Friday, October 19, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2007, Part 1: The Masterpieces





My Favorite Albums of 2007
(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.  


2007 represents one of the finest, deepest years of progressive rock music in quite some time. My Favorites List has albums representing many sub-genres with six (6) masterpieces and six (6) near-masterpieces. A great year for prog!



The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. ULVER Shadows of the Sun
2. BIG BIG TRAIN The Difference Machine
3. HIROMI’S SONICBLOOM (HIROMI UEHARA) Time Control
4. KLAUS SCHULZE Kontinuum
5. VIOLETA DE OUTONO Volume 7
6. MOTH VELLUM Moth Vellum
7. PORCUPINE TREE Fear of a Blank Planet
8. ATARAXIA Llyr
9. GAZPACHO Night
10. OMAR RODRIQUEZ-LOPEZ The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange


Honorable Mentions:  
ELECTRIC ORANGE Morbus
THORK Nula Jedan
SETNA Cycle I
ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE The Black Tomato
RETROSPECTIVE Spectrum of the Green Morning
KNIGHT AREA Under a New Sign
QUIDAM Alone Together
OUTERLIMITS Stromalite
CORDE OBLIQUE Volontà d'arte
RITUAL The Hemulic Voluntary Band
DEVIN TOWNSEND Ziltoid the Omniscient
EPICA The Divine Conspiracy
NIGHTWISH Dark Passion Play
SENOGUL Senogul
THE FLOWER KINGS The Sum of No Evil
OCEANSIZE Frames
NEW TROLLS Concerto Grosso, The Seven Seasons
MANNING Songs from the Bilston House
PHIDEAUX Doomsday Afternoon



The Reviews


***** 5 star Masterpieces:


***** Album of the Year for 2007! *****


1. ULVER Shadows of the Sun

My first Ulver album and what an album! Definitely one of the best collections of songs, start to finish, from this, the 21st Century. And though this is a dark and pessimistic concept album, it does an amazing job of conveying the despair and hopelessness of our role as perpetrators and victims of planet Earth's demise. The use of piano, tympanic drums, Oslo Session String Quartet, deep breathy vocals, synthesizers and even trumpet and theremin all help to impart the heavy, tragic mood exquisitely, even beautifully, if that is possible. I am ever awed by the wonderfully unexpected and subtle turns and twists within each and every song--including the "extra" 2 minutes of recorded silence at the end of the album's last song (after the world and/or life on the planet has been extinguished). Though an inattentive listen may leave the listener thinking the album is just one song and one mood, the attentive head-phoned listener is privy to a very artful and intimate experience. The first song, "EOS," sucks you into the album experience like light into a blackhole, the other songs entertain as you fall in, as light begins to fade, and the last song, "Whatever Happened?" spits you out on the other side, into a fresh, new universe. A lot to ponder; a lot of responsibility in their message. Fantastic album. Definitely a classic of our time, for the ages; a masterpiece. My favorite album of 2007. Sorry to fans who look forward to my play-by-play song list but this is a true flow-through experience; the album is a whole that, IMHO, should not be dissected--though I will say that the album ends as strongly if not more strongly as it begins.

1. "Eos (5:05) The mood setter! (10/10)
2. "All the Love" (3:42) Trumpets! (10/10)
3. "Like Music" (3:30) How true! (9/10)
4. "Vigil" (4:27) So emotional, so gorgeous! (10/10)
5. "Shadows of the Sun" (4:36) Awesome piano. (9/10)
6. "Let the Children Go" (3:50) Percussion! (10/10)
7. "Solitude" (3:53) Yes! The remake of the Black Sabbath song! (8/10)
8. "Funebrae" (4:26) How deep will this tragedy go? (9/10)
9. "What Happened?" (6:25) One incredible end song--perhaps the greatest of all-time! (10/10)

94.44 on the Fish scales = 5 stars, a masterpiece of progressive rock music.



2. KLAUS SCHULZE Kontinuum 

Though I found myself fascinated by the albums of Tangerine Dream in the 1970s, I never really became a fan. I think that I always thought that the production was weak, murky, even cheezy. Now I hear a 21st Century Electronic Prog album by maestro Klaus Schulze--using 21st Century technologies and recording advances--and I am blown away. Had the TD/KSchulze albums of the 70s had this engineering and production they would be on my frequent playlists. Despite Schulze's use of familiar song structures, these three epics are nearly flawless: engaging, creative, melodic yet creepy or quirky when they need to be. From the first notes of "Sequencer" (10/10) I was sucked in and did not want to tear myself away. The same feeling occurs with each replay. It is a true masterpiece of the sub-genre--maybe the one that I would play first were anyone to ask me to play a track best exemplifying the TD/Schulze sound. 

1. "Sequenzer (from 70 to 07)" (24:54) begins with a gorgeous computer keyboard sequence that just suck you in and keeps you there. For fully eight minutes little major changes, yet I'm still there, in the music. Wordless vocals join in brilliantly causing major and minor key shifts to the main melody with their own pitch changes. Another ten minutes passes like this before things begin to fade out and shift toward a new, spacey background synth. A pause and then a couple of new synths play out the rest of the song in some eery minor key. Starkly cold--like being on the moon, alone. Amazing! (10/10)


2. "Euro Caravan" (19:41) (Sample is an excerpt) begins with some low notes while some odd/eery ENO Ambient 4: On Land-esque noises flit around in the background like fairies flying around. After two minutes of this a lone male voice enters singing in a heavily treated voice some nondiscript words à la LISA GERRARD. A very DEAD CAN DANCE-like soundtrack song. In the sixth and seventh minutes the vocals take on more of an Arab religious tone, style and feel. Then at the 9:45 mark one of TD/Schulze's signature bass synth driving sequences enters as the keening voice slowly fades further and further to the background. At 11:25 enters another signature sound from olden days: a computer/synth originating 'drum'/rhythm sequence. The new, playful, mostly-bass synth hits playing around over the top keep the song driving forward--into the distant future (the same very distant future that these guys were playing in during the 70s). At 14:10 the rhythm and the haunting ghost-voices flitting in and around the soundscape become more insistent, more driven. At 17:30 the song's male Arab keening-sounding voice returns, though he disappears for the final minute as the song's initial faerie voices return to take us out (or, truly, into the next song). (10/10)


3. "Thor (Thunder)" (31:47). The music here does not quite match its title, in my humble opinion. Instead, it has a very sparse, Blade Runner-like sound and feel to it--at least for the first seven and a half minutes--before the computer rhythm track begins. Then the lead synth begins to show some teeth--and support keyboard sounds fill the sonic universe in a more cosmic majestic way. At the eleven minute mark a very fast paced synthesized 'tambourine' joins the music, accompanied by some more wordless vocal keenings à la LISA GERRARD. This continues for ten minutes with little or no significant or emotional shift until at the 23-minute mark the rhythm 'instruments' cut out, leaving us with a kind of shifting progression of chords of mellotron voices over which which a solo voice and occasional synthesizer single note their ambiguous, androgynous melodies. To the end. (8/10)

Not enough development and variety on the album's last song, and yet the album as a whole is a perfect update of some of the best sounds and techniques of the pioneers of electronic music. Only, here, they benefit from the technological advances in sound production and music recording. 

93.33 on the Fish scales = 5 stars, a masterpiece of progressive rock music.  




3. BIG BIG TRAIN The Difference Machine

"Crossover"?!! I've just discovered BBT, now own The Difference MachineEnglish Boy Wonders and Gathering Speed and cannot figure out how any artist recording songs at an average of 9 minutes in length could be considered "crossover"! Plus, the GENESIS/ANT PHILLIPS/ FLOYDian musicscapes just don't fit, to my mind, the "crossover" sub-genre. Also I have to ask:  WHERE IS THE LOVE? These guys are amazing! I haven't heard anyone so "new" old prog (Does this make them "neo"?) with such high quality, great melodies, great vocal harmonies, amazing song structures, album concepts (with musical themes being repeated throughout à la A Trick of the Tail). And these guys are humble! Unafraid to cite their musical influences and references. And please notice the list of Who's Who in Prog that they are attracting to work with them: Dave Meros, Pete Trewavas, Nick D'Virgilio, Jem Godfrey, Frances Dunnery, and Dave Gregory--THE Dave Gregory, for god's sakes!!!
            Nevertheless, this is supposed to be a review of The Difference Machine, my favorite work of BBT, so far, though the new release of the revamped English Boy Wonders is a close second. Like other reviewers I find myself wanting to extol the praises of the longer playing songs. "Perfect Cosmic Storm," "Salt Water Falling on Uneven Ground," "Summer's Lease," and "Pick Up If You're There" are absolute masterpieces of progressive, mostly symphonic, music. The shorter, "fill" pieces are fine, beautiful, full of lots of haunting mellotron, interplaying woodwinds and strings, they're just not as interesting or as "full" as the long monsters. Perhaps they are intended to calm the spirit of the listener before having to re-enter the bigger sounds of the longer pieces.
            Anyway, these guys have a talent for finding amazingly catchy melodies BOTH vocally and instrumentally, but more, they do it multiple times within each song!! And they might be knitting one melody with/within another (or more!!) THEN(!), as if this were not enough, they hook these amazing melodies into the harmonic setting of some stunningly beautiful and intricately woven music. I can definitely feel the complexity of early GENESIS/ANTHONY PHILLIPS in their work, and yet so many of their other influences come gloriously to the listener's ear, as well. But let me not forget to tell you: THESE GUYS ARE UNIQUE! Fresh! New! Original! Not copyists or imitators. 
            Check out "Perfect Cosmic Storm." I dare you! You will be hooked. You'll become an addict. PROG IS ALIVE AND WELL and it is nowhere so well embodied as in the work of BIG BIG TRAIN!! Five stars to a masterpiece of fresh new music.

1. "Hope This Finds You" (3:12) is an almost classical instrumental introduction to the album--with some of the themes to follow included. Beautiful though not as impactful as what is to follow. (9/10)


2. "Perfect Cosmic Storm" (14:40) is one of my favorite prog songs of all-time. From the amazing guitar intro, to the "signal's gone to ground" lyric hook, to the rollicking recurring lead bass line, to the incredible dynamic shifts and "familiar" sounds (CHRIS SQUIRE-like bass, KING CRIMSON-like mellotrons, STEVE HACKETT-like guitar, MEL COLLINS-like saxophone, RICHARD WRIGHT-like organ). And what an incredible, shifting, engaging rollercoaster ride of music. Original symphonic prog at its best! (10/10)


3. "Breathing Space" (1:47) is another ambient instrumental interlude. Not as interesting or engaging as the first one but definitely a mood-setter. (8/10)


4. "Pick Up If You're There" (13:39) is another masterful epic with great vocals great pauses and buildups and deeply hooking key and chord changes. Wonderful bass, drum and keyboard work, as well. I love the melodic flow of this song, which actually seems to better showcase the performances of the individuals in the band. Wonderful tapestry! (9/10)


5. "From The Wide Open Sea" (1:20) is the third mellow instrumental interlude, this one almost all subtle chord washes. Actually, quite wonderful; I wish this one were extended. (9/10)


6. "Salt Water Falling on Uneven Ground" (12:38) starts a bit jazzy--almost PAUL WELLER-like--and soon breaks into full gallop. At 2:38 the masterful chorus "The ground is frozen underneath my feet", is established among awesome space music effects and the gutsy use of space. "The ground is frozen underneath my feet". So fresh and inventive! 
     I like the use of effects on several of the instruments on this one (guitars, especially, but also vocals--amazing vocals!). More spacey/psychedelic instrumental work in the mid-section. A headphone-listeners delight! Then there are the absolutely gorgeous final two minutes, following the "Do you remember the days of summer" lyric. Strings, multiple guitars (introducing XTC's DAVE GREGORY!), deep bass notes, and beautiful vocals. (10/10)

7. "Summer's Lease" (7:34) ends the album in a mellow, atmospheric way but with again SEAN FILKINS' gorgeous voice singing some very touching lyrics--tying together previous themes, both lyrically and musically, in an absolutely powerful, melodic, heart-sucking way. (10/10)

92.86 on the Fish scales = 5 stars, a masterpiece of progressive rock music!




4. HIROMI’S SONICBLOOM (HIROMI UEHARA) Time Control

Easily the most exciting, consistently high-level, creative jazz fusion album I've encountered in the 21st Century. Yes, there are a lot of sounds, riffs, passages familiar from my long love for and association with the music of CHICK COREA, but there also tons of fresh, mouth-jarring ideas expressed here--by all four of these incredible musicians. Guitarist David "Fuze" Fiuczynski is truly masterful and chamelonic in his playing--a brilliant foil to Hiromi's stellar, melodic, and often heartbreakingly beautiful keyboard playing. And the bass playing and drumming are often attention-getters, as well. I rate fully seven of this album's nine songs as absolute gems--masterpieces of highly engaging jazz fusion. An album that has never strayed far from my disc player (especially in the car) since I got it a few months ago. So glad "classic" jazz fusion is still being explored and adored somewhere!

*****Five star songs:  1. "Time Difference" (6:19) (10/10); 3. "Time Travel" (8:37) (9/10); 4. "Deep Into the Night" (9:02) (10/10); 6. "Time and Space" (7:56) (10/10); 7. "Time Control, or Controlled by Time" (8:29) (Sample is from a promotional excerpt) (10/10); 8. "Time Flies" (8:01) (9/10), and; 10. "Note from the Past" (12:09) (Sample is from a live performance, [16:13].) (10/10).

****Four star songs:  2. "Time Out" (6:39) (8/10); 5. "Real Clock vs. Body Clock = Jet Lag" (5:53) (7/10).

9. "Time's Up" (0:46), an interrupted brief take of "Note from the Past," which is not on the American version of Time Control, is the American CD's final song. On the Japanese version, the incredibly powerful "Note from the Past" is the finale. 

92.22 on the Fish scales = Five stars, rare:  an absolute modern masterpiece of Jazz Fusion.




5. ELECTRIC ORANGE Morbus

Modern masters of the musical style that was once coined as "Kosmische Musik", Germany's ELECTRIC ORANGE are true heirs and, now, masters of the music once pioneered by the likes of CAN, AMON DÜÜL, ASH RA TEMPEL, KRAFTWERK, and, to a lesser degree, NEU. This album showcases quite a diversity in song styles used by and available to the sub-genre--from driving instrumentals to vehicles for their social-politically driven vocals and vocal samples. There is awesome keyboard and drum and percussion work throughout--and even some acoustic instrumentation! 

Favorite songs: the hypnotic beat and bass line, voice-play and electric guitar lead of 9. "Wald" 10:14) (10/10); the nostalgic 'hippie' acoustic-psychedelia of 10. "Reaching" (4:28) (10/10); the swirling organs and flutes of the Indian-sounding start and TANGERINE DREAM-like sounds and rhythms of the second half of 12. "Sarau" (8:31) (10/10); the native American-like drumming and KRAFTWERK-like computer rhythms of the first half and amazing organ and synth play of the second half of 1. "Einwahn" (7:54) (10/10); the driving rhythm and dreamy female vocal lines of 7. "Traumama" (4:58) (10/10), and; the dreamlike trance produced by the slow rhythms of both 3. "Span 5" (7:56) (9/10) and 8. "Krautschock" (7:02) (9/10).

91.67 on the Fish scales = 5 stars, a masterpiece of modern progressive rock music.




6. ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE Black Tomato

Having released their debut only the year before, Black Tomato is notable for the tremendous growth in focus and song-writing skill the band has achieved. This is a tremendous album of truly engaging and trance-inducing Kosmische Musik. One of the 21st Century's best in this subgenre. Either of the long multi-part suites are stellar, "Rumble" or the title song, and the finale, "Viking Cleaner" (6:29) (8/10) is a good one, too.

91.11 on the Fish scales = five star rating; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.



****+ 4.5 star Near Masterpieces:




7. ATARAXIA Llyr (2007) (Ambient Electronic Folk) is a very pleasant neoclassical ambient world folk music album very much in the vein of DEAD CAN DANCE with a remarkably strong female vocalist singing all lead vocals while being supported by traditional instruments and synthesizers. Francesca Nicoli's enigmatic operatic mezzo soprano voice reminds me at times of ENYA or Gunnhild Tvinnereim (SECRET GARDEN) (on "Sigillat"), Ana Torres Fraile (UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA) (on "Quintaluna") at times of a Chinese Opera singer ("Llyr" and "Evnyssien") and others ELIZABETH FRASER (COCTEAU TWINS) (on "Klepsydra") and still others of NINA HAGEN (on "Elldamaar"). The band tends to be hide intentionally behind veils of obscurity, however they themselves call their music "a cosmogonic dark folk" ("praying for Beauty"). Beautiful music it certainly is.

Favorite songs:  5. "Evnyssien" (8:48) (10/10); 4. "Llyr" (5:58) (10/10); 9. "Borrea" (5:56) (10/10); 1. "Siqillat" (6:47) (9/10), and; 6. "Klepsydra" (4:51) 9/10).


88.89 on the Fish scale:  definitely a 4.5 star "almost masterpiece."




8. OMAR RODRIQUEZ-LOPEZ The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange

Wow! Combining high-powered, psychedelic rock and R & B like I've never heard it, Omar Rodriquez-Lopez--of THE MARS VOLTA fame--has created a monster of an album. Almost completely instrumental and, except for the guitar work and modern recording techniques, very reminiscent of lots of music and artists from the jazz fusion and electronic prog experimentalists fromt he 1970s.

1. "Melting Chariots" (3:51) starts off like something from a P-Funk album or TALKING HEADS' Remain in Light. The unusual staccato guitar solo is a quite inconsistent with the rest of the song's feel and sound. (8/10) 


2. "Knee Deep in the Loving Hush of Heresy" (6:02) begins with ORNETTE COLEMAN-like free-for-all cacophony. The just as suddenly the music settles into a groove--an almost tongue-in-cheek 'sexy space' walk. The song flows intermmittently in and out of the opening cacophony, as well as into some stark bluesy sections. This sounds a lot like some of TODD RUNDGREN's wild sound/listener experiments from the 70s. The 'sexy space walk' jam is the overall dominant thread that keeps the song moving forward but there are many 'pauses' and 'interludes' into guitar and synthesizer 'tangents.' The song ends with a minute of straightforward heavy metal rock n roll. Interesting sonic and technical experimentation. (8/10)


3. "Jacob Van Lennepkade II" (18:25) is a wonderful multi-track (midi?) jam set over a very engaging, danceable groove laid down by the rhythm section. The occasional 'chorus' section is lead by saxophone melody--all the while the rhythm section keeps on groovin' away on the same pace, same riffs, same chords. The first five minutes are dominated by guitar(s) solo; second five by keyboard(s), third five by saxophone; and the final by guitars again. Awesome performances throughout. Great jam. (10/10)


4. "Fuerza de Liberacion" (5:33) begins with some odd synthesizer and vocal percussion 'noises.' At the one minute mark most of this fades away to be replaced by a kind of steady 'Carribbean' beat over which a heavily muted/treated male voice talks for over two minutes. Giving way to a multi-track guitar solo, beneath which the drummer--and then the keyboardist and saxophone player--has some real fun. The song's basic bass and keyboard structure remains steady and constant throughout. (8/10) 


5. "Sparked From the Insult List" (6:08) is pure Latin groove rock--SANTANA at his jammin' best. Again, multi-track guitar (by which I mean that one guitar is being played but that it's sound is being channelled through two or more effects boxes and then into multiple recording tracks, giving it the feel that multiple instruments are being played). The presence of Rhodes-like keyboard and flute give this a very 1970s feel. Awesome feel and sound--one I can never get enough of. (10/10)


6. "Baby Fat" (2:47) has a very jazzy, KING CRIMSON feel to it--even down to the discordant free jam the song devolves into. (8/10) 


7. "The Apocalypse Inside of An Orange" (11:14) is a true adventure in Psychedelic/Space Rock--even down to the "Indian" feel of the 'sitar' and bass sounds--a musical expression of pre-Big Bang (or post-apocalyptic) cosmic soup. It's actually quite entertaining and even engaging. (Again I am reminded of some of TODD RUNDGREN's work from the 70s--this time almost exactly like the middle 30 minutes of his 36 minute epic, "Treatise on Cosmic Fire"on Initiation). I quite like it! (9/10)


8. "Coma Pony" (6:36) is another throwback song, starting with a very cool, laid back jazz fusion (almost trip hoppy) groove set down by bass, drums, and very 60s/70s keyboard sound and style--over which the guitar again does his multi-track jamming. The ERIC GALE-like jazz guitar, BOB JAMES-like keyboard playing, TOM SCOTT/GROVER WASHINGTON-like sax play, and catchy melodies make this a very enjoyable and comfortable song--like a stroll through memory lane. (10/10)

Truly an exceptional album of adventurous music. Close to being a masterpiece; 88.75 on the Fish scales = definitely 4.5 stars.




9. VIOLETA DE OUTONO Volume 7

Ever since I discovered this group with 2012's Espectro I have been in love. At the time my all-time favorite album from the classic "Canterbury Scene" was KHAN's Space Shanty and with Espectro I thought I was hearing a reincarnation of the one-off Hillage, Greenwood, Stewart & Peachy collaboration. Volume 7 only solidifies this feeling. While others note some kind of PINK FLOYD sound or feeling to them, I only hear the wonderful sounds of KHAN (and maybe a little CARAVAN). And yet, Brazil's Violeta De Outono, are a major force in and of themselves--and have been since the mid-1980s.

1. "Além do Sol" (5:20) introduces us to the nostalgic sound of this band with lightly picked arpeggios on the electric guitar, Hammond organ, bass and drums. The vocalist has a bit of a STEVE HILLAGE sound to his voice--which is lightly doused in reverb and mixed into the background (as it usually is). The first instrumental solo, taking place in the third minute, goes to the Hammond, followed by the HILLAGE-like guitar in the fourth minute. Neither are anything too extraordinary but both are so perfect in further enhancing the KHAN-like nostalgia feel. If KHAN had ever continued, this is what they would have sounded like. (10/10)

2. "Caravana" (4:34) opens with a mellow vocal section using a melody line familiar from Pink Floyd's "Breathe" before amping up into a full out Canterbury jam and then returning for the end to the opening section. Great organ and guitar play with solid support from the rhythm section. Great pre-digitized sound to the recording. (10/10)

3. "Broken Legs" (3:08) a fairly straightforward pop/rock song with some jazzy rhythm guitar work, 1960s sounding vocals and slide guitar work. Could be off of an early BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST or REO SPEEDWAGON album! (7/10)

4. "Eyes Like Butterflies" (6:02) opens with organ, picked electric guitar, flanged lead guitar strums, and slow-paced drumming. The bass almost has the melody lead--sometimes distracting me from the vocal. The chorus melody is gorgeous, if understated. Piano, organ, and Southern Rock-like lead guitar riffs pop out from time to time making this song a real pleasure from the standpoint of unpredictability. Really a cool composition--again one that could have come from an early 1970s blues rock band like the ALLMAN BROTHERS. (8/10)

5. "Em Cada Instante" (5:12) great Canterburian jam in the middle. (9/10)

6. "Pequenos Seres Errantes" (7:49) opens with some sliding guitar notes floating, echoing around the soundscape in the vein of DAEVID ALLEN in the GONG pre-Radio Gnome Invisible
 era. As it evolves it continues to develop in the vein of a couple of the space jams from Camembert like "Fohat Digs Holes in Space" or "Tropical Fish" only with synths taking the place of the saxophones. Great song--one in which the drumming and bass also stand out for the fact that they are mixed farther into the foreground. Even the vocal sounds psychedelic-Daevid Allen-esque. Awesome song! (10/10)

7. "Ponto de Transição" (3:48) is another rather simply constructed melodic pop-rock song. The vocal has a bit of a melancholy feel to it (though I don't know its content since it's in Portuguese). Piano, bass, drums and guitar--slide for the ABACAB solo. (7/10) 

8. "Fronteira" (10:19) is an awesome jazz-tinged Canterbury-styled epic with multiple instrumental jam sections featuring the HILLAGE-like guitar lead and all-pervasive presence of the almighty Hammond organ. Great drumming on this one. Some great fast-paced sections balanced by equally great slow, spacious and delicate sections. (10/10)


87.5 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. These Brazilians have mastered a sound that is, for me, one of the most engaging of all of progressive rock. And, should you find yourself liking this album, then you simply must check out 2012's masterpiece, Espectro--my favorite album of that year.




10. THORK Nula Jedan

An album from the French mood-masters who created the band NIL, the leadership of the brothers MAURIN (one of which has by this album left the project) have given way to that of Sebastien FILLION (with the help of brother/cellist Arnaud) to produce this enigmatic collection of hard-to-describe songs. The music is modern, perhaps "ahead of its time" in its odd, sometimes ethereal, sometimes jazzy sounds and passages. It can thus be said with some confidence that this is truly progressive rock music as its songs take the listener to places and in directions that you have likely never travelled before. While listening through this album I find myself reminded at times of DEAD CAN DANCE, FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM, AKT, STING, LUNATIC SOUL, STEVE JANSEN and, of course, NIL.

Favorite songs:  1. "Ex-Slaves" (12:51) (10/10); 3. "La lumière" (9:12) (10/10); 5. "Danse des airs" (6:25) (9/10); 7. "Revoir" (7:55) (9/10); 9. "Ces rêves-là" (4:24) (8/10); 8. "01" (8:15) (8/10), and; 6. "Au ciel" (7:12) (8/10).

4.5 stars. 85.55 on the Fish scales. A refreshingly original musical journey. 




11. MOTH VELLUM Moth Vellum

Moth Vellum Moth Vellum is only my second exposure to a group whose sound is mostly neo-YES group (Glass Hammer being the other). While I agree that "Whalehead" and "Salvo" sound very much like out of some outtakes from the The Yes Album to Going for the One era of YES, it is a very much mellower YES, and the remainder of the album presents Moth Vellum with its very own identity. Sure there are guitar sounds similar to Steve HOWE, and a vocalist similar to Jon ANDERSON (though with far simpler and more accessible lyrics), but the keyboards and song structures are, IMO, much more akin to those of Tony BANKS, and the vocalist sounds much more, to me, like BUGGLES'/ Drama-era's Geoff DOWNES or Rush's Geddy LEE. Still, a very nice collection of songs setting very high standards. The drums and bass playing are rock solid if unspectacular throughout, the melodies and chord progressions are almost always very catchy and ear-pleasing. The soli are very rarely deserving of YES-like superlatives yet do a fine job of entertaining and engaging.   

1. "Let the Race Begin" (9:14) has a nice neo-symphonic prog feel to it, some YES feel to it, but, largely establishing Moth Vellum as their own entity. Something about the lyric and vocal melody I don't like. Perhaps a bit too simple. (8/10)

2. "Whalehead" (7:13) has a 'mellow YES' feel with a RUSH-like vocal chorus. Steve HOWE-like guitar playing must surely be the aim for the familiarity is unquestionable. Here, as with "Salvo" the vocal harmonies are most imitative of the above-mentioned 1972-76 period of YES. Nice song. I like it more than Rush. It would fit in well among the songs collected on MAGENTA's Seven. (8/10)

3. "Salvo" (13:34) begins a bit like a GENESIS Nursery Crymes, or Selling England by the Pound song (and ends like "The Knife" or "Giant Hogweed"), though the first solo, given to the keys, is taking full advantage of all of the technological advances made in the 80s and 90s. The 3:15 mark marks the first time of many on this album in which I thought I was hearing a female lead vocalist. (Nice voice, Ryan!) Really a beautiful voice. (Same effect whenever Ryan sings slowly, as on "Against the Suns" and "Against the Suns (Reprise)"). The 'Yes Effect' really makes its presence known at about the 6:30 mark. From there one feels as if you're floating between grooves of The Yes Album and those of Close to the Edge. Really quite a pretty song--very engaging in a way that YES sometimes . . . wasn't. (7/10)

4. "Against the Suns" (11:22) slows it down quite a bit. Melodies and chord progressions are quite simple--kind of a Wind and Wuthering feel to it. I like the vocals of this song quite a lot--as cheesie as they kind of are. The slow pace also allows for enough space in which to hear many of the subtleties that are often lost among fuller, more dynamic, power-chord crunching songs or song parts. A nice "Close to the Edge"-like quiet period beginning at the 4:00 minute mark preceeds a RUSH/MARILLION vocal, Howe guitar bridge to a beautifully melodic love-groove section right out of a great GINO VANELLI song. Enter a very cool and unexpected Wes MONTGOMERY-Chris SQUIRE conversation and then lead to fade with a Hackett-Rutherford-Banks foray. Great song. Very fresh even after 50 listens. (9/10)

5. My favorite song on the album, "Walk it Off" (11:23), I had trouble liking until I finally got the lyrics. Now I can get passed the songs ONLY flaw: the chorus. Sounding somewhat like our friends from Down Under, UNITOPIA, this song is very exciting with several melodic 'hooks' which get introduced separately, repeatedly, and even get layered harmonically at times. Very reminiscent of the winning tricks of Big Big Train, especially as used on their masterpiece, The Difference Machine. I also love the moments of almost campy Broadway musical theatrics (e.g. 7:45). But then we return to one of the great instrumental riffs--this time taken over from the keys by a very un-Howe-like fuzz/distorted guitar before fading out with the intro's guitar's harmonic arpeggios. (9/10)

6. "Against the Suns (Reprise)" (5:11) is a mellow "Afterglow" type of piece in which everybody seems to get to loosen up and let the last bits of expression fly from their fingertips in a kind of "late-night, it's time for bed" loosely structured jazz format. A great wind-down song. (10/10)

A VERY pleasurable and OFT-repeated listen. I think it will stand up well over time--perhaps even better than a lot of Yes because of its simpler, more melodic sounds. Can't quite give it a five, but I sure want to! 85.0 on the Fish scales means 4.5 stars.




12. DEVIN TOWNSEND Ziltoid the Omniscient

This is such a fun, funny, satirically melodramatic supervillain album I can't help but love despite my innate, seemingly unalterable aversion to harsh "metal" sounds (mostly bullet speed kick drum pedalling and constant, abrasive, 'infinite sustain' guitar and bass guitar power chords). The whole premise of a pimply teen 'Starbucks' coffee server's daydream revolving around the command order of a 'perfect' cup of coffee is hilarious. And Devin plays it out--both musically and lyrically--to perfection. For some reason this album makes me think of QUEEN's Flash Gordon soundtrack.

While I personally chart only two five star songs--"Solar Winds" and "Hyperdrive"--the rest are such seemless contributors to the the gag/story that I wouldn't rate the rest with less than four stars. Though listening to this all the way through leaves me with quite some aural numbness, the story is worth it. The only Devin album, yet, that I will call a masterpiece--as much for its brilliant concept and cohesive presentation of such as for the obvious talent of his musicianship. I just wish he'd do something non-metal, non-heavy, non-tech/extreme. Maybe an all-acoustic "unplugged" album!?!?!?



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