Monday, December 31, 2012

Important Albums from the 1990s

The following albums, in my opinion, helped to set the stage for prog's 'comeback,' that is, I beleive that the 1990s represents a renascence of progressive rock music--both in terms of a rekindling of the spirit of innovation and experimentalism that brought on the first prog revolution in the late 60s, but also because people were waking up to realize how much they liked the "progressive rock" music of the 1970s that they wanted to emulate or create "prog rock" themselves (the Neo-prog groups). It should be noted that several "sub-genres" of progressive rock music that did not exist in the 1960s or 1970s made their appearance and rise in the 1990s. These include: Post Rock/Math Rock, Experimental/Post Metal, and Technical/Extreme Prog Metal.


AFTER CRYING Overground Music (1990)

This debut album from Hungary must be heard to be believed--so rich and mature are its constructs and performances. Steeped in classical training and traditions, the band also shows the influences of Phase Two King Crimson, Keith Emerson, Frank Zappa, big band-era jazz, as well as Hungarian folk and "Minimalist" classical traditions. The heavily accented (though surprisingly similar to John Wetton) male vocals are often derided and criticized, but, if you can get past this, the music here is quite heavenly. Plus, the female vocals (as rendered by Judit Andrejszki) are sublime and quite top notch/professional. But it's the unusual piano-strings-&-brass/woodwinds uses that really make this album--and this group--stand out from all other music being done at the time (or maybe of all time). Complicated symphonic structures within a rock (though some question its "rock" foundations--quite justifiably as there is little drum-and-bass rhythm foundation and guitars are totally absent) format. Quite remarkable.


OZRIC TENTACLES Erpland (1990) and Jurassic Shift (1993)

Producing albums since 1985, Ed Wynne and company (aka OZRIC TENTACLES)'s 1990 and 1993 albums, repectively, achieved the blend of quality production, recording, composition, and performance to elevate the band into the pantheon of 'significant' progressive rock musicians. Categorized a "psychedelic/space rock" band because of their jam band instrumental approach and heavy reliance on synths, "world" percussives, rhythms, instruments and sounds, and Ed Wynne's guitar soloing, the Ozrics are so much more. (Though the reputation of their live concerts does seem to draw similarities to those of PHISH, GROBSCHNITT, or THE GRATEFUL DEAD. Jurassic Shift is my favorite OT album, a 4.5 stars, near masterpiece of progressive rock music.



MY BLOODY VALENTINE Loveless (1991)

Singer/guitarist/song-writer Kevin Shields and engineer Alan Moulder team up to produce one of the most eye-opening and sound-busting albums of the 80s and 90s--one that influenced so many now superstars. The 'hit' "Soon" (11/10) sounds as fresh and innovative today as it did in 1990 (also on the EP, Glider).






SEAL Seal (1991)

Though Trevor Horn and Seal's first hit single, "Crazy" (11/10) was released in 1990, it was 1994's Seal II that would be the one to earn them a landslide of music awards around the world, this is the album that introduced us to the dynamic crossover team of producer/technical master, Trevor Horn, and a voice/composer-in-a-million, Seal. Need I say more?



PAT METHENY Secret Story (1992)

After years of composing and performing through the PAT METHENY GROUP and many collaborations (Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman, Gary Burton, Lyle Mays), Pat goes out on his own. Though he's still using some of his steady friends to help complete his vision (Lyle Mays, Steve Rodby, Paul Wertico, Nana Vasconcelos, Charlie Haden, Danny Gottlieb, Will Lee, Mark Ledford, and Armando Marcal), many times he completes all or most of a song's parts on his own. And then, of course, there is the amazing collaboration with Jeremy Lubbock and the London Symphony Orchestra. Absolutely stunning. 
     World music (themes from Cambodia, Japan, Italy, and other folk traditions are present),  more straightforward jazz pieces, solo guitar with the accompaniment of only The London Symphony Orchestra, and some songs that definitely belong in the prog pantheon of greats--especially the epic "The Truth Will Always Be" (11/10) which is probably my favorite Metheny song of all-time--certainly housing the most emotional electric guitar work I've ever heard from him (and Pat Metheny is, in my opinion, a master of conveying emotion through his very technical, cerebral guitar playing and synth-guitar sounds). If there is only one Pat Metheny album that you ever try (and with all the wonderful songs available in the Metheny repertoire, this would be a true shame), I would recommend that it be this one.

An absolute 5 star masterpiece of always beautiful, emotional and nearly flawless music.


AFTER CRYING Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak (1992)

The second album from this amazing neo-classical group from Hungary. They're back with the same cast as on Overground Music, the band has added more use of drums/percussion and have now included synthesizers and organ into their play. Less emphasis on piano, less employment of vocals, this has a bit of a darker complexion to it. I like the fact that After Crying evolves from album to album--hate coming in with expectations for 'more of the same.' New instruments, new listenings and new influences yield new ideas, growth and development. As others have pointed out, AC have continued to grow in confidence with regards to letting space and time spread out, letting their ideas percolate and develop slowly, thoughtfully, and, often, emotionally.

Favorite selections:  the sublime DAVID SYLVIAN/jazz-tinged title piece (11:45) (10/10); the avant monastic chant-orchestral "A kis hös" (3:31) (10/10); the modernized folk étude, "Végül" (2:29) (9/10), and the subtley-slow developing epic, "A gadarai megszállott" (22:14) (8/10).

I consider this another masterpiece, essential for the singularity of this band's unusual approach and high quality product during a time of relatively sparse contributions in the field of symphonic rock. Yet, despite saying this, I stand firmly by the notion that this 1992 album stands as tall and as beacon-like now as it did then. Another desperate shout: "Look what music can do!"



ANGLAGARD Hybris (1992) and Epilog (1994)

This is a band that is really difficult for me to categorize because, if you read the reviews of these two albums (released in 1992 and 1994, respectively), you would come away thinking that this had to be a Neo-prog band! Witness all of the comparisons to the "classic era" "greats"--the songs, styles, and musicians that litter the literature. Also, notice the credit heaped upon Anglagard for almost single-handedly 'rescuing' or at least 'causing' the "rebirth" or "renaissance" of progressive rock! 
     To me, these two albums show a technical and eclectic approach to music composition and performance which is more homage to the 70s than new or refreshing. The music is so cerebral and technical that it conveys very little beauty (melody) or emotion (attachment). 
     If you want to experience the heart and soul of the incredible virtuoso musicians that make up Anglagard, I recommend that you listen to the mature, more humane music that comes out in the band's reincarnated form with 2012's Viljars Ôga



KINGSTON WALL (1992), II (1993), Tri-logy (1994)


On 28 June, 1995, Finnish singer-songwriter Petri Walli climbed to the top of a church tower in Helsinki and jumped to his death. The incredibly talented leader of psychedelic progressive rock band Kingston Wall was 26 years old. To hear Petri's catalogue of songs is truly a religious experience. His little known three piece band sounds as if it was the reincarnation of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, twenty years after Jimi's death. The first Kingston Trio album is a bit raw and show the band (and Petri)'s lack of maturity in all categories--songwriting, playing, and studio recording techniques. The second album, II, came out just a year later but shows extraordinary growth in all areas. This is one jaw-dropping album. The third album, yet another year down the road, was much more studio processed, as opposed to the "plug-in and push record" approach to the previous two albums. Tri-logy thus has a much more experimental sound to its psychedelia--but is no less brilliant. Fellow band members say that they could feel as if Petri was on a mission--that his suicide shortly after made perfect sense with the way he approached the recording of Tri-logy. The lyrics of several of the album's songs even give portend to his choice to leave the planet early, of his own accord. What an amazing talent was lost. Thankfully, we have these three albums as testament to his gifts.



CYNIC Focus (1993)

At the time of this album's publication it was like none other that had ever come before it. It is my belief that  Focus  contributed more to the formation of the new genre of extreme technical metal than any other. The arrangements and performances are so technically challenging and yet at the same time mind-bogglingly tight as to leave my jaw on the ground and shaking my head over and over and over again.  Focus' pacing and vocals may not be to everyone's liking but one cannot help but appreciate the skill and vision of these musicians (who came from other bands such as DEATH to make this one-off). Again, there can really be no argument that this 1993 album contributed to the "progress" of music.


BARK PSYCHOSIS Hex (1994)

The album that gave birth to a new sub-genre of music:  The name "Post Rock" came from some discussions which followed music critic Simon Reynolds' use of this term during his review of Hex. He was using the term to describe the new style of  music being produced around 1994 of which Bark Psychosis was one group. To my ears this music sounds just like the music DAVID SYLVIAN was doing ten years before with his string of albums, 1984's Brilliant Trees through 1987's Secrets of the Beehive, especially the vocal stylings and syncopated drum tracks--plus the keyboard/synth work is amazingly reminiscent of RICHARD BARBIERI's work and the guitar parts in "Absent Friend" are Fripp-Sylvian-ish. (So, I have to ask:  Where was Simon Reynolds when Sylvian and friends were collaborating on their 1980s ground-breaking and, apparently, ahead-of-their-time music?)
     While the album is definitely full of scaled down, slowed down, trip-hoppy, acid jazzy, ambient rock, it is also a collection of widely different songs. Most people will recognize in the album's last song, "Pendulum Man" (9:54) (10/10), as a perfect example of the prototypical Post Rock song. I particularly love the album's chamber-trip hoppy-jazz number, "The Loom" (5:16) (a sure tip of the hat to the amazing stuff DAVID SYLVIAN and his drummer-brother, STEVE JANSEN were doing ten years before) (9/10). "Big Shot" (5:21) (10/10) is beautiful and mesmerizing. "Fingerspit" (8:22) (10/10) is, however, the jewel in the crown. Over eight minutes of seemingly random unstructured free form atonal jazz music with many unexpected sounds, noises, and samples thrown in--just because they could.


LANDBERK One Man Tells Another (1994)

 Landberk is a Swedish band who produced three (technically, four) studio albums in the 90s:  Riktigt Äkta and Lonely Land (the English version of Riktigt Äkta) in 1992, One Man Tells Another in 94 and Indian Summer in 96. While some categorize Landberk as Heavy Prog, I feel that their music is quite a bit more varied than that. The band uses space and delicate instrumentation quite often (try "Mirror Man" or "Valentinsong" on One Man Tells Another)--perhaps even the majority of the time--and rarely hits the heavy power chords one usually associates with heavy prog.
     The things that make Landberk most significant in my mind is that they had a far-beyond their years output of music of a very consistently high level of likability. Also, Landberk was the world's first introduction to two outstanding individual contributors to progworld:  guitarist Reine Fiske (one of my five favorites of the New Era, who later joined MORTE MACABRE, PAATOS, DUNGEN, and THE AMAZING) and bassist Stefan Dimle (founder of Sweden's Mellotronen store, Stockholm's Mello-Club and the Melloboat rock festival. He was also a founder/member of  both MORTE MACABRE and PAATOS). 
      The presence of drummer Jonas Lindholm on the band's final two albums was a major improvement over the original drummer, but, sadly, Jonas has not continued to play with other bands since Landberk. Wonderful singer, Patric Helje, developed a very powerful style once the band switched to singing in English instead of their native Swedish. He has a style and range not unlike a cross between THE CHURCH's Steven Kilbey, U2's Bono, ICEHOUSE's Iva Davies, and perhaps even TALK TALK's Mark Hollis and DAVID SYLVIAN. Sadly, Patric, along with proficient keyboardist Simon Nordberg, is another immensely talented musician who seems to have left prog world after the breakup of Landberk. 
    A 4.5 star album, One Man Tells Another is notable for its amazingly nuanced instrumental performances (especially Reine Fiske's jaw-dropping guitar genius) and its use of space and harmonics to convey deep emotion, and singer Patric Helje's impassioned vocals--in English. Also contained herein is the incredible song, "Tell," IMO, the Best Song of 1994.


COLLAGE  Moonshine (1994)

COLLAGE's Moonshine is full of very memorable music. There are many 'hooks' that haunt the listener hours and days after walking away from it. Containing some symphonic elements, this masterpiece of NeoProg has a few shortcomings, namely the vocals are, at times, weak, and some of the keyboards that were 'leading edge' technologically in 1994 are almost embarrassingly out-dated today. Still, the bombastic music, rare treat of frequent synthesizer-electric guitar interplay, and defining appearance of the screaming, infinite-sustain Mirek Gil guitar sound (which is, IMO, one step above that of the Master, Steve Hackett--whose "Spectral Mornings/Every Day" sound Gil was so obviously inspired by).

1. "Heroes Cry." What a memorable, bombastic introduction! And it all begins with the album's major strength (Gil's screaming guitar) and weakness (vocals). At 1:10 the poppy bridge and chorus first appear. At 3:50 we get our first treat to the talented keyboard player as he echoes himself before engaging in the playful chase-and-duel pattern so often explored with Gil's guitar. (Could it be that Gil's soli are, in fact, improved and enhanced--his efforts augmented--by the challenge and presence of the keys?) Prog doesn't get much better that this, folks! A very memorable, haunting song. (9/10)

2. "In Your Eyes" opens with the dated synths to about 1:00 when piano and acoustic guitar interplay take over to back the vocal. At 2:36 a very Hackett-esque guitar riff leads to a very Wind & Wuthering feeling section of chords and acoustic guitar. 4:30 sees the arrival of a very high, squeaky guitar solo; at 5:30 the song shifts dramatically, till, at 6:25 the song shifts back to the Hackett-esque, Spectral Mornings feel. At 7:10 we see a return to previous themes until at 8:35 the song takes another completely different shift with sequencer, synthesizer, and bass taking over until 9:10 when Gil's screaming guitar rejoins. A vocal highlight occurs at the 10:25 mark with an electric guitar supported "here tonight" peak, followed at the 11:30 mark with a low register key & synth solo over some very nice drum work. Tempo picks up again at 12:00 until a stop at 12:45. Whereupon the song plays out with the very enjoyable interplay of keyboard and electric guitar. (7/10)

3. "Lovely Day" uses piano and synthesized strings to establish a slow, almost poppy mood for the first three minutes. The 3:05 mark sees the most interesting development of the song with piano arpeggios followed by some electric guitar-keyboard 'gunfire.' Otherwise, a not very memorable song. (6/10)

4. "Living in the Moonlight." A favorite among proggers, undoubtedly for it's Hackett-like, Please Don't Touch feel as well as its lyrical content. Gil's guitar work is rather subdued and moved more into the background. The "when I feel silence" sees the song shift into a higher gear of intensity, and then higher again when Gil begins his Hackett-esque solo--which he makes his own beginning at the 3:10 mark. (8/10)

5. "The Blues." The highpoint of the album. Gil's guitar screams out the defining melody from the first note and climbs, with the help of some wonderful band support, to an amazing beginning song solo before dropping away at the 0:54 mark in lieu of the vocal  section--a great vocal dislay, with very powerful delivery of some powerful lyrics. Great full-band interplay and support throughout this amazing song. 4:35 begins the Mirek Gil display. This is the song where he leaves Hackett in the dust and establishes his own ascendancy. Great drum and key support. I do not think that this song could be improved upon. A song for the ages. (10/10)

6. "Wings in the Night" takes the first 2:25 to establish itself (fairly weakly) before finally letting some energy show (briefly). The song rather lacks from consistency--bouncing from quiet to dynamic and back again over and over while the vocals go on trampling over all parts indiscriminately. At the 7:10 mark Mirek Gil is finally set free--and boy! does he soar! The final four minutes of the song nearly make up for the floundering first seven (even if there are several moments where one might think you were in Steve Hackett's Spectral Mornings). (7/10)

7. "Moonshine" begins as if playing Phil Collins' "I Don't Care Anymore" until at 0:46 Gil steps in and lifts it into another world--his own. Still, it takes three and a half minutes until the song finally establishes a consistent self identity--which it does, at a very high level, too. (8/10)

8. "War Is Over" is vocalist Robert Amirian's rather pop-anthem contribution to the album. Very simple structure and repetitive lyric make for a somewhat disappointing song. The only real progginess comes in the song's end when Amirian's accordian ushers us out of (the) Moonshine. (6/10)

9. (Bonus Track in 2003 remaster) "Almost There." This is a GREAT song. Too bad it wasn't on the original release (instead of "War Is Over"), otherwise this may have helped earn the album the five star rating it feels like it deserves. I LOVE how the vocals, keyboards and bass pace this song. Powerful! For once Amirian's lyrics (repetitive as they are) and delivery work! They provide a great vehicle for an all-out band jam?which could easily (and even happily) have ended at the 3:05 mark. But it doesn't! Instead, we are treated to one more minute of bass and drums pounding beneath Mirek Gil's superlative, screaming guitar and Robert Amirian's (background) vocal screams. Wow! (10/10)

Even without the bonus song, "Almost There," the album is a definite four star "classic"--and excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. With it . . . ?



STANLEY CLARKE (with Al DiMeola & Jean-Luc Ponty) Rites of Strings (1995)

One of the most beautiful jazz fusion collaborations I've ever heard. What makes this 1995 studio album so special is that it is an all-acoustic trio. Without drums. So unusual in the jazz idiom. To me on a par with Miles' Kind of Blue and the three record albums from Bill Evans, Scott La Faro and Paul Motian's Village Vangard sessions. Still better is 1994's Live at Montreux DVD from the trio plus keyboard artist, Monte Alexander, which prompted the trio to record a studio album together before going off on their own paths. Stanley Clarke is jaw-dropping amazing.


QUIDAM Quidam (1996)

A Neo-prog or Prog Folk group and 1996 album that help push further into the public eye notice that Poland has something to contribute to the the lexicon of prog. Quidam is a contemporary of COLLAGE and, in fact, used some Collage members to help give a few songs a boost, yet the band's sound has much more of a folk flavor to it. Also, female lead singer, Emila Derkowska, is much more reminiscent of the CLARE TOREY-ANNIE HASLEM type of prog singers from the 70s than the more operatic female metal singers of the 21st century prog metal groups, thus, I would venture to categorize Quidam, like their Collage countrymates, as Neo-prog-ites. Wonderful flutes and flute, guitar interplay; keyboards and recording techniques sound sometimes a bit dated.




LANDBERK Indian Summer (1996)


The wonderful final album from these Swedish masters of atmospherics and emotion, this album is a bit more polished and pop-oriented than their previous effort, One Man Tells Another. "Why Do I Still Sleep" (7:55) (10/10) may be the second best song of 1996, and "Humanize" (6:09) (10/10), "I Wish I Had a Boat" (5:41) (9/10), and the hard-drivin' "Dustgod" (5:04) (9/10) aren't far behind. An album full of catchy, haunting melodies that you'll find yourself humming long after the music has stopped.
   



AFTER CRYING De Profundis (1996)

AFTER CRYING's 1996 releasee, De Profundis, is a monumental work of art. With it's small pieces intended to display the skill and artistry of its individual members, I am reminded of YES's Fragile. Yet, as so many reviewers have noted, there are definite signs of the influence of Robert Fripp and Keith Emerson. Most predominant, however, are the deep and rich traditions of Hungarian classical and folk music. As with many "Eastern European" music traditions, we "Westerners" sometimes have some difficulty hearing the 'beauty' or getting used to the 'melodies' of these musics. That is why repeated listening, attentive headphone listening, and background listening are all important--to, if you will, immerse oneself or imbue oneself in these sounds and textures. Such has been the educative approach which has led me to last night's 'breakthrough.' It all makes sense. It is truly beautiful, powerful, albeit,
at times, complicated music. With two short songs being among the most hauntingly beautiful songs I've EVER heard, I knew I had to keep listening to the rest of this music. I now champion five songs from this album to be included among the pantheon of all-time 'classics.' The first is the first song on the album:

1. "Bevezetés." A female choir chanting angelically from within a chapel/cathedral setting over an organ. Beautiful arrangement. (10/10)

2. "Modern Idök" is an orchestral behemoth with very theatric male voice singing in Hungarian.  (8/10)

3. "Az üstökös." A beautiful piano rondo. (9/10)

4. "Stalker" is one of the album's two epics, clocking in at over 12 minutes. Beginning with a very ominous rolling bass line accompanied by sporadic percussion and percussive guitar playing and strings until 2:20 when brass and woodwinds join in. At 2:50 an electric guitar takes over, playing over a fairly standard rock beat & rhythm section until gradually joined by the brass playing a very PHILLIP GLASS-like rolling part. The 4:55 mark sees a winding down to a quiet section: bells, organ, light cymbol play, and spoken word carry on until at 6:55 when a flute takes over with an airy melody. Then, just as you're lulled to sleep, all hell breaks loose at the 7:55 mark. Very CRIMSON-esque "Red"-like until the 9:23 mark when it just as suddenly stops. Instead, a FRIPP-like guitar solo struggles within its sadness and melancholy while a distant organ and the sound of a train traveling on its tracks serves as its only background. Amazing song! (9/10)

5. "Stonehenge" is a rather uninteresting cello solo not unlike some KRONOS QUARTET pieces. (6/10)

6. "Külvárosi éj" is one of the most stunningly beautiful, creative instrumental pieces I've ever encountered. Floating, shifting electric guitar arpeggios over which build tympani, cello, and trumpet into a weave of such intricacy and majesty--?! My favorite song of 1996! (11/10)

7. "Manók tánca" is a chamber music song built around a piano which later engages a drum kit. (8/10)

8. "Kifulladásig" contains an electric guitar playing in a kind of STANLEY JORDAN meets NARCISO YPES style. Not unlike something ROBERT FRIPP would do. It does have a quite beautiful mid-section sounding more like BRUCE COCKBURN beginning at the 2:00 minute mark. (7/10)

9. "De Profundis" is a four part epic of almost 12 minutes. The first part has a very medieval, chamber music feel--complete with minstrel-like vocals--while later adding piano. At the 5:00 minute mark, section B slows down the piano, bassoon, flute, cello--having a very GENESIS feel to it. Section C presents a MIKE OLDFIELD sounding guitar solo until at 9:55 we have a return to the beginning format and vocal. Wonderful song! Very pastoral and accessible. (9/10)

10. "Jónás imája"  begins a series of short pieces with one longer piece (the 8 minute "Esküszegök") in the middle. Like Fragile, these pieces seem to serve mostly to showcase the individual talents or experimental song structures of the group. This one contains a storytelling over electric bass harmonic arpeggios. (6/10)

11. "Elveszett város" contains oboe playing over a chamber orchestra. (6/10)

12. "Kisrasút" is a piano piece done in an almost DON PULLEN-plays-Ragtime fashion. (7/10)

13. "Esküszegök"  Very CRIMSON-esque electric rock band until the third section when brass and woodwinds are added. (6/10)

14. "40 masodperc" is 40 seconds of street noises and organ.

15. "A világ végén" A female voice singing over SUPERTRAMP-like keyboard, joined later by bassoon, then flutes with synthesized strings, then oboe. (7/10)

Giving this innovative and very progressive yet far-from-perfect album anything less than 'masterpiece' status is really difficult for me. Kind of like getting used to GENTLE GIANT:  it requires persistence and appreciation for the mathematical possibility of musical dimensions. Yet, most everyone agrees on the genius and virtuosity of GG. Were the same numbers able (or willing) to access AFTER CRYING, there might be greater appreciation for them.




STEREOLAB Dots and Loops (1997) and Emperor's Tomato Ketchup (1996)


1997 and 1996, respectively, gave us two of Stereolab's breakthrough albums, one stylistically, the other popularly. While I enjoy EmperorDots and Loops is one of my all-time favorite albums (#3). The melodies, odd instrumental combinations, upbeat almost BURT BACHARACH feel to it, and the seemless flow of music--all four-to-five star songs--makes Dots and Loops one of the most unique and amazing albums ever made. 




THINKING PLAGUE In Extremis (1998)

Though Thinking Plague had been producing albums since 1984, 1998's In Extremis seems to be the album that catapulted the band to the front of the public eye. Verily, the production, composition, and virtuosic performances are at such an astoundingly high level throughout the album, there is little wonder that this album has gained such appreciation. Categorized as "Rock-in-Opposition/Avant Garde Prog," some argue that this group also could fit into the Eclectic sub-genre because of it's King Crimson roots and similarities or into the Experimental/Post Metal as it's style and sound is/was such a precurser of such Experimental/Post Metal bands as UNEXPECT, NEUROSIS, and even MAUDLIN OF THE WELL and DEVIN TOWNSEND. In Extremis is my favorite Thinking Plague album and the one I would play to try to impress someone with their best yet most accessible work.



SIGUR ROS Agaetus Byrjum (1999)

I can think of very few albums in the last 20 years which feel and sound as if they come out of nowhere--are unlike anything else that came before them--are so unique that they stand out so starkly from the rest of music of the day. KARDA ESTRA's Eve, THE MARS VOLTA's De-loused in the Comatorium, ULVER's Shadows of the Sun, and MAUDLIN OF THE WELL's Part the Second are a few of the others that come to mind. Several songs on this 1999 album are to this date among the best ever made in the Post Rock/Math Rock sub-genre:  "Svefn-G-Englar" (10:06) (10/10), "Flugufrelsarinn" (9/10) and “Starálfur" (6:46) (9/10). "Ny Batteri" (8:12) (10/10) still never fails to leave me stunned/in awe every time I hear it.

A genre-defining album and gut-wrenching listening experience.



VOLARÉ The Uncertainty Principle (1999)

What?!! A Canterbury style album from a new group--their debut!--in 1999. What's more:  It's really good! Great keyboards and fuzzy guitars withs some awesome horn work as well ("Midnight Clear" [5:04]). Though less psychedelic than many releases from the peak era of Canterbury Scene, and perhaps a little tamer, more laid back and melodic than others, this is truly first rate, top notch Canterbury style instrumental jazz music! Check out the acoustic and electric guitar work in "One Minute of Thought..." (3:50), or just let yourself fall into the grooves and dreamy lulls of "...In Two Seconds of Time..." (8:12)--whichever song you choose I guarantee you you're in for a surprisingly pleasant ride. 



Saturday, December 1, 2012

The 90s: The Prog 'Renaissance'?

Really, somewhere between 1986 and 1989 began what I call The Prog Renaissance. A new generation of bands were experimenting with--or out-right reviving--non-pop and long-playing song structures, including THE CARDIACS, OZRIC TENTACLES, SOLARIS, TALK TALK, PAT METHENY, DAVID SYLVIAN, THE CURE, and THINKING PLAGUE.

Whole new sub-genres were being (inadvertently) created:

-- Prog Metal rose from late 80s albums by FATES WARNING, IRON MAIDEN and QUEENSRYCHE, out of which came bands like DREAM THEATER, PAIN OF SALVATION, AYREON, SYNPHONY X, SAVATAGE, REDEMPTION, PSYCHOTIC WALTZ, SHADOW GALLERY, THERION, VANDEN PLAS, MINDFLOW, NIGHTWISH, EPICA, CRIMSON GLORY, MYRATH, ANGRA, BLIND GUARDIAN, KAMELOT, and, later, RIVERSIDE, DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA, SHAOLIN DEATH SQUAD, TO-MERA and MIND'S EYE.

-- Post Rock/Math Rock was born out of KING CRIMSON, TALK TALK, PAT METHENY, and MASSIVE ATTACK, TORTOISE, BARK PSYCHOSIS and STEREOLAB.

-- a revival of the long-playing Symphonic with ANGLAGARD's Hybris and Epilog albums in 1992 and 1994, respectively, as well as the rise of PAR LINDH PROJECT and ECHOLYN.

-- Evolving from the 1980s work of RUSH and KING CRIMSON and, later, METALLICA and MEGADETH, VOVOID, WATCHTOWER, MEKONG DELTA, and SIEGES EVEN came the Tech/Extreme Prog Metal movement. The mid 90s saw the arrival of ENSLAVED, ATHEIST, DEATH, CYNIC, MESHUGGAH, OPETH, and, later, EXIVIOUS,  GOJIRA, and .

-- In the mid-1990s with the work of MR. BUNGLE, U TOTEM, NEUROSIS, PELICAN, THINKING PLAGUE and HÖYRY-KONE gave rise to the Experimental/Post Metal sub-category--out of which we now have ANATHEMA, MAUDLIN OF THE WELL, DEVIN TOWNSEND, TOOL, ISIS, UNEXPECT, ALCEST, FEN, OSI, ORPHANED LAND, INTRONAUT, NEUROSIS, THY CATAFALQUE, AGALLOCH, GREEN CARNATION, and CLOUDKICKER.

The fact that most of the bands mentioned are of the heavier or metal side of prog is, I believe, due to what was happening in music in the mainstream at the same time. The blossoming of this heavier side of prog was in my opinion a result of a reaction to and an opposition to the synthesizer- and computer-generated "glam" pop of the 1980s. In one vein we have the Seattle-initiated "Grunge" movement, in another, underground hand we have the exploding metal genres. Generation X had a lot more to say than just through Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Hole, and Alanis Morrisette. METALLICA was saying a lot. (And people were listening.) And a lot of anger was being released by the youth in Northern Europe (especially Sweden).

Anyway, artists were getting tired the techno-pop and glam-glitz posturing. And the youth were lost and directionless and wondering WTF to do.

Rage Hard!

Prog is alive again!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The 80s: The Prog Dark Ages?

The 1980s are considered by many prog lovers as close to The Dark Ages. The arrival of the Punk movement is understood as a direct reaction to the long, bombastic musical explorations of the late 60s and early 70s. Many consider the end of the Classic period of progressive rock to be about 1975 or 76-- that the arrival of the watered-down, "neo-" movement began with Genesis' 1976 release of Trick of the Tail. To me this event is what I like to call the beginning of "Shadow Prog." The new music from prog artists after 1975 was so much less innovative, did so much more following or imitating styles, structures, and sounds that had come before, that it should be said that they were merely 'shadowing' the masterpieces that had come before. It was the end of the Classic period, the beginning of a slide into decadent, self-indulgence. The arrival of new technological advances in electronic equipment that rendered some instruments (and, we thought, orchestras) virtually obsolete is also the beginning of the era in which appearance and show were more important than instrumental or compositional prowess.

How true was this? Well, let's have a closer look at exactly what was coming out in the post-Classic Prog years.


1976 through 1982 were the peak years for Canadian Heavy Proggers Rush with a consecutive string of their six most highly rated albums being produced during those six years.

The late 70s and 80s saw the production of a string of fairly well regarded 'Shadow Prog' albums continued to appear from bands like The Eloy, Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream, Camel, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis as well as solo efforts from members of all of the above.

The rise, peak, and fizzle of King Crimson, version 3, came with 1981's highly regarded Discipline through 1982's Beat and 1984's Three of a Perfect Pair

Jean-Luc Ponty, Pat Metheny, SBB, Kenso, Michael Hedges, Steve Tibbetts, and Frank Zappa were all producing top notch exploratory jazz fusion during this period.

Several of the RIO/Avant Garde movement's premier artists arrived and produced highly regarded albums during this period, including Univers Zero, Present, and Art Zoyd.

Guitarists Allan Holdsworth and Anthony Phillips really began their solo careers in this period--though critics are not very fond of their output during this time.

The rise and peak of Brian Eno's "Ambient Music" was 1975 (Discreet Music) to 1988 (Music for Films 3)

It was only after 1977 that we saw the rise of 'pop-prog' superstars Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.

"One offs" (and sometimes two) by groups such as UK, Dün, Bacamarte, Eskaton, Asia Minor, Itoiz, Zammla Mammaz Manna, and Eider Stellaire occurred in this period.

Roxy Music as well as Roxy members Brian Ferry and Phil Manzanera all released high quality crossover albums during the 1980s.

Crossover band Talking Heads and, later, splinter members David Byrne and Tom Tom Club all had their heyday during this period.

Chile's folk proggers, Los Jaivas, peaked and ran a string of very successful and critically acclaimed albums during this time.

During the 80s we do have the rise of a few new artists, including:  Marillion, IQ, The Cocteau Twins, David Sylvian, Shub-Niggurath, Solaris, The Cardiacs, Dead Can Dance, Ozric Tentacles, as well as the morphing of Talk Talk and The Cure, and the burgeoning/morphing metal scene (Queensryche, Fates Warning, Vovoid, Crimson Glory, Savatage, Watchtower, Iron Maiden, Metallica, )

Naked City and Thinking Plague came to life during the mid-1980s.

Yes, the Canterbury and Psychedelic sub-genres seemed to fizzle and go into hiding during the 80s, but Space and Electronic prog was still being explored by Tangerine Dream & Klaus Schulze, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Mark Isham and some other French and German artists.

In Italy all of the prog bands were in fact either disbanding or treading a very much more pop-oriented path.

In Scandanavia, Pekka Pohjola, Ragnarok, Atlas and Terje Rypdal were pumping out some highly regarded albums in the Jazz Fusion, Prog Folk, eclectic and symphonic sub-genres.

With all the above is taken into consideration, can 1977 through the 1980s really be declared a Dark Age? Just because electro-technical advances were being experimented with and true instrumental prowess was being overshadowed by the technological experimentation does this mean that good, time-honored music was not being produced? I guess we've seen the same revisionist attitudes in human history, the fact that an awful lot of civilized progress and creativity was actually going on--even in Europe--during the post-Roman Empire, pre-Renaissance period. Time to open our minds and reconsider our judgment of the 1980s.

Top Albums from the Year 2011, Part 1: The Masterpieces



My Favorite Albums of 2011
(In some semblance of order)

***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. The first is merely a list consisting of a Top 20 with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. The ensuing Reviews are ordered according to my personal, 'more objective' judgment as to their quality, that is, the "best" albums of the year. Here I have tried to order the albums reviewed according to my personal determination as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums. 

2011 offered some absolutely amazing new music from artists practicing quite a wide variety of styles. My Favorites List has albums representing no less than nine sub-genres. I have on my List 14 masterpieces and 11 near-masterpieces of progressive rock music. These numbers make 2011 perhaps the greatest year of progressive rock. Ever. Yes, even better, in terms of both quantity and quality, than the most hallowed year of 1972!

 
The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. THE AMAZING Gentle Stream
2. ANATHEMA Falling Deeper
3. FAUN Eden
4. MY BROTHER THE WIND I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity
5. NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA I a Moon
6. SLEEPMAKESWAVES …and so we destroyed everything
7. WOBBLER Rites at Dawn
8. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Dream of the Magic Jongleur
9. AKT Blemmebeya
10. LAGARTIJA Particelle


11. KATE BUSH 50 Words for Snow
12. CORDE OBLIQUE A Hail of Bitter Almonds
13. MOOGG Le ore, i giorni, gli anni
14. CAMEMBERT Schnörgl Attahk
15. CICADA Pieces
16. SKE 1000 autunni
17. WHITE WILLOW Terminal Twilight
18. FREQUENCY DRIFT Ghosts…
19. AUTUMN CHORUS The Village to the Vale
20. FAUNS Awaiting the Sun

Honorable Mentions:
TUNE Lucid Moments
FEN Epoch
SANHEDRIN Ever After
ABRETE GANDUL Enjambre Sismico
FACTOR BURZACO II
TENHI Saivo
THE FUTURE KINGS OF ENGLAND Who Is This Who Is Coming? 
KARDA ESTRA New Worlds
INTROITUS Elements
BON IVER Bon Iver
EDISON’S CHILDREN In the Last Waking Moments
SOLUS3 Corner of the World
UNEXPECT Fables of the Sleepless Empire



The Reviews


***** 5 star Masterpieces:


 ***** Album of the Year for 2011! *****



1. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Dream of the Magic Jongleur

Thanks again to Sunhillow and progstreaming.com. Does anyone recognize how lucky we are to have The Psychedelic Ensemble in our lives? Three top notch albums in three years--and all conceived, composed, performed, and produced by one guy! Has there ever been a solo composer/performer who has produced music of this quality? And people: This Is The Best of all the Psychedelic Ensemble releases. It is utterly astounding! Time after time I am blown away by the emotion, the virtuosic performances--on many instruments--and the incredible clarity and engineering of this production. There are many times on this album that I am hearing an instrument solo, duelled by another, then a third! a FOURTH! even a fifth instrument gets into the act--all playing top notch riffs, talking to each other through the fire of their instruments. Astounding! Amazing!

God! I hate these reviews and the inability to get my excitement and enthusasm across. This, not "Shattered ..." or "Visions" or "Grace for ..." or "Ghosts" or SKE may be the Album of the Year!! Certainly the year's Best Album That Nobody's Ever Heard! There is no keyboard player on the planet that can compare to this guy's power and versatility.

The album opens with a cacophony of beautiful world sounds: bells, sitars, church organ, fuzz guitars and so much more, before it kicks into a great rocker with such a fullness of sound. "Overture: Into theNight" (9/10) is such a 'complete' well-thought out, well-constructed song (much like many of the BIG BIG TRAIN compositions of recent years)--which sets the stage for a whole album of absolutely TOP QUALITY music. The 5:54 mark gives the first real introduction to the ride you're in for: amazing soli, multiple instruments dueling (in this case like STEVE HOWE and RICK WAKEMAN in their finest hours).

The instrumental "The Quest" (9/10) begins with a STARCASTLE/ROBIN TROWER sound until the main themes are played simultaneously buy guitars and multiple keyboards. Love the 'bubble bass' sounding not unlike fretless master PERCY JONES. He even gets a solo (an awesome one at that!) at the 2:40-3:10 span. Return to STARCASTLE/YES sound. Awesome energy!

"The Secrets of your Mind" (9/10) opens with a bit slower pace but with exciting 'bubble' JACO PASTORIUS-like bass patterns. Vocals are rather high and etheric--somehow similar to JAMES TAYLOR--with some really well-constructed intricate harmonies. The long solo section has more laid back and layered approach to multiple instrumental soli--electric and acoustic guitars, electric and acoustic keyboards, GENIUS! Absolute genius!!

Next is the mind-bending church organ song, "The Benefaction of the Nobal Wizard" (5:06). This was my first experience while listening to this album of goosebump and awe. It starts simply, unassumingly. Then, suddenly a full organ chord is added. Then, second hand and bass pedals. The effect is humbling, truly humbling. Not unlike Wakeman's intro to Yes' "Awaken" combined with the the traditional Yes intro, Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite"--but with more emotion. (10/10)

"Listen to Me" (9/10) brings us back to Earth--but at fairly high speed--and with some incredible keyboard and guitar work--the level of instrumental performance has just been turned up to 11! Vocals are the ONLY weak point here--and they aren't bad! 

The all-too-brief "Stones to Flowers" (10/10) brings us back to the BEATLES/MAMAS & THE PAPAS 60s before gently fading into a dreamy BBT-like vocal collage.

"Magicking" (2:30) presents a beautiful, sensitive, virtuosic acoustic guitar duet. Somewhat reminiscent of "Mood for a Day" but moreso of Brother Ape's gorgeous BILL EVANS-like "In a Rare Moment" from 2010's In A Rare Moment of Insight. (10/10)

"The Riddle" (7:56) puts speed and multi-instrumental soli back in our faces in a BIG way! My favorite song on the album, it is full of such hauntingly beautiful melodies--every vocal, instrument's sound, instrumental solo is of such high adrenaline pumping value that I don't think even JAN AKKERMAN could do it better! Once in a rare eon you wish there was a rating number higher than 10! This is it; my 11/10 for 2011/12! Amazing song. I've listened to it over and over--and have had such joy trying to imagine playing all of the soli, imagining the level of extreme genius that could compose and perform at such a high level. TPE simply cannot be human! (10/10)

Then--GET THIS--"The Riddle" is followed by a truly rare and amazing song of deft skillmanship:

The bass performance on "Dream and Premonition" (4:22) is jaw-dropping in a JACO PASTORIUS way. A song if you heard you would not soon forget! (10/10)

The vocal harmonies and guitar and flutes on the JETHRO TULL-like "Strange Days" (6:38) is wonderful. Not unlike 2010's CICCADA release, like getting a fresh dose of great TULL! (9/10)

The album's closer, the 11-minute epic "The End of Days: Epilogue" (9/10) is interesting for its emotional Richie Havens-like lead vocalist, high paced frenetic drumming (à la BROTHER APE), and of course, amazing interplay of what seems like an infinite number of keyboards and guitar. Great BIG BIG TRAIN feel to it.

94.54 on the Fish scales = a five star album; A TIMELESS MASTERPIECE. (No arguments accepted.)

GET IT!

NOW!!




2. CORDE OBLIQUE A Hail of Bitter Almonds

A Hail of Bitter Almonds brings RICCARDO PRENCIPE's neo-medieval music project more fully into the prog world. The Post Rock sound and format similar to ANATHEMA is present here. Also, this album has by far the greatest diversity in terms of tempos and musical stylings yet used on a Corde Oblique album. It seems that Riccardo has taken Corde Oblique from the realm of neo-classical, into neo medieval classical, then neo medieval folk, and now prog folk rock with a very consistent medieval folk tinge throughout. Once again drawing from the vocal talents of a stable of superb singers--this time four female and two male--helps A Hail of Bitter Almonds yield some truly memorable songs--though, IMHO, not quite as consistent as its gorgeous predecessor, The Stones of Naples. Still, the highs and diversity of styles and dynamics of this album makes A Hail of Bitter Almonds another gem--and more proggy.

Favorite songs: "A Hail of Bitter Almonds" (2:07) (10/10); "Le pietre di Napoli" (4:59) (9/10); "The Man of Wood" (4:08), and; "Gioia di Vivere" (3:50) (8/10).

1. "A Hail of Bitter Almonds" (2:08) opens the album powerfully--on the powerful vocal pipes oFloriana Cangiano and great violin accompaniment from Alfredo Notarloberti. (10/10)

2. "Together Alone" (4:15) presents us with a nice male vocal singing in English with standard accompaniment from Riccardo, strings, piano and drums. The shift at 2:50 is nice--and effective. (9/10)

3. "Arpe di vento" (4:58) opens with a very familiar melody--as if from the previous album ("Bario gotico"?) but then deviates into something different. Fast-pace guitar strumming and hand drumming with soloing violin accompany singeFloriana Cangiano (a CRANBERRY lead singer, Dolores O'Riordan, sound-alike) as she tells us her story. Could use a little more variation once the foundation is laid. (9/10)


4. "Paestum" (5:06) piano and strummed guitar establish a fast-paced rhythm before settling back in sparse support of singer Annalisa Madonna double tracking her vocal in two channels(?). The song goes back and forth between delicate and rolicking. A remarkable song--especially for the vocals! (10/10)


5. "La Madre Che Non C'è" (2:47) opens with Riccardo soloing, sounding as if he might be taking us on an instrumental journey, but then multiple female voices join in. In the second minute the song totally shifts into ballad-type form with, again, multiple tracks of female vocals harmonizing with each other. (Are both voices those of Caterina Pontrandolfo--who is the only vocalist credited to this song?) The song then suddenly shifts into the realm of classical instrumental, but then finishes with Caterina in the driver's seat again. (10/10)

6. "Slide" (2:53) is an instrumental with wooden pan flutes taking the lead--though in a very ethereal, almost sound-effect kind of way. Great melodies and effect. (10/10)


7. "Le pietre di Napoli" (5:00) again that familiar melody of Riccardo's, but then the heart-wrenching voice of Floriana Cangiano makes one quickly forget any disconcerting thoughts. What a gorgeous voice! Excellent choice for the dominant lead singer on the album. 
     The song takes a left turn at the two minute mark, into guitar dominance, with piano, violin and wordless voice becoming more supportive. How interesting! And it works! It builds back onto a kind of dance frenzy before dying at the end. (10/10)


8. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" (4:20) the cover of a RADIOHEAD song with mandolins and plucked violins opening with the rock band instruments before Claudia Sorvillo takes on the vocal lead. Industrial-sounding programming takes this one into territory Riccardo has not explored before (at least on tape). Definitely a sign of adventurousness. Claudia's vocal in the second half is not quite as powerful as one might want or expect. Perhaps it should've been brought more front and center. You can tell she is enjoying the singing--and the band is really rocking! Well done. (9/10)



9. "Crypta Neapolitana" (2:15) brings us back to the folk-based middle ages--until the 0:35 mark when other instruments join Riccardo and Caterina to give it a kind of Man of La Mancha feel. The male thespian voice only enhances this Spanish Broadway musical feeling. But nice! (9/10)


10. "Gioia di vivere" (3:47) guitar and Floriana Congiano return to sing an impassioned love song--with fine support from strings, distant violin, and ethereal background vocals. Gorgeous singing, gorgeous melody lines, and an awesome ending twist. This one's a keeper. (10/10)


11. "Red Little Wine" (4:14) is a full-band instrumental with lute and piano exchanging the lead. A little repetitive but nice. (8/10)


12. "The Man of Wood" (4:08). It doesn't get more folkie than this. Guitars, dreamy, layers of Serdio Panarella's MORRISSEY-like male vocal, violin, and, later, full acoustic rock band with male and female background choir (all performed by multiple tracks of Sergio and Claudia Sorvillo?). Great song. (10/10)


13. "Le Piccole Cose" (2:37). There's that melody again! Riccardo opens this gentle and gorgeous song with his guitar and violin. Caterina Pontrandolfo performs the lead vocals here with her usual calm and reassuring vocal tones. It is certainly a beautiful song! (I cannot help but ask at this point whether or not Riccardo is intentionally recapitulating this theme--as if in a concept album?) (10/10)

14. "Pietra Bianca" (3:48) opens as a Riccardo instrumental--sounding like a lullaby--before clarinet and Floriana Cangiano'wordless vocalizations join in, weaving in with the guitar, clarinet and organ. Gorgeous and powerful song! (10/10) 

15. "Su un dipinto di Giovanni Bellini" (3:22). Riccardo and Floriana Cangiano close out the album with an almost-Celtic sounding song. It's nice enough but something is missing. (8/10)

94.67 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece on the scale of the greatest masterpieces of all-time. This album started out high on my playlist, disappeared for a while, but I found myself returning to this one--and this one more than any of Riccardo's other beautiful albums. A real grower! Check it out and then let it percolate. You'll become an addict like me, no doubt. 




3. ANATHEMA Falling Deeper 

Though I only own Anathema's music catalogue from Natural Disasters to the present, my feelings with regards to their music has remained fairly constant. I love their sound, I love their spiritually-minded lyrical messages, I love the flow and feel of their records, I just find their song-writing style too boring and repetitive: a song's opening riff or chord sequence is played start to finish with nary a flutter or flourish, ad nauseum; they're Post Rock/Math Rock's staunch poster child! But here, on Falling Deeper, the band may have stumbled upon their music's true purpose, it's best delivery style, it's most powerful presentation: the orchestrated soundtrack. Every song on this album is incredibly rich, hypnotically engaging, and lyrically sparse--all of which allow for a much more varied and deepened listening experience. Plus, the flow of this album's songs has an even tighter weave, each song seeming to be but a single 'movement' within the context of the whole. Try out "Sleep in Sanity" (3:51) (10/10), "J'ai fait une promesse" (4:23) (10/10), "Alone" (7:16) (10/10), "We, the Gods" (3:03) (9/10), and "Sunset of Age" (7:20) (10/10)

Bravo, Anathema! In my opinion, this is how all of your music should be presented.

94.44 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music, one of the most deeply engaging albums I've heard in a long time--an album I want to listen to over and over--especially for the opening and closing songs: masterpieces for the ages.




4. FAUN Eden
 
Eden is perhaps the best pure folk Prog Folk album I've ever heard. Every song is engaging and so well balanced between gorgeous melodies, amazingly coordinated and complementary instruments and voices interwoven in magical balance, plus there is a great warmth and mesmerizing quality to the recording and due to the fullness of the sound. There are many songs on Eden that are longer than the band has traditionally recorded, which, due to the mesmerizing weaves and melody lines, is something I enjoy tremendously. The drones, samples, and electronic contributions of computer whiz Neil Mitra are back with a vengeance (after a break from 2009's "acoustic" album, Buch der Balladen) and I have to admit that he's really found his perfect place in the mix: never overpowering but always present, helping to fill the field with warmth and emotion. Band-leader and lead male vocalist Oliver Sa Tyr has truly mastered his gentle but emotional instrument. Sometimes, haunting, others romantic and enticing, he sings as if the heir apparent to the God Orpheus. And the band has finally found in Margareta Eibel the right female vocalist to replace the superb soprano, Lisa Pawelke. Teamed with founding member Fiona Rüggeberg's professional alto voice, the two soar. Plus, Margareta comes with more instrumental diversity than Lisa had (hurdy-gurdy was Lisa's lone instrumental contribution) and Fiona has added a few new instruments to her spectacular repertoire. Eden sounds more full blood Celtic than previous albums but it is a sound that suits FAUN. If there is any "flaw" and I'm not sure if this can be considered a flaw considering the power and beauty of this album's songs, but this album represents quite a departure in linguistic choice as many songs and narrations are done in English, and far less of the songs are gathered from ancient and mediæval tongues as was done on Licht and Renaissance.  

1. "Prelude" (2:04) sets the appropriate "ominous industrial" tone for the subject of this album, man's fall from Eden. A Neil Mitra masterpiece. (9/10)

2. "Lupercalia" (3:15) opens with ominous base note, synth wash and treated drums setting the stage for Fiona and MAgareta's perfectly timed, sacred/religious-sounding harmonies. Harp, haunting ghost-like background voices and intermittent bursts from a sonorous horn complete the spell cast by this masterpiece. (10/10)

3. "Zeitgeist" (4:03) opens with clock-like harp-bass lines and straight-timed drumming before Oliver's rather thin voice enters. Strings harmonics accompany a sample narration of environmentalist content. Bagpipe and hurry-gurdy play into the mix as well. Another display of Mitra's masterful electronic "glue." The lone acoustic harp accompanying Oliver's voice to song's end is brilliant. I just wish I understood German. (9/10)

4. "Iduna" (3:22) opens with a Celtic bagpipe and hurry-gurdy melody weave accompanied by a throbbing electronic bass line, clapping, and Oliver's bouzouki. Fiona and Magareta weave their voices into the lead vocal followed by "la-la-la-las." Trilling flutes also mix into the mid-song instrumental weave. Quite a rousing jam! (10/10)

5. "The Butterfly" (1:34) opens with Oliver and Fiona (and later Margareta's harp) weaving a very traditional (and familiar) sounding Celtic reel sans percussion. Gorgeous recording. (10/10) The melody line carries forward to become the basis for the vocal weave of:

6. "Adam Lay Ybounden" (4:37) is the album's first song sung in English. Here Margareta displays a high trilling in her vocal approach that is similar to that of early Elisabeth Fraser. Also, the vocal duet is unusual (for Faun) for its alternating timing and different style of harmonizing. The song's highlight is the whistle and bouzouki carried Celtic melody. (8/10)

7. "Hymn to Pan" (6:57) opens with gently picked bouzouki and sequenced percussion setting up for Oliver's low and confiding vocal (again entirely in English). Fiona's harmonizing background voice soon joins in as do full hand percussion and Fiona's wood flute. The song's instruments soften to the extreme as Oliver and Fiona continue singing the chorus. An African/Balinese-sounding marimba weave takes the fore as support to Fiona's flute and Oliver's delicate, almost-nervous solo voice. Amazing vocal performance! At the end of the sixth minute the support of the full band instrumentation rebuilds until again falling away as Oliver and Fiona finish the song's vocal. (10/10)

8. "Pearl" (5:05) opens with a Peter Gabriel computer sequence before Margareta explodes onto the scene with a LOREENA MCKENNITT-like vocal (in English). Full percussion, bagpipes, and strummed bouzouki fill out the rest of the band's contribution but this is Margareta's song to shine on. (10/10)

9. "Oyneng Yar" (5:34) tambourine-support is all Fiona needs to open this song with her awesome vocal. Oliver on nyckelharpa, Rüdiger and Neil laying down an awesome percussion weave, Margareta's hurry-gurdy (and background harmonies) and Fiona's flawless recorder play complete this full-bodied, full-spirited song. (10/10)

10. "Polska fran anderson" (4:37) is an instrumental that begins with a gorgeous three-part weave of Oliver's nyckelharpa, Margareta's hurry-gurdy and Fiona's high whistle. Somebody switches into harp (Margareta) while Oliver adds bouzouki (multi-tracking?) in continued support of Fiona and Oliver's solos and weaves. (9/10)

11. "Alba" (7:17) bouzouki and percussives provide background support for another one of Oliver's hypnotic vocals (in German). A quiet song that I wish I knew German for I know that the story being told is the key to really valuing this song. (9/10)

12. "Ynis avalach" (5:09) is another instrumental traditional Celtic weave with full percussion on display, full band playing at first at a rather hypnotic pace before picking up the pace significantly at the three-minute mark. Nice trick to shift into third gear for the last two minutes. (9/10)

13. "Arcadia" (7:16) opens with nyckelharpa, whistles/chalumeaux, hurdy-gurdy, big percussives and electronic drones, all blasting away in a powerful weave before yielding to the lovely and, again, different duet vocals of Fiona and Margareta. Margareta's echoed solo vocal in the second half of the song is almost religious ecstatic. Fiona later takes up the lead with Margareta's angelic soprano supporting her in such a protective way. Brilliant song--so well conceived and constructed. (9/10)

14. "The Market Song" (5:51) is a rather traditional folk song sung in English by Oliver and Fiona, at first alternately, and then in harmony. Some wonderful soloing from Fiona on her special transverse wooden bass flute (chalumeaux). Also kudos for the standing vertical violin (saz) solo and later bagpipe solos. The band really takes out all the stops on this one! (9/10)

15. "Golden Apples" (7:35) may be the most beautiful and most powerful song on this an album of many powerful and hypnotic songs. The finale is so deliciously and dangerously tranquilizing that I feel I must warn the reader/listener to be on his awares!
     Set up by a slow, methodically repeated harp arpeggio, soon Fiona is singing like the most seductive siren to grace these ears. I would definitely be tempted by her offer of this apple! Absolutely stunning, gut-wrenchingly emotional song! Neil and Rüdiger's contributions are also very important to this one--they just kind of sneak up on you. What an end to an incredible album! (10/10)

Without doubt one of the finest albums of this genre I've heard, it is also one a handful of albums that I've heard from my lifetime that leave me weak, drained, so well-satisfied and aurally coddled that I call it among my favorites.

94.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.




5. CICADA Pieces

Jesy CHIANG and her Taiwanese band of neoclassicists have done it again--only better than their 2010 debut album, Over the Sea/Under the Water. Pieces is more mature, more emotional, and definitely a cleaner recorded production than its lovely predecessor. They've even put together a couple of full-length videos to accompany "Drowning in the Fog of Yours" and "Lake's End"--and they are gorgeous. Several other "in studio" videos are available on YouTube, as well.

1. "Happily Ever After?" (2:08) piano, guitar, and violin play into this mid-tempo dance tune. (8/10)

2. "Sunshine Smile" (4:06) in a minor key, the group's instruments weave intricately in and around one another in a multi-colored dance before the piano and plucked cello bring them all 'into line.' (9/10)

3. "Pieces" (5:02) begins sounding very WINDHAM HILL-ish, with the piano arpeggios and strummed and plucked instruments. Eventually, the song gets moving. (9/10)

4. "Fading Affection" (4:41) a slow, sensitive, folk-like pastoral tune which takes on a very heavy, emotional SATIE-like timbre (10/10)

5. "Encrypted Desire" (4:21) tells its sad story very slowly, with several voices speaking--beautifully and plaintively--all at once. (9/10)

6. "No Words" (3:46) is the album's most upbeat song, driving forward though still in a pastoral countryside--thought, perhaps in the pouring rain. (10/10)

7. "Drowning in the Fog of Yours" (4:21) a slowed down variation on 2010's "Finally... we're still together."(10/10)

8. "Breakaway" (3:57) is rather hypnotic in its minimalist, repetitive approach. Strumming guitar carries it forward into an almost folk rock realm. Impassioned cello and violin work really drive home this song's message. (9/10)

9. "Lake's End" (7:36) is a solo piano piece by emotional genius Jesy Chiang. Her compositional skills are akin to those of GEORGE WINSTON at the advent of his recording career in the early 1980s. Easily the most mellow, melodic, and peaceful solo piano work I've heard since me ears first heard Autumn and December back in 1980 and 1982, respectively. (10/10)

93.3 on the Fish scales = five stars; a true masterpiece of progressive rock music.




6. FREQUENCY DRIFT Ghosts…

Sets new standards of prog performance--with masterful use of keyboards, violins, electro harp, and the ever-so unusual double vocal stylings of singer/violinist Antje Auer. Let's listen.

1. "Crows" (2:02) opens the album with . . . crows, water, and electroharp and piano duet. Beautiful. (9/10)

2. "Dreams" (11:53) has TOTO guitar lick to help open. At 2:10 all music drops away in lieu of the angelic voicings of Antje Auer--at first in the upper, soprano registers, then, accompanying herself, in the firm alto ranges. (This extraordinary feat Antje will repeat throughout the album--to GREAT effect, I might add.) The rock band joins in and amps things up for a while until at 4:42 piano is joined by violin (also Antje?!! What a talented lady!) A spacey PINK FLOYD-like synth section opens things up before the electric guitar joins in with a mellow solo. At 6:30 things begin to build again with some awesome guitar work, building, building, until at 8:15 the bottom drops out again, leaving space for the build up of some amazing electric violin work. (I love the support drum work!) Full band enters again at the ten minute mark with more electric guitar soloing, then it quiets again at the 10:35 mark, whale-like violin noises fill the space with some bird and water sounds taking us to the end. (9/10) 

3. "Sadness" (4:10) begins with a kind of blues-rock feel. Vocoder-treated vocal joins. At 0:49 Antje's untreated alto voice jumps into our ears. She has such a presence! This is a very straightforward rock song, quite similar to that of THE REASONING or Amor Vincit Omnia PURE REASON REVOLUTION. (8/10) 

4. "Tempest" (10:02) begins with a spacey background flanged synth. HAROLD BUDD-treated piano joins in very quickly. Heavily effected voices flow in and through, until at 1:36 a powerful and highly engaging electric guitar, bass, and drum rhythm/riff establish themselves. At the four-minute mark Antje begins singing in her delicate soprano over sensitive electirc guitar picking. Near the five minute mark her power alto starts repeating "Fears the Tempest"and "Waves around" over the full band's powerful support. Great electric guitar work! Great Antje vocal! Towards the end of the seventh minute the song builds powerfully with Antje's "tempest" vocal--nowon several layers. Then an astounding jazz electric guitar solo ensues--unitl the eight minute mark, when sound drops out, but the same spacey synth, keys, and floating voices float around for a minute before the band amps back up and a true prog (FRIPP/McLAUGHLIN-like) solo ensues--almost to end. Awesome song! (10/10)  

5. "Ringshine" (2:56) is a beautiful electroharp piece that is really a feed-in/intro for song #6. Could be Celtic, but it's not. Could be VOLLENWEIDER-like, but it's not. It's more calm before the Edgar Allan Poe. (10/10)

6. "Dance No More" (9:57) electrified acoustic guitars and Antje's angelic voicings floating above and behind open this song. The guitar work is joined and augmented by an electric guitar. Beautiful! The 1:50 power up is awesome and spine-tingling! Great drums and awesome electric guitar and keyboard parts! Antje's two voices join into this heavy-almost-metal song. Her harmonized vocals are SO POWERFUL!! Great music! 5:00 "Bullet the Blue Sky" guitar strum ushers in solo section--first guitars (two! ripping it up!) then suddenly, everything quietens and acoustic guitar is all that is left. Antje's floating voicings soar above. Drums soon join in. Then Chapman Stick. Then the band powers back up to full amplitude (drummer is going wild!) while Antje pcks up her doble vocal work. Another awesome guitar and Stick duet, followed by pure rock guitar magic (Gilmour-esque). Heaviness cuts out and leaves us with the spacey, delicate harp, guitar and voicings from the intro. (10/10)  

7. "Mermaid" (9:44) begins with electric violins à la JEAN-LUC PONTY (circa Individual Choice). Harp and some percussion open things up for Antje's double voice--both singing/whispering in the upper, ENYA-like soprano ranges. This goes on for two minutes to great effect before thethree minute mark, Antje lets her voice drop into her alto voice--as if to warn us of what heaviness is yet to come. Throbbing bass, crashing cymbols, and an amazing, raging violin solo follow, until at 4:28 the heavy RIVERSIDE-like section enters to support a blistering guitar solo as the violin continues screeching seagull-like sounds in the background. At 5:36 again everything cuts out save for the harp. Antje's highest whisper enters, heavily echoed, then dropping into the heavy alto range before piano takes a turn, supported by delicate drums. Double-soprano Antje harmonizes the "Teach me to hear the mermaid song" lyric for a minute and a half before the violin screeches its reentry, this time with a very subdued, delicate solo (also heavily echoed). Accompanying piano is gorgeous. The two play out to song's emotional BRUCE COCKBURN "Hoop Dancer"-like end. (10/10)


8. "Come" (7:54) begins with a VAUGHN WILLIAMS "Lark Ascending"-like solo violin. Piano takes over as Antje sings, solo, first high semi-whispery, then dipping into her hearty, alto, all the while violins (acoustic and electric) float along, playing off of each other in the third and fourth minutes, only accompanied by a piano playing his bass chord and treble arpeggios. Beautiful. At 5:21 some electric guitar power chords, Indian percussion, and an electric guitar tapping solo breaks the mesmerizing beauty, building into an almost march-like, soundtrack crescendo. Then all quiets save for the violin and an ominously droning bass synth chord while Antje sings us to the song--and album's--end. (9/10)

92.5  on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. A rare, rare phenomenon: A nearly flawless album, start to finish! The more I listen to Ghosts the more I hear, the more I like, the more I am amazed by the freshness, creativity, compositional and instrumental skills of the players band members (and guests). Also, while I hear similarities which might be inferred as 'influences,' this band is nobody's clone, no neo-progger; this is fresh and original Symphonic Prog all the way. Easily the best vocal arrangements and performances I've heard in the past few years--with great lyrics and outstanding music to support, embellish, and carry the day. Every change and shift is engaging and clever, every solo emotion-filled and invigorating. Everytime I listen to this album I am drawn in completely, I end up playing/listening to it start to finish, and I have new favorites or new 'ah-ha's every listen through. The self-proclaimed students of White Willow, Pink Floyd, et al., these guys (and girl) have, with this album, IMO, surpassed their masters in every way possible. Kudos, Andreas, Antje, Martin, jürgen, Sebastien, and Christian! You have accomplished what I thought might never happen: added to--and perhaps even surpassed--the 'best' 'classics' of progressive rock music.




7. WOBBLER Rites at Dawn

Why must one band have a monopoly on a 'sound' and 'style.' Are MAGENTA, YEZDA URFA, STARCASTLE, MOTH VELLUM and GLASS HAMMER any less enjoyable, accomplished, or worthy of making good records because of their obvious similarities to YES? If YES had made more records in the early seventies, wouldn't we be happy?

This album is, in my humble opinion, as fresh and masterful as the YES masterpieces--with better production and more melody. I find myself remembering, humming many melodies form these excellent compositions. I find myself liking many structural, instrumental, and vocal choices even more than YES. Then there are so many other familiar sounds from so many other bands.

The two "Lucid"-"Lucid Dreams" end pieces (album intro [1:40], album outro [2:19], respectively) are beautiful, brilliant, and perfect--kind of like the "Firebird Suite" used to open and close YES concerts. (10/10)

2. "La Bealtaine" (7:51) feels/sounds more RUSH-like at the start--until the vocals (and lyrics! How YES!) kick in. Still, this song has so much freshness, unpredictability, and CSN&Y-like feel--even OUTLAWS (guitars picking like "Green Grass and High Tides")--to stand out far from the YES catalogue. The slow vocal harmony part at 5 minute mark shows a style all their own. Great song. (10/10)

3. "In Orbit" (12:30) begins like an AMERICA song before the YES-like electronics take over. At 1:51 there is a brief switch to GENTLE GIANT-like vocals before ripping back into the YES-sounds and speeds. If Close to the Edge had been a double album, this might have been on it. 5:35 sees my favorite part--fresh vocal melody and almost Burt Bacharach-like support. The soli section from the 6 minute mark to 8:45 is great, too. (I like the sax/horns in the background.) The delicate/building section beginning at 9:30 and playing to song's end is awesome--maybe more GENESIS-like than YES. Or STARCASTLE. (9/10)

4. The vocals on "This Past Presence" (6:13) are at times so beautiful it's like MOON SAFARI or CROSBY, STILL, and NASH merged with the original KING CRIMSON lineup. (10/10)

5. The organ and drums on "A Faerie's Play" (5:20) sound as if they are from SUGARLOAF's "Green-Eyed Lady" while CSN&Y, Pete Giles, Martin Barre, and Robert Fripp (and of course, YES) can also be heard. (8/10)

6. "The River" (10:04) starts off far too familiar ("Close to the Edge" in replication) before turning to a JESSIE COLIN YOUNG/RADIOHEAD song. Arrive the mellotron and Pete Giles-like drums with Fripp-like guitar sounds and picking and we get distracted a bit until at the 4:10 minute we find ourselves completely re-emersed in CttE. Easil my least favorite song of the album because it is too derivative, lacking of any of the freshness of the other songs. (6/10)

91.43 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. People, it's the CSN(&Y) influence that makes this album stand on its own. Awesome addition to any prog lover's music collection. Most highly recommended! And, yes, IMO, a new masterpiece of prog rock.




8. NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA I a Moon

Thank you, progstreaming, for a new lease on hearing new music! Now that I've heard the music of NSRO I must have it! I've been waiting for a rival to my favored KARDA ESTRA, CICCADA, CICADA, IONA, and AFTER CRYING CDs. Even a bit of the POLYPHONIC SPREE feel here, though much more evolved and refined. Chamber music for the folk--though I hear some of the early GENESIS sounds in the piano, synths and vocal harmonies. Unlike KARDA ESTRA, the instruments are far less washed by the floating background of synths and other electronics (thus the POLYPHONIC SPREE reference), and also unlike KE, NSRO's music on this album is more folkie--quirky, off the wall, melodic, upbeat, happy/silly music. At times I'm even reminded of DAVID BYRNE, early IVY, YUGEN,  and, of course, THE CARDIACS. Yet, the moods conveyed from song to song can change quite dramatically.

"Berliner Luft" is very upbeat and light--like travelling minstrels entering the faire--while it's instrumental follower, "Morpheus Drone," is more late night reflective or mourning, while next, "The Earth Beneath Our Feet," has a very basic GREEN LINNET folk feel to it, while the next, "Ring Moonlets," has a delightful modern/Renaissance feel to it--not quite comparable to GENTLE GIANT, the masters of that ilk, more like Robert Fripp's work with the ROCHES. The next, "When Things Fall Apart," has a delightful multi-layer all-female vocal presentation with only piano accompaniment. Reminds me of the MEDIAEVAL BAEBES, only with more innocence and a more pastoral BENJAMIN BRITTEN/RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS sense.

I quite enjoy this album--a delightfully pleasing find. Overall, the songwriting is outstanding, the vocals quite good (lead female vocalist, Sharron Fortnam, belies comparison--part teen ingenue, part Nicolette Larsen, part JACQUI MACSHEE from THE PENTANGLE). The musical weaves are often KING CRIMSON-like though not unlike those of AFTER CRYING or JAGA JAZZIST. It is such a nice thing to find upbeat progressive music. I look forward to a long association with you, NSRO. Highly recommended to all music/prog lovers.

Added 11/13/11: What a find! Thanks again, progstreaming.com. Surprisingly refreshing, quaint and beautiful avant/chamber compositions of which the vocalized ones are my favorite--but only by a slight bit. This is an overall masterpiece whose music keeps sucking you in, keeps you coming back and continues to unravel its layers of beauty with each and every listen. Definitely one of my five favorites from 2011 (so far)--an amazing year for prog, IMHO.

1. "Morpheus Miracle Worker" (5:21) sounds a bit like one of KATE BUSH's more folk-oriented songs (e.g. "Army Dreamers" or "Night of the Swallow") (10/10)

2.  "I a Moon" (2:24) with its female vocal harmonies and simple acoustic instrumentation, this song reminds me of an upbeat MEDIAEVAL BAEBES song. (8/10)

3. "Guitar Miniature #3" (1:43) is a cute little folk-cum-classical guitar solo piece. Nothing too remarkable. (6/10)

4. "Heavy Weather" (8:10) is the album's only piece to feature prominently a male voice in the lead (soon joined by female and later by small chorale of both females and males). Musically it reminds me a lot of GENESIS' "A Trick of the Tale" mixed with an old ballad by THE ROCHES ("On the Road to Fairfax County"). Beautiful piece, extraordinary composition, despite being a bit despondent. (10/10)

5. "Berliner Luft" (6:12) is a cute little instrumental that brings into play a kind of  Euro-electro/ Krautrock crossed with KRONOS QUARTET kind of feel to it. Sophisticated yet simple, cheery yet with a bit of a kind of Punk edge. (9/10)

6. "Morpheus Drone" (2:25) begins like a YO-YO MA Silk Road piece of 'world music' with random rings of odd chimes and hanging percussives soon joined by solo cello--which plays a haunting though rather repetitive melody--Celtic, I believe. (8/10)

7. "The Earth Beneath Our Feet" (5:32) seems to be a continuation of  its predecessor, though melody and instruments change within the first minute (acoustic guitar). Once the vocals join in (1:18) the song takes on a very KATE BUSH feel--the vocal melody straight out of Kate's repertoire and style. While beautiful, the song doesn't really develop into anything very winning or emotional until guitar and strings (cello) team up at the 4:00 mark. (9/10)

8. "Ring Moonlets" (3:23) is a beautiful little old-new instrumental song à la GENTLE GIANT, Windham Hill and THE CALIFORNIA GUITAR TRIO (and so many others). (10/10)

9.  "When Things Fall Apart" (4:32) is perhaps the most KATE BUSH like song yet on this superb album. Piano and female vocals in harmony sing this song of sorrowful hope, they are later supplanted by a gorgeous string trio, to which the piano is eventually rejoined. So The Sensual World! (10/10)

10. "Mitte der Welt" (6:09) is an instrumental that starts in a quirky KRAFTWERK-way--making the listener almost jump to the player to see if the disc is skipping--before joined by clarinet and kletzmer rhythm section--and later synths and oboe. This little avant gem could be coming from the likes of YUGEN, SKE, or perhaps even UNIVERS ZERO. (10/10)

Surprisingly refreshing, quaint and beautiful avant/chamber compositions of which the vocalized ones are my favorite--but only by a slight bit. This is an overall masterpiece whose music keeps sucking you in, keeps you coming back and continues to unravel its layers of beauty with each and every listen. Definitely one of my favorites from 2011--an amazing year for prog, IMHO.

91.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. 




1. "Prima Della Fine" (1:13) starts the album off with a recording of a GEORGE CARLIN rant on politics. Amazing! What a way to start an album! YES! A group with some guts! (10/10)

2. "L'assalto" (9:56) gets the music off to a very, very powerful start--great melodies coming from all instruments, weaving in and out of each other's paths in a beautiful and never overwhelming the listener with "too many notes." At 2:30 male vocals enter, causing the tapestry to be less attention getters--for a while. The vocalist timbre and style is remarkably similar to that of Quebec's THE BOX lead singer, JEAN-MARC PISAPIA.
     This song has so many twists and turns it's like a maze, yet it never loses the listener, each turn is easy and acceptable. (9/10)

3. "TG Egeo" (5:10) is a great song very much in the RPI tradition, sounding a lot like BANCO DEL MUTUO SUCCORSO from the 1970s. Cool Frippertronics at the end. (9/10)

4. "Favonio" (4:55) begins with acoustic guitar and male vocals--first one then harmonized others. Sensitive, kind of like a great JOHN DENVER song. Piano, double bass, and brushed drums join in for the next section before an awesome guitar riff pulls in mellotron, electric bass, and full drum kit. Yes' or Genesis' best 'surprise' moments never topped this one! And then it just gets better with another shift at 3:30 whereupon an electric guitar--with bass mirroring and harmonizing it--plays an amazing solo to the end. (10/10)

5. "Stati D'animo Uniti" (5:50) starts with some ominous, deep bass sounds with flits and splffs of percussion and other distorted instruments and samples creating a heavy, oppressive feel into which an equally dismal feeling vocal enters. The music and 'noises' plod ominously along, until at 2:35 a brief flourish of tango-like Latin music rushes through the room before, then, just as quickly disappearing to allow the vocalist to carry forward his depressing message (in Italian). The upbeat Latin section returns, establishes some lasting footing, then kind of backs off for a very ALLAN HOLDSWORTH-like guitar solo to play. The song ends with the Latin flourish, leaving the listener quite confused but entertained. Those Italians! They're so dramatic! (8/10)

6. "Di Vento" (10:17) again starts off with a feel and sound extremely similar to several of the kind-of-monotone songs on THE BOX's 2009 album D'Après le horla de Maupassant. This similarity continues throughout the song. Musically there are builds and lulls that are quite reminiscent of the wind. A nice song that seems to want to really build and break out, and threatens to do so several times in a "Cinema Show"-like way, but doesn't really do this until the end of the eighth minute. Still, a satisfying climax, dénoument and finale. (9/10)

7. "Mani Aperte" (4:55) starts off with clapping like PAT METHENY's "First Circle" before evolving into an enigmatic, chameleonic song, melding together some amazingly disparate sounds, instruments, and themes in a rather STEVE TIBBETTS kind of way. Even the guitar solo sounds like its straight out of Yr or another of Tibbets' 80s/90s releases. Then--surprise, surprise--at 3:20 an electric guitar slow strum that just brings everybody into pure prog melodic bliss--and which plays out, with male vocals/lyrics at the very end. (9/10)   

8. "Zeitgeist" (3:44) is an instrumental that begins with another ominous, yet beautiful and engaging groove with still more odd and unusual sounds coming from stringed and keyed instruments. (9/10)

9. "La Fine" (5:27) begins with a muffled/treated male vocal backed by bass, far-back keyboard chords and very subtle cymbol play. By mid second minute the intensity and volume of still-slow drum work and vocal are increasing. A nice acoustic nylon string guitar solo in the middle carries the mood forward until a glockenspiel and some television sound samples take over for a bit, over which the voice returns in his treated whisper, before the volumes elevate again for the fifth minute. The final thirty seconds is kind of time echoing away. (8/10)  

An album of amazingly diverse sound and styles, from true symphonic RPI structures to world, new age, jazz, folk, psychedelia and many other forms. The only negative comment I might have about this album revolve around the lead vocalist's monotonic singing style: it often seems to weigh down the song, even preventing it from developing more dynamic diversity. Still, this is in my opinion nothing less than a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. 
  



10. THE AMAZING Gentle Stream

This happens to be my favorite album of the year 2011; I know that it is not the 'best.' The melodies, warmth of the music, incredible group jams--led, of course, by my guitar hero, Reine Fiske--make this album one that I want to come back to often--more than the others in this year's Top Album's list. But I recognize its flaws, especially in the fact that it is not so proggy as some of the other masterpieces and excellent collections of progressive rock music.

1. "Gentle Stream" (7:00) starts the album out with an incredible sound that is quite reminiscent of some of the masterpieces of psychedelic rock from the late 1960s and even the Southern rock groups of the early 1970s. A smooth, incredibly warm and melodic song--both in terms of the instrumentalisits and the vocals. Great vocal harmonies in the vein of CROSBY, STILL, NASH & YOUNG. The drum work is incredibly fluid and smooth, restrained yet full--kind of like STEVE GADD's understated mastery. But my favorite part is the vocal-accompanied all-out jam by the band for the final two and a half minutes. The adrenaline rush is incredible! THE SONG OF THE YEAR!! (11/10)

2."Flashlight" (4:56) continues the album's 60s/70s psychedelic/Southern rock feel--as do all of the songs on Gentle Stream--this time in the vein of DAVE MASON/JESSE COLIN YOUNG. A simpler, almost acoustic song with flutes, picking acoustic guitar, and some organ. Nice ERIC CLAPTON/BLIND FAITH instrumental section in the middle, followed by simple electric guitar and saxophone soli to end. (8/10)

3. "International Hair" (6:08) is another standout song, this time starting like a JONI MITCHELL, FLEETWOOD MAC or AMERICA song. Singer Christoff Gunrup has an amazingly smooth, sensitive, and familiar voice; he sings as if he is putting his entire being into his efforts. The smooth, subtle work of the drummer is again stellar. A lull of delicate play at the 4:20 mark turns into another group jam with Reine Fiske playing the slide or pedal steel guitar and some roiling percussion dueling going on all around. (10/10)

4. "The Fog" (4:29) begins with some acoustic guitar picking which again revives images of STEVE WINWOOD/BLIND FAITH. The vocals enter, ever-so delicately, at times feeling like they are being held up or shored up by the background singers' sustained "ahh's" and "ooohs." Fiske's guitar picking gets a little more forceful at the 2:20 mark, and from there out, until multiple electric guitars begin a southern rock harmonized duel right out of the archives of  THE MARSHALL TUCKER BAND or even THE ALLMAN BROTHERS. (9/10)

5. "Gone" (6:13) has much more of a CSN&Y feel to it--especially the electric guitars. This song has some awesome hooks, both instrumentally and vocally, but the highlight is one of the album's trademark all-out band jams--previewed with the rhythm shift at the 2:21 mark but really starting at about the 4:07 mark. Almost a SANTANA or AMERICA feel to it. Wonderful b vox! (9/10)

6. "Dogs" (6:38) starts out with an even stronger CSN&Y sound and feel--like it was a song that didn't make it onto 1970's Déjà Vu (but should have)Christoff's vocal is mixed a little back and the electric guitars are very much in the foreground. This is not quite as engaging a song, despite it's familiarity,   until the 4:12 mark when the electric guitar swiches on his wah-pedal and starts to lead into an awesome HENDRIX/CLAPTON/ROBIN TROWER playing backed by some amazing organ play that is reminiscent of PROCUL HARUM's MATTHEW FISHER or perhaps even STEVE WINWOOD. (9/10)

7. "Assumptions" (2:08) is a kind of vocal interlude, almost like sacred church or meditative music.(8/10)

8. "When The Colours Change" (6:02) is the album's final masterpiece. It begins with a very slow moving rhythm though with full band members' participation. Sitar or (and/or pedal steel?) and harp bring a rich fullness to this song that is so gorgeous. This song reminds me of some of the LARRY LEE-penned OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVILS songs from the 1970s. Beautiful song with stellar performances across the board--all collaborating and synthesizing into a seamless aural quilt. (10/10)

Again, this is my favorite album from the year, yet, in terms of its contribution to "progressive rock" it suffers a little. It is more of a revival of some long lost and yet not forgotten sounds and traditions that give it such a warmth and home-like familiarity that set this album apoart from the other Neo, revivalist or imitative work being done today. Absolutely gorgeous vocals and melodies coupled with mesmerizing guitar and drum play.

90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. 




11. CAMEMBERT Schnörgl Attahk

Wow! AltrOck Productions just can't miss! Yugen, Ciccada, SKE, Kurai, and now Camembert! Music is alive and well, people! And with great production all around! Refreshing, mesmerizing and, in the case of Schnörgl Attahk, humorous and upbeat. Horns, harps and tuned percussion all jamming with and off of one another! This is one group I want to see live! Haven't been back to Strasbourg since 1979 but, who knows? Maybe in the next couple of years?!

The transitional songs ("Clacos Zéro," Clacos 1" et "Clacos 2") are excellent (and often quite funny!) but the big monsters [e.g. "Untung Untungen" (11:14) (10/10), "El ruotuav edsraM" (8:17) (10/10), et "Le meurtrier volant" (9/10)] are incroyable! I listen to "Untung" and "ruotuav" (Vulture from Mars) over and over and find my body and spirit reacting quite the same way I did upon first hearing MAGMA's MDK a few years ago: avec une danse joyeuse, sauvage et frénétique! It is wonderful! The pause at the halfway mark in "Untung" is so startling and such a letdown, yet it's so exciting when the music returns and builds and builds, jelling and spiraling its way in perfect collaboration up and then down to a stop--it's just like a rollercoaster ride! And one can just feel the morose, Poe-like tension of "Le meurtrier."

Unfortunately, the 5-part suite which ends the album, entitled "La danse du Chameau" (8/10) doesn't succeed in conveying or evoking this same response. (Plodding like the camel for which it is named, the perfect harmony of "The Vulture of Mars" and  "Le meurtrier volant" seems long past.) In the vein of its inspirateur, GONG, the band puts forth some jazzy jams, but, also like GONG, IMHO, the jamming seems a bit pointless--or ecstatic and masturbatory--depending on one's psycho-neuro-chemical state. For some reason, the band seems to have mostly abandoned the wonderful collective weaves of the amazing first 30 minutes of the album--even though the Latin rhythms are fun and the Harp is prominent througout. Too bad. That was quite a ride!

90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. Sheer freshness, enjoyability, and perfect sound production of its compositions.




12. SLEEPMAKESWAVES …and so we destroyed everything


A refreshing new collection of Post Rock/Math Rock songs from some very technically talented instrumentalists who are also very creative composers. As said by Braid, there is really nothing terribly new or earth-shatteringly groundbreaking in terms of PR/MR sound or structure, it's just refreshing to here an attempt in this sub-genre by some very competent, creative musicians. The drumming is especially vibrant and unusually (for this sub-genre) varied as played by a very talented Aussie, Will Smith. Also, guitar playing isn't so rote and mathematical as many other PR/MR groups. There is variety, texture, emotion, and skill on display here.

1. "to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest" (08:18) begins with an peaceful ambient nature intro before blaring guitars and belted drums burst upon the scene for a about 45 seconds. A lull ensues with U2-like drums and bass before tremolo guitars and pulsating synths join in. Another more delicate glock'n'spiel lull before all sound barriers are broken again. Very cool staccato bass and drum section reminiscent of GENESIS' "Watcher of the Skies." Duel synth and two guitar melodies compete for attention while weaving into a background tapestry within which voice and then rapidly strummed guitar melody bring forward new melodies. Synths, guitar and later violin bring back melodies sans drums or bass to end. A lot of MY BLOODY VALENTINE feel in this one. Awesome song. (9/10)

2. "in limbs and joints" (04:29) begins with an awesome echoing rapidly picked guitar which is then joined by whole group chord bursts (and what an awesome chord it is!) This is not your typical Post/Math rock, folks! There is complex thought and structure behind these songs--chords, layers, and progressions. The song establishes a rather heavy but not so thick that you can't distinguish all of the various instruments and their contributions. (9/10)

3. "our time is short but your watch is slow" (03:10) begins with spacey 'radio-wave' and 'whale' like sounds while TANGERINE DREAM driving synth rhythm emerges slowly to take over the pacing of the song. Midi-ed piano, glock & other background wash synth sounds play a note by note lead while volume-pedaled guitar chords gently guide the melody. Nice song. Not so Post/Math rock. (9/10)

4. "a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun" (11:06) begins with a sampled speech from some post-apocalyptic American film. Guitar and drum rhythms soon establish themselves in much a GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT way and sound. By 2:30 a really rockin' groove has been established involving the whole band but isolating the original guitar in a non-stop ripping solo. A little lull before a new variation at 3:30 establishes itself with a bit more power chord play from guitars, synth voice and deep resonating bass. Incredible drum play. Song morphs a bit, in true Post rock style, before amping up--almost to RIVERSIDE-type levels--the heaviness and decibel levels. 5:55 stop! Sensitive guitar, synth, and echoed drum play begin to slowly re-build. Lead sustained-note guitar lead creeps into the mix around the seven minute mark. Another brief breather at 7:50 before a new chord progression with militarized drums and wild cymbol crashes while layers of trumpets and mellotron voices build up layers around the guitars. Amazing section. All comes to a kind of DEAD CAN DANCE/YES end of "Awaken" gentle end at 9:30 while synth washes and lone trumpet continue on, carrying the song to its peaceful end.  (10/10)

5. "(hello) cloud mountain" (03:22) begins with some synthesized sounds in a CHROMA KEY kind of way. Guitar and keyboard arpeggios join in before another pretty basic U2-like bass and drum pattern establish themselves. ICEHOUSE-like synth bell notes take the melody lead for a minute during a little lull before the band kicks it back in again. Definitely more synthetic/electronic usage and sound to this one. (8/10)

6. "now we rise and we are everywhere" (06:42) begins with gentle ambient synths over which recording of children playing on a school playground sound. A fast bouncing Stick-like chord enters, followed by slow volume-pedaled guitar notes. By the two minute mark a trip-hoppy drum and bass rhythm is established. Pause around the three minute mark before fast and slow guitar arpeggios play off one another in opposite channels. At 3:50 an awesomely grooving thick bass and rock drum beat establish themselves beneath the two guitars and synths. At 4:35 the instruments all gel into a full-force Post Rock/Math Rock climax, not unlike MOGWAI or MONO. Fade out back with children playground as in the intro. (9/10)

7. "we like you when you're awkward" (02:36) begins with a sound quite reminiscent of either VANGELIS' Blade Runner soundtrack or a New Age/meditation song. Soon the drips and synths become part of the background as they are joined by computer click'n'pop rhythms and two WILL ACKERMAN-like acoustic guitars picking their arpeggiated rhythms in the opposite channels. 
Cool songg! (9/10)

8. "....and so we destroyed everything" (12:20) begins with a piano chord! The solo piano continues playing very delicately for thirty seconds before any other sound joins it: a bouncy synth in the upper keys slowly emerges. At 1:30 the rest of the band comes CRASHING in, a fast tremolo picked electric guitar taking over the melody established by the piano. At 3:53 heavy guitar chords are introduced and at 4:15 they take over  making the song sound quite heavy metal for while. Tremolo-picked guitar returns through the heaviness, all building in crescendo until 5:56 when the bottom drops out and we're left with a keyboard playing a pretty melody in a KLAUS SCHULZE kind of way. Trippy-hop programmed drums and acoustic guitars join in at the 6:33 mark. At 7:17 volumes pick up a bit while live drums return, bass carries forward a very cool melody, and electric guitars are now picked where the acoustic were. Heavy guitar chords and crashing cymbol play join in until at 8:38 the full power chords, tremolo eleoctric guitar lead, and now voices are added to the mix. By 9:26 the voices have left while the band carries forward its heavy yet melodic theme. At 10:00 everything drops away again except for voice, acoustic guitar, background synth wash and the same trip-hoppy drum program from before. All instruments begin to fade out: voice, synth, and, finally, drum program, leaving only a bare guitar playing its arpeggio theme to end. Awesome multi-part, multi-layered song. (9/10)

Check this one out, people--it will NOT bore you with its repetition and predictability (though, in the end, it is still mostly PR/MR structured and, therefore, somewhat predictable. But then again, isn't prog as a whole also somewhat predictable?) Synths/keys, trumpets, strings, varied guitar effects, and even 'vocals' make this an interesting and enjoyable listen--repeatedly, too. Try it out.

90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. Sleepmakeswaves has created an album that is definitely an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. IMO, this is the Best Post Rock album of 2011 and definitely one that keeps the sub-genre alive and moving forward.



13. FAUNS Awaiting the Sun


Germany's other FAUNS--not to be mistaken for the Pagan Folk band FAUN--is a folk-based prog band creating music on the scale of ANTHONY PHILLIPS' The Geese and The Ghost and Sides--somewhere in between the two.

1. "Scenes From A Dream" (6:30) begins with a delicate weave of multiple absolutely heart-wrenching melodies coming from harmonizing vocalists, wooden flute, acoustic guitars, electric guitar. A middle section of full out electrified rock music similar to early GENESIS momentarily disrupts this bucolic bliss, but the pastoral feel returns to play out to the end with a piano, fretless bass and heavily distorted electric guitar lead weaving the baseline melody from the starting section. (10/10)

2. "Every Wave Its Prey" (4:43) with its SMITHS sound and crashing spacey middle and end sections. (9/10)

3. "The Path" (10:10) denotes a return to the ANT PHILLIPS/STEVE HACKETT Voyage of the Acolyte guitar sounds but this one incorporates the alluring vocal talents of violin/flutist Kirsten Middeke. (9/10)

4. "Way To The Sun" (4:56) opens with a STEVEN WILSON-like acoustic guitar strum before being joined by flute, bass and drums. Again we are graced with the presence of the ethereal voice of Ms. Middeke. The SW comparisons continue though an AL STEWART "Infinity" familiarity emerges as the song plays out. (8/10)

5. "A Perfect Place" (10:45) begins with cymbal play, TONY LEVIN-like Chapmanstick play and piano before electric guitar and rock drumming join in (and take over). The song establishes quite a heavy Crimsonian sound with its interwoven arpeggios coming from several distorted electric instruments. By the time the MORRISSEY-like vocal enters the group weave has settled back into the realm of the near acoustic, but, for the chorus parts, the metal-like guitar chord strums return. (8/10)

6. "The Path (Reprise)" (1:49) reprises the chords and melodies from the acoustic parts of 3. "The Path." (9/10)

7. "Dawn" (20:24) finds the band again returning to the GENESIS/STEVE HACKETT/ANTHONY PHILLIPS realm of pastoral acoustic music. The harmonized voices of a male and a female present the very folk-like melody and lyric lines. At 5:00 a very familiar GENESIS "Cinema Show"-like instrumental section begins. Three minutes of absolute gorgeous music. In the beginning of the ninth minute the Genesis influences continue with an uptempo shift into a full-out rock section with first organ then flute, then electric guitar solos playing. Choral chanting fills a section before the early ANT PHILLIPS--sounding electric guitar screams through a brief "Knife"-like solo. At the start of the twelfth minute everything shifts to a more RPI folk sound--acoustic guitar strummed and banged for percussive effect eventually turning into a very ANT PHILIPS Geese and the Ghost-like song. The transition from here into a military percussive build-to-crescendo section using a single acoustic guitar's arpeggiated descending chord sequence is so beautiful and so PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI. Truly one of the best prog epics to ever come out of the Prog Folk sub genre! (10/10) 

A gorgeous album of more prog rock-leaning Prog Folk. Worth it only if you listen to the prog epic "Dawn." Truly a classic!

90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. 





14. FEN Epoch

While I, too, am not much of a fan of black metal, doom metal or even metal, I have become more 'used to' the vocal stylings (thanks to the likes of MAUDLIN OF THE WELL, AGALLOCH, and ALCEST) of this music--as long as the music is good. And this is GREAT music! Even a notch above ALCEST's 2010 gem, Écailles de lune, whose combination of the shoegaze guitars and the black metal vocals and heaviness are similar. The difference is in the changes in tempo, key and even, sometimes, sound and structure within each song, but more, it's in the emotional impact of these songs. There are times that I feel exhausted, drained at the end of a single song they are so powerful, so deeply emotional. Also, as one reviewer already put it, I love the 1970's 'feel' to the recording/production (especially the drums!). Some absolutely beautiful, deeply affecting music the lyrics of which I have yet to try to figure out (and, frankly, could really care less about: it's the music that reigns supreme for me!) I don't yet have a favorite (though "Of Wilderness and Ruin" [8:18] [9/10] is incredible!) There is such a great, almost seamless, flow and continuity to the album, from start to finish. I don't think any one song is that much better or worse than any other. In fact, all the songs need each other to be able to attain the effect of transporting the listener to such a distant planet as it does. One reviewer also mentioned how this album exhibits the way in which a truly excellent drummer can elevate an album to such incredible heights. I couldn't agree more. Nothing too flashy, just great rhythm which, you can tell, is 'the glue that binds.' Love the band members' names! 

"The Watcher / vocals, guitars 
Grungyn / bass, backing vocals  
Æðelwalh / synthesizers, backing vocals 
Theutus / drums."

***** 5 star songs: ALL . . . but the finale, "Ashbringer," which earns, IMO, 4 stars. My favorites:  "The Gibbet Elms" (6:30) (10/10); the final three-quarters of "Carrier of Echoes" (6:30) (9/10), the shocking opener, "Epoch" 6:18) (9/10) and the emotional rollercoaster of "A Waning Solace" (9:51) (9/10).

90.0 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music.



****+ 4.5 star Near Masterpieces:



15. ABRETE GANDUL Enjambre Sismico 

A very impressive AvantGarde/RIO band from Santiago, Chile, Abrete Gandul's 2011 album Enjambre Sismico sounds as much as a KING CRIMSON (plus flute and more prominent synthesizers) adventure as it does like the rest of the AltrOck Productions cast--which it does.

1. "Hacia la nada" (4:27) sounds so much like 4 A.D.'s DIF JUZ--awesome! (9/10)

2. "Necro sistema" (3:02) drives a little harder, with drums and heavily treated guitars drawing the most attention. Nice bass play starting at 1:20. Fripp-like sustained lead guitar and piano come to foreground in the third minute. (9/10)

3. "Marejeda" (7:29) starts out more ambient New Age, with tuned percussives and weird synth-generated noises setting up the mood in the first two minutes. Drums, bass, synth washes, and dissonant lead guitar arpeggi take over at the 2:05 mark. A melodic, major key chord sequence sets up the fourth minute as heavily-flanged guitar strums and synths draw attention away from the awesome drumming. A more syncopated, odd-timed section begins and then shifts (to that DIF JUZ sound!) in the fifth minute. Shift again to melodic chords in the sixth minute but then go back to King Crimson-like rhythms and sounds again for the final 90 seconds. Cool, intricate, and well-performed song! (9/10)

4. "Consecuencia natural" (10:26) is an expose of very jazzy leanings--from jazz-sounding lead guitar to weave with the electric jazz bass and more delicate, syncopated drums. At 2:30 everything breaks down to simple sounds: two alternating notes throbbing off of the bass, space-flanged guitar notes, some rack lead and cymbol play from the drums. This gradually becomes the foundation for a much more avant-jazz weave over which a sonorous tenor sax plays its heart out. Not my favorite song but I certainly appreciate the creativity and emotion being expressed herein. (8/10)

5. "Colapso" (11:19) opens with about 30 seconds of heavily treated electric guitar strumming two chords before the band signals its participation. At the 1:20 mark, the band finally establish the song's foundation--around and over which it builds and twists and mellows and amplifies around and around over the next four minutes. The a mellow section supports the gentle play of a solo flute until the 7:20 mark, at which time the band restores the original sounds and foundational sounds and variations upon the previously established chord and time structures. At 8:35 a PT-like heavy section opens the way for some serious KING CRIMSON Red-era music! Awesome! To the end of the song! (9/10)

6. "Convergencia caótica" (8:01) opens with some very spacey yet-ominous sounds congealing into a heavy, fast-driving jam during which guitars and thick, chunky bass and a variety of synthesizer sounds take turns trading brief solo jabs at one another. In the fourth minute it sounds as if everyone is about to take it up a notch in intensity when things suddenly quiet down for a bit. Return to heavier drive before the flanged guitar starts to play his freaky chords. A couple more quiet sections and some more pinao-based straightforward time signature sections allow different sounds to have their moments in the sun--including the bass, drums, and electric piano. I like this one! (9/10)

7. "Intangible"(7:55) opens with piano and electric guitar weaving their arpeggi together. Bass, drums, and second guitar join in to lay foundations for some synthesizer soloing. At 1:18 the weave shifts and the pace quickens to set a Crimsonian stage for some nice though subdued Allan Holdsworth/ lead guitar soloing. Then at 3:20 things wuiet down in the background--though the jazz drums stay busy and the guitar-piano weave remains present in the background--so that some heavily flanged guitar can squeak out some lead sounds. The music builds a little until at 4:55 the Allan Holdsworth imitator is given full command. Just as quickly we're back to some King Crimson Frippisms and interesting synthesizer sounds solo in exchange with the fuzzed bass. The drum work throughout is truly worth attending to but nowhere as much as here, in the seventh and eighth minutes. (9/10)

8. "...y ahora qué?" (7:20) lets the bass establish it's initial stop-and-start structure, which morphs into a nice and easy jazzy walkabout over which soprano sax, electric piano and electric rhythm guitar have their say. A shift around 1:25 into the more syncopated, stutter-step structure allows alto sax and lead guitar to take their turns in the solo light.  (9/10)

are both very jazzy--though of very different styles,  is very spacey/psychedelic (and RPI sounding), and my favorite,  is full of heavy, powerful chord sequences and treated guitars and synths, but the rest could easily pass for King Crimson inventions of the past twenty years.

90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. A solid effort of well-composed and well-performed music very much in the KING CRIMSON tradition. These are some very talented musicians. Definitely a band to keep following.




16. SOLUS3 Corner of the World

Five stars from Ivan Melgar is something worth following up on--and I did. Found Corner on Bandcamp and have been listening to it three times over now for the past two or three hours. This is awesome stuff--eclectic in the truests sense of the word as SOLUS3 has drawn from so many musical styles and influences to make this album of amazing music. I'd have been more prone to place this one in the space/psychedelia category, though. It is so wonderful to hear the harp being used more and more in prog (also prominant in Frequency Drift and SKE's releases this year), and here it is an essential and usually central instrument of all arrangements--though the interplay between harp, bass and drum are truly the most compelling and interesting element to these jazzy spacey jams. 

1. "Unfold" (9:46) is so SOUIXIE AND THE BANSHEES (her unparalleled cover of Disney's The Jungle Book's "Trust in Me") BRAINTICKET, Popol Vuh, Amun Düül II, and, now Vespero. (9/10)

2. "Tricked by a Monster" (9:26) Many times on this LP am I tickled to hear some Reggae sounds: here the bass, occasionally guitar chords or percussives. Guest singer Jemma Freeman brings so much Donna Summer-like soul to this space jam. Awesome trip! (9/10)

3. "Lollardy" (4:15) takes us on a totally different trip: an industrialized harp-bass and trumpet trance dance; part "Blade Runner Blues," part 21st Century Miles Davis, part Celtic funeral march, this is a song unlike any you have ever heard. (9/10)

4. "Corner of the World" (6:42) returns us to a kind of Reggaed SOUL II SOUL jam--just as S2S used to do to us, it's filled with cameo appearances of all sorts of totally unexpected instruments, sounds, tricks. As a matter of fact, the only thing fairly 'normal' in this song is--surprise!--the rather straightforward drumming! Love the wild harp playing around 4 minutes in! (7/10)

5. "Porn Jam" (4:46) again brings me back to BRAINTICKET--especially the voice of pleasure and ecstacy Krupa here pulls off. Etheric and angelic, yet sultry and very sexual. Weird horn/synth at 3:00 kind of 'ruins the mood' a bit. Nice groove from the bass, drum & harp rhythm section. (8/10)

6. "Reich" (7:54) is my favorite. It is mesmerizing and hypnotic yet the bass and harp inter-playing are so fascinating. Very Celtic-New Age yet entirely jazz-fusion--especially thanks to surprises at 3:00 (Japanese koto-sounding harp section) and synth-saw at 5:00. (There is an unfortunate period where rapid percussive beat land harp and bass lose their  ntrainment. Just enough to 'awaken' the listener from his/her blissful transport. Quite reminiscent of the amazing ENO/LARAAJI Ambient 3: Day of Radiance album. (9/10)

7. "Pumori" (11:01) reminds me of a beautifully drawn out, free form version of Jazzmaster 4 PAUL HARDCASTLE & HELEN ROGERS' "Emerald Starldust." Love the "Shhh!" and "You can go to bed now" after the 9:00 mark. Outstanding fade out/end. (9/10)

Wow! What can I say! A totally unexpected trip (four times continuously now!) The only thing missing is the pleasure den. Oh, well. Great music, great creativity, great album. Not sure this is a prog masterpiece, though it is a masterpiece of progressive creativity.

88.57 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece rated up for its delightful unexpectedness.




17.  MY BROTHER THE WIND  I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity

Wow! This is amazing music that everyone simply must hear! Incredible atmosphere created by inspired musicians of supreme talents. Hypnotic, trance-inducing, virtuosic instrumentalists improvising in perfectly harmonius, entrained grooves. Check out the live in the studio YouTube video of "Fire! Fire!" put out by their recording company, TransubstansRecords. It's awesome! Like every year, I just know I'm going to find tons of musical gems from 2011 AFTER the year has passed! What an amazing year for prog music! IMHO, I think it will go down in history as THE BEST YEAR EVER for music. Thank you Internet! Thank you ProgArchives! Thank you YouTube! Thanks progstreaming.com!

1. "Fire! Fire!!" (13:07) starts the album off with what I call the second best song of the year. (Please check out the YouTube video of the studio recording of this song! It's amazing!) The band is just jamming from the start, trying to get a feel for one another, trying to get connected, and then entrained. The bass player establishes the line that brings the others into the 'stream': first the drummer, then one of the guitar players, then the other. Later one of the guitarists (NICKLAS BARKER, also known as a composer/founding member of ANEKDOTEN) steps over to a mellotron to add some of his wizardry from there. By that time the song has long jelled into one amazingly hypnotic groove. . . . One that could go on . . . forever . . . (But, sadly, does not.) (10/10)

2. "Pagan Moonbeam" (3:47) starts with all acoustic instruments, some from the Orient, some more medieval European. The stringed instruments and hand percussives all kind of drone into a slow groove that never really goes anywhere and, actually, feels several times as if it is about to fizzle out. The organ play and sitar are the only things that actually try to stray from the melody at all. A very spacey, sleepy ending. (8/10)

3. "The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart" (5:40) opens with some very deep bass wabbles--not unlike some of HOLGER CZUKAY's experimental sounds from his days with CAN and after. The dissonate guitar arpeggios and mellotron chords never quite gel, despite the efforts of the drummer and bass player. (7/10)

4. "Torbjörn Abelli" (10:57) begins a high-pitched wail--whether it's guitar amplifier feedback or synthesizer I am not suer. A picked electric guitar riff joins in and is repeated for about three minutes. Just before the two minute mark the second guitar, bass and drums start to join in and, very gradually, build up some steam. By the start of the fifth minute the formerly plucking guitar is strumming and the volume of the music is increasing. Cymbols are now crashing almost constantly. The second electric guitar continues to explore, to enjoy, its freedom. Definitely the song that feels the most like it is soundtracking a 1960s group drug party. (9/10)

5. "Under Crimson Skies" (10:33) begins all of a sudden (as if the engineer does a quick fade in from somewhere midstream of an already existing jam song). It's pace is fast, furious, loud and easy to get sucked up into. This one feels very much like it could have come from an OZRIC TENTACLES album or live concert. Drummer and bass player are locked into an awesome groove while blues-rock (PETE TOWNSEND or KEITH RICHARDS anyone?) guitar and guitarist/keyboardist play (and groove) over the top. At the 3:30 mark there is a shift as the lead blues-rock guitar work stops and a heavily effected 'space' guitar (MICHAEL BROOK) takes over the lead for the rest of the song. Meanwhile the rest of the band drops down in volume to play support with some very subtle, quiet play, until the song finishes with mellotron as the main, lead instrument.  (10/10)

6. "I Wash My Soul In The Stream Of Infinity" (6:19) has a very laid back groove, started by a repeated riff from a YOUNGBLOODS-like electric guitar sound. Early PINK FLOYD also comes to mind when listening to this one. And maybe some NEKTAR. A beautiful song to send us out into the ... Stream of Infinity. (9/10)

EVERYBODY: Get on this train! This is human expression at its creative best--at its highest potential! Five stars without questions or qualm! This is ESSENTIAL music not just for prog lovers or even just for music lovers but for any human being that might aspire to squeak out the most of their human potential. Ride the waves of Ronny Eriksson's bass lines. Fly into the stars with Mathias and Nicklas' guitar (and keyboard) sounds. Dance across mental planetscapes with Tomas Eriksson's batterie play. Music not to be missed!

88.30 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




18. MOOGG Le ore, i giorni, gli anni

Wonderful Canterbury jazz in the vein of HATFIELD AND THE NORTH (without The Northettes)--all this from a quartet from Brescia!

Line-up:
- Gianluca Avanzati / bass
- Marco Dolfini / drums, percussion, vocals
- Toni Gafforini / electric piano, synths, Mellotron
- Ivan Vanoglio / guitars

1. "Le Ore I Giorni Gli Anni" (7:22) is a great jazz tune in the Canterbury/CARAVAN/HATFIELD AND THE NORTH tradition using many of the same instruments and sounds as well as constructions and stylings as those bands. Great song. And a pretty good voice from drummer Marcos Dolfini! I LOVE the both of the two different guitar soli in the fourth minute. Such a fun song! There's even a bass solo! (9/10)

2. "Classe 21" (6:38) The drumming is so 1970s! So are the keys, rhythm guitar and bass lines. Wonderful replication and execution--yet sounding fresh! I love the second section with its vocals being run through an effects box and the awesome lead guitar sound. (9/10)

3. "Il Perche' Di Esser Me" (5:48) great song:  pacing, melodies, mood, performances, and vocals. One of my favorite songs from the year! (9.5/10)

4. "Gli Arroganti" (instrumental) (7:18) has the definite vibe of 1970's Black Sexploitation movie soundtrack music. Herbie Hancock doing a Bill Cosby show soundtrack. (8.5/10)

5. "Responsabilità" (4:30) has such a HATFIELD sound and feel to it--thought the vocal is so AREA/Demetrio Stratos! My favorite part of the song is the instrumental soli! (8.5/10)

6. "Lunalia" (instrumental) (4:41) is a gentle, simple, pretty, four-chord, keyboard-driven soft-jazz instrumental. Nice but nothing earth-shatteringly new or beautiful here. (7.5/10)

7. "Moogugni" (instrumental) (3:06) another soundtrack that could easily come from the 1970s--AREA or some African-American funk-jazz band. Very tightly performed. (9/10)

8. "Welfare Botanico" (14:41) opens with an almost DEODATO "Also Sprach Zarathustra" sound and feel to it before everything quiets down and restarts with a hypnotic organ, bass, and drum line over which the electric guitar solos. By the end of the second minute, we've heard some bridges, transitions, and shifts which allow the keyboard a turn in the solo position. At 2:15 it turns back to the elgtr. until a stop-and-start bridge at the end of the third minute leads into a very pretty CAMEL-like section. This part could've been on Moonmadness! The fifth minute takes us through a few twists until at 4:35 Marco's mellifluous voice sings us into the palm of his hand. Beautiful! And powerful. Then, at the six minute mark, we turn into an awesome kind of KHAN Space Shanty-like jam section--which goes on at a great speed for over three minutes before we slow down at the 9:10 mark for a return to the Deodato electric piano sound and another spacey, jazzy hypnotic section. Nice drum play in this section! At 10:42 we move into a little more upbeat, almost disco-beat section. How HATFIELD-ish! Nice! Even the ensuing 'delicate' vocal section is fitting--especially as it precedes the crescendo of voice, synths and band into one of the high points of the album. How perfect! Not the most sensibly constructed song but it is an awesome rollercoaster ride--one that should not be missed! (9.5/10) 

These guys have not only picked up the torch on some amazing sounds and influences from the 1970s but they've embraced and made it their own. Definitely a band to keep one's eye on for the future!

88.125 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a very welcome revival of all that was great with 1970s Canterbury style music.


  

19. INTROITUS Elements

What a nice find! And how heartwarming that it's 'all in the family' Bender! What comes through most in this album is the unabashed enthusiasm for making music. The songs here are very fresh, quite unpredictable (except maybe the drums and lyrics), and full of many quite astounding soli chord, key, tempo and mood shifts. The album is basically five prog songs with four brief interludes serving a s spacers between the two. I'm not going to review each song. I find each long song to be excellent with the opener, "The Hand that Feeds You," the seventh, "Dreamscape," and the finale, "Soulprint," to be ready to be launched into the pantheon of classic prog songs. The vocals are great, the drums and the rhythm section quite adequate, the guitarist is mega-talented and quite creative--reminding me of JON MITCHELL (KINO, ARENA, FROST*) (IMO, one of 21st Century prog's two or three greatest guitarists)--but it is the keyboard player(s) that blows me away. The solos are completely "outside the box," creative/innovative, amazing, and cool. And even background key work is, to me, astounding for its unpredictability and yet perfection.

Definitely a band to watch--and an album I will listen to again and again. While the lyrical content is a bit sappy and atypical for prog, I enjoy the personal and familial sentimentality.

88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.





20. LAGARTIJA Particelle


Is a mostly-mellow jazz fusion-oriented album, in no way fitting into any RPI stylings despite the band’s Italian origins. Like many other reviewers and commenters, I cannot help but add my acknowledgement of  the extraordinary album cover—I’m really not sure what it is about that photo but it is extraordinarily alluring, seductive, and beautiful—and I am not a person who is attracted to smoking or smokers in any way or form. (Quite the opposite.) The album is flawed (not always so highly engaging) but contains several jewels that make it quite a delightful surprise.

1.     1. “Idiosincrasia” (5:10) opens the album with an instrumental which has some interesting drumming and chord progressions. I am not much of a fan of the saxophone but for some reason the playing on this album I find listenable and even, at times, engaging and enjoyable. (7/10)

2.     2. "Myths” (4:57) contains a blues-based rhythm section with some heavily treated vocals, an enjoyable saxophone “chorus,” and some occasional interesting and odd electric guitar riffs and chord progressions. (7/10)

3.     3. "L’abbraccio” (5:13) is when the album really starts getting good. The opening drum and guitars play is quite engaging and then at the one minute mark we are graced with the awesome untreated voice of singer (and bass player!) Sara Aliani singing in a higher octave than the previous song. Awesome PAUL WELLER-like “jazz” rhythm guitar play. The vocal “o-ohhhhh-oh-ah”s in the final minute are the icing on the cake. (10/10)

4.     4. "Tete” (4:03) is another instrumental that begins with alto sax soloing over the lounge-jazzy rhythm section. At this point it sounds quite a bit like the French band NEMO. At 1:40 there is a drastic switch into a blues form and style with the electric guitar soloing on his lower registers. Sax returns at 2:22 to do a nice jazzy/smooth jazz solo. The final 45 seconds turn into an ominous almost heavy metal section with lead guitar performing in a slide mode. (8/10)

5.     5. "Non si puo’ cambiare” (sample is a dance version) (3:37) is the gem of the album, a poppy, smooth, seductive journey with the band into the emotional world of (God! She sounds like Penelope Cruz!) I love the jazzy guitar sounds (and there are several different ones employed here) and I’m a sucker for any trumpet play—especially treated trumpet. The baby crying at the end is . . . odd. (10/10)

6.     6. "Sbrisiu” (3:08) is an electric “lo-fi” piano solo by non-band-member Fabrizio Delledonne(!) It is performed in a European lounge jazzy style and feel, though there are also Sakamoto/Satie-esque sensibilities to it. Quite nice (though I’m not very fond of the computer program or recording sound the engineers or player chose). (9/10)

7.     7. "Particelle” (13:11) is a succession of three distinct parts played one after the other. Part one lasts two and a half minutes. It is a pretty mellow late-night sax ballad. Part two switches into a mixed meter jazz piece, not unlike some of the KING CRIMSON experiments for 75 seconds. At 3:45 the plaintive voice of Sara Aliani enters and draws our attention. Unfortunately her singing lines have to follow the chord shifts of the guitar and bass players making it sound more religious and more predictable and less engaging than it could’ve been. At 6:05 the song begins its shift into the final section with the “radio” treated voice of some uncredited man speaking in Italian over the simple and repetitive bass and subtle guitar play (and, later, cymbols). At 8:05 the recorded talking stops and the band kicks into an awesomely hypnotic groove over which first saxophone and then treated trumpet solo away. Kind of PINK FLOYD and PAATOS to me. (Kudos to Michele Molinari:  Awesome drum play!) (10/10)

8.     8. "Emilia Malinconica” (4:08) ends the album with a slow, sensitive song with Sara singing in the middle octave that we first heard her. Nice effect with the fast echo/fast reverb electric guitar strums. At 2:11 the rhythm section fills the previously spacious and a saxophone plays out a simple melody until the band kicks into heavy throbbing mode for the final minute. (8.5/10)


86.875 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. I want so badly to give this album five stars and label it as a masterpiece because its high points are so high, but, alas, there are weak spots—and several of them--so four stars is all it really deserves. It is an album I love to play over and over (and have done for over a year now). I love the singing, bass, drum, guitar and trumpet play and am quite comfortable with the saxophones, but it really is not a prog masterpiece. But I recommend this highly—it is, in my opinion, an excellent addition to any prog lover’s music collection. A band I will be looking forward to future releases with great anticipation.





21. THE FUTURE KINGS OF ENGLAND Who Is This Who Is Coming? 

This is really more of a soundtrack to the chilling short story by M.R. James called "Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You Lad." The music matches up amazingly well with the story, progressively getting scarier with each song. The band has diverged quite a bit from the Post Rock/Math Rock/Psychedelia of a few years ago.

1. "Journey to the Coast" (2:04). The arrival in the bucolic East Anglia beachside town is well represented with this folksy mandolin-based tune. There is even a track in the song dedicated to songbirds sounds! Feels like a place that I'd like to visit! (8/10)

2. "The Globe Inn" (4:26). Organ, simple drums and notes slowly picked on a guitar are superceded in the B section by eerie synths and voices. Decending guitar scales and reversed guitar and organ enter for a kind of C coda before the B part returns. Very BLIND FAITH-like. A lull at 2:14 allows the eery bass line to present, alone, before the band returns with a doubled-up lead bottle-neck guitar solo in the vein of ERIC CLAPTON or even GEORGE HARRISON takes over. Then, out of the blue, at 3:18, a very cool, very powerful and fully CAMEL-like 'controlled' crescendo section takes over till end of song. (9/10)

3. "Finding the Whistle" (2:01) is a lot like a GENESIS interlude song from The Lamb. (9/10)

4. "Watcher Part 1" (1:56) sounds as if ROY ORBISON, FLEET FOXES, GREEN LINNETT RECORDS, and MIKE OLDFIELD all collaborated. Very cool song. (10/10)

5. "Who Is This Who Is Coming?" (9:09) opens with very odd bending synth notes, joined by sustained fuzzy guitar notes. It has a bit of an Ambient ENO feel to it for the first two minutes. Add horn-like and girl-screaming synth notes until at 2:57 an non-English-sounding male voice says something which ushers in a new eery theme of music--though it's really more like a scary movie soundtrack, complete with samples of clock ticking and someone's boots trampsing through tall grass. At 5:34 a slow synthesizer section begins--using sounds like TANGERINE DREAM. Long-held acoustic guitar strums and more synthesizer play join in. Eery and synth mastery. (8/10)

6. "Convinced Disbeliever" (3:59) begins with the alarm of a windup clock. Guitar power chords and drumming sounding like IRON BUTTERFLY or BLACK SABBATH enter. Cheesy switch at 0:58 to B part. The music is rather "B movie"-ish. At least until the all-too-brief, but wonderful OLDFIELD-like guitar solo at the 1:38 mark. Return of cheesy two-chord rock theme. Give it lyrics and it would fit right onto an early 1970s SABBATH/BUTTERFLY/or even GRAND FUNK album. I guess it works. I'm smiling, though I might be cringing. (7/10)

7. "Watcher Part 2" (1:59) begins like a ELP song, GREG LAKE sing while being harmonized by another GREG LAKE-like b vocalist. Very nicely done. Could be a TRAFFIC or STRAWBS tune, too. (9/10)

8. "A Face of Crumpled Linen" (10:17) begins with the recorded sound of wind buckling at the windows and doors. Guitar, bass, and synth introduce a theme which is then taken over by a different keyboard sound. Cymbol play begins and then full drum play as bass and guitar play establish quite a nice groove over which portamento synth plays. Additional guitar and tracks (two that I count) enter, one strumming a partially muted strum, the other playing a distorted, untuned lead. By 4:30 all instruments have faded away leaving an organ-sounding synth slowly forming odd diatonic chords by moving an upper note against an unchanging mid-keyboard note. At 6:20 full band returns in a kind of TANGERINE DREAM/PINK FLOYD style. (The instruments are all recorded in quite a raw, under-processed and not-necessarily cohesive way.) Things quiet down again briefly before letting an electric guitar arpeggio take over the base rhythm. Drum and synth play build before horns and the full band comes crashing in for a kick ass groove--but only for the final minute. Then the groove--and the song-- end quite suddenly! (9/10)

9. "Spectacle of a Scarecrow" (5:54) begins with an electric guitar establishing a chord progression with arpeggios. When the full band joins in it is with a fury that quite reminds me of CRAIG SAFAN's ripping "Confrontation" from TANGERINE DREAM's soundtrack of Michael Mann's 1981 movie, Thief. (9/10)

While the music here is sometimes not so proggy, more soundtrack-like, and often reaches back to styles and sounds (even production value) of the early 1970s, it is a really admirable rendering of a story to music. One to experience, say, alone in a shack on a stormy night. One of the few albums I've heard that is actually better without headphones.

86.7 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




22. WHITE WILLOW Terminal Twilight

Now this is what prog is supposed to sound like! Great ambience, great representation on all instruments, great shifting textures and mixes, great production. I am amazed by the clarity of each instrument's recording in the mixes. Beautiful. One of the best aural headphones experiences I've had this year. Reminds me of a Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush recording with its clarity and definition. I love the sound of this bass player's playing. I love the sneak in appearance by one-of-a-kind vocalist Tim Bowness (he always adds so much to anyone's song, IMO) on the gorgeous (love the flute, piano and STEVE JANSEN-like drums) "Kansas Regrets." I love the female vocalist's tonal quality--and the BJORK-like enunciation. I love the understated individual performances which yield wonderful ensemble performances (not-unlike PINK FLOYD). I love the dreamy, eerie, almost surreal, lazy sounds and flow to "Red Leaves" (kind of PÄATOS-like). The 13-minute "Searise" reminds me of a RENAISSANCE epic--with a little of the heavier side of PÄATOS mixed in. And, try as I might, I'm unable to pick out any direct influences! They sound familiar, symphonic, yet kind of original--though at times I hear MAGENTA and Hogarth-era MARILLION.

86.25 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. I just love this album! It's one of my top albums of the year--ahead of Sean Filkins, Wobbler, Introitus, Fen, and Opeth. My only complaints: a bit monotonous with the album's over-all tempo; I wish (as I always do) for some vocal harmonies. Still, a great listen start to finish--one that I will come back to again and again.

Five star songs: "Natasha of the Burning Woods" (6:29); "Hawks Circle the Mountain" (7:10); "Kansas Regrets" (4:40); "Red Leaves" (8:40); "Searise"(13:11), and; "A Rumour of Twilight" (2:34).

Four star songs: "Snowswept" (4:12); , and; "Floor 67" (9:55).




23. KARDA ESTRA New Worlds

Another great KE album! Karda Estra has such a refreshing way of leading the listener down unexpected yet beautiful paths with their odd and unexpected chord and key shifts. I hope they keep putting out new music forever! This one finds Richard et co. working with a few more outsiders, which renders this collection of songs a bit more outside of the 'typical' KE Gothic-medieval sound (e.g. Eve, Vovoid Dracula, Weird Tales) and more like their 2005 release, The Last of the Libertine. The result, however, is a much more catchy, melodious and even 'poppy' KE album. There are songs that feel jazzy like KOOP, complex pop like BURT BACHARACH, several straight out of the STEVE HACKETT school of prog snippets ("snippets" because most of these songs are less than 4 minutes in length--with several less than two!), along with a few from the more 'classic' KE sound repertoire. All in all, it's a lighter side of Richard and the gang--one that makes for very pleasant background music as you cook or read.

Album highlights:  "Transmissions" (3:24) (9/10), "Girl in a Spaceship" (live sample) (9/10), "Sea of Tranquility" (9/10), "Invaders from Venus" (live sample) (9/10)--heck! I like them all! A great album to play straight through.




24. KATE BUSH 50 Words for Snow

While I've been enjoying this album and with it Kate's more minimalist song-delivery style, I must admit to not feeling that the songs are as creative or envelope-pushing as some of her previous work (Never Forever, The Dreaming, Hounds of Love, The Sensual World). There are a few of her expected "gimmicks"--like her son Bertie's narration and singing in "Snowflake" (10/10), the choral work singing "Lake Tahoe" in the song of that name (9/10), the Himalayan choral singing the chorus in "Wild Man" (7:17) (9/10), Elton John's strong and equal presence in the emotional duet about two souls re-encountering each other over and over without really fully connecting, "Snowed in at Wheeler Street" (8:05) 8/10), the jazzy drum and bass play in the epic, "Misty" (13:32) (9/10), and then, of course, Steven Frye's recitation of Kate's list of 50 terms for snow in the song, "50 Words for Snow" (6/10). Kate's piano playing and singing are exquisite, masterfully mature and infinitely emotional, but the songs are sometimes lacking something . . . je ne sais quois to really bring them into the realm of classic masterpieces. I think they are masterful--expressions of a songwriting master, and I personally find them incredibly powerful and deeply engaging, but I'm not sure the average prog lover will prize them equally. It is for this reason that I think the album deserves three and a half stars, rated down to three because it probably is, in fact, "Good, but non-essential" and not an "excellent addition to ANY prog rock music collection. But for Kate lovers, it is probably worthy of 4.5 stars--a wonderful presentation of emotional songs from one of music's all-time masters.


"Snowflake" (10:04) (10/10) "Lake Tahoe" (11:25) (10/10)

85.71 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




25. TUNE  Lucid Moments 

Combining the psychobabble of a mentally ill patient and his doctors with finger-tapping guitar stylings, an accordion, and a rhythm section that sounds like countrymates RIVERSIDE make for an interesting and often beautiful ride. It is unfortunate that some of the album's best songs are rendered unplayable to the public because of the use of profanity by the psychologically challenged story 'character.' Guitarist Adam Hajzer is quite talented in his use of finger tapping techniques. The bass and drums are quite solid together, giving the music that powerful RIVERSIDE feel. The vocalist reminds me so much of BELIEVE's original lead vocalist, Tomek Rozcki. The story being told is quite interesting and entertaining if times a bit awkward because of the accented English. (Shouldn't this angry man be spouting his vitriole in his native tongue?) But my favorite part of the music--and what makes this a highly recommended album from 2011--is the brilliant incorporation of accordion. I just wish there was more!

Favorite tracks:  the opener, "Dependent," (6:06) (9/10) which begins like a trip through a JOHN MARTYN or STANLEY JORDAN guitar piece, but then builds behind the brilliant accordion and dramatic bass and drums play; #4 "Lucid Moments" (6:35) (9/10) in which the accordion has some wonderful moments key and central to the music and the lead guitar shows some of his OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ licks; #7 "Cabin Fever" (6:35) (8/10) which begins with some great sensitive accordion play before building into a powerful song with awesome guitar leads and vocal lines, albeit violent, and; the album's finale, "Dr. Freeman" (5:21) (8/10) which has some beautiful solo electric guitar work accompanying most of the song's first half in which a recorded dialogue between a psychiatrist and his patient is playing. The frenzied final ninety seconds is highlighted once again by some excellent aggressive lead guitar work in the TMV/OR-L style.

Overall quite an enjoyable listen but one that leaves me wanting so much more from the accordion!

85.56 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. A good album recommended especially to fans of RIVERSIDE, VOTUM, RETROSPECTIVE and other Polish prog rockers.



26. TENHI Saivo

A late comer as it was only released in December, this album is as haunting as it is beautiful, as unique as it is masterful, as stunning as it is stark, as amazing as it is emotional. Prog folk at its absolute best. Finnish folk at its most captivating. I don't know Finnish but, frankly, one needn't in order to comprehend the mood and emotional message of these remarkable songs. And though the album captures an overall vibe, each and every song has its own unexpected uniquity; all the songs here have a surprising variety.