guitars
Jack Webb: Keyboards
Mick Macfarlane: Vocals, Guitars, Bouzouki
Stephen Donnelly: Bass
Denis Smith: Drums, Vocals (6)
David King: Guitars, Keyboards (1, 6), Drum programming (6)
With
Alan Hearton: Keyboards (1, 5, 6), Vibraphone (5)
Fiona Cuthill: Fiddles & Recorders (1)
Alex Paclin: Harmonica (1)
Snake Davis: Saxophone (1)
Emily Smith: Vocals (2)
Frank van Essen: Strings (4)
Stevie Lawrence: Low whistles (6)
Signy Jakobsdottir: Congas, Percussion (6)
Marc Papaghin: French horns (6)

1. "The Life of the Honeybee and other Moments of Clarity" (12:38) (23/25)
2. One Small Soul
3. Arran Shores
4. Summerlong
5. "Sepia and White" (13:38) (25.75/30)
6. The Light Shines Out





MECIEJ MELLER Zenith

Line-up / Musicians: 
Maciej Meller (Riverside, Quidam) – guitars, mandolin 
Krzysztof Borek – vocals 
Robert Szydło – bass guitars 
Łukasz Damrych – keyboards 
Łukasz Sobolak – drums 
With
Szymon Paduszyński – backing vocals (3)

1. Aside (8:44)
2. Knife (4:39)
3. Plan B (4:11)
4. Halfway (5:10)
5. "Frozen" (5:40) (8.75/10)
6. Fox (6:40)
7. Trip (8:02)
8. Magic (1:52)

Total Time 44:58





SECONDS BEFORE LANDING Cosmonaut

Simple but pleasing and quirky Neo Prog inspired by a space theme.

Line-up / Musicians:
- John Crispino / Vocals, Drums and Percussion, Synths, Bass Synth, Loops and Effects
- J.D. Garrison / Bass
- Guy Bar Tor / Bass
- Eric Maldonado / Lead Guitars
- Steve Schuffert / Lead Guitars
- Rick Witkowski / Rhythm and Acoustic Guitars
- Jamie Peck / Steinway Piano, Saxophone, Clarinet Solo
- Vanessa Campagna / Vocals

1. Weightless (0:40)
2. Life (3:02)
3. My Best Friend (5:25)
4. March In to Klushino (5:07)
5. Training (1:59)
6. Waterfall (3:37)
7. "Close to Heaven" (5:48) nice BLUE NILE like sound palette. (9/10)
8. Yuri Speaks (1:20)
9. 36 Dogs (5:30)
10. It's Time Now (5:30)
11. One Minute to Launch (2:51)
12. Answer Me (5:22)
13. Cosmonaut (8:31)
14. Oh How I Miss You (3:00)
15. The End (3:22)

Total Time 61:04

Competent and listenable if not terribly sophisticated.

B-/3.5 stars; an album worthy of your own judgment. 




LA MASCHERA DI CERA S.E.I.

Fabio Zuffanti is back with another release from his most successful prog project. While the band's previous release, 2013's La Porto di domini was, to my ears, a flop (especially for being the successor to LE ORME's highly acclaimed 1973 release, Felona e Sorona), the compositions, recording, and performances here are fairly strong.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Alessandro Corvaglia / vocals, guitars
- Agostino Macor / keyboards
- Fabio Zuffanti / bass
With:
- Martin Grice / saxophone, flute
- Paolo Tixi / drums

1. "Il tempo millenario" (21:43) (/40):
- i. L'anima in Rovina
- ii. Nuvole Gonfie
- iii. La Mia Condanna
- iv. Scparazione
- v. Del tempo sprecato
2. "Il cerchio del comando" (9:57) (/10)
3. "Vacuo senso" (13:30) (:
- i. Prologo
- ii. Dialogo
- iii. Nella rete dell'Inganno
- iv. Il risueglio di S
- v. Ascensione

Total Time 42:41

Trying to overcome my usual biases against this band due to their past inconsistencies is a challenge--especially when the music on this album only serves to reinforce those biases. One GREAT song, two okay, all three long playing, two epic suites (my bandcamp version of "Vacuo senso" is 13:30.)