Thursday, November 1, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2008, Part 2: Others


Other Albums from 2008 Worth Listening To






VON HERTZEN BROTHERS Love Remains the Same

Though steeped in some classic rock themes and sounds, the Von Hertzen Brothers have melded a collection of heavily layered and complex yet highly melodic songs in an album which feel fresh, original and which has an amazingly consistent quality. I consider this album a modern masterpiece.

It has taken me a long time to get to know this album because of the myriad layers and intricacies of each song--but it has been a 'labor' of love doing so. The numerous catchy hooks, fine production and truly clever and creative songwriting and performance will keep you coming back to this album--for years.

If there is an artist I would compare this album to it'd be DEVIN TOWNSEND. If you took away the constant tongue-in-cheek lyrics and story telling and the overwhelmingly loud, sound-crushing 'metal' quality to Devin's songs, you'd have the sophisticated music and melodic mastery of the Von Hertzen Brothers.

1. "Bring Out the Sun (So Alive)" (10:43) is a nearly-instrumental (there is the song's title being sung as a chorus for the last third of the song) which opens sounding like some Green Linnet artists playing "Scarborough Faire." A slow folk melody is gradually, slowly, joined by a building wall of support instruments--like one of MIKE OLDFIELD's epic insturmentals--setting up the first appearance of the gorgeously harmonized chorus ("Bring out the sun, to shine on everybody...). At 4:55 vocals disappear and the song switches to a kind of JETHRO TULL/STRAWBS feel (acoustic guitar strumming) faster and faster with a synth floating chaotically over top until, finally, the full rock band joins in to help support the chorus' melody line. Around 6:45 the vocals rejoin and then there is a brief rockin' part that helps the song transition into a WHO-like vocal section at 8:00. The final minute returns to the choral with big sounds all around. What a ride! (9/10)

2. "Spanish 411" (6:59) opens with a kind of ethereal 'Egyptian rock' feel to it until the vocal enters at the 0:45 mark. The vocal somehow reminds me of TIM SMITH, ELVIS COSTELLO, and KEN HENSLEY all wrapped up into one. At 3:00 enters a Spanish-sounding trumpet; 3:45 guitar and synth melodies play off one another (very cool section!) At 4:30 chorus leads into a very NEKTAR-like section. 5:35 back to tight vocal section. (9/10)

3. "Freedom Fighter" (4:23) starts with several layers of attention-grabbing activity. This song has much more of a straight-forward rock feel to it BUT it is so heavily layered--there is so much going on, so many subtleties! Again, some very strong NEKTAR similarities. (8/10)

4. "Somewhere in the Middle" (7:06) opens with again layers of multiple sonic "hooks"--melodies which then all fade away to be replaced by a synth 'silence' à la RICHARD WRIGHT/PINK FLOYD. Guitar plays a bluesy soloover many layers of soft subtleties for over a minute before a delicate vocal over piano takes over at 2:20. By 3:00 the song has become a 'stadium rocker' in the vien of STYX, TOTO, REO SPEEDWAGON. Very catchy melodies. At 5:22 twin guitars battle it out à la THIN LIZZY. 5:50 introduces a killer melody line on piano with vocals and guitar activities embellishing awesomely! Great tune! (9/10)

5. "In the End" (6:06) opens with a spacey SOUIXIE & THE BANSHEES feel before straightforward vocal with piano rock support takes over. SQUEEZE & 10CC come to mind here. "In the end..." chorus arrives and is much more rocking--and is followed by "Free Bird" guitars. At 2:42 it switches to HENDRIX guitars and vocal harmonies again like 10CC or GODLEY & CREME. Such an odd song! It never seems to be sure where it's going and contains nods to so many classic songs and artists. Not my favorite song here, but an amazingly constructed hodge-podge that works! 5:40 sees a devolution to almost classical piano sonata! which then turns out to be the intro to: (8/10)

6. "Faded Photographs" (3:46) is a very straight forward rocker in the vein of URIAH HEEP. (7/10)

7. "Silver Lover" (6:04) has a bit of a 'South of the Border'/Mexican/XTC feel to it. The vocal arrives at 0:38 with a familiarity reminiscent of THE MARS VOLTA, THE MOODY BLUES, ERIC CLAPTON, GEORGE HARRISON, and ANDY PARTRIDGE/XTC! In the end it is the XTC feel that wins out over the The Mars Volta. (8/10)

8. "I Came for You" (7:17) has quite a bit of a DEVIN TOWNSEND fell to it. Happily, it never really mounts the deafening mind-numbing walls of sound that Devin does (and which I so dislike in his music); the Von Hertzen Brothers restrain themselves admirably. At 3:15 begins a very pretty piano and vocal section--again, very Devin-like (using an incredibly familiar Devin-like melody). Support instruments begin joining in and building momentum as it repeats--almost church-/worship-like. This is the best Devin Townsend song that Devin could never do! (Unless he were nearly unplugged). (9/10)

9. "The Willing Victim" (9:16) starts with a Middle Eastern sound. A second guitar joins at 1:00 and then violin at 1:37. A very delicate, beautiful vocal starts at 2:05. As it develops I am transported to ANATHEMA's We're Here Because We're Here album (even though Love Remains the Same came out a couple years before WHBWH) with some sensitive, plaintive vocals and familiar melodies. The shift at 3:05 deepens that Anathema feel. 4:05 enters a synth "horn" solo à la Pink Floyd and Genesis. 6:10 shifts into Devin Townsend territory--more power and with very Devin-ish melody--like the previous song. It builds to a very theatric climax--with guitars soloing--from 7:05 through 7:50. Incredible! The Von Hertzen Brothers' "Comfortably Numb"! (9/10)

Again, this is an album of incredibly well-crafted, multiply-layered, quirky, melodic songs. There are very few songwriters crafting together songs of this calibur--now or ever.

84.44 on the Fish scales = just shy of a near-masterpiece; a very good four star album; an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. 




SOMA PLANET Bholenath

Great melodic KING CRIMSON jazz rock fusion from Spain. The mostly-instrumental album has many dynamic ranges and interesting shifts and sound effect choices and subtleties within each song. Amazing diversity and always melodic! Jazz, folk, world, space/psychedelia, lots of KING CRIMSON and PINK FLOYD and even NEU! sounds--there's a little bit of everything here!

5 star songs:  1. "Psicorickshaw" (8:07) (9/10); 2. "Bholenath" (5:02) (9/10); 5. "Kali, Lament" (3:08) (10/10); 10. "Electrorain" (1:46) (9/10), and; 11. "Segments" (10:32) (9/10).


4 star songs:  3. "Meetings At Dawn" (1:36) (8/10); 4. "Kali, Destruccio" (5:11) (8/10); 6. "Abstract Passage" (1:25) (8/10); 7. "Tangle" (6:04) (7/10); 8. "My Being Forgets" (3:46) (8/10); 9. "Infinite Intuition - Recapturat" (8:16) (8/10), and; 12. "Diving Deep" (3:18) (8/10).

84.16 on the Fish scales = just short of the near-masterpiece status; a solid four star album and excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.




FROM.UZ The Overlook

A collection of amazingly diverse songs/song parts. While no song seemlessly rises to perfection--IMHO--every song has several parts of sheer brilliance and bliss. Repeated listens helps take the edge off of some of the rather sudden and abrupt stops, twists, and turns--and familiarity helps to also reveal many of the melodic gems. Many smiles. There are also parts that, IMO, are wasteful and/or too obscure for explanation, but I'll give them an A+ for originality! Every song is a 7 or 8 out of ten, the album is worth four and a half stars--an excellent addition if you're willing to give it numerous listens--moves toward a masterpiece with familiarity. One demerit for the occasional cold, motionlessness other reviewers have mentioned. Sample this, "13th August" (11:55), live "Desert Circle" (15:18) and this live excerpt version of my favorite song from The Overlook, "Crashmind" (4:34) (9/10).

84.0 on the Fish scales = just shy of near-masterpiece status; an excellent addition to any progressive rock music collection.





BELIEVE Yesterday Is a Friend 

The shadows and imprints of 2006's Hope to See Another Day are present but the band has gotten more aggressive, heavier. They've also gelled into a tighter, more cohesive band. With Yesterday Is a Friend they've created wonderfully rich and full sound with a top notch engineering and production. The presence of violinist "Satomi" is an extraordinary boon, with he and maestro MIREK GIL often trading punches. Also stepping in anew is keyboard whiz Adam Milosz (whose background vocal harmonies are also a wonderfully welcome addition to the Believe sound). 

All of y'all know that Mirek Gil is one of my favorite guitarists . . . certainly of the 21st Century and maybe a Top Tenner of All-time.

Favorites: ALL OF IT! This album has really grown on me over the past couple years. Try:  "What They Want Is My Life" (8:10), "Mystery Is Closer" (6:02) and "You & Me" (4:54)

1. "Time" (6:18) A tight, clear, intricately-constructed opener. The weaves are tight and complex. Cool song! (9/10)

2. "Tumor" (6:03) the oddest and weakest song on the album still has plenty of redeeming features (chords, violin work, drums, vocal harmonies). (7/10)

3. "What they Want (Is my Life)" (8:01) A very interesting multi-emotional, mutli-dynamic song with a completely surprising and enchanting final two-and-a-half minutes. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

4. "Mystery is Closer" (6:00) What a great chorus! What nice work from Adam Milosz. (8/10)

5. "You & Me" (4:51) the mellow, acoustic beginning sets the stage for some beautiful melodies and soli from Satomi and Gil. (8/10)

6. "Danny had a Neighbour" (5:17) is an interesting little story with some oddly shifting dynamics throughout. (8/10)

7. "Memories" (7:22) starts out delicately, beautifully, until the vocal and electric guitar chords start to announce a shift. Satomi and Gil are awesome throughout this one! Man bass player Przemysław Zawadzki is rock solid! This jam almost has a folk feel to it. (9/10)

8. "Unfaithful" (6:14) is one of the heavier songs on the album but has some engineering production issues (levels, effects, mixing). Still, it's a pretty good song in the old COLLAGE vein (especially with the lengthy Mirek Gil solo work). (8/10)

9. "Together" (2:35) ends the album with a little acoustic ditty--kind of JTULL, THE BEATLES and THE WHO and all mixed together. Nice. (8/10)

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




RATIONAL DIET At Work

Brilliant classically-infused avant/RIO jazz-fusion from Belarus.






ONE SHOT Dark Shot

Very polished, melodic, sophisticated Zeuhl-based jazz fusion from France.





SYRINX Qualia

Very nice instrumental jazz-rock fusion from France, replete with church organ, woodwinds and power chords. "Acheiropoiètes" (8:41) (9/10) and the epic "Liber nonacris" (19:39) (9/10) are both standouts for me.




JELLY FICHE Tout ce que j’ai rêvé 

A wonderful prog album that is difficult to categorize as it has eclectic elements throughout: symphonic, neo, jazz fusion, psychedelia, trip-hop, ANGE-like theatrics, and even funk-pop influences. The band's core is a trio each coming from quite disparate musical backgrounds, all from Montréal, Québec. Gifted bassist/singer "Syd" sings the band's poetic lyrics in French, which I love, and a very well-annunciated French, I might add.

Album highlights for me include the title song (8:46) (10/10), the bluesy PINK FLOYDian "Les Arbres" (10:27) (9/10), the emotional epic, "La cage des vautours/Liberté" (15:25) (8/10), and; "Caché au fond plus haute" (7:14) (8/10).



FROST* Experiments in Mass Appeal 

This album caused quite a stir when it came out because it's predecessor, Jem Godfrey's band's debut, Milliontown had garnered a lot of attention and hope. Experiments in Mass Appeal is a collection of songs that are proggy but amped up and condensed to the point of being guilty of packaging for the masses. Where Milliontown had long, slower developing and more typically prog-paced songs, Experiments has created two- to five-minute monsters that would/could have been seven to twelve minutes long. Godfrey's experience as well-known pop producer has led him to this experiment--one that, in my opinion, he pulls off surprisingly well. To be sure, one of the album's songs, "Falling Down" (5:49) (10/10), is one of the most power-packed songs I've heard--and one of the best songs of 2008. Between Godfrey's keyboard/synth work and JOHN MITCHELL (ARENA, KINO)'s blistering guitar work the album is filled with highlights. The vocals are to my liking, though I've often wished to know what Declan Burke's voice would sound like without going so many treatments. Though there are many soft parts ("Experiments in Mass Appeal," "Welcome to Nowhere," "Saline"), it's the fast-paced, incredibly full parts that are so breathtaking.

Best songs: "Pocket Sun" (4:29) (9/10), "Experiments in Mass Appeal" (7:57) 8/10), "Toys" (3:06) (8/10), and of course, the masterful "Falling Down."

The "sixteen minute" epic, "Wonderland," is worth mentioning for its first six minutes--which are top-notch prog rock--but then the song just disappears. It just stops. After about a minute's silence another totally different (and, frankly, much blander) song returns. What's up with that?!

A good album--one that I don't listen to all that often (I think cuz it all kind of blends together, homogenized, if you know what I mean, in one sitting), though I listen to "Falling Down" and the song "Milliontown" quite a lot.



LUNATIC SOUL Lunatic Soul 

RIVERSIDE's vocalist, MARIUSZ DUDA, has astounded me with a very well-crafted, amazingly well-recorded/engineered album in which the band plays an amazing array of the instruments--many of the from the "world music" realm of indigenous instruments. This is an album of great sounds in which the world instruments are treated with highly unusual effects, great--often haunting or very atmospheric--mixes, outstanding recording and engineering. It is also an album of disappointment in that no song really develops 'laterally' or 'directionally;' instead each song begins with a theme over which layer after layer of interesting instrumentation and effects are added and yet there is rarely any 'change'--tempo, key, thematic, etc. And Mariusz's wonderful voice--or rather, the one we're familiar with from his RIVERSIDE performances--is heard surprisingly little.

1. "Prebirth" (1:10) 
is a collage of world music instruments setting up the album's predominantly somber, sometimes eerie mood. (8/10)

2. "The New Beginning" (4:50) 
begins with more exotic world instruments. It has very nice guitars and vocal in the first two minutes and a great mix, mood throughout. I just keep waiting for the change, the shift, the excitement. (8/10)

3. "Out on a Limb" (5:27) 
has Duda singing in his RIVERSIDE voice. There is a very nice climax to fade in the fourth minute. (7/10)

4. "Summerland" (5:00)
 is a pretty enough song--with nice CHROMA KEY vocal and melody. The build is nice--especially after the 3:15 mark. (7/10)

5. "Lunatic Soul" (6:47)
 begins with kalimba, keys, and acoustic guitar in a very PORCUPINE TREEish sound--even/especially when the organ and drums are added. (7/10)

6. "Where the Darkness Is Deepest" (3:57)
 has a very modern, computer age/PORCUPINE TREE sound to it until the piano comes in at the 3:00 mark. (7/10)

7. "Near Life Experience" (5:27)
 is the most developed song (thus far) though still sounds like a CHROMA KEY song. Unfortunately, this one is an instrumental; it's just begging for some vocals! (8/10)

8. "Adrift" (3:05)
 begins with a very spaced-out acoustic guitar, which is then joined by drums, a second acoustic guitar, and a vocal. At 1:00 bass enters with a nice FRIPP-y guitar solo. (8/10)

9. "The Final Truth" (7:34)
 is a nice vehicle for a great voice and vocal. I t keeps building and building, adding layer after layer, but ultimately goes nowhere. (8/10)

10. "Waiting for the Dawn" (3:36) is the world music outro bookend to the album's "prebirth" intro. (7/10)

Overall a very nice album which sounds great but lacks the interesting musical constructs to bring one back again and again. (Though I keep going back again and again--thinking that I might have missed something--that the twists and hooks are there, I just wasn't listening closely.) This 'band' certainly has great chemistry and talent, but they need more ambitious songwriting/er. 

75.0 on the Fish scales = 3.5 stars marked down for monotony.



MOON SAFARI Blomljud 

It has taken me months of repeated listenings to this album to try to write a review of Blomljud. This is not a typical prog album. There is a lot of contention as to whether or not this really is a prog album. There is a lot of beautiful music here--especially the vocal and acoustic guitar work--but I feel there is really an effort here to bring about a renaissance of the harmonized vocal stylings of eras gone by--even back to barbershop quart- and quintets. There is a lot of music here one might best call 'folk rock' in nature--even tinges of bluegrass. What astounds is that these guys aren't even American! They're from Scandanavia!

1. "Constant Bloom"(1:27) is a very cool introductory song--reminding me of the barbershop quartet "Excuse Me" on PETER GABRIEL's first solo album (except a little more somber and serious.) (8/10) IMO, the shorter songs work well, the longer ones tend to get lost or lose the listener's interest. The use of very traditional instruments

2. "Methuselah's Children" (15:43) has a very STYX-like feel to it, despite the strong presence of piano--even the vocals and vocal melodies. The BEACH BOYS-like harmonies and upbeat message I think must be intended to bring back to the hopefulness of the 1960s. It kind of works! For those who like to point to this album's long tunes for the listener to pay attention to (and come to appreciate) the progginess and virtuosity of the music and instrumentalists, I'm sorry, I don't see, hear, or feel it. Everything here seems to be a vehicle for the support of the vocal and that 60s/70s feel of optimism. (7/10)

3. "In the Countryside" (5:43) again purports to take us back to simpler, more wholesome times and feelings--in a very obvious CROSBY, STILLS & NASH way (even modeling the acoustic guitar sound, rhythms and chord progression from the sounds of the era.) (8/10)

4. "Moonwalk" (8:49) is the album's attempt at a true prog instrumental. It works on many levels and comes away, at times, with some originality, but slides a bit too often into GENESIS, YES, CAMEL, and STYX themes and sounds to truly pull it off. Neo-prog at best. (7/10) Until the taped voice interlude of astronaut's, I thought the title referred to the band's having gone on a kind of walkabout instrumentally.

5. "Bluebells" (10:11) is another little Windham Hill artists' collaborative jam upon which the singers put a nice REO SPEEDWAGON vocal. Pretty straightforward pop sing-a-long. Nothing proggy here. (5/10)

6. "The Ghost of Flowers Past" (9:47) begins with a rather catchy, albeit sappy piano intro before breaking into a kind of CAMEL/STYX sound. Again, nothing really extraordinary here. . . until the "Ain't it funny . . . " section travels into some truly classical/symphonic territory before the electric guitar and mellotron support nicely recapitulate the melody. The delicate, almost a cappella, vocals are so delightful, and the clever instrumental support, mirroring and recapitulation of vocal themes makes this song a true symphonic piece. The vocal harmony 'crescendos' of the final two minutes are quite taking. Nice piece though not melodically as memorable as one would hope. (8/10)

7. "Yasgur's Farm" (8:06). Let's go back to Woodstock! Get all the instrumentalists to jam together in one song and here we go! (Actually some rather nice guitar pickin'.) The vocal section, however, just isn't able to maintain that feel--and once it's lost, it is lost--despite the return to multiple sound soloing at the 4:00 mark. Nice tribute. Okay song. (6/10)

8. "Lady of the Woolands" (3:37) is the most obviously bluegrass-influenced piece. Nothing to really write home about. (6/10)

9. "A Tale of Three and Tree" (3:29) is a pretty straightforward pop song--not unlike a STEPHEN BISHOP-with-THE-LETTERMEN (or COWSILLS) song. Pretty. (7/10)

10. "Other Half of the Sky" (31:44) is the epic song that has really prevented me from writing this review before: I've just never been able to get through it while truly paying attention the whole way through! Nice themes and sounds (a lot from GENESIS ["Supper's Ready," "The Knife"] to SUPERTRAMP to AMERICA to STYX and around again). The problem with "Other Half of the Sky" is that it really should be on stage--presented as a musical! Like GODSPELL or JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. This is a nice piece of epic prog--one of the two songs on the album that, IMHO, truly deserve the label "prog rock"--though instrumentation changes are virtually nonexistent (the occasional organ, mellotron, pedal steel, or acoustic guitar flourish makes itself known). This prog is very, very derivative and imitative. If I really want to hear 21st century artists doing epic prog--fresh sounding epic prog--I will turn to the last four Big Big Train albums. (7/10) 

11. "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" (5:18) is a really charming end song that truly pulls together many of the strengths and feelings from the overall effect of the album--even re-capturing that initial feeling of astonishment from the album's opening a cappella song, "Constant Bloom." This could be a great song for say, Sesame Street or some other musical revue hoping to uplift audience spirits. Probably my favorite song on the album. (9/10)

Nice music, seemingly effortlessly combining a lot of sounds and styles from the 60s and 70s, with great vocal harmonizing, and conveying an all-too-rare positive mood and message but, in the end, it just isn't original enough to be memorable much less life-changing. 

70.9 on the Fish scales = 3.5 stars: Good, perhaps excellent; marked down for (at times) questionable proggitude. I will say, though, that I have continued to give this album attentive listenings over the past few years and, as it has become more familiar, I find it much more enjoyable. It seems now that it's the combination of rather banal lyrics and the over-presence of themes, riffs, and sounds from other songs from the 60s and 70s that kind of turns me . . . off.



WILLOWGLASS Book of Hours

While I am choosing to not do a full detailed review of Book of Hours, it is only because the reviewers preceding me have said it all. Beauty reigns supreme throughout this pastoral and melodic CD. While the highs are not quite as high as those few on the group's previous eponymous disc, the consistency is of a much higher level and a noticeable maturation has occurred in both Andrew's song-writing skills and his recording/mixing skill.  Also, the drumming/drummer has stepped up a few notches. The most important comment I have to make is: I hope Andrew keeps making beautiful music like this for years to come--an album every year or two would be great!

4 out of 5; excellent addition to any prog music collection.



CYNIC Traced in Air 

The follow-up (14 years later!) to the ground-breaking, ear-defying 1994 classic, Focus, shows a mellower though technically and sonically still-amazing group of more-melodic metal extremists. 
Beginning with the opener, Nunc Fluens" (2:57) (9/10) the band makes it clear that it has pregressed but that it is still heavy metal. 2. The Space for This" (5:47) (8/10) starts off so mellowly that I thought it was a pop song that my daughter likes to dance to (an Adele song, I believe). But, by 1:30 it has kicked into Cynic-drive--even including a few growls. Still there is this kind of melodic, less-edgy feel to their new album. Fully half of the eight songs here begin and carry throughout a softer side.

Favorite pieces: "King of Those Who Know" (6:09) (9/10) and the albums two "Nunc" bookends. Except for "Adam's Murmur" (6/10), the rest are all solid 7 or 8s.



MAGENTA Metamorphosis

In another obvious tribute to bands and music of the past, Magenta release this 2008 album with not one but two epics of over 20 minutes in length. The first, the album's opener, "The Ballad of Samuel Layne" (20:17) is a satisfying, upbeat, melodic, easy going piece that seems to be about the psycho-spiritual perspectives of a battlefield death of an average Joe soldier--maybe from World War I or even the Iraqi and Afghani conflicts. The "heavier" instrumental section that begins at the eight minute mark is quite good as are Christina Booth's fairly laid-back vocals throughout. The second half drags on a bit---especially the "we are all forsaken" section--but overall this is a very nice musical journey with plenty of interesting instrumental and compositional choices. (9/10) 2. "Prekestolen" (3:36) flows straight out of the end of "Samuel Layne" with synth background, delicate guitar, bass, and keyboard sequenced percussion sounds. It has a bit of a Peter Gabriel "San Jacinto" feel to it--even when Christina joins in with her singing. Troy Donockely's Uilleann pipes take it into a slightly different direction, but the song ends with a still eery PG feel/sound. (8/10) 3. "Metamorphosis" (23:15) opens so much like the Big Big Train 'heavy' sound that will become so familiar in the 2010s. The Yes and Genesis nods are frequent and flagrant--and yet Rob Reed's work is superb--and contains just enough of his own flair and flourish to not feel plagiaristic. 4. "Blind Faith" (6:22) is probably my favorite song on the album. Nice atmospherics, alternating with heavy bridges and a melodic chorus--quite catchy hooks, too--not unlike the Massive Attack "Pearldrops" song used for the theme of the tv show "House." (10/10)

If you can get past the familiar feel and sound that is so common to the Neo Prog subgenre, this is quite a nice album.



IL BACIO DELLA MEDUSA Discesa agl'inferi d'un giovane amante

Gorgeous RPI with lots of beautiful melody and inputs from both rock and classical instrumentation.



THE TANGENT Not as Good as the Book 

Though in general I feel about The Tangent as I do about The Flower Kings, Arena, IQ, and Marillion (very talented musicians playing melodramatic music that rarely matches up with pretentious, self-indulgent lyrics), this is a passable, decent album. I hear many complaints about the singing of front-man/songwriter, ANDY TILLISON, but I actually really enjoy his singing--voice and style. Here, especially on "The Ethernet" and It's the over-the-top soli and banal lyrics that sometimes irk or even repell me. Andy's music and keyboard playing style often get a bit bouncy dancey--like the Carribean stuff of Jimmy Buffet or The Beach Boys. The lyrics are so unpoetic, so . . . unlyrical!

Favorite songs: "The Ethernet" (10:13) (8/10), "Four Egos, One War" (8/10).



MATTHEW PARMENTER Horror Express 

Matthew Parmenter of DISCIPLINE fame continues his theatrical musical expression in the same vein of PETER HAMMILL though, in this listener's opinion, Matthew does it better. Unfortunately, Peter did it first, so the comparisons will never end for the uber-talented Parmenter.

The instrumental formulae for Matthew's music is often so simple, and the song structures seem also rather predictable, but it's the performance--the power of the instruments' performances, the power of the incidentals, and, ultimately, the unquestioned power and stylings of the vocalist that make (or, at least, should make) Matthew Parmenter a superstar in the prog world.

Favorite songs: "In the Dark" (9:22) (9/10) and the beautiful, Japanese-tinged instrumental, "Kaiju" (3:52) (9/10).



MOONGARDEN Songs from the Lighthouse 

Again I must begin with my defense of this very fine but much-maligned band. To many they are too derivative or not proggy enough or whatever. To me their music is exactly what progressive rock is supposed to be: great classically or jazzically influenced songs that use modern sound and recording technologies while having the good fortune of having an eminently gifted and distinguished lead male vocalist in Simone Baldini Tosi (replacing Tonko) and know how to create very catchy melodic 'hooks'--both instrumentally and vocally.

Favorite songs are the classically tinged cello-featured "Flesh" (2:50) (9/10), the neo-prog KNIGHT AREA-like instrumental, "Sonja in Search of the Moon, Pt. 5", and the awesome epic, "The Lighthouse Song" (9:33) (9/10). The latter, with Simone's sensitive, raspy COLDPLAY vocal is probably my favorite Moongarden song (though I love "Round Midnight").



DANTE’S INFERNO – THE DIVINE COMEDY, PART I 

Another wonderful collection of songs from a wide variety of prog all-stars based commissioned by Colossus Magazine/Musea Records to compose on the theme of Dante's Inferno (Book 1 of The Divine Comedy). Though not as consistently good as 2003's Kalevala: A Finnish Progressive Rock Epic and not even in the same league as my favorite, 2005's Odyssey: The Greatest Tale, the 4 disc, 34 song album stands up pretty well.

Favorites: Viima's jazzy "XXIII" (6:42) (9/10), Willowglass's "The Crossing" (6:13) (9/10), Il Castello di Atlante's "Maleborge" (8:55) (8/10), and Nexus' "El quarto circulo" (6:42) (8/10).



SIMON SAYS Tardigarde

Symphonic prog from Sweden very much attempting to replicate the sounds and styles of the Masters of the 1970s. Though I could appreciate what the artists were attempting to do from the first listen, it took me many listens in order to begin to enjoy this album. Kind of like all NEMO albums. I found the vocals especially difficult to adjust to. It was actually their much more accessible song contributions to the Colossus Magazine/Musea Records theme projects that allowed me to engage and enjoy the style and work of this band.



PANZERBALLETT Starke Stücke

Hard-driving, high energy (almost humorous) avant jazz-fusion from Germany.



Albums from 2008 that Are, IMHO, Over-rated




BIRDS AND BUILDINGS Bantam to Behemoth

I have very mixed feelings about this album. It has musicianship and composition of the highest level. It has many, many familiar-yet-"forgotten" sounds magically and often surprisingly exhumed from the 1970's prog scene. It has highly complicated and often unpredictabily shifting song structures. It is mostly instrumental (and when vocals are used they are strangely treated and/or mixed into the music. It is synthesizing many many familiar music styles from YES to GENESIS to KING CRIMSON to Canterbury to CHICK COREA Spanish/Latino, even to Zeuhl (frenetic drumming) and MIKE OLDFIELD. But in the end it's just too busy, too frenetic, not engaging enough for me.

1. "Birds Flying into Buildings" opens the album at quite a pace and with a rather annoying choice for bass sound. While I like and appreciate the use of jazz sounds and instruments (here saxes, Farfisa organ, Fender Rhodes electric piano, hollow-bodied guitar picking), it's just overdone and too chaotic (for my enjoyment) here. Get off the amphetamines and slow down and I might enjoy it. (5/10)

2. "Terra Fire" begins in a kind of minimalist, dreamy jazz way while the vocalist of the Dracula/Peter Cushing School sings about who knows what underneath the music. The music of this (luckily) brief song isn't even very engaging. And the bass is mixed and effected annoyingly. Kind of like some of CHRIS SQUIRE's worst recordings. (4/10)

3. "Tunguska" is an impressive song with too many familiar sounds and styles to enumerate. Wow! What a trip! (9/10)

4. "Caution Congregates and Forms a Storm" a song beginning with a very New Age Spanish flare (cue GOVI or BRUCE BECVAR) though, of course, it moves into many other directions--in a very "eclectic"-meets-symphonic way. A song with many pretty, though often ever-so-briefly explored themes and riffs. (8/10)

5. "Chronicle of the Invisible River of Stone" is another WILLOWGLASS revives ANT PHILLIPS' GENESIS song with some strangely mixed and less-than-enthused female vocals (sounding very much like CRYSTAL GAYLE or NICOLETTE LARSEN mixed with a little ANNETTE PEACOCK). The song proceeds very much like a STEVE HACKETT dream sequence--very unpredictable and often light-hearted musical shifts. A tough song to rate--like a lot of this album--so many moods and themes that it makes the song difficult to assess much less remember. (7/10)

6. "Yucatan 65: The Agitation of the Mass" is a nice STEVE HOWE plays over a WILLOWGLASS Spanish tango. The range of instrumental sounds these guys drag up from out of the archives of early 70's music--both with keyboards and guitar effects--is absolutely amazing. In spite of this--and not unlike ANDREW MARSHALL's WILLOWGLASS orks--this one gets a little mired down in repetition and contrivance. (7/10)

7. Chakra Khan" is a bit too frenetically paced for my tastes. It is very jazz-based though it has a very straightforward beat. The question here is: Just how fast does one need to go? While I appreciate speed, I'm not a Ferrari-Porsche guy. (5/10)

8. Battalion" is, again, just too hyped up JOE JACKSON pseudo jazz for me. Let me out! I can't take it anymore! (4/10)

9. "Sunken City, Sunny Day" is a very pretty, slow, mostly acoustic song with nearly unintelligible samples of a British man's recorded speech (Sounds like the dude BILL NELSON and DAVID SYLVIAN used speech samples of in many of their songs.) Interesting way to end such a dynamic album. (7/10)

Overall, an impressive set of performances but of music(s) that I just don't feel attracted to.

62.2 on the Fish scales = 2.5 stars (rated up for musicianship, composition, and admirable revival of many old prog sounds).



Jean Louis Jean Louis

Very abrasive, angular, frenetically-paced avant jazz from France.



KARMAKANIC Who’s the Boss of the Factory? 

THE FLOWER KINGS' bass master Jonas Reingold's 'solo' group has had a few albums, but this is the first without the overbearing influence of TFK band-mate Roine Stolt. And, irony of ironies, the best song on the album is the one that Roine is credited on: "Two Blocks from the Edge" (9:54) (9/10). An oddly constructed song (rather like five or six pieces had been laying around and were decided to be sewn together into this one song), it does, have many high points, especially (dare I say it?!) the sax playing.



HOSTSONATEN Winterthrough 

While I agree that the music of FABIO ZUFFATI is very pleasant and pastoral, it is my opinion that the engineering, mixing, production values on all Hostsonaten albums are rather second rate. Even the instrument choices are often over-the top cheesy--like they're really just making New Age elevator music.

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