Sunday, October 7, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2005, Part 1: The Masterpieces


My Favorite Albums of 2005
(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.  

2005 represents quite a good year of refreshing new music from a very wide variety of styles. My Favorites List has albums representing no less than nine sub-genres with two (2) masterpieces and eight (8) near-masterpieces. A good year for prog! But the real highlight of the year is the 3 CD concept album put together by Colossus Magazine and Musea Records, Odyssey: The Greatest Tale. On it nine artists from nine different countries present songs of epic length (none less than 21 minutes long) to tell the tale of Odysseus' beleaguered journey home after the Trojan War. Of the nine "songs" I find no less than four to be absolute masterpieces, three to be quite strong, and the other two to still be of very good caliber. Odyssey is, in my humble opinion, one of the pinnacle achievements of progressive rock for not only the 21st Century but for all time! 


The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. ODYSSEY: "The Greatest Tale"
2. OCEANSIZE Everyone Into Position
3. MEDIAEVAL BAEBES Mirabilis
4. FAUN Renaissance
5. NIL Nil Novo Sol
6. RIVERSIDE Second Life Syndrome
7. FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM Mourning Sun
8. KVAZAR A Giant's Lullaby
9. PAT METHENY The Way Up
10. KATE BUSH Aerial





Honorable Mentions: 
STEREOLAB Oscillons from the Anti-Sun
THE EVPATORIA REPORT Golevka
GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT All Is Violent, All Is Bright
ANTHONY PHILLIPS Field Day
THE FUTURE KINGS OF ENGLAND The Future Kings of England
NOSOUND Sol29
SIGUR ROS Takk...
MY EDUCATION Italian
INDUKTI S.U.S.A.R.
RED SPAROWES At the Soundless Dawn



The Reviews


***** 5 star Masterpieces:


***** Album of the Year for 2005! *****


1. ODYSSEY "The Greatest Tale"

A 3CD prog epic from Finland's Colossus group and MUSEA Records.

DISC ONE

1. NATHAN MAHL "Chapter I: Of Longings, Suitors, Deities and Quests...: (24:07). Instrumental with excellent really enjoy the piano and electric guitar ‘dance' during the softer parts. Great seering guitar soli towards the end. Just a little too modern in effects and stylings for me-and not enough changes and variations in tempo and instrumentation. (Sample is a brief excerpt.) (7/10)

2. NEXUS "Chapter II: El Regresso--The Return" (27:50). Mostly instrumental begins with leadership of some great organ and drum work, filled with many engaging tempo and sound/mood changes, each as engaging and melodic as the one before. The few vocal parts are sung over a very quiet, peaceful section by the very pleasant voice of Lito Marcello, eventually turns to a jazzier section with Roye Albrighton-esque guitar intro turning Camel/Latimer-esque before reverting to more ELP-like sounds. The final ten minutes see the use of effects on vocals in imitation of Greg Lake's on "21st Century Schizoid Man" and some very entertaining theatrical stylizations a la Peter Gabriel at the end. So many shifts and changes all so surprising and delightful. LP Prog at its absolute finest. (10/10)

3. GLASS HAMMER "Chapter III: At the Court of Alkinoos" (21:32). A very polished, Broadway-like production. I love the use and interplay of the five vocalists. Outstanding harmonies. The opening section with piano and two female vocals is breathtaking before breaking into a "Watcher of the Skies" organ, pulsing bass and rhythm section a la "Apocalypse in 9/8." The use of electronic effects on Steve Babb's voice as Ulysses/Odysseus certainly distinguishes him and presents the anger and frustrations of his struggles. Absolutely beautiful ending dialogue & choruses before a magical instrumental fadeout with guitar solo searing away. Were it not for Matt Mendians' tendency to pulse the kick drum in a ProgMetal fashion, this would be one of the better jobs of trying to recreate a 70s drum sound. Overall excellent Kansas/ELP keyboards. And, still, an awesome job of putting a true theatric epic feel to the epic that begat all epics. (10/10)

DISC TWO

4. XII ALFONSO "Chapter IV: From Ismarus to the Land of Death" (26:01). A very interesting instrumental which IMO pays homage more to the space-psychedelic beginning with an unusual yet enticing choral intro over Latin percussion. This stops to allow a spacey Camel/Nektar-ish section to develop before a bluesy organ is introduced to play over the psychedlia and waves which is then followed by a gorgeous Oldfield-like acoustic guitar serenade then moving into an Oldfield/Vangelis-like section complete with Tibetan gutteral chanting and industrial keyboard effects and some great Oldfield-ish electric guitar work. Everything stops to introduce what sounds like some kind of theme music from a Tim Burton movie, over which the Oldfield guitar work continues. Once Simba and the Oompa-Loompas depart, we a re treated to a pretty piano section reminiscent of Erik Satie, before the rock opera kicks it up into outerspace hyperdrive with a longsome pure Camel key and axe interchanges. Great, haunting finale and exit sections. Overall: Theatric with perhaps a bit too much Adiemus meets Mike Oldfield for my taste; love the space music and still very good prog: (Sample is an excerpt from the intro.) (7/10).

5. SIMON SAYS "Chapter V: Minds of Mortal Men--Meander Tales" (25:40). These guys seem a bit too derivative to me; originality is lacking and the vocals (Daniel Fäldt) are just not 'tuned' (on pitch), engaging or emotionally believable. (Nor are the female harmonies, for that matter.) I always love their instrumentation choices and their skill is unquestioned, they just don't have enough 'new' to say, IMHO. The Andrew Tillison- and Tony Banks-like "Maelstrom" and "Mother of All Monsters" instrumental parts are pretty awesome, with interesting drum play and Hackett- then Latimer-like guitar, and the band/composition and even vocals capture the chaos and energy of the Scylla-Charybdis encounter very well. (8/10)

6. C.A.P. "Chapter VI: Sulle ali del sogno--Odissea: Libri XIV, XV, XVI" (28:15). Excellent representatives of PRI. Another truly winning theatric composition and performance "Primo Movimento" has one big message: These guys can sing! I'm listening to The Phantom or Les Mis!! "Secondo Movimento" is more instrument based though no less emotion-packed. "Terzo Movimento" begins with a Tangerine Dream feel (except for live drums) turning into a Nektar-like driving rhythm for fuzz guitar and key solos. Solo piano bridges into the organ backed interplay of the voices of Athena, minimoog, and Odysseus. "Quatro Movimento" portrays the emotional reunion of Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, with wonderful drama and force (thanks to some powerful Led Zeppelin rhythms). Wonderful piece. (9/10)

DISC THREE

7. TEMPANO "Chapter VII" (24:14). Begins with quirky, often Crimson-esque rhythms and instrumental coloration with tragic-comic voices (Odysseus as the Beggar) before moving into an excellent slowed-down Floydian section with strong English male vocals (Pedro Castillo). Then back to Bruford-era Crimson music complete with treated vocals. A bluesy-vaudvillian Zappa-like section hangs on for a long time before breaking for a more Kansas-like final section in which acoustic guitar strumming backs some more strong English vocals. Very interesting piece worthy of repeated listening. (8/10) 

8. MINIMUM VITAL "Chapter VIII: Étranger en sa demeure" (22:22). Everything I read about this group refers to the Mike Oldfield electric guitar sound. That's for sure! While many musical styles and interesting things are going on in the rhythm and keyboard sections, every guitar solo renders one into Oldfield's Incantations album, which is too bad because these musicians are excellent and have a very interesting, rather-jazzy composition style. Scaled down "Third Movement [Penelope's Lament]" with its acoustic and electric guitar interplay is the song's highlight. "Fourth Movement [to string the bow]" just doesn't capture the drama of this scene, fades without conveying the tension of the moment before battle. (7/10)

9. AETHER "Chapter IX" (21:31). Wow! Now that's a beginning to companion a fight! Great composition with wonderfully engaging sounds and melodies. Amazingly rich and balanced mix of all of the instruments; no one is too dominant or too drowned out. If only the Aether sound was more in keeping with the theme of 70s instrumentation and effects. Still, they have a great sound, a powerful presence. Definitely a band I'll be seeking out now that I've heard them here. A wonderful finale to an amazing music collection (even though the vocals could be stronger). (Sample is and excerpt from the intro.) (10/10)

OVERALL:

Will listen to over and over:
   Nexus
   Aether
   C.A.P.
   Glass Hammer

Worth repeated listening:
   Tempano
   XII Alfonso

Still good Prog:
   Simon Says
   Nathan Mahl
   Minimum Vital

VOCAL WORK:

-- Glass Hammer--The Broadway-quality interplay of five vocalists is awesome.
-- C.A.P.--Like I said: these guys can sing! Kudos aeternal to Italia!
-- Nexus--Lito Marcello is excellent singing in Spanish
-- Tempano--interesting and unusual. More surreal than perhaps appropriate for The Odyssey, but fitting for their style of music.
-- Aether-good but nothing extraordinary.
-- Simon Says--Daniel Fäldt just doesn't hit the notes and is a bit too pretentious-as are so many Neo-Prog and Metal vocalists, IMO. Like other reviewers, I wish singers would sing in their own (beautiful) languages.
-- Minimum Vital--too dominated by instrumentation and Canterbury/Fusion structures.

CAPTURES 70s SOUND:

Why are today's drummers, engineers, and producers so adverse to recording drums without the gating effects, letting the hits decay naturally? (Or how bout some Stomu Yamashtu or Narada Michael Walden flanged drums?!!)
-- C.A.P.--by far the best restraint in the use of purley 70s instruments and sounds (including the drums!)
-- Tempano--definitely mixing up a wide variety of 70s sounds and styles in interesting and not-too derivative a way.
-- Nexus--excellent Emerson-like keys, song structures, 'feel;' drums too NeoProg.
-- Glass Hammer--excellent keyboards, though a bit more American in feel than the Euro Prog that truly defined the genre.
-- Aether--Compositionally flawless. A bit too much use of modern technology.
-- Minimum Vital--flashes of 70s brilliance but more NeoProg, 80s Oldfield-Canterbury-fusion
-- Simon Says--uses all the NeoProg tricks and twists but not 70s enough, lacking their own distinctive sound.
-- XII Alfonso--not sure what era this one fits into. Defies categorization, IMO.
-- Nathan Mahl--too modern, ProgMetal

As above: AN ESSENTIAL ADDITION TO ANY PROG LOVER'S COLLECTION!




2. FAUN Renaissance 

On this their third major album release, FAUN puts on display their continued experimentation with electronic support to the moods of their medieval and Gothic-tinged story telling. This seems to be the directional flow that Germany's prog folk masters have chosen since their more acoustic start on 2002's Zaubersprüche.

1. "Satyros" (3:34) The album opens with a very festive yet sacred sounds of multiple female voices harmonizing in Renaissance/mediæval fashion over some hard driving hand percussion and fast moving "ancient" instrumentation. (10/10)

2. "Da Que Deus" (3:54) opens with similarly layered harmonies of multiple female voices but moving at a bit slower a pace than the album opener. Nice recorder and harp solos are given space between the vocal sections. (10/10)

3. "Tagelied" (5:01) opens with strummed lute and deep heart-beat thrum drum establishing a deep penetrating effect before the male lead vocal enters with female background vocal support coming from far back in the mix. There is an ominous, almost scary feeling conveyed through the music and singing of this song. Beautiful wooden flute solos are interspersed between the vocal sections. A brilliantly constructed song. (10/10)

4. "Rhiannon" (3:31) is an instrumental reel that opens with some treated/synthesized and acoustic hand percussives weaving together with bagpipe, bazooka, and other instruments all moving together at breakneck speed. (9/10)

5. "Sirena" (5:11) opens with some sequenced rhythms playing quietly, well behind the harmonized vocal "ooooo-aahhs." The Arabian-tinged droning medieval troubadour music that develops would probably be better were I to have an understanding of the lyrics. (8/10)

6. "Königen" (6:25) opens with some Arabian-sounding female voice panning around in the far background as arpeggiated harp plays in the foreground. Set to a slow tempo of computer-sequenced electronic drums and hi-hat, a single female voice enters to carry the lyric over a beautiful, rather simple melody line. Very little embellishments to the vocals or recorder solis. Pure and simple, the story must be quite powerful in order to have been given this very simple arrangement. Again, I wish I knew the language so I could better appreciate the story of the Kings. Lovely song! (9/10)

7. "Iyansa" (4:51) is another droning simple piece with mostly solo female voice singing the lyric. Hypnotic. (9/10)

8. "Rosmarin" (6:45) returns to the more woven textures of the earlier songs, including the vocals, which start out with just Oliver singing but soon add the female harmonies (interestingly, in a lower register!) Hurdy gurdy, bouzouki, bagpipes, and hand bells and shells weave nicely to form a solid support for the vocals and in-between soli, until at the four minute mark everybody stops and a series of synthetic sounds take over in a quiet interlude before percussive and single-note instruments are slowly added back into the mix. At 5:40 an electric guitar power chord surprises and is repeated every few seconds to the end of the song as a single voice whispers repeatedly "es come der tar" or something like that. Wow! What a surprise! Awesome song! (10/10)

9. "Das Tor" (8:13) opens with another deeply ominous electronic background industrial drone as a crazed female voice hums a simple nursery rhyme melody in the middle ground. Lisa takes up a simple melody alone for the first verse and then is joined by another female voice and some other instrumentation (violin, flutes, hand drums, electronic drums, harp). The song builds and builds, slowly but ever so powerfully, resolutely. Even the vocals begin to climb the ladder of octaves as the foundational rhythms and weaves plod along insistently, unrelentingly, beautifully. By the sixth minute the song is devolving into the opening mix, with those eery hums and now laughing children's voices carrying forward the disturbing feeling of this song. Incredible song. Incredible. (10/10)

FAUN here show their continued and increasing experiments with inputs from computer and electronic-generated support as contributed by electronic expert, Neil Mitra. For the most part it works--especially as a complement or takeover for the rhythm section. Oliver, Fiona and Rüdiger's contributions on ancient traditional instruments are virtuosic yet restrained and never overbearing--which puts a nice focus on the vocals of which the gorgeous voice of Lisa Pawelke seems to have taken greater prominence. I have to say that, so far, every FAUN album seems to be better than the previous one. (Too bad Totem did not continue this trend.) This album may be better than 2011's Eden but it has not yet won my heart to the extent that Eden has.

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



****+ 4.5 star Near Masterpieces:





3. MEDIAEVAL BAEBES Mirabilis

The Mediaeval Baebes are an all female Renaissance/folk vocal group whose members fluctuate from album to album, and song to song. I include Mirabilis in the realm of progressive rock because the vocal arrangements, song choices are so sophisticated, so well engineered with lots of interesting modern recording effects and techniques, and because the supporting cast of 'medieval' folk instrumentalists are of such high caliber. The album is a mesmerizing, fascinating listen to diverse, virtuosic performances from start to finish.

1. "Star of the Sea" (3:32) (9/10). Let's you know what you're in for from the beginning.

2. "Trovommi Amor" (4:39) (7/10). A song that fails to really get up and go anywhere.

3. "Temptasyon" (3:20) (9/10).

4. "San'c fuy belha ne Prezada" (1:36) (7/10).

5. "All for Love of One" (3:39) (10/10). Simple but gorgeous.

6. "The Lament" (3:27) (7/10). Lackluster vocals brings down some extraordinary instrumental performances.

7. "Musa venit Carmine" (3:27) (10/10). Amazing arrangement of myriad vocal layers all performed over an ensemble of hand percussives.

8. "Kilmeny" (3:59) (9/10). Another unexpected and beautiful arrangement of layers of vocals and wonderful Renaissance instrumentation.

9. "Lhiannan Shee" (2:56) (8/10). One of the group's signature eerie yet mesmerizing vocal arrangements.

10. "Umlahi" (2:15) (10/10). Beautiful, church-like vocal arrangement, almost a cappella (finger cymbols).

11. "Cittern Segue" (0:52). A brief solo instrumental that feeds into:

12. "Return of the Birds" (3:45) (8/10). a very upbeat dance-like medieval song sung in ensemble form in a foreign language. (Latin?)

13. "Tam Lin" (4:24) (10/10). An incredibly stripped down and eerie version of this traditional Celtic folk song. The few and seldom modern effects and incidentals add immeasurably to the eeriness of this song.

14. "Scarborough Fayre" (3:24) (8/10). Yes, the same one we're all familiar with (thanks to Simon and Garfunkle) only arranged in a truer-to-traditional medieval folk 'dance' tune.

15. "Come My Sweet" (3:21). An upbeat ensemble piece that builds as it goes along. (10/10)

16. "Märk Hure Vår Skugga" (3:43) (10/10). A traditional Scandinavian folk song performed in a very delicate, bare-bones style.

17. "The World Fareth as a Fantasye" (4:08) (10/10). Is a beautiful song-a-long dance to Nature song with wonderfully uplifting instrumental performances and sultry, siren-like vocal performances.

18. "Away" (2:20) (8/10) ends the album with a very classical Palestrina-like sound.

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





4. FIELD OF THE NEPHILIM Mourning Sun

Goth Rock lives. Divinely inspired Frank McCoy has progressed beyond his 80s imitation of Goth rockers THE CURE and created an impassioned music beyond any of his predecessors. This is powerful, creative, hypnotic, and life-affecting music. If you listen to this more than two or three times it might change your religious views, corrupt your children, wake you up!

Five Star songs:  1. "Shroud (Exordium)" (5:47) (10/10); 4. "Requiem (Le veilleur silencieux)" (10/10); 6. "She" (9:28) (10/10); 7. "Mourning Sun" (10:34) (10/10); 5. "Xiberia (Seasons in the )" (9/10), and; 2. "Straight to the Light" (6:25) (9/10).

88.75 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.






5. NIL Nil Novo Sol

This is an album I've just stumbled upon and absolutely blown away by! Having just read all of the reviewers above, I have nothing really new to add except for "ditto" to all of the kudos and superlatives lavished upon this group--and that I agree: there really is no one else out there that this is really like (though there are obvious KING CRIMSON influences). Amazing song writing, amazing performances and virtuoso instrument playing and singing! I am especially fond of the two longest pieces, "Le Guardien" "Dérégénération," but find myself playing over and over the last song, "Dérives," cuz it reminds me so of KC's amazing skill and discipline as displayed on their "Discipline" LP.

1. "Le Guardien" (20:16) is a prog masterpiece that uses the extraordinary voice of Roselyne Berthet as another key instrument in the magical weave. This song surpasses any and all standards I've held prog rock to before. (10/10)

2. "Linceul" (3:23) is a haunting, beautiful, theatric song in which Roselyne Berthet's beautiful voice is accompanied by only a very slow synthesizer arpeggio from the lower (bass) registers and, later, single notes from the upper octaves of a piano and synthesizer. This song feels to me like the 'calm between the storms' or the 'eye of the hurricane.' (10/10)

3. "Dérégénération" (14:30) is an instrumental that masterfully weaves together the sensitive and virtuoso play of the four instrumentalists. The electric guitars vascilate between sounding like Robert Fripp's edgiest to Steve Howe's shredderest. The drums are BRUFORDish, The Chapman stick is barely treated and, thus, sometimes shallow--could be 'fatter'--but always the most melodic and anchoring sound.  The keyboard playing and sound choices are unusual and multiferous, with an almost-church-like organ being the only constant. An awesome song that grows on you with repeated listenings. (9/10)

4. "198" (8:40) is another instrumental founded on a rather banal drum-supported keyboard arpeggio, but actually only hits full stride and once the keyboard riff is shed. The song, however, never really seems to be able to fully climb out of its kind of standard metal format--in fact, sounds as if it could be a RIVERSIDE or AYREON song. (6/10)

5. "Abandon" (8:10) sees the band returning to its own form: odd, shifting time signatures, alternating spaciousness with KING CRIMSON-like moments of frenzy and dissonance--and the return of vocals--though the vocals here are less like the band's fifth instrument and more like the French torch song singer's lyrical display. Wonderful singing and theatric presentation--not unlike some WITHIN TEMPTATION, EPICA, or NIGHTWISH song presentations. It makes me want to listen and figure out what she's singing about. The song has a lot of timing, tempo, and dynamic shifts and strangely benefits from the central section's "Exoricist"-like piano arpeggio and odd/eerie keyboard sounds. The intended overall effect is somewhat lost on me, but who cares! I just love listening to all of the many layers of interesting sounds and riffs. Great prog dénouement/ending! (8/10)

6. "Dérives" (6:04) like an ANEKDOTEN song, is not the most exciting musical journey, but can be extremely rewarding if one pays attention to all of its subtleties. The beautiful bass melody and keyboard washes begin to carry you away as you listen to all of the subtle nuances and flourishes occurring over the top. And then bang! It's over and you're mystierously left with the last minute of in which Roselyne's voice seems to be washing you off. "Donnes-moi"! I just play this song over and over and over! What a trip! (10/10)

88.33 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars for this near-masterpiece of progressive music. More music like this, please! More, more, MORE!




6. OCEANSIZE Everyone Into Position

A drummer who "refuses to play in straight time signatures." How fun--and challenging--is that? Music that sometimes sounds like 90's grunge ("You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down,"), TOOL's post-grunge "The Charm Offensive"), like THE CURE   ("New Pin"), Math Rock ("Music for a Nurse"), like SIGUR RÓS's Post Rock ("Mine Host") or rages with the greatest Shoegaze-Grunge-Metal artists of all time ("You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down"), straight Metal ("A Homage to a Shame") and Death Metal ("No Tomorrow"), and even contains a retro song sounding as it's from the 60s era of stoner-psychedelia ("The Last Wrongs").

1. "The Charm Offensive" (7:19) starts the album off with an edgy, grungy sound that builds as each lyrical stanza is sung. Nice rondo of interwoven, harmonizing vocal lines in the last two and a half minutes. (8/10)

2. "Heaven Alive" (6:20) starts with a very strong U2 sound and feel to it--like the Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum era. As it builds it shifts into a more metallic sound. The 3:30 b-vox blows its cover, bringing it back into the realm of progressive rock. (Kind of like THE REASONING or WEST INDIAN GIRL.) Overall a decent, pretty interesting song--thanks to the bass, keys and b-vox. (8/10)

3. "A Homage to a Shame" (5:52) is the album's metal song. Sorry, Back in Black and Second Life Syndrome are great, but Metal is just not my cup of tea. (7/10)

4. "Meredith" (5:26) A true classic of rock and roll music. The repetition of lyrical lines is used so effectively over the simple, beautiful electric guitar arpeggios. And the "I wanna cut you to the bone" lyric is so chilling yet engaging! Great use of effects to treat the vocal--and what emotion-packed singing! Awesome low, low bass throughout. Simple drums. And those two guitar arpeggios in different octaves! Music doesn't get much better than this! (10/10)

5. "Music for a Nurse" (8:16) is a classic example of  pure Math/Post Rock in the MONO/MOGWAI/ CASPIAN vein--except for the Jeckyll & Hyde ROBERT SMITH/BONO vocals singing over the top. Great song with a fantastic, crescendoing climax around the 6:30 mark. Fades out with some odd 'nuke the computer' sounds. (9/10)

6. "New Pin" (5:11) begins with a computer sequenced of computer noises before THE CURE's bass, drums, and guitar rhythm section from  "Disintegration" joins in. The vocal is also rather ROBERT SMiTH sounding--at least until the very pretty chorus with rather cheery background singing similar to something like STEREOLAB or IVY comes in. Great song--surprisingly original sounding. (10/10)

7. "No Tomorrow" (7:10) begins like a pleasant TRAFFIC song before shifting to a near-death metal song for its chorus at the 1:34 and then a little more permanently at the 2:40 mark. Metal sound continues to dominate both musically and in the singing pretty much through to the end. Fitting for the lyrical content, I suppose; just not my choice for 'listening pleasure.' (8/10)

8. "Mine Host" (4:10) begins with some voice sample sounding like Steven Hawking's computerized voice repeating numbers over a very engaging three-octave keyboard arpeggio which is soon joined by pickings of a dirty electric guitar. At 2:15 drums, bass and a very quite BONO-like half-spoken singing voice begins singing almost beneath the music. Very dreamy, mesmerizing song. (9/10)

 9. "YouCan't Keep a Bad Man Down" (7:36) RAGE! I said, RAGE! If you want to jump up and down, scream, break things, bash your walls in, then THIS IS YOUR SONG! (10/10)

10. "Ornament/The Last Wrongs" (9:21) begins very sedately, gently (especially as compared to the super-adrenaline pumping from the precious song), until at the 2:50 mark the alarm goes off in the form of heavy guitars--which then just as quickly recede while two guitars, a keyboard, and some light drumming play, note-for-note, very gingerly--as if uncertain or afraid to disturb the silence. 5:00 sees a return to heavy guitars until at 5:20 there is a discernable mound and sound shift (must be the transition to the "The Last Wrongs" part of the song). At 5:30 an odd (for this group) kind of early YES- or MOODY BLUES-like chant of harmonizing vocalists sings over both the heavy and soft parts. Ends with a very eery-sounding, 60's-ish organ. (7/10)

86.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. Despite the sometimes lean toward the grunge-metal sound, this is a great album: very diverse, very creative. OCEANSIZE has a very original sound and IMHO has created a very distinctive sound and niche in the prog world for itself. They are, in my opinion, one of the few groups pushing the music envelope into new and fresh directions. And Praise Be Odd Time Signatures! A flawed 4.5 star album that I'm going to praise because of their bold innovativeness, their amazing lyrics and vocal presentations (and I am NOT a lyric person), and their contribution to the true spirit of 'progressive rock' music.




7. KVAZAR A Giant's Lullaby

1. "Flight Of Shamash" (9:13) 


2. "Choir Of Life" (5:36) 


3. "untitled 1" (1:30) 


4. "Dreams Of Butterflies" (8:30) 


5. "untitled 2" (1:49) 


6. "Spirit Of Time" (8:42) 


7. "Desert Blues" (6:13) 


8. "Sometimes" (5:09) 


9. "A Giant's Lullaby" (9:42) 


10. "Dark Horizons" (8:03) 





8. GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT All Is Violent, All Is Bright

Though I am a relatively new- and late-comer to the "Post Rock/Math Rock" and seemingly related "Experimental/Post Metal" Progressive Rock sub-genres, I am fascinated and enjoying these two areas immensely. IMO, here is where "progress" is truly being made in music--where boundaries are being challenged, the envelope being pushed. The work of Sigur Rós and Toby Driver alone lead the way in what I call the groundbreaking, mind-opening progress happening in music recently. The 60s saw The Beatles, Lou Reed, and King Crimson pushing the envelope. The 70s had Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, and Christian Vander exploring untested territories. The 80s saw the compositions and productions of the likes of David Byrne, Mickey Hart, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel and others trying to bring attention to and appreciation for musics, instruments and musicians of the world. (The 80s also saw the advent of the computer age with things like 'midi,' 'sequencing,' 'sampling' and the Fairlight exerting considerable influence, while on the quiet artists like David Sylvian and Robert Fripp continued to test sound in the forms and structures that we call 'music.') In the 90s we saw Mark Hollis, Sigur Rós, and Radiohead pushing boundaries. Which brings us to the most recent decade, the first of the 21st Century, in which we were witnesses to the innovation, courage, and artistry of Toby Driver (an asterisk of mention to the members of Animal Collective.) While my diatribe admittedly reflects an Anglo-American-centricity, I hope you readers will accept the fact that, for good or not, most of the music made publicly accessible through commerce has been able to rise to the public eye (and ear) through Anglo-American corporate endorsement. With all of this in mind, my review of God Is An Astronaut's All Is Violent, All Is Bright constitute's my first in this sub-genre. The reason being, it is the first "Post Rock/Math Rock" album that I have heard that I absolutely love start to finish, every song in the collection. No album from Sigur Rós, Red Sparowes, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Russian Circles, Mogwai, Mono, Don Caballero, 65Daysof Static, Do Make Say Think, or Explosions in the Sky has captivated me so well as All Is Violent, All Is Bright. ULVER's Shadows of the Sun is the only one yet I've heard that I like more, but it is a very different experience from the Post Rock/Math Rock experience I receive from the others mentioned. I would not even place Shadows of the Sun in this category, it is so different.
            Some Post Rock/Math Rock album/artists are a bit too harsh/too metallic for me (Russian Circles, Godspeed come to mind), some too repetitive or formulaic in their patterns and structures (Mono, Explosions, even, at times, Sigur Ros). A few are less consistent with the high standard/quality (Mogwai, Do Make Say Think, and 65Days). For some reason I prefer Red Sparowes (especially Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun), much of Sigur Rós (Ágaetis ByrjunTakk..., and ( ) [untitled]), and this God Is An Astronaut album.
            What I like so much about this album is its diversity. While Post Rock/Math Rock does seem to have its formulaic structures, the songs on this album each have their own identities, each have disparate styles and 'influences.' Plus, I have to admit, I rather like their relative brevity. The tendency within this subgenre is to go a bit long. Once or twice an album is great, but every song eight to twelve minutes? No thank you. Unfortunately, I just don't have time to listen to songs like that all day. I also quite enjoy GIAA's use of vocals. Like a fifth instrument--another keyboard or a violin or something.

1. "Fragile" (4:34) is the album's introductory piece that reminds me very much of an older SIGUR RÓS song. Nice slow beat, building slowly, with a very SIGUR RÓS-like use of voices, even through the requisite slam of drums, cymbols, bass and synths which arrives at the 2:40 mark and then disengages a minute later for a very slow and peaceful fade. Short, sweet, and to the point. (8/10)

2. "All Is Violent, All Is Bright" (4:14) is right out of a CURE playbook: rolling bass, guitar effects, background keyboard effects, same drums, Cure cords and definitely a Cure pace. Beautiful song. Awesome finale beginning at the 3:15 mark. Go crazy, Robert! I mean, Kinsella brothers! This one could've bee a little longer.  (8/10)

3. "Forever Lost" (6:22) is BUDD/ENO meets MASSIVE ATTACK. Great soundtrack music. Great atmospheric piano and synths. Typical build and climax. (9/10)

4. "Fire Flies and Empty Skies" (3:55) begins with more fast-tempo CURE-ish bass and guitar until the drums enter followed by the song's melody played on sliding up and down a guitar's fretboard. Something is so pleasantly familiar about this song and its melodies. The isolated distorted bass beginning at 3:15 mark and flowing to the end as the song's outro section is a great touch. Some OCEANSIZE feel here, too. (9/10)

5. "A Deafening Distance" (3:49) slows the pace down until the drums and guitar power chords double time at the 2:40 mark. Great synth melody eeking its presence out from behind the rhythm section. (7/10)

6. "Infinite Horizons" (2:28) slows it down to an almost ambient pace with a very ROBIN GUTHRIE-like feel and sound. Nice. (8/10)

7. "Suicide by Star" (4:38) Begins like an ominous yet intriguing soundtrack song. A Jason Bourne movie theme or something. Builds with the drums and lead guitar moving up to the foreground at the 1:30 mark. Great song, great feel, my favorite song on the album. eminds me of U2's early experimental work with BRIAN ENO and DANIEL LANOIS--like "Boomerang" and others from the Unforgettable Fire period. Awesome. I love the end/climax where the bass drum is pumping frenetically while the ride cymbol paces calmly along at the same slow pace with which it started. (10/10)

8. "Remembrance Day" (4:16) begins with quite a different feel than the rest of the album--like a CHROMA KEY piece--with piano, bass keyboards and very treated/synthesized vocals. Then at the 1:48 mark the woofer-low synthetic bass, drums, and sliding guitar sounds enter. Wow! Space has never felt so cool! Then the 2:48 mark sees the song take a different turn into a more upbeat, uptempo, up-power level with a new melody line introduce on synths(?). The song finally decays back to the echoed piano. Cool and unusual! (9/10)

9. "Dust and Echoes" (4:13) again begins with such a different feel. Kind of pop-mainstream with weird synth washes flowing, floating behind the rhythm section. If you've ever heard the great music of PERPLEXA and/or WEST INDIAN GIRL, this has that same awesome, upbeat psychedelic feel. The song builds by the 2:40 point, vocals again serving a very cool and important role, before interestingly decaying early into an unusually long (for this genre) fadeaway. Great song. Another fave. (9/10)

10. "When Everything Dies" (10:00) is the album's only real long song (10:00 minutes). Beginning with another HAROLD BUDD-treated by BRIAN ENO piano, the main difference is the eerie and unsettling presence of a synth bass. A shift occurs at the 3:00 mark into a more pounding, speedy version of the intro piano them joined by a very treated, almost electronic MASSIVE ATTACK-like drum riff. Some FRIPP-like guitar arpeggios join at the 4:25 mark as the background rhytmitists build the intensity of their chords until 5:20 everybody drops out save the drums, bass and synth-wash, which then also drop out and fade until from 5:55 to 7:30 we are left without sound! Everything has apparently died! The first sounds to reenter our aural atmosphere are synthesized waves on a beach sound followed by a computer-robot sounding synth riff floating around the L-R aural screen. By 9:00 a piano, very distant drum beat, and new synth make their presences known before finally all fading away in the end. Weird, eerie and interesting. Not as heavy as ULVER's Shadows of the Sun LP and message, but interesting. (9/10)

11. "Disturbance." (3:44) Another ENO-BUDD sounding piece--as if from the Apollo album, or from the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack--definitely presents as if we are in space or on a space journey. More of a concept finisher than a song with it's own interesting presence. (8/10)



Great album; one of my favorites from this subgenre.

85.45 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. For the sake of it's high consistency and for being "the standard" by which I will measure other albums from this sub-genre.



9. PAT METHENY The Way Up

I have been an avid PAT METHENY listener and fan since the 70s (his work with JONI MITCHELL and GARY BURTON), and have pretty much every album he has every done, call the 1986 concert I attended of his one of the top five concerts I've ever attended, and consider him one of a very few masters of the art of combining technical prowess with emotional and melodic expression. And, yes, this one is one of his best albums--and one of two that truly fits among the masterpieces in the "progressive rock" catalog (the other being 1992's Secret Story). For long-time listeners, however, this album contains many "old" themes, tricks, and twists--so does not remain quite so fresh and exciting over its entire 68 minutes. The opening "song"--entitled "The Way Up: Opening: does contain some "fresh" sounding slide guitar, beautiful acoustic guitar, and introduces the awesome syncopated guitar strum theme which makes the third song, "The Way Up: Part Two" one of the best prog songs I've ever heard. The Way Up: Part One," the album's longest "song," offers up many old sounds, themes, and melody lines mixed with just enough new sounds, twists, themes, and melody lines (Pat playing more than one guitar lead at a time--in effect, dueling with himself!) to make this music very fresh and exciting. Plus, I must admit that the often-frenetic trumpet playing solos off of/against Pat's guitars offers a fascinating counterpoint to Pat's typically powerful yet melodic lead solos. The slowed down part after the 6:30 mark is a bit unexpected and out of place. And the song's central section is really pretty straightforward jazz, WES MONTGOMERY style (with some good jazz trumpet playing). It's the final, sensitive 5:30 of the song that start to bring one back to the prog fold. But then, voilà, "Part Two" comes on and I can't help myself but I play it over and over, astounded and hooked by the EBERHARD WEBER Following Morning intro section (first 2:15) and the 3:30 to 12:05 section in which Pat's syncopated and time-bending staccato guitar pizzicato's (which are later taken over by keyboards and percussion) lay foundation for one of the greatest 'barely controlled chaos' jam sessions I've ever heard. First Lyle's gentle, sensitive, inimitable keyboard work, followed by Pat and trumpeter Chong Vu going shit crazy! Then we have the wonderful 'calm after the storm' section with its wonderful harmonica lead. (And still the staccato pizzicato guitar-and-keyboard theme plays in the background). Trumpets, harmonica, catchy rhythm work. What treasures are bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Antonio Sanchez (though I worship former Group drummer, Paul Wertico)!

"Part Three" returns to very familiar Pat Metheny Group territory--sounding very much like his 1980s productions--with its very strong Brazillian influence. Nothing really new here.

1. "The Way Up: Opening" (5:17) (8/10)
2. "The Way Up: Part One" (26:27) (8/10)
3. "The Way Up: Part Two" (20:29) (10/10)
4. "The Way Up: Part Three" (15:54) (8/10)

I'm very tempted to give this one five stars for the sake of "Part Two" which is, IMHO, one stellar achievement of musical expression. But I won't. (Though I may regret it later.) Still, if you've never heard the musical genius of Pat Metheny and company, start either here or with Secret Story. You won't be disappointed.

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




10. ANTHONY PHILLIPS Field Day

 I am not sure how truly progressive this album is because it consists of two discs of 29 and 32, respectively, solo acoustic guitar pieces. However, I can not exaggerate enough on what a treat and gift it is to have this collection of instrumental ditties and fully worked out acoustic guitar songs from one of the masters of off-beat and unexpected melody of our time. It is also particularly enjoyable to follow the track list while matching each song with Ant's list of guitars from his rather extensive collection. While many if not all of the 61 songs here achieve the elevated status of 'beautiful,' the four opening and closing songs and the 12-string pieces definitely haunt me. So many others are worthy of special mention but I won't; just get the album and pick out your own favorites--there are sure to be a dozen or more. Of all of Ant's albums, this one rates near the top--only behind The Geese and the Ghost and Back to the Pavilion, just above the other Private Parts and Pieces and 1984.

Samples:  "Nocturne" (3:47); "Steps Retraced" (4:11); "Bel Ami" (2:03)

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




11. RIVERSIDE Second Life Syndrome

An album of nearly perfect production: There are not many albums out there whose sound clarity, engineering, and mixing can compete with the quality of this one. Simply breathtaking! While neither heavy prog nor prog metal are my favorite sub-genres, this was one of my first acquisitions during the 'prog listening renaissance' I've undergone since 2006. I immediately appreciated the sound, musician-ship, and production; it has taken me quite a while longer to decide whether I appreciate and/or like the music. The answer is: Mostly. I immediately loved "Conceiving You" (3:41) (9/10) and "Second Life Syndrome" (15:40) (10/10) and now love the PEARL JAM/PINK FLOYD-like "I Turned You Down" (9/10), the instrumental, "Reality Dream III" (5:01) (9/10), and "Before" (5:24) (9/10). "After" (3:32) (8/10) and "Artificial Smile" (5:28) (8/10) are both excellent songs, while "Volte-Face" (8:41) (7.5/10) and "Dance with the Shadow" (11:39) (7.5/10) are just not up to par. I have no doubt that this album should rank among the best of this 21st Century as it is so powerful, so well constructed, performed, recorded, and produced.

85.0 on the Fish scales = a 4.5 star album; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. While the album as a whole does not yearn for regular listening by me, the song "Second Life Syndrome" is among my favorite epics of all-time.




12. KATE BUSH Aerial

This is an album that I resisted listening to for a long time--based upon my dislike of/disappointment in 1993's The Red Shoes. But then came 50 Words for Snow in 2011 and I was back in the fold and had to give Aerial a try. Boy am I sad I resisted! This is a beautiful, deeply engaging album--both discs!

Disc 1 - A Sea Of Honey :


1. "King Of The Mountain" (4:53) 
2. "Pi" (6:09) 
3. "Bertie" (4:18) 
4. "Mrs. Bartolozzi" (5:58) 
5. "How To Be Invisible" (5:32) 
6. "Joanni" (4:56) 
7. "A Coral Room" (6:12) 

Total time 37:58

Disc 2 - A Sky Of Honey :


8. "Prelude" (1:26) bird sound, piano, and a young boy's voice (Bertie?) dominate this beautiful little intro. (9/10)  
9. "Prologue" (5:42) spacious, melodic, repetitive. yet so hypnotically engaging. I could nap into death's sleep to this one. (9/10) 
10. "An Architect's Dream" (4:50) 
11. "The Painter's Link" (1:35) 
12. "Sunset" (5:58) 
13. "Aerial Tal" (1:01) 
14. "Somewhere In Between" (5:00) (10/10)
15. "Nocturn" (8:34) 
16. "Aerial" (7:52) (10/10)




13. STEREOLAB Oscillons from the Anti-Sun

An amazing collection of Stereolab originals taken from outtakes, alternate takes, and originals that only found their previous publication through the band's EPs.

CD 1
  1. "Fluorescences" – 3:23 (from the 1996 Fluorescences EP)
  2. "Allures" – 3:29 (from the 1997 Miss Modular EP)
  3. "Fruition" – 3:50 (from the 1993 Jenny Ondioline EP)
  4. "Wow and Flutter" – 3:07 (from the 1994 Wow and Flutter EP)
  5. "With Friends Like These" – 5:50 (from the 1999 The Free Design EP)
  6. "Pinball" – 3:13 (from the 1996 Fluorescences EP)
  7. "Spinal Column" – 2:53 (from the 1997 Miss Modular EP)
  8. "Ping Pong" (Unreleased LP Version) – 3:02
  9. "Golden Ball" – 6:26 (from the 1993 Jenny Ondioline EP)
  10. "Cybele's Reverie" – 2:55 (from the 1996 Cybele's Reverie EP)
  11. "Nihilist Assault Group (Parts 3, 4, 5)" – 7:12 (from the 1994 Wow and Flutter EP) (mislabeled as Parts 1, 2, 3)
  12. "Off-On" – 5:24 (from the 1997 Miss Modular EP)
CD 2
  1. "Jenny Ondioline Pt.1" – 3:53 (from the 1993 Jenny Ondioline EP)
  2. "Young Lungs" – 6:33 (from the 1996 Cybele's Reverie EP)
  3. "Escape Pod" (From the World of Medical Observations) – 3:57 (from the 1999 The Free Design EP)
  4. "Moodles" – 7:23 (from the 2001 Captain Easychord EP)
  5. "You Used to Call Me Sadness" – 5:10 (from the 1996 Fluorescences EP)
  6. "Captain Easychord" – 2:53 (from the 2001 Captain Easychord EP)
  7. "Les Aimies Des Memes" – 3:55 (from the 1999 The Free Design EP)
  8. "French Disco" – 4:26 (from the 1993 Jenny Ondioline EP)
  9. "Transona Five" (Live) – 5:42 (from the 1994 Ping Pong EP)
  10. "Moogie Wonderland" – 3:34 (from the 1994 Ping Pong EP)
  11. "Canned Candies" – 4:13 (from the 2001 Captain Easychord EP)
  12. "Narco Martenot" – 4:23 (from the 1994 Wow and Flutter EP)
CD 3

  1. "The Noise of Carpet (US Single)" – 3:07 (from the 1996 "Noises" single)
  2. "The Free Design" – 3:45 (from the 1999 The Free Design EP)
  3. "Les Yper-Yper Sound" – 5:18 (from the 1996 Cybele's Reverie EP)
  4. "Pain Et Spectacles" – 3:31 (from the 1994 Ping Pong EP)
  5. "Ping Pong" – 3:03 (from the 1994 Ping Pong EP)
  6. "Long Life Love" – 7:06 (from the 2001 Captain Easychord EP)
  7. "Jenny Ondioline" (Alternate Version) – 6:08
  8. "Heavy Denim" – 2:49 (from the 1994 Wow and Flutter EP)
  9. "Brigitte" – 5:46 (from the 1996 Cybele's Reverie EP)
  10. "Miss Modular" – 4:13 (from the 1997 Miss Modular EP)
  11. "Soop Groove #1" – 13:06 (from the 1996 Fluorescences EP)


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