Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2007, Part 2: Others


Other Albums from 2007 Worth Listening To



GAZPACHO Night 

A very nice set of diverse songs, though all establishing the signature ambient-droning Gazpacho sound supporting Ohme's somewhat monotonous voice, with two real standouts, "Upside Down" (9:41) (9/10) and "Dream of Stone" (17:00) (9/10). Definitely my favorite Gazpacho album though Tick Tock is a close second. 

*****Five star songs: 3. "Upside Down" (9:41) (9/10), 1. "Dream of Stone (17:00) (9/10), 2. "Chequered Light Buildings" (6:34) (9/10), .

****Four star songs: 5. "Massive Illusion" (13:37) (8/10) and 4. Valerie's Friend (6:29) (7/10).

84.0 on the Fish scales = solid four star album; excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.



OUTER LIMITS Stromalite

Excellent jazz fusion from these Japanese virtuosi.




LAZULI En avant doute...

Very nice theatric progressive rock in the NEMO vein from these Frenchmen. Quite a lineup of masterful eclectic instrumentalists throwing it all into the mix including Chapman stick, Warr guitar, marimba, vibraphone, and synth guitars.



SETNA Cycle I

The debut Zeuhl album from these musicians from Rouen, the album is notable for the rich presence of three keyboard players (all three Fender Rhodes players), the saxophone of Guillaume LAURENT and female lead vocalist, Natacha JOUET. Also significant it the guest presence of James MacGRAW (MAGMA, ONE SHOT) on guitar. This is a much more laid-back, subtle presentation of the Zeuhl sound; engaging but neither frenetic nor evocative of the almost manic, euphoric frenzy that is typical of Magma music.



PORCUPINE TREE Fear of a Blank Planet

My introduction to Steve Wilson and Porcupine Tree.  After a fifteen year hiatus from "progressive rock" and most new music, ProgArchives reviewers led me to this gem. Revived with a new intrigue and interest in the most artistic of music forms, progressive rock, I began my adventures into post-1970s prog with this CD. From the first listening I was impressed. A little heavier than I expected at times, I quickly keyed into the drummer: very impressive. Then found myself bewitched by the beautiful and diverse sound textures (helped out by old "friend" from my David Sylvian years, Richard Barbieri). Even nostalgically amused by the "guest appearances" by prog legends Robert Fripp, Alex Lifeson and John Wesley.

1. "Fear of a Blank Planet." Drums catch you from the start: Tight! Confident! Who is this guy! Google search! Pretty cool "metal-ish" feel in the guitars, the kick drum style, though mellotron/synths soften it some. Great mellotron background wash! Lyrics kind of cynical and depressing. Keyboard work is subtle but really absorbing. Good hard driving tune with excellent electric guitar and synth soli at the end. The end is the best part (and more typical of older PT, I will find out). (8/10)

2. "My Ashes." Very cool intro. Haven't heard that effect/sound since Zep's "Ocean". Chorus enters over a beautifully fluid wash of Floydian mellotron, followed by entrance of drums and electric guitars. The burdens of cultural transmission. I've read Steve can be a bit down, even depressing (lyrically). Love the flowing, floating strings behind the vocals and acoustic guitars. A lovely, well-constructed song. (8/10)

3. "Anaesthetize." The first truly proggish feeling song. (Especially due to it's 17 minute length.) The drum "arpeggios" underlying the first three minutes are mixed perfectly into the song so as to not overwhelm the listener. The entry of the fuzz guitar chords and snare hit and then excellent electric guitar solo precede an awesome electric piano sequence (Ambrosia?) and some synthscapes just before the more metal-ish drum and bass sounds take over the rhythm. Steve's treated vocals at eight minutes in truly usher in a more fully metal feel (so cleanly recorded!) (really a Nirvana grunge "Feels Like Teen Spirit" section). Awesome Gary Newman "Cars" sound just before this drummer dude really gets to impress us. There's that metronomic click track again. Barbieri/Wilson's synth work is so smooth, subtle, understated but interesting and key! The Floydian end section brought in at 13:20 is very cool, very Wish You Were Here/Animals, complete with brief Gilmour-esque axe solo. Song never really seems to develop into what it promises at the beginning, though it does end well. (8/10) 

4. "Sentimental." A teen anthem sung by a thirty-forty-something. Hmm. Simple SimpleMinds/ U2-ish song structure has a feel similar to several other "classic" PT songs. So-so song. (6/10)

5. "Way Out of Here" (7:38) is the first of the albums two really great songs. True classics, these are, with really powerful lyrics and vocal deliveries (though sometimes too deep in the mix, due to the treatments). Very catchy chorus lyric and melody. Absolutely stunning guitar solo (Fripp?) is followed by an eerie, here-comes-the-slasher lull before all metal hell breaks loose. And did I mention the drums? This drummer knows his craft--enhancing yet never dominating, with sometimes breathtaking speeds and techniques. (Again:  the drums are so well mixed into the music). The long fadeout of ascending string sounds over Harrison's ever-so subtle, yet playful, batterie is brilliant! (10/10)

6. "Sleep Together" (7:30). A quiet little intro is suddenly amped up and made rather eerie by a strong, slow drum beat before Steve's treated voice screeches his forceful though despondent command, "Let's sleep together." The world's about to end, so why not? Second time through the chorus leaves us in outer/inner space with some very interesting multiple synth play. Gavin and Colin rejoin the music to help usher us through a truly unusual "string quartet" (a la Kronos Quartet) exit. Very fresh and creative. Classic prog! Awesome! (10/10)

Undoubtedly outstanding musicianship and sound recording with very impressive composition and of-time-capsule-interest lyrics (computers and iPods). I think we have a modern prog classic! 50/60 = 83.33 on the Fish scales. Solid 4 stars. An excellent addition to any music collection.




RETROSPECTIVE Spectrum of the Green Morning

Finally! An album whose absence from the PA radar is shocking to me! "Between RIVERSIDE and PEARL JAM" is so accurate! Try the free downloads, "Regret and Frightened Child" (5:39) (9/10) and "Enemy World Vision" (7:40) (10/10) from www.last.fm.com and you will discover an absolutely amazing sound of this somehow not-yet-'discovered' band from Poland!

The 2007 EP shows signs of 'imaturity'--mostly in production and lack of variation in composition and sound--though song 6, "Have in Mind" (7/10), is different in its keyboard (a poor-man's electric piano) intro & foundation, and song 3, "Pink Elephant Missed" (6/10), is also different in that it has a more rock'n'roll feel to it--like PEARL JAM trying to do LED ZEPPELIN. Song 2, "Some Kind of Hope," (6/10) sounds a bit too much like "Regret..." and "Enemy..." though is flawed in its having less polish in the recording mix. Song 4, "Waking Up in the ZOO," (8/10) is quite good with tight RIVERSIDE-like drums and bass and an interesting ALEX LIFESON/RUSH-sounding guitar cranking out the power chords. The vocalist is excellent--very much like a cross between Eddie Vedder and Mariuz Duda (which becomes more Eddie Vedder-like in their next album)--though the lyrics of several of these songs could use a little boost. This is definitely a band that needs/deserves to be heard. If you like RIVERSIDE, you will love this album! Highly recommended.

75.0 on the Fish scales = 3.5 stars rated up for the anthemic songs, "Regret and Frightened Child" and "Enemy World Vision".



RATIONAL DIET Rational Diet

The third album from Belarus' fresh, classically-oriented Avant/RIO artists, which are led by multi-instrumentalist Vitaly Appow.
     This is the last album before the arrival of young keyboard player, vocalist, and composer Olga Podgaiskaja which, after two albums, resulted in the eventual leadership struggle that would lead to the band's demise (and eventual creation of two bands, FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE and ARCHESTRA).



KNIGHT AREA Under a New Sign 

A really enjoyable album of Neo-prog--the kind that is filled with great warmth, great melodies, great drama, familiar sounds, and stellar production. The only detraction here is that there's really nothing new here, at times it sounds a bit too familiar. Kind of like SPOCK'S BEARD.

Album highlights: "A Different Man" (7:47) (8/10); "Courteous Love" (7:47) (8/10), and the wonderful instrumental, "Under a New Sign" (5:44) (9/10). The rest of the album is not far below these, hovering in the B-/C+ range, which makes for a beautiful listen, start to finish. This remains my favorite Knight Area album despite some good ones since.



RITUAL The Hemulic Voluntary Band

I would like this album even more were the story/lyrics not about the life of a bunch of rodents. (Literally!) I like the GENTLE GIANT, YES and JETHRO TULL influences and "In the Wild" and "Late November" are definite prog classics. Sometimes sounds a bit like THE DECEMBERISTS--especially the 27-minute epic, "A Dangerous Journey." Wish there were more efforts to layer vocal harmonies as in the 18th minute of "A Dangerous Journey."

***** 5 stars: the rockin' "In the Wild" (5:56) (9/10) and medieval love song, "Late in November" (4:57) (9/10).

**** 4 stars: "The Groke" (6:05) (8/10); "Waiting By The Bridge" (7/10); The GENTLE GIANT-like title song, "The Hemulic Voluntary Band" (4:55) (7/10), and what could be 5 stars were the lyrics more relevant and the musical shifts more varied stylistically and in tempo: "A Dangerous Journey" (26:32) (8/10).

80.0 on the Fish scales = solid four star album; excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.



SATELLITE Into the Night 

Hearing the powerful performances of former COLLAGE vocalist Robert Amirian, former COLLAGE keyboardist, Krzysiek Palczewski are always worth giving a COLLAGE/SATELLITE album a chance. This one is no exception. Interesting that is the work of Satellite mastermind, and alos former Collage member, drummer Krzysiek Palczewski, that is really the weak spot of this music. No matter, still a pretty decent album of Heavy or maybe even somewhat Neo prog.

The opener, title song, "Into the Night" (6:34) (9/10) shows us right off the bat that this is going to be an enjoyable listen to some beautiful, powerful music. The excellent bass playing of Jarek Michalski is well worth noting, as is the guitar work of Sarhan Kubeiski (though he is no MIREK GIL).

Album highlights: 1. "Into the Night;" 3. "Downtown Skyline" (6:15) (9/10), and; 5. "Don't Walk Away In Silence" (7:40) (9/10).

A good, solid album. 4 stars.


THE REASONING Awakening

I came across The Reasoning a couple of years ago at the suggestion of other ProgArchives reviewers who said that if I liked Pure Reason Revolution (because of their vocal harmonies) then I'd love The Reasoning. Well, I like them fine but they are in no way the same league or even the same kind of music as PRR! The Reasoning, IMO, are more like a rock group who have prog elements, whereas Pure Reason Revolution's The Dark Third is an example of multi-talented prog musicians who are (now, with Amor Vincit Omnia) exploring more rock structures. Don't get me wrong, I like this album, I play it (or songs like "Chasing Rainbows,"  "Aching Hunger," and "Playing the Game") repeatedly, and I consider "Within Cold Glass" to be a truly GREAT song, but The Awakening is not in the same "masterpiece" category I consider The Dark Third to be in. 

3.5 stars marked up to for its consistency throughout.



NIGHTWISH Dark Passion Play 

Though Nightwish music is always a bit too heavy metal for my tastes, I cannot help but admire their incredible musical constructs, the amazing talents of their lead singer(s), and the immense scope of their to involve orchestra. If you're okay with the heavier side of prog, I highly recommend all Nightwish albums. if you are a bit turned off by over-the-top theatric metal productions, at least give this one a chance. To me, this is much more enjoyable than Aryeon/Arjen Lucassen projects--more polished, cohesive and perhaps even ambitious, too. Or even try out the first and last songs, "The Poet and The Pendulum" (13:55) (9/10) and "Meadows in Heaven" (7:10) (9/10). Then judge. Beautiful arrangements, that's for sure.



EPICA The Divine Conspiracy

Another female fronted theatric metal band whose albums explore some seriously demanding compositional and performance territory, like NIGHTWISH. Both groups put out amazing productions in 2007. NIGHTWISH, to my ears, sound a bit more polished instrumentally and symphonically, but the vocal arrangements of The Divine Conspiracy may top Dark Passion Play. (The use of male voices--even growls--seem to fit, work well, within the context of the music and as a contrast to the amazing female vocals of "mezzo soprano" SIMONE SIMONS.) I do not like the keyboards used by Epica (despite the often wondeful 'orchestra' sound accomplished), and the in-your-face machine gun fire kick drum is a detractor, but everything else is wonderful.

Album highlights: the more sensitive, sedate, "Chasing the Dragon" (7:40) (9/10); the Arabian-tinged "Fools of Damnation: The Embrace that Smothers, Part IX" (8:42) (8/10), and: the epic title song, (13:57) (8/10).



THE FLOWER KINGS The Sum of No Evil 

One of the few TFK albums that isn't so over-the-top imitative, has a bit of a distance from YES. Despite great instrumental performances (as usual) The Sum of No Evil is still not a great album--it still has the usual scattered feel of other TFK albums, but here there is less cringe-in-embarrassment-cuz-it's-so-stolen-from-the-masters music. The title song is pretty awesome (13:26) (9/10).



THIS WILL DESTROY YOU This Will Destroy You 

A powerful debut album from these Post/Math Rockers. Great sound production throughout. Rough and raunchy or ultra-clear whenever they want it, there are moments of MONO's beauty, MOGWAI's punch, SIGUR RÓS's style with RED SPAROWES overall consistency and the sound and production reminiscent of post-Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me THE CURE. Also, there is some great JOHN MARTYN-like electric (any Echoplex here?) guitar work. 

Favorite songs: "They Move on Tracks of Never-ending Light" (6:56) (9/10) and"Villa del Refugio" (7:06) (9/10).



MANNING Songs from the Bilston House

Wonderful blues-based prog from an one-man force with an old 1960/70s folksie storytelling style and the gravelly voice to match.



BLACK BONZO Sound of the Apocalypse 

One great song, the epic finale, title song, "Sound of the Apocalypse" (13:01) (9/10), among eight okay--not even good or great--rock tunes. 'nuff said. 


Albums from Y2K that Are, IMHO, Over-rated


PHIDEAUX Doomsday Afternoon

I have listened to this album, these songs, over and over for the past two years and I'm finally ready to say it: I don't get it! I don't understand the prog fascination with/ appreciation for this album! "Microsoft Deathstar (1 and 2)" sound so much like something from the 70's, yet: haven't we had enough of the 70s? (And what's with the two-note woofer-filling bass womps that appear in virtually every song?) While I do understand and appreciate the technical prowess of Phideaux' constructions, I just don't find them emotionally engaging or pleasing to my ears. And I LOVE 'classical music.' Perhaps if I were a lyrics-appreciating listener I would like this collection of songs better, but musically these songs are just plain, good, but plain. I have yet to feel any connection to the melodies or songs here. I appreciate the classical and ethnic themes and influences, and love the clear production. (Though, perhaps it's a bit too sterile!?) So many familiar melodies, so many interesting shifts and changes--it's surprising that I find the most monotonous song on the album, "Thank You For the Evil" (8/10) my favorite. Perhaps it's because it stays constant long enough to convey a feeling, a mood--to make its point. And what's all the hype about the 'amazing' female vocal performances? Come on, people! (I guess they're better than/help distract from the lead male.)

**** Four stars, rated up for clarity, consistency, and talent.



OCEANSIZE Frames 

Many reviewers rate this as Oceansize's (so far) masterpiece. I have to disagree. THis album shows a much more abrasive, less melodic, more uniform sounding Post Grunge group. Both of the previous albums are much more melodic, experimental, diverse, and engaging. With Frames, I think the group is becoming more self-defined and self-indulgent and less concerned with listener popularity or appreciation. This is even more apparent with the follow up, Self-Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. To me, their masterpiece was by far and away Everyone into Position.

Album highlights:  the BI AUDIO DYNAMITE "E=MC2" sound-alike, "Trail of Fire" (8:07) (9/10); the straightforward Post Rock formatted, "Only Twin" (7:22) (9/10), and; the only odd/unusual song on the album (for it's Asian theme/doves singing intro) "Voorheis" (11:11) (8/10).


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