Saturday, October 13, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2004, Part 2: Others


Other Albums from 2004 Worth Listening To

PÄATOS Kallocain

Kallocain is best recognized for being one of the earlier albums to which STEVEN WILSON contributed his editing, engineering, and production talents--which shows as the album does have a very enticing production sound, full of incidentals and treated instruments. New guitarist Peter Nylander admirably replaces Timeloss' Reine Fiske and the band also adds a full-time keyboard specialist in Johan Wallen. And, despite two A-rated songs (2. "Holding On" [9/10] and 8. "Won't Be Coming Back" [10/10]) and Petronella's gorgeous etheric vocals, the album plays out rather flat and monotonous. 1. "Gasoline" (5:55) (9/10) and 3. "Happiness" (5:20) (9/10) also play out very nicely. On a personal note, I am a bit surprised and disappointed that drummer extraordinaire Ricard "Huxflux" Nettermalm so rarely 'lets go' on Kallocain. He has the ability to be a show stopper yet here seems to choose (amazing) restraint with lots of masterful subtle 'jazz' fills instead of stealing the limelight. Overall, not enough songs bring the listener in deep enough to help this album to higher status.

84.44 on the Fish scales = a very solid four star album; a worthy addition to any prog lover's music collection.



STEREOLAB Margerine Eclipse

The band's first full-length release of new compositions since the tragic death of Mary Hansen nearly two years before. Using an unusual and, of course, experimental engineering technique known as "dual mono" individual tracks are hard-panned to one of the two 'left' or 'right' channels giving them a mono feel despite the stereo sound. The effect of Lætitia Sadier covering all vocals, fore and background, is extraordinary for how little it makes Mary's loss seem. An extraordinary album on many levels.

  1. "Vonal Declosion" (3:34) an amazing song with truly astonishing layers of vocals makes one confirm how important it is that Lætitia sing in her native French. Makes me realize how much I miss the "strings" and acoustic guitars of Dots and Loops and even Sound-Dust. (9.5/10)
  2. "Need to Be" (4:50) the final minute downgrades an otherwise great song. (9/10)
  3. "'...Sudden Stars'" (4:41) cool song with awesome Farfisa organ and complex keyboard weaves. (9/10)
  4. "Cosmic Country Noir" (4:47) one of those stellar laid back groovin' tracks that has multiple parts, all equally charming and engaging. (9/5/10)
  5. "La Demeure" (4:36) sparsely structured, this one, the 'Somewhere song', sneaks up on you. (9/10)
  6. "Margerine Rock" (2:56) cheesy and too simple despite its overload of weird sound effects. Occasionally, even the gods show vulnerability. (6/10)
  7. "The Man with 100 Cells" (3:47) smooth and soul-comforting. I'm a sucker for the Casiotone noises. Nice lyrics in English, too. (9/10)
  8. "Margerine Melodie" (6:19) a kind of discofied ska beat supports a series of sensitive and pretty melodies--vocal and keyboard--but ultimately it fails to win over--despite its sublime midsection. (8.5/10)
  9. "Hillbilly Motobike" (2:23) clavinet-based with a pop-click track, the opening section fails to engage and hypnotize, as was intended, and, uncharacteristically, it never really changes from there.  (8/10)
  10. "Feel and Triple" (4:53) slow guitar strums and drum machine support Lætitia's opening vocal before full drums and bouncy keys and bass pop in. Pretty nice groove. I like the instrumental sections, bridges and organ and lead guitar play best. (9/10)
  11. "Bop Scotch" (3:59) another song with too many diverse ideas playing off (and, IMHO, against) each other. (7/10)
  12. "Dear Marge" (6:56) First part (2:30) is okay. Second part is awesome. Third, ROLLING STONE "Miss You" section is tolerably good. (8/10)

An album that starts incredibly strongly but then looses its focus, magical chemistry and, ultimately, appeal. Seven great songs and five fair to middlin' ones do not a masterpiece make.

84.58 on the Fishscales = a solid four star album, B; a nice addition to any progressive music collection.



MATTHEW PARMENTER Astray

Genius composer/frontman of the American band DISCIPLINE, Matthew Parmenter produces a solo album that once again illustrates just how much Discipline is a mere extension of his ideas, his theatric sensibilities, his talents. In this reviewer's humble opinion, Matthew's talents and vocals far surpass the man to whom he is constantly compared (and who may very well have been an inspiration and model for Matthew): Peter HAMMILL. This album has a very deeply emotional feel to it--partly due to Matthew's vocal delivery style but also due to the very well-matched music. The album credits list friend and fellow DISIPLINE band member and bass player Matthew Kennedy as the only other musician collaborating with Parmenter. The rest of the layers of instrumentation belong to the multi-instrument-wielding composer.

1. Now (9:59) opens with a very catchy vocal hook and proceeds form there into some very interesting and engaging sound and structural territories--including some nice early-KING CRIMSON in the fifth through ninth minutes (with some truly awesome drumming during that same stretch!) One of my two favorites from this album. (10/10)


2. Distracted (7:40) is a nice song that is, unfortunately, very poorly engineered/mastered and could have been, in my opinion, much polished. As is, it sounds like a demo. A good demo, but a demo. So much potential here! (8/10)


3. Dirty Mind (9:21) trampses and builds like a classic DISCIPLINE song INow you see who the real composer of their songs was?!) but, like most DISCIPLINE epics, fails to keep me engaged and/or interested through to the end. (8/10)


4. Another Vision (7:08) almost feels like a song from Americana. It seems to drag on forever. Not being a lyrics-driven music listener, this proves to be far too tedious for my personal enjoyment. (7/10)  


5. Some Fear Growing Old (6:57) opens with an Americana-like strummed acoustic guitar chord sequence that is joined by standard slow rock bass and drums while Matthew's voice (again very poorly recorded and mixed) sings a sorrowful dirge. The mid-song violin play, as simple as it is, is one of the song's highlights. The other is the layered vocal harmonies towards the end. (7/10) 


6. Between Me and the End (5:56) is a stark, piano-only accompanied vocal, perhaps the most powerful and emotional song on the album. (10/10)

7. Modern Times (21:09) opens a little bombastically but then quickly calms down to a guitar, bass, drum and piano combo supporting Matthew's (rather poorly recorded) vocals. IN the fifth minute the song starts to sound like a sparsely instrumented KARDA ESTRA song--just before the electric guitars and heavier bass and drum play begin. I don't really like that the lead electric guitar soloing in front pushes Matthew's voice (further) into the background. The instrumental section beginning in the seventh minute sounds a little like KING CRIMSON 101--simple--though the drums get a little looser and more free-flowing by its end. At 8:15 the music shifts a little into a more bouncy, upbeat section to support one of Matthew's other theatric voices. But then, in true symphonic form, at 9:20 the music drops out leaving nothing but a droning organ and Matthew's demonic voice. Menacing singing, menacing words, and menacing music to support it. At 11:15 a melodic though still heavy section begins, with some pretty guitar soloing. The themes from this section spiral forward for a while--even through a vocal section or two--until at 16:25 there is a bridge to a shift into a more discordant though driving tempoed instrumental section--with kind of an "Apocalypse in 9/8" feel to it. Some nice guitar, bass and organ work here. Unfortunately, the build to climax in the twentieth minute falls flat--and, sadly, we never hear from Matthew's voice again. (9/10)


My gut feeling is that Matthew's choice to do so much of this album alone--including the recording, engineering, and mastering--led this to be an inferior representation of his genius. Matthew is not a sound engineer. He needs input/criticism from others in order to polish and bring his ideas to full fruition. 

84.29 on the Fish scales = a very solid four stars; an excellent addition to any prog rocker's music collection.



GUAPO Five Suns

To my mind (and ears) this is a Zeuhl album if I've ever heard one--and an awesome one, at that! The album starts off with the very cool, rather spacey "Five Suns, Part I" (8/10) which then slides into the amazing (Very ANEKDOTEN-like) "Five Suns, Part II" (10/10). The background synth and wave samples are so cool over the marching drums and driving bass lines. Unfortunately, the bass and drum act grows a little weary on the ears as the album goes on. Parts "III" and "IV" (7/10) maintain a high standard of musicianship and driving force but creativity and inspiration seem to wane a bit--there is little freshness to keep the listener glued, the repeated riffs seem, at times, almost infantile, though the drum and bass playing remains rather emotional. There is a little more jazzy side of GUAPO exposed in the softer parts of these songs. "Part V" is rather anticlimactic (and maybe intentionally so). By the time you move past the five movements of the Five Suns you are ready for something new--and boy do they deliver: a solid minute of virtual silence Ithe sounds I hear may be mechanical) titled "Untitled"!! This is followed by a song that is, IMO, the least interesting and least inspired song of the album, "Mictlan." Luckily, the last song, "Topan," (9/10) is another great one--a more sedate but highly skilled and melodic piece. Something here sounds like the pop jazz and jazz fusion I listened to in the 70s. The keys, I think. Or maybe the whole vibe they have going. Reminds me somehow of NIL's "Dérive." Anyway, this is a very, very good album. Part II is definitely one of my top ten favorite Zeuhl songs.

81.43 on the Fish scales = a solid four stars; a nice addition to any collection of progressive rock music.



MY EDUCATION 5 Popes 

5 Popes is another good album by the under-appreciated (and under-known) instrumental Post Rock/Math Rock group, My Education. A cleaner, more forward and effected guitar sound graces this album and the drums are mixed as if 'in the music' instead of sounding like they were recorded in an isolation cube.

Favorite songs: the almost COCTEAU TWINS-like and unusually upbeat (for My Education), "Deep Cut" (6:56) (9/10), and the powerful and very catchy/engaging "Crime Story" (9:02) (9/10).



MARILLION Marbles

I am not, and never have been a Marillion fan. The Fish era is, IMO, horribly produced (especially the murky, soft, poorly captured 'dynamics' of Misplaced Childhood and Script for a Jester's Tear), and ao often sounds so cheezy and outdated (especially Fugazi and after); the Hogarth-era stuff, while capturing more emotion and better recording engineering, just lacks, IMHO, power, prog dynamics, and even the intricate constructs that are familiar to prog lovers (and essential to some). I do think Steve Hogarth is a far superior vocalist.

For me the highlights of this album are the four brief "Marbles" vignettes, and the trip hoppy, SEAL "Crazy"-like, "You're Gone" (6:28) (8/10).




ORPHANED LAND Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven

An Israeli heavy rock, almost metal, sometimes extreme tech/doom metal (due to the presence of growl vocals), Orphaned Land have produced a powerful album that tells a Biblical story (familiar to most of us as "Noah and the Ark"). Musically, this is a masterpiece of matching music to the various chapters of the story. The mixed vocals (growls, English, Israeli [?], choral) approach, however, sometimes fails to match the mood of the scene so well as the music. The second half of the album is by far the most engaging, moving, and masterful. Definitely my favorite Orphaned Land album.

Album highlights:  the choir-assisted "Building the Ark" (5:02) (10/10); the acoustic guitar based instrumental "The Calm Before the Flood" (4:25) (8/10); the heavy "Mabool (The Flood) (6:59) (9/10), and; the gorgeous melodies of "The Storm Still Rages Inside" (9:20) (9/10).

80.0 on the Fish scales = four stars; an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.



KNIGHT AREA The Sun Also Rises




THORK Weila



DUNGEN Ta Det Lugnt

The Swedish psychedelic rockers, Dungen, really go back to the 1960s' roots of psychedelia with this music--especially the more aggressive BEATLES/ANIMALS-type of music. As always, guitarist REINE FISKE is brilliant throughout: aggressive more than usual (Go Jimi, Jr.!) yet subtle and beautiful when that, too, is called for. One thing I really love about Dungen albums is that they sing in their own native Swedish. I wish more prog groups would do this.

Not my favorite Dungen album, but then, there are so many great ones. Still, this is a good one. Very good.

Album highlights: "Det Du Tänker Idag Är Du I Morgon" (3:58) (9/10); the HENDRIX-like "Bortglömd" (4:27) (9/10); the BEATLES-like melodic "Lipsill" (2:45) (8/10); the trippy, keyboard laden "Om Du Vore Vakthund" (3:02) (9/10); more HENDRIX in "Sluta Följa Efter" (4:52) (8/10), and; the LIGHTHOUSE "One Fine Morning"-like, "Sjutton" (2:50) (9/10).

77.69 on the Fish scales = four stars; a nice addition to any prog rock music collection.



UNIVERS ZERO Implosion





SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Of Natural History




NEAL MORSE One




WHITE WILLOW Storm Season






Albums from 2004 that Are, IMHO, Over-rated




AYREON The Human Equation

A bit too heavy, too theatric, and too discordant in terms of album flow. To have such divergent dynamics--often within a single song--is, to my ears and mind, too much to handle, not enjoyable. Getting the number of widely diverse artists to participate on this project is truly an admirable achievement, I'm just not sure it was all necessary--or that it all contributes to the flow and cohesiveness of the whole. Really, it's an album of 20 totally disconnected songs each trying hard--too hard--to showcase some pretty talented guest musicians yet, in the end, only pretending to have some kind of integrating concept. 

This would make a good Broadway production. As a contribution to one's prog cellection I'd only buy it if you were a particular fan of the projects of Arjen Lucassen.



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