Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Top Albums of the Year 2010, Part 1: The Masterpieces


My Favorite Albums of 2010
(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.  



2010 offered some awesome new music from artists practicing quite a wide variety of styles. My Favorites List has albums representing no less than ten sub-genres. Another excellent year in terms of quantity and quality, I have on my List five (5) masterpieces and nine (9) near-masterpieces of progressive rock music. 


The Rankings
(My Favorites)


1. BROTHER APE  A Rare Moment of Insight
2. DOMINA CATRINA LEE Songs from the Breastbone Drum
3. CICADA Over the Sea/Under the Water
4. FUNIN Unsound
5. GIFTS FROM ENOLA Gifts from Enola
6. VESPERO By the Waters of Tomorrow
7. COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE The Sirens Sound
8. CICCADA A Child in the Mirror
9. FOURTEEN TWENTY-SIX Lighttown Closure
10. MY EDUCATION Sunrise


11. MR. GIL Skellig
12. ANATHEMA We’re Here Because We’re Here
13. T Anti-Matter Poetry
14. YUGEN  Iridule
15. LUNATIC SOUL II
16. UNIVERS ZERO Clivages
17. FROGG CAFÉ The Bateless Edge
18. ARANIS RoqueForte
19. KHATSATURJAN Disconcerto Grosso
20. THE TEA CLUB Rabbit

Honorable Mentions:
HYPNOS 69 Legacy
XING SA Création de l’univers


The Reviews

***** 5 star Masterpieces:

***** Album of the Year for 2010! *****


1. BROTHER APE  A Rare Moment of Insight


This is the best Brother Ape album yet--and, because of its consistently high content and performances, one of my Top Ten of 2010. One thing this album has that previous Brother Ape albums perhaps lacked is GREAT production--sound is mixed VERY clearly (though the drums are often given a bit too much volume.)

1. "Juggernaut Now" (7:27) [9/10] and 3. "Ultramarathon" (7:49) [9/10] have a distinctive JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE sound and feel to them--(except for the wonderful TREVOR HORN-like voice)--which makes sense since this is a three-piece rock band with a very active drummer. The whelm of MAX BERGMAN's frenetic pace and style (sounding a lot like KEITH MOON sans cymbol mania) takes some getting used to, but once past that you have some pretty amazing songs here. Some BLUE OYSTER CULT-like guitar riffs in "Ultramarathon" give it a varied feel, while the calming vocal and wild drumming continues to provide the tension to make the glue holding the song together.

2. "Chrysalis" (5:34) slows things down a bit and presents an almost DEPECHE MODE-OCEANSIZE marriage of sound. Cool song. I love that all of this album's songs have so many subtleties to be extracted from the music with each successive listen. [8/10]

4. "Seabound" (6:03) has a bit of a feel as if FLEET FOXES or MOON SAFARI's vocal harmonies were singing over YES's "Turn of the Century." Very nice, quite nostalgic, song that keeps growing on me as time passes. Very nice acoustic guitar work. [9/10]

5. "Instinct" (6:52) is my favorite. It has a lot of atmospheric sounds floating behind the drums: keys, vocals, even bass are very etheric. Great vocal melody lines (and, later, harmonies) and awesome lead guitar solo around the 4:00 mark. Love the spacious outro. [10/10]

6. "Echoes of Madness" (9:06) is a great upbeat song with some very catching vocal hooks and chord progressions while constructed like a classic RUSH song. I really love the Alex Lifeson-sounding guitar sounds (the strums!) here--including the LIFESON-like solo beginning at the 4:30 mark. Great vocal performance (including the BUGGLES-like distant echo). Again, it's the little, subtle extras (the acoustic guitar work is awesome!) that make this song--and album--so amazing! [9/10]

7. "The Art of Letting Go" (7:23) has a very emotional presentation and vocal performance. The way it builds--from plaintive STYX-like piano & voice to full blown ROBIN TROWER-like rocker--is, to me, reminiscent of many moments of the best of LED ZEPPELIN's sounds and style(s). Amazing instrumental section beginning at 4:45, repeated again as the slowly fading outro in the last minute!  [9/10]

8. The album wraps up with the gorgeous acoustic guitar piece, "In a Rare Moment" (3:33).  It's a beautiful song quite reminiscent of something ANT PHILLIPS and MICHAEL HEDGES or ERIK SATIE might have collaborated on. [10/10]

Excellent musicianship, beautiful song constructions, tons of layers of subtle sonic atmospherics, along with the very catchy, gorgeous TREVOR HORN-like vocals make this album one of my favorite discoveries of the past year.

92.5 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music receiving my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. Bravo, Brother Ape! EVERYBODY: CHECK THIS ONE OUT! You won't be disappointed!




2. FUNIN Unsound

1. "Unsound" (6:55) is so out-of-the-ordinary in its 'world music' approach to instrumentation and voice as to defy comparisons (though Mariuz Duda's opening to LUNATIC SOUL does come to mind). Eerie and yet breathtakingly gorgeous. I love the way this builds, like a Post Rock song, then crescendos leaving behind a kind of BJÖRK/Inuit choral part and a more techno/house final 1:30. (10/10)

2. "Everythings" (5:31) outrageously gorgeous--though COLDPLAY-like poppy--from the start, this one is just so catchy and upbeat that I can't help but wonder why (or maybe that) it was a major international hit. (10/10)

3. "Wonderland" (4:01) is a wonderful pop-jazzy KOOP/BJÖRK-like paced song. (9/10)

4. "Tornado" (4:02) is even more BJÖRK-like sonically, musically and vocally. Wonderful, hip-swaying music with a gorgeous vocal arrangement. It may be very similar to the Icelandic queen's sound and style, but it is masterful and fun! (10/10)

5. "Last Day" (4:08) This song has a bit of the mysterious BARK PSYCHOSIS sound and feel to it in that it is a stripped down, very basic musical landscape over which Marit Elisabeth Svendsboe displays her remarkable vocal uniquities(8/10)

6. "Inch of Me" (6:29) is highlighted by it's second half:  the amazing piano, double bass, strings, and, later, 'Latin dance' percussion. Almost a DIANA KRALL song, The Look of Love era. (9/10)

7. "Indestructible" (3:31) is another song completely unique to FUNIN. Part LAURIE ANDERSON, part JON HASSELL, part NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA, this is one unusual yet starkly beautiful 'folk' song. (10/10)

8. "Rocking Chair" (2:43) is another song showcasing singer Marit Elisabeth's versatility. Part BILLY HOLIDAY, part NINA HAGEN, part Gypsy or Arab folk singer, this is to be heard. (8/10)

9. "Machine" (6:57) is an amazing, edgy techno/industry song displaying some quite unusual vocal skills (or editing!) and ending with a classic piano/string quartet! (9/10)

10. "Skywalkers" (5:12) starts out a lot like COWBOY JUNKIES/LAURA NYRO before going BJÖRK Vespertine and then, with 2:20 addition of the male voice, back to a Cowboy Junkies or DUNCAN SHEIK feel. Awesomely odd and unusual! (9/10)

92.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a definite masterpiece of progressive rock music--one that is truly pushing the boundaries of music into future possibilities. 




3. DOMINA CATRINA LEE Songs from the Breastbone Drum

In the great tradition of OREGON, SHAKTI, RY KOODER, and PAT METHENY, Domina Catrina Lee offers up some incredible fusion of jazz and rock using her guitar and a computer program (MIDI Just Intonation) to midi perform and program a full array of instruments representative of the jazz, classical and world music traditions. This is an absolutely gorgeous, emotional, intellectual, and astounding musical accomplishment. It simply must be heard to be believed and appreciated. 

1. "Songs from the Breastbone Drum" (6:28) is a gorgeous introduction to the supreme composition and performance talents of Here using acoustic guitar, oboe, piano and drums/tabla/percussion to showcase a melodic piece of world jazz. (10/10)

2. "Fire Naked Prelude (1:20) uses acoustic guitar in two channels in a very RY COODER way. (8/10)

3. "Fire Naked Boom" (5:19) sounds like a PAT METHENY/FRANK ZAPPA/HIROMI UEHARA/JONI MITCHELL/WEATHER REPORT collaboration. Funny, loose, jazzy, displaying extraordinary instrumental skills, it works as a kind of performer's showcase. (8/10)

4. "Suite I: Ballad of the Forgotten (Threnody for Vincent Van Gogh and Nikolai Tesla)" (5:27)
is a powerful and beautiful tribute to the misunderstood. Much of the time it sounds like the instrumental first half of PAT METHENY & LYLE MAYS' classic "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls." (10/10)

5. ""Suite II: Scarborough Fair" (3:36) while the 'woodwind' plays the melody of the traditional English folk song, piano accompanies the emotional soloing of an acoustic guitar. Powerful. (9/10)

6. "The Story so Far" (3:43) starts with some synth wash and soft piano notes before kicking into a modern jazz combo supporting one of the best ALLAN HOLDSWORTH impersonations I've ever heard. Amazing! Simply must be heard! (8/10)

7. "The Shape Shifter Suite I: Two Spirit" (6:12) starts off like a WILL ACKERMAN/STEVE REICH song with those familiar layers of guitar arpeggios and other percussive instruments. 'Violin' takes over the lead melody for a bit, before giving way to some brilliant acoustic guitar soloing. The intricate weave of background instrumental support again makes this song sound like a long lost PAT METHENY GROUP song. But it's not: it's the work of one person! Amazing! (10/10)

8. "The Shape Shifter Suite II: Invocation" (5:43) begins more like a PAUL McCANDLESS/PAUL WINTER GROUP song before shifting to a pure JOHN McLAUGHLIN acoustic jazz piece à la 1970's My Goals Beyond. (10/10)

9. "'Even the Outsider' Suite: i) Borealis" (4:25) begins as if PAT METHENY, STEVE TIBBETTS, WILL ACKERMAN and MICHAEL HEDGES were all sitting down together to play. For two and a half minutes the instruments meander around as if searching for a common thread until an 'oboe' comes in to unite them. Solo acoustic guitar follows as support instruments keep the loose 'street jam' going in the background. Exciting tension, but no real 'show' ever seems to come out of it. (8/10)

10. "'Even the Outsider' Suite: ii) Climbing in Rainfalls" (5:16) picks up on a theme from part i and actually begins to jell into a song. Woodwinds and acoustic guitars trade lead soli as sensitive percussives, synths, and acoustic guitars provide the background matrix. A gentle, peaceful melody carries the day, though some of the background instruments seem to be trying to convey some tension and discord. Interesting song! (9/10)

11. "'Even the Outsider' Suite: iii) Even(in)g the Outside" (9:56) carries the Suite combo forward into a much more PAT METHENY realm of upbeat, positive melodies and rhythms. A very complex song filled with wonderful mood, key, and melody shifts and tons of subtleties that are delightful to discover with repeated listenings--something I highly recommend! Quite an emotional ride by this sensitive song-writer. (10/10)

12. "By Her Side" (6:28) begins with 'piano' introducing some very LYLE MAYS-like riffs. Acoustic guitar and double bass join in, eventually bringing forth a song in the vein of some of PAT METHENY's more gentle acoustic GROUP stuff--or like JOHN McLAUGHLIN's 1993 Bill Evans tribute album, Time Remembered. Virtuoso guitar playing and amazingly perfect 'piano' accompaniment. (10/10)

Each time I listen to this album I am absolutely astounded at the level of emotional subtlety conveyed through this computer-generated music! This is one of the top two or three jazz fusion albums I've heard from the 21st Century! Unfortunately you are very unlikely to hear this album as it was self-produced and has not met with enough acceptance nor reviews to catapult it into the limelight it deserves. Find Domina on the Internet and ask for her music. You won't regret it!

91.67 on the Fish scales = 5 stars; a true masterpiece of progressive music and one of the most amazing accomplishments of solo artistry I've ever heard!



4. CICADA Over the Sea/Under the Water

Is a young Taiwanese "ambient/neoclassical/post rock" chamber ensemble consisting of a female piano player, Jesey Chiang (the main composer), a male acoustic guitar player, and three female strings players (violin, viola, cello). They play what appears to be in the Post Rock/Math Rock style, though, in reality they are probably a little more of what might be considered "neoclassical." Absolutely beautiful, heart-wrenchingly emotional songs, beautiful compositions. Definitely one of my favorite albums and new discoveries of the year.

Album highlights: three heart-wrenchers: 4. "Farewell (in a pretentious way)" (6:00) (10/10); 5. "...Till the Day We Meet" (5:41) (9/10), and 6. "Finally...We're Still together" (3:54) (10/10)

Also great:  the unexpectedly beautiful, yet playful, 2. "Fly" (2:44) (9/10), and; the slightly country-and-classical (if that's possible)-sounding but beautifully orchestrated opener, "Over the Sea, Under the Water" (6:42) (8/10).

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




5. VESPERO By the Waters of Tomorrow

Upon first listen to this album I didn't think it was as good as the three live albums I own by VESPERO: Foam, Liventure #19, and Liventure #21. But, I was wrong. Yes, I miss the wordless singing of Natalya Tujrina, otherwise this studio album is an amazing accomplishment of collaborative creativity.

1. “Daphne” (5:22) starts the album off with a fast paced jam in which the mix of synths are used very creatively and in which the drumming is mesmerizing, captivating. (9/10)

2. “Percious" (8:32) has a very slow, spacey beginning but eventually picks up. Around 4:30 it feels like the drummer gets lost!? The music slows and thins at 4:50 with only pluck-echo-guitar and cymbol play for a while. At 6:30 it picks back up with some jazziness--and with some awesome 'trumpet'-sounding violin! (8/10)

3. “Amaryllis” (7:29) starts slow but builds quickly until at 1:40 things really kick into high gear. Great searing guitar solo but, by 3:30, the band sounds a bit discombobulated. Perhaps going a bit too gang-busters. This is soon coorrected. 4:30 sees a shift to interweave of arpeggios by guitar, bass, and keyboards played against a very fast drum beat. At 6:30 there arises a discordant screaming guitar (reminds me of TODD RUNDGREN on 1973's Todd's "In and Out the Chakras We Go") (8/10)

4. “Gao Zült” (5:51) starts with drum brushes! Guitar,  synths, violin join in in a PORCUPINE TREE way and play together for a minute and a half before bass and fuzz guitar take over against new frenetic drum patterns. The drummer is going so fast with such a syncopated line while the spacey background keyboard wash tricks you into hypnotic sleep--until 3:00 when 'harmonica/accordian' sound and countrified electric guitar. Then at 4:10 a real Mexican fiesta sound/beat takes over. A real hodge-podge of interesting time signatures. Ends with Gypsy-ish violin solo playing over same Mexican rhythm. (7/10)

5. “Tall Tree” (7:31) begins with a slow, hypnotic violin. An unexpected key change at the 1:25 mark brings us into a "White Rabbit" chord progression. Here there is INCREDIBLE drumming! The guitar lead takes over at 3:38. At 5:23 there is a return to the ambience of the intro section and brief violin solo until 6:12 when an arpeggio weave paves the way for the return of the screaming electric guitar. Another key shift at 6:51 until at 7:11 the electric guitar bottoms out to fade. (10/10)

6. “Punto Fijo” (8:03) starts at a frenetic pace with a kind of "Rasta-punk" feel/beat. The guitar takes the melody, but from behind--from a floating place in the background! At 1:30 there is a long pause/interlude of synth noises, drones and echoed guitar 'Frippisms.' At 3:40 enters tympani and violin. From 4:50 wah-ed guitar strums join in until 6:00 when a GILMOUR-esque "slide" guitar solo takes over. Again: the drum playing is absolutely fascinating here! (10/10)

7. “Pavane Lacryme” (4:24) is a pretty little song with treated guitars à la ROBIN GUTHRIE. Synths, violin solo and jazzy drums. (9/10)

8. “Seagulls Sing (When it Rains)” (6:47) opens with an X-Files-like modulated synth playing eerily over jazzy cymbol play and guitar and violin harmonies. The drumming--especially the cymbol play--is fascinating. A  female voice joining in at about the 2:30 mark  is a beautiful and welcome touch. Turns jazzy with nice 'flute' and, later, synth soli. That drummer! (10/10)

9. “Aurora Borealis” (9:16) opens with a great, driving ELOY/"Blade Runner Main Title"-like keyboard bass-line around which all other instruments jam (violin, synths, awesome percussion). Again, the drums and percussion (and violin) are fascinating to follow. At 8:20 a distorted guitar enters, followed by the fadeout of all other instruments. Interesting way to end a song and album! (10/10)

As I said above, it took repeated listens for this excellent album to grow into me. And boy has it! This is a masterpiece of creative, experimental jamming. Kudus to all involved. Thank you, drummer Ivan Fedotov, for an amazing ride. Sample live versions of "Tall Tree" and "Seagulls Sing (When it Rains)" here.

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



****+ 4.5 star Near Masterpieces:


6. MY EDUCATION Sunrise

Such a diversified collection of songs! It's mind-boggling to try to keep remembering that this is one group, one album--and supposedly a soundtrack! (To F.W. MURNAU [yes, of Nosferatu fame]'s 1927 silent film, "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.")


1. "Sunset(6:06) is a chamber symphonietta in the style of KRONOS QUARTET and PHILLIP GLASS meet CLINT MANSELL. Absolutely beautiful, haunting, and certainly worthy of video accompaniment. (9/10)

2. "City Woman" (6:24) starts as a slow song in the more typical Math/Post Rock format and style--vibes, drum kit, electric guitar, saw- like electric violin and keyboard drones--all while covering their own version of PINK FLOYD's intro section to "Time." Then, at the 3:05 mark, we suddenly switch channels for a 25 second "Fiddler on the Roof" interlude before the song kicks back in for a kind of Celtic-Middle Eastern version of Floyd's "One of These Days"--adding, of course, the Post Rock climax, crescendo, and decay. (8/10)

3. "Lust(8:47) is another absolutely stunning song sounding like heroin-influenced version of JEAN-LUC PONTY's "New Country" with Jean-Luc playing with ALGERNON and COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE. This song, more than all the others, makes me want to watch the movie--just to see how the music and film match up and make me feel. A must hear! (10/10)

4. "Oars" (5:33) begins rather eerily with some awesome treated cymbols and percussive sounds before gelling and building as a powerful and rather concise (in the Post Rock world) rendering of more familiar post-rock music. Straightforward and loud yet melodic. More like a very polished, mature MOGWAI, RED SPAROWES or CASPIAN song. Great! (9/10)

5. "Peasant Dance" (4:50) has the feel of a rockified Rumanian/Gypsy dance. Not my favorite song on the album, but, then again, I don't know what it is from the film that they're trying to capture with this song. A very different piece for this album--upbeat but in that vodka-doused Russian/Eastern European way. Interesting instrumentation combinations. (6/10)

6. "A Man Alone" (6:01) is an amazingly full-spectrum ambient soundscape that BRIAN ENO would be very proud of. One of the best I've ever heard. Great addition to my "Songs for the Shadow" meditation playlist. (10/10)

7. "Sunrise(6:43), the album's closer (a 40-minute soundtrack for a 95-minute film?), offers a recapitulation of many of the themes and sounds from the previous songs within the minimalist strings/ chamber music framework of the opener, "Sunset." An absolutely gorgeous and truly cinematic closer--I can almost see the film's finale and the rolling of the credits! (10/10)

88.57 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece. Sunrise is definitely one of the best albums of 2010--and one of the best Post Rock albums I've ever heard. Masterful and so beautiful. An excellent addition to any prog lovers collection.





7. UNIVERS ZÉRO Clivages

Getting to know this album has provoked within me a discussion over what constitutes music, how music becomes considered 'progressive', and how the pleasure principle plays into the subjective, qualitative definition of what is 'good,' what is 'beautiful.' I do not consider this 'beautiful' music. I consider this music strongly evocative--inciting emotional responses within the listener. I do consider this music progressive and creative. I do consider the musicians dedicated to creating and performing this as accomplished, admirable, laudable. I am not drawn to listen and re-listen to this music' it is more of an effort, a mental task of trying to understand, grasp, appreciate this unenjoyable music. That is not quite correct: I can 'enjoy' this music from an intellectual perspective as I appreciate the technical and compositional skill and risks taken to create this music. I can even feel compelled to 'move' or 'dance' to some of this music--which, in and of itself, is an enjoyable experience. I imagine that being in an audience during of concert of this music I would find myself entertained, perhaps mesmerized, and, therefore, perhaps enjoying myself. But the fact that it is unlikely that this music will ever receive more intrinsic motivation to listen to it (unless impelled by a "I should"--or by the desire to show off some weird and unusual musical constructs to a friend or family member) renders me unable to rate this album as "essential: a masterpiece" or even "excellent addition to any music lover's collection" when I clearly do not feel it is either. Again, intellectually I can--and do--appreciate this music. But that is not enough. The more baroque and modern chamber pieces ("Vacillements," "Apesanteur" and the KARDA ESTRA-like "Retour de Foire") are excellent--and enjoyable. But pieces like "Earth Scream" (It's been done. Many times.) and "Warriors" (I keep waiting for the sax solo's of HENRI MANCINI's "Peter Gunn" theme while picturing Anthony Perkins lurking around in Vienna's shadows) take extreme effort to try to listen all the way through. The remaining songs are somewhere in between. "Straight Edge" is more akin to MILES DAVIS than anything else--which is good, and it is entertaining and changing and full of subtleties (and virtuosic playing), but.... Sorry. Not my cup of tea.

Updated 1/6/11: I've been listening to this CD more and more since YUGEN's "Iridule" came out and, while I don't find it as accessible, melodic, positive, or vibrant as "Iridule," I have been growing accustomed and even liking more and more of it--especially "Retour de foire"--an amazing piece! So, I'm going to upgrade to 4 stars with the caution: "Give it time before you judge."


Updated 2/20/13:  This album continues to grow on me--especially as my ear has grown more accustomed and attuned to the less melody-oriented prog sub-genres. At times I am tempted to upgrade this to a 4.5 or even 5 star album.

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




8. GIFTS FROM ENOLA Gifts from Enola

These guys have come a long way from "From Fathoms"--and it's only been a year! The unexpected twists and turns, use of effects, and mice melodic themes make this a much more mature and adventuresome collection. One thing I don't quite understand--and this seems to happen quite a lot in this genre--is the seeming appearance of synthesizer or keyboard parts when no keyboards or keyboard players are mentioned.

1. "Lionize" (8:23) begins with a rather straightforward Math Rock feel--very low end-dominant. A shift at the 2:15 mark travels into more Grunge-like territory--until at 2:43 the main melody themes are introduced. At 3:18 a distant high octave guitar riff is enteredbefore we return to main theme again. At 4:05 the pace drops off and the song floats into a very distorted sea of At 5:25 a lead guitar takes off and soars to goose-bumping heights! 6:30 shift to 6:45 punk/metal chops until an odd break of canned 1920s jazz floats around--as if over loudspeakers at the pavilion of the local town square. The heavily distorted bass throughout this song is just excellent. (9/10)

2. "Dime and Suture" (6:09). The shifts and changes in this song just keep you guessing--keep you interested and amazed. For some reason, the heavy guitars never seem to disturb or overwhelm the ears and the vocals screamed as if from 100 feet away are also very fresh, interesting and effective. Even the song's decay (some might say, 'demise') is fascinating and entertaining. (9/10)

3. "Alogas" (7:37) begins with a very PREFAB SPROUT sounding jazz guitar chords over synth wind and echoed synth sputtering. A very catchy, melodic jazzy-pop theme (think XTC joined with STYLE COUNCIL) begins at the :30 mark and continues for some very enjoyable two-and-a-half minutes before a different CURE/MEET DANNY WILSON theme and pace begins. All the while the jazzy guitar chord strumming plays--until the 5:05 mark when more familiar, though somehow 80s synth glossyed, Post Rock playing style takes over to build to a typical frenzied finish. (10/10)

4. "Grime and Glass" (7:39) begins, again, with a much more industrialized "80s meet Grunge" feel to it. A lot of MY BLOODY VALENTINE twang bar guitar playing and having some surprisingly upbeat and melodic sections to it. I like the development of this song more and more as you get into it--including the (as now typical) off-beat slowed down section with the recorded voices from some television infomercial or talk show (I can't quite make out what's being said). (9/10)

5. "Rearview" (7:24) begins with a persistent industrial/grunge sound to it--not unlike early NINE INCH NAILS. At 1:38 it switches gear, slows down and the guitars weave a very pretty melody--which is yielded for another grungy section at the 2:55 mark. 3:25 and we're back to slow/soft--almost like a setup for TED NUGENT or LYNYRD SKYNYRD Southern rock ballad. Low, haunting singing  enters over (or is it 'under') this, before giving way to some radio/spoken sample (computer talk--like the computer-enhanced voice of Steven Hawking) which then leads to a very mathematical section of off-tempo chords and smash-drumming whose last chords then decay and die in the 40-second glory of their some instrument feedback sounds. (8/10)

Again, innovative and unpredictable song construction and layering with some extremely pleasant melodies somehow woven into some very heavy Post Rock guitar/bass power chords. I don't usually like this much 'abrasive' guitar sound, but these guys are really interesting! They even had me humming along several times!

88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. This could be a masterpiece within the Math/Post Rock genre, however its length (37 minutes) and fact that this subgenre seems doomed to low expectations and limited potential because of its limiting styles, structures, and instrumentation leads me to rate it four stars. DEFINITELY a great addition to any prog lovers music collection!! Highly recommended!




9. YUGEN  Iridule

What an album! What a ride! TOBY DRIVER and UNIVERS ZERO pay attention: YUGEN is stepping ahead in the leadership of Avant/RIO/Experimental/Math/Post/Eclectic/Chamber Rock! Having very much liked both and Labrinto d'Acqua and Yugen Plays Leddi I could hardly contain my excitement to see the unexpected arrival of Iridule--and then Cesar's review sealed it: I had to find it. And boy! was it worth it! The clarity and virtuosity of these performances--including that of female vocalist Elaine Di Falco (check out "Ice" and "Iridule" to get a hint of her talent)--is breathtaking. For those of your hard of heart, I recommend starting with the last song, 11. "Cloudscape" (7:56) (10/10) to get your ears ready for the music that preceeds it. Then go back to the beginning and journey from there.

1. "On the Brink" (0:51) is an amazing intro followed by the most accessible of the five wild pieces of 'controlled chaos.' (10/10 despite its brevity)

2. "The Scuttle of the Past Out of the Cupboards." (6:38) A brilliant, bright, cheery, dynamic, clear, and, I can only imagine, very challenging piece of chamber rock. What a ride. What emotional impact! AFTER CRYING eat your heart out! (10/10)

3. As mentioned, "Iridule" (3:08) is amazing--one of the most gorgeous songs I've heard all year. (10/10)

4. "Overmurmur" (8:50) has a very KING CRIMSON-esque style, sound and structure to it--you almost think ole Dusty Roads himself (Prince Robert of Fripp) were sitting in on this one! A great UNIVERS ZERO meets KARDA ESTRA interlude graces the midsection before the freneticism of the wild rumpus continues. Truly a roller coaster ride to remember! Amazing musicianship on display here! (9/10)

5. "Scribbled" (1:44) (8/10) is the second of four 'vocal interludes' and another gem giving the listener some floating rest (and false hope of order and control) before all hell breaks loose in

6. "Becchime" (6:21). While I truly appreciate the compositional and performance achievements of this song (and this type of music) I fail to find it enjoyable--it goes a bit over the edge; I miss melody. Like the music of  FROM.UZ, there are many moments of interest and even beauty but, alas! they are all too brief and fleeting. This rollercoaster is too much for me. (7/10)

7. The stunning "Ice" (1:46) (10/10) is followed by 8. "Ganascia" (4:12) (7/10) which is a kind of 'son of Becchime' in that the similar feel and style is somehow a little more pretty and enjoyable--sometimes feeling like SCOTT JOPLIN era jazz with a lot of concert hall orchestra warm-up thrown in. Love the harpsichord!

9. "Thaw" (1:41) is the weakest vocal piece being a bit too contrapuntal/theoretical for me--more like some of the more difficult ANNETTE PEACOCK pieces to listen to. But, after many listens over the years, it has won me over. (8/10)

10. "Seri(alist) Killer" (5:46) only continues the lesson in music theory (and perhaps should be left for music majors and theorists), but it does turn better--signaled by the return of the harpsichord--turning into a very nice piece of 'modern Baroque' chamber music (à la AFTER CRYING and LEO JANACEK). Elaine Di FALCO's staccato chromatic vocal adds another interesting element. And the stop-start rhythmic style of play of the first half is at least something that one gets used to. (8/10)

Phew! It all comes to an end with the beautiful, uplifting, wound-healing "Cloudscape" (7:56) (10/10).

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

An amazing album but WARNING: Be prepared for the mental, emotional, psychological, and aural ride of the year. (The entire album can be heard here: Yugen Iridule.) Despite its challenges, this is truly a masterpiece of modern progressive rock music--a definitive step forward, into the future.




10. CICCADA A Child in the Mirror

It's been quite a struggle trying to hear and/or acquire a copy of this album or its music. But, the persistently high ratings and reviews lead me to persevere--and I am very glad I did. My first listen was appreciative ("a lot of JETHRO TULL riffs," I remember thinking), but I knew this child in the mirror was no simple kid, so I took my time, let it percolate, let the music get familiar, before trying to comment on it. I immediately knew we had a collection of very intricately constructed songs performed by very skilled "classical" chamber musicians. Repeated listens caught me thinking of WOBBLER, THIEVES KITCHEN, ALAN STIVELL, and even a little bit of NIL, GENTLE GIANT, THE CHIEFTANS, HAPPY THE MAN, GRYPHON, DIXIE DREGS and even some Southern or Country Rock. Such an odd yet intriguing mix, no? I only hope/wish that this album gets the listens and attention I believe it deserves.

1. "A Child in the Mirror" (4:38) is another instrumental, here mixing Renaissance instruments/styles with TULL's Thick as a Brick/Passion Play era sounds/styles (and riffs!), yet also contains some kind of indescribable YES-like quality to it. I absolutely love the acoustic guitars and recorders in this song. (9/10)

2. "Isabella Sunset" (6:09) starts with piano and violin before drums, bass, flute and electric guitar join in--Baroque to rock in an instant! The vocal melody and lyric very much has the same feel as that of NIL or THIEVES' KITCHEN where the female singing is really just another instrument in the (very complicated) weave--here an beautifully trained operatic folk singer--often even mimicking the melody line of another instrument. A pretty song with, again, some very intricate songwriting construction. I hope the group continues to explore more multi-voice harmonic weaves as there are near the end of this one as I much prefer this kind of vocal weave to those barbershop quartet/Beach Boys-like ones of MOON SAFARI. Great outro. (8/10)

3. "Ena Pedi Ston Kathrefti" (6:01) is a beautiful jazz-folk song sung in Greek that has a melody that wiggles its way into your brain and won't let go. Beautiful folk vocal over jazzy, almost avant garde music. (9/10)

4. "A Storyteller's Dream" (7:09) is a beautiful song--yet another (mostly) instrumental--with a very strong grounding in folk traditions--not unlike THE PENTANGLE or ALTAN. For me, probably the album's most emotive song. I love the organ solo with strumming acoustic guitars and mellotron mid-song which builds into quite a jam! 10/10 IMHO, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any of the all-time great prog-instrumentals. (10/10)

5. "Raindrops" (4:16) has a very pastoral, folk feel to it, with flute, acoustic guitar, bassoon, electric piano (?) and voice constantly weaving in and out of each other's melody lines. (8/10)

6. "An Endless Sea" (5:28) is a piano and acoustic guitar song that opens like a RENAISSANCE song from the 70s. When Evangelia's vocal enters it is only briefly before a shift in the song dynamics takes it into a little heavier, more insistent rock domain. At 1:50 everything calms down and returns to the folk-rock base that it opened to. Beautiful flute play (in lieu of a vocal for the second verse)! Interesting song bouncing back and forth--almost like a conversation being held between the folk and rock elements of the band. (8/10)

7. "Epirus--A Mountain Song" (4:58) begins with piano, clarinet and voice setting an almost chamber music-like scene. They are later joined and embellished by acoustic guitars, drums, electric bass, and electric guitar in a kind of IONA-like slightly amped up rock version of a folk song. I like the male background vocals on this one. More of this in the future would be nice. Pretty song. (9/10)

8. "Elisabeth" (7:09) is another instrumental tune that begins like an acoustic folk song before turning classical chamber music--perhaps even Renaissance music. Surprisingly, it goes to heavy rock power chords near the two minute mark, then digresses back to its pastoral yet intricate and sophisticated acoustic weave. Back and forth several more times--which surprisingly works really well--kind of like AFTER CRYING or some YES and KING CRIMSON. Some nice segues and added instruments (cello, organ) spice it up and keep it from getting too repetitive, predictable or boring. Halfway through the back beat falls into a very standard Country and Western beat--which again works! (8/10)

9. "I Stigmi--The Moment" (3:14) is a very classy folk-jazz-classical chamber piece with keys, electric guitar, and woodwinds noodling around over a standard C&W bass & drums back beat. The guitar picking even seems to come right out of Nashville. I love the fact that Evangelia Kozoni's vocals are being sung in her native Greek. (9/10)

10. "A Garden of Delights" (8:24) has a very Greek JETHRO TULL beginning to it. The near-operatic vocals of Evangelia Kozoni change this--as does the very catchy chorus, giving the song much more of its own identity. Music and lyric/vocal together lead us on a journey quite like a classic Greek play--full of many twists and turns, trying to get us to see sense and joy against the backdrop of a very arduous life of pain and struggle. Quite a journey! Quite a powerful, convoluted song! A true example of what I'd call classic progressive rock. (9/10)

87.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars. It is, IMHO, a near-masterpiece of  progressive rock music--and a wonderful debut. This is a sound I hope to hear a lot more of in the future.




11. T Anti-matter Poetry

A very interesting and different --almost retro-80s--production whose music pleasantly updates and enriches some of the more sophisticated technologically-driven 'pop prog' from the Continent the 80s (PETER SCHILLING, KRAFTWERK, NENA, FALCO come immediately to mind. The DAVID BOWIE/PETER MURPHY-like voice and vocal presentation also does much to add to the charm of this music, but, on its own, this well-crafted and performed CD is a very nice find. The first three songs are all outstanding with 3. "Phantom Pain Scars" (14:15) (10/10) expertly weaving so many racing instrumental melodies behind (or perhaps, in front of) the least-Bowie-sounding vocal on the album that I feel I'm hearing the counterpoint of a symphony or big band. The mood-setting opener "The Wasted Lands" (9:38) (9/10) has many PINK FLOYD qualities to it--TV samples, lead guitar, mood. "Scavengers and Hairdressers" (9/10) is definitely straight out of the 1980s PETER MURPHY catalog--musically and vocally. Love the domineering low end of this song! The fourth song, "I Saved the World" (7/10) again sounds like the way PETER MURPHY could almost go ambient, but ends up sounding most like a good MOBY song. Song five, the almost fifteen minute "The Rear View Mirror Suite" (8/10) covers a lot of prog territory using a lot of very subtle instrumentation and musics. The sixth and last song on this 65 minute journey, the title song (8:14) (9/10), keeps up the very high compositional, melodic, and performance standard of the rest though also hovers mostly in the side of more delicate music, as do the last two.
     Overall, a very, very enjoyable journey that never failed to keep my attention and which draws me back in as soon as I hear a few chords of any of its songs. Definitely a musican to watch--though no listener would be disappointed if they start here.

86.67 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of prog music and an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you're into 'progress' in the world of melodic progressive music.




12. MR. GIL Skellig

I really wanted to love this album! After reading the review by Tarcisio Maura earlier in the year, my excitement was high. Mirek Gil is my favorite guitarist of the last twenty years, and the Polish prog scene one of the most interesting and engaging during that same period. However, though, yes, Mirek is present--very present--and, yes, his distinctive wailing guitar sound is present--sometimes in triplicate--still, there are too many times when he disappoints: holding back, it seems; when you expect him to let loose in one of his frenzied, emotional solos, he just . . . doesn't. The solo in song 6, "Druga pólnoc" and the intro to song 7, "Czas i ja" are the only two times he comes close to letting go. A lot of time and effort is spent establishing repetition and melody/hooks with his lead guitar time; too much time and effort are spent showing restraint, trying to exhibit some kind of cool control, when I just want him to go shit crazy! (as we all know he can.) Luckily, the songs continue to grow on me?again, as his songs tend to do. I guess I was just disappointed at first listen because I wanted so much more. (I really was more enamored of the drumming and vocals in Polish.) During the second and third listens I must admit I heard much more of the beauty of the arrangements (mostly layered acoustic and electric guitar riffs), the melodies and harmonies, the vocals (I love singing in one's own native language).
     As I mentioned, the drumming (kudos Wojtek Szadkowski)--and often intertwining bass playing--are among the most consistently interesting themes of this album. And, Gil's guitar riffs are good; it's just that they could be . . . better! And, though I miss the lead guitar and keyboard interplay, I must say that the absent keyboards are not missed. (This aspect of the album gives it a feel similar to that of David Gilmour's second solo album, About Face.) Every successive song seems a bit better, a bit more close to the Mirek Gil we know and want; it's just that the emotional highs are rarely there. More in the drums or vocals than the lead guitar work.

1. "Skellig" (8:46) The opening song is beautiful, inviting, captivating; Gil's acoustic and lead guitar work are bold and beautiful, simple and almost cocky, the vocals very engaging. The bass and electric guitar rhythm section kicks in very effectively at the 2:50 mark. At the 3:50 mark the chorus first ensues with vocals and electric guitar lead dancing a very beautiful duet. The second chorus is followed by a lovely, long, vintage, if subdued, Gil solo. Backed by background choir and wonderful work from the rhythm section--who, fittingly, get to close out the song. (9/10)

2. "Mnie tu już nie ma" (5:10) is a beautiful, emotional, perhaps sad filled with lots of simple instrumental subtleties, like upper register bass play, harp-like acoustic guitar picking, delicate cymbol play, and lots of creative traveling across the toms. Here Mirek chooses to use his lead guitar to provide a very steady (one might say, repetitive) background for some stellar drum and bass playing. In fact, this song seems to have become a set up to display the excellent drum and bass play.  (9/10)

3. "Otwieram drzwi" (5:57) is the first song to really show a little of Gil's old heavy/neo prog roots--more use of thumping bass and electric power chords with a touch more volume on his lead. The vocal work here shows some weakness in the ability to deliver the higher end power; he seems to excel at the delicate, more ballad-like singing. Once more I find myself more drawn to listen to the drum work. The lead soli begin with a brief one at the 4:00 mark which is notable for the layering of two different tracks playing over one another. Trouble is, none of these soli "go anywhere." (8/10)

4. "Rzeka" (3:20) is a short, very standard rock song--sounding very similar to MIKE & THE MECHANICS' big hit, "In the Living Years." Nothing special here. (7/10)

5. "Odmieniec" (9:20) tries to rock out in a kind of BAD COMPANY "Ready for Love" way but the best part of the song are, in fact, the very delicate vocal section that precede GIL's first guitar solo and the soli themselves which finally, nearly, live up to expectations--yes, he ALMOST lets go. It's killing me: It's like listening to/watching ROBERT FRIPP: waiting and hoping that emotion will for once win out over mental planning and technical execution; he gets close but never quite leaves that seat on his stool, can't quite let himself go--show his human side. Too bad. Still, this is a pretty good song--and the solo is still better than 90% of the others out there. (9/10)

6. "Druga północ" (5:36) is a peppy song with perhaps the album's best vocal--with a very melodic vocal chorus, and some fun acoustic, rhythm and lead guitar work. Another set of classic, catchy lead guitar riffs to hook you in, and here we get to again experience Gil layering his guitar leads (and some pretty decent ones, too). Excellent song. (9/10)

7. "Czas i ja" (5:14) an instrumental, the best song on the album, where Gil finally gets moving, and his guitar is screaming, but it never reaches the heights we know he could go to. Again: the drums and bass deliver big time. (9/10)

Love the singing and Polish lyrics, drumming bass, and acoustic guitar work, and, of course, the distinctive--you might say, trademark--sound of Mirek Gil's lead guitar. Disappointed in the lack of innovative or "progressive" elements in the music. Happy to hear Mirek Gil under any circumstances; just wish he could have been a little more emotional and less mental/scientific in his playing.

4(-) stars. A good album. (Recommendation: Give it 3-4 listens before judging it completely.)

Post-edit: This is one album that has stayed on my radar and seems to have grown in my appreciation and esteem over time. I think it's due to the uniquely wonderful singing, melodies, and guitar of Mirek Gil. He may not be soaring to the heights of other solos but his solos are still better than 90% of all guitarists out there.

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




13. ARANIS Roqueforte 

An all-acoustic band that really has my interest piqued and heart won over.  A more melodic than usual Avant/RIO band from Belgium that include violin, accordian, flute, double bass, and guitar with guests adding piano, drums/percussion, and viola. Delightful music throughout this album though it is not filled with the kind of hooks, rhythms and structures that captivate the majority of prog lovers.  

Favorite pieces:  the most melodic song on the album, 1. "Roque" (5:54) (9/10); the longest and most diverse song on the album (like a mini-symphony), 7. "Naise" (10:55) (9/10); the driving and hypnotic ballet piece, 10. "Aila" (8:13) (9/10), and; the most tango-paced minimalist piece, 9. "Tissim" (5:40) (10/10).

85.0 on the Fish scales = a 4.5 star collection of brave, tightly knit, highly complex weaves from a tight collective of outstanding musicians. The non-melodic nature of Avant/RIO music unfortunately renders some of this music difficult to access. I would think that anyone who has a solid background in music theory or someone who gravitates toward the cerebral side of music would enjoy this album and music tremendously.




14. COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE The Sirens Sound

COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE The Sirens Sound is a june 2010 "EP" release (approx. 34 minutes) from Hamburg, Germany duo Martin Grimm and Chris Burda. CUTE's contribution to the Math/Post Rock genre is significant, IMHO, because of the integral and, in this genre, unusual role of keyboards/synths and because both band members are drummers/percussionists. Their songs are also quite amazing for their very engaging melodic and harmonic constructs. This EP is, again IMHO, their by far their best effort to date--and one of the most enjoyable and pleasurable Math/Post Rock albums I've ever heard.
  
1. At just under ten minutes, "The Sirens Sound" (9:54) begins the album with an electronic loop, quickly joined by a heavily treated piano (de-trebled) riff which soon yields to a slow moving synth. The treated piano riff and synth wash alternate with each other until the 3:00 minute mark when drums and guitars slow it down, heavy it out, and take over. The synth buzz eventually rejoins with new guitar arpeggios playing over the top of the rest of the music until the drums and heavy guitar chords suddenly drop out at the 4:30, only to rejoin at the 5:00 mark to build the song into one amazing wall of chaotic, mentally-disturbing sound. Awesome! Then they staccato stop and start the music several times before rejoining in the cacophony of beautiful sound. At 7:30 another hiccup reprieve before the whirling synth drone climbs to the top and makes you question your sanity. The last minute is a gradual dismantlement of the layers to fade. What a trip! One of the best Post Rock songs ever! It may be my favorite! (10/10)

2. "Grade Seperation" (sic) (4:45) begins with organ and bouncy, pop sounding synths and drums before the guitars come crashing in at the 1:00 mark. Some rather SIGUR RÓS sounding interludes make up the quiet breaks between waves of thrashing guitars and cymbals. A bit too repetitive and predictable. (7/10) 

3. "Violet Skies" follows some pretty standard-sounding rock guitar power chord progressions--almost punk-like at times--mete out a more familiar sound. Unfortunately, this familiarity is also the weakness of the song. (6/10)

4. "Beware/lost" (4:57). An awesome uptempo song with very catchy layered synth melody lines and single string guitar strumming and cymbals leading the way. Vibrating/vibrato bass notes are also very engaging. (10/10)

5. "A Different Complexion," at 8:50, is the longest song on the album, begins with cowbell and meaty bass before piano, sustained electric guitar notes, treated snare and other percussion noises join and carry the melody and intricate harmonic weave. Except for the cymbal work, it has a definite KING CRIMSON feel to it, and is very hypnotic and pleasant. (9/10)

A band definitely worth checking out. All their back catalog--which only begins last year--is outstanding, including Systembreakdown (2009) and Find a Place to Be Safe (Jan 2010). The Sirens Sound is their best. A very emotional and engaging album. Were it longer and not without two weak songs I would rate this with five stars. 4(+) stars.

85.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.

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