Monday, October 8, 2012

Top Albums for the Year 2006, Part 1: The Masterpieces


My Favorite Albums of 2006
(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 Ten 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.  


2006 produced quite a number of high quality prog albums, though of less of a wide palette in terms of variety of sub-genres represented. From this year, my Favorites List has six (8) masterpieces and three (4) near-masterpieces (and a bunch of near-misses). A pretty good year!



The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. KOTEBEL Omphalos
2. PURE REASON REVOLUTION The Dark Third
3. MAGYAR POSSE Random Avenger
4. iNFiNiEN How to Accept
5. SYLVAN Posthumous Silence
6. NEGURA BUNGET Om
7. ROBIN GUTHRIE Continental and 2 EPS, Everlasting and Waiting For Dawn
8. KARDA ESTRA The Age of Science and Enlightenment
9. IONA The Circling Hour
10. UZVA Uomo


Honorable Mentions: 
NEXUS Perpetuum Karma
MIDLAKE The Trials of Van Occupanther
OOIOO TAIGA
PAATOS Silence of Another Kind
ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS Double Eggs with Chips (and Beans)
MONO You Are There 
RED SPAROWES Every Red Heart Shines Towards the Red Sun
ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE Øresund Space Collective
ESPERS II
FROST* Milliontown
BELIEVE Hope to See Another Day
TO-MERA Transcendental
UNEXPECT In a Flesh Aquarium
RUSSIAN CIRCLES Enter
PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI Stati di immaggionazione
ESTRADASPHERE Palace of Mirrors
THE GATHERING Home
THE D PROJECT Shimmering Lights



The Reviews


***** 5 star Masterpieces:



***** Album of the Year for 2006! *****



1. MAGYAR POSSE Random Avenger


The Post Rock sound on this album is so light and refreshing, much closer to the STEREOLAB and TORTOISE styles of the early PR years in the 90s than the heavy, murky stuff of the Naughties. 

1. "Whirlpool of Terror and Tension" (5:50) Staccato based rhtyhm structure with drums, rock instruments and percussives and keyboards along with the use of female vocalist Noora Tommila as a kind of horn section is brilliant. The simple, 1960s cinema-style guitar leads and use of string orchestra and is high tuned percussion instruments to accent the syncopated melody is all equally uplifting--adding much to this great song. (10/10)


2. "Sudden Death" (8:56) the initial melody line of this one was later stolen and developed differently into JAGA JAZZIST's wonderful "One-Armed Bandit." Kind of a keyboard/harpsichord sound developed by several instruments weaving the melody together. The long, sustained, deep wah-pedaled synth growls are awesome as are the drums and guitars throughout the opening, 'introductory' two minutes. Violin, electric guitar and synth then begin presenting another, slower melody line over the top until everything slows to a stop at 3:20 to allow for a piano-based interlude. Drums, bass and sensitively picked & strummed electric guitar also participate in the foundational aspects of this section until high register violin melody line and, later, Post Rock electric guitars brimming with potential energy, join in. Another quiet down at 5:55 allows piano and electric guitar to return the dynamic back to a gentler place--until that is, a strum at 6:40 announces the start of the final release. First electric guitar, then bass and second electric guitar, then drums and screeching/scratching violin announce their positions while building a beautiful MONO-like collective melody weave. Until the final 20 seconds of recapitulationof the opening riffs. Incredible song! And they never really got to the peak of their climax! (They didn't have to!) (10/10)

3. "Black Procession" (2:52) piano, strings, synths, singing bowls, and violin provide the lead for this slow, beautiful weave. (9/10)

4. "European Lover/Random Avenger" (12:32) opens with a bit of a "Tubular Bells" sound and feel--though bass, guitars and strings are in accompaniment of the bells sound from the opening. When the drums and lead violin enter they take over the melody delivery. Noora Tommila's voice is present again, this time in a single track, mixed into the background--which serves to add to feeling that this cinematic song is very much from a soundtrack from some 1970s European suspense-thriller. 
     The break down at the 5:30 mark opens up and extended space in which distant and near guitars are gently plucked and strummed, respectively. This section could be straight out of any song from BARK PSYCHOSIS's debut album, Hex. Gorgeous yet moody, even nostalgic. As the song enters the ninth minute it is building in intensity and, though it enters the realm of "ordinary" Post Rock, it loses none of its interest or allure. The final minute contains "distant" sounding accordion and percussive stringed instrument--as if one were present at the end of a circus/fair. (10/10)

5. "Intercontinental Hustle" (7:37) opens with a sound and style quite similar to that of the album's opening song, but then smooths out with sustained violin notes soaring above the staccato rhythms beneath. Synth takes a turn mirroring the violin's melody as the presence of percussion instrumentation amps up. At 2:50 everything quiets for a few seconds before the full force returns with its continued onslaught of volume and breadth of instruments presenting both the foundational rhythm and the melody track. Things quiet a little again with about three minutes to go to allow for the violin to try some inverted variations of its original melody themes. The sixth and seventh minutes find the melody fixing itself on one note, within one chord, for a bit before a cacophonous melee of free-form instruments (violin, guitars, synths) shred their instruments to the end. (9/10)

6. "One by One" (3:13) presents a laid back, almost campfire-like acoustic guitar-based song. Two guitars, a male voice in the background, and a little keyboard action, also in the background, give this song it's sleepy-time shape and sound. Nice, pretty, and unpretentious. (9/10)

7. "Popzag" (7:38) opens with organ providing another syncopated staccato rhythm track around which other instruments join and build--first a breathy keyboard synth, guitar, rolling bass, straight-time drums and Noora Tommila's "la, la, la, la" vocalizations. It's like a slowed down version of the opening song. Violin and electric guitar begin asserting themselves at the end of the third minute while the organ repeatedly bounces down a descending chord sequence. Guitars then take a turn with keys and violin moving into background support. The melody of the lead instruments at the 4:40 mark remind me of an ALAN PARSONS PROJECT song from their debut album. Just before the beginning of the final minute the song returns to its foundation while Noora's vocalizations turn to repetitions of downwardly stretched, "Haa-aah"s. Not a bad song, just a little more subdued and sedate than the previous highs. (8/10)

92.85 on the Fish scales = 5 stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. According to my calculations, Random Avenger is The new Best Album of 2006 and certainly one of the top ten Post Rock albums I've ever heard. I attribute this to the wonderful contributions of violin, two keyboard players, and voice of a Siren--as well as to terrific compositional sensibilities.




2. SYLVAN Posthumous Silence

SYLVAN's Posthumous Silence has garnered a lot of praise from some very worthy reviewers--and rightfully so. The album is a masterful, insightful, emotional, empathic and introspective theatric/ musical rendering of the toll that the psychological pressures of modern human society can exert on its individuals. But, a prog masterpiece? I'm not so sure. Musically, there is little very new, complicated, or "progressive." Theatrically and emotionally it is devastatingly powerful--especially the second half. Then there is the question of category: neo, metal, heavy, or even prog (i.e. is it really more straight rock, e.g. like TRIUMPH, RAINBOW or JOURNEY?) As a vehicle for an amazing story, and as a vehicle for showcasing the extraordinary voice talents of Marco Glühmann, Sylvan have succeeded extraordinarily well. As a showcase for anything new: not really.

Highlights for me include:  the gorgeous "Pane of Truth" (9:06) (10/10, despite being a little too long and drawn out), the psychologically powerful and disturbing, "Forgotten Virtue" (6:44) (9/10); the beautiful and more progressive, "The Colours Changed" (5:58) (9/10); the song that really sucks you into the disturbing world of mental illness, "Questions" (6:59) (8/10); the classic rock anthem with a social-political message, "Answer to Life" (5:57) (8/10); the theatric highpoint of the album, "The Last Embrace" (10/10 Wow!), and the final two songs which drive the two-sided message home, "A Kind of Eden" (8/10) and "Posthumous Silence" (10/10) (Wow! And, Whew! I'm worn out! Aren't you?).

91.33 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and an excellent addition to any music lover's collection--yes, even a prog lover's music collection. Marco Glühmann may be the most gifted male vocalist of the 21st Century. (I bet this story is amazing to experience live!)




3. KOTEBEL Omphalos

The reviewer on Prognossis has turned me on to several wonderful modern progressive rock artists--though his tastes are perhaps a bit more RIO/avante garde/eclectic than mine. AFTER CRYING, GOURISHANKAR, FROMUZ, FRENCH TV and now KOTEBEL are a few of his raves that I am enjoying getting to know. Omphalos is the best of the lot, so far.

I love female voices--especially good ones, with near-operatic quality, who have excellent accompanying bands (ANNIE HASLAM/RENAISSANCE, NINA HAGEN, NIGHTWISH, EPICA, DARGAARD, NIL, IAMTHEMORNING, UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA). And I love classically influenced music (though not so much music that borrows rather blatantly from classical themes as ELP, NEW TROLLS, and even RENAISSANCE have done), so KOTEBEL is quite a find for me. Every listen seems to bring greater appreciation and geometrically increasing enjoyment. But my favorite element of Omphalos is the strong, often dominant presence of the flute. This is an instrument used far too little, IMO, in modern prog. The old JETHRO TULL, FOCUS, and early GENESIS use of flute were, for me, such highlights to the 70s.

1. "Ra" (13:12) is such an amazing piece, with so many moods an themes. At first I was quite overwhelmed by it--couldn't get into it, but now its familiar themes and flow is a very treasured journey. Some of the key changes just kill me! Time and tempo changes as well. (9/10)

2. "Excellent Meat" (9:00) reminds me of FROMUZ and NIL and even a little ON THE VIRG and KANSAS. Another song that took me several listens to get into. (I think the key with this album is familiarity; repeated listens seem to increase one's enjoyment and appreciation.) Organ, acoustic (Spanish) guitars, and a Bruford-esque snare really add so much to this temperamental song. Strangely: No flute! Brilliant musicianship. (8/10)

The next six songs are, I think, intended to be listened to and considered as one--a 'suite,' if you will. Especially since they all 'bleed' into one another. And that is precisely how I listen to them. They really do fit/belong together--and are, collectively, the second highest point of the album.

3. "Prologue" (1:36) definitely sets a stage of mystery and awe for the Pentacle Suite. A strong Moorish influence here, to be sure. (9/10)

4. "Sun Pentacle" (5:22) Flute and voice take turns singing the lead melodies, though electric guitars and synthesizers get their shots in, as well, in a moody, mostly heavy song. I feel as if I'm in an original "Star Trek" episode! (8/10)

5. "Mercury Pentacle" (7:23) begins with Carolina Prieto's beautiful, long and lilting vocal notes--which are soon joined by a Spanish/classically played acoustic guitar. Briefly joined by full band--with some very delicate drum/cymbol play--before the sonics very quickly ebb away, leaving the steady acoustic guitar arpeggios alone for a while before a background flute joins. Voice and rhythm section take turns entering, disappearing, always leaving the virtuosic guitarist plucking away, sometimes joined by the distant flute melody. An amazingly textured song with plenty of unexpected sounds, riffs, and shifts. Song ends with a plaintive elctric guitar solo--a melody familiar from ANDREW LLOYD WEBER's Jesus Christ Superstar. (9/10)

6. "Venus Pentacle" (4:23) presents an acoustic side: piano, flute and cello. (And, later, some mellotron!) This song reminds me of DEBUSSEY and JEAN-PIERRE RAMPAL-MICHEL LEGRAND-ALEXANDRE LAGOYA. An absolutely gorgeous symphonic mélange of classical and jazz, European style. (10/10)

7. "Mars Pentacle" (6:38) ushers back a jazzy FROM.UZ sound, full band performing, flutes and electric guitars taking the first leads, synth keyboard taking over briefly (my favorite sounds & melodies of this song). Definitely a progressive rock song as it is so reminiscent of the kind of stuff ELP, RENAISSANCE and THE ENID did in the 70s. (9/10)

8. "Epilogue" (4:51) takes a couple of the Pentacle Suite's previous themes (particularly from the previous and penultimate song, "Mars Pentacle") and slows them down, gives the flute, wonderful voice of Carolina Prieto (with lyrics! [Not in English]), and, later, to a slide guitar and electric guitar. (10/10)

9. "MetroMnemo" (4:18). Someone asked on ProgArchives who does/has done the best ALLAN HOLDSWORTH copy and I have to answer, without hesitation, that the guitar work on this song is 'the best Allan Holdsworth playing Allan Holdsworth never did.' (Only, this may be better than anything AH ever did.) (IMHO) Even the song's construction is so similar to Holdsworth songs: full of sudden stops, shifts, time, key, and mood changes. There has never been a better 'copy.' Interesting end/fade out. (8/10)

10. "Joropo" (4:55). Flute and piano & keyboard synthesizers open this song--again sounding, to me, so much like much of JEAN-PIERRE RAMPAL's work with either CLAUDE BOLLING or MICHEL LEGRAND--though, of course, added to by the presence of electronics (I suppose, in the place of orchestration)--i.e. keyboards and fuzzed electric guitar. Really an amazing journey through the undulating countrysides of pastoral Europe! (9/10)

11. "Omphalos" (6:44) is quite possibly my favorite single song of the 21st Century. To be sure, it is in the top ten. Carolina Prieto's gorgeous voice carries me away to places high in the sky, high over ice-covered mountain peaks. And another performance of viruoso musicians. My only complaint is that it may go on just a little too long (i.e. the song could have happily ended at the 5:23 mark but instead chooses to come back for a reprise of the main theme--with little or no new development--for more than another minute.) (11/10)

90.90 on the Fish scales = five stars. This may be my new favorite/"best of ..." the first decade of the 21st Century (The “Naughties”). Without any doubt or hesitation, this album deserves five stars, for it is, indeed, a masterpiece of progressive rock--a true example that "progress" is still being made in modern music.




4. IONA The Circling Hour

Any Iona album is worth owning and listening to regularly--even the most recent, more-overtly and heavily Christian, Another Realm. The Circling Hour is no exception. Coming right on the heels of guitarist DAVE BAINBRIDGE's IONA-collaborated "solo" effort, Veil of Gossamer, and six years since the last studio album, the supreme achievement that is Open Sky, 2006 finds the band still in great form. Song favorites:  the three-part "Wind, Water and Fire" suite (10/10); 6. "Sky Maps" (6:43) (10/10); 5. "Factory of Magnificent Souls" (5:06) (9/10); 1. "Empyream Dawn" (7:50) (9/10); 3. "Strength" (5:59) (9/10), and; the gorgeous finale, 11. "Fragment of a Fiery Sun" (2:47) (9/10). While this album just doesn't have the staying power of their previous efforts, it is still an amazing display of prog folk mastery, one that has few equals in 21st Century prog world. Nothing less than four stars will serve.

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




5. PURE REASON REVOLUTION The Dark Third

The Dark Third took me by complete surprise. The second "new" progressive rock CD I purchased based on prog reviews/ratings, it immediately won me over and continues to grow on me almost a year later. I know I'm going to rate it even higher today than I would have done when I first got it. The vocal harmonies, unexpected song twists, melodic compositions, and kind of "concept album" feel to it make it a total winner.

1. "Aeropause" (5:04) An absolutely stunning opening song (instrumental). It is quite obviously reminiscent of early Floyd, but who couldn't use a little more of that classic pedal steel? Drums are a bit murky (as they are throughout  the CD). My only real complaint about this song: I wish it would go on longer! (11/10)

2. "Goshen's Remains" (5:45) begins with Chloe Alper's pleasant vocals and as a rather straightforward rock song before dropping into a pretty string interlude before then ending with the exceptionally constructed and mixed multi-voiced harmonies that make this group and album unlike anything I've heard in the 21st Century. (9/10)

3. "Apprentice of the Universe" (4:16) is filled with those amazing four or five-part harmonies. I don't know or care what they're saying, it's just extraordinary--adds so much more to the music (which has some "light" electric guitar power chords and dancing synthesizers bouncing around behind the voices). (10/10) 

4. "The Bright Ambassadors of Morning" (11:57) spans 12 minutes with some wonderful sections: slow and spacey, lots of instrumental, soaring five-part harmonies, a very catchy chorus repeat woven into a very well-crafted (a la "Close to the Edge") current of four other verbal streams before settling into a very catchy instrumental section (bass-led!). These guys know how to weave fairly simple melody lines with both their voices and their instruments to create some very engaging, pleasing, and commendable music! The sections with “heavy" guitar-bass-drum rhythms are so watered down, never really abrasive or over the top--not even up to Porcupine Tree levels of "heavy" symphonic prog. I love the way certain themes--melodic, verbal, or harmonic--crop up in unexpected places throughout the album--truly giving this album a "concept" feel. (10/10)

5. "Nimos & Tambos" (3:44) A great three-section song with driving music behind the harmonized chorus parts. Again, too short! (9/10)

6. Is actually two songs in one: I. "Voices in the Winter," II. "In the Realms of the Divine." (6:35) The first has a very familiar sound/feel but I haven't been able to place it. Filled, of course, with the wonderful vocal weaves--this time mostly male dominated, Chloe mostly backing with "ooo's." It really is dominated by the vocals, the instrumentals almost being incidental though they are very present. The second song, about two minutes long, starts out kind of Kronos Quartet meets Black Sabbath before the voices start singing to each other, repeating each other's message, then bag! It's over. Strange. Never quite lets you get to engage. (8/10)

7. "Bullits Dominae." (5:23) Is probably the least engaging song, almost Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" or Abbey Road for the first two minutes, until Chloe takes the lead over the metal rhythm section. (7/10)

8. Is actually two songs in one: I. "Arrival," II. "The Intention Craft." (8:53) Has a very Floydian feel to the instrumental intro before turning heavy, with some accompanying strings and great synths dancing around in the background (sometimes too far back there). Some of the album's best bass and lead guitar work coupled with a great reprise of the conversation harmonies and melodies from "The Bright Ambassadors." This is definitely the peak performance of the album--they put it all out there with their most energy, best timing, best precision, great vocal work--it all mixes so well. IT REALLY WORKS!!, Floyd meets meets Art of Noise meets PT, meets  and yet it's all so new, so unusual, so fresh, so unpredictable, so intriguing. (9/10)

9. Is actually two songs in one: 1. "He Tried to Show them Magic," and II. "Ambassadors Return." (13:14) Rush: it opens with an intricate vocal weave (harmonied and multi-voiced, of course), which slows into an even more intricate weave of at least five layers of harmonied lines. Who compared these guys to Beach Boys, The Reasoning or Mostly Autumn? Those groups can't hold a candle to Pure Reason Revolution! Love the "get the Led out" riffs 3:30 into the song. Just before they reveal the meaning of The Dark Third in the "he showed them magic" lyric. And then, 5:15 into the song: fade and BLANK. There's a bizarre five minute gap of absolute silence (!!) before some bells and harmonized "Ahh's" bring us back to the 60s. (Is this the Beach Boys? Where's Chloe? How did they get the Wilson boys to do this!?) Bizarre! Mysterious! Off the wall! What the heck! Let's play it again!! (8/10)

Overall 81/90 = 90.0 on the Fish scales; one weak song will not a modern prog classic ruin! Especially one that offers such a fresh and unusual gift: unparalleled vocal harmonies.

5 Stars. Essential for the education, edification and collection of any prog lover!


6. OOIOO Taiga

Amazing, startling percussion-and-voice-oriented 'tribal' music from this all-female band from Japan. Led by composer, drummer and lead vocalist Yoshimi P-We, this music will surely bring a smile to your face in the same way that hearing Magma for the first time will because it is so different from anything you've ever heard before and yet you can immediately appreciate the genius and virtuosity of the music and its musicians, respectively. The terms "tribal" and "cheerleader" used by other reviewers of TAIGA's music are quite appropriate and yet the music is anything but simple.

1. "UMA" (3:38) opens with drums (multiple?) and the call and response vocals of Yoshimi P-We being mirrored and answered by her band mates. Very little other instrumentation is added to this one other than more percussives, whistles, and a few industrial and spacey synth sounds. Infectious--like the work of a cheerleader squad on its audience. (9/10)

2. "KMS" (9:00) opens with some kind of electrified Japanese string instrument going through some scales in chord formations. A set of hand drums and multiple electric guitars (?) join in. The multiple electronic string instruments repeat their scales over and over, each presenting a slightly different variation in order to create a harmonic chordal effect. At 2:30 it all stops and a bass line enters, jazz snare drum and brass and electric stringed instrument take up the Coltrane-like multi-instrument chordal creation process. At 4:10 the instruments begin to diverge and travel their own individual, almost independent paths. Female lead vocalist soon begins keening over what sounds like a kind of Creole Tex-Mex Calypso. So unique and unusual! The next section, within which the vocalist whisper raps, sounds like South African music. Then it gets weird with syncopated drum "solo" with all kinds of computer electronic zips, pops and clicks. Electric 'guitar' takes over the lead and seems to beat the percussionists into submissive organization until the end fade. (8/10)


3. "UJA" (7:50) opens with some very West African-sounding tribal drum rhythms over which odd computer synth 'noises' snort and squeak while oddly distorted guitars interject their own scratchy sounds. At 1:33 Yoshimi P-We's vocals enter, alternating with King Crimson-like guitar leads, all playing over a hypnotically paced group drum and percussion weave. P-We seems to be calling the instrumentalists to action before an interesting primal "Ah-ah-oh-ho-oh" multivoiced vocal weave works into the music. At 4:10 a rather radical shift occurs into the music--a kind of P-Funk/PRINCE-like sound and rhythm structure--marching along at quite the celebratory parade-like pace. Synth sounds are shot in and out of the soundscape like lasers in a fight between Star Wars' Rebel Forces and the Imperial Army. The final outro with calypso steel drums and Casiotone-like synth is . . . fitting. (8/10)

 
4. "KRS" (3:44) is extraordinary for its use of drum rolls on a snare drum as a wave sound, pulsing, percussive synths and guitars and steel drums as and then the gorgeous multi-voice folk-like singing over the top. Like nothing else I've ever heard! (10/10)     


5. "ATS" (8:07) opens with a gently paced percussion and bass weave within which more odd synth and vocalizations are interspersed. It sounds a bit like a TOM TOM CLUB song. The polyphonic weave continues unchecked for three minutes before things seem to break down--as if each instrumentalist has walked out of the room--when, in fact, they've merely each walked over to new instruments--which they soon begin to play. Hand drums. Vocals. Casiotone synth. At 5:05 a kind of barbershop quartet tuning chord signals the wholesale switch into a kind of Santana-like Latin rhythm over which epithets and Fripp-like solo sounds continue to flow from multiple voices and multiple synths and guitars. Great song! (9/10)

6. "SAI" (15:02) the longest song on the album opens with South African-like guitar riff that gets repeated over the next four minutes as the song's foundation. Distorted guitars, bass, voices, percussion, synths and more guitar lines weave in and out of the mix--though the opening minutes of this one are very vocal dominated. In the fifth minute it seems as if the vocals take over the song's foundation. Then, in the sixth minute, a slower, steadier percussive weave (tuned percussives) teams with electric guitar to give the song a solid center. Then 'monkey' voices enter and the tempo and melody change, though the instruments remain basically the same. In the eighth minute the guitar plays in thrashing chords with voices accompanying each thrash. The next few minutes continue to explore the uses and noises possible from the electric guitar over some very TOM TOM CLUB-feeling rhythm section work--and they're in a groove! Until 13:45 when we return to the opening guitar sounds and riffs with comic-like bass and drum play to end. A good song that almost plays out as if it were a song devised to experiment with guitar sound. (9/10)  

7. "UMO" (3:31) opens with a scream from the girls before a soulful multi-drum base rhythm is laid down. Yoshimi P-We and her companions move into call and response mode again, like a cheerleader and her squad. Very catchy and amusing. Yoshimi P-We and her companions are in highly animated form. An incredible song that will keep you coming back for more! (10/10) 


8. "IOA" (6:51) this one starts out chaotically before a chorus starts singing in what sounds (to my ears) like a Polynesian or Native American song. The strings, horn, percussion and drum structures accompanying this are quite unusually syncopated--almost alternating with the vocal sections but also partially or occasionally woven in with them. At the two-minute mark the tempo and weave shift--everything kind of comes together into a more tightly gathered group weave. Very hypnotic. A break from the vocals opens space for a lone synth to solo while the very tightly woven African rhythm continues below. Voices and drum-machine-sequenced handclaps join in with the African-like multiple lead guitar melody lines. Singular electric guitar gets a solo in the final minute. It does feel odd to hear anything in this album be left alone to stand out--which does not happen for very long as multiple synths join in till the song's end. Great song. (9/10) 


Not for the faint of heart and yet not to be feared--this is odd but wonderful music! Like musical composition taken on by dancers or cheerleaders and/or nonmusicians. Truly adventurous. Reminds me of the 1980 TALKING HEADS when Brian Eno had the band members all try each other's instruments as an exercise in perspective and creativity.

90.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; a masterpiece of truly progressive rock music.




7. KARDA ESTRA The Age of Enlightenment

Another great Karda Estra album, with one of the best pieces Richard Wileman has ever composed and performed, the four-part neo-classical suite, "The Return of John Deth" (clocking in at almost 24 minutes) (10/10), the rest is just not on the same masterpiece level as Eve, or Constellations, IMHO. One of KE's darker albums with top notch, virtuosic performances all around. Richard's acoustic guitar work stands out especially on this one, while Ileesha Bailey's vocal contributions are mixed a bit farther into the background than usual--as are the woodwinds--but it all works, it all feels--like the eery Goth chamber music it was intended to be! Man I love this group!

Other great songs:  "Second Star" (7:36) (9/10); "Carmilla" (4:30) (9/10); "Bones in the Moonlight" (8:12), and "Talos" (4:27) (8/10).

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




8. USVA Uoma

Over 71 minutes of wonderful folk-tinged instrumental jazz fusion from this seven-member jam band (and a whole mess of guests) from Finland. Throughout the album I enjoy the electric instruments like the bass and the drum kit drumming, but it is the traditional folk and classical instrumentation that really love:  harp, violin and strings, xylophone, marimba and other hand percussions, flutes, and other woodwinds (sax, bassoon, clarinet). I also seem to enjoy the slower parts best--even though the album never gets going at break-neck speeds, they just have a brilliant way of magnifying the weave of melodies during the slower sections. Album highlights include:  the album's gorgeously scored opening suite, "Kuoriutuminen," Parts 1, 2 & 3 (10/10) the wonderfully Japanese-flavored 8-10. "Vesikko" suite (23:02) (10/10); 7. "Arabian Ran-ta" (10:00) with its wonderful shift at the 3:50 mark (9/10); the stepped down beauty of "Chinese Daydream, Part 1" (3:12) and then the shift into a higher gear for the brass-dominated "Part 2" (5:43) (8/10); the brassy, American jazz rock sounding, 4. "Different Realities" (11:14) (8/10), and; the pretty, if simple, harp-based, 11. "Lullaby" (4:22) (8/10).

There's a lot of music here, but it is all quite enjoyable and some of it compositionally masterful.

90.0 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece of folk-based jazz fusion. 




****+ 4.5 star Near Masterpieces:



9. iNFiNiEN How to Accept

The debut album from very lively, jazzy, and fun female-fronted, piano-based prog band from Philadelphia, iNFiNiEN. Lead singer/pianist, Chrissie Loftus, is quite talented as composer and singer, but her bandmates are excellent in support. Like a very seasoned jazz combo.

1. "Lost My Way" (6:46) plays out like a wonderful piano jazz pop song with an amazing lead vocalist in Chrissie Loftus and an awesome guitarist in Matt Hollenberg (9.5/10)

2. "Fighting Ghosts" (5:42) campy, cabaret-like, this song is one that digs deep into one's soul and wrenches the emotions. Amazing vocal (if slightly oddly recorded) and gorgeously spacious musical foundation. Slightly disappointing instrumental section and finish. (9/10)

3. "Divine Nature" (7:44) a rock song employing some Eastern European and Arabian elements of sound and structure. It's a little gruff and monotonous--even the instrumental section in the middle--though I love the lead guitar work in the fifth minute. And the vocal melodies never really grab hold like the previous two songs. Nice drumming throughout. (7.5/10)

4. "The Universe Continues?" (5:08) a bit in the same style and feel as song #2, "Fighting Ghosts," these songs work--mostly on the backbone of an extraordinary vocalist. Great delivery. Chrissie sings every note as if her heart and soul are completely invested. (9.5/10)

5. "Blackhole" (9:05) opens with some very unusual 'guitar'(?) chords before the band joins in with a thick foundation within which Chrissie sings a strongly musically-supported melody. Truly a heavy, dark song that just pulls you along like you're being dragged through mud, and yet, there are some magical moments (piano, vocal, chorus, guitar strums, low end bass notes) and a great ending. (9/10)

89.0 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a great debut album and near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.





10. NEGURA BUNGET Om

Is an emotional aural ride like none other you have had. It is also a work of creative genius and instrumental and engineering virtuosity. As a matter of fact, on Om, like Dark Side of the Moon, it could be said that the recrding engineer and mixologist are as important contributors to the end product as the composers and musicians.   


1. "Ceasuri Rele (intro)" (3:07) starts with a long silence before outdoor night noises creep in. At the end of the first minute a male voice whispers a couple of things, spooky Halloween-like noises flit in and out while the whispering man continues voicing his emotion-filled warnings (in a non-English language). Male chorale "aahs" and "ooos" crescendo as the whispering man seems to lose it. (9/10)


2. "Tesarul de lumini" (12:48) begins with guitars. Though this develops into, at first, a goth metal, and then a doom metal, song, the volume never goes overboard and the clarity and definition of sound never gets murky or clouded, the contributions of instruments and samples are never lost or disrespected. (8/10)


3. "Primul Om" (4:22) is more of an ambient soundtrack to some rural, gypsy scene. Interesting for a metal album. (8/10)


4. "Cunoaºterea Tãcutã" (7:11) begins with the ambiguity of crystal clear drums and synth with heavily distorted electric guitar metal strums. The doom metal growls are played off of by an almost priestly/cantor-like male church vocal. Acoustic tuned percussion play against the metal guitar while the singer growls. At 2:30 a strong tenor voice sings (sounding very much like RETROSPECTIVE's lead vocalist). At 3:03 the song's wall of sound drops off and a sophisticated weave (polyrhythmic?) of keys, guitars, tuned percussion, and bass perform for two and a half minutes before the heavy metal guitar and vocal growl return. Actually a pretty awesome, amazing finish! (10/10) 


5. "Înarborat" (6:22) begins with some sounds that I'm more familiar with in association with sacred Tibetan or Siberian shamanic musical traditions--'skin and bone' percussives and big horns. Then, at 1:40, the acoustic instruments stop and a heavy metal section begins (sounding a bit like the chords to ALICE COOPER's "School's Out"). The growl vocalist enters, the metal guitars flatten out, eventually break into two channels, each one going off on his own adventure--keying one off of the other yet not mirroring or replicating each other. Very cool! At 4:20 the guitars disappear, a monastic choir appears, and a male voice says something in a quite matter-of-fact speaking voice. Then the metal section restarts, the vocals bevome a bit more crazed, insistent, and yet diverse. Amazing song! (9/10)


6. "Dedesuptul" (6:39) starts off with metal guitars and drumming, vocal screams and growl voice. Interesting additional "cave bell" sound and guitar chord changes. Then at 1:40 an Arabian melodic theme is shifted to, bringing with it a shift in feel, change in vocal and guitar approach. By 2:30 we are back to the B section, with its growls and quick-changing strummed metal guitar chords. Enter into the background a discordant, disconnected keyboard(? or is it guitar?). At 4:50 this keyboard comes to the fore, reveals itself as a heavily treated guitar, plays some odd riffs, and then steps off to be replaced by the plodding, spooky synthesizer keyboard playing as if for the soundtrack of a murder-mystery. Odd song. (8/10)


7. "Norilor" (3:00) is an instrumental that bleeds from the previous song, "Dedesuptul," carrying forward the eery soundtrack feeling, adding some of the 'skin and bone' percussives as well as other more orchestral percussion instruments to help tell the story. (9/10)


8. "De Piatrã" (5:36) puts us back into very traditional metal--and doom metal--territory. The growls here, however, sound much more diverse, as if Tasmanian Devil, Dracula, and some imprisoned-underground Titan from Greek mythology were all in conversation. The guitar work--and vocal work--evolve into some different, less metallic, more theatric (if that's possible) styles, though the basic rhythm section pace remains quite frenetic throughout. Interesting, entertaining, just not my cup of tea. (7/10)


9. "Cel Din Urmã Vis" (10:03) (my favorite song on the album) begins with two guitars playing different arpeggios in different channels, before the rest of the rhythm section joins in at the one minute mark. As the song settles into its structure and rhythm, a very cool Trevor Horn/Fairlight CMI-like keyboard "choir" hit plays a big part in drawing the listener in. Vocal growls enter and play for a brief spell before the song shifts into a surprisingly long, very calm, misty walking-through-the-graveyard-at-midnight-on-a-misty-Halloween keyboard-led section. In the seventh minute these two sections combine--sustained choral chords, growl vocals, over the metal music. Only this song, this music, this metal, has more melody, more interest (thanks to the 'Fairlight CMI'). The song's final minute and a half pick up the pace to a much more frenetic metal pace, but the keys join in for the last thirty seconds. What a ride! (10/10)  


10. "Hora Soarelui" (5:55) starts right up in heavy metal mode until the 30th second, when al switches to a very colloquial folk sound (LES NEGRESSES VERTES anyone?)--like a silly drinking song! At 1:48 it feels like it's going to evolve again, but it just gets more synth and vocal harmony support. Beautiful. Kind of TALKING HEADS-like! Love the solo by the folk string instrument (guitar variation?) during the mellow mid-section. Things pick up and rock metal out again. (10/10)


11. "Al Doilea Om (outro)" (2:03) allows the album to fade out right where it started--eery, shamanic, meditative, with lots of "Aum"-ing. (9/10)

Like I said above, this album offers a lot of unusual and interesting stuff. It is so different, so unique (in my experience), and so enjoyable that I recognized it immediately as a masterpiece of sheer genius, and I still find myself awed by it. 

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



11. MIDLAKE Trials of Van Occupanther

A brilliant album of quite intricate and subtly constructed songs. A songwriting style that seems common to many Midlake songs is used to great success here: that is the process of slowly adding an assortment of instruments to flit and playfully dance around the lead vocal. Quite remarkable and endearing.

1. Fan favorite "Roscoe" (4:49) is not one of my personal favorites. (8/10)

2. "Bandits" (4:04) is a multi-dimensional, multi-part song that really displays a lust for story telling through the music as well as through the lyric. Quite an intricate display of composition and performance. One of the album's best. (9/10)

3. "Head Home" (5:45) contains some of my favorite vocal arrangements that I've heard in a long time--with quite daring and unexpected changes in direction and melody. (9/10)

4. "Van Occupanther" (3:15) is augmented by some stunningly delightful flute and woodwind play thorough out the song--brilliantly offsetting the flat-toned lead vocal. It's as if the vocal is the foundation and everybody else is dancing playfully around him. Amazing! My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

5. "Young Bride" (4:56) is a brilliant song in the vein of RODDY FRAME/AZTEC CAMERA and ARCADE FIRE. Another favorite. (10/10)

6. "Branches" (5:03) slows things down and gets a little bogged down in the syrup of the lyric & lead vocal. Nice piano work and song shifts. (8/10)

7. "In This Camp" (5:44) sees Tim Smith singing in that FLEET FOXES style upper register. Again nice piano support and subtle incidentals before the song crashes into the eminently cathy chorus melody. (9/10)

8. "We Gathered in Spring" (3:33) sees the band singing in some of the tightest, most even harmonies--CROSBY, STILLS & NASH and AMERICA-like. Beautiful. (9/10)

9. "It Covers the Hillsides" (3:14) is upbeat and bouncy in a MAMAS & THE PAPAS/JOHN SEBASTIAN way. (8/10)

10. "Chasing After Deer" (2:42) is another delicately embellished song--subtle instrumental touches gathering around the solid, beautifully sung lead vocal. (8/10)

11. "You Never Arrived" (1:39) (8/10)

An imaginative display of thoughtful, playful, yet beautifully executed song craftsmanship.

87.27 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




12. UNEXPECT In a Flesh Aquarium

OMG!! What a WILD ride is this amazing album! It sounds like an super-amped up Cirque de Soleil performance of Danny Elfmann's soundtrack to Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas. I can barely imagine the on-stage performance of this music! It can only be surreal and theatric! Suffice it to say that this is music unlike any other. Period. While I may not be listening to this album regularly, I can say that I will never find it boring! With all due respect: This is the kind of music, while not really my cup of tea, that makes listening for new stuff worthwhile. These guys are pushing all boundaries, going where no one is going, and keeping the progress in progressive music. Kudos galore. This is creative stuff--hugely entertaining. BIG smiles! Thank you!! A ground-breaking masterpiece on a par with Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw KömmandöhThe Power and the GloryChoirs of the Eye, "Supper's Ready," and Close to the Edge.

Five star songs: 1. "Chromatic Chimera" (5:52); 3. "Desert Urbania" (7:29); 4. "Summoning Scenes" (7:46); 6. "Megalomaniac Trees" (5:57); 7. "The Shiver - Another Dissonant Chord" (3:00); 8. "The Shiver - Meet Me At The Carrousel" (4:07); 9. "The Shiver - A Clown's Mindtrap" (3:41)

Four star songs: 2. "Feasting Fools" (6:17); 5. "Silence_011010701" (5:13); 10. "Psychic Jugglers" (11:10)

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






ROBIN GUTHRIE Continental and 2 EPS, Everlasting and Waiting For Dawn.

 In 2006 Robin Guthrie, the songwriter, guitar player, and production engineer genius behind THE COCTEAU TWINS, released an album and two EPs. Separately beautiful; together they make for an amazing collection of instrumental songs--some of the best I've heard since the Treasure/Echoes in a Shallow Bay/Tiny Dynamine era of the Cocteau Twins (1984-5, an album and two EPs released within a calendar year), twenty years before (my favorite era of Cocteau Twins music: Treasure sits at #13 on my list of All-time Favorite Albums, the two EPs, Tiny Dynamine and Echoes on a Shallow Bay--which were released together on a single CD a few years later--sits at #9 ). As a matter of fact, the similarities from 1984-5 to 2006 do not end there, as it is in the dynamic mix, the balance between highs and lows, and the return of full-sounding drums (the drums after 1985 started sounding so tinny, so machine-like, and lost all of their fullness and bass), that Robin's 2006 releases bring me back to some of the favorite sounds I've ever heard in this lifetime. Each and all of these three releases does an amazing job of capturing the sonic fullness and melodic beauty of those 1984-6 releases. I do have to admit, however, that Everlasting is my favorite of these three. But "Monument" and "As I Breathe" from Continental are stunning masterpieces. The rest from Continental and Waiting for Dawn are a bit more ambient--great ambient music, but not as stirring as the Treasure/Echoes in a Shallow Bay/Tiny Dynamine (and even 1986's Victorialand and The Moon and the Melodies--the Cocteau Twins' collaboration with HAROLD BUDD) period.

Major seventh chords rule!



Special Mention:



ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS Double Egg with Chips (and Beans)

An EP from Oxford, England's Canterbury revivalists, the four songs here are all joyfully, 
melodically rife.

1. "Double Egg" (4:25) has a bit of a punked up Steely Dan feel to it and a rather straightforward pace and time signature. It also has vocals with a nice lyrical presentation by guitarist Joff Winks. (8/10)

2. "Son Of Cheese" (5:59) continues the Steely Dan sound with more of the Dan funk put here on display. Even Joff's vocal feels ever so close to that of Donald Fagan. Nice song. Nice to here this kind of music. At 3:20 there's even a little tribute to Richard Sinclair's "underwater" vocal stylings. (8/10)


3. "Son Of Bassoon" (3:26) easily the best song on the album opens as what seems to be a piano study--much in the vein of something Eric Satie, Bill Evans, or even Frédéric Chopin, or John Coltrane would write/perform. Simply gorgeous. (10/10)


4. "Shatner's Bassoon" (5:19) the most avant song on the album, with odd, switching time signatures and jazzy sounds and chord progressions--at least for the first 45 seconds. Then things switch drastically into an amazingly saccharine sound--but not for long as by 1:30 the avant time sigs are back. For 20 seconds. This NATIONAL HEALTH-like back-and-forth pattern plays out over the course of the song with the third time into the B part taking on some heavily distorted electric guitar sounds flailing away. The two guitar soli in this section earn a prolonged full minute of exposition before the song finishes in the same way it starts. I'm not sure of the reason(s) for the William Shatner reference. (9/10)

87.50 on the Fishscales = a 4.5 star album; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music in the Canterbury style.

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