Sunday, October 21, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2008, Part 1: The Masterpieces


My Favorite Albums of 2008
(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.  

2008 represents quite a good year of refreshing new music from a very wide variety of styles. My Favorites List has two (2) masterpieces and six (6) near-masterpieces. An okay year for prog!



The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. NOSOUND LightDark
2. DUNGEN 4
3. DATURAH Reverie
4. UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA The Magus
5. JANNICK TOP Infernal Machina
6. BERSARIN QUARTETT Bersarin Quartett
7. DIAGONAL Diagonal
8. VON HERTZEN BROTHERS Love Remains The Same
9. FROM.UZ The Overlook
10. RATIONAL DIET At Work


Honorable Mentions: 
BELIEVE Yesterday Is a Friend
MOON SAFARI Blomljud
CYNIC Traced in Air
PINEAPPLE THIEF Tightly Unwound
WILLOWGLASS Book of Hours
VOTUM Time Must Have a Stop
SYRINX Qualia
JEAVESTONE Spices, Species and Poetry Patrol
DARK SHOT One Shot
MAGENTA Metamorphosis
SOMA PLANET Bholenath
PANZERBALLETT Starke Stücke



The Reviews


***** 5 star Masterpieces:



***** Album of the Year for 2008! *****



1.  UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Magus

Is the future of 'progressive music' in Zeuhl??

This album is filled with some of the most masterful compositions and performances I have heard in this 21st Century. Absolutley stunning in scope and breadth. The spirits of AREA, KOTEBEL, MAGMA, JANNICK TOP, ALAN HOLDSWORTH, LISA GERRARD, EUMIR DEODATO, and GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA have all been absorbed to bring you this production.

1. "De Astrologia" (19:30) starts awesomely before establishing a fairly straightforward, rather dull and repetitious A part. At 4:25 things shift  to piano and NINA HAGEN-like silly vocals to become--more interesting, more RPI-like. The 6:05 mark ushers in a very Zeuhl-like part with heavy throbbing bass-line and guitar, piano, drums and vocal very MAGMA-esque. This lasts until the 11:20 mark when a synthesizer ushers in a faster, more synth-jazz part. This lasts until 14:13 when piano introduces what appears to be another pulsating Zeuhl section--but, no! At 15:00 the piano starts to jazz it up, at 15:20 is joined by the gorgeous operatic voice of Ana Tores Fraile and later, the wonderful soprano sax of Antonio Fedeli. This is the groovingest section of Zeuhl ever! Awesome piano. Guitarist Daniele Valle had already amply demonstrated his virtuosity earlier in the song but here switches gears to render a more bluesy rock solo. Strange ending. (8/10)

2. "Corenza della percentuali" (17:32) begins with pizzicato strings like lighter moment from a movie soundtrack but then it evolves into what sounds and feels like a song straight from AREA's Arbeit Macht Frei. An amazingly tight avante jazz composition until 4:55 with the first appearance of Daniele Valle's 'one-up-on-Alan Holdsworth' guitar playing over the top of string synths and Zeuhl rhythms. At 6:55 things really slow down as a synth oscillates around the speakers, giving way to an awesome and hauntingly beautiful bass solo (which sounds more like a classical guitar). Ana's operatic voice and some spacey synths join the bass at the 8:54 mark creating a very hallowed, sacred space. 9:40 hears the appearance of an Arabic-sounding drum voice (Francesco Festi?) sounding like the donkey at the end of KATE BUSH's The Dreaming's "Get Out of My House." 12:25 sees a complete return to the hard-driving opening themes--only Ana and Francesco's pairing continues--an awesome effect over the synths and hard-drivng bass line. The last 30 second s of the song see a comical return to the opening pizzicato strings theme. Odd but appropriate. A truly masterful composition. (9/10)
 
3. "Les plantes magiques" (7:35) has a more classical chamber or church music feel to it. Piano arpeggios entwined with Ana's wordless mid-range tonings and almost-background alto sax notes. At the 3:20 mark we get a surprise: solo piano accompanying chanteuse Ana with an accompaniment of background female singers all singing French lyrics. At 4:45 a more Zeuhlish operatic section begins: orchestral percussives, synths, operatic male and female voices. Le nouveau opera! Awesome! (10/10)

4. "Ato piradime" (15:51) begins with a very familiar LOREENA MCKENNITT or DEAD CAN DANCE feel and sound until at the 1:35 mark an intricate weave of bass and electric guitar usher in a kind of movie soundtrack sax theme. Shift at 3:07 to a kind of RPI rap. Really! Very engaging and poppy. 5:17: abrupt stop and pause. Solo electric piano chord progression repeats itself until 6:15 when it is joined by a very reedy sax, then by the operatic Italian lyrics of Ana. Quite majestic is her singing to "La Luna"--as is the interplay of the sax. Vocals climax around 9:40 whereupon a heavier jazz groove takes over with Fabrizio Mattuzzi's distorted electric piano bouncing around a little before being joined by bass, drums and soloing lead guitar. Around the 13 minute mark the imitation Alan Holdsworth shows up once more to give a stellar show of what AH could be. The song's final minute allows Ana and Antonio's "La Luna" theme to return to fade. (9/10)

5. "Mors, ultima linea rerum" (6:06) begins with a few seconds of a kind of circus-like sound and feel before unleashing an awesomely powerful heavy prog section, only to segue into a kind of GINO VANELLI/BILLY JOEL pop jazz at the 1:30 mark. Enter an awesome 'Alan Holdsworth' guitar solo, then at 3:05 shift back to the heavy prog theme. 4:20 sees the combination of the jazzy Holdsworthian theme with a truly jazz-Zeuhl repetitiousness. End with another strange kind of fade out. (9/10)

6. "Vento madre" (13:24) reminds me so much of one of my favorite 21st Century albums, KOTEBEL's Omphalos--particularly the "Pentacle" suite. I love the combination of heavy electric guitars, hard-rocking rhythm section with operatic vocals. 3:55 begins a DEODATO-ish electric piano bridge to a very pulsating, deeply engaging, mesmerizing section of Zeuhlish magic. Ana and guest male vocalist Antonio Vianilli. "Salvol!" Saxes and electric piano. Enter Sr. Daniele Valle, electric guitarist extraordinaire! Quiet sectioni yields to the return at 10:15 to the opening theme. Let the wild rumpus continue! Dance ye sacrificial lambs! Faster! Faster! Lose yourself in the mélée; come under the spell of The Magus! (10/10)

This album is filled with some of the most masterful compositions and performances I have heard in this 21st Century. I cannot imagine anyone not seeing the utterly astounding quality of these songs and these performances. They are so fresh, unusual, creative and mature. Plus, I love it that Zeuhl has an Italian participant! Without question or reservation a solid, strong 5 star contribution to Western music. Perhaps the second greatest Zeuhl album I have had the privilege hearing (thus far).

91.67 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music.

I love Zeuhl!



2. DUNGEN 4

Having recently discovered the work of guitar genius REINE FISKE, I've been trying to backtrack through anything and everything he's touched in the past 20 years. (LANDBERK, MORT MACABRE, PÄATOS, THE AMAZING, DUNGEN--are there more? If so, please let me know!!) Having now been through the Dungen catalogue, I am going to try to start my review process. Though Tio Bitar is in-your-face amazing, I am, in truth, a lover of more pacific, melodic, beautiful music--even within prog world. Thus, I am here to report that this album, 4--their fourth studio album--is my favorite. It is the one I play the most, the one I play start to finish, the one I find humming along with throughout and at least half a dozen melodies long after the speakers have gone quite. It is a masterpiece of retro-reverent prog music--one which not only masterfully gathers and uses an incredible array of sounds that were new to bands of the 60s & 70s, but uses them in a way that has, IMHO, produced music FAR suprassing that of its predecessors. Perhaps if the psychedelia bands of the 60s and early 70s were still producing (that type of) music, they might attain the heights of DUNGEN (and THE AMAZING). But, I doubt it. Difference: They wouldn't have Reine Fiske. Or the outstanding rhythm section that is bassist Mattias Gustavsson and drummer Johan Holmegard. Nor would they have the creative drive and multi-instrumental talents of Gustav Ejstes. This album is so good that I'm not even going to rate the individual songs as all but two earn 5 stars in my book. Listen to this band! Start with this album if you need a softer, more melodic starting place--or go right to Tio Bitar if you're ready for the mind-blowing renaissance of HENDRIXness.

5 star songs: 1. "Sätt Att Se" (4:45) (10/10); 2. "Mälerås Finest" (2:22) (9/10); 3. "Det Tar Tid" (4:16) (9/10); 6. "Fredag" (4:20) (10/10); 8. "Mina Damer Och Fasaner" (3:43) (10/10), and; 9. "Samtidigt 2" (4:39) (10/10).

4 star songs:  4. "Samtidigt 1" (3:15) (8/10); 5." Ingenting Är Sig Likt" (2:59) (8/10); 7. "Finns Det Någon Möjlighet" (3:55) (8/10), and; 10. "Bandhagen" (3:23) (8/10).

90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; essential. Absolutely essential . . . to the future of progressive music.



****+  4.5 star Near Masterpieces:



3. PINEAPPLE THIEF Tightly Unwound

I like this album a lot. Vocalist Bruce SOORD has definitely proved his value to ProgWorld even if his style is often reminiscent of Steven Wilson or Thom Yorke. HIs work is, however, the consistent standout on the album. Like the aforementioned artists, Tightly Unwound is more crossover than full-out prog, and, of course, often blatantly reminiscent of PORCUPINE TREE, the consistency and high level of listenable, likable songs collected here vault PTh, finally, out into their own. They can, IMHO, finally come out of the shadow of PT and be accepted as having contributed some very good, creative (if not innovative), and very engaging music. Yeah! I love so many songs: all of the first six are on my playlist of faves but the finale, "Too Much to Lose" is, again, IMHO, their first major contribution to the catalog of the all-time prog classics. Great Song! Great voice! Great harmonies! Great song collaborations. Great studio engineering tricks.

Truly an excellent addition to any prog-lover's album collection. Sample two of the best songs from the album, "Shoot First" (4:15) (9/10) and "My Debt to You" (5:19) (9/10) and the awesome PHIDEAUX/PINK FLOYD-like epic, 9. "Too Much to Lose" (15:13) (10/10). 

1. "My Debt to You" (5:19) very pretty song with a great story (9/10)


2. "Shoot First" (4:12) (9/10)


3. "Sinners" (4:52) good song, unfortunately it's the most blatant PT ripoff on the album (8/10) 


4. "The Sorry State" (4:11) starts out a bit too much like Song #1, but eventually claims its own identity. (8/10)


5. "Tightly Wound" (6:35) a refreshingly quirky song with adventurous electronics effects and heavily distorted guitar spurts. Great melodies--with attitude--and a nice symphonic finale. (9/10)


6. "My Bleeding Hand" (4:20) with its catchy electric guitar riffs it takes on quite a RADIOHEAD feel (9/10)


7. "Different World" (10:44) a great epic with quite a range of dynamic diversity (9/10)


8. "And So Say All Of You" (4:05) has quite a little LANDBERK/Reine FISKE feel to it. (9/10)


9. "Too Much To Loose" (15:12) (10/10)

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





4. NOSOUND LightDark

Spacious. Ambient. Simply constructed. I can see why some listeners might not enjoy this album (and, thus, write negative reviews of it). But for one who enjoys PINK FLOYD, PORCUPINE TREE, DAVID SYLVIAN, BRIAN ENO, or AIRBAG, this is a wonderful album. In fact, IMHO, there are several songs on LightDark that may even top the achievements of the afore-mentioned. 

1. "About Butterflies and Children" (3:02) is a short instrumental of swirling synthesized keyboards, organ, and, a little later, treated HAROLD BUDD-like piano. Nice, calm piece that definitely introduces the dominant sounds, tempo, and mood of the album. (8/10)

2. "Places Remained" (4:29) begins with a blues drum and bass rhythm and sound before RICHARD BARBIERI-like synths fill the aural spectrum just before we hear Giancarlo Erra's voice for the first time. Wow! I thought it was STEVEN WILSON! At least until the accent becomes obvious. Masterful use of the keyboard synths to fill the background--to hypnotize the listener. And a nice GILMOUR/WILSON guitar solo at the 3:20 mark to the song's end. (8/10)

3. "The Misplay" (4:32) is one of the album's masterpieces containing perhaps the best vocals of the album. It begins, again, with floating keyboard synths and effects masterfully accompanying some heavily treated piano notes. Giancarlo's absolutely stunning vocal work enters over the undulating synth wash to the 2:00 minute mark when pizzicato strings and the same heavily treated piano tinkering from the song's intro take over for the slowly receding vocal. Masterful use of and balance between keyboards/synths, effects, strings (a particularly beautiful cello presence after the 3:02 mark), and recording effects. (Is Mr. ENO on board?) (10/10)

4. "From Silence to Noise" (15:30) begins with reverse (backward) guitar and keys over a synth-strings wash. At the 2:05 mark there is a synth-strings chord shift opening the door for some delicate cymbols play--soon followed by some slow, well-spaced (and echoed) guitar single strums. FLOYD-ian vocals and bass are soon to follow. One really intriguing aspect of this song is how much attention is earned by the cymbol play--as if it were a solo--due to the fact that everything else in the song is so constant and repetitive; the cymbols are the only thing "moving." Astonishing! The 4:15 mark sees the beginning of some PINK FLOYD ("Comfortably Numb") sound. 4:45 introduces the vocal chorus (with doubled lead and harmonizing vocals). It's so-o-o PINK FLOYD! 6:25 sees a short pause until the 6:40 mark when the drums and keys change activity in a very goosebumpity moment. The bass, drums, and cymbols build and build until at 7:30 everything but the synth-string wash drops away--again pointing all attention to the returning cymbols "solo"  and slow single guitar strums. At the 8:30 mark we are graced with a gorgeous GILMOUR-ish slide guitar solo--which is later doubled in the left channel. At 9:35 the chorus returns. Such a rich swirling of the synthesized strings sounds! It's like being bathed in a healing ether! AT the 11:00 mark the vocals cut out and we are left with the fascinating cymbol play over the thick swirling synths and slow, well-spaced guitar strums. The swirling synths build to a crescendo as the other instruments fade away, then themselves begin to fade while a kind of industrial-sea sound builds, over which the sounds of children playing on  a playground play out to the song's end. Wow! What a trip! (10/10)

5. Another pure masterpiece, "Someone Starts to FadeAway" (8:55) begins with a very emotionally heart-wrenching STEVE REICH-HAROLD BUDD/BRIAN ENO-like background treated piano and ekyboard wash. A brief backward guitar solo plays before guest vocalist TIM BOWNESS (NO-MAN) enters to give an absolutely gorgeous vocal performance--the perfect match to the background music. (It seems to me that a semi-whispering, almost talking approach is when Bowness's vocal talents are most powerful.) Add mellotron at 2:15 as vocals rise an octave--as well as in urgency. At 2:50 enter bass and electric guitar--which turn into arpeggios at the 3:15 mark. The song has such a Before and After Science/Plateaux of Mirror feel to it! Last vocal whispers return at the 3:40 mark. The entrance of a very different electric guitar sound's lead solo at the 4:55 mark plays a very emotional and seemingly improvised--felt--solo for the next two and three-quarter minutes. As the background keys fade, another very different, "clean," jazzy guitar sound is introduced at the 7:35 mark. It proceeds to gently solo to the song's end. So "And Julie With ... "!! Feel it! (10/10)

6. "Kites" (8:31) begins with a now-familiar minimalist simplicity until the 1:40 mark when cello, mellotron, and jazz drums enter. Here Giancarlo's boxed in/treated vocals are the weakest of the album. Unfortunately, the song's foundational synth arpeggios become a bit annoying. The cello, mellotron, and drums are the song's strengths and highlights until the 4:15 mark when an interlude of voice/radio samples (à la HOLGER CZUKAY) fill the space until the music and vocals return at 4:40 with a little more power and urgency. A very DAVID SYLVIAN sounding song. Excellent cello and mellotron work. This song really grew on me with repeated listens. (8/10)

7. "Lightdark" (8:46) begins very similarly to "Someone Starts to Fade Away:" treated piano minimalist play. At 0:40 the vocals enter--again sounding the same as "SStFA." Unfortunately, the chord selection, melody, harmonies, and theatric presentation are far less engaging than on "SStFA." Heavy mellotron use beginning at the 2:40 mark, joined by two soloing guitars at the 4:20 mark--one a "clean" jazzy guitar, the other holding and bending sustained notes with the twang bar. The two play to fade as the sounds of rainfall are mixed with those of birds and café-like background voices and noises. (8/10)

The album that I own has a second set of five songs totalling about 35 minutes in time. I'll review them though they are not included in the original "official" release (and, therefore, not in my points tally)

The last great song, 8. "Cold Afterall" (6:19) begins with the sound of rainfall behind which the female voice of a public address system in a train station (or airport) sound. Oscillating keyboard synth work is joined by strumming acoustic guitar (very PF/PT sounding). Familiar vocals. Nice mellotron-accompanied and vocal chorus at 1:14 to brief jazzy guitar solo at 1:50. Enter drums and bass at 2:05. Very "Wish You Were Here" sounding. 2:52 sees the chorus/mellotron return till 3:55. 4:10 begins the final whispered vocals before the 4:25 entrance of two screaming lead guitars sounding rather like the long end solo of TODD RUNDGREN's "The Last Ride." (From 1974's Todd.) (8/10)

9. "Like the Elephant?" (5:44) is an instrumental that presents a rather different and somewhat welcome change of pace and style. Heavy prog, with a very PORCUPINE TREE beginning (Including familiar keyboard chords and solo sounds, power guitar/bass chord playing.) The highlight, however--and this is a very big highlight--begins at the 3:30 mark. The most uncanny ROBERT FRIPP-sounding guitar solo--complete with awkward pauses, dissonances, and quirky key changes--that I have ever heard. (Moreso, even than NIL). (7/10)

10. "You Said, 'I Am...'" (4:45) begins with a now over-used minimalist piano-to-be-joined by organ and plaintive vocal formula. 1:15 sees the addition of yet another very PORCUPINE TREE-sounding guitar strum with bass and mellotron. Voice fades to allow entrance of cello at 2:05 Again, the constant background (mixed way too far into the front) piano arpeggios get rather annoying. Underused cello. Best Mellotron play on the album. (7/10)

11. "Clouds" (10:34) ends the album with an ambient instrumental. The lead synthesier "buzzing bagpipe" sound becomes rather annoying/grating after several minutes; not even the masterful use of synthesized strings and banked voices can seem to overcome this choice for the lead. Plus, the song drags on longer than necessary. (6/10)

Overall, the album takes one on a very emotional and mostly serene and kind of "urban-pastoral" journey. I like the cohesiveness and consistency of the album--as well as the recording and engineering. Though many criticize this for being derivative or too imitational, I laud NOSOUND for taking PF and PT sound and styles to new and beautiful levels--especially with "The Misplay," "From Silence to Noise," and "Someone Starts to Fade Away."

88.57 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece. With each listening I seem to enjoy this album more and more, therefore, it must be a masterpiece! I know it is my favorite album of 2008!




5. DIAGONAL Diagonal

What a throwback! To think that youngsters of the 21st Century would want to so perfectly, so beautifully, so diligently recreate the sounds of the early days of what we now call 'progressive rock' is, to me, mystifying yet marvelous. It only took me three listens through to truly fully appreciate and absolutely love this album.

In "Semi-Permeable Men-brane" (10:54) I hear PROCUL HARUM, PINK FLOYD, HAWKWIND, even ARGENT, TRAFFIC, BLIND FAITH, BALCK SABBATH, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, CHICAGO, SANTANA, CARAVAN, THE MOODY BLUES, and so much more! And yet, it is all its own--totally new and fresh! Amazing song/jam! (10/10)

2. "Child of the Thundercloud" (8:49) starts off with clarinet and piano--taking us into a completely different realm of music--taking on a very jazz fusion feel as the rhythm section joins in. But then vocals give it a very definite TRAFFIC/MOODY BLUES (with a little ELP) feel. Then, halfway through we're taken to a very spacious Nursery Cryme-like section, which then turns into the 'thunderstorm' that YES and CAMEL never did (but probably wish they had). Then the seven minute mark yields yet another shift--to a kind of NEKTAR/GONG-like outro. Wow! (10/10)

3. "Deathwatch" (7:18) starts like a FLEET FOXES song before rhythm section and saxophone join in. A very spacey, sparsely instrumented section ensues which allows the group to showcase its vocal talents. Then at the four minute mark a slow jazzy Canterbury-like song builds until is devolves in a KING CRIMSON-esque kind of way. Awesome. (9/10)

4. "Cannon Misfire" (5:32) is my least favorite song on the album, but is still quite impressive both compositionally and instrumentally. Sounds a bit like BILLY COBHAM, TONY LEVIN, DAEVID ALLEN, ROD ARGENT and MEL COLLINS jamming together. (7/10)

5. "Pact" (14:00) is the album's longest song at 14 minutes. It starts out with a bit of a feel as if TONY BANKS and ROYE ALBRIGHTON helped out on ELP's Tarkus--at least until the JIMI HENDRIX/STEPHEN STILLS vocals come it. Then PROCUL HARUM becomes the dominant influence/model. At 6:15 the music disappears leaving a very familiar ("Close to the Edge") space filled only with a single oscillating organ chord which is played over by a flutish-sounding synth(?) and, later, by some incidental vibes and percussives.This lasts for over 5 minutes before the song climbs back out of the grave with some THIN LIZZY like dual guitar marching. A good song. It just has a little too much 'drag' for me and not enough of the previous songs' mood, tempo, and stylistic changes to keep me mesmerized. (8/10)

DIAGONAL is definitely a band to watch. I have a feeling they could do just about anything they wanted to and excel. IMHO, this album is one for the ages: a near masterpiece--which is borne out by its 88.0 on the Fish scales.



6. DATURAH Reverie

DATURAH Reverie is listed in some places as an EP even though it's five songs total 60 minutes of music. 60 minutes of awesome music. I'm coming to believe that the German Math/Post Rock scene is where the present and future of this genre has its greatest hopes/potential. The key element of electronic keyboard use--something every German Krautrocker is at home with--is, IMHO, the key to the "renaissance" of this beautiful, though admittedly, stagnating genre of progressive music. Sampling--used instrumentally on Reverie--may be another.

1. "Ghost Track" (12:32) begins with spacey distortions and a sample from a scene from Frances Ford Coppola's Apocaplypse Now--the scene in which captured Martin Sheen first meets/hears Marlon Brando's psychopathic character, Colonel Kurtz, talking to himself, with the accompanying "dialectics" rant from Dennis Hopper's crazed character), before crashing into some very typical Post Rock patterns and sounds. At the 6:00 minute mark we collapse into a very shoegaze-like sequence of dreaminess which then uses military snare playing till the 8:00 mark to climb back to the heights of volume and distortion. It is a long song with just enough variety and melody to keep it interesting enough to engage the listener over its entire 12 ½ minutes. (8/10)

2. "Hybrisma" (9:32) is, without a doubt, one of the best Math/Post Rock songs I've ever heard and, IMO, is one of the few recent songs that could point to new directions for the genre to develop and grow (something many people believe is impossible). Voice samples, heavily treated guitars--some foreground, some very far back in the mix, unusual drum patterns/ playing (two drummers?) all help build a multi-layered, multi-textured song of deep emotional impact--one with one of the greatest, most emotional climaxes I've ever heard in instrumental music. (10/10)

3. For its first six minutes, "(Reverie) 9" (11:46) is a pleasant, hypnotic song with spacey, heavily treated (à la ROBIN GUTHRIE) background guitars, pulsating bass (à la early ADAM CLAYTON) in the foreground, melodies becoming harmonies by the notes' slow, echoed decays. A rather time-less interlude occurs for the next two and a half minutes, during which the song's direction is highly unpredictable. But then, Wham! The song kicks back into drive and then overdrive as several layers of melodic structure weave together before deconstructing into a easy end. Awesome climax! (9/10)

4. "Deep B Flat" (13:17) begins like a CURE "Fascination Street"-era song before quieting down to a structure more familiar of the Post Rock genre. 4:30 witnesses the shift into third gear before the 5:15 mark when the song's sound quite suddenly fades away, leaving the distant echoing of old notes decaying, new guitar arpeggios, and a long excerpt of speech sounding like some broadcast from the astronauts in the International Space Station. Drums and bass rejoin at 7:00. The earlier familiar Post Rock structure returns at 8:00. Nothing new or exciting really occurs until full speed is achieved at the 9:45 mark--continuing without rising any higher (though you want/expect it to do so so desperately) until it's time to decrescendo for the last minute and a half. A song with so much unrealized potential! (8/10)

5. "Vertex" (12:52) builds very slowly, very quietly, like a PINK FLOYD, PORCUPINE TREE or MONO song until the crash guitar chords comes at the 6:00 minute mark. After a minute it quiets down again before the 8:30 mark sees the assault of sound recommence and sustain until it shows signs of cracking at the 11:20 mark, fatiguing to the 12:10 mark when everything comes crashing down to fade. (8/10)

Overall a really good album, very listenable and enjoyable with many signs of innovative creativity and ideas yet to come. Keep on proggin'! 

86.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; nearly a masterpiece.




7. JANNICK TOP Infernal Machina

Consistently one heck of a powerful journey. IMHO, MDK is the only Zeuhl album to do it better.

"Part I" (7:23) is majestic, mysterious, melodic, beautiful. Cave raindrops! Bowed bass! (10/10)

"Part II" (4:29) introduces the vocal which reminds me of the diotonic stylings of the female folk singers of Les Voix Mystères de Bulgarie. (8/10)

"Part III" (4:13) starts with distorted electric guitar rhythm chords, bowed bass, and intense 'Bulgarian' chanting (and screaming--is that you, Stella?). Shifts at 2:20 to deep metal-like electric power chords from the rhythm section accompanied by female voices. A brief but oh-so effective pause at the 3:00 minute mark opens the door for the full-band unified pulse of ecstatic marching. Amazing! (10/10)

"Part IV" (4:15) introduces (with an electronic crash) a slower, more methodic, plodding pace with a now-male chorus (among whom is the unmistakable voice of MAGMA's KLAUS BLASQUIS). (7/10)

"Part V" (5:09) is amazing for its pulsing bass, slow and steady drums, and electric guitar chords. The low male breath-chants, a few 'Bulgarian' voice chants, and a Math Rock section of guitar chords usher in a change in tempo--and with it a real sense of immediacy, even urgency. Like, "Oh my God! It's happening!" (10/10)

"Part VI" (5:53) sees an insidious increase in tempo--and urgency--as Persian horns carry a religious melody into the sacred ritual. WOW!! This is AMAZING! 2:50: Piano. 3:20 searing guitar solo with amazing bass & rhythm chord progression in background. Cycling back to 'Persian' horns, male breath chants, female 'Bulgarian' chant, all weaving together with frenetic drumming and electric guitar soloing like Sir ROBERT of FRIPP at his stool-offing best. (10/10)

"Part VII" (4:23) is like a cooling waterfall flowing down over the hot coals--piano and cymbol play doing most of the cleansing. 1:45 shift in rhythm section to syncopated pulses of bass and low male voice grunts. The piano and cymbols continue their flood of erosive notes. 3:20 and 3:50 see first true nods to CHRISTIAN VANDER/MAGMA sound & style. (8/10)

"Part VIII" (3:49) returns to the very same piano single note pounding of "Part VII" with the now VANDER-crazed drumming going crazy behind and some MAGMA-like choral work dispersed here and there. This is really the drummer's song. Awesome ascent of scale by TOP's bass chords. (9/10)

"Part IX" (4:42) sees an inversion and minoring of the musical/piano chords while the same frenzy of drums and other rhythms go on all around it and the repetition of a monotonic pattern of staccato choral notes. (7/10)

"Part X" (3:11) continues the frenzy party of "Part IX" with little or no difference (more cymbol crashes, increased vocal volume, variation in vowel sound used for staccato vocal notes, guitar chords become patternized, circular). (8/10)

"Part XI" (4:27) sees a transition to rhythm guitar rock chords, deep throbbing bass line, more 'controlled' drumming, a return and interweaving of previous vocal lines, along with the introduction and intertwining of a new vocal line--which ascends to take us to the culmination point. (8/10)

"Resolution" (5:33) seems to be a kind of driving disco-version of "Part VI" and "VII" with the Persian horns and male vocal grunt pattern. At 1:50 the electric rhythm guitar chords and female 'Bulgarian' voices take a turn before giving way to the 'Persian' horns and male grunt section for fifteen seconds. Back and forth the female and male chanting trade again and again into the final minute of the song when we are reunited with the 'cave raindrop' music of the opening song to close. (8/10)

85.83 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; almost a masterpiece. This is definitely an excellent addition to any prog music collection--it is amazing music--Zeuhl or not. Definitely one of the best albums from 2008.



BERSARIN QUARTETT Bersarin Quartett

A string quartet with no strings?!!
     Thomas Bücker's "B3RSARiП QUAЯT3TT" is, contrary to the misleading title, a one man project of electronica. At times the strings sounds and arrangments are so clear and "authentic" sounding that one wonders if there isn't a classically-trained string quartet working with Thomas, but, no! It's all computer generated stuff! And wonderful it is! An example of prog electronic music that is truly taking the sub-genre into new dimensions.
     The computer-generated music of this album is gorgeous, half the time feeling as if it were the computer-tampered treatments of the recordings of a string quartet, the other half sounding as if Christian Fennesz or Alva Noto had been programming and treating the computer/synthesizer music. Gorgeous songs in the vein of Ryuichi Sakamoto and/or Alexandre Desplat soundtrack music with lots of space and atmosphere and yet a very powerful rhythmic sense. I cannot recommend this album more highly as I feel in it a pushing of the envelope of the potentialities for the crossover/synthesis of electronica and post chamber musics.

1. "Oktober" (6:25)

2. "Geschichten Von Interesse" (4:55)

3. "Inversion" (5:40)

4.  "St. Petersburg" (5:14)

5. "Und Die Welt Steht Still" (8:51)

6. "Die Dinge Sind Nie So Wie Sie Sind" (8:03)

7. "Nachtblind" (4:02)

8. "Es Kann Nicht Ewig Winter Sein" (4:27)

9. "Endlich Am Ziel" (4:38)

10. "Mehr Als Alles Andere" (5:47)

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