***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.
2009 offered some absolutely breathtaking new music from artists practicing quite a wide variety of styles. My Favorites List has albums representing no less than nine sub-genres. An excellent year in terms of quantity and quality, I have on my List seven (7) masterpieces and eight (8) near-masterpieces of progressive rock music.
2. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Part the Second
4. CORDE OBLIQUE The Stones of Naples
5. THE BOX D’après le horla de Montpassant
8. AIRBAG Identity
THE NERVE INSTITUE Fictions
GÖSTA BERLINGS SAGA Detta Har Hänt
KARNIVOOL Sound Awake
1.PROGHMA-C Bar-do Travel
2. “FO” (6:40) opens with some awesome Edge-like guitar play before Gibner’s slightly treated voice begins reading/reciting a narrative in English. At 1:28, the music breaks, some odd percussives fill the space, then we return to the odd-metered syncopation and vocal narration for a little while longer, until at 2:08 the growl-screams take over. Then, surprise!—at 2:42 a soft, beautifully sensitive voice similar to that of MARIUZ DUDA takes over the singing. But this guy is better! He has such amazing control and the ability to do some shockingly subtle things with his vocal instrument! At the four minute mark we are treated to a bare-bones breakdown of the rhythm while a BLADE RUNNER-like horn-synthesizer slowly shifts its pitches while at the same time At 5:14 all but the drums disappear while a series of slowly strummed chords fill the center while odd spacey synth noises float around behind and around. Incredible song! Incredible ending! Another song I URGE you to listen to! (10/10)
3. “Spiralling To Another” (9:31) opens with some very spacey, etheric guitar play before the familiar syncopated, mixed-metered rhythm section establishes itself. Gibner’s voice enters with his Mariuz Duda sound—yet so much more sensitive and emotional. At 2:52 it gets heavy and the growling crashes into the field—but it never detracts or overwhelms the incredible music going on and lyrically can still be understood. Guitar chords strummed singly Then the music seems to ‘get stuck’ as guitar notes, bass line, cymbol play and choppy vocal play. A return to rapid rhythm sets up for guitarist Parweł 'SMAGA' Smakulski to do his awesome EDGE EVANS stylings. At 7:22 the full-force barrage of rhythms and growl/screams returns while SMAGA continues his trance-like guitar strumming. At 8:20 the music turns full metal, feeling like a TOOL song playing into infinity—then it stops! Another awesome song. While not quite as good as the first two, it too deserves a (10/10) in my opinion. (The other two should be turned up to eleven.)
8. “Naan” (8:57) opens with another syncopated mixed-meter rhythm but this time the VANGELIS-like keyboards and playful JAN AKKERMAN-like rhythm work of the lead guitar pronounce something new and fresh. At the one minute mark all instrumentation merge into a 30-second single chord. Awesome. Then BOB’s sensitive Duda Voice enters to break the spell. The ensuing music scape is TOOL-like yet flittering about are the EDGE-like guitar effects. The vocals which follow are unmistakably DEPECH MODE-like. What an amazing vocal talent!! And an amazing lyric! So powerful! Not Duda, Gahan, Keenan, or Patton could hold a candle to the light of this singer! At 6:28 there is a shift into a discordant chord sequence with a whispered voice and syncopated snare and bass section. At 7:25 the music has evolved inot full band paly again, with BOB’s “Maynard voice” taking over. Echoed growls belnding into the cymbol play are the last vocals to be heard in this one. Awesome! Again! (10/10)
I don’t think I’ve ever given out so many 10/10s in a review before, but that's how highly I think of each song—and is a reflection of how much I enjoy listening to this entire album. Probably my favorite driving CD during the past four months. I do want to mention how incredible I think the mesmerizing and yet tight is the work of drummer Łukasz 'KUMAN' Kumański and his cohort on bass, Michał 'VASKI' Górecki; they carry out the complicated, sometimes breathtaking rhythms flawlessly. Mega kudos, boys.
2. CORDE OBLIQUE The Stones of Naples
This is the third of RICCARDO PRENCIPE's neo-medieval folk fashioned music presentations. This album sees a definite step forward in the compositions' leanings toward folk and medieval music and away from straightforward neoclassical music. For me, this pays off with The Stones of Naples feeling like the most accessible and most enjoyable Corde Oblique album yet. Plus, The Stones of Naples enjoys the benefit of vocal contributions of no less than six woman, each of outstanding voice, including: Caterina Pontrandolfo (familiar to us from the previous album, Volontrà d'arte) on songs 1, 6 and 10; Floriana Cangiano on songs 2 and 9; Claudia Sorvillo on songs 4 and 11, Monica Pinto, Geraldine Le Cocq and Alessandra Santovito on songs 7, 5, and 3, respectively.
Because of this last fact, I will add that more than either of Riccardo's previous two Corde Oblique albums, this one is much more song/ballad oriented. You have to travel eight songs into the album before you get to an instrumental, and, again, unlike the previous albums, this one has much more of a medieval folk feel to it. This album contains songs of such consistently high standards that are all so enjoyable that I prefer to not single out any songs that I like more than any others (though, between you and me, I find myself swooning with absolute bliss during this string of five songs: "Flower Bud," "Flying," "Like an Ancient Black and White Movie," "La città dagli occhi neri," and "Nostalgica avanguardia"). Let's just say from the album's opening notes and song to its last you are in for a real treat.
1. "La quinta ricerca" (3:13) opens the album with Riccardo's lute serving notice that this is going to be music that feels like it comes from five hundred years ago. When sublime singerCaterina Pontrandolfo joins in with the accompaniment some other medieval instrumental accompanying her the ancient resolve is affirmed. An orchestral finale is unexpected but wonderful. (10/10)
2. "Venti di sale" (5:29) is opened with solo grand piano for the first minute--laying down some gorgeous introductory work--before vocalistFloriana Cangiano and a full force folk ensemble rush into the void with some quite dynamically diverse music--both acoustic guitars, violin, and hand percussion, and modern (fretless bass and drums). Lacking a memorable melodic hook to make this total ear candy. (9/10)
3. "Flower Bud" (5:46) a stunningly gorgeous song with just the music but then you add the incredibly sensitive vocal of Alessandra Santovito (in English!) and you get bliss, utter bliss. The start of that string of five songs of Olympian perfection. (10/10)
4. "Flying" (5:44) is a gorgeous remake of an ANATHEMA song (from 2003's A Natural Disaster), with the crystalline pipes of Claudia Sorvillo delivering the vocal--though she is later beautifully doubled (by another vocalist?). The rock drumming and piccolo-like arpeggio notes from the classical guitar in the final minute and a half are sublime! (10/10)
5. "Like An Ancient Black & White Movie" (2:10) opens with delicate piano, strings and Riccardo's classical guitar setting up a dreamy mood for yet another stunning vocal (the third one in a row in English!) this time by the ethereal KATE BUSH-like voice of Geraldine Le Cocq. (10/10)
6. "La Città Dagli Occhi Neri" (5:44). Caterina Pontrandolfo, voice of the opener, returns to sing this one in Italian, accompanied by Riccardo's lute and bass. Though it feels like she is singing in a relaxed, even lazy fashion, her slight rasp and gently trilling vibrato are sheer perfection here. Drums and rock instruments join in for the final 1:10 as Caterina sings some non-lexical vocables with the violin. (10/10)
7. "Nostalgica Avanguardia" (5:14) a gentle, almost religious-feeling song as sung by Monica Pinto in Italian. The music becomes almost Gypsy fast while Monica continues to sing with what feels like respect and reverence. (9/10)
8. "The Quality Of Silence" (1:48) is a nice little instrumental duet between Riccardo and pianist Luigi Rubino. (8/10)
9. "Barrio Gotico" (7:16) sees the return ofFloriana Cangiano to the vocal mic as Riccardo and a simple Spanish folk ensemble supports. Riccardo on guitar, hand percussionist Michele Maione also on board. Well performed but a little long-winded and monotonous--though the final two minutes sounds like primo soundtrack music to a classic Italian Spaghetti Western. (8/10)
10. "Dal Castello Di Avella" (3:58) Caterina Pontrandolfo retirns to the vocal helm for the third and final time with a song brimming with feelings of love and nostalgia. This woman could sing anyone into peace, calm, and, dare I say it, love. The spiritual intentions behind her singing remind me of American spiritual singer, SHAINA NOLL. An eminently simple song--just Caterina and Riccardo--but one that comes across as utter perfection! (10/10)
11. "La Gente Che Resta" (3:24) opens with solo clarinet before a fully-scored folk troupe gather behind him in support of another Claudia Sorvillo vocal effort. The clarinet interplay behind and with the vocal is quite magical but the song lacks any memorable melodies. (8/10)
12. "Piscina Mirabilis" (2:56) is a nice little solo classical guitar piece from Riccardo to close out the album. Nice. (9/10)
92.50 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock (folk) music.
3. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Part the Second
Let me start by saying that "Excerpt from 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before the First, or, theRevisitation of the Blue Ghost" (10:56) (10/10) and "Laboratories of the Invisible World (Rollerskating the Cosmic Palmistric Postborder)" (11:50) (10/10) (the album's first and last songs) are two of the most amazing songs I've ever heard in my life. Even after fifty listenings I find myself awed by these two creations, picking up new and defferent nuances and phrases. The three songs in-between ("Another Excerpt: Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying" [5:59] [9/10], "Rose Quartz Turning to Glass" [7:30] [9/10], and " Clover Garland Island" [8:18] [8/10]) seem to belong together, kind of like a suite, tied together by the strong presence of violin and cello--which are breathtaking in both beauty and virtuosity.
I cannot but help agree with those who have christened this LP as new classic, a true masterpiece. It is difficult for me to imagine even the possibility of a "better" album coming out this year.
92.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece, a classic, one of the greatest "progressive" rock albums ever made.
4/23/2016 edit: Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré has regained some of its lustre--especially for the middle three pieces, II, III and the glorious IV. Definitely a masterpiece of Zeuhl, of Magma, of progressive rock music.
92.0 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music.
Originally released in 2009 and then re-released with a slightly changed format by AltrOck Productions in 2015, Kansas City's uber-talented multi-instrumentalist, Mike Judge has created a fine collection songs that he virtually created tout seul save for a little assistance from WHITE WILLOW's Jacob Holm LUPO (on songs 2 and 8).This album is so incredibly rich, diverse, and layered that it has taken me months to get to know it, get familiar with it, and even begin to contemplate organizing my thoughts and feelings into a review. Even now, with my umptieth listen, I am still uncovering gems of sound and style within each and every song. There are so many styles woven into this album--into each song--that it's very difficult to describe. This might be considered a Canterbury style album in its melodic, almost poppy jazz rock sounds and arrangements and biting, clever lyrics, but . . . it's not really. For a one-man band I have to say the the bass play, drumming, keys, vocals, lyrics, and, especially, guitar play are all top notch. And the sound production and mixing is superlative.
Five star songs: the GONG/Canterbury-like 7. "With Joy We Espy the Sarcophagus" (6:22) (10/10); 4. "Whistling Wire" (4:39) (10/10); 1. "The Confidence-Man" (6:13) (9.5/10); 6. "Rayuela" (4:43) (9.5/10); 8. "Grimoire" (3:34) (9.5/10); 3. "Knives of Winter - Coronation Day" (7:23) (9/10);
Four star songs: 2. "City of Narrows" (6:24) (8.5/10); 5. "Knives of Summer" (10:20) (8.5/10), and; 9. "Abrazo y Caminando" (4:11) (8/10).
91.67 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music.
Check out it's wonderfully complex and mature songs, like "The Confidence Man," "Whistling Wire," and "With Joy We Espy the Sarcophagus."
I've been listening to this album for months now at first with utter amazement and now with total respect and admiration. That a group of young musicians from Chicago would latch on to the Zeuhl sound to such a degree as to create this amazing and refreshing album of upbeat, beautiful music is astounding but that they could actually add something quite significant to the Zeuhl lexicon is even more astounding. This is a collection of songs that, like the MAGMA discography, has a flow and continuity which makes it feel cohesive, comprehensive and conceptual. And, as I said, with their unique use of keyboards (including lots of mellotron!), excellent drumming, and wonderful operatic vocals from Dominique Ga'an has added something new, fresh, upbeat and positive to the world of Kobaia. In fact, that may be what makes this album so listenable, so entrancing, and so addicting is its lighter, upbeat, 'optimistic' feel and sound. Though in reality I would have trouble telling one song from another--this is because I have never listened to them in isolation from one another; I always listen to the album start to finish--it just flows that way and once you start you just want to keep going till it's over! So, as I said, it's hard to distinguish one song from the next, I know that each song has its unique individuality. For example,
1. "Chasmaeon" (7:01) has its awesome mellotron "Gregorian Chant" opening before TANGERINE DREAM keyboards join in. From 2:15 to 3:00 the full complement of instrumental structure is gradually put on display: keys, drums, guitar arpeggi, and Lindsay Powell's incredibly gorgeous voice. Then, beginning at 4:10 the pace is awesomely doubled, slowed down, doubled again, back and forth throughout the rest of the song in this amazing play on the listener's emotions. The bass, drums, mellotron Gregorian chant, and Linday Powell lead chant is rising and falling, twisting and turning, taking us on this rollercoaster of Zeuhl heaven. This must be Nebëhr Gudahtt's life after death place! (10/10)
On 2. "Living Tribunal" (8:12) the mellotron voices are turned into the upper "female" octaves while the more vibrated, slow picked bass and militarized dance drumming take over three minutes to prep us for Lindsay's plaintive call--and mesmerizing is her summons! She is my siren! I will willingly do your bidding, Zeuhl Princess! Enter electric guitar to mirror and amplify Lindsay's hypnotic call all the while drums, bass, and keys maintain a constant thrum of insistent support. This is prog heaven, to be sure! Chicago! These are 'kids'--a new generation of prog devotees! Hallelujah! Towards the end the drums and especially the bass begin to embellish their play. Awesome! (10/10)
3. "I Of Infinite Forms Pt. 1" (5:00) opens, again, with keyboard chord hits most familiar to us from the 1970s work of TANGERINE DREAM before very quickly being joined by the bass and drumming so familiar to us from the Zuehl world. High octave keys and wildly motive bass play are the highlights to the first half of this song as Lindsay's gorgeous mid-octave chanting stays mostly in the background. (8/10)
4. "I Of Infinite Forms Pt. 2" (6:06) flowing continuously from the previous song, there is a noticeable shift in style and tempo, but it is really only a bridge before the song builds back into a more tightly woven version of the tapestry of the Part 1. Where the difference really begins to show is with the addition of tubular bells (!) and Lindsay's more frenetic insistent chanting. Mid song the rhythm section virtually drops out for a bridge in which Lindsay and the tubular bells take center stage. By 3:40 a new rhythm and sound has been established that is more keyboard centered and keyboard dominant while LIndsay and the rhythm section pretty much maintain their style and melodies if slightly slowed down. Amazing drumming in the last minute! (9/10)
5. "Servant Eye" (6:31) opens as if on a continuous thread from previous songs--kind of a melding of the opening song with the previous one. A brief bridge of "Gregorian Chant" mellotron chords at 0:45 allows for a complete transition into a new vocal chant pattern and a new keyboard arpeggio foundation. Then at 2:00 occurs another shift--establishing whole new pace and rhythm pattern from the rhythm section while also introducing a more "angelic" voice mellotron chord sequence pattern while Lindsay's vocal almost disappears for a while. In the final two minutes the bass and lead female chant step forward to take the lead while the pace behind quickens to a rhapsodic frenzy! Awesome! (9/10)
6. "Vultures Of The Horn" (7:16) is perhaps the most maturely structured, least frenzied and tempermental song on the album which makes it seem more sedate and less emotional yet the keyboard, drum and vocal work are incredible for their display of subtle mastery. (9/10)
I honestly cannot say that there is another Zeuhl album I've ever felt this kind of affinty and attachment to since I first heard MDK. Eskaton, Xing Sa, and Universal Totem Orchestra are the only others that come to mind as having the kind of fresh beauty that I feel from Ga'an. As raw as it is for its being a debut record, this is without a doubt one of the premier Zeuhl albums I've ever heard. And from a group of young musicians from Chicago!! Bravo! I am so excited to see a new generation of artists latching onto and carrying forward the Zeuhl torch!
91.67 on the Fish scales = five stars; essential as a masterpiece of progressive rock music.
****+ 4.5 star Near Masterpieces:
9. TOE For Long Tomorrow
This is an interesting and enjoyable album that has a lot of the King Crimson Discipline sound and stylings that I love, especially songs 2, 3, 12, and 13. Though categorized Post Rock/Math Rock, it is far more that that, for in it I hear snippets that remind me of ALGERNON, IVY, KOOP, PAUL SIMON, JONI MITCHELL and many others. But most of all I hear DRUMS! AMAZING drumming!
Album highlights: 2. "Leaving Here Tonight" (4:42) (10/10); 6. "The Bond of Mutual Distrust" (9:36) (10/10); 8. "Flying/Falling" (2:54) (10/10), "The Collapse' (12:10) (9/10); 4. "The Waterfall" (5:26) (9/10), and; "Disinfected and Abused" (17:38) (8/10). (The sample provided is a medley "preview" released to promote the album.)
I would like to point out, however, that the supporting keyboard work by Jørgen Hagen is perhaps the finest I have ever heard on any album. It's subtle. It is never flashy--never draws attention to itself--yet I doubt whether the other artists' contributions--or the album as a whole--would have come off half as good as it did without his work. Amazing. What Ricard "Nuflux" Nettermalm is to 21st century drumming Jørgen Hagen is to the keyboard.
A seasoned Post Rock/Math Rock band from Lawrence, Kansas, THE APPLESEED CAST creates, for the most part, melodic, engaging music of the highest realm of the Post Rock--including one of the exceptional groups that uses effectively lyrics and vocals. One of my favorite Post Rock/Math Rock albums.
Album highlights: 1. "As the Little Things Go" (8:15) (9/10); 3. "The Road West" (8:08) (10/10); 6. "Raise the Sails" (6:27) (9/10), and; 9. "An Army of Fireflies" (4:28) (9/10)
87.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock.
Album highlights: "Evening Star" (4:53) (9/10) (What vocal arrangements! What a way to open an album!), "Master St. James of St. George" (6:19) (9/10) (my favorite song on the album), "The Underfall Yard" (22:54) (9/10) (a classic prog epic), and "Victorian Brickwork" (12:33) (8/10).
A post note: This is one of the best sound engineered albums I've ever heard. Ever.
85.71 on the Fish Scales = very solid four stars; an excellent addition to any prog music collection. Not the highs of Night, but not the lows either.
15. THE BOX D’après le horla de Maupassant